Bridgewater Canal Worsley

Bridgwater canal floated barges of coal from Worsley's Duke of Bridgewater's coal deposits to Manchester. Manchester's burgeoning textile trade needed coal to convert water to steam which turned the wheels of the carding, spinning and weaving machinery.

Initially, I am reminded of working in several textile factories as an apprentice among the hundreds of young Lancashire lasses who were care-free and available. The heat, the suffocating cotton dust and humidity and, mostly, the hellish, clattering noise. But that's nothing unusual.

Secondly, I'm reminded of the Worsley Woods that run alongside the canal. It was in this sylvian courters' retreat that a curious thing happened.

During my stint at Hope Hospital as a student nurse, young males and females sought the Woods' anonymity to do what young couples do - often not a lot in those days. But I had a marriage license which made things legitimate.

A while earlier, after registration (SRN), the State soon swooped in to drag me into Her Majesty's Royal Air Force. After basic training (Boot Camp) I settled into a cushy job training medical orderlies. Being only 50 miles from Manchester I was able to travel home for weekends to continue courting my nurse-girlfriend.

It was lonely returning to camp on Sunday evening. Loneliness makes people do strange things. One weekend we went to see a 3D movie where one wore cardboard goggles to make the action on the screen fly into the audience. We had seen "Waxworks Museum" or "Kiss Me Kate" and my girl was escorting me to Piccadilly to catch the RAF coach back to Lytham.

I proposed marriage! Shortly afterwards we married while I was on two weeks leave. We honeymooned in the UK's most flamboyant holiday venue, Blackpool. Quite close to RAF Lytham's 13 Site.

A few weekends later I returned to Manchester to collect my wife on a Saturday. Being a lovely sunny day, we decided to go for a walk along the Bridgewater Canal and into the Woods. Well, a couple of weeks of denial for a young lusty man!

We strolled along the Canal's path for quite a distance and I turned to see only one person quite a way back ambling along. No other nurses to spread the gossipy word! So we entered the woods. The terrain was undulating and fairly thickly planted with English deciduous trees. There were walking tracks and occasional, small clearings. One might expect Robin Hood and his Merry Men to come riding into one any minute.
We chose a seemingly isolated clearing and I lay down with my wife.

I was being a vigorous missionary when my wife froze and said something like "It's a man." I rolled over and saw a man running off with my wife's handbag. Normally, her being a student, there would not have been anything of great value. But, on the walk there, I had been carrying my jacket over my shoulder so I had put my wallet into her bag for safety. In the wallet was my RAF 1050. This is an airman's ID and not the sort of thing one lost - or else! There was money too. But relatively unimportant compared with the 1050.

I knew that I had to get it back. Fortunately, just then, I was in peak form so, sporting a raised cannon - as there was no time to readjust things and button up - I hared off in an adrenaline chase of the crook. I recognised him as the man from the path by the canal. He had a fair start and seemed fit too. But the track went up a slope and I was gaining. Putting on what I hoped was a threatening voice I roared: "I'll kill you, you lousy bastard." He looked round, panicked, and slung the handbag at me. I picked it up with relief. Good job because this sudden sprint after being a "missionary" for the second time that day had weakened me somewhat.

I wondered how many times this chap had done this. Did he normally follow couples for a vicarious kick or was he a regular robber of the glen? I should have reported it to the police but, in those days, it was considered embarrassing for a woman so we let it go.

I wonder if the Woods are still there or have, perhaps, been developed. That latter would be a pity because they generally afforded much pleasure to the young.