The memoir of a mill worker who wove his dreams into reality
1902 – 1934
This account was hand-written by my father Thomas Hartley in 1984, under the title The Life of an Ordinary Man. I have made minor adjustments to the punctuation to aid clarity. Material added in [square brackets] is mine.
According to my birth certificate I was born at 117 Skeffington Road, Preston [Lancashire,UK] on December 28th 1902, the Feast of the Holy Innocents.
I was very small and, according to my mother, I “would fit in a quart jug”, [quarter of a gallon = 2 pints] nevertheless I survived and remember wearing socks and skirts, i.e., being dressed like a girl, and when my hair grew it was a mass of curls.
I can remember going to school (infants), I think it was late November 1905 and just previously I had been breeched i.e. was wearing trousers, in other words, boys’ clothes. My uncle Peter used to tell my mother I looked like a girl. It was he who took me to have my hair cut and then to have a photo taken. I was dressed like a girl.
I think it was my sister Mary who first took me to school. It was customary in those days to commence school at 3 years of age. I remember going in the school and then marching into the class room to the strains of a hymn being played on the piano by a teacher. I was timid and shy. I was able to go home with the other scholars. The school was St Joseph’s in Cemetery Road which was only around the corner from Skeffington Road and Bootle Street, the latter being where I lived. My brother Joe had just been born at 114 Bootle Street.
Regarding school lessons, I remember learning mainly by repetition, mostly three letter words namely, RAT, CAT, SAT, and so on but one did learn to read simple words.
1907 – 09: Clogs and slates
By 1907 we were living in a little sweet shop in Albyn Bank Street, off Carr Street, off Queen Street. I attended St Augustine’s R.C. Infants School. It was at this shop that my brother Francis was born on Boxing Day 1907, two days before my 5th birthday. I remember being shut up in a bedroom for a few hours until the baby was born. Apparently, the shop was not a profitable idea, for in 1908 we moved back to 98 Skeffington Road and I was at St Joseph’s Infants School again. This new address was to be a permanent home [for the family] for a very long time, until 1942.
Back in the Infants School I remember we had slates. These were grey in colour like roof slates, but smooth, and in a wooden frame, the size being about 10 inches by 8 inches, or 8 by 6, and one also had a slate pencil with which you wrote on the slates, which afterwards one could clean with a damp cloth. During the period in the infants there were mixed classes, viz. girls and boys.
By about 1908 or 1909 I graduated to the Big School i.e. the Boys’ School. These classes were referred to or known as Standards, namely Standard One, and before you reached the age of 13 you were in Standard Seven.
In Standard One, one wrote at first with a lead pencil using exercise books, one for sums and one for writing mostly transcriptions, i.e. copying words from the teacher’s blackboard, then later in the year we were taught to use pen and ink.
The girls went to the Girls’ School which was on the other side of Rigby Street. The segregation was complete: the girls walked down one side of the street, the boys down the other side and it was considered an offence if you broke the rule.
My school clothes consisted in winter of knickerbockers, i.e. trousers fastened at the knee with 2 buttons, and a roll collar jersey or pullover and thick black woollen knee-length stockings, and clogs. In summer I wore shorts and a blouse or coat of light materials.
1910: The woman with the black bag
Around the year 1910 I remember the death of Edward VII. I was then 7 years of age. In May, my brother John was born. I remember my father telling me to go for the midwife, though she was not known by that name but as ‘the woman with the black bag’. I asked her to come to 98 Skeffington Road, and she replied (in Lancashire dialect) “Tell thee father to have plenty of hot water ready.”
Our family now consisted of one girl, Mary, the eldest, and six boys. Living conditions were primitive in those days. Old fashioned fireplaces in which everything was cooked on the coal fire, flag floors, hard chairs, one cold water tap. There were no gas cookers then. The toilet was outside in the yard, there were bare boards on the bedroom floor and stairs, and bath time was in the wash tub, but despite all this, families were happy and helpful to one another. Children were obedient to their parents and elders.
In the winter months, children played at dominoes, Ludo, etc. with their parents, and went early to bed with candlelight. In the summer months we played outside in the street at bowl & hoop, shuttlecock, skipping ropes, marbles etc.
The coronation of King George V and Queen Mary took place, I think it was in May, 1911. I remember that we received coronation medals and souvenir metal boxes of chocolate drops for each scholar at school. Also, the electric trams were decorated with bunting and flags of red, white and blue and were illuminated in the evening. All the public buildings, shops and houses had Union Jacks and tricolour flags flying from their upper windows. Schools etc., were on holiday on Coronation Day.
Now it is 1912 and the Royal Lancashire Agricultural Show took place on Moor Park in Preston. This was an annual event that moved to different locations. It took place at Preston every 10 years. The scholars from each school were able to enter a competition for the show, namely an essay and a drawing connected with farming. I entered, but I forget what my essay was. I remember trying to draw a cow. Needless to say I did not win a prize.
I remember the loss of the Titanic. It was a great sensation at the time. There were placards outside all the newsagents and people used to buy the newspapers to read the latest news about the ship that was supposed to be unsinkable. I remember my father saying it was an act of God, and even today the name Titanic evokes much discussion.
1913: Singing for the King
In 1913 my grandmother (my father’s mother) died. My mother went to attend to her during her illness, and did her washing. She lived in Oakley Street off St Paul’s Road. Her back yard overlooked the railway line to Longridge. The train emerged from the tunnel that ran right under Preston in those days. It was an event to watch the trains go by.
During 1913 King George and Queen Mary visited Lancashire. I think it was in May. [Actually Tuesday, July 8th] Preston was among those visited. I remember that six boys and six girls from each school were chosen to sing to hymn from the steps of the Harris Free Library. I was fortunate to be one of the chosen ones. I still remember the songs we sang. The Royal Couple were received at the Town Hall, and dined at the County Offices in Fishergate afterwards. They drove through Moor Park Avenue, where all the school children from the Preston schools were lined up waving Union Jack flags.
During this summer there was the Co-op Field Day when we walked in procession from various districts to Moor Park. We carried a can or cup and on arrival at the Park we were given a can full of coffee and a bun. Also, there were swings and roundabouts etc. Various bands were playing and people were dancing.
1914: Faith, fever, fighting and vaccination
It is now 1914 and it was proved to be historic. I had just reached the age of eleven, I was an altar-server and I started to think of what I would like to be in the future. I confided in my mother my secret thoughts that I would like to become a priest, but as I was less than average intellect and I knew one had to study hard for several years, on average thirteen years before ordination, it seemed to me an impossible task. My mother encouraged me and said that what was required was prayer and faith. Little did I know then but I was to require an abundance of both for the rest of my life. At that time, I wrote a letter to a Fr Lester S.J. of my desires. He replied that I had better wait another two years before making my decision.
In February of this year I contracted Scarlet Fever along with my three younger brothers. It was customary in those days to be admitted to an isolation hospital, but we were allowed to remain at home but in one bedroom. Only my mother was allowed in. For five weeks we were in one room with just a few comic papers etc. to read. It was an experience that I was never to forget. I remember reading about Burnley Football Club team success in the F.A. Cup, eventually becoming the winners, and to date they have never won it again.
August 4th 1914 was the day Britain declared war on Germany. I remember it very well. At that time the Territorials (These were volunteers that trained at weekends etc. and commonly called The Terries) were at their annual camp, consequently being sent on active service at once. This event at the time was very exciting to me. At school our teacher, a Mr E. Holden, taught us several national anthems.
I remember Miss Ella Shields and Miss Hetty King, both male impersonators on the Variety Stage and in Pantomime, both dressed in Army uniform singing at The Empire Theatre a song called Bravo Territorials though I never heard or saw them, as I was not allowed to go being considered too young. One must remember it was not considered proper for women to dress as men. Decorum was strict at that time. Women still wore long skirts and dresses. Women who worked in the cotton mill wore shawls and clogs during week days, usually being dressed up on Sundays and special days, for instance holidays, weddings etc.
By now the war had intensified. The Germans had invaded Belgium, a small country who had tried desperately by itself. By now a British Expeditionary Force, known later as The Contemptables had gone to assist the Belgians and the French army had arrived and a great deal of infantry and artillery fighting took place with great loss on each side. Trenches were dug and barbed wire entanglements laid. Back home in England volunteers for all the services were called for with parades etc. in most towns and cities. Also rationing of food etc. was being introduced and it was customary to see long queues at food shops.
Christmas 1914 had arrived. It appeared unrealistic, supposedly a time of peace and joy but my friends’ fathers and brothers were away from home in the forces. On 28th December I attained the age of 12 years. This was a milestone in my life because if I had enough attendances at school, I qualified to become what was known as a half-timer i.e. I could go to work in the mill one half day and the other half day at the school.
During the Christmas holidays I was vaccinated, this was usually done when a baby, but as I was, at that time considered a weakling, my mother refused to have it done, therefore I remember going to a doctor with my mother’s lady friend and watching the doctor prick my arm. The cost of the brief operation being one shilling. It took about two weeks to heal. [A shilling was 12 pre-decimal pence, or one twentieth of £1 (5p). It equated to 40% of his first pay packet.]
1915: Weaving, the first Ford van in town, and a bereavement
On 12th January 1915 I went to Alexandra Mill, known generally as Wilding’s to learn hand weaving. I went to school in the morning then I was at the mill at 1.30pm until 5.30pm in the evening and then worked Saturday morning from 6am to 8am and then breakfast at the mill, of a few slices of bread and a cup of tea. Work commenced again at 8.30am until 12 noon.
On alternate weeks I worked in the morning, 6am to 8am then 8.30am to 12.30pm then in the afternoon I went to school. My wage at the end of the first week was half a crown (two shillings and six pence) now in decimal currency 12½ pence.
I remember that my first week went well. I went to school in the morning and the mill in the afternoon to learn how to become a cotton weaver. One starting at the age of twelve was known as a half-timer or tenter. Your duties, apart from learning to weave, were going errands to the weft-place and the cloth warehouse and brewing the tea etc. It was very noisy in the weaving shed and one usually learned how to lip read. Most Lancashire workers were adept at lip reading at that time.
On the Friday afternoon of my first week at work I received my aforementioned wages to give to my mother. So proud was I that I had earned something to help the family’s needs. She received it gratefully then said to me I cannot afford to give you any spending money this week but I may give you one penny next week. One accepted poverty in those days. My father’s weekly wage at that time was only 14 shillings or 70p in decimal currency.
It is now 1915 and the war in France was ebbing and flowing, a lot of trenches having been dug on both sides and also a lot of artillery engagements.
In March of this year, my eldest brother, Peter, who was a four-loom weaver, left the mill to work at Moorfield Convent assisting in the kitchen garden and delivering laundry. This convent was also an orphanage for girls. It was staffed by a French community of nuns namely Le Filles de la Lagesse or, in English, the Daughters of Wisdom. At this time my brother had to learn to drive a motor van, eventually driving the very first Ford van in Preston. The price at that time was about £115 ex works in prime grey colour. He was taught to drive by Merigolds whose garage was in Avenham Street in the town centre. This was considered an achievement being able to drive. Most local delivery and transport was done by horse and wagon or lorry. Milk was delivered from the farm by horse and milk float. Doctors, travellers etc. used horse drawn cabs for travelling to various destinations. Longer journeys were taken by train or tram. Most people walked to and from work, especially the cotton mills. Work people often lived in the locality of their employment.
It was in the spring of 1915 that my mother, who had not enjoyed good health since the birth of my brother John in 1910, had to remain in bed. She had suffered sickness and heart troubles. The bed was brought downstairs and erected in the living room. She became very ill and needed attention almost permanently. This caused a strain of my father, sister and eldest brother, each one having to forgo a night’s rest in order to attend to her needs. After a lengthy illness, my mother died. I was at work in the cotton mill in the afternoon and when I arrived home she had just died. I thought it was the end of the world. It was during the month of August and war was still raging in France, but my thoughts were at home, wondering what was going to happen to my future. My desire to train for the priesthood would have to be shelved for the time being.
A few months later, my sister, who was aged about 23 years left and got married. She had been courting for a few years. That left my father and six sons at home: Peter aged 21, William 15, myself 12, Joseph 9, Francis 7 and John 5. We were each allocated our tasks daily before we were allowed any recreation. Christmas 1915 was therefore not a very enjoyable one.
1916: Two loom Tom
In January 1916 I left St Joseph’s Boys’ School and commenced full time employment at the mill learning to become a weaver. I was known as a tenter i.e. I assisted at the work of weaving cloth under the supervision of a person in charge of four looms. In my case one half day it was a man and for the other half it was a woman. Each one contributed to my wages on the Friday which was pay day. There was rather an anomaly in my pay. The woman paid me 2s 10½d and the man 2s 9d and gave me 3d for myself. The woman gave me nothing for myself. My total wage was therefore 5s 7½d [approx. 28p] for a full working week totalling 56 hours. It roughly worked out at 1d an hour. [ = £0.069 or two thirds of a modern penny per hour]
As the months went by, the man I worked for volunteered to join the Royal Navy so I applied for two looms. This was the next step upwards as a weaver. Eventually my application was granted. I was overjoyed. It meant that I was able to double or treble my wages according to the quality of the cloth I wove. By this time the mill was considered to be on war work. We were weaving cloth that was to be used for the Army. I wove Bedford Cord cloth which was made into riding breeches for the Artillery. I also wove aeroplane cloth which was used for the wings on aircraft.
In the meantime, there was quite a lot of recruitment taking place all over the country. I remember that in the Lancashire towns volunteers were being formed into special companies and given a title. Those in Preston were called Preston Pals. These companies were then attached to an existing regiment like East Lancs, or North Lancs, or the Loyals. These men were quickly trained and then went to France to fight. Quite a number of these men were known to me. Many were killed, others wounded. It was tragic that so many lives should be so needlessly lost.
It now being twelve months since my mother had died, my father had found it difficult to continue working and being a housewife at the same time. He decided to marry again. One never realises how much work a mother or a wife does until she is no longer there to do it. It was quite a traumatic period to be told that on is about to have a second mother. Fortunately, the lady in question was a friend of the family, having been Godmother to my youngest brother at baptism, and had been a visitor at various times to our home.
The marriage took place during Preston Holiday Week. It was quite an occasion. My stepmother had been a spinster so there were no complications and she was of similar age to my own mother.
Now my eldest brother, Peter, had been before a tribunal re calling up to the forces and had received a deferment on account of my mother’s death but now the position was changed and he received his calling-up papers. By October he was in the R.A.S.C. (M.T.) [ Royal Army Service Corps Mechanical Transport. The Royal prefix was actually only added in 1918.] and was posted to London where he remained until 1919, being given a leave of about 8 days every three months. He was driving army lorries with canvas covers, open fronts, no windscreens, and just a sheet of canvas to keep the rain out. My brother Peter was fortunate to remain in London and, as a result, gained a lot of experience driving around London for over two years.
Sleeping with the dead and the cost of smoking
It was in October of this year, 1916, that my uncle Peter died, so called, but he was actually my own mother’s uncle. He had a sweets and tobacconist shop in Ribbleton Lane. He had also been a cotton weaver, but had suffered a heart attack whilst in the mill, and had purchased this small business. He was unable to read and write, consequently my father and my elder brothers and also myself used to go daily to read the evening paper and any books he wanted to be read to him. When a customer came into the shop whoever was reading had to wait until he returned, and he knew if you started at the wrong place. As a result he was very well informed on all the news etc. He died in the middle of the night and in those days the nuns from the convent in Ribbleton usually came to wash and lay out the deceased before one sent for the undertaker, so when the first tram was due the following morning, my aunt told the driver to call at the convent and ask them to send two nuns to perform the necessary details. She was asked why she had not requested this service at once and replied that she had got back into bed beside her deceased husband and said her prayers. When asked was she not afraid, she replied he never did me any harm when he was alive, so I knew he would not when he was dead.
At his funeral, only men were allowed to go to the cemetery after the requiem Mass at St Joseph’s. I was one of the altar boys. My aunt stayed in the church saying her prayers until she knew it was around the time that her husband had been interred.
My aunt continued to live at the shop until the 1930s but she was unable to make ice cream like my uncle used to. I used to assist him. In those days ice cream was only made and sold in the shops from Easter until the end of summer, usually the end of August, or September, but it was very good being made from fresh milk, new laid eggs and cornflower. It was reasonable in price: ½d. 1d or 2 pence. That was good value for money.
At that time cigarettes were cheap. Woodbines, the working smoke, were in packets of 5 for one penny. Goldflake, Players etc. were in packets of 10 for three pence, and one ounce of twist tobacco for pipe smokers was one penny an ounce. In those days most men smoked clay pipes which were ½ penny or one penny according to quality. Matches were often on the counter for the customer to take a few. Sweets were cheap. Four ounces of hard-boiled sweets, generally known as toffee, cost one penny. Newspapers were only one penny each and evening papers ½ penny each.
Pre the 1914 war wages were very low. I remember when I was at school my father only received 14 shillings [70p] a week as a labourer. I was fortunate if I received ½ penny a week spending money.
1917: 1st Preston Scouts
Early in 1917 I joined the Boy Scouts, a group known as the 1st Preston with a club room over a joiners shop in Crook Street off Ribbleton Lane. This to me was a landmark in the formation of my character. I remained in the Scouts for almost seven years and I enjoyed it immensely. Camping in the summer and route marches on a Saturday and Sunday in the winter. Monday, Wednesday and Friday were our Scout meeting evenings. During my first year I became a Bugler and also a Second or Corporal, as the rank was known. Then I became a Drummer. We used to march with our bugle and drum band through the streets of Preston.
When we went to camp in the summer, we would leave the club room about 1.30pm and march to Red Scar Wood, Ribbleton, a distance of over two miles with our luggage on a Trek-cart. This was a two-wheeled vehicle with a centre pole and ropes attached to the wheel axis. We would return on Saturday evening about 8 or 9 pm.
On the annual holidays in August we camped at Squires Gate Blackpool. All our camping in those days was done under canvas in bell tents as they were called. We slept on ground sheets with a thick blanket or two. No sleeping bags in those days.
1918: End of the war and a pandemic
In 1918 we moved our [Scout] Troop to St. Joseph’s and we were able to use the school classrooms for our meetings in the evenings. This move enabled us to enlarge our troop and with financial support from the Church we thus became known as the 1st Preston (St. Joseph’s). By this time I had become a Patrol Leader. We eventually became a very large troop and we had enlarged our band to 13 bugles, 4 side drums and a big drum and very impressive we were, marching through the streets.
We used to have a church parade almost every Sunday morning at 10 am.
Before leaving Crook Street my first Scout Master was R. Creed. He had lost an arm early in the war and had been discharged from the Army. He had been fitted with a hook and it was surprising how well he could use it. Later on J. Ackers took over as Scout Master. He had been kicked by a horse on active service in France and he too had been invalided out of the Army. He started a cycling patrol and eventually I passed my Cycling Proficiency Test for which I obtained a badge made like a wheel.
During 1918 I changed my employment and went to work at Horrockses Mill in Stanley Street, Preston. I worked in the Weft Place. This is where the weavers came to obtain their cops or bobbins for their looms in order to weave cloth. I liked this work as it was a change from weaving. The man who did this work before me had been called up to join the Army. I was working here when the Armistice was signed in November at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Whoever chose the date made it easy to remember. Now it is known as Remembrance Day, though it is usually held on the Sunday nearest to the eleventh.
My brother Bill had been called up to the Forces in August 1918, his birthday being the 15th of that month. That was the procedure at that time. When a man became 18 years of age he had to join the Forces at the end of the month of his birth.
There was a tragic event during 1918. This was called the Flu Epidemic. It took place during the months of June and July and was widespread throughout Great Britain. It was a kind of Influenza. I remember that there were thousands of deaths, as many as three or four deaths in one family. In those days there were large families of eight, nine, ten persons in each. There were six boys and one girl in my own family. My sister who was married in 1915 and pregnant at the time, caught the Flu and died within a few days. The baby was born premature, seven months old, to try and save her life. This was a great blow to our family and me, because when my mother died in August 1915, my sister was like a mother to me, and I used to visit her at home. At the time of her death she was only 26 years of age. Her baby boy only lived seven months. Her husband, who worked on the railway in the signal box, married again about two year later and raised a family of six, died when he was aged 88.
1919: Peace and plain cloth
Now we come to 1919. This was to be called the Year of Peace. The Armistice had been signed in a railway carriage, but the Peace Plan was to be signed in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles in France. In Britain, preparations and plans were made to have processions to celebrate the event. Preston had its processions in June and the Scouts were invited to walk. I was a drummer by then and I remember decorating my side-drum with small Union Jacks and red, white and blue ribbons, and marching proudly through the town.
The 1914- 1918 war was known as the Great War and people thought there would never be another war. Thousands of men had died during the four years of the conflict. Wives had lost their husbands, mothers their sons and this caused a big upset in family life. Little did one think there would be another war in twenty years’ time which would cause a much bigger upheaval, both in the World and in family life. At this period of time, men were returning home from the Forces, either discharged or de-mobbed, and some were permanently disabled. To me it was rather a traumatic time period as I had to return to the weaving shed, as the man whose job I had got at Horrockses was de-mobbed and was entitled to his own job of work. I was able to work as a weaver though I was reluctant to return to the weaving shed. At this point in time, though I was only sixteen years of age I longed to work in the open air, consequently I had to wait until I was twenty-one years of age before I realised my ambition.
My eldest brother, Peter, returned from service with the Royal Army Service Corps (M.T.) and obtained work as a motor van driver with a Mr Charles Stodhert delivering boxes of chocolates, sweets etc. in Preston, Chorley, and as far as Freckleton and Hesketh Bank. He remained with this firm until he retired at sixty-five years of age, eventually becoming a Traveller and Director. He was also Hon. Social Secretary for the local branch of Commercial Travellers for several years. He decided to be married, having become engaged during the war years. The wedding took place at St. Joseph’s church in Skeffington Road in July 1919 with Nuptial Mass at which I was the altar server. For the wedding transport Peter had what was known as a carriage and pair (two horses). Though motor taxi cabs were just being introduced they did not look as stylish as a carriage and pair.
I have mentioned that, just previously, I had returned to the cotton mill as a weaver. I had obtained work at Waverley Park Mill which was situated at the top of Miller Road. This mill derived its name from a park which was on its east side. Its official name was Ribbleton Park, but we called it Waverley. Where this name came from I never really knew, though near the park, off New Hall Lane, was a road called Waverley Road containing several houses. A local cricket team which played there with prominence in the Preston and District League was named Waverley United. I think it was only named Ribbleton Park when the Preston Borough Council took official charge, thereafter making swimming baths, bowling green etc.
The weaving at this mill aforementioned was of a plain cloth with coloured borders. It was said that it was exported to India to be used as turbans etc. It was easier work than previously because fancy weaving entailed more skill and different and different types of looms. Jacquards, Dobbies and Circular Boxes, the so-called fancy weaving, was the one I had been taught when I first went into the mill. It was always acknowledged that if one had been taught to weave fancy goods, one could obtain weaving work at any other mills.
Little did I think that in my lifetime there would be scarcely any cotton mills left in Preston or even Lancashire, because all you could see in most towns were factory chimneys soaring into the sky, hence my desire to be out in the fresh air or camping with the Scouts at weekends or in the summer, at the Horse Shoe Bend on the banks of the River Ribble, near where the Battle of Preston took place in the days of Cromwell.
1920 & 1921: Camping, coal strikes, driving and theatre
I remember that whilst in the Scouts we had five August Holiday Camps at Squires Gate, Blackpool, namely 1918-19-20-21 and 23. Once past the Pleasure Beach you were in the country. We stayed under canvas (bell tents) in the farm fields. Fresh water for cooking and washing, also fresh milk, were obtainable at the farmhouses. Camping at this period of time was very primitive. Each scout cooked his own meals on an open fire. We used to take certain foods with us, the rest, such as eggs, bread and perishable food was purchased from the shops in Blackpool. We were able to go swimming in the sea, and in the evening we used to go to the pleasure beach or to the Winter Gardens etc. dancing.
The reason why there was no August camp in 1922 was because of the Preston Guild event that year. Instead we had a week camping at our usual camping site at Red Scar Wood at Whitsuntide that year.
In 1921 there was a coal strike. All the coal pits were closed for several weeks. This strike occurred during the summer, I think it was in June, and the weather was glorious. I remember going swimming with my friends morning, afternoon and evening in the River Ribble at Salmesbury. The cotton mill had to close because of the shortage of coal and consequently money was scarce, no work no pay in those days so no spending money. We could not afford to pay two pence a session at the municipal baths. It cost nothing in the River Ribble of course. We had a two mile walk but that was no distance as everyone was used to walking in those days.
It was during this time that I was taught to drive a motor van. My brother Peter was working delivering sweets to shops for his employer, namely J Stodhert Wholesale Confectioners, Fitzgerald Street, Preston. In the course of his work he used to drive to Chorley one day one week and to Hesketh Bank near Southport one day the following week, calling at different shops on the way. I, being out of work due to the strike, he offered to take me with him. I had a desire to drive so he waited until we left the outskirts of Preston then I would take the driving seat and obey his instructions. Of course, these were the early days of motor transport and he had over two years’ experience of wagon and car driving in London with the Army Motor Transport. These lessons with him were to prove invaluable to me in later years. Of course, there was very little traffic on the roads at that time and speed was not essential. I think top speed was between twenty and twenty-five miles per hour. I think I was allowed to drive at about sixteen miles an hour, our Peter saying that was fast enough for a novice, nevertheless I had to concentrate, the different gears had to be carefully selected.
With my brother Peter’s tuition I conquered the essentials connected with driving and years later was able to drive without further lessons. He was a hard taskmaster, and throughout the remainder of his life he taught numerous relatives and friends to drive. He died at the age of eighty, and was driving a car two weeks before his death. He had received his first driving licence in 1915, which I still have in my possession. I also have a photograph of him in the driving seat of a Model T Ford touring (open) car in 1922. [Peter’s Driving Licence was No.5, suggesting he was among the very first people of Preston to hold such a document.]
During the winter months, on Saturday evenings, we used to go up town for the second house at the cinema, or go to the Empire Theatre, which at that time was a playhouse. I was fortunate to see most of the leading actors and actresses of that period. I used to pay sixpence to be in the ‘gods’, so called because it was right at the top of the theatre. One had to climb about one hundred steps to reach the top. I remember seeing the actor Martin Harvey (who later received a knighthood) in The Only Way or A Tale of Two Cities. I also saw Henry Baynton in Shakespearian Plays. There were also musical plays and reviews: Desert Song; Student Prince; Lilac Time; Show Boat; Vagabond King etc. Also the opera companies, heavy and light, and of course, the Gilbert and Sullivan Light Opera Company which was my favourite. This was an era of good shows, prior to the introduction of the talkies in the film industry.
1922: Preston Guild
1922 was Preston Guild year when the annual holidays in August was transferred to the first week in September. This was the event of the town, preparations having begun years earlier. It took place every twenty years. All the tradesmen, Sunday Schools, with their various societies, took part in processions around the town on different days. There was an historic pageant performed by school children on Avenham Park, the Royal Lancashire Agricultural Show on Moor Park, flags and bunting everywhere and everyone was in a mood of gaiety.
We had a week holiday at Whitsuntide [end of May] with the workshops, cotton mills etc closed for the week. I went camping with the Scouts at Horse Shoe Bend, Red Scar. It was week of glorious sunshine, ideal for camping away from the madding crowds. I remember returning from the camp, sunburnt and refreshed. It was remarkable, for after that week, it was a long wet summer right up to the Friday evening before Guild Week, and then the rain stopped and the days were fine and sunny until the Monday afternoon following Guild Week when a thunderstorm broke the weather.
I remember that we had dancing in the school each evening during Guild Week, the music being played by brass bands. We were allowed to have mixed dancing i.e. with girls. Normally this was not allowed in our school so it was quite an event.
Little did I think that the next Preston Guild would be postponed because of a war.
Preston North End football team reached the final of the F.A. Cup in the year 1922. All the locals of Preston were hoping that P.N.E. would win, but alas it was not so, Huddersfield Town winning 1-0 by a penalty. Incidentally, this was the year Tom Finney was born. He was to become a legend in North End and football, often referred to as ‘Sir Tom’ though he was never knighted officially. [Tom Finney was eventually knighted in the 1998 New Year Honours.]
1923 & 1924: Mill and farm
Early in 1923 I obtained work at Emerson Road Mill as a weaver. I had been on short time at Waverly Park Mill, so I decided to go back to what was known as fancy weaving at Emerson Road Mill, this requiring more skill and attention, but generally one received more money for work done and it was also more interesting. I was weaving cloth for umbrellas and for table covers. This was to be my last year as a weaver, though I did not know it at the time. Strange as it might seem, I had begun to be more interested in my work than I had been, though I still longed for the outdoor life.
It was about this time that I had begun to assist Mr J Rigby, a farmer, to deliver milk on Sunday mornings, so I took the opportunity to request a chance to work on the farm and to assist in delivering milk daily, however, It was almost twelve months later that Mr Rigby asked me if I was still interested in farm work. This was the opportunity I had been longing for. I accepted his terms of employment.
I was now 21 years of age, even so, when I told my father my decision he tried to dissuade me by saying I would be working seven days a week all the years round, but I would not be dissuaded. My chance had come and I was determined to grasp it. Little did I realise that I would be working seven days a week for the rest of my working life – until 1970.
I found the transition from working in the mill to working and living on the farm very hard, and also more demanding physically, nevertheless I was happy and contented, and I vowed that I would never return to work in the mill again. Though I passed the mill every day when I was delivering milk, I never ventured in.
One result of my change of employment was that I was unable to play football on Saturday afternoons, which I missed very much.
The farm where I lived and worked was named Ribbleton Hall Farm, and was adjacent to Ribbleton Hall at the end of a drive one third of a mile in length with trees at either side and a lodge cottage at the entrance. I remember in my early days as a boy walking past there and seeing the coaches and horses coming out of the drive. The coach driver used to live with his wife, and she would come and open the large gate to allow the coach to pass in and out. Those were the days of nobility and peasants, lords, ladies and servants etc., also ignorance and bliss.
During my first year on the farm the eldest son reached 21, my older brother Bill was courting the eldest daughter of the farmer, whose family consisted of two girls and three boys. The boys had attended the same school as myself, a point which helped me to fit in socially and become more integrated in their family life.
Ribbleton Hall became a private school for boys which survived for a few years, then later it was made into flats for residential purposes.
1925 & 1926: Licences and losses
It was in 1925 that I purchased my first Motor Driving Licence. As I was domiciled in the Lancs. County, I obtained it at the County Sessions House in Lancaster Road, Preston. The price was five shillings [25p]. There were no driving tests in those days. I have held a driving licence ever since. Tests were introduced in 1934 mainly due to the number of accidents during 1933. Holders of driving licences prior to 1934 were exempted from passing a test.
In 1926 I purchased my first motor cycle, a second hand 2¾ horse power Cotton Overhead Camshaft. Its counterpart, tuned up had won the isle of man T.T. in 1924. It was a Blackburn engine with an outside flywheel and a sloping frame. It cost £26. When it was new the price was about £60.
As I have mentioned earlier, my elder brother Bill was engaged to the farmer’s eldest daughter where I lived and worked. They decided to be married on Easter Monday, April 18th 1927. I was the Best Man but work on the farm had to carry on, consequently the cows were milked very early at four o’clock in the morning. The wedding service was arranged for nine in the morning. The wedding breakfast was held at the farm and the festivities lasted until the early hours of the next day, but some of us had to change into working clothes, including me, in order to do the afternoon milking. After tea on the wedding day we played games and cards, mostly Nap. I remember it quite well because I lost the amount of thirty shillings [£1.50] which at that time was a week and a half’s wages. Consequently I gave up playing cards for money.
The wedding had taken place at St Joseph’s R.C. Church, Skeffington Road, though the new church of the Blessed Sacrament was being built just across the fields from Ribbleton Hall Farm, on land which belonged to Chestnuts Farm, Pope Lane. This church was not completed for worship and marriages etc. until 1928 and I remember attending the first dance in the school attached to the church in February 1928.
1929: a Triumph
I purchased my first new motorcycle, a Triumph 3½ H.P, side-valve. The price was under forty pounds, a contrast to modern prices. It proved a good buy. I toured Devon in 1929 with a total mileage of eleven hundred miles at a cost of only twenty-four shillings [£1.20]. Petrol was only a shilling [5p] a gallon. I took my friend Tom Whittle on the pillion seat on my tour of Devon. We stayed at a farm in South Zeal near Oakhampton for a week for the price of thirty shillings [£1.50] each. We had glorious weather. It was the first week of September. It was my first time away from Lancashire.
Now it was 1930, which was to be a memorable year for me. I intended going to Devon again on my motorcycle, but events proved otherwise. I had now reached the age of twenty-seven and my conscience began to trouble me, my opinion being that we are born to do something useful during our life in this world. The desire I had when quite young to become a priest kept reoccurring in my thoughts. I had been friends with the opposite sex but never really serious. I had attended dances, also taken different ladies on the pillion of my motorcycle for short outings but never contemplated the ultimate end, namely marriage. One of the reasons was that being a farm worker my earnings per week were meagre and therefore insufficient to support a wife and probably a family. Therefore, in due course, I took the necessary steps towards achieving my ambition.
After several interviews with the Ecclesiastical Authorities I was accepted under a scheme called Late Vocations instituted by Fr Lester S.J., the cost of my education being paid for by people who sent generous donations to Fr Lester at Osterly in Middlesex. Normally one went to train for the priesthood at the early age of thirteen and normally one was about the age of twenty-five before ordination was possible.
Under the Late Vocation scheme two years was spent doing the study of languages etc. The name given to these studies was Humanities, then one applied to a religious order or a foreign missionary society to become a Novice and be accepted by them, then they would complete your training for the priesthood. I was accepted by the Holy Ghost Fathers who were founded in France. Their work was for the conversion of the ‘Heathens of Africa’. It was my desire to become a missionary priest and therefore dedicate my life to God.
The Holy Ghost Fathers had a junior seminary at Castlehead, Grange–over-Sands, Lancashire, (now Cumbria). This seminary was for English boys from the age of twelve or thirteen, finishing their studies at the age of about eighteen and then to France for Novitiate and completion of their studies. There were about 4 years of philosophy and 3 years theology before being ordained to the priesthood. Therefore, I commenced my studies at St Michael’s College, Glossop, Derbyshire on September 15th 1930. This course was called Humanities and to last for two years. This entailed the study of Maths, Geometry, English, Greek, Latin and French.
As I had left Elementary School at the age of thirteen in 1915 and having been employed in manual work since that time, I found the studies very exacting. We were to accomplish in two years what normally took junior seminaries six years, therefore one had to concentrate very hard.
We had Mass in chapel at 7.15am and breakfast at eight in the refectory. Lessons started at nine am until 12.30, then midday meal at 1pm. During meals silence was observed, a student reading from the rostrum, until permission was given to have conversation with your nearest fellow student. We numbered about thirty, most of them younger than myself. Some of them in their late teens, others had been at work in various occupations. Our dormitories had been horse stables, for this place which had been named ‘Moorfields’ was in the country about 1½ miles from Glossop on the road towards Buxton, and had been the residence of a cotton mill owner, who also had a residence in London.
Our holidays were Christmas, Easter and mid-summer, when we were all allowed to go home for a few weeks. I gradually settled down to this new mode of life, though it was such a great change from previous employment etc. I was thankful that I had previously worked a seven day week because, whilst we did not have lessons on Sundays, we had to do private study. We also did manual work for two hours each day, mostly in the large grounds and gardens. This proved a great help to me because it gave my mind a rest.
During my first year at college we formed a football team and I was fortunate to be chosen to play. We just played friendly games with Thornleigh College, Bolton and De La Salle at Manchester, also teams from Glossop. These activities proved a rest to the mind and were beneficial to our health. During this year I was made a Prefect of the first year group.
At the commencement of my second year I was appointed by Mr Breriton M.A. the Principal of the College, to be the Prefect of the College. This was an onerous and responsible position. I had to ring a large hand bell sixteen times each day, commencing at 6.30am, the rising time, then at various intervals for classes, assemblies, rest periods, meals, Mass and Benediction with the last bell at 9.30pm for retirement to bed. Anyhow, I managed to survive and I think it helped to form my character, also to help me in my later life.
July 1932 was the end of my two years at Glossop. During this year I had been in communication with Fr Grasser, the Principal of St Mary’s College at Grange-over-Sands, which was the junior Seminary of the Holy Ghost Fathers, the missionary order of which I was to become a Novice. I was measured for my cassock which I would receive when I went to France. I had to obtain a passport and travel tickets etc.
At the end of my two years at St. Michael’s College I was presented with a book, namely The Life of St Therese or commonly known as the little flower of Jesus which I received from Mr Breriton the Principal of the college. We students said goodbye to each other, as we would probably not meet again. Some were going to different religious orders such as Benedictines, Redemptorists, Dominicans, White Fathers, Jesuits and some to the seculars in their various parishes.
During my vacation I used to go to the farm where I used to work, helping in the hay fields, milking and delivering milk in Preston.
At the end of August 1932, I was due to depart for the Novitiate in France at a small village named Neufgrange in Alsace-Lorraine. I was accompanied by another Preston youth who had been studying at St Mary’s Missionary College for the Holy Ghost Fathers at Castlehead, Grange-over-Sands. The Preston youth, whose name was Harold Heard, aged 18, had been at college since the age of twelve. He was to become Rev Fr Heard who later spent many years in Sierra Leone, Africa as a missionary, and I have had the pleasure of his company several times when he has been home on leave. I believe he is now in Canada on missionary work.
I arrived in France at the end of August 1932 after traveling by train to London and then to [blank space in manuscript] for the night sail to Dunkerque (now well known as Dunkirk, made famous by the evacuation of British and other troops in 1940).
I travelled by train all day until I arrived at Neufgrange station, to be met by one of my future companions in the Novitiate. There was then a short walk to the missionary college named Instituit St Joseph. The place turned out to be a large farm with old buildings and new modern buildings for housing the Novices and also Junior Seminaries. The Juniors started about the age of seven or eight and stayed until twelve, and then departed to another college until they were eighteen, then if accepted for the order i.e. hat is the Holy Ghost fathers or Peres du Saint Espirit – the name they were known by in France, they would then commence their Noviciat [as it was known in France]. A Noviciat was more of a spiritual preparation for twelve months prior to commencing the studies of Philosophy and Theology. Most religious orders adopted this method at that time. At the end of the Noviciat one was able to ascertain whether one should enter the religious life, also one’s superiors were able to assess your capabilities towards further studies.
It was a strenuous day of Mass and prayer and various exercises and a little recreation of short intervals. The day began at 5am and we retired to bed at 9pm.
The Brothers of the order were men who led a religious life but did all the manual work on the farm. There was also a printing press where the Brothers used to print a Monthly Missionary Magazine which was dispatched to different parts of the world where the Holy Ghost Fathers were working.
One was entirely cut off from the outside world, but it was also very peaceful, and one realised the training was necessary if one was to become a missionary priest in places like Africa etc. working among heathens, alone in the bush miles from civilisation, learning to speak their language and teaching them to become Christians. Many of the educated and prominent Africans owe their prosperity and standard of life to the early missionaries who built schools, hospitals etc. and brought civilisation to their country.
After several months in Noviciat I began to experience what is known as delecatesse de conscience, [Delicacy of conscience] or scruples in common language. This type of illness is found in normal life in the world, but it is often found in religious life. I struggled for months but was unable to shake it off, consequently I was unable to concentrate properly and towards the end of June 1933 I was advised by my superiors that it was a sign that I was not called by God to become a missionary or a priest and, in order to attain a normal frame of mind, it would be better if I returned home and begin a normal life. If possible, a return to my previous occupation, i.e. delivering milk and manual work on the farm, would be the best case for my state of mind.
This decision was a great blow to me, for now I was thirty years of age. and I had set my heart on becoming a missionary priest, but there is a saying: man proposes, God disposes. Also, in this life on earth one should accept God’s will in everything.
So, at the beginning of July 1933 I received my civilian clothes for I had worn a cassock and Roman Collar from the day I entered the Noviciat. So I began the long journey from Alsace-Lorraine to Preston and England. I had written home to my parents and brothers to inform them of my decision. It was a sad a desolate journey. I felt it was the end of my life.
My family and friends received me cordially and were very good to me in my days of depression. I found it hard to get peace of mind. Also, employment was scarce at that time. Fortunately, after several weeks at home, the farmer who had employed me previously promised me my old job back. One of his daughters, who had assisted on the farm, was to be married, so there would be a vacancy. I would be able to return to live at the farm and commence the work I had done three years previously, so I realised that God had not forgotten me. This was to be the start of my return to normal life.
Now I was back at Ribbleton Hall Farm living in as it was called, which meant that I lived there permanently as it was a large farmhouse and four or five members of the family were now married and living elsewhere. I was given a bedroom of my own which I greatly appreciated. It was now the middle of August 1933 and I was now aged 30 years. I immediately took up the reins so to speak. That is back milk delivering on the carrier bicycle on the round and district I had before going to college.
It was a very trying time meeting the customers and trying to explain my reason for returning to the farm. It was also hard to get used to the work after three years away studying and leading a religious life.
The next twelve months proved to be a very traumatic period, delivering milk in Preston daily every morning and working on the farm the rest of the day. Whilst I was working my mind was at rest, but in the evening, when work was finished, my troubles started. I used to wonder whether I had done the right thing in leaving the religious life, though physically I was very tired. This state of mind continued for quite a long time but, thank God, with prayer and patience, I gradually became my old natural self and my conscience returned.
I began to think of my future, wondering what I could do to improve myself. I had no desire to return as a weaver to the cotton mill, also by mow most of the mills were closed down and there was a lot of unemployed, so I was thankful that I was in full time employment. It was at this time that I conceived the idea that I could become self-employed delivering milk in Preston, though to achieve my object would cause a lot of friction. I was happily living on the farm, I had been at school with the eldest son and the eldest daughter had married my older brother Bill, at whose wedding I was the Best Man, and the rest of the family were extremely friendly. Nevertheless, I continued to plan my future.
At that time I received £1.00 (twenty shillings) cash as my wages, food and lodging were additional. I decided to save 17s/6d [87½p] per week which left me 2s/6d [12½p] for spending money, even so I succeeded in achieving my object. I managed to save the sum of £25 in just over twelve months.
Cycling to work
When I was delivering milk for the farmer, I used to ride a tradesman’s bicycle known generally as a ‘carrier bike’. It had a tank made by a local tinsmith with a tap in the corner. It held about 12 gallons of milk and was made to fit into the carrier over the front wheel. The front fork of the bike was specially strengthened to take the weight which amounted to 110lbs. Therefore, my idea was to start with similar equipment which would mean low running costs and a lot hard preparation.
My father’s memoir ends in 1934. Despite encouragement, he made no further entries.
Appendix 1: What happened subsequently
Tom did set up his own milk delivery business which he called North End Dairy.
He married Teresa Lakeland, on 8 August 1938. They had four daughters and one son, the first child being born in July 1939 and the last in September 1956.
They lived on the corner of St. Gregory Road and Lowthorpe Crescent, Deepdale, close to the football ground after which he had named his business, and less than a mile from where he had been born, and the mills from which he had dreamed his escape.
He retired in 1970, but continued working part-time for a few more years as a caretaker / handyman at a care home in Longridge.
He was awarded the British Empire Medal for services to the Dairy Industry in the Queen’s Birthday Honours of 1972.
He was awarded the Benemerenti Medal by the Pope for services to the Catholic Church in May 1986.
He died on 29th January 1991, aged 88 years.