20th March 2017
“My late father lived on Nunnery Lane as a child, on the junction of Nunnery Lane and Price’s Lane. Their house, along with a few others, was demolished some years later, to make way for the current junction, which is where the road now forks, with Nunnery Lane on the right and Price’s Lane on the left, running alongside the Bar Walls. From what he told us, their house was the very last one on the block, and was also an off-licence on the ground floor.”
With the help of photos and information provided by us, Martin has given us a picture of life just before the beginning of World War 2.
The family moved into the house on the end in about 1938. The shop (the nearest of the two on the left in the picture) was an off-licence, which Emma, Martin’s nanna, ran when they lived there.
The records for Nunnery Lane show that No. 28 was an off licence from 1885 onwards, run by a range of people: Edwin Oulds 1885-1891, Mrs. Elizabeth Bailey 1913, Arthur Jackson 1921, Alfred Bowerman 1925, ; J. Fothergill 1930 and Emma Reagan 1938-41.
No. 30 Nunnery Lane was a newsagent’s, run by Lawrence Marshall up to 1957. There were plans to demolish the whole block and replace it with a roundabout. This was eventually abandoned, but the newsagent’s and off-licence were demolished in the early 1960s, for road-widening. Two large buildings at the end of Nunnery Lane and Prices Lane were also demolished and the area is now green.
The following picture was taken in 1935.
The Laurel & Hardy film was released in 1934.
Emma Reagan was the mother of Martin senior (1924-2016) and the grandmother of Martin junior. She was married to Thomas, who was a housebuilder, and his son Martin worked for him. At this point Thomas and Emma would have had five children. The sixth was born while they lived in Nunnery Lane, and they went on to have nine in total. This large family would have been living in a very small number of rooms.
It seems that they would have purchased or rented the off-licence as a going business, which also provided accommodation. They had moved from Tang Hall Lane and previously lived in the Groves, and before that Thornton-le-Clay near Sherriff Hutton.
Thomas snr had cycled down from Morpeth to find work in around 1927, and brought his wife and (at the time) two children down afterwards. Both Thomas and Emma came from large families of coal miners, and this industry would have been declining, so the move is not surprising.
Martin’s Uncle Tom (1927-2004), his dad’s brother, recorded some memories which include the period they lived at Nunnery Lane. He attended English Martyrs School (behind the Odeon). He mentioned that their back garden or yard was triangular shaped, and backed on to Price’s Lane. 28 Nunnery Lane had a cellar which could have been used as an air raid shelter. By the time of the big air raid in York in 1942 the family had moved to Clarence Street.
Martin’s Uncle Tom also mentions that he watched a large public air raid shelter being built on Scarcroft playing field, a wide trench being lined and covered with concrete slabs then the excavated earth being piled on top, all done without machinery. He became friends with Michael Connolly, whose dad was the gardener at the Bar Convent, and used to visit his pal at their house, which was at the rear of the convent, and backed onto the lane with the Trafalgar pub. The house is still there, halfway down the lane.
There was a rag and bone yard down Dale Street, and his friend Lewy Birch lived down there. The rag and bone yard used to pay a penny or twopence for a rabbit skin.
Houses in Dale Street and Swann Street were assessed as unfit for habitation, and pulled down just before the war. Tom tells of walking to school one morning across the site, and seeing a workman who was digging for drainage digging up a human skeleton, and remembering how white its teeth seemed. Some of Dale St and one side of Swann St were replaced by flats and maisonettes. The other side of Swann St was filled with prefabs later.
He remembers cattle being driven along Nunnery Lane regularly by drovers, who were also known as “Cow Whollopers”! These men had dogs, which acted in the same way as sheepdogs do, but were also regularly helped by local children along the way.
Martin’s great grandad, Joseph Reagan, joined the army in his fifties in 1915, to do some of the tunnelling under enemy lines during the trench warfare. He was badly injured and received an honourable discharge in 1916. Emma Reagan (nee Steele), was really unlucky – she came from a big family but lost two brothers in the first world war and the other one in the Montagu Pit disaster near Newcastle in 1925.
Clements Hall Local History Group Archive