Guy Oates (1905-1987): Fun and Festivities – Part One – Writing Lives

Guy Oates (1905-1987): Fun and Festivities – Part One

Had I have carried on to-day as I did then, I would be placed in the Local Authority as a child out of control’

(Oates, 1:115).

A map of the streets of Knaresborough (1:83) where Guy and the gang often ventured ‘during the hours of darkness’ (1:102).

Guy’s rebellious streak meant that he was often running away from various forms of authority, ranging from his family (his mother and sister, Marion) to teachers and angry residents of Knaresborough. This was usually because of his truanting and late nights filled with mischief and drama, during which he got involved with troublesome and influential youths known as ‘The Bond End Kids!’ (1:102).

It is fascinating that after Guy finished school, he went on to working in Warehouses, and eventually became a Master.  It is interesting that even with a wayward childhood he was able to achieve this kind of status in the Institution. Thus, making this first quotation ironic, given that even in adulthood, he takes pleasure in retelling his childhood. This type of behaviour is not typically associated with the Master of a Warehouse, and so it is worth noting.

Who are ‘The Bond End kids’?

Would you believe me if I told you they were church going, delightful, young men? Nope, didn’t think so!

To be blunt, they ‘were a rough, scuffy, troublesome lot of lads’ (1:110) who made Guy feel as though he was liberated and his ‘own boss’ (1:102). Their ‘greatest mis demeanors [sic] took the form of jokes against elders and younger boys on there way to school’ but they ‘never stole and were never vicious to anyone’ (1:110). As Guy’s ‘mother had her hands full looking after the house with seven others to feed and clothe’ (1:102), he was able to use his ninja-like skills to sneak in and out of the house for food undetected, or so he thought. But, since he forgot to put the ‘knife and bread’ away his ‘mother knew’ he ‘had been in’ (1:103). So really, he was less like a ninja and more like a rebellious youth with an appetite for bread. The members of this uncontrollable bunch of children were aged from ‘five to thirteen’ which today is quite shocking, given that most of their ‘activities were carried out during the hours of darkness’ (1:103). During his time in the gang, Guy found himself involved in dangerous situations on more than one occasion, and since he ‘was the youngest and smallest of the gang,’ (1:110) he was often left behind to fend for himself. This is ironic, given that Guy mentions that the gangs were like ‘birds of a feather [who] flock together’ (1:110).

The Initiation Story

As a new member of ‘The Bond End Kids!’ Guy had to prove his worth as ‘before you were [officially] accepted into the gang’ (1:117) you had to complete an initiation. This ritual, which confirmed your place in the gang. In order to complete this task Guy, was instructed to bring ‘a bottle’ (1:118) with him on the ‘night chosen’ for the event. ‘The idea was, at a given signal I was to throw this bottle above the window while the occupants were all sat down having their evening meal, and for us to see the expressions on their faces when they heard the sound of breaking glass, and then run’ (1:118). However, as I am sure you are aware, Guy does not have the best of luck, and so, when Guy threw the ‘lemonade’ bottle ‘aiming for the wall high up’ he had thrown it too low. As a result of this, ‘there was one almighty crash’ (1:118), and Guy quickly realised that he ‘had thrown the bottle clean through the window’ (1:118). As the other members began scatter Guy ‘felt frozen to the ground unable to move’ (1:118). But, our Guy was clever, and once he came to his senses, he took to the roofs by climbing up the ‘drain pipes’ of the ‘horse stables’ near his house. There he ‘kept perfectly still’ for ‘how long’ he did not know but ‘it was late when’ he ‘got in home, which was not unusual’ for our mischievous Guy.

Consequences – THE CHASE

One of the tricks the gang liked to play on their neighbours involved only a washing line and a knife to cut it with, ‘one boy would very quietly tie one end of the rope’ to the ‘door handle’ of a house. Then with the other end of the string, they ‘would go to the other door and secure the rope round that door handle’ and so both doors could not be opened without the other one closing. While one boy secured the rope tightly around the handles another ‘would stand in the centre of the rope with a sharp knife in his hand, with [the] blade open at the ready’ to cut at the perfect moment. The residents of the houses would hear knocking and ‘come and see what all the commotion was about’ and when they would ‘try and open the doors’ neither one would budge. ‘When they realised something was afoot’ in frustration they ‘would pull all the harder’ and ‘when the boy with the knife thought the rope was at its tightest he would cut the rope and run’. When this happened, whoever was ‘inside pulling would immediately fall backwards into what ever [sic] was behind them, the bigger the crash the better we liked it’. (1:113) However, on this particular occasion Guy ‘nearly got caught’. Since it was dark one of the other boys crashed into him when they were running. As Guy was ‘the lighter’ of the two, he was ‘knocked down, giving the man from one of the houses a chance to catch’ him. This is where the chase began; some may call it the great escape, as to Guy’s ‘surprise and horror,’ both himself and ‘Mr Dacre’ knew the streets well.

Guy quickly realised that he could not return home and so began ‘looking for an empty truck in which’ he ‘could hide’ believing that it would be his ‘best chance of avoiding’ (1:113) Mr Dacre. Once he found an empty truck Guy ‘settled down and listened’ while controlling his breathing as he ‘was still a bit out of puff’ (1:114) and scared that there was a chance that his breathing would be heard. This is where it gets quite suspenseful, as Guy begins to hear Mr Dacre’s ‘foot steps […] getting louder he was coming’ closer to Guy’s hiding place. In an attempt to conceal himself even further Guy ‘pushed’ his ‘hands into’ his ‘pockets’ while turning his ‘face to the truck away from the light’ keeping ‘perfectly still’. As to Guys’ ‘surprise and relief’ he ‘heard’ Mr Darce’s ‘footsteps, he had missed’ Guy’s ‘truck out’ (1:114). The ‘Bond End Kids’ were a boisterous and mischievous gang rather than a typical menacing and territorial gang. Andrew Davis studies the ‘Scuttler’ gang who were ‘Britian’s First Youth Cult,’ and they were known for the shaping of the members identities and relationships. They had specific social functions and codes; a fair fight was a genuine way to resolve any agreements. This gang culture was one of the ways in which young people in working-class communities often ran their territories. Guy’s involvement in a gang was not like this as ‘The Bond Ends Kids’ culture was about him and other boys bonding over fun and mischief.

Guy’s childhood was certainly filled with lots of adventures, which have later been made into interesting stories. The rest of the memoir is just as exciting as his early life. In part two of ‘Fun and Festivities,’ we will explore toys and games, and Guy’s experiences of them. You can’t help but feel for this mischievous young Guy, as he experiences so many hardships throughout his life and is constantly brings himself down. Next blog we will be looking at his life at school! (Remember to check Twitter for updates @TashaSiloLJMU).

If you have enjoyed reading about Guy’s life, you may like to explore the full collection of Guy Oates Posts.

If you would like to read some of our fellow Writing Lives students blogs, then look no further! Here are some of the posts Sarah and I enjoyed for this particular theme:

/fun/jack-mcquoid-1910-1985-fun-festivities-part-1 this blog was written by Shauna Hughes about Jack McQuoid and his life as an actor.

And if you enjoyed Shauna’s Part One of ‘Fun and Festivities’ check out Part Two /fun/jack-mcquoid-1910-1985-fun-festivities-part-2,this blog is a continuation of Jack’s enthusiasm over acting and how it can bring joy to so many people’s lives.

Last but certainly not least is Demi Louise Clarke’s post-
/fun/charles-william-esam-carter-fun-and-festivities which talks about the memoir of Charles William Esam-Carter and his loving memories involving his maternal grandfather.


Oates, Guy. The Years That Are Gone. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, Vol. 1.

Further Reading:
Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies 30.3 (1987): 335-363. 
Rogers, Helen and Emily Cuming, ‘Revealing Fragments: Close and Distant reading of Working-Class Autobiography’, Family & Community History, 21:3 (2019): 180-201.
Rose, Jonathan, ‘Rereading the English Common Reader: A Preface to a History of Audiences.’ Journal of the History of Ideas. 1 (1992): 47- 70. 
Savage, Mike. Social Class in the 21st Century. London: Penguin, 2015.
Vincent, David. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class.’ Social History, 5.2 (1980): 223-247. 

Christensen, P, O’Brien M (eds). 2003. Children in the City: Home, Neighbourhood and Community. Routledge Falmer: London, New York.
Davies, Andrew. The Gangs of Manchester: The Story of the Scuttlers, Britain’s First Youth Cult. London: School of advanced study, University of London, 2009.
Martinson, Deborah. ‘Edwardian Childhood.’ English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920. 36:2 (2 November 1993): 238-239.
Read, Jane. ‘Gutter to Garden: Historical Discourses of Risk in Interventions in Working Class Children’s Street Play.’ Children and Society 25 (2011): 421-434.
Seabrook, Jeremy. Working Class Childhood. An Oral History, Victor Gollancz, London: 1982.
Tebbutt, Melanie. Being Boys: Youth, Leisure and Identity in the Inter-War Years. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012.

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