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Friday, January 10, 2003
BARLICK IN THE LATE 1930s. (2) WORLD WAR.
As far as Jim Pollard was concerned, 1939 wasn’t a bad year. When his mother married again in 1937 and moved to Birmingham Jim flitted to a rented house in Barlick. Early in 1939 he married Ivy and they settled down to married life.
So here we are, Jim has achieved his ambitions. He’s independent, married, playing cricket regularly for Barnoldswick (and getting 7/6 a week from Wilfred for doing it!) and has the job of his choice up at Bancroft. Listening to Jim telling his story, it became apparent to me that Wilfred Nutter had taken a shine to Jim. I couldn’t draw Jim out to talk directly about this but he did say that he thought that Wilfred saw in him the attributes that were missing in his own family. Jim was passionately interested in the two things that ruled Wilfred’s life, cotton and cricket.
In the early days Jim didn’t see this as an advantage. Left to his own devices he would have happily sat at the looming frame every hour of the day but as Jim put it, “I thought I was being mugged about.” Wilfred kept moving him about to different jobs, at one stage he even put him in the shed for two months to learn to weave. It’s quite clear that Wilfred had plans for his protégé and was making sure he understood every operation in the mill. Bancroft was busy and with a down of 500 warps a week the sizing and preparation departments worked overtime four days so Jim was doing about seventy hours a week.
There was one cloud on the horizon. Over in Europe Germany was rearming and under Hitler, was pushing her boundaries further out. We now know that Hitler’s grand plan envisaged a general war in Europe by 1944 and if he had his way, he wouldn’t go to war with Great Britain. When he invaded Poland in September 1939 he didn’t expect this to trigger off full conflict but as we know now, this was the last straw and by the end of the year we were at war.
The declaration of war had many consequences for Barlick but the one that particularly engaged the minds of all the able bodied young men was ‘When will I get my calling up papers?’ I’m afraid I’m going to sound like an old codger now to my younger readers but it has to be done. You can have no idea what a depressing prospect this was. If you were a fit male over the age of eighteen years you could be certain that one day a small buff envelope would plop through the letter box informing you that you had to attend a local centre for medical examination. If you were found fit, you were in the forces for the duration of hostilities. You knew about the horrors of the First World War and you’d seen the reports of the Civil War in Spain. Unlike 1914, you knew that this was bad news, there was no enthusiasm, very few volunteered. You just sat there and waited for the blow to fall.
Just before Christmas 1940 Jim got a bit of a surprise. Ivy brought his dinner up to the mill. Normally she never did this and as soon as Jim saw her face he knew there was something wrong. He was right, Ivy gave him his dinner and a small buff envelope and then burst into tears. Jim’s heart fell into his boots, he opened the envelope and sure enough, he had received the call to arms.
In these days of instant communications and computers we have got used to bureaucracy taking its time over things, no matter how important. Pre-war, when the only way of speeding things up was to use a printed form it only took four weeks to get Jim through his medical, issue a rail warrant and get him into basic training at Hadrian’s Camp at Carlisle. He was no longer a good preparation man but a trainee artilleryman. By June, after a further specialised training course at Oswestry he was a fully fledged anti-aircraft gunner on 4.5 inch guns.
The QF 4.5 Ack-Ack gun was the standard defence against high flying aircraft at the beginning of WW2. It fired a 35lb high explosive shell to a height of over 30,000 ft. Each battery of guns was controlled by a predictor unit which gave the height and direction of the enemy planes and the time fuses on each round were adjusted to cause them to explode at the same height as the aircraft. The aim wasn’t to hit the aircraft, which was almost impossible, it was to explode the round close enough for the shrapnel fragments to damage the plane and bring it down.
Jim was posted to various places in England and Scotland during the next year. The guns were sited near centres of industry and their job was to either destroy attacking planes or to harass them so that their aim was spoiled.
There were lighter interludes. At one point, he was stationed near Steventon in Ayrshire and to while away the time between air raids they played the officers at cricket. His talents were soon noticed and before long he was invited to play at Ayr Cricket Club, a county team. The day he was taken down there to play he noticed the large queues to get into the ground and soon realised why. There was a large notice advertising that ‘Pollard of Lancashire’ was to play that day. Old cricket fans will realise straight away what was going on! Between 1930 and the 1950s, one of the most famous Lancashire County players was Dick Pollard, commonly known as ‘Th’old Chain Horse’ because of his ability to bowl fast for long spells. The Ayr supporters thought they were getting Dick when in fact they got Jim!
Shortly after this Jim experienced something that up until the war was the exclusive prerogative of the rich. He got on a boat and set off to see the world. The only thing that’s certain about travel on this scale is that things are never the same again. Next week we’ll have a look at where he went and the effects it had on him.
SCG/29 December 2002
BARLICK IN THE LATE 1930s. (1) STORM CLOUDS.
I picked up the morning paper on the day after Boxing Day and reflected on the fact that here we were in a world that looked as though it was going to go to war in a couple of months and the main article on the front page was whether there would be any fox hunting next year. The unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible seemed more important than killing thousands of people.
Much the same thing applied in Barlick in the late 1930s. People like Jim Pollard were aware that there was some sort of a problem in Europe and it looked as though it could be serious, but matters at home seemed more important. Remember that in Barlick and the neighbouring towns, almost everybody relied on the textile industry for a living either directly through employment in the mills or indirectly. Every trade and business in the town relied on the mills. The main topic right through the 1930s was the state of the trade.
We’ve seen already that this affected Jim Pollard in that he was lucky to get a job when he left school. It was his cricketing abilities that got him into Bancroft because Wilfred Nutter was president of Barnoldswick Cricket Club. Some mills were already closing, Bankfield Shed was in deep trouble as early as 1930. 880 looms and all the preparation machinery to go with them were bought for £1,900, about a fifth of what they were worth five years earlier. By 1934 the shed was closed, there was talk of British Celanese coming in to re-open it but in the event, it never wove again.
In the rest of the mills there was a lot of unrest. Driven by falling profits and the need to weave more efficiently, the manufacturers were looking for ways to lower their costs. Some things never change and it won’t surprise you to hear that the first saving they looked at was wages. Reductions of an eighth part of the wage were forced on many mills in Lancashire and the workers erupted, the papers of the time are full of reports of operatives going out on strike. Barnoldswick was a slightly different case as they worked on a local agreement and so the full effect of these wage cuts never hit us.
What caused the trouble in Barlick was the attempts of the manufacturers to introduce the More Looms System. If we’re going to understand the unrest we had better be clear about the cause.
Ever since the inception of power looms in Barlick round about 1820 the normal quota of looms had been two looms for a learner, four for an experienced weaver and very occasionally, six for a top weaver with a helper. When Bancroft Shed opened in 1920 Jack Platt, his sister Annie and his mother went in as some of the first weavers. They had 12 looms between them and out of these they could make a family wage. This was how the industry had worked for 100 years. They were paid by the piece and as long as they had warps in and kept at it they could survive, just.
A manufacturer in Burnley called Tertius Spencer had decided that there was a better way to run things. He realised that the main part of a weaver’s work was changing shuttles as they ran out of weft. Basically, his idea was that if the yarn package in the shuttle was made bigger and the looms slowed down a bit, one weaver could run eight Lancashire looms. On the face of it, this cut labour costs in half and the idea soon spread. This was called the More Looms System and it was the biggest bone of contention in the area from 1930 onwards.
It’s fairly important to realise that the Barnoldswick Weavers Association weren’t opposed to the eight loom system itself, they knew that something had to be done. What they were fighting for was adequate wages under the system, provision of modern machinery and compensation for those weavers thrown out of work. Some mills, like Dotcliffe at Kelbrook took up the system immediately and ran with non-union labour. Sough Bridge Mill which had become a cooperative when the weavers formed a new company, Nutters (Kelbrook) Ltd, and took over after R Nutter and Sons failed in 1932 started introducing More Looms and apart from being heavily picketed, carried on. Remember Jim talking about the police being there when he went to visit his mates?
The feeling was so strong in Barlick that More Looms didn’t take over immediately. Indeed, it wasn’t until after the end of the war that it became universal. The story of this struggle deserves more attention but I want to leave it there for the moment. What we are doing is setting the scene for the story I want to tell over the next few weeks. I want us to get a feel about what was occupying people’s minds just before the war started.
When the sheds were in full work, and many of them were, they were hives of industry. Bancroft had 1152 looms running 48 hours a week. 350 weavers downed 500 warps a week and turned out 200,000 yards of cloth. It was hard graft but if you were in work you were happy. True, you knew about More Looms and Hitler and industrial unrest in Lancashire but what concerned you day to day was your job, what you were doing and whether you could pay the rent, buy food and get to the pictures or a dance on Saturday night.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and looking back we can see now that the whole system was balanced on a knife-edge. It only needed one small push and the whole world could come crashing down. That’s exactly what happened and we’ll tell the story next week.
SCG/28 December 2002