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Beechwood : A 50s childhood

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Extract from "Beechwood - Tales from the 1950s and 1960s in a small mining village"


Cleland Cross


A 50s Childhood : Beechwood : Where I grew up alongside my late brother Charlie. A picture of us as boys.

Extract from Beechwood : A 50s childhood

Uncle Andrew and his pigeons

Auntie Bella's husband was Uncle Andrew. He kept pigeons. They were all huddled together inside a large coop at the bottom of the green. It had a glass roof with panels on the side also made of glass and opened up to let the birds fly in and out. The rest of it was made of old timbers with a panel covered with chicken net, with little round holes. We used to poke our fingers inside and out : we often got pecked.

The birds made a terrific din. They also used to pong, especially in the summer. As boys of 7 and 5 or thereabouts Charlie and I helped to clean them out . Mother used to shout:

Make sure you two dont put your fingers in your mouth until after youve finished and washed your hands.....

The birds had once been requisitioned to help in the War effort. There were remarkable stories about their exploits.

Uncle Andrew said : Boys : these birds deserve the Victoria Cross for services in the field.

We didnt know what the Victoria Cross was but thought
it must be something important.

He would add : It wasnt these ones, mind boys , but their forebears, these birds are the descendants of War heroes.

There was a twinkle in his eye when he said this: the War had been over 15 years or so before this scene ... but Uncle Andrew could have been talking about the First World War.

He warned us we would be in big trouble if we ever threw anything like a stone at a pigeon... these birds are protected he added - anybody found trying to kill a pigeon would be prosecuted by the authorities and fined or sent to a reformatory ...we knew a reformatory was like jail and it wasn't a nice place...

One story was favourite. After the birds had been taken away by the army in baskets many weeks passed - later some of them arrived back home. Uncle Andrew said :

From France , across the English Channel and over the North Sea carrying secret messages about the enemy positions

We didnt know where France was but we really believed the birds had flown back from somewhere thousands and thousands of miles away.

These tales were thrilling- and grasped our attention they were so much better than the tame stories we heard on the wireless on Listen with Mother.

Uncle Andrew was always in his slippers and he looked like President Eisenhower. Mother used to say the last bit. We didnt know who President Eisenhower was but we thought he must be a kind old man, just like Uncle Andrew.

We loved Uncle Andrew. Later in life we learned that Andrew MacAlpine had been a well kent and much respected figure in the Pit Deputies Union, he was still working well into his late 70s, as many men did in the village. He even received the OBE from the Queen and had a memorial in our local Church. He died in the early 1960s.

We didnt really understand why we never saw Uncle Andrew again - we missed him - we missed his stories.

We loved the pigeons too. Some men came and pulled down the pigeon coop and took them away in baskets - we cried that day; and we never saw them ever again.

Extract from "Beechwood - Tales from the 1950s and 1960s in a small mining village"



Left : Charlie Cross 1955-1995 with Site Compiler.

Bellside 1962


The passage of time changes a village landscape. We have a responsibility to record something about the place(s) where we grew-up and recall to memory the people and things remembered from time-past. The recounting of this is important : it is of value to the next generation to pass on to them: and to ourselves it is a sort of life passage. It can be a mix of the wonderfully sentimental exorcising some ghosts, but not everyone has pleasant memories to recapture from childhood.

The quest here is to recall to life some of the memories of our roots;. My late brother, Charlie Cross , who died in 1995, aged only 40, inspired me to write the original piece as a tribute to him and our village. I have since returned to that script and added some further thoughts and comments about that short, but precious period of childhood we both shared.

I have several regrets. One obvious one - that Charlie is not able to read this. Another is that there are very few photographs of us as boys or indeed many of the Cross family at all covering this time period. Not only just 50s and 60s snaps from the family album but there are few pictures either of the village or village people we once saw almost every day. An old picture of Cleland Cross from a time around 1900 is held and some features are recognisable in this from our childhood days. I cannot remember our parents or paternal grandparents ever actually owning a camera, except an old brownie, that was from at least the 1920s and it was only ever played with by us: it was never used as a camera. In the wider family there are a few surviving photos that capture memories. There are a few school photos too. Another of Charlie and I, all dressed up too, at least I am in a oil skin and fur hat as Davey Crockett, so it must be from the time of making the John Wayne epic The Alamo; from the early 1960s. We recalled mother arranging for someone to take photos of us when we first lived in Bellside, one of these at least survives. We both remembered how cold it was sitting on the linoleum floor. Carpets were not wall to wall in our house! Or in many houses in our village, until the late 60s.

We had a sheltered childhood. It was remembered as being to use that over-used cliché happy. It was mostly, happy and innocent. This was not an illusion or an inappropriate memory. We always felt safe. We were never abused, or treated badly, and although there were raised voices and some correction was made, we were loved. Happy it was.

Our family unit was dominated by adults. These were mainly parents and grandparents. Then came aunts, uncles and cousins. Some of the cousins were adults too. As our father was an only child the aunts and uncles came from an earlier generations on his side, our mother had three brothers, these three uncles were also close guardians of our childhood mentoring, but they were younger than mother by 5-10 years. Their children were born when Charlie and I were young boys at primary school. In total this collection of rellies provided us with our first childhood experiences of family ties and relationships .

This setting provided our home life, security and safety and also invariably our appreciation of family values, of right and wrong and formed the cornerstone for the way we were reared .

We were able to peep through into this largely adult world around us and glimpse on what made our family tick and how other families in the village, and adjoining villages.


Beechwood will be published in late 2005.

Contact me for more details.

Scottish Disasters