Moving to Darnhill was, for me, a great adventure. It was January, 1963, and I was eight years old. We – my mum, dad and two older brothers – were moving from a cramped and run-down three-up, three down, privately-rented terrace house in Manchester to the relative luxury of a brand new home high in the hills of Heywood, a 45-minute ride away on the Number 63 bus.
Leaving behind friends and members of the wider family, was a wrench, but we went with the promises of a better life, although it wasn’t long before I wondered if we’d made a big mistake.
We arrived on Darnhill only days before the start of one of the worst winters on record. I had never seen snow so deep or so long-lasting.
I thought it must be normal for the area, because we were so high up, not realising at the time that it was a freak winter that was affecting most of the country.
My parents had been on the council house waiting list since before I was born, but I only ever remember visiting one property before moving to Darnhill. It was a maisonette in Miles Platting, another area of Manchester, and it was in a horrible state. Middleton also had a Manchester overspill estate in Langley but my parents were determined to hold out for the prize destination of the brand new estate in Darnhill.
In Manchester, we had only one cold tap in the house, an outside toilet, which froze in the winter, and a tin bath. Sunday was bath night which meant heating water in the electric washing machine and then transferring it to the bath in front of the coal fire. It might sound cosy but, as the youngest, I was always third in line and so never got the cleanest water.
On Darnhill, we had an indoor toilet, bathroom and hot and cold running water, and four taps. Our new home was described as a “Canadian-style” design, which meant the smokeless-fuel burning fireplace (coal was a definite no-no) was in the centre of a large room and had the effect of splitting the room into living and dining areas. Ironically, given that Darnhill was a smokeless zone, all our furniture was transported to Darnhill on the back of a coal-delivery lorry.
The outside space was also a revelation. Our playground in Manchester was the streets which was great fun, especially in summer when all the children and many of the parents would join in games of cricket, rounders or hide and seek.
But the only grass you saw was in the park and you were never allowed to go there alone.
On Darnhill, we had the streets, but we also had gardens to play in. Well, it was more the bare bones of a garden – the plots had been fenced off and topsoil delivered but we all had to muck in and spread the soil and then sow seeds for the lawns which would eventually follow. Buying rolls of grass for an instant lawn are commonplace now but they were unheard of then.
I went to St Margaret’s School, another new building which only opened the previous September. It was clean and bright, built on one level, with large windows in all the classrooms, compared with the dull, multi-storey redbrick school building I left behind in Manchester. St Margaret’s served Darnhill but also parts of Heywood. The building replaced the former Heady Hill Primary School near by and many of its pupils were from Heywood.
That was my first contact in Heywood with anyone other than Mancunians. Quite a few of the pupils in my class were from Heywood but we all got on together, as children do. We heard later that the building of a sprawling council housing estate at Darnhill for outsider Mancunians wasn’t widely welcomed in Heywood but if there was any ill-feeling I wasn’t aware of it.