Lionel Walsh • My Life and Times

Chapter one

Childhood Years

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My first and perhaps greatest triumph was winning a nationwide competition organized by the Sunday Dispatch newspaper to find “The Bonniest Baby in Britain”. My father took the pictures of the two-year-old Lionel, his head a mass of golden curls in those days, which entranced the thousands of Dispatch readers who cast their votes. Interviewed by a Dispatch reporter, my father, Victor, said the two hundred pounds prize money would go towards paying for a public school education for the bonniest baby. Suffice to say that two hundred quid was worth immeasurably more then than today, or even when I went to school at Sedbergh in the Fell country surrounding the Lake District. 


Trophy still on display

The suitably engraved silver rose bowl that was also part of the prize in the Bonniest Baby Competition now adorns the dining room table in our home at La Chapelle Themer in La Vendee, on the French Atlantic coast.

I have no memories at all of the bonny baby contest, but cannot resist recounting the origins of the cup to visitors to our home.

The next event in my life was a bout of double pneumonia, which left me suffering from asthma throughout my childhood. That scourge did not leave me until I went to Sedbergh School on the Yorkshire border with Westmoreland at the height of the war in 1944.

I have plentiful childhood memories, among them receiving as a present from my grandmother, Edith Bacon, known at her insistance as “Dearie”, a woolly sheep and two lambs, complete with a stretch of woven grass. 


Infantile excursions

I quickly formed the habit of crawling about the nursery floor, holding a lamb by one of its legs in my mouth. I then unilaterally decided that my grandmother’s ample breasts should be known as “Baby lieaga insters.” 

I should add at this point that all the childhood details that I recount remain very much alive in my memory. I actually remember everything I report unless I state otherwise.


The Bonniest Baby in Britain: my father's prize-winning photograph


My mother, Audrey, with her two boys (circa 1938)


Seaside holidays 

An abiding memory is the summer holidays that the family spent, mainly at Filey on the Yorkshire coast, but also at Saltburn, Primrose Valley and Sandsend, near Whitby. Usually, my Uncle Cecil and Aunty Aylmer Robinson, with their children, Nigel and Rosalind, would take their holidays at the same place and time. Robinson relatives Uncle Eric and Aunty Rita Turner, and their daughter Pollypenny, were frequently present too.


Stop me and buy one

Vivid memories are of buying Eldorado ice cream cornets from a stop-me-and-buy-one man pedalling his tricycle containing a drum of ice cream on the beach at Filey and watching enthralled as the brightly coloured biplanes of Alan Cobham’s Flying Circus hurtled low above the sands. Every day on these summer holidays, my big brother, Michael, and I would head for the beach with our buckets and spades to build sand castles and dams to control lakes of sea water that would all be swept away when the tide came in. 


Happy schooldays

My happiest childhood memories are of my schooldays at Clifton House, a large Victorian pile overlooking the Stray, a park covering 200 acres, in Harrogate. Our house, a semi-detached residence called Moreleigh,at 45 Tewit Well Road, had a fairly large back garden, where Michael and I played bicycle polo on occasions such as his 10th birthday. 

All his school friends, among them Graham Scott, Keith Southcott, Ian McLintock, and Billy Audsley were invited. At Clifton, I and some 15 other little boys were taught to read and write and do elementary arithmatic by motherly Mrs Street, who sported a fringe, which even in those distant days seemed old-fashioned. My special friends, who have remained so all my life, were Peter Scott, brother of the aforementioned Graham, and Michael Perkis. Other boys in the class were clever Bobby Seaton, David Conway, Trevor Eastwood and not so-clever Kenneth Binks and Kenneth Dobson. Both the last named had red hair. Edward Greenhalgh, another friend, arrived later.


Learning to read

Mrs Street used to teach us the alphabet by showing us big square cards with single letters on them. Ahhh, Bu, cu, Du, e, fu, gu, etc, with the vowel shortened. We would shout the appropriate sound in chorus.

Mrs Street also taught us to recite multiplication tables and how to add, subtract, multiply and divide. I worked the first page of my arithmetic exercise book over and over again, rubbing out my erroneous calculations until a hole appeared in the page. For such transgressions Mrs Street would make the offender stand in the corner of the classroom for a few minutes.

A highlight of my early years at Clifton was taking  a minor part in a school play, written by Mr Long, one of the masters. Based on the legend of Orfeus and Euridice, the play featured a Black Knight, played by Peter Leigh, a boy called Jones as Orpheus, and my brother Michael as Euridice. Trevor Eastwood and I had minor parts as an elves, in yellow costmes. My friend Peter Scott was a gnome. 


Coley takes over

The headmaster when I first went to Clifton was Mr Burgess, an august figure who would preside over morning assembly in the gym.


“Snake in the grass”

He was succeeded by Mr Colton (old Coley as he was known to us small boys). Coley came to play a major role in our lives. He carried two canes, hitched inside his jacket, and would give an offending boy “the swish” upon very little provocation. “You snake in the grass,” he would cry, summoning the offender to be caned. In fact, Coley’s swishings did not hurt all that much. I recall that he tried to cane me when I paid a return visit to Clifton soon after leaving the school. I took some pleasure in refusing to be caned on that  occasion.



Next: Chapter 2 >> School at Clifton

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Copyright © 2008 Lionel Walsh

 The Walsh family, with dog Gill, on holiday in Scarborough


A pensive Lionel, pictured by my father



 Grandpa Bacon and Grandpa Walsh


On the beach at Filey