When we asked for memories about the Castleward area in the Derby Telegraph recently, Frank Nix , of Kelmoor Road, Alvaston, rose to the challenge. Here, he looks back to his youth in the area bordered by Siddals Road, Traffic Street, London Road and Midland Road.
SOMEONE famous once said that if you remember the 60s, you weren’t there. Well I was – and I remember everything – so here goes. I was born in 1939 in John Street, Derby. In the 1940s, Patterson’s paint factory caught fire and was gutted. It is now the council’s Harper Gardens, opposite the flats.
There were 22 pubs in the area. The Black Swan at the end of Siddals Road was the most notorious. That’s where the ladies of the night did all their trade. At the end of the football season in 1946, when Derby had won the FA Cup, some friends and I sat on the wall at the DRI and watched the players with the cup go by on a flatback truck. It was magic. Rollerskating was all the rage at this time and Siddals Road was the place to be. There was no traffic, just nightshift workers going to the Loco Works, so it was very safe.
During the summer holidays, everybody went down to the River Derwent to learn to swim. It was packed at weekends. When we could swim, we got very brave. We stole lorry inner tubes from Bob Storer’s security scrap yard, blew them up at Bob Minnion’s cycle shop and then floated down river from Five Arches to the train bridge at Alvaston Lake. It was brill. There were two open-air swimming pools on Bass’s Rec at this time, but no longer in use. Someone stocked the pools with fish from the river, then all the pensioners had fishing matches on Sunday mornings.
During the football season, we used to collect autographs from outside the Midland Hotel on Saturday nights. On one occasion, a silver-haired man said “give me your book son, I will get this lot to sign”. That man was Raich Carter. A few weeks ago Anton Rippon talked about coloured men on Siddals Road outside Oliver Wilkins, the paint works, in his column. Their overalls were covered in paint dye. Well, we saw the river change colour many times. We stood on Five Arches Bridge and watched it come down blue, green, sometimes yellow. The paintworks used to throw all their unwanted colourings into the water. It’s now called the Mill Fleam.
It was strange to see a coloured River Derwent, but it went back to normal after a few hours. When you live next to a river and a train station it’s hard to decide what your hobby will be. But for me it was fishing and Long Bridge Weir was the place to do it. Access to the weir was by way of Beckets Island. It was private land, it’s now the hydro plant.
There used to be at least 20 people fishing every day. When they were pulling the houses down to build Castle House flats, we used to play “the dare game”. You had to go upstairs to the bedroom in the dark, light a match and then come down again, very scary.
Let’s move on to youth clubs. Ours was Traffic Street Youth Club, reputed to be the best in Derby, run by Eddie Timms, Miss Woods and sometimes Arthur Keily. We had boxing and weight lifting classes and a table tennis team, plus all the latest records, open Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Two very good local boxers who trained there were Colin Moore and Barrie Adgie.
Every year, we used to go on our summer trip to Skegness by train. A great day out. One night a week when the club closed we would pop across the road to the Copeland Arms for a pint. We were all under age so the eldest would go and buy about six pints and we drank them in the front room. We had many characters in the Castle area – Puffin Billy, he thought he was a train, Percy Pidgeon, say no more, Jackie Bocca Wright, he looked a real hard man, Winnie Austin and Lily May Elliott.
Music was changing fast, with groups like Bill Haley and the Comets and Elvis Presley, both fantastic. Also a new male dress code arrived – the Teddy Boy fashion. The suits were three-quarter-length drape jackets with velvet collar, skin-tight trousers and crepe shoes. You could buy one at Beverly’s in the Morledge or have one tailor-made at Cholerton’s on Osmaston Road. I had two made there myself.
If you wanted to look a bit special you would have a fancy lining. There were about 10 Teds living in the Castle area, but plenty more in Derby. We also had a Jewish tailor, a nice little old man who lived in Rivet Street, at the end of Siddals Road. His name was Mr Duggan. He would taper your trousers very cheaply. I went into his front room once, he had trousers, waistcoats and jackets everywhere. He told me he was doing very well thanks to the Teddy Boy fashion.
Monday, September 24, 1956, is a date I remember well. Rock Around the Clock was shown at the Odeon Cinema and some mates and I went to see it. Rock â€™nâ€™ roll had arrived in Derby. Everybody went crazy. When the film finished, everybody went down to the Market Place. Riots broke out while everyone was dancing and singing. The police arrived and made a few arrests.
My love life was getting serious now. My good-looking girlfriend also came from the Castle area. We did all the usual stuff like the Locarno, Ritz, Rialto, Albert Hall and skating at Reginald Street, plus two nights a week at the youth club. She was not too keen on my Teddy Boy clothes so I started to leave my drape jacket at home. After a while we got engaged.
Fast forward now to August 1960 and we got married at Trinity Church on London Road. Soon after, the council offered us a house in Chaddesden, so off we went to start a new life. About a year later, we realised we did not like the area – we were townies, you see. Then, out of the blue, someone offered an exchange back to Castleward. We jumped at the chance. So we settled back in John Street and life was great again. Sunday afternoons, when the pubs closed at 2pm, a few of us went for a game of football on Bass’s Rec. The numbers grew till we had a full side. We then heard about a meeting to be held at the Exchange Pub, now the New City Bar, to form a new Sunday football league. We attended, everything went well, so we signed up. That made us one of the founder members of the new league. Our team was called Castle Sports.
Looking back on my life, the best decision I have ever made was when I proposed to my fiancee years ago. We have travelled the world together, have three great kids, now in their 40s, and have just celebrated our 53 years of marriage. That’s not bad for a couple of kids like us from the Castle.