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91-year-old woman recalls fascinating memories of life growing up in 1920s Chester

Gwenda Hope says Chester has a special place in her heart

91-year-old Gwenda Hope has shared her memories of growing up in Chester

A woman who grew up in Chester during the 1920s and 30s has recalled her fond memories of the city that makes her feel ‘warm inside’.

Gwenda Hope, née Wright, now 91, wrote to The Chronicle to share happy anecdotes of living in Handbridge almost a century ago, which include seeing the rag and bone man and going to the fun fair at the Little Roodee.

Gwenda, who now lives in Poynton, still has a special affinity to the place she spent her formative years, and said she gets a warm feeling inside whenever she hears the name ‘Overleigh Road’, where she was born in the front bedroom of number 70.

Some of her father’s nine siblings lived with Gwenda and her parents and the house had two bedrooms and a box room, an outside toilet and a lane at the back that they called ‘The Backs’.

Gwenda's house - 70 Overleigh Road

“Eventually the Duke of Westminster, whose house it was, put bathrooms in our houses – heaven, you couldn’t get me out after years of a bath in front of the fire surrounded by aunts and uncles calling after church,” recalls Gwenda.

“I had the back bedroom where every May time I used to lean out looking across Powell’s Orchard at the lights of Patsy Collins Fun Fair on the Little Roodee by Chester Castle.”

Theirs was a happy home, and Gwenda says her father was ‘full of fun’ while her mother was more serious.

“She had to look after me, keeping me in order as Dad was a commercial traveller, away Monday - Friday. I had birthday parties every year and Christmas was wonderful. All the family came. I can remember Christmas morning and calling ‘He’s been!’ when I saw the pressies at the end of my bed and Mum and Dad laughing.

“In the future we had many more celebrations.

“I learned to ride a bicycle and Dad provided us with a school bench where we played for hours. There was also a rag and bone man called Harry Hand eating his lunch every day. We called him names and he used to chase us.”

In the corner of what used to be the family’s living room was a boiler which Gwenda says was taken out in order to build a lean-to on the side of the house, which became their kitchen.

Gwenda Hope, now 91, as a child growing up in Chester

“I can remember so well turning the handle on the mangle. We had a new Triplex fire with its own oven where Dad cooked the Sunday roast to perfection and Victoria sandwiches to sell in aid of the Methodist chapel – there were no fancy knobs to turn for the temperature.”

Gwenda began piano lessons on her seventh birthday which she ‘hated at first’ but ended up with honours after passing her exams and playing at Chester Town Hall and the cathedral.

“Nowadays I can no longer spread my fingers to play an octave but thank you Mum and Dad for paying every week for eight years and also taking me on two buses every winter to Upton by Chester,” she laughs. “After I left school I worked at Thomas Nicholls Snuff Mill where my parents had met. I worked there until 1939. Unfortunately in later years it burned down.

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“I spent my war years at the Western Command which was nearby in Handbridge and at the age of 22 married for the first time. Unfortunately the marriage ended after 23 years but it gave me two wonderful daughters, five grandchildren and four great grandchildren with another on the way.

“But guess what! I married again and where did we meet? – Overleigh! So I have much to thank it for. Although I no longer live in Chester it will always hold a very dear place in my heart.”

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