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Friday, November 22, 2002
EARBY, AFTER THE GREAT WAR. (1)
Twenty four years ago this month I sat down with Jim Pollard, the weaving manager at Bancroft, and talked to him about his early life. This means I can give you a snapshot of a small corner of Earby, Red Lion Street to be exact, in the years between the wars. Memory being what it is, there is always a chance that some mistakes can creep in but on the whole it will be accurate.
At the end of the Great War, round about 1918, Arthur Pollard and his wife were living in Cottontree at Colne and weaving in one of the mills there. Arthur had a bad chest, he had been gassed in the war, and they decided to get out of the dust in the mill so they moved to Earby taking their baby son Jim with them.
They bought 53, 55 and 57 Red Lion Street, almost opposite the Red Lion pub. The two houses at 53 and 55 were knocked together into one dwelling but 55 was a backstone bakery and it was in this trade that Arthur and his wife intended to make their living.
My younger readers will never have heard of backstone baking, it is a trade which finally died out in this area when Stanley’s Crumpets closed a few years since. These bakeries didn’t have an oven, they did their baking on a backstone which was in fact a thick iron plate with a fire underneath. It was used like a large skillet and on it you baked crumpets, muffins, milk cakes and most popular of all, oatcakes. The oatcakes could be eaten soft, in the condition they came off the backstone, but many were dried on the airing rack in the kitchen and eaten as ‘hard’. At one time, every pub in the area sold ‘stew and hard’ or, less popular, ‘cheese and hard’. I was eating this in the Craven Heifer at Kelbrook in the early sixties but haven’t seen it since.
Arthur and his wife didn’t have a shop, they employed men to go round the town, selling door to door, carrying a basket of baked goods. This door to door selling was very common in those days because most people were out working, nobody had what we would regard as proper food storage facilities, so it was important to have fresh food as often as possible.
The Co-op had a horse drawn van which went round selling greengroceries and they had competition in the form of Harry Hart from Colne who came round once a week selling fruit and vegetables, he was cheaper than the Co-op. Jim said they bought their tomatoes off a man called Louis Lodge, who had some greenhouses further up Red Lion Street.
A man called Laurie Nichols used to sell fish off his cart. Jim said he remembered Laurie particularly because he had a wooden leg and Arthur’s Staffordshire Bull Terrier used to jump up and bite it where it stuck over the side of the cart! When bilberries, blackberries or watercress were in season, unemployed men used to go gathering them and sell them door to door to make a bit of beer money.
Anyone moving into a house nowadays takes running hot water, a bathroom and an inside toilet for granted. In 1918 they were far from common but 53 and 55 Red Lion Street had hot water and a bathroom. Jim says he can only remember an inside flush toilet there but I suspect that might have been a slightly later addition. Jim’s mother had another advantage, there was a covered glasshouse at the back of the house which had a cast iron stove and they used it as a washhouse and kitchen for the house. Most housewives would be doing their washing in the backyard in those days.
I asked Jim to try to describe what he would regard as common sights in the town when he was a small boy. He said that there were still some old ladies wearing long dresses with pinafores and shawls. He could remember them bringing a buffet out of the house and sitting there gossiping with their neighbours. Remember that in those days there was nothing else to do in an evening or, if you had the time, on a pleasant afternoon. Some of these old ladies smoked clay pipes and a jug of beer from the outdoor department at the nearest pub would always be welcome.
Jim said that the deliveries of flour, brought by Greenwood’s and Appleby’s, were on motor lorries and he thought they came from Preston. All the other deliveries in the town were by horse-drawn vehicle. Can you remember Edmondson’s cart delivering meat in the picture we saw a while ago of School Lane?
The overall picture Jim gave me was of a tightly knit little family making a decent living on Red Lion Street. Their world was small, Colne and Barnoldswick were the limits. If you wanted to go anywhere else it was by rail and was a major enterprise. Apart from the flour deliveries, everything they needed was bought in the town. The wellspring of all wealth in the town was the cotton mills and the small trades and retailers which catered for the mills and their workers.
There was a small pension for anyone over 70 but anything else was up to you, basically, if you didn’t work you didn’t eat. Medical care was rudimentary and if you had to be taken to hospital it was likely you would be taken to the station on a handcart, the nearest hospital in terms of time was by train to Skipton. The shadow of the workhouse at Raikeswood still hung over the workers so it’s important that while we may look back at the simple life with nostalgia, we mustn’t forget the drawbacks.
More about the life in Earby next week. My picture is of the three houses in Red Lion Street as they are today. They are still one house and the big fireplace that held the backstone is still in place in the end house. Notice the big chimney in the gable end.
SCG/14 October 2002
THE THREE Rs
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m getting very confused about the modern education system. Looking at the tale of woe which has unfolded in respect of the ‘A’ Level results, and listening to various ‘public servants’ and politicians wriggling on the hook was excruciating enough for me, but what it did to the blood pressure of anyone who has been directly affected I can’t imagine. What’s going wrong? I’m afraid that this gives a clue to where I am starting from, I am convinced that there is something dreadfully wrong somewhere and our young people are paying for it.
Over sixty years ago I entered the education system at the age of four. This was in Stockport but if I’d been in Barlick at that time my experience would have been exactly the same. The first thing they taught us was how to sweep the classroom floor, from there we went on to reading, writing and arithmetic. Overall, we were taught what discipline meant, the teachers weren’t constrained in any way, they could clip your ear, use the cane and give you extra work.
I still look back to those days with warm thoughts about Mrs Ackroyd (That was only a love tap!)and Miss Hogg, the headmistress. I came out of that school well-equipped enough to sail through the next two years and get into Stockport Grammar School with very little extra work. I don’t think I was cowed or psychologically damaged and eventually went to university as a mature student when I was 42.
The point I’m making is that under what would be seen as a brutal and old-fashioned regime, I got a good education. My question is, how much better is it today with all the testing, rules and regulations and ‘modern’ methods of instruction. To try to answer that one I would have to be an expert on statistics and that is the route favoured by our lords and masters, the ‘Experts’. Well, there are lies, damned lies and statistics. Or, to put it another way; statistically speaking, a person who is stood with one foot on a block of ice and the other in a bucket of boiling water is, on average, comfortable!
So, if I’m to ignore statistics, what measure can I use? The first thing that strikes me is that in those days, a teacher, and particular a head teacher, was a respected member of the community. They ranked with the doctor, the solicitor and the priest. Can we say that about the modern image of teachers? They are doing the same vital job, so what’s changed? My theory is that the teachers have been used as a scapegoat by government for years to cover up inadequacies caused by under funding the system.
The next thing that worries me is the increasing pressure on children to make choices very early in their school career that set their path later in life. Once someone has committed to either the sciences or the humanities, they are locked in. I was taught basically the same subjects right through my school career. It wasn’t until I was 16 that decisions had to be made about pursuing either science or literature. Apart from annual form examinations and eventually the mock GCEs no testing was done. I don’t see how we lost out. It seemed then, and right through my life, that I had received a perfectly adequate education. In fact, it wasn’t until I was at university in the late 70’s that I found that I had a definite advantage over the young people because I had been taught English Grammar. I was astounded to find out that it ceased to be taught as a subject after 1956. In this respect at least, I had been given a better education than the young people I was competing against. How can this happen?
I look at the people I know in Barlick who are about my age and listen to the way they talk and the range of their interests and all I can say is that the local schools and the teachers served them well. True, their horizons were limited in many ways, but this was the fault of an elitist system, not of the primary education they received. There weren’t enough places at the High Schools and the Grammar Schools to cope with the talent that was lying there. Opportunity was not equal.
Which brings me back to the recent disasters in marking. Now I may be a cynic, but one possible explanation for altering the results arbitrarily could be to limit the numbers passing to the number of seats available in the universities. I have a dreadful suspicion that this is actually what is going on. If this is so, it is a crime against our children. The examiners that I know are immensely experienced people and they mark fairly. They know what is up to standard and what isn’t. The only time they will ever adjust is in borderline cases and it is always upwards. Their marks show that our children are improving, it is nothing to do with league tables or total numbers, it is a measure of quality.
The solution is not to downgrade examination marks to match the number of places available, it is to make the necessary investment to allow all children that qualify and wish to go into Higher Education to have the chance. Their parents and grandparents were handicapped by an elitist system. Could this be the explanation for what we see happening now?
A true story for you; a teacher friend of mine came out of a Parent’s Evening with tears of laughter in her eyes. She said that one of the parents had asked a question. He stood up and asked whether it was really necessary in this day and age for children to be taught to repeat from memory things like 9 times 7 is 54. I rest my case!
SCG/09 October 2002