Leven is in the very heart of The East Riding of Yorkshire. That is where I was born and where I spent the first eighteen years of my life. My first cries were heard in the front bedroom of the village's Victorian school house as Dr Baker helped to deliver me. I weighed 10lb 7oz - the heaviest of all my mother's babies.
At that time Leven's population was a steady 350, hardly varying from year to year until the mid-sixties when three housing estates were developed - Westlands Way, Barley Gate and Mill Drive. Within a couple of years the population had doubled.
But back in the original village of my childhood, I knew everybody. As the years have passed my memories of those people have become dimmer and some of the names now escape me. They were like characters in a very lengthy play - "The Early Life of Yorkshire Pudding".
For some reason I have clear memories of a little fellow called Joe Grubham. He was the village's road sweeper and lived in a tiny cottage down West Street. Wiry like a weasel, there was always an old flat cap on his head. I picture him on his ancient black bicycle with bike clips protecting his flapping trouser bottoms from the oily chain. And I picture him with his extra wide sweeping brush, quietly sweeping along - gathering the dust and agricultural debris with a battered old shovel.
Even though the village was quite small it had two pubs, a cafe and six shops. Leven is now home to 2500 souls but nowadays it only has one shop. Go figure.
Mr Peers in his brown shop coat ran a grocery store on South Street. It was right next to Nat Lofthouse's butcher's shop. Across the road was the post office run by Mrs Rosling and a few doors away was Mrs Austwick's sweet shop. That was my favourite one.
Mr Austwick was Welsh. A bell went when you entered the shop through its little dark wooden porch and Mrs Austwick would leave what ever she was doing in the living quarters to attend to her customers. There were big jars of sweets - nut brittle, lemon sherbets, aniseed balls, Everton mints, Milkmaid toffees, pineapple chunks and below the counter was a window on a wonderful world of penny chews, gobstoppers, black jacks, fruit salads, shrimps, white chocolate mice and Anglo bubblegum.
This pocket money confectionery was moved out in mid-October every year so that Mrs Austwick could display her fireworks stock ahead of Bonfire Night and the annual incineration of Guy Fawkes. In those days there were no age restrictions surrounding the purchase of fireworks. Even from the age of six or seven, I remember buying individual fireworks from Mrs Austwick and adding them to the cache that I kept in a tin under my bed. Penny bangers were a particular favourite.
Leven Canal struck east for three miles from The River Hull. Once it had been a useful artery for the transport of coal and agricultural produce but its usefulness came to an end before World War II. By the fifties it was a back water for wild fowl and anglers.
|Ship Ahoy! Robin, Paul and I on Leven Canal circa 1959|
Village boys saw it as an aquatic playground but there was a fly in our pleasurable ointment - the canal warden who lived in an isolated house near Sandholme Bridge. She was the fearsome Old Ma Fairlow - like an evil witch in a fairy story. She had a personal vendetta against lads like me and was especially averse to us rowing boats on her private waterway. Many's the time she'd be there on the canalside in her floral nylon housecoat, frothing at the mouth and yelling hateful epithets at us as we rowed to the opposite bank. It would be easy to have nightmare about Old Ma Fairlow.
P.C.Geoff Pepys, a gentle uniformed giant of a man, lived in the police house on High Stile with his wife and two daughters - Diane and Vicky. The building included a little courtroom where presumably, in times gone by, magistrates made judgements about local infringements of the law. It was nice to play in there and sometimes we had mock trials. Old Ma Fairlow was regularly given the death penalty.
Mrs Jordan lived in a farmhouse on West Street. Mike Swann and Michael Keenan lived on Trinity Close. Fanny Williamson lived in the shop down East Street and once performed a striptease in the hayloft to an exclusive male audience with eyeballs on sticks. Alf Assert was the school caretaker with a smoky black pipe that he clenched expertly between his teeth and portly Irene Buckley and Nelly Brocklebank were the seemingly permanent school cooks easing generous portions of mashed potato or treacle sponge on to our plates with matronly affection.
Neil Wright was neither a boy nor a girl. Physically I guess that nowadays he would be called transgender. It was all a mystery and I have no idea what happened to him.
A lady from Northern Ireland lived next door. Mrs Varley was very good on the piano and a stalwart of the congregation at Holy Trinity Church. She was very fond of our Paul and even left him an ancient set of The Encyclopaedia Britannica in her will. In the autumn, she would leave baskets of fallen eating apples at her gate for passing schoolchildren.
|Leven today courtesy of Google Streetview|
Mrs Austwick's shop was in the house on the left
And I remember Amy Spicer. My brothers and I sometimes referred to her as Auntie Amy though she was not related to us. She came to our house once a week to polish brasses and clean out the fireplaces. She was small and a gentle spinster with her steel-coloured hair tied up in a bun. Sometimes she would babysit for us and she would read stories too but she got old and started accidentally breaking things till my mother had to say "no more" and let her go.
The pubs were called "The Hare and Hounds" and "The New Inn". The landlord and landlady of the first named pub were Trevor and Madge Ward. One cold New Year's Eve they were walking home by the main road after carousing in "The New Inn". I don't recall the details of the accident but a car ploughed into Trevor and killed him outright. That was probably at the very start of 1960 - not a nice way to start a new year. Afterwards, Madge ran "The Hare and Hounds" for many years as the sole licensee.
Around the village there were several farms where you could work or play and I spent a lot of time at the Watsons' farm at Hall Garth near to where the medieval village church used to stand - St Faith's. Once we cornered a rat with pitch forks and we were devils at pulling bales out of the haystacks to make caves and dens. I remember kissing Gillian Hartley's ruby lips deep in one of them though she was nine and I was eleven. It seemed as though we were locked together.
Though many years have passed, I remember a lot about my early years. In lots of ways it was an idyllic, safe and happy childhood - a time of discovery and innocence. No computer games or smartphones and television was so amateurish and black and white. No one was addicted to it. What mattered was the people around you and what the weather would be like the next day. You made the most of things and carried on without much thought about what the future might bring.