I must admit that I’ve talked quite a lot about Drayton Road in this blog, mainly because it has a lot of stories to tell and partly because I’ve lived on (or just off) it for all bar seven years of my life. This is the main artery for traffic in and out of the City from the North-West and effectively chops about a third of the estate off along the southern portion. Located in the Island part of the estate from the estate’s creation and up until about ten years ago sat the majority of the estate’s schools (Dowson First and Mile Cross Middle), so getting the kids across Drayton road safely required a lot of work from the two sets of dedicated Lollipop ladies.
The first set operated at the crossroads of the Drayton, Bignold and Parr Roads and the second set a few hundred meters down the road at the (long-since closed) junction of Drayton and Wheeler Road. In the early to mid 1980’s, both sets of ladies witnessed their fair share of drama and tragedy.
Two incidents stand out amongst the madness that was – and still is – getting across Drayton Road as a child and I’ll start with the later incident first:
In the mid-1980’s a driver claiming to be unsighted by the low morning sun as he came up Drayton Road from North West ploughed straight through a crowd of Mile Cross Middle and Dowson School children being shepherded across the road by the crossing lady. How nobody was killed is beyond me; one boy ended up near the bus stop, the boy walking just in front of me was thrown 20 feet into the air…. blood, chunks of hair, scattered books and Panini stickers littered the scene.
The result was this pelican crossing, installed slightly east of the junction: It’s always been a funny old junction because of people speeding down Drayton Road in a hurry to get to work or wherever. Countless people, cats and dogs have fallen victim along this stretch, even as far back as the 1960’s. Such is the danger of selfish, speeding and red-light running motorists, the Crossing Ladies still bravely patrol this section of road to help a handful of children heading the other way to the relocated school in the northern part of the estate. What’s even more amazing is that I still recognise them from when I used to cross here, and I left Mile Cross Middle in 1989! Good on them, I say.
On a lighter note, my father-in-law was knocked off his motorbike here in the 1960’s. He was hit by an impatient couple in Mini who had decided to overtake a queue of cars waiting to turn right into Bignold Road. He ended up being thrown off his bike, over a tall hedge and landing knees-first onto someone’s unsuspecting rockery. Luckily he survived, but his knees have never been the same since.
The second incident was a particularly tragic accident that still sits strong in the minds of many locals, including myself and it happened a few years earlier during the early 1980’s:
A couple of years ago I found a two message requests hidden away in Facebook Messenger (you know, the ones that you’d always used to miss because you didn’t get notifications about them back then). The pair of messages were from two separate people, both regarding my photography and my local knowledge. The first message was from a chap who’d obviously been following me on various groups in social media and must have noticed that I was taking lots of photographs of – and writing lots about – The Mile Cross Estate. He wanted to inform me that he had – in his possession – a photograph taken in the early 80’s of his Children and one of their friends playing in the snow down Sloughbottom Park. The friend in the picture was a happy-looking, local lad named Nigel Neale. Nigel’s mother was one of the crossing ladies who’s job it was to help the local children across the road a bit further down Drayton road at the junction of Wheeler Road.
The very next day after that picture was taken, poor Nigel was knocked down by a car in front of his own mother as she helped him and his school friends across the road.
You can’t imagine anything more heartbreaking for a mother to witness and poor Nigel later died of his injuries in hospital.
The gentleman who had contacted me was wondering if I knew the Nigel’s family – and if I did – would I be willing to ask them if they’d like to see this picture, seeing it was taken the day before the accident; or if it would (understandably) be too painful for them. Unfortunately, I didn’t know the family personally and as I mulled over how best to respond to the message, I decided to take a look at the other message request currently sat unopened in my inbox.
It was from local lady inquiring about old photographs of Mile Cross and her name sounded familiar, it turned out to be poor Nigel’s older sister. To say I was gobsmacked would be a massive understatement. What were the chances of these two sets of people contacting me in such a way and at the same time? It still hurts my brain if I think about too hard.
Apprehensively, I passed on the message about the picture of her brother and to my relief the family said they would love to see it and so I passed it on. It was an emotional set of communications for all involved and I must admit to shedding the odd tear. During the following communications I decided to ask the family if they would mind me covering the story, to my relief they were happy for me to do so, and so here it is.
It’s an uncomprehendingly tragic story that’s been in my head for years, but I can’t imagine what the family must have gone through at the time. To the rest of us children at school it was a premature wake-up call about life. I can still remember the school assembly where we were all sat down and given the awful news. It’ll stay with me – and no doubt all those other pupils sat around me – for the rest of our lives.
This tragedy, and many more accidents led to the infamous turning speed camera that caught a lot of grumbling motorists out as they hurtled up and down this stretch of road. I’ll be honest and say that I really have NO sympathy for them, and often wonder how they’d feel if they knew why the camera was placed there in the first place. Ironically, it was installed just in time for the Mile Cross Middle and Dowson Schools to be closed down. About 10 years too late then…The much-hated turning camera has since been replaced with one of those newer, more sensitive cameras (captured below), and if you’re caught by it hope you suffer with the newer, and more harsh financial penalties that will soon accompany the ticket you receive, you’ll bloody deserve it.
Thanks once again for reading, and thanks to the lovely Neale family for letting me write about it.