In the last few days I have revisited where I grew up. This was the Welwyn Park Avenue area in North Hull. As a child we had the tenfoots, fields, woods and river as our playgrounds. We also had Haworth Hall as a backdrop. It was truly days of innocence.
I was born in 1944 and this was the time when the war was changing direction and more and more servicemen started to have leave, hence the boom in babies! There were lots of boys of a similar age and we spent lots of our time playing out.
At the end of Welwyn Park Drive the fields started and apart from Parkstone Road there were only farms and farm buildings all the way to Dunswell. The river played an important part of our childhood. When I made my return journey it invoked so many memories.
Just past the end of Welwyn Park Drive, on the river, there were the remains of what we called ‘the boards’. This was the remains of a structure that must have been a landing stage at a time when the fields and farms would have transported goods by the river to and from the area. As children we could still use the structure to play on and gather debris drifting up and down the river.
The river up to Beverley was still a working river and barges would still be working the water. We also had the sidewinder trawlers coming down from Beverley shipyard towed by tugs and I remember one hawser snapping as a trawler was near Sutton Bridge. Luckily this was on the opposite side of the river.
At times, at the top of the river, there would be massive weed clearances and by the time these reached us we would try and get bigger rafts of weeds by using bricks tied to ropes to pull them together, some would then jump on them and play away! Some used the river to swim in and would use Sutton Road Bridge as a diving board. One of the best swimmers, Harold Sykes, would climb to the top of the bridge and dive into the river when it was a top tide.
Nowadays the river is quite narrow as lack of use has allowed it to be silted up in parts. The mud holding bulrushes runs much further into the river and there is no sign of ‘the boards’.
Years later when I crewed on Comrade, the historic Humber Keel, we would take her to Beverley Beck for its winter mooring and it was always interesting to revisit my childhood as we sailed by Haworth Hall. The changes in the river was noted as we often could hear scraping the bottom when maneuvering through tight parts of the river.
As kids, our years went by governed by seasons (some natural, others on a whim!). We collected conkers and acorns in Autumn and also we would go pinching apples, we went bird nesting earlier in the year and played marbles when it was suddenly ‘marble season’ (no idea what would trigger this).
An important part of our year was the period for bow and arrows. The woods – Little Wood, Big Wood, Bluebell Wood and Fir Wood – provided us with the wood for the bow and the bulrushes became our arrows. We used to get underneath Sutton Road Bridge for tar that was found after the road was tarmacked. This would be moulded on the end of the arrow. The bulk of us would be Indians and a few Cowboys.
Haworth Hall is imposing country house and we would spend time sneaking around Big Wood which surrounded the rear and side of the house.
The back of the wood at the rear of the house was fenced off on the bankside by a long fence of corrugated metal sheets painted black. We just called it ‘Blacktins’. We could sneak in by climbing through a side fence. I do remember the Butler catching us and we legged it through the wood.
The Blacktins have gone and I went into the wood as far as I could on the recent visit and found there are still some old trees that must have been there from its earliest days. Haworth Hall is now a care home and a modern fence stopped me from going further into the grounds.
In our childhood the Hall had a small disused lake with a sunken punt which again was part of our playground. This has long gone as a new estate has been built on the field and woods. However in part of the wood south of the Hall there is a remnant of the lake with. There was no water in it (it was a very hot period) but bulrushes still stood in clumps.
What was interesting in my recent stroll on the river bank was seeing the echoes of WW2 in three gardens of house down Welwyn Park Drive. These were 3 concrete air raid shelters at the end of the gardens. Our house down Welwyn Park Avenue had one.
In childhood the war was recent memory. The first field after the end of Welwyn Park Drive still had the concrete bases for the anti-aircraft balloons that were based there. On the other side of the river was Sutton Aerodrome (sic). It was not used for flying but was being run down and used as an RAF fire Fighting Training school. The banks of the southern drain, that was part of its perimeter, gave us access and we would play amongst the scores of pranged planes getting in to play in the bomb bays and gun turrets.
It was true period of innocence with summer holidays being spent with friends in and around the river. Our parents never seemed unduly worried what we got up to and to my knowledge no one was injured in the making of this life!
Dave Tuck, for Open Bridges: A River Full Of Stories, September 2018
Open Bridges made history when for the first time all 13 of the bridges over the River Hull in the UK’s City of Culture 2017 raised, swung or closed simultaneously splitting the city of Hull in two at 20:17 hours on 22nd September 2017. Historic vessels sailed down the river, met by 21st century tugs, to the sound of a new musique concrète work by composer John Stead.
Open Bridges is an independent Hull/East Yorkshire based project.