I’ve just finished reading The Last Time I Saw Paris, which is a biography of a Parisian Street, rue de la Huchete, running from the early ’20’s to the time of World War Two. Featuring a wide cast of characters, though it’s non-fiction it reads like a novel, and I can’t remember the last time I read a book where the final words moved me so.
Anyway. There was a passage in it that reminded me of something else:
There were, in those days, certain grey-blue postcards that meant someone had been wounded or missing, and some black-rimmed white ones that spelled dark death. The women at the far end of streets would, if they saw the postman’s pouch contained no black-rimmed messages, wave and sometimes cheer with an edge of fear diminishing in their voices, and up and down the street the watchers would relax. Very often no such reassurance was forthcoming, and everyone had to wait, breath caught, nerves throbbing, until someone let out a shriek, or turned wordlessly away or dropped in her tracks and the postman wiped away a tear from his eye with the back of his hand before continuing.
I was a postman for ten years, and one of my rounds was in Cheapside, one of the oldest parts of Middleton. One of the streets there was King Street. In this photo you can see King Street, viewed from behind the cottage on Idler’s Corner, Rochdale Road, climbing ahead. If that pub on the hill is The Beehive, then this was taken before 1919, when it closed. The cottages were gone by 1925.
(Incidentally, Idler’s Corner was so called because weary travellers would stop to rest against the large York stone slabs, ‘idling’ for a time. It was directly opposite King Street.
Of course, this was well before my Royal Mail days. As was the following photograph, which lists the streets running off King Street.
This next photo, though, shows King Street as I know it.
There were no longer any houses lining the road for me to deliver to, I used it just to reach the flats that await at the top of its crest, just the odd business drop along the way.
When I used to walk up there, occasionally I would recall a story, recorded some years ago by an older resident, about a postman that had long preceded me. He was tasked, unenviably, like that postman in Paris at the beginning of this post, to deliver similar telegrams during the First World War.
Each morning, as he navigated the street, women and children would watch from behind net curtains, fearfully, waiting to see who would be the latest recipient, summoned to answer that fateful knock at the door.
Filled with a combination of dread, is he coming here?
then relief, he’s going to Maisie’s
then sadness, poor, poor Maisie
The witness told how one day the postman, having broken under the strain of this daily burden, was sat on the kerbside, sobbing, a woman from one of these houses sat silently beside him, arm around his shoulders in consolation.
I can no longer recall where it was I read this, but sometimes I would remember the story as I followed in that long-gone postman’s footsteps, climbing the hill and feeling the connection of that man and the place in which we both lived, echoes of people and homes now lost to time.