Having spoken many times with Freddie about his working life and memories of how the Potteries used to look, I was interested in the early years of a man who has led a colourful life.
However, Freddie beat me to the question and came to me with an insight to his early years in the city and the life of a teenager in the 40s and 50s.
He said: “When I was a very young teenager, my dad, who was helping a friend move some furniture into a new home, came across a problem with an upright piano.
“It was too wide to go through the front door, so my dad offered his friend the princely sum of £6 to take it off his hands.”
It was this turn of events which set Freddie off on a life-long journey into music.
“When he got that piano, it was the beginning of a keen interest in music for me, something which carried on into my adult years when I was playing in a jazz band.
“For me, and thousands of teenagers of the 1940s and 50s, this was and still is the era of the greatest kind of music.
“It was the time of the big dance bands, and the most popular kind of music was finger-clicking and foot-stomping jive and swing.
“The big bands everyone wanted to see back then were Ted Heath, Joe Loss, Ken McIntosh and Gerry Evans. There were many more, but they were the biggest.
“There were many top class singers of swing who accompanied the bands at that time.”
But it wasn’t just listening to the music which Freddie and his friends were interested in – they wanted to dance.
Every teenager wanted to learn how to ballroom dance and jive at the city’s dance halls, he recalls.
“When I was 14-years-old I started dance lessons at the Lewis’s arcade ballroom, which was a very nice and compact venue with mirrors all around the ballroom walls.
“The tutors were Mr and Mrs Clarke, and on Sunday evenings lessons were from 7pm until 8pm. You were allowed to stay on and dance for the rest of the evening, free of charge.”
Unfortunately, the small but lavish Lewis’s arcade ballroom was not around for long, as Freddie recalls.
“Sadly the venue only lasted for a short while after I joined. All the regular dancers and the tutors moved on to the Majestic ballroom in Pall Mall which was opposite the Theatre Royal. It was good there because it used to be open for dancing several nights a week.”
Following the trauma of the years during the Second World War, Freddie and his friends did not take their weekends for granted.
He said: “For us teenagers of the 40s and 50s, our Saturdays and Sundays were very important and these were some of the most enjoyable times of our lives.
“Our weekends would start at a meeting in Sherwins music store in Market Square, Hanley, on Saturday morning.
“ The new number one song in the hit parade, as it was called back then, was always announced on Saturdays.
“You could go into a kiosk and have the record played. If you wished you, you could then purchase it.”
Developing his talent for playing music, Freddie rarely settled for just buying the record.
He said: “Sometimes as well as buying the song I would also buy the sheet music which also included the lyrics.
“The youngsters of those days knew the words to all the songs and if you’ve ever noticed, today’s ‘old wrinklies’ still know all the words to all those great standout songs.”
Having spent their mornings engrossed in the latest sounds, Freddie and his mates would then set their sights on hitting the local sports fields.
He recalls: “On Saturday afternoons it was usual for the boys to play their sports, or perhaps visit Stoke City or Port Vale.
“The girls loved to go off to the shops in Hanley to buy a new top or handbag from Lewis’s or one of the other fashion shops to show off on their Saturday night out.”
Much like today, Saturday nights were a special time for those growing up in the 40s and 50s.
Freddie said: “Our Saturday night venue was sometimes the King’s Hall in Stoke. We would meet our friends in the Glebe Hotel on Glebe Street at around 7pm and then go onto the King’s Hall where we would dance the night away to the music of the Reg Basset Big Band.
“Some Saturday nights, when there were big bands like Ted Heath and Joe Loss coming to Trentham Gardens, we would spend the night at the magnificent ballroom there. It was always a packed house.
“The ballroom had tables all the way down each side and plenty of standing room at the back where boys would eye up the girls, and vice versa.
“There were always top class singers in these bands, such as Dickie Valentine or Lita Rosa.”
Aside from a night out with the lads, Freddie remembers the last dance of the evening being a time when those distant glances across the dance floor might have met.
He said: “During the evening, if there was a certain girl who you fancied, you would try to get the last waltz with her.
“This would give you the opportunity to offer to take her home, which would then give you a chance to offer to take her to the cinema on the Sunday night.”
Music and Theatre of the Potteries
If Saturdays were for music, sport and dancing, then Sundays were about getting out and about, especially if the weather was good.
“On Sundays in those days there were plenty of options to entertain yourself with, depending on the weather.
“In the summer, if the sun was out, you could get a bus to Trentham Gardens where you could either take out a rowing boat on the lake or get on one of the two steam trains which ran down the side of the lake.
“The train would take you to the very popular open-air swimming pool, with its lovely grassy banks to sunbathe on.”
During the 40s, 50s and 60s the swimming pool at Trentham Gardens was, according to Freddie, one of the area’s most popular venues where people would come in their hundreds to take a dip.
However, Freddie and his mates always had other options to keep them entertained if the weather wasn’t quite so good.
He said: “There was a good selection of cinemas in Hanley, a testament to this were the constant queues.
“But if we didn’t feel like waiting around in line then there was always a decent big band concert on at the Victoria Hall, which was always packed.
“There was a small pub opposite the Victoria Hall, and during the interval what seemed like half the audience would converge on this tiny little pub in Bagnall Street for a bevvy – it was chaos, but great stuff.
“Occasionally, on a Sunday evening, my motley band of friends would decide to catch the 5.50pm bus from Birches Head, which was usually full of our elders on the way to the 6pm church service at St John’s in Hanley.
“We would make our way to the Hollybush pub in Stockton Brook.
“Although the pub’s hours in those days were 7pm to 10pm, queues started to form at the front door at 6.30pm – and there was usually another at the side door.
“Once the pub opened, both queues would combine and converge in the music room, and within five minutes every seat was taken.”
The Hollybush’s popularity stemmed from it being the first pub beyond the then ‘city limits’, therefore allowing music late on Sundays.
Freddie said: “I remember there was a baby grand piano in the corner, often being played by Joe Baggaley who was a popular swing pianist at the time. He also played at the club in Baddeley Green.
“I recall we used to order a large plate of chicken and stuffing rolls for supper – although we swore they were rabbit!”
While Freddie and his mates had fun in their free time at the weekends, it was the annual holidays which he looked forward to the most.
“The highlight of our year was ‘Wakes Week’ holiday, which was the first week in August,” he said.
“A crowd of us gathered together at Stoke station to board the special trains put on to take us all to Blackpool for the week.
“I remember on the first day after we arrived at Blackpool, hundreds of teenagers were parading along the promenade in ‘kiss me quick’ hats.
“Our days were spent either on the Pleasure Beach or spending money on the ‘catch a penny’ machines along the Golden Mile.
“In the evening, after dinner, we would be off along to the Winter Gardens or the Tower Ballroom to dance the night away.
“They were very special times for us all back then, every boarding house in Blackpool was packed to the beams on Potter’s holiday week.
“I look back on those days now and ask myself ‘where did it all go wrong?’ My daughter Karen tells me that we certainly lived through the best times.
“After the 40s and 50s came rock ‘n’ roll and then The Beatles – I guess it doesn’t get much better than that.”
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