»  The Derbyshires Come to Northampton

St. Michaels & All Angels


In April 1943, seven months into their marriage, my parents moved from Wolverhampton to Northampton. My father, 43 years old, was an employee of the Air Ministry, inspecting the workmanship on aircraft production lines. The Ministry had an office in Wood Street. My mother, just 31, was four months pregnant with my sister at this point.

When first in Northampton my parents had lodgings with a Mrs Higgins in the Billing Road (which heads out east past the General Hospital on that same map), then with a Mrs Frisby at 89 Colwyn Road, finally at 18 Perry Street, in a house belonging to, or in some way associated with, one of the families of White & Joyce, a firm of stonemasons prominent in the town.

My sister Judith was born September 4, 1943, I myself on June 3, 1945, both at Oakwood Nursing Home.

My very earliest memories are of the lodgings in Perry Street. The house was opposite St. Michael's and All Angels' church, shown in the picture here. (The church is still in business; I took that picture from their website.) One of my remotest memories is of excitement caused by a fire at the church in 1947. Others: Dad lifting floorboards with a small bone-handled knife (one of whose siblings — it was part of a set given to my parents as a wedding present — dwells today in my kitchen drawer) to reveal some frantic pink mice; a flood of water down the stairs, caused by me, I think, experimenting with upstairs faucets; my brother Noel, who was living with us at the time, getting the blame for the water incident (perhaps he was an inattentive babysitter); going with Mum to buy her needlework supplies at a little corner shop; my sister and myself playing with a ginger cat in the garden. The cat was ours, but we terrorized it till it ran away (so I was told).

The neighborhood — the first I ever knew, but of which only the dimmest memories remain — was one of redbrick terraced houses and shoe factories. This one, a few blocks away from Perry Street, would have been pretty typical.

Life for my parents during this period was very hard. My mother gives a brief, rather bitter, account in one of her later letters.

Title to the Perry Street house belonged to a young man who was killed in the war. When the will was settled, Mum and Dad had to move out. They were in serious peril of becoming homeless. At the last minute — in May 1948 — Northampton Borough Council made a property available at 62 Friars Avenue on Delapre estate, a new development on the south side of the town. Dad went to the Council offices to get the keys the Saturday before they were to leave Perry Street, and they moved to Friars Avenue the following Monday, May 24th 1948, ten days short of my third birthday. Rent was nineteen shillings a week — $3.80 at that time.