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Saturday, November 16, 2002
WHERE WERE YOU WHEN…
On March 30th 1981 I was sat in an apartment on the Lower East Side in New York and had turned the TV on to pass away an idle hour. There was, what I thought was a play on, which depicted the assassination of the President. I called to my flat mate and congratulated her on the licence allowed to American film makers, this would never have been allowed in England. She came in, took a look at the screen and said ”Oh my God! This isn’t a play, it’s the news, live from Washington.” I had watched President Ronald Reagan and three other men being shot by John Hinckley Jnr.
On September 11 2001 I was in Northfield, Minnesota and turned on the TV just in time to see the second hijacked airliner fly into the World Trade Towers.
In both these cases, I know exactly where I was and I think that the trigger which imprinted the events on my brain was that I saw them in real time on the TV screen. Ask me where I was when Jack Kennedy was shot or Princess Diane lost her life in Paris and I haven’t the faintest idea. The events were so remote and had such slight impact on me.
On the 13th March 1996 I was sat having a cup of tea in the workshop at Rochdale Electric Welding when a friend came in and I saw immediately that he was very distressed. He had just heard on the news about the shooting at Dunblane where 16 children and a teacher had died. I sat and talked with him about it and when he asked me why I wasn’t as upset as him I said that there were perhaps two reasons. The first was that I was reared during WW2 and had perhaps been exposed to too much death and danger at an early age. The second reason was that he had children the same age as those who had been killed and this made the event so much more immediate for him.
One of the reasons why Barlick is such a good town to live in is that it’s a backwater. If anyone finds themselves in Barlick without intending to be here they have either been diverted because of a road closure or they’re lost! We have never hit the national headlines because we have been host to a disaster and all I can say is thank God. The nearest we get to collective remembrance is on November 11th each year when we remember the war dead. However, like everyone else, every now and again there is a catastrophe so horrific and compelling that it burns itself into our memories. We all have these, some personal but others because they strike a particular chord with us.
At this time of year, apart from Remembrance Day, two anniversaries always hit me. The first happened before I was born; on the 22nd of September, 1934, the Dennis Deep seam at Gresford Colliery exploded shortly after two o’clock in the morning. 266 miners were killed, 200 women were widowed and 800 children lost their father. Only eleven bodies were recovered, the Dennis Seam was sealed and from then until the pit finally closed in 1973 the miners went down with the knowledge that 255 of their mates were buried close by.
The second event is closest to my heart and I know exactly where I was when I heard the news. On 21st October 1966, after a period of heavy rain, a colliery waste tip on the hillside above the village of Aberfan slid down the hill and engulfed the local school. 115 children and 5 teachers were smothered by the black slime. Even though the subsequent enquiry laid the blame on the National Coal Board citing bad management of the waste tips, the NCB and the government refused to accept full financial responsibility for making the tips safe. In the end, the Aberfan Disaster Fund was forced to pay out £150,000 from the £1,750,000 donated to relieve distress. It is a little known fact that immediately after coming to power in 1997, the new Labour Government repaid this money to the fund.
When I heard about Aberfan we had three young children at Church School on York Street and I couldn’t help seeing that wall of mud crushing them and smothering the life out of them. The disaster might have happened in Wales but as far as I was concerned it was terribly relevant. I could empathise directly with all those poor people who had lost children. I was driving a milk tanker for West Marton at the time and I just pulled into the side of the road and burst into tears.
I suppose that my message this week is to spare a thought for the parents and survivors of Aberfan next Monday. Give some thought to those miners still entombed below Gresford. Don’t treat Remembrance Day as simply a minor event that hasn’t any relevance to your life.
Perhaps most important of all, give some though to what might happen in the near future in Iraq. In September 1938, Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister, referred to the Sudetenland as “… a far away country ….. of whom we know nothing.”, it turned out to be one of the key factors which caused the Second World War. It might just be of relevance to us here in our backwater.
SCG/01 October 2002
A LITTLE NEST EGG
Anyone who is currently paying for their house with an Endowment Mortgage will know that the little nest egg they have been expecting to pay off their mortgage isn’t necessarily made of cast iron, many of them have shrunk to the point where they will not pay the debt off. If you’ve got one of these financial instruments and you don’t know what I’m talking about it might be a good idea to take advice and find out. A recent estimate of the possibility of up to £15billion being claimed in compensation for mis-selling these policies flags up the size of the problem.
The main thing that seems to be clear about these mortgages is that they were so complicated that the people who took them out, quite often young people buying their first house, didn’t really understand what they were buying. The nice man who was selling them their mortgage told them that, on maturing, the policy would pay the mortgage off and leave them a tidy sum extra as a bonus. So, being trusting, they signed on the bottom line. The problem seems to have been that what the nice man should have said was that the final payment depended on what interest rates were going to be in the future, the profit wasn’t guaranteed. He also didn’t tell them about the nice little sum he was earning in commission by selling this particular form of mortgage.
I find this all very sad and I sympathise with anyone who has found themselves in this position. It seems to me that things used to be a lot more simple.
Many years ago, in the days when my beard was black, I wanted to buy Hey Farm, behind the Dog, from Sailor Brown. It was going to cost me £2,200 and I hadn’t any money. I went to the Council for a mortgage and they wouldn’t give me one on the grounds that the property was too old and I wasn’t earning enough money. Very disappointed, I had a word with my bank manager, Mr Batkin, at Lloyds in Burnley. There was no complicated paperwork, no beating about the bush. He said that he would lend me the money if I assured him I could afford to pay £15 a month out of my wage. I was earning just over £30 a month and I said yes. He gave me the loan as an overdraft and I paid it off. It was as simple and as hard as that.
In case you’re wondering about my seeming to be sexist because I have not included my wife in this story, this was because the account and the risk were in my name and as soon as I made the last payment I went to the solicitor and put the farm in both our names.
Ernie Roberts once told me that he saw a house as he was walking up to the mill one day. It had a sign in the window, ‘This house for sale’. He went to John Capstick, who owned it, and asked how much it was. 20 Townhead could be bought for £500 but Ernie didn’t have this much so he offered to pay £2 a week ‘Rental Purchase’ as it was called then. Once the £500 was paid off, he paid John the interest that had accrued.
In both cases, the house was the guarantee for the loan. If the borrower defaulted, the house became the property of the lender and they could sell it to recoup any money they were owed. The risk was with the borrower and it was a good incentive to work. This meant that there was no question of additional life insurance policies being obligatory. The lender wasn’t really bothered if you died or not, he would get his money back!
The term ‘Rental Purchase’ will ring a bell with many of my older readers because it used to be a common way of buying a house. It was a private arrangement and no commission was paid to anyone. Everything was above board and crystal clear, even I could understand it! My question is, what has changed?
In my case, the loan from Mr Batkin, the biggest change is that there isn’t a bank manager in Barlick or anywhere else for that matter nowadays who has the power to decide whether to give a loan or not simply on his assessment of the character of the person who is asking for it. Ernie was similarly assessed by John and evidently regarded as a good risk.
Being a realist, and perhaps even a cynic, I think that there other reasons as well. In simple transactions like these two there was no opportunity for fat commissions or selling extra policies like life insurance. The paperwork was almost none existent. All I had to do was sign a paper that said that Hey Farm was a charge on the overdraft. We have lost our innocence now and the providers of mortgages seem to erect massive defences made of documents to cover themselves. How many of these pieces of paper covered with fine print are for the benefit of the borrower?
This simplicity survived in other areas of business. When I worked for Richard Drinkall, who was a cattle dealer at West Marton, he would buy up to 300 cattle a week without a single invoice or receipt. Every deal was done on a handshake and the only bits of paper were bank notes and cheques. The whole system was based on knowledge of the customer and trust. I don’t know whether this could happen today. I suspect it could, but the accountants and tax people wouldn’t place the same amount of trust in their own judgement or their client and so would demand masses of paper as a safeguard.
It’s all a bit depressing isn’t it. I seem to be arguing that honesty and trust aren’t of any value in business today. I hope this isn’t true but I have a sneaking feeling we have lost something somewhere along the way.
SCG/30 September 2002
TUBBER HILL IN THE 1920s.
Thanks to Ken Ridge, I have an old postcard of Tubber Hill for you this week. One of the best things about old pictures is that they contain so much information if we really look at them. I went up there to do the same shot and found it was impossible because the trees blocked everything out. This triggered me off into thinking why this was so.
The first thing I tried to do was make a guess at the date. The nearest I can get is 1923, Homelands, the bungalow on the left was the home of Herbert and Clara Nutter in the late 1920s. The wall at the entrance is unchanged to this day. The road looks unnaturally white, this is because all the roads outside the town centre were macadam. This was a method of road building introduced by a Scotsman, John Loudon MacAdam and first used by him in England in 1816. Graded dry stone was laid with large stones in the road bed and finer stone as a capping layer. A lot of the stone was limestone and so the roads look white.
You can see the start of Gillian’s Lane on the right. Bancrofts and Windy Harbour, the cottages opposite the farm at the top of the lane, are just off the picture. Further up, at the top of Lane Bottoms there is a shed in the field opposite the road up to Letcliffe. This was where Jim Haworth, who lived at Lane Bottoms, carried on his business. He was known as ‘The Firewood King’.
Mention of firewood brings me to the matter of the trees. Why are there no trees? Where there ever trees up here?
We’ve to go back to 1442 to get a clue about this. The Duchy of Lancaster records have an entry that states that large timbers for the repair of King Mill at Colne were obtained from ‘Barnoldswick Wood’. So evidently Barlick could grow trees and was a local source of high quality timber. So what happened to the trees and, for that matter, Barnoldswick Wood?
We’ve got to look at some other evidence and then make some inspired guesses. The 1580 map of Whitemoor shows us that there had been enclosures on the moor in the 16th century. There could only be one reason for this, demand for land. This is the best indicator we have that the local population was rising and putting pressure on local resources. One of these resources would be fuel for heating and cooking. The main fuels were wood and peat, or turfs, from the moor. If you were very rich you could afford expensive coal brought in by packhorse from Colne or possibly from sources on Coal Pit Lane above Gisburn. I have no proof that there ever were coal pits there but if not, why call it that? If you were very poor, you burned dried cow dung.
So, apart from the destruction of woods by clearing them to make arable land, the most likely reason for the decline in trees in Barlick would probably have been the inhabitants relentless search for fuel. Between 1791 and 1794 the Leeds and Liverpool canal reached Barlick and solved this problem by giving the town access to the Yorkshire coalfields. We don’t have accurate figures for the price of coal in Barlick. The best estimate we have of pit-head coal prices in 1750 is about sixpence (two and a half new pence) per hundredweight. An educated guess suggests that this would rise to about one shilling and sixpence (seven and a half new pence) in Barlick. This would be far too expensive for poor people. The advent of the canal changed all this, not only did the transport price drop dramatically now that 40 tons of coal could be carried on one boat, but increased competition drove the prices down. In St Helens the opening of the Sankey Brook Navigation drove the price of house coals down to fourpence halfpenny a hundredweight in 1759. So, it isn’t unreasonable to think that the price in Barlick dropped by at least two thirds to sixpence a hundredweight which meant it was within the reach of the vast majority of householders. So, apart from the sticks for fire lighting, most of the pressure came off the trees and our landscape could start to change.
There is another possible reason for the increase in trees. As houses started to be built up Tubber Hill, people planted trees on their land for shelter and improvement. A tree growing in a private garden has much more chance of survival from the depredations of poor fuel gatherers. If Herbert Nutter planted a tree it’s doubtful if anyone would dare to go in his garden and cut it down!
So, a variety of factors changed the view up Tubber Hill from the rather bare prospect in this old picture to the leafy lane we have today. Up on Letcliffe, at about the time this picture was taken, the Local Council were planting specimen trees in the new park but I’m afraid there is a problem with these. We have generated a new generation of woodcutters. The biggest problem is youngsters building fires and tearing branches off the trees for fuel. It isn’t a private garden and we no longer have full time park keepers so the fire lighters evidently feel free to what they want and we are losing our trees. Could they please use their heads and stop spoiling things for the rest of us?
Funnily enough, there is another cause of tree loss in the park. It’s caused by the employees of the Leisure Department getting too enthusiastic with their strimmers around the trees. They are ring-barking the trees at ground level and killing them. Can I suggest that there’s nothing wrong with a clump of long grass at the base of a tree? The trees would be very grateful for it!
Thanks for the feedback. You can always get hold of me on 813527 or Stanley@barnoldswick.freeserve.co.uk.
SCG/30 September 2002