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Saturday, December 07, 2002
EARBY, AFTER THE GREAT WAR. (3)
Last week I was telling you about the credit systems that supported people on low incomes. There was another line of credit that was a bit more specialised. Itinerant tailors would call and offer to sell you a made-to-measure suit on credit. They measured you up and the next time they came round, delivered a well-made suit. You could pay for it outright or in weekly instalments. The common name for these callers was ‘Scotchmen’. Funnily enough, most of them round here came from Leeds or Bradford so where the name came from is a bit of a mystery.
There was a pawn shop on Victoria Road. It was three doors up from what used to be Barclay’s Bank. This was run by Isaac Levi, he also sold new furniture and lent money. This shop later became Simmonds the electricians and when I lived at Sough was Banham’s cycle shop. I asked Jim if he knew anyone who used the pawn shop and he said one of their neighbours did. She was a widow and Jim said they knew she was poor because she had newspapers instead of curtains in her windows.
This might be a good place to point out a major difference in respect of clothes between the world we are looking at and the position nowadays. The root of the change is that there was virtually no advertising in Jim’s younger days. The age of the ‘designer label’ hadn’t arrived. Clothes were bought with an eye to durability and not ‘fashion’. Fashion is the con trick that the modern industry, bolstered by blanket advertising, has foisted on people today to persuade them to ditch perfectly good clothes and buy new ones. There simply wasn’t the money about in those days to support this. I can hear murmurs of envy from any mother who has been subjected to pester power by their children who are obsessed by street or playground cred!
I asked Jim what he wore for school. Short grey flannel trousers, a shirt and a jersey and a cap with a badge on were standard wear. Quite unusually, his mother knitted his vests but he told me that the thing he really hated was his mother making him wear a scarf in winter fastened at the back of his neck by a safety pin! His footwear during the week was clogs with irons on. These were made by the clogger at the Co-op, Mr Lord, one of his sons used to play cricket for Barlick. He even carved the soles from blocks of willow wood. Jim had a blue pin-stripe suit for Sunday best. With this he wore shoes from the cobbler at Kelbrook, Newton Pickles. He was the uncle of Newton who taught me all I know about steam engines.
Other callers at the door were Gypsies selling clothes pegs and scraps of lace, Asian gentlemen with turbans selling dusters and other household textiles and pedlars selling all sorts of small items from pins and needles to little machines for darning socks. The butcher’s or grocer’s boy with his delivery cycle was a common sight and of course, the newspaper boy who has survived to this day.
Because the Pollards lived near a farm they went for their own milk but most houses were served by the milkman. In those days the milk wasn’t bottled, the milkchap drove round in a two-wheeled trap with a couple of large milk kits full of milk. Every house left a jug on the doorstep and the milk was ladled out with measures called lading tins. These were inspected regularly by the local Weights and Measures Department of the council and tested for accuracy. If you ever see an old one you will see a blob of solder on the outside stamped with a crest, a bit like a hallmark on a silver spoon. There were two numbers as well and this was the date of the test. A big difference we should remember here is that milk went sour very quickly, it was not as clean as modern milk and there were no refrigerators. In winter one delivery a day was sufficient but in summer, milk was delivered night and morning.
Arthur Pollard liked a drink in the evening after his tea so he’d pop across the road into the Red Lion and have a couple of pints. Jim says that he never saw him drunk and he never went to the pub on a Sunday. This doesn’t seem to have been out of any religious scruples, Arthur didn’t go to church, more like his way of marking Sunday as being different than week days. Mrs Pollard never went to the pub, her relaxation seems to have been the Spiritualist Church. Jim said that when she came back she would start to talk about it but his father didn’t want to hear any of it.
What strikes me about our story so far is that it was possible to lead a very self-contained life on Red Lion Street. Arthur had his family, his work and his entertainment all within a 50 yard circle. Mrs Pollard had no leisure activities beyond the odd woman’s magazine and the church on Sunday. How strange this would seem to young people nowadays. No electricity, no TV or computers, gas lighting and coal fires. One change of clothes a week and one bath. I suppose it must sound like prison. Balanced against this were things like the fact that, even though standards of hygiene were lower, the Pollards were eating a good basic diet and had no processed food.
Possibly the thing that would strike us most forcibly would be the absence of noise. There was no traffic, no loud music, no aircraft flying overhead. The loudest noise in the town would be the occasional train passing through and the low growl of the weaving sheds during working hours. Some of the mills had steam whistles to alert the workers when it was time for work and at weekend there would be the sound of boilers being blown down to clean them but apart from that, in the evenings, all you would hear was birdsong. I think that we’ve lost something there.
SCG/16 October 2002
EARBY, AFTER THE GREAT WAR. (2)
We left Arthur Pollard, his wife and Jim their son, firmly established in Red Lion Street where they had a backstone bakery. Arthur and his wife ran the bakehouse together but this didn’t mean that the housework got neglected. Jim’s mother did all the shopping and washed and baked twice a week.
They had some hens at the back which were fed on the waste from the bakehouse, mixed up as a hot mash. This was a very popular way of feeding hens. You put all the dry ingredients in a bucket, slopped some boiling water on and mixed it up into a dry, crumbly paste. If you really looked after your hens you would put some Karswood’s Poultry Spice in. It smelt wonderful, the hens loved it and the eggs tasted good with deep orange yolks.
The eggs were used in the house and as the hens came to the end of their useful life, they ended up as roast chicken. Their favourite meat was pork and his mother bought that at Edmondson’s shop at the bottom of Riley Street. They got the milk at a local farm, Jim used to go for it and it was lifted straight from the milk kit using a lading tin. This was raw milk of course and whilst I appreciate the danger of drinking raw milk, particularly in those days when bovine TV was endemic in the cattle, I have to tell you young people that unless you have drunk milk warm from the cow, you’ve never tasted proper milk!
Arthur didn’t use milk in his baking. Twice a week when he got older, Jim was sent to Wilkinson’s at Booth Bridge Farm, Thornton-in-Craven. They made butter and Arthur wanted the buttermilk which was left over when the butter was churned to make his milk cakes.
As I write this, I am suddenly aware that many younger people won’t know how butter is made. The raw milk from the cow is ‘separated’ into skim milk and cream. This is done by a centrifugal machine, a separator, invented about 1880 by Gustav de Laval. Before this, and for a long time afterwards if you couldn’t afford a separator, the milk was allowed to stand in shallow dishes overnight and the cream rose to the top. This was skimmed off with a shallow spoon and put into a separate container. The milk that was left was pale blue in colour and was, not surprisingly, called skimmed or skim milk. This was used for drinking, baking and even making very durable whitewash!
When you had sufficient cream, and it was never churned fresh but allowed to ripen, you put it in a butter churn and agitated it until the butterfat separated out and clumped into a lump. This was lifted out, sprinkled with salt and patted with wooden paddles to drive out any remaining buttermilk. When weighed up into pounds it was sold. Most farmer’s wives, (it was usually their job to make the butter), had a wooden stamp carved with a design like a flower or a cow and just before they wrapped the butter in greaseproof paper, the stamped this on to the butter as a trade mark.
So, Jim was sent to Booth Bridge to get the buttermilk. Strapped on his back was a flat tin which was shaped to fit his back. This was called a back kit. They were made in various sizes from five to ten gallons. When he got to Thornton this was filled with buttermilk for the bakery. Mrs Pollard got her butter from Wilkinson’s as well and every year at Christmas, a turkey.
Mrs Pollard did most of her shopping at the Co-op. The attraction there was the ‘divi’. How this worked was that you bought one share in the Co-op, it cost you a pound. In return, you were given a number and you quoted this every time you bought something at the Co-op. You were given a small slip the size of a postage stamp which recorded how much you had spent and you stuck this in your Co-op book. At certain times of the year, most people waited until just before the Wakes Week, you could take your book to the Co-op office and have it added up, you were then paid a dividend calculated on how much you had spent. Earby Co-op regularly paid out 2/6 in the pound in those days. In other words, for every pound you spent you got back twelve and a half new pence, not a bad discount!
One feature that we have lost nowadays is the ‘corner shop’. These were small local shops that sold the most common household items. Jim said that there was a house shop at 49 Red Lion Street run by Mrs Lois Eastwood, she sold butter, tea, sugar, washing powder and dry goods like that. Further down, roundabout number 37, there was bigger shop run by Slater’s. They did a bit of oven baking and sold a greater range of goods.
These small shops sold goods at about the same price as the Co-op but didn’t give any divi. Some of them however had a much more useful service, they would sell on credit. On Red Lion Street, Mrs Eastwood did this but Slater’s didn’t. How this worked was that you had a shop book and everything you bought was noted down in it. When you got paid, usually Wednesday if you were in the mill, you went down to the shop and cleared off your debt. Many poorer people worked like this and were never out of debt. This was an advantage to the small shop as they had a tied customer. This practice was called ‘strapping’.
There was another credit system which many of my older readers will remember; a regular caller at many houses was the ‘Provident Man’. This was a system run by the Provident Insurance Company, their man used to call and if you wanted to buy a large item for the household like a piece of furniture or clothes, you could get a cheque off him and use this at an approved retailer to buy whatever you wanted. You paid the money back in instalments each week when the Provident Man called.
More next week about Earby in general and Red Lion Street in particular.