The family next door

A story about good neighbours and rekindling old friendships

A few Christmases ago, Eddie Moore visited his family’s grave in Moston cemetery. His parents Harold and Mary are buried there, as are his grandparents Jane and Thomas, and his son Andrew’s ashes are scattered there too. The Moores are a Catholic family of Irish descent who have deep roots in Manchester, and the epitaph requests the intercession of “Our Lady of Lourdes”.

Something surprised him at the grave. Standing by the headstone were two offerings he hadn’t left there and hadn’t seen before — a bottle of red wine and a glittery miniature Christmas tree. Eddie, now 72, is the only one of his siblings still living in Manchester, so he wondered who had left them. If he had cast his mind back half a century, he might have been able to work it out.

Eddie and his family grew up on St John’s Road in Old Trafford, a street of terraces and semis that sits halfway between Alexandra Park in Whalley Range and the home of Manchester United. His mother had lived on the road during the Second World War, and he and his siblings grew up in number 57, including his sister Bernadette, who was born in 1958.

“It was a well-kept, respectable neighbourhood,” she says, remembering that the family was very involved in the parish of the St Alphonsus. Their father Harold, worked as a “cost accountant” at an office in Old Trafford — not a qualified accountant, but someone who keeps track of a company’s spending. Their mother did part-time administrative work. “We didn't have a lot of money,” Bernadette says, “but we had nice clothes and my mum was a great cook. It was a happy family.”

When he wasn’t gardening, Harold dedicated his spare time to Manchester United, where he worked on the gate and in the ticket office. He could slip people into the ground during games and was “daft” about the club, says Bernadette.

Both parents were passionate about education, willing their children to get opportunities they hadn’t received themselves. Harold found time to tutor local children for their 11-plus — children whose parents were Polish or Italian immigrants and couldn’t do it themselves.

The new neighbours

When Bernadette was six years old, a new family moved into the house next door, number 55 St John’s Road. It was 1964 and her favourite pop song, “My Boy Lollipop,” was in the charts. Bernadette, who later became a journalist in Manchester and then in London, takes up the story:

Jean and Bernard, aka Bluesy, were from Jamaica and had met and married in Manchester a few years earlier. Jean always insisted she didn’t arrive on The Windrush — “I flew from Jamaica,” she said proudly. They moved next door with their three-year-old daughter, Jennifer, and baby Yvonne. It wasn’t long before Everton was born, later to be joined by Faith (now known as Fiona) and Byron (now known as Gordon), mirroring our family — three girls and two boys.

I was fascinated. They were the first, and one of the few West Indians to move into the white working class (or maybe lower middle class) neighbourhood of mainly long established Mancunians like us, with a smattering of Irish, Polish, Italian and Hungarian. The smells, the food, the clothes, hairstyles, music and the way they spoke injected an exciting new dimension into our perfectly happy, but until then, humdrum lives.

I’d never heard music like the sounds that seeped through the walls dividing our homes. I would drift off to sleep in the front bedroom listening to Bluesy’s band, ‘The Alphabets’, practising reggae tunes in their cellar, the session invariably ending with a rendition of ‘The Israelites’ by Desmond Dekker and The Aces.

Little did I know that The Alphabets, managed by Bluesy, supported not only Desmond Dekker but Jimmy Cliff and Percy Sledge. They were about to hit the big time supporting Jimi Hendrix, but they got stuck in traffic on the M6 down to London and never made the concert.

I loved the family’s Jamaican accents and some of the words they used made me chuckle like ‘dolly baby’ for dolly and ‘big baggy’ for the navy blue uniform knickers hanging on our washing line. Watching Jean rub Dixie Peach oil through the girls’ hair before dividing it into sections, where she’d create little plaits tied with colourful bobbles, was mesmerizing. As I got older I’d have a go but never mastered her dexterity.

Just as new as the smell of the hair oil, but not quite as appealing, was the aroma of salt cod cooking in their kitchen, the fumes of which would drift out of the door and waft over to our garden. “Whatever is that smell?” I’d ask my mum. “It’s Jamaican food and just be quiet,” she replied with a look that said ‘don’t be disrespectful’.

Above all, they were warm and friendly. We were welcome in their house and likewise with us. I loved sitting in their front (best) room on the frilly edged cushions looking at the two photographs of Cassius Clay and of Norman Manley, the first Prime Minister of Jamaica. Best of all was time spent in the front bedroom upstairs, rocking to sleep either Everton or Faith when they were babies.

Jennifer and Yvonne were the closest in age to Bernadette, and the three played together a lot. On her 12th birthday, they came to her party, wowing her new school friends “who didn’t have West Indian neighbours” with their dancing. The children played out in each others’ gardens and Bernadette could see Jennifer and Yvonne’s bedroom from her bay window.

Yvonne’s dad was a motor mechanic and her mum did some nursing, and also worked in a bakery in town. They insisted their children call Bernadette’s parents “Mr and Mrs Moore” rather than using their first names, and Yvonne remembers the support she felt from next door. “We didn’t really have anything in common, but we got on great and they showed us so much love and treated us like their own.” She adds: “We’ve never forgotten it.”

Like Bernadette, Yvonne grew up to become a journalist. She writes about her memories from that time:

I remember the smell of their house – tea, cake and warmth. Mr Moore, worked on the gates at Manchester United for as long as we’d know him and if there’s anyone, apart from Alex Ferguson, who’s loved the club as much as him, we’ve never heard of them. He’d take my younger brother, Everton, to the big matches with clubs like Liverpool and Manchester City.

He treated him like a second son. Everton would wait within the turnstile enclosure until 20 minutes into the game, then Mr Moore would close the gate and find a good vantage point where they’d both watch and enjoy the match. He’d always have a couple of sweets or polo mints in his pocket to share. With age, I can see where Mr Moore’s role was integral to my brother’s life growing up. Mum and dad had split up before I hit my teens so it was great to have another family around.

One of my best memories, and that of my family’s too, was our first trip to the seaside. Mr and Mrs Moore took my sisters Jennifer and Fiona, Everton and myself, (our youngest brother Gordon, hadn’t been born yet), to Blackpool when they learned that we’d never been to the seaside.

They scooped us up and squeezed all four of us into the back of their black Morris Minor on the 80-mile round-trip. Even though I was seven I still remember it clearly. It was Fiona’s third birthday, 6 August 1971, and it was freezing, so we ended up putting our jumpers on over our swimming costumes and shivering on the beach.

Jennifer told me recently that it was Edward, the second eldest, who’d taught her to ride a bike and the family had also taught Fiona to play French cricket. Mr Moore always drove great cars and I fondly recollect Mr and Mrs Moore driving off to the shops in their two-tone red and white Hillman Imp.

He also did our gardening so we always had one of the best hedges in the road. He loved his gardening and his back garden was as flat as that Old Trafford pitch he loved so much and Everton and he often played football or bowls on it. We had an apple tree in the back garden and would share the fruit with the Moores as they loved apples too. One of our favourites is still apple pie and custard.

Everton was named after the West Indian cricketer, Everton Weekes, and Bernadette remembers the little boy and her dad chanting to each other across the fence as if they were on the football terraces: “‘Ever-ton, Ever-ton,’ dad would shout, interspersed with three claps, followed by Everton shouting in the same vein ‘Mr Moore, Mr Moore’”.

“He was like a father to me,” says Everton. “He did the things that a dad would do, like take me to the football or just play football on the grass outside. Mrs Moore would always make a cup of Bovril to drink before the match, and a little snack to eat at half time, then we’d jump in the car and go.”

A missed goodbye

Yvonne came back to the city in 1988, as a 24-year-old. She had spent five years in Yorkshire, where she attended college and worked as a journalist. By that time, Bernadette’s mother Mary had died, and Harold Moore had moved away. “When I moved back to Manchester I remember saying to mum 'We must go and visit Mr Moore,'” she says, but she kept putting it off.

Six months later, he died. “I was so gutted,” says Yvonne. “You know what it's like when you promise to do something and then you don't, and it was too late. I had lived away for five years so I hadn't seen him for a long time.” She remembered his importance to her mother and to her family. “He was just the kind of man who was beaming when he entered the room,” she says.

Harold died of a heart attack, collapsing just outside the Trafford Bar railway station on his way back from a stint at the Manchester United museum. The club’s secretary came to his funeral, before which the cortege stopped outside Old Trafford for a minute’s silence.

When Alex Ferguson struggled in his first few years as United’s manager in the late 1980s, Harold would say “He’ll be fine.” “He always had faith in Fergie,” says Bernadette, who remembers that the Scot was on first name terms with everyone at the club, including her dad. But he died too early to see Ferguson lead the club to its greatest ever period of glory.

After Harold’s death, the families lost touch. Bernadette worked as a journalist in Manchester — including a stint as a reporter for Piccadilly Radio — before moving to London in the early 1990s, where she freelanced for Woman's Hour as a reporter and then worked for GMTV. Yvonne also moved South, switching from journalism to PR work, which is what she does now for a local authority.

“In time we lost track of each other,” she says.

The reunion

At one point, Everton and Yvonne challenged each other to track down the family who had lived next to them as children and who had meant so much to them. They both tried and failed to find contact details for the Moore siblings, and gave up.

Then, a few years ago, Yvonne was at work and the idea popped into her mind again. She Googled Bernadette’s name again, reasoning that she would be the easiest to find given her work in journalism. She found a media production company Bernadette was working at and got through to her boss on the phone. “This is going to sound really bizarre,” she told him, “but she will know who I am.” The next day, Bernadette called back, and they arranged to meet.

The reunion happened at Holborn station in London. “It was just exciting,” says Yvonne. “What a great day that was! My sisters and I were so excited as we waited, trying to spot Bernie. She looked exactly the same and was just as full of fun and warmth as we remembered.”

The old friends sat down in a Costa coffee and started rolling back the years. They showed each other photos and posed for a few pictures. “It was happiness, tinged with sadness — because there had been some loss over the years,” she says. “But just being together after all this time was fantastic.” She says she hopes their reunion “will inspire others to meet up with long lost family, friends and neighbours.”

Soon after that, Everton and Bernadette met up in Manchester along with Eddie and went to the Moore family grave in Moston. It was only then that Bernadette realised how much her dad had meant to Everton, and that they had stayed in touch right up to his death.

“When he went into a home, I’d often go and visit him and we’d sit and he’d tell me stories and jokes from days gone by,” says Everton. “He never lost his humour or recollection.” After Harold’s death, Everton had continued to visit his grave. It was he who left the bottle of red wine and the miniature Christmas tree.

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Photo credits: Family photos courtesy of Bernadette and Yvonne. Contemporary photo of the houses taken by Dani Cole.


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