Susan and John’s Early Years
By the early 1950s, the house in Harrington Street had served Eileen and Ken Dale well. They’d bought it for £450 to get a foot on the property ladder. Their son John had been born on the kitchen floor. He and Susan had attended the local schools. But Ken and Eileen were aspirational and had never intended to stay there for ever.
It was not far from Grimsby fish docks, in a bleak part of town, with a bombsite the most popular children’s play area. Ken had done the house up but it was not in great condition and would be demolished 30 years later. In the Spring of 1953, the waters of the Great East Coast flood had reached six doors away. Through hard work and long hours, Ken felt they could afford better. Indeed that summer, for the Queen’s Coronation, the Dales had acquired that rare but most coveted household possession, a television set, selected at the Electric Showroom, thanks to Ken’s mum’s generosity.
When it was delivered in the morning, Ken was at work and Eileen and the children eyed the cabinet and tiny screen with excitement, suspicion and fear, wondering what to do. Eileen plugged it in, then ordered Susan and John to stand back and shelter behind the sofa for their own safety. She switched it on and joined them, along with Judy the dog. They all peered over the back of the seat waiting for the set to explode. It took a minute or so to warm up and then a picture appeared and, to their relief, they were still alive and the house still stood. It was the first goggle-box in the neighbourhood.
On 2 June, while rain poured down the windows, neighbours packed into the living room, drank cups of tea and watched the crowning of the 27-year-old Elizabeth II. The young Queen marked the dawn of the New Elizabethan Age, ushering in a sense of optimism as rationing ended and the post-war greyness began to lift. Grimsby was the world’s most profitable fishing port, the economy was taking off and Eileen and Ken had got themselves on their feet. It was the right time to move on to the next chapter.
They found a house at 48 Clifton Road, priced at £1250, on the west side of the Grimsby/Cleethorpes conurbation, about as far away from the fish docks as possible. A removal crew loaded up their furniture and the Dales – with Judy the dog – crammed into the cab and set off into the unknown. They arrived in an unfamiliar street.
Clifton Road offered a smarter kind of terraced house, ones with neat bay windows, which had been built in the 1930s. The neighbours were kind and friendly and it seemed to offer a different world. The area was being settled by young families who, like Ken and Eileen, were aspirational both for themselves and their baby-boomer children. The street seemed to be crowded with kids, all the product of the war and its immediate aftermath. They could play in the road – there were no parked cars and hardly any traffic – or on the adjacent wasteland known as The Dumps which, belying its name, was the centre of all recreation and childish fun.
After Harrington Street, Clifton Road was full of colour and sunshine and Susan and John loved it.
Amongst the other children, there was a young lad who lived at the lower end of the road. His name was John Waite and he was the son of Betty and Reg Waite, then an English teacher at the local boys’ grammar school, Wintringham. John was an outstanding athlete, gifted at football, cricket and all the other games which the self-proclaimed Clifton Gang organised for themselves with endless enthusiasm and imagination. There was always a ball being struck or a session of kick-ball-fly being played or a den being dug or a bonfire being built. With his modest manner and sense of decency, John Waite was the natural leader.
As they entered their teens, both he and Susan regularly attended St Hugh’s Church in Haycroft Street, under the Rev. Dennis Ruddy, where John’s father would sometimes play the organ. They joined the church’s Youth Fellowship and eventually became boyfriend and girlfriend.
In their budding relationship, Susan and John found an obstacle embodied in the person of Susan’s young brother, John. In the evening they would sit quietly together on the sofa, hoping for a romantic moment, but find that the other John had parked himself at the table immediately behind them and was eating bowl after bowl of Kelloggs cornflakes, amplifying the munching just behind their nestling heads. They would swoon and sigh with impatience – rather like Ron and Eth in the Glums, the then popular radio family in Take It From Here – failing to appreciate that a growing lad needed his full-cream milk and regular crunchiness. Afterwards, when they fled to the doorstep for a goodnight kiss, the other John would lower the vacuum cleaner tube out of a bedroom window until it reached John Waite’s ear and shout: ‘Stop that snoggin’! ‘Aven’t yer got an ‘ome to go to?’
If they retreated to the alleyway, Ken would decide to ‘walk Judy the dog’ and give diplomatic coughs – he was a ten-a-day Woodbine smoker in those days – as a warning to the young couple to try and control themselves. As a last resort, he would send Judy in to bark at them.
Despite such terrors, their romance flourished and each was welcomed warmly by the other’s family. Eventually John joined the Dales in making the first of his many trips to Bourton-on-the-Water.
They became engaged and Susan, by then a legal secretary, visited Bonnets & Bows, Cleethorpes. She chose a gown which cost £19.19s.11d – £20 – a price which included hand embroidery to match that of the bridesmaids’ dresses. John, who had become a personnel officer for a Humber Bank company as well as a football star, bought a dark suit from Garrards. John Dale, then a sixth former, was measured for a bespoke suit, his first, in green dogtooth check from Montague Burton’s, price £7.00. Despite the wild extravagance, it was worth every penny and he looked fantastic.
On a sunny Saturday 27 July, 1963, a chauffeur-driven limousine pulled up and Eileen climbed in with young John and set off. A few minutes later another car arrived, this one also decked out in white ribbon, and Susan and Ken clambered aboard. The neighbours turned out to watch and cheer as it moved away.
At St Hugh’s, John was waiting nervously at the altar with his cousin and best man Clive Hutchinson as Susan entered the church on the arm of her father, who looked as proud as she looked beautiful. She floated down the aisle and took her position next to the groom. The ceremony began, conducted by the Rev. Ruddy’s successor, the Rev. Peter Hall, (who would go on to christen their children, Sally and Mark, and marry Sally a generation later).
The bridesmaids were her cousins Julie and Sally Riding, and Jayne Moy.
The service was followed by a slap-up meal at the Conservative Club, Bargate, selected by Ken despite his being a trade union member, Daily Mirror reader and Labour voter. He did not mention this to the Club’s committee. Adding to the excitement, one of the wedding limousines, driven by the groom’s neighbour and pal Bobby Chilvers, crashed into the gatepost, causing much hilarity.
Amidst clouds of confetti the couple set off on honeymoon to North Wales. John had borrowed his father’s car, a Wolseley, and they drove across the Pennines to Chester for the first night. Next day they reached Llangollen and stayed at the Swan Inn until they ran short of funds and drove back to their new home in Waltham, Grimsby. At last they could get a bit of peace and quiet away from the meddling and interference of John Dale, Ken and Judy.
Fifty happy years slipped by.
On 27 July, 2013, Susan and John celebrated their Golden Wedding.
Some of the original guests were able to attend another slap-up meal, this time laid on by their daughter, Sally Smith, at the village hall, Wootton, North Lincolnshire. Sally attended with her husband Alex and son Jacob. Also present was Susan’s son Mark who had flown over from Virginia Beach, USA, with his wife Caroline and children Charlie, Ava and Jack. Mark proposed the toast and Jacob performed on the violin.
Other guests included Susan’s mother Eileen, a sprightly 92, brother John and best man Clive.
The following week all the above – except Eileen – went on holiday together in the Lake District, staying next to Beatrix Potter’s cottage in Near Sawrey, on the hills above Lake Windermere. A splendid time was had by all, lazily indulging in the pleasures of walking, eating, drinking, playing with children, and saying: ‘Fifty years…but it seems like only yesterday!’