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Sunday, March 02, 2003
ROCK SOLID. PART ONE
When I moved into the house on East Hill Street where I am in now, I needed some work doing and eventually found a good plasterer, Andrew Platt. This pleased me because I knew him as a baby. This was reinforced one day when two of my daughters came round to see how the work was going on and Susan told Andrew that she used to change his nappies for him. This was bad enough but Janet then told him that when he first learned to speak she used to try to teach him swear words to get him into trouble! So, there’s a close connection with my subject this week and it might just poke through here and there.
Andrew’s grandfather Jack Platt and myself were wagon drivers at the same time and got to know each other quite well because of that. Drivers always tended to stick together and I’ve had many happy hours with Jack telling tall stories and having a good laugh about what we had seen on the road.
Twenty five years ago I had the good sense to sit down with Jack and get him to tell me his story and this will be the theme for the next few weeks, not because he was a mate, but because his life tells us a lot about Barlick. If you get the impression that I liked him you will be right. The title says it all, if ever there was a man who was rock solid it was Jack Platt and as you’ll see later, there are other rock connections.
On the 29th 0f May 1905 Mrs Platt had a baby boy, the last of three children, and called him Jack. He was born at Cheesden Pasture Farm, Norden, Rochdale. Jack’s father farmed there but times were hard and the family was under stress and all Jack could tell me about this period was that for a while he was sent to live with an aunt and uncle at Royton.
By 1911, Mrs Platt and her three children, Walter, Annie and Jack were together again and living at the cottage attached to White House Farm just below Whitemoor Reservoir. She had a job weaving in Barrowford and used to walk there every morning rain or shine for starting time at half past six in the morning. Jack was going to school at Foulridge and walked there and back across the fields every day. Annie, his older sister, used to get them up and make up a bit of lunch for them.
The family had an arrangement with Fred Cutler who farmed White House at the time, in return for help with the farm work they were let off the rent for the cottage which was half a crown a week. (twelve and a half new pence) Both his stepfather and his mother were working but there were weeks when they had bad warps or were stopped. On a good week his mother could earn twenty three shillings (one pound fifteen) but this was never certain.
After a couple of years Mrs Platt found work at ‘Pummers’ (Windles at Crow Nest) in Barlick and she took that because it was a bit nearer. She was still walking to and from work and one night as she reached the top of Salterforth Lane she was attacked and had her purse stolen with her weeks wage in it. They never found who did it and when you think about it, this was a terrible thing to happen to a poor woman. Jack remembered that it was a hard week.
I asked Jack about the cottage at White House and he said it was a two up and two down. There was running water but only a stone sink and the fire to cook on. They had a bucket lavatory outside and of course no bath. He once told me they didn’t even have a tin bath, his mother used to stand him in a bowl and give him a stand up bath in front of the fire. The floors were stone and they sanded them once a week, there were no rugs. They had very few clothes apart from what they stood up in. When his mother washed them at the end of the week they wore old clothes until the regular ones were dry.
Jack said that Fred Cutler was very good to them and he enjoyed his time at White House. He used to trail round the farm with Fred getting under the feet but as he grew up became more and more useful. For years afterwards he went back each summer to help Fred with the haymaking. He could remember the First World War starting while he was there but shortly after that the cottage was condemned by the local authority and at the age of ten, Jack was on the move again.
It all sounds a bit grim doesn’t it? I should think that anyone younger than fifty years old reading this will have problems imagining just what it was like. Think about everything that makes your life comfortable from a warm house and running hot water to food, clothes and entertainment and discard them. Add in no guaranteed wage, no social security, no National Health and no transport. This was life on the margin and the worst thing about it is that these were people who were working full time.
It gets worse in ways that we have great difficulty appreciating these days. Women had the roughest time of it. Nobody likes to talk about these things but think of what we would regard as the most basic requirements for hygiene and recognise that Mrs Platt had no access to any of these things. She was under-nourished because she went short to feed the children, she was almost certainly anaemic and her system was under constant attack from infection and fatigue. This is what your grandparents had to survive, the wonder of it is that they did and we are here.
So, it’s 1915 and the Platt family is looking for the next option. More next week.
SCG/27 February 2003
EVERY CLOUD HAS A SILVER LINING.
In a recent article I commented on the fact that whilst the Second World War was a horrible and destructive event, it made it possible for Barlick to start a new chapter in its history with the arrival of the aero engine industry. A terribly black cloud definitely had a silver lining. Good came out of bad.
This got me to thinking about the number of times in my life something that looked like a disaster at the time had actually proved, in the long term, to be a benefit. For instance, if I hadn’t been made redundant in 1978 I wouldn’t have gone to university and my life would have been completely different. How many workers were spared Bissinosis, rupture or deafness by the closure of the mills? It seems to me that the reason why this line of thought can be so fascinating is that the benefits come as a complete contrast to the original evil.
Then I noticed another event just before Christmas. It was the 50th Anniversary of the Great Smog of London and there were several pieces done about this. Now I’m afraid my prejudices start to poke out a bit here. The anniversary was presented as though there hadn’t been any smog anywhere else. I’m not saying that the fogs in London weren’t bad, I’d just like to put it on record that other parts of the country had events which were just as bad and perhaps even worse.
For the benefit of my younger readers who have never seen an old fashioned ‘smoke fog’ or smog, smog occurs when you have a lot of pollution from industry which is producing very small particles of carbon, sulphur and a lot of other nasty and acidic chemicals. This mixes with natural fog which is suspended water droplets and under certain weather conditions it is trapped, say in a valley, and cannot get away. Instead of diluting in the wind and dispersing, it sits there getting thicker and more poisonous until eventually it becomes a killer.
I was born on Heaton Norris in Stockport. Stockport sits in a river valley. It was heavily industrialised before the war and was a breeding ground for smogs, they were common even in summer. Also because of the river valley, Stockport has one of the biggest brick railway viaducts in the country. It carries the main Manchester to London line over the river valley and was a key target for the enemy. If they could cut that rail link it would have been a massive blow to our war effort.
Before the war, and during the war itself, the Germans put a lot of effort into obtaining aerial photographs of prime targets. It was noticed in the 1930’s that the German airship Hindenburg used to get lost quite often when coming in over England from America. It flew over Nelson and the Rossendale Valley and there was grave suspicion that this was deliberate, they were taking reconnaissance photographs. It was the belief that the enemy had this sort of knowledge that prompted the government to move vital industries to safe areas, like the Rover Company to Barlick.
This being the case, as we sat in the Anderson Shelter in the garden at Heaton Norris listening to some very heavy bombs falling all round us, what we couldn’t understand was why they never hit the viaduct! It wasn’t until after the war, when the Luftwaffe archives were captured and examined, that we found out what had saved us.
It was industrial pollution, smog, they couldn’t see us or the viaduct. Every aerial photograph of Stockport had one thing in common, a big black smudge hiding the centre of the town. We had our own protective umbrella of dirty stinking fog!
In case you younger ones are thinking that this is a bit far-fetched. I can remember the fogs of the Autumn of 1952 and they were as bad as anything I’d seen up to then or since. I can remember coming out of school on to Wellington Road, it was dark and if you stood under a lamp standard and looked up you couldn’t see the lamp even though it was lit. There was only a dim halo of light. If you held out your hand in front of you, you couldn’t see it. All the traffic had stopped except for the trams and the only way they kept moving was because the conductor walked in front carrying an oil flare. These were cast iron lamps with a rope for a wick. They were fuelled with thick oil and gave an orange flickering flame which was easier to see in the fog. It took almost two hours to get from Davenport to Heaton Moor Road, about five miles.
When I eventually got home, my mother went to the corner shop about 200 yards away. She got lost and didn’t get home for almost an hour. Imagine how bad the visibility was to make this happen.
So, the message is, even the darkest cloud can have a silver lining. WW2 brought industry to Barlick. The smogs of 1952 killed thousands of people all over the country but led eventually to the Clean Air Acts. During the war smog saved Stockport Viaduct. The only problem is that if there was ever another bombing war we wouldn’t be so lucky. The Clean Air legislation has worked so well that modern aerial photographs of Stockport are crystal clear. Get the tin hats out lads!
SCG/09 January 2003