Barnoldswick Local History Articles

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Morning all. I've had mail from one of my regulars, Ray Jackson, who has pointed out that there are more gaps in the archive than I thought. I'm sorry about this and I hope that whatever has caused it has ceased to attack me!

I'm not going to try to put the archive straight, to be honest I have far too much work on getting on with the research. However, if any of you have any specific requests for articles to make up series, email me on and I'll mail you the missing bits.

Eventually all this will be on other web sites and archives. This is what I'm working on at the moment. To give you an idea, a piece of work I have just finished has 1,300,000 words and 500 pic files of 3mb each. I think Blogger would baulk at that one!

So, please bear with me and let's see if Blogger behaves itself with the current output. I reckon bewteen 5,000 and 10,000 people each week read the articles plus you lot out there.

Best to you all, Stanley.


I dare say I might have bent your ear from time to time about the fact that the reason we don’t have lads coming on wanting to be engineers nowadays is because we don’t let them play out in interesting places like loco sheds, foundries and workshops. At the age of ten years my dad was letting me read his engineering magazines and was taking me every Saturday morning to the works where he was the manager. I was always set on doing something, drilling holes, polishing chromed parts watching the furnaces being charged, I was soaking it all in.

Twenty years earlier Newton had been doing exactly the same thing. The engineer at Wellhouse was Billy Watson who came to Barlick from Rochdale in his twenties. Newton mated on with him and every morning would go and help Billy in the boiler and engine house. Very often he started the engine after breakfast and this sometimes made him late for school but Newton had his priorities right, the engine came before school! Billy taught him to indicate engines and if he was going to do a bit of valve setting at night he’d have Newton with him. Newton always said that it wasn’t Johnny who taught him his engine skills, it was Billy Watson and his own reading and observation.

By early 1930 he was working full-time at Wellhouse in the machine shop and going out with the men on weekend jobs. Dennis Pickles and Leonard Parkinson took him with them and taught him all they knew. They installed shafting and bevel gears, did repairs and Newton saw every kind of millwrighting job at first hand. Other young men came to work at J A Pickles. Walt Fisher, Stanley Fisher’s son, Bob and Jimmy Fort, they grew up together at Wellhouse and learned their trade. I once asked Newton why he never bothered with anything electrical, he said there was no need to, Walt Fisher left them all behind and so right up to the firm closing they left all that work to him. Walt was Newton’s partner when they closed the shop down.

In the early 1930s J A Pickles and Son had every mill in Barlick under their wing except for Long Ing where Rushworths from Colne were still the king pins. Outside Barlick they had all the mills from Earby to Foulridge and occasionally further afield. On top of this there was specialist machining work that they took on for other engineers.

Johnny soon started Newton up doing outside jobs on his own. He was only 14 when his dad sent him to Arthur Dobson the engineer at Crow Nest Shed. Newton said his dad told him in later years that he’d had a word with Arthur about sending Newton but at the time he knew nothing about this. Arthur was noted for his ability to swear and young Newton was more than a bit worried. When he got there he found that the job was to put a couple of big washers under the economiser damper because it was rubbing on the brick floor of the flue. Arthur lent Newton one of his lads and big does and little does they levered the damper up, did some measuring and Newton went back to the shop to make the washers. Newton said they were anything but round but they put them in and cured the job. When he landed home at night he was as black as the fire back but Johnny calmed his mother down, “He’s been on an outside job!” Other jobs followed, he was sent on his bike to Salterforth to fit a half inch pipe at Berry’s mill, he repaired a wringing machine for a woman down Rainhall. One day he went to a bloke who made torpedoes (pasties) down at Syke called Nat and repaired the firebars under his oven. Small jobs, but good experience and he remembered them all.

Transport was sometimes a problem. Johnny sent Jim Fort and Newton to County Brook one day in the winter of 1930 to fit a new bronze bearing in the water wheel. It had all been measured up and made and just needed taking up, dropping in the pedestal and the jacks letting off to drop the wheel onto it. There were men there to help them as well. Newton asked how they were going to get there and Johnny said they had to catch the bus! Now this bearing weighed about 100Kg (200lbs) so these two lads set off with it on a bogie, manhandled it on to the bus and then dragged it down through the fields from the top road to County Brook. I think it was Johnny’s idea of initiative training.

There was a significant event late on in 1930. Johnny collared Newton in the middle of the afternoon and said “Clough’s stopped, come with me.” They went to Clough mill and sure enough, the engine wouldn’t run. Leonard Parkinson and Dennis Pickles were there and every time they opened the steam valve it did half a turn and then bounced back. They had taken the lids off and checked the valves but it had beaten them. They were all stood there scratching their heads and a little voice piped up from the back, “It never will run will it!”

Newton had spotted that they had set the left hand eccentric 90 degrees forward when it should have been back. Dennis Pickles blew his top at Newton but Leonard quietened him down and asked Newton what he meant. Newton showed him and Leonard said “The lad might be right.” Johnny told them to alter it as they couldn’t make it any worse. So Leonard and Newton slacked the eccentric off, barred the engine round and nipped it up 180 degrees back from where it had been. Johnny told George Hoggarth the engineer to try it. George opened the steam valve and off it went, “Ticky Tock” as Newton put it. Johnny rammed his bowler hat down on his head and said, “That’s it, that’s me finished wi’ engines. If you want me from now on you’ll have to send for me!” That was how Newton’s engine fitting started, he was 14 years old.

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Sometime during the mid 1930s Henry Brown’s son, William, the man who had come for Johnny to be foreman in 1923, reappears at Wellhouse. The firm was still called J A Pickles and Son but ‘Our Mr Willy’ as Newton called him was in the office. I can’t say anything definite about his position in the firm but Newton gave me the impression that he had some money in the firm. Willy’s son Harry Brown came into the firm as well on the shop floor.[later research resulted in the fact that Willy Brown came back to run the office in 1930 when Newton was 14. I don’t think he had any money in the firm but am still not sure about this.]

I’m certain that Willy was in the office in 1935 because Newton told me about the day he got on to his father about his wage. He was 19 years old and was still on the same wage he started on when he was 14, 12/6 a week. (62p.) He gave this to his mother every week and she gave him 2/- (10p) to pay for his cinema and Woodbines. Johnny told him he’d better go into the office and see Mr Willy. When Newton went in, cap in hand, Willy expressed great surprise that his wage hadn’t been raised and immediately put him up to £3 a week, only 2/6 under the full rate and him only 19 years old. This was wealth beyond the dreams of avarice, Newton put his cap back on and his mother put his spending money up to 3/- a week!

Round about this time Harry Brown and Newton were sent up to Sagar’s Salterforth quarry to commission a new National suction gas plant for the 30hp engine that ran the quarry. This was the plant that Jack Platt worked on. Every now and again I get a whiff of a bit of edge in the relationship with the Brown family and this was one such occasion. Harry was obviously the expert on the job and Newton was there to help him. After struggling all day Saturday they still hadn’t got this plant to make gas, the engine wouldn’t start. On the Sunday, Harry brought his father up to look at it but with no better luck. In the end Newton lost his rag with them and pointed out that they were making gas alright, the place stunk of it. The problem was it wasn’t getting to the engine. He was told to mind his own business so he left them with the gas producer and starting at the engine he checked every joint. Sure enough, he found a joint packing that had no hole through the centre. He popped his centre punch through it, bolted the flange up and the next time they tried it, away it went. Newton said he wasn’t right popular when he told them what he had done.

Newton and Harry were sent on another job to Sagars Quarry. The crane at Tubber Hill was short of power so they went up, stripped all the valve motion and pistons out of it and brought them down to the shop. Newton made new pins for the links, new piston rods and generally refurbished the two sides of the engine. Harry, who Newton said was a good fitter, put it all back together as Newton made it. Newton said it was a Glasgow built crane and had Stephenson’s link motion for reversing, the valve setting was a bit complicated. When Newton had made the last parts he took them up to the quarry and when he saw how Harry had set the valves he told him it wouldn’t run. Harry was older than Newton and had been in the army in WW1 and was doubtless a bit put out by this little lad telling him he was wrong. So they finished building it up. They had no permission to light the fire, raise steam and try it out so they went home.

Come Monday morning Newton landed into work and his father jumped down his throat straight away. “Get yourself up to the bloody quarry, yon crane won’t work!!” Newton said of course it won’t, Harry had set the valves wrong, he didn’t understand it. Anyway, Newton had to go up and face old Mr Sagar, get the lids off and re-set all the valves. Two hours later it was running like a sewing machine but Newton said he never forgot the fact that it was him that got blamed. Years after he realised it was because Johnny was bringing him on to understand the responsibilities of being a gaffer but at the time he didn’t understand that.

Harry and Newton were good mates otherwise. Newton said he was a marvellous fitter. He made himself a motor bike, all he bought was a Clynes engine, the rest he made himself. Newton said they were working at Dotcliffe Mill one Saturday moving pulleys on the shafting for respacing for More Looms. This wasn’t an easy job at Dotcliffe because the shafting wasn’t turned, it was forge finish. This meant that all the drums had to be staked on and carefully callipered. Half way through the afternoon Harry said he was fed up, let’s go off on the bike. Before Newton knew it they were in Leyburn. Harry had a big motor bike coat on but Newton only had his jacket, he said they landed back at ten o’clock at night and he was freezing.

Meanwhile, up at Ouzledale, James Cecil Ashby was quietly consolidating his position as the town’s ironfounder. Strictly speaking he isn’t part of the Brown and Pickles story but was associated with them right through the inter-war years. In the 1932 flood the foundry was badly damaged by water and lightning and F Blezard repaired the damage at a cost of £185. The rent that year was £32. In 1936 James asked the Calf Hall Company to build an extension at the foundry and this was when the red brick building in the yard was erected. Fred Blezard got the job again, £264-16-3. It’s interesting to note that Briggs and Duxbury’s quote of £270 was beaten. Quite impressive when you realise that the Duxbury family were heavily involved in the Calf Hall Company, no evidence of favouritism there.

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Ten days after Henry Brown collapsed, the Calf Hall Shed Company had got a competent engineering firm working out of Wellhouse again. J A Pickles and Son. They had a consummate craftsman in charge, Johnny Pickles. Three good men, Stanley Fisher, Dennis Pickles and Leonard Parkinson and an apprentice, Newton Pickles. Setting them up wasn’t charity, it was self interest. The firm was an asset to the shed company. Newton told me that when Edward Wood went to see Johnny he said “Now then Johnny, we can’t do with you out of business and all these mills stopped.”

When Teddy said this he was acting for the Calf Hall Company. This applied even more so to Proctor and Proctor’s interests because they were managing other shed companies as well. Both he and the company were perfectly well aware that one piece of the jigsaw was missing, they hadn’t got an ironfounder in the town, an essential element in maintenance engineering. However, the Calf Hall Company owned a foundry and they knew where there was a competent founder.

James Cecil Ashby had come into Barlick sometime just after WW1 and it looks as though he had been encouraged to come by Henry Brown because he gave him the job of foreman at Ouzledale Foundry at the mill on Longfield Lane. Harold Duxbury once told me that James worked there and lived in the cottage at Ouzledale.

What we know for certain is that there is written evidence that James Ashby was in business at Ouzledale in 1932 as a tenant of the Calf Hall Company and trading as Ouzledale Foundry. Anecdotal evidence and Harold Duxbury says that he re-opened Ouzledale as a foundry immediately after the closure of Havre Park where he was also foreman.

I once asked Harold why there was no mention in the Calf Hall Company half yearly accounts or the minutes of the Board of Directors about this tenancy and Harold just laid his finger along the side of his nose and smiled. Harold used to do this with me when I asked him a question he didn’t want to answer or, being a wily old bird, when he didn’t know the answer but wanted me to think that he did.

However, there is one concrete piece of evidence; in the half year Profit and Loss account for the Calf Hall Company for the six months ending 30th June 1929 there is an item for Ouzledale Income of £2-11-3. For a while there is almost no income but in June 1931 Ouzledale brings in £48-2-2, a full income from the foundry.

There are times when documentary evidence fails and the historian has to join the dots up. This is one of them. I think that what happened was that Edward Wood consulted with Johnny Pickles about the lack of a foundry and took his advice. James Cecil was a newcomer to the district and hadn’t an extended family to fall back on for a loan like Johnny and so I think that Edward Wood approached James Cecil and arranged for him to re-open the foundry on an unofficial basis rent free. Remember that Calf Hall was a public company and strictly speaking they had to maximise gain for the shareholders. There is no doubt in my mind that Teddy Wood got a wonderful deal for the shareholders and the town because whatever went on between him and James Cecil Ashby resulted in the birth of another major employer in Barlick, Ouzledale Foundry.

I can’t resist comparing the events of that hectic fortnight in the back end of 1929 and the results that came from it with what would happen in similar circumstances nowadays. I don’t think our industrial organisations would move as quickly or be as sure-footed. The key factor was that the men involved were practical operators, they understood the industry and the men and had the confidence and freedom to trust their judgement and act. It was a very short chain of command, a couple of conversations, a knock on a door at night and the job was sorted. You have to admire their style.

There’s one more piece of evidence that suggests James Cecil went straight into Ouzledale. Newton said that shortly after they got back into Wellhouse Anthony Carr came into the shop and gave Johnny an order for 2000 pair of ten inch loom pulleys. The More Looms System was coming in and one essential element in making it work was to slow the looms down. The easiest way to do this was to put larger driving pulleys on them. This was a big order.

Johnny made some wooden patterns and took them up to Ouzledale for James Cecil to cast four sets of aluminium patterns, on a big production run aluminium patterns were more durable. Once made, two pairs of patterns were sent to King’s foundry at Skipton and two pairs left at Ouzledale. Both foundries started to make castings and Newton said they were getting 90 pairs a day in the shop. Johnny had made the patterns so that they were easy to mount on a fixture on the faceplate of the lathe once they were bored.

Turning rough castings straight from the foundry is hard on cutting tools, they have to deal with hard metal and embedded sand. Johnny had been reading his engineering journals and knew about some new German cutting tools called ‘Wimet’ which were tipped with Tungsten Carbide, apart from diamond this was the hardest substance known to man. He got four Wimets and they started making pulleys. Newton was 14 years old and he said he turned pulleys until he dropped so the date was 1930. Some days they worked from half past seven in the morning until half past nine at night. The Wimet tools only needed sharpening once a fortnight. They got another order from Blackburn for 1000 pulleys and in the end made over 13,000. Newton said that Johnny had £1,000 in the bank at the end of that job.

So our two young firms are in work and making money. What a recovery, in twelve months they have both gone from wage earners to independent employers by grasping an opportunity and through having ability and good friends.

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I think it’s time we had a closer look at Johnny Pickles, we know he was a good engineer but what sort of a man was he?

I think we get our first clue as to his character when he rebelled against being put in the office at Sough Mill and ran away to his Uncle Daniel in Lothersdale. We can be fairly certain that he had a mind of his own, he knew what he wanted to do and kept up the pressure until William, his dad, gave in. I think this says something about William as well. He recognised what he was up against and in the end stopped trying to get young Johnny to see it his way. William would know both old William Brown and his son Henry. Newton once told me that apart from spending time with his Uncle Jim around the engine at Sough Bridge Johnny was also a regular visitor to Brown’s workshop in Earby. The bottom line is that we have a born engineer here and his family were flexible enough to accept it.

Some time ago I was having a day out with Terry Gissing, we were going to look at a mill and were sat in a traffic jam on the Manchester Ring Road. As I looked through the window I voiced a thought, “Look at all these people sat in cars they haven’t paid for, going to jobs they don’t like which the world would never miss if they vanished tomorrow. I’ll bet they haven’t a workshop in the back yard!” Now what had brought this about was a conversation Terry and I had been having about job satisfaction. I had commented on Johnny Pickles and the fact that engineering was not only his career, it was his hobby as well.

When Sarah and Johnny moved into 35 Federation Street the first thing he did was put a wooden shed in the back yard and install his own workshop. Remember when Havre Park closed, Johnny brought a six inch treadle lathe up from Federation Street. For years, Johnny’s routine was to go to work, come home at lunch time, have his dinner and then go in his workshop for half an hour. When he came home at night he had his tea, went in the workshop until about half past eight, had a wash, went down to the Syke for a pint and then back home. I have no evidence as to what Sarah thought about this, I suppose she was used to it. His job was his hobby.

Johnny wasn’t one of these men who regarded housework as a ‘Mary Ann’ job. If Sarah needed any help, Johnny gave it to her. Newton told me his dad was good about the house and encouraged him to help as well. There’s no doubt that he was a fairly tolerant father. Newton couldn’t ever remember having a worse punishment than a good telling off. Once, while he was alone in the house Newton found an air rifle in the cupboard. Of course he started laiking about with it and ended up shooting a brass tea caddy on the mantelpiece and putting a dent in it. He did the sensible thing, turned the dent to the mirror and hoped for the best.

When Johnny came in he noticed the tea caddy, took it down and examined the dent and Newton had to own up. He was expecting dire repercussions but his dad said “Look here” and showed Newton another, smaller dent in the caddy. “I did that just the same way when I was a lad. I think we’d better get that gun out of the house.” That was it, no drama and Newton never forgot it. He encouraged Newton to go to the machine shop at Wellhouse and as long as he didn’t interfere with anything, let him watch while he worked at home in his shed.

Johnny was one of the best ‘miniature engineers’ this country has ever seen. Notice I don’t say ‘models’, the things that Johnny made were examples of engineering but on a small scale. He made clocks, microscopes, locomotives, boilers, model engines and even lathes. He exhibited regularly at the Model Engineer’s exhibitions and the Worshipful Company of turners in London. I once asked Newton why he never got a Gold Medal and he said that it was the custom not to give gold to professional engineers as they were held to have an unfair advantage.

In 1931 he made a tower clock which was awarded a Silver Medal at the Model Engineers Exhibition. Notice that he had made this during 1930 when pressure at J A Pickles was at it’s height. St Joseph’s Catholic Church had opened in 1929, Johnny offered them the clock and they accepted.

Johnny wasn’t at all religious, he just wanted his clocks to be used. Dennis Pickles and another bloke were boring a hole through the wall at St Joseph’s for the spindle which drove the hands. It was hard work. Dennis turned to his mate and said “Bloody Hell, this is a hard stone!” A voice came from behind them, “Less bloody swearing! Don’t you know where you are?” They turned round and there was Johnny, hard hat on the back of his head and a fag in his mouth!

One more story about Johnny that says volumes about how he worked and what his relationship was with his men. One day during WW2 as Newton was going home for his dinner Johnny collared Newton as he went out of the door. “Call in at So and so’s on your way home. Tell him I want him back on his lathe after dinner!” Newton did as he was told and after dinner this old chap turned up in a clean pair of overalls with a Gladstone bag containing his measuring tackle. It turned out he had been retired for nearly ten years and had never been near the shop. One message from Johnny and he was back making swarf.

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We have a positive date for the building of the foundry at Havre Park this week and a picture as well. All thanks to Brian Ashby who has lent me an offprint of an article in the British and Colonial Review of November 1922. It is a ‘Description of the activities of Messrs. Henry Brown and Sons, Wellhouse Works, Barnoldswick.’ The date for the build is as I suspected, 1922.

The article itself doesn’t tell us much, it is an unashamed advertising puff for the firm. It implies that they made full sized mill engines and talks of ‘many hundreds of their engines’ being installed ‘up and down the country’. Newton told me that they actually made 48 and these were all donkey engines.

However, back to our story. By 1922 when the foundry was built Henry Brown and Sons had replaced most of the old Bracewell machinery in Wellhouse with larger and more modern machine tools. They were still renting the premises from the Calf Hall Shed Company. When Johnny Pickles designed Havre Park the idea he had in the back of his mind was to move the Wellhouse machine shop down on to the same site. This would make them more efficient and save the rent paid on Wellhouse and Ouzledale.

He was supported in this ambition by the fact that a lot of their work came in through a man called Edward Wood. He was Secretary of a firm of accountants in Grimshaw Street Burnley called Proctor and Proctor who acted as managers for all the local shed companies including Calf Hall. He was an engineering enthusiast and a great friend of Johnny Pickles and if there was a problem at one of the firms he acted for he simply instructed Henry Brown and Sons to fix it. Browns had their own work as well and so with the opening of Havre Park and a full order book everything in the garden seemed rosy and Johnny pressed for the removal of Wellhouse on to the new site.

Under Johnny as foreman, Henry Brown and Sons were doing bigger jobs and had the machinery to cope with them. A typical example of Johnny’s enterprise came during WW1 when Browns got an enquiry off Yates and Thom at Blackburn who wanted some large gun bases turning for the war effort. They were full up with work and needed a sub-contractor. Browns hadn’t a lathe big enough to do the job and there wasn’t one available to buy but Johnny said this was no bar, they could make one. He sat down in the kitchen at home and designed the lathe. The patterns were made at Wellhouse and the castings made at Ouzledale and Stanley Fisher and Johnny built the lathe in Wellhouse works. It was a big useful machine, a ‘break lathe’. It had a 48 inch face plate, could take 36 inches over the saddle and was eighteen feet between centres. You needed big tools for the steam engine repairs and this lathe was working right up to the firm finishing in 1981.

It seems that Henry Brown’s weren’t too keen on coming out of Wellhouse. Their thinking was that if they vacated the premises there was a possibility of someone else stepping in, renting the space and stealing their work off them. Truth to tell, this was no problem, their best insurance was their reputation which was based on an expert work force but the management didn’t see it this way. Havre Park was under-used and put their overheads up and worst of all, the cotton trade began to falter.

In October 1929 the unthinkable happened. The Calf Hall Shed directors were informed on the 16th October that Henry Brown and Sons were filing for bankruptcy. On the 20th of November Calf Hall Shed Company bought the contents of the Wellhouse Machine shop off the Receiver, R S Windle, for £425. Browns saved the Earby workshop and carried on there but their days as Barnoldswick engineers were over. When the dust settled the Receiver paid out 19/6 in the pound, an indication that there was actually no need to finish, they were almost solvent and could have worked their way through the difficulty. Newton said that the problem was that the building society who had financed the building of the foundry forced the matter by foreclosing on Browns.

Meanwhile, Johnny had been busy and what happened is as good an indication as any of his standing as an engineer. The day after the closure was announced Johnny went down to Kelbrook and borrowed £500 off an aunt. He and Stanley Fisher went to Keighley and bought a 12 feet bed, 10 inch screw-cutting centre lathe and got permission of the Calf Hall Company to set it up in the old Moorhouse’s warehouse at Wellhouse. They got a 6 inch treadle lathe out of Johnny’s workshop at home, Fred Windle at the Vicarage Road garage lent him a gas engine and welding set, Watson at the garage lent him a pillar drill and Fred Holt that was the blacksmith at the end of Wellhouse Road lent him a portable forge. Johnny started paying Stanley Fisher immediately and a week later had re-engaged Dennis Pickles (no relation) and Leonard Parkinson. The same week, Crampton Hoyle at the Corn mill gave them their first job, re-cogging the bevel wheel at the bottom of the vertical shaft in the Corn Mill. They were back in business!

There was one more significant development that week, Johnny told his son Newton it was time he started work and set him on doing odd jobs, he was almost 14 years old. In November the Receiver had arranged the sale of the machinery at Wellhouse. Teddy Wood came down to Federation Street and had a word with Johnny. Johnny grabbed a piece of chalk and with Newton went up to Brown’s old shop. They put a cross on every machine they wanted and at the sale next day Calf Hall Shed Company bought the lot. Johnny was given the shop at the same rent as Browns, £25 a year.

That same week they moved into Wellhouse and started trading officially as J A Pickles and Son, Engineers and Millwrights, Wellhouse Machine works. Another chapter was about to be written. But they were short of a foundry.

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