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I had occasion to consult the Manchester A to Z Street Guide the other day, flicking my eyes over the 'M's in the index. A couple of minutes later it dawned on me that I'd not noticed a Mawson Street in the listing, so I checked back. Definitely no Mawson Street. Gone. No hint of its presence on the street map, either. Yet it was there once, exists still in my childhood memories.
During the twenties to the start of the thirties I lived on Brunswick Street, which linked Ardwick Green crossroads with Oxford Road and the forbidding pile of Owens College. Our side of the street was an almost solid front of respectable Victorian terraced houses, ending in a cluster of shops at Temple Street, then continuing past the grimy bulk of St Paul's Church and school. On the opposite side of the street a busy row of shops served the neighbourhood.
The back yard of our house opened on to a narrow entry running the length of the block, shared by the houses along Mawson Street, and giving access to the back street. While Brunswick Street was a busy thoroughfare, with people shopping, trams regularly skimming by, the occasional motor or van mingling with the horse-drawn traffic, Mawson Street was narrow, cobbled and relatively traffic-free, apart from the occasional coal-cart delivering, midden-men collecting, or the donkey-stone man with his pony and cart in search of old clothes and rags.
Kids drifted to play and socialise in Mawson Street, attracted by the two corner shops halfway along, a greengrocers where we bought fruit in season, and a sweet shop, a popular rendezvous, crammed with teeth-rotting delights like aniseed balls, Chicago bars, sherbert fizzes, liquorice sticks and braid, jelly babies and wine gums, chocolate drops, and all varieties of boiled sweets.
The pavements of Mawson Street were decorated by the laboriously chalked-out pitches of hop-scotch gamesters and the tribal signs of aspiring pavement artists, scuffed by the pattering feet and ropes of "one, two, three, a-larah" skipping girls, periodically washed clean by falling rain. The street provided a test ground where the lads demonstrated their expertise, scientifically folding paper aeroplanes and launching them in marathon competitions to see whose would glide the furthest.
The frustration of losing promising models in the gutter of someone's bay window occasionally drove us to the more open spaces of Ardwick Green or Whitworth Park, and on fine sunny days the distant expanse of Platt Fields. But by evening we'd be back in Mawson Street, gathered round the street gas lights, swapping comics, trading ciggy cards, and tormenting the girls as they swung round on ropes draped from the arms of the lamp-posts.
The residents of Mawson Street must have been a tolerant lot to put up with the antics and noise of our rowdy gang, largely without protest. Several of my pals lived on one side of the street: the Foster kids, Norman and his elder brother John, crippled hands each sporting only a little finger, whose dexterity amazed us; Harold, a mardy lad whose mum wouldn't let him out on dark evenings.
Halfway down the street, lived the prolific Cunningham family, eldest daughter Norah the redoubtable organiser of amateur dancing troupes featuring the junior Cunninghams, always to the fore in local parades and processions, and coach of youngest sister Peggy, regularly chosen as local May Queen. And on the Brunswick Street side of the entry, Cliff, the coloured lad, David with his vast collection of Magnets and Sexton Blake comics, inherited from an elder brother, Fatty Ward, whose father ran the sweet shop.
Oddly, I don't recall any kids living in the houses opposite, the stretch between the corner sweet shop and the redolent Moffatt's toffee factory next to the bank at the London Road end of the street. ■
It strikes me that if the shortcomings of the current Manchester A to Z Street Guide can evoke such memories, there may be a market, in these heritage-conscious days, for a Manchester "As-It-Was" Street Guide.
© Harry Turner, May 1997
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