Barnoldswick Local History Articles

Thursday, September 11, 2003


By the early fifties Billy Clark’s commercial instincts were kicking in again as he realised that the cloth trade was finished. He was going to have to look for fresh trade for his fleet of wagons. He sold almost all his cotton contracts and got some fresh work for Rolls Royce moving engines and spares around the country. In this respect he was doing exactly the same as Wild Brothers did at the same time. The world was moving on and if they didn’t keep up they would go out of business.

As we’ve seen, his health wasn’t very good and he’d made his mind up to retire when he was 65. His friend Rupert Nutter had a son called Kenneth and one day he came to see Billy to ask his advice about starting in haulage. Emma says that Billy thought this was a bit cheeky coming to him and asking how he could set up in opposition to him but let it pass because they were family friends. He told Kenneth that it wasn’t as easy as it looked because he either had to have an ‘A’ licence, which allowed him to cart for anyone, a ‘B’ licence which allowed him to carry his own goods and some for other people or a ‘Contract A’ licence which was tied to one particular contract. All these were hard to obtain and the ‘A’ licences were the most valuable of all.

Billy gave the matter some thought and eventually he and Emma decided that it was perhaps a good time to sell out. Billy rang Kenneth and he came up to see him. Billy told him that he was willing to sell him the business but warned him that it wasn’t what it was, he’d have to find some more work to even keep one wagon on the road. Kenneth had an interest in Gott’s garage at the time and so he bought the firm and renamed it Stockbeck Haulage. Billy didn’t know it at the time but he was in partnership with Colin Alderton. This didn’t bother him, he had retired and what he was after was a quiet life.

As I’ve said before, Stockbeck was in business when I came into Barlick. I knew about them and saw them on the road occasionally but didn’t really know much about them. They always gave the impression that they were struggling a bit and eventually they dropped out of sight, another small firm driven out by the larger groupings that were taking over. I was working out of Glasgow myself at the time and one day I was given some work out of Rolls Royce at East Kilbride, some packing cases to take to Barlick. When I got there the dispatchers thought it was really funny that I came from the same town as there regular haulier who had let them down. It wasn’t until later that I realised this was Stockbeck. I remember it was a good rate and Billy Harrison pestered them for weeks for more work but nothing ever came of it.

I don’t know when Billy died and left Emma a widow but that was how I knew her when we lived at Hey Farm from 1959. I first really came into contact with her when the children were growing up and we were struggling. Vera used to clean for Emma and the kids did her shopping. My daughter Susan told me only yesterday how much she liked her and that she always got fourpence for doing the shopping for her. All my memories of her are of a very nice, kind lady who loved children and was a pleasure to know.

So there you have it, a quiet life but one that spanned some very important years in Barlick and gave us another little window into how the town actually worked. When Emma was born there was no mains drainage, no electricity, no cinema or wireless and television hadn’t even been dreamed of. By the time she died, men had landed on the moon. Some scholars might say that these small lives are unimportant. I think they are wrong, in their own way they far more important at the local level than kings and queens. They are the very fabric of our history.

The question I finish up asking myself is ‘Are we any better off today?’ The biggest advance is in the role of women and there are some obvious advances in medical science that I for one am very grateful for but how about the rest? Are our kids any happier today with their play stations and computers and mobile phones? All the evidence seems to point towards a resounding no but it isn’t as simple as that. Life was simpler in those days, there were fewer distractions and certainly they weren’t targeted by advertising. One thing is certain, we can’t turn the clock back and our children are going to have to do exactly the same as Emma and Billy, make the best they can out of what they’ve got. If they do as well as Emma they won’t have made a bad job of it.

I’ve got two pictures for you this week that I suspect will bring back memories to some of the older end. One is an advertisement for Mazawattee tea and the other is packet of Sunlight Soap, a bag blue (The ‘dolly blue’ had a wooden centre) and a Lion brand donkey stone.

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As the upheaval of the First World War settled down, Barlick gradually returned to normal. The re-stocking boom after the war helped as all the mills were busy working flat out to satisfy the market. Wilfred Nutter was pressing on to finish Newfield Shed at Gillians, the last mill to be built in the town and soon to become Bancroft. The young men who had survived the war came back and started to look round for jobs in civilian life and some were luckier than others.

Eddie Bradley came home and his father decided to set him up in business as a garage proprietor. He built the red brick building on Skipton Road at the bottom of the railway yard that we used to know as Watson’s Garage. Emma said it cost £1,000 to build and £1,000 to stock it, a lot of money in those days. But Eddie was fixed up and became a garage proprietor. Emma said he was very interested in the latest thing, wireless sets. He’d married by this time but was still living with his parents down Gisburn Road. He invited Emma and Billy down one night for supper and a ‘wireless party’. She said they all sat round a table loaded with batteries and everyone had a set of headphones. All Eddie managed to get out of it was one chirp. Emma said it just sounded like a parrot and that was her first experience of the new medium!

Emma and Billy were married by now and living in the top house in Ash Grove which they bought for £300. She carried on weaving until her wage had paid for the house and then stopped and never wove again. She remembered going to the bottom house in Ellis Street every week and paying her wage in to the Skipton Building Society. Billy’s father was a cloth merchant on the Royal Exchange at Manchester and when he retired his son George took over the business. He took Billy in after the war and paid him £5 a week, about twice what a good weaver could make then.

For a time all went well largely because the family firm had a very good connection with mills weaving in India belonging to Sir Philip and Sir Rupert Sassoon. They were importing cloth into the country and George and Billy could quote some very keen prices to their customers. This was of course one of the factors that eventually killed the home-grown industry but at that time as far as George and Billy were concerned, it was just business. Little did Billy and Emma know but in 1920, just as they got married the re-stocking boom cracked and the textile industry started to go into terminal decline.

By Easter 1921 things were bad and George could no longer afford to pay Billy. Billy got the idea of selling cloth directly to the consumer on his own account. At the time, Emma and he had a very impressive oak gramophone so they traded that in for a motor bike and sidecar and Billy set off up to the Lake District with three pieces of unbleached sheeting cloth from Albert Hartley’s. He sold the lot for a wonderful profit at the first three houses he called at and realised he had struck gold! The big problem in remote areas in those days was lack of transport, people couldn’t just pop into the nearest town to go shopping and cheap cloth was one of the things they had no access to. Billy saw the opportunity and decided straight away to buy a Ford car on hire purchase for £100 so he could carry more cloth.

The business prospered and Billy started other rounds in the Dales as well. He sold cloth and general drapery. By 1926 as motors improved, many small firms started up running buses and Billy realised that this would kill his trade so he sold out immediately and told Emma they would have to look for a business. At this time, his brother George came to him because by this time his cloth business had totally collapsed. He told Billy that there was a two year old Leyland lorry for sale at Nutters at Bankfield because they no longer had enough work for it.

George and Billy want in together, bought the lorry for £400 and the garage on Crow Nest Road. George drove the wagon and Billy found the work and eventually they had five wagons on the road trading as W A Clark, Haulage Contractor. Because of their connections in the trade they had did well and carried for many of the manufacturers in Barlick.

In 1933 things had improved to the point where Emma and Billy moved into the house on Manchester Road. They had two daughters, Dorothy and Shirley who were both born at Ash Grove but Shirley was only seven months old. Things weren’t so bad at all, they had a good business and settled down into a useful but uneventful life, minding their own business and taking what time they could off together. Billy was a big football fan and used to attend all the Burnley games with Rupert Nutter who lived at Homelands further up Manchester Road. There were a few of them went together and the wives, resigned to being football widows on Saturday, used to congregate together and have tea, play bridge and have little outings.

In 1956 Billy realised he wasn’t well, he was getting tired very quickly so he went to see a specialist who told him his heart wasn’t so good and he’d better take it easier. He was 63 at the time and decided that he’d take it easy and think about selling up and retiring in a couple of years.

It’s time to leave Emma and Billy for this week but I think you might be beginning to see why I chose my title. What strikes me about their story is that they lived through such great events and tremendous change but managed to keep their eye on the ball and stick to what they knew best. There were no heroics but Billy provided a service, made it into a business and had enough foresight to realise that he had to change with the times. It was men like this and women like Emma who supported him that made Barlick tick and provided employment and continuity.

SCG/18 June 2003
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Emma started weaving full time at Nutters at Bankfield in 1909 when she was 14 years old and a new life started to open up to her. She quite liked weaving and did so well that after a couple of years she and her sister had ten looms between them so they were amongst the highest paid weavers in the town. The only thing she didn’t like was having to set out for the mill at quarter past six in the morning, especially in winter when it was dark. She said she would be arm in arm with her sister, half asleep and what she remembers most vividly was women carrying their babies to the child-minder. She said it was cruel and shouldn’t have had to happen.

Emma went to night school for three years at Gisburn Road School where they did English and Household Management. This included needlework and cookery but they went down to the gas works to do cooking. The classroom was in the end part of the building up to the main road alongside the road that runs down to the Corn Mill.

What with night school and work she met a lot of people her own age. At the mill, she wove next to Harold Slater who was about the same age as her. He was the son of Liza Nutter, James Nutter’s daughter who had married Joe Slater and Joe was one of the clothlookers at Nutters. Harold was short-sighted like Emma and if he forgot his glasses he would get Emma to take his ends up while he ran her looms. The only problem was he was likely to let ends go down on her looms as well and then she got called up into the warehouse.

Bradley’s were weaving in the same shed and so Emma got to know their sons as well and before long she was being invited to their houses and going about with the lads. This was the fast set in Barlick in those days as in her words, “They had money for anything.” In 1916 Emma had met Billy Clark who she was later to marry. Billy’s brother George was courting Ella Bradley who was sister to Eddie Bradley. A favourite meeting place was Stock Beck and then they’d go for a walk. In summer they used to congregate at Highfield House down Greenberfield Lane to play tennis.

Highfield House was one of two houses built by the Brooks Brothers on the same site. From what Emma says the reason why they got to go there was because Sidney and Christopher Brooks were part of the ‘set’. She once told me that it was Jim Bailey who changed the name from Highfield House to Deerstones so he must have owned it at some time. It’s a typical manufacturers house with cast iron pillars on the porch that wouldn’t look out of place in Blackpool or St Annes and had a tennis court.

They went on the railway for trips out and Emma told me that she and three friends went to Morecambe one Saturday via Skipton. When they got back the train was late and they missed their connection and were stranded at half past eleven at night. There was a young man on the train who lived at Colne and he said he’d walk with them through Barlick so they set off down the road. Emma said it was four o’clock when they got back and she could never have walked past the graveyard at Thornton if it hadn’t been for the young man with them!

In 1916 Emma was 20 when she met Billy Clark at a Liberal ‘At Home’ in January, Billy evidently got it bad and fell madly in love with Emma. She always told me that as far as she was concerned it wasn’t serious, they weren’t ‘sweethearts’, but six weeks later when Billy joined up he asked her to write to him and this was really what cemented the relationship.

At that time Billy Clark, Frank Barrett’s father and another young man all volunteered together for the Machine Gunners because they were interested in motor bikes! Eddie Bradley was a mate of theirs but at that time he thought he was going to have to stay in the family firm at Bankfield. Later on he was going to have to join up and this led to a falling out do amongst the Bradley Brothers and Eddie’s father got the two other brothers to buy him out. As it turned out this was a smart move because Bradley’s later went bust and because they weren’t a limited company the two remaining brothers lost everything.

Billy had an interesting war because he was moved out of the machine gunners and found himself in one of the first tanks attacking the German lines! He survived the war and when he came back in 1919 they did some serious courting and eventually got married in 1920. Mind you, he nearly missed because when he came back from the army he arranged to meet Emma but overslept because he’d been travelling all night. When he eventually landed Emma refused to see him, she said she’d finished with him! However, she was talked round by her sisters and on they went from there.

Emma couldn’t remember a lot about WW1. She said that she knew it sounded callous but they were young, earning good money and having a good time. It wasn’t until she was writing to Billy that it really struck her how serious things were. What really made an impression on her was the Spanish Flu that hit the town in 1917. It was one of these viruses that crossed over from animals to humans, a bit like modern SARS. It started with some pigs in Iowa and killed over 30 million people world wide. What was particularly bad about this pandemic was that it tended to hit the young and healthy and wasn’t as virulent in the very young, the old or the infirm. It’s effect, combined with the war casualties, was to rip the youngest and fittest out of society. Emma had it herself but survived. She said it was terrible and that there were funerals every day in Barlick.

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