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Saturday, April 19, 2003
ROCK SOLID. PART FOUR
By the end of March 1920, Bancroft Shed was ready for a start up and Mrs Platt, Annie and Jack were three of the first weavers in the shed. Jack was able to tell me many things about the process of starting a new shed and answered a lot of questions for me.
I’ve often wondered about the process of starting a shed up from scratch. I know enough about engines, boilers, shaft transmission and looms to know that there were many things that could go wrong. It had always seemed to me to be obvious that you couldn’t just fill a shed with weavers and preparation staff and start up full bore. Jack was able to give me enough clues to work out what was going on.
The first thing to recognise is that Nutter Brothers, and this means the Nutter family, had a big investment in the new shed. They had started building it in March 1915 but had been held up because of the war. James Nutter, who had first made the decision to build, had died in 1918 and never saw the shed completed. Wilfred Nutter was the man who finished the scheme off and his job was to get the mill producing as quickly as possible.
Early in April the shed started running regularly but with only about twenty looms running. This meant that the engine was very dangerous because a combination of a new and untried engine with a very light load was a recipe for over-speeding. This was when the engine ran out of control and turned the shafting far too fast. Jack said that the first thing they were told was that if they heard the shafting speeding up they had to run out of the shed immediately. He said this happened a few times and once when he came back in he found that one of his looms was on top of its neighbour! The belt had snagged and lifted the loom up into the air dropping it when the strap broke.
While all this was going on, looms were still being brought into the shed and installed. Jack said they were second-hand looms and that a man called Jim Monks was cleaning them before they were fixed. There were two tacklers, Fred Bracewell and Bill Monks and they were setting up looms ready for weaving. Bill’s wife, Mrs Monks wove next to Jack and he says she used to look after him. There was only one box of weft in the warehouse and he used to carry weft for his mother, Annie and Mrs Monks. They kept his looms going while he was doing this.
As the shed gradually settled down, more weavers came in and a young lass got the set of looms next to Annie and they mated up together. They used to go out for a brew together and one day later in 1920 they were just going to go out but Annie had some ends down so she said she’d follow in a minute. As her mate went through the fire door out of the shed it fell and killed her. Jack said they had to stop the mill and get every man in the place to lift the heavy door off her. He remembers them laying her on a bed of waste cotton on a table in the warehouse but she was dead. The workers started calling the shed the graveyard and there might have been another reason that reinforced this..
I’ve yet to get to the bottom of this story but I’ve been told by several people that they were short of flags when they finished the shed and somewhere at the back of the shed there was a gravestone that had been re-cycled. I looked for it many a time but never found it.
This sudden death was a shock to them all, Jack wasn’t liking weaving any better than he had before and he was thinking seriously about asking his mother if he could do something else when fate took a hand.
Late in the summer of 1920, Jack and his mate Johnny Grimes were going down to Salterforth to have a swim in the canal. They took a short cut through the quarry and noticed a window had been left open on one of the huts. They climbed in to see what they could find and Jack picked up some brass tubes off the desk and shoved them into his pocket. They went and had their swim and as they were coming back up Salterforth Lane Jack remembered the tubes and realised that they were just the right size for pushing a stub of pencil in so you could use the last half inch. He had a piece of wire and started picking out the grey powder in the tube when there was a hell of a bang and Jack looked down and saw his fingers were on the floor!
There was no telephone or 999 service so his mates ran off and found an adult. They got a bloke to get his milk float out and they took Jack home where his mother sent for the doctor. The doctor came and looked at his hand and said he’d have to go into hospital the following morning. They wrapped his hand in cotton waste and bandaged it up and he laid in bed all night. By morning the tick mattress and the floorboards under the bed were soaked in blood and they borrowed Harry Palmer’s father’s milk float and set off to Burnley with him.
Well, we’ll continue that story in our next as they say but the thing that always struck me was that the doctor, whoever he was, was a bit callous. I know there was no ambulance and that there wasn’t the same urgency about injuries in those days but here we have a sixteen year old lad with half his hand blown off and it was left until the following morning. Different days and different attitudes. Tune in next week and I’ll tell you what happened.
SCG/1 March 2003
ROCK SOLID. PART THREE
One of the nice things about Jack Platt as an informant was that he was observant when he was a lad. His story is a gold mine of facts about Barlick in the early part of the last century. So, it’s 1919 and Jack is walking to and from work at Calf Hall six days a week with his mother and Annie. They are living at Amen Corner below Fanny Grey and so they have a pretty good knowledge of what’s going on between there and Barlick.
One of the key features of Barlick which strikes overseas visitors is the way the houses in the town huddle together in the valley bottom around the mills. There’s a very simple reason for this, it made life easier if you lived near your work because you had to walk there and back perhaps twice day if you came home for your dinner. Small cottages on the outskirts of the town were less convenient and so were cheaper to rent. This is why Mrs Platt and her family were at Amen Corner and also explains why they eventually became disused and were demolished. On a larger scale, this is why the village of Stock near Bracewell vanished completely.
Adding to the disadvantage was the fact that apart from one or two streets in the centre of the town, none of the roads were paved. They were dry macadam made of small stones with no capping. In dry weather they were dusty and in wet, muddy. So let’s have a look at Jack’s world in 1919, starting close to home.
There were two ways out of Amen Corner. You could either walk up a footpath which brought you out on Upper Lane between the pub and the waterworks or you could walk out on the lane that skirted the bottom of Whitham’s Park Close quarry coming out on to Salterforth Lane. This quarry, on the Foulridge side of the lane had been owned previously by Billycock Bracewell. Whitham, who had a pork butcher’s shop on Church Street, went into partnership with Bill Moss to run Park Close but this failed and Whitham carried on by himself. He lived on Salterforth Lane.
Jack said he could remember the brickworks working on the low side of the lane. It used offal and clay out of Park Close Quarry and according to Harold Duxbury the bricks were of very poor quality and this was why the enterprise failed. On the opposite side of Salterforth Lane was John Sagar’s bottom quarry. We shall hear a lot more about this later because Jack worked there.
It’s important to bear in mind that Kelbrook New Road wasn’t built until the 1930’s. The only way into Barlick was uphill on to the top lane and down Tubber Hill. This gave the quarry owners a bit of a problem. All the haulage was by horse and the slope up to the top lane was too steep for them to drag the heavy stone carts up. The solution was a small steam winch on the island at the top of Salterforth Lane. A rope was let down and attached to the front beam of the cart and the winch dragged the whole lot up to the level road at the top. Jack said that the horses got so used to stopping in the right place at the quarry entrance that when the rope was shortened because of wear, the carters had great difficulty getting the horses to go the extra yard or two to reach the hook. I’m not clear whether Sagar and Whitham joined at this winch but it would have made sense.
Both quarries tipped their waste on the sides of the road further down Salterforth Lane. A lot of this was removed for roadmaking material in the 1930’s.
Once they had reached the top lane it was a fairly easy journey for both Jack and the horses until they reached Sagar’s other quarry, Loose Games at the top of Tubber Hill where the caravan park is now. The steep hill just below here was terrible for the horses. The stone carts had only a very crude brake and in order to stop the weight carrying the horse and cart away, the carters put a shoe or ‘scotch’ under each back wheel on which the cart skidded down the hill. This didn’t always work and Jack told me that he had seen two accidents where the horses were killed on here.
He never forgot one horse that was mortally wounded when the broken shaft stuck in its side and he said the carter cradled its head and talked to it while they waited for someone to fetch a gun to shoot it. The accidents usually occurred at the top of Lane Bottoms next to where Jim Haworth, the Firewood King and noted Communist, had his hut opposite Letcliffe Lane end. Jack remembered that two of Sagar’s horses were called Robin and Charlie because he used to ride them out to pasture at another quarry owned by John Sagar behind the waterworks.
They usually walked down Barnoldswick Lane into the town past the Hey and the Dog but occasionally Jack said they took a detour to see how work was going on at Newfield Shed where Nutter Brothers were building at Gillians. On Friday March 19th 1920, for some reason, Jack and his mates Harry Grimes and George Horrocks were at a loose end and heard that there was something going on at Bancroft as the new shed had been renamed. They went down and sneaked in to watch the christening of the engine and he mentioned a picture being taken. I didn’t know about the picture of the christening at the time and so never showed it to him but I’d like to think that Jack is one of the lads peeping over the railings.
There were 800 looms in the shed when the engine was christened and by the following month the shed was weaving. On the first day, Mrs Platt, Annie and Jack were there running ten looms between them. Next week we’ll hear from Jack what it was like working in a brand new shed.
SCG/1 March 2003
ROCK SOLID. PART TWO
On June 28th 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was assassinated in Sarajevo by a Serbian patriot. A month later Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia and on August 1st Germany did the same in support of their ally. Germany suspected that this might be the chance that France had been waiting for and that once they saw German troops moving east to Russia they might invade from the west. In order to forestall this, the German Kaiser ordered that the ‘Schlieffen Plan’ should be put into effect. This was a scheme for the invasion of France via Belgium using railways to transport the troops.
There is a well-founded theory that the Kaiser was bluffing at this point. His intention was to frighten France and forestall an incursion. He soon found that due to the complexities of the plan, once initiated, it couldn’t be stopped. So, almost by accident, Belgian neutrality was violated, this triggered a treaty obligation owed by Britain and on August the 4th 1914, Great Britain declared war on Germany. The Great War had started and by September the 15th, the first trenches were being dug on the Western Front and four years of bloody stalemate had started.
Jack Platt was nine years old and living at White House Cottage. He could remember the stir that the outbreak of war caused and the rush to volunteer. The war was to have other consequences for the Platt family.
One of the first things to happen on the outbreak of war was that the government requisitioned all the raw cotton it could get its hands on. The reason for this was that raw cotton was one of the basic ingredients for ‘guncotton’ or cordite which was the explosive used as a propellant in guns, from rifle ammunition up to the largest naval weapons.
The shortage of cotton caused short time working in the mills and it was this, added to the fact that the local authority condemned the cottage at White House, that persuaded the Platt family to move to Rawtenstall where there was work to be had in the ‘slipper factories’. It was here that Jack got his first job in 1917 as a last sorter at Hoyle and Hoyle’s slipper works. In 1918 Mrs Platt and her family moved back to Barlick because she and Annie had the chance of a job weaving at Coates Mill.
When they came back, they got a cottage at Amen Corner. This was a little group of cottages also known as Higher Lee, in the fields below Lane Head pub, they were demolished long ago. The family were going to be there a fair while, Jack was married from there in 1928.
Now they were back in Barlick, Jack was booked in to Gisburn Road School as a half time scholar. He spent half a day in school and half a day working with his mother and sister at Coates Mill as a learner weaver or tenter. I asked him how he liked and he said he hated it. He said he used to deliberately cause faults when he loaded the shuttle so he’s be sent out of the mill. His mother persevered with him and by the time he reached 14 in 1919 they had moved to Bird’s at Calf Hall Shed and he was ready to take two looms and run them himself.
Outside the mill Jack was up to his usual mischief. He soon palled up with two other lads, Harry Grimes and George Horrocks and they were a force to be reckoned with. Looking back, I suppose we’d call them juvenile delinquents! Apart from the normal playing about in quarries and damming streams they made dens up on Whitemoor where they were chased off many a time by George Bird, the gamekeeper because it was private land. They got chased for other reasons as well, he told me about raiding the orchard at Peel Whitaker’s farm on Salterforth Lane. He said they used to go there on Sunday when they were all at Chapel and one day George Horrocks got caught because he had that many apples in his jacket he couldn’t run away when the family came home early.
If his mother sent him for a shilling’s worth of eggs, he used to go raiding hen huts and looking for stray nests until he had got the eggs so he could keep the shilling. One night, Jack, Harry and George decided it was pea-pod time so they raided Jim Sutcliffe’s garden at Tubber Hill. Jack said they had a ‘reight do’, they filled a sack apiece and were just leaving when a voice came from behind the garden hut, “Narthen, you can fetch them buggers here. You’ve saved me the trouble of picking ‘em!” Jim had been waiting for them and they got no pea pods that night.
Things got a bit more serious at times. One day they were playing about in Sagar’s quarry at Loose Games on top of Tubber Hill and they found that the door of the magazine was open. There was a full drum of ‘Black Jack’, the explosive they used in the quarry for cracking rock. They scooped some out and laid a trail down to the quarry gate and lit it. Jack says they got the shock of their lives. They expected a little bang but there was a large explosion and they saw bits of the magazine flying all over! They ran away and were never found out but Jack said that it taught them a lesson. Well, he thought it had at the time.
So, by 1919 things are looking up a bit for the Platt family. Jack had reached fourteen years old and left school so Mrs Platt and her three children are all in full-time work and bringing in enough to keep them in relative comfort at Amen Corner. True, by our standards nowadays it would be a very poor life but in those days, they thought they were lucky. The poverty days at White House and Rawtenstall were behind them, there was work about, they had a change of clothes and plenty to eat.
As they walked down the road into Barlick they noticed signs of activity on the site of Newfield Mill which had been under construction since 1914. It looked as though Nutter Brothers were at last going to finish it.
SCG/28 February 2003