A 100-year-old book reveals a fascinating insight into William Ralph’s boyhood Birkenhead community
My friend Ray O’Brien (pictured left) is one of those people who keeps surprising me….and he’s kindly done it again by coming up with some wonderful archive material relating to the young Dixie Dean’s formative years.
The Wirral-based author and historian, who was a highly entertaining studio guest on my Strictly John Keithshow on Radio City Talk, once presented me with a copy of a pop concert bill that was staged at Southport’s Cambridge Hall (now The Atkinson) on July 26, 1962.
The headline act was Joe Brown and his Bruvvers , appearing in the glow of their big hit A Picture Of You, while the middle of the bill stated that Brown and his group were “supported by the north’s greatest sound: the sensational Beatles.”
Within two years the Beatles had soared from being “ the north’s greatest sound” to global icons, having conquered America and most other parts of the world, their story one of Ray ‘s areas of expertise in his books and pamphlets.
As well as the Beatles, Ray’s subject matter has ranged from Frankie Vaughan to Jean Alexander, from Cilla Black to Derek Nimmo, all of whom figure in one of his books, titled Merseyside Entertainers.
Football, too, has been a lifelong passion of Ray’s and, more than once, I’ve picked up my post to find a match programme or an anniversary edition of a newspaper from yesteryear that he’s kindly sent to me.
His latest missive is the oldest yet and a more than welcome addition to our wealth of material and information about Dixie Dean. Ray has sent me a copy of the page from the 1921 Gores Street Directory that features Laird Street, in the north end of Birkenhead, where Dixie was born on January 22, 1907 - and the family’s fish and chip shops, both long since committed to history.
Also included is Laird Street School which Dixie attended and played for the school team. There is still a school on the same site, now called Portland Primary, where earlier this year our FreeStand Films team were given a warm welcome by staff and pupils when we filmed there for our documentary The Goal King.
Laird Street once came within Ray’s remit during his days as a probation officer and he says: “Studying the 1921 guide I find it fascinating to observe the occupations of the residents. It gives a good impression of the type of environment in which Dixie was raised.
“It was good, solid working class with almost full employment – much different from Laird Street today.”
Although Dixie’s father William, who hailed from Chester, was a train driver for the Wirral Railway he is listed in the Gore’s directory as the principal householder at 313 Laird Street with the description “fried fish dealer”.
This refers to the family fish and chip shop run by Dixie’s mother Sarah where the rising young footballer would help out . “I’ve seen myself peeling spuds at midnight more than once,” Dixie told me.
The occupations of the Dean’s neighbours offer a cross section of trades in the 1920s including a plumber, boiler maker, upholsterer, tobacconist, compositor, grocer and bootmaker.
Little did they know that the boy they saw behind the counter peeling the potatoes for the boiling fat would grow up to be the hottest centre forward in the history of English football.
A young Dixie (front row with ball) in the 1920-21 Birkenhead School boys team.