Heaton History Group member, Keith Fisher, is a keen local and family historian. Here is his account of his grandparents’ move to the Heaton Hall Estate in the 1930s and their wartime experiences:
My Grandad Fisher’s Mother and Grandmother, stalwart refugees from Aberdeen, had lived over their drapery, millinery and hosier’s shop – Carrol & Co – down at the bottom of Raby Street until 1920 when they moved into a flat on Eighth Avenue [#75]. Apart from working in the family shop, my Grandad also played violin and piano in the orchestra at the Heaton Electric dances which is where he met my Gran and they also went to live in Eighth Avenue after getting married [#73]. That’s where my Father was born in 1930; it was also where his younger brother was born, although he was still in the cradle when, in 1933, the Mother and Grandmother – whose business was doing very well – decided to buy a pair of flats on the forthcoming prestigious Heaton Hall Estate.
William Hall & Son of Low Fell were about to turn the Potter estate into what we know today and the flats at 20/22 Tintern Crescent were sold to us for £330.00. They were only ever sold as up and down pairs; in fact, that protocol remained in place until 1984 when #20 – which was then my flat – was sold independent of #22 after a great deal of head-scratching and pencil chewing by our solicitor considering who owned what front garden, who owned the shed, the coal-houses, the driveway down the side etc, etc, etc.
Anyway, back to Mother and Grandmother McPherson: they – along with my Grandparents – were convinced at the time of purchase that they would enjoy an unobstructed view across Tintern, out over the park and way beyond to the setting sun. It would have been a good deal less convincing if they had bothered to check the site plans, because not only was it Billy Hall’s intention to build on the opposite side but they had actually all been sold in advance before the end of 1932. My family had already moved-in when they discovered that construction was beginning on the top of the bank (overlooking Shaftsbury) and by then, of course, it was too late. It had seemed inconceivable that a row of houses could be secured on such a precipitous incline; and, in fact, only a few years after construction, two weeks’ worth of concrete was poured into the existing retaining wall in the hope of stopping the almost immediate slippage. Needless to say, it was unsuccessful and they continue to slide down the hill to such an extent that you can’t raise a mortgage on those properties and they must change hands on a cash basis.
By the time the war had started, my family had opened another shop at 108 Heaton Road (the opposite end of the block to Clough’s bar one) so my grandmother could run it and be close-by for her boys who were studying at Chilly Road School.
Because they were not short of a bob-or-two, my Grandparents had a rather sophisticated air-raid shelter constructed in the back-garden – by the same workers who had demolished Heaton Hall and built the new estate as it happens. Sophisticated by Anderson Shelter standards anyway: they dug a 10 foot deep and 8 by 6 foot hole which was lined with six inches of concrete; accessed by stairs past a blast-wall and covered over with 12 inches of reinforced concrete which was further protected by heaping up all the soil they had previously dug out. My Grandfather had money and he was using every penny necessary to protect his wife and kids. They put bunk beds in there, a fireside chair, an electric fire and a light. Luxury! Apart from the rain coming down the stairs of course; sandbagging was all they could do about that.
Friday 25th April 1941, the night of the Guildford Place/Cheltenham Terrace tragedy, my Grandmother stopped briefly at the top of the steps into the shelter because she heard a curious flap, flap, flap sound in the sky that she had never heard before. It was the parachute bringing down the ‘land-mine’. The explosion cracked the back wall of the house behind us (at 87 Heaton Road) from top corner to door lintel and it remained that way because the landlord wouldn’t repair it; I suspect the house was prone to subsidence because it was built on the site of a large tree from the old estate; I further suspect it is still cracked.
When my Grandfather (both he and Mr Clough had been on duty with the Auxiliary Fire Service that night) went to open his Heaton Road business the following morning he found a back-boiler, still glowing red-hot, in the rear of his shop – blown there from Guildford Place by the land-mine. He was subsequently told by neighbours that eight people had been found dead – totally unmarked and still sitting upright – in an air-raid shelter behind Clough’s: their heart’s stopped by the blast of the bomb. This fact was never reported publically and even today doesn’t appear in any of the official accounts of the incident; probably because of the adverse influence it could have had on people using shelters.
In the August of 1945 they brought in the workers again and broke up the roof of our shelter – it took them a week – then dumped the concrete and the soil into the hole, leaving the steps, the walls and the floor intact. My Grandfather built a large garden shed over the site that was subsequently replaced by my Father with the existing version in 1989; so the presence of the walls and stairs and floor of the shelter will remain a buried secret for eternity I suspect. Not exactly Tutankhamen’s tomb of course, but never mind: there’s so much undiscovered history on the site of Heaton Hall estate that it can just be added to the list.
If you would like to contribute to the Heaton History Group website, please contact Chris Jackson