Playing in hay bales, 1959


Mary: Well, we lived in a street – it’s called Rustat Road – and it backs on to what used to be the cattle market when I was a child. And there was a wall that you could go over. So my sister and I, we were about 10 and 7 at the time, so we actually used to climb over the wall and then the whole of the cattle market, which was – there was a slaughterhouse at one end and then on Mondays they would bring the cattle in for sale and stuff like that and then bank holidays there would be a huge market you know, for cheap, I don’t know what you had in those days, I think it was an even pre-dating cassette tapes, records perhaps! But you know, stuff like that. And hammers that broke with first time you used them and all that sort of stuff. Anyway, we used to climb over the wall and then we would go and explore in the barns, and because of the cattle coming in on a Monday, they used to have straw bales inside the barns, and that was kind of fun to play with. A little girl over the road, she used to come with us as well, and one day she slipped down between the bales. Now this is not seed, you know, it’s not like wheat seed or anything this this is just bale so I mean it wasn’t going to collapse in on her, like that’s really dangerous. But she slid right down and then of course so she’d got nothing to purchase to get out again. So I being the oldest I could reach further so we managed to grab her hand and then I managed to – she clawed her way up and my sister got the other arm and we managed to get her out. But I mean that was quite dangerous because if it’d been one of us on our own, I didn’t know what we’d have done?

Emma: How deep was it?

Mary: Well, you know ceiling height here, so I don’t know, what’s that was 8-10 feet. Yeah, because I mean the stack was a lot taller than that, that we were on a lower bit. I mean, they go they go up to the roof of the barn, you know?

Pippa: Did it stop you’re going again?

Mary: No, because then my sister – I don’t think I was there that day – but my sister and this little girl they found some kittens. So of course they kept going back to see the kittens but that’s when they got caught and chased out and then after that they were a bit scared. So they just ran hell for leather.


Interviewed by Pippa Hale and Emma Bearman, May 2023

Image shows the Cattle Market in 1976. Reproduced with kind permission from the Museum of Cambridge from a book in their collection titled “Images of Cambridge” by Mike Petty and published by Breeden Books, ISBN 1859835465.

See more posts by Mary:
Ally Ally Oh
Hanging Around With Boys
Biscuit tin for the future

Do you have a play memory to share? We’d love to hear from you. 

Cattle Market 1976 IMG_1724
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