Shepherd Street University: Part Two – More Reminiscences & an Obit


Bill Keeth concludes his happy memories of Mount Carmel Infants’ & Boys’ Schools, Manchester, in the late-1940s & early- ’50s

1953 There is no tuck shop in school as such. So everybody, or so it seems, goes over the wall at playtime to stock up on Ha’penny Chews, Banana Splits, Rainbow Crystals, Chocstix, Black Jacks, Licquorice Sticks and other confections at Mr Mac’s toffee shop on James Street, where Mr Mac (“Macdonald”, he once confided to me in his retirement), bespectacled, flat cap aslant, incessantly chewing on the remnant of some anonymous sweetmeat, takes slabs of Highland Toffee, chocolate, treacle (in season), and breaks them with a toffee hammer.

More seasoned wall-hoppers, bored with this perennial performance, take themselves off to the Little Woman’s shop beyond the off-licence where they splash out on Pendeleton’s Twicers.

1954 Mickey Mulligan, the new headteacher, introduces Music to the Curriculum. This innovation involves your class (Standard 5) being taken out to the Prefabs (to Standard 8) on a Friday afternoon to listen to Mickey Mulligan’s record collection – all two of them, as I recall: ‘Cool Water’ by Frankie Laine and the Oberkirchen Children’s Choir, singing ‘The Happy Wanderer’.

Mid-week in Mr Cosgrove’s class (Standard 4) an instrument of Inquisitional torture is in daily use – a textbook entitled Train and Test wherein Mathematical problems feature prominently, pummeling your young mind into insensitivity with questions involving:

a) an escapee from Prestwich lunatic asylum who will insist on trying to run himself a bath without putting the plug in;

b) a DIY dumb cluck who is inexplicably intent upon weighing a brick and a half; and

c) a deluded time and motion expert who, being fully aware that 10 men can build a house in six months, sets a labour force of 1M to work and builds Langley Estate in a week

Mid-to-Late Fifties Altar boys at Mount Carmel Church come under the supervision of Fr Joseph Leigh, a newly ordained priest who is landed with the job of arranging a rota of altar servers on a daily and weekly basis for four curates plus the parish priest. Byt the care Fr Leigh extends to the lads goes further than this and encompasses any lad in the area who may be interested, be he a parishioner or no. Because on high days and holidays FR Leigh undertakes to transports hordes of you into the great, and previously unknown, outdoors. Thus the world – or, specifically, that part of the world that is within striking distance of a day return rail or bus ticket – becomes our oyster.

Pendle Hill . . . Whalley Abbey . . . Edale in Derbyshire . . . Kinder Scout . . . Greenfield beyond Oldham and a mountain (hill more like) called Pots and Pans where Spud Murphy entertains us by starting an avalanche of Millstone Grit. But best of all and what we are most eager to sample at Hardcastle Crags are a series of stepping-stones said to bestride the stream there.

Michael Murray (sadly, recently deceased) is perhaps more eager than most. Running ahead of the main party, he finds the stepping-stones but loses his footing, this ensuring that our first glimpse of Hardcastle Crags is splash of quite epic proportions. Michael spends the rest of the day wrapped in Fr Leigh’s raincoat while his clothes dry out.

I can remember this was adjudged hilarious at the time, though I now believe it was something of a very different order indeed. For it occurs to me in retrospect that Michael is wrapped safely in Fr Leigh’s raincoat still whilst the rest of the lads continue to bring up the rear.

(24 September 2014)

See Amazon Kindle books recently published by Bill Keeth: Every Street in Manchester, Manchester 9, Write It Self-Publish It Sell It, Boost Your Pocket Money and Pension

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