BANCROFT SHED 1974 TO 1978
I went to Bancroft Shed on that first morning and told George Bleasdale that the best way for him to treat me was as a complete novice. This was no less than the truth, I knew nothing about boilers except for the fact that you burned coal and made steam. I have to say that in the early days, George, though a bad-tempered old bugger, was very good with me. Of course it was in his own interest to have steam produced reliably, his job couldn’t go on without me. I hadn’t been there very long though when he changed his tune, I think the reality of retirement had started to dawn on him and I was the enemy within, he realised that I was the new engine tenter. There was some talk about him already having a man lined up for the job but the management weren’t having any. Sidney Nutter, who ran the office knew a bit about me and I rather think they fancied their chances were a bit better with me than with one of George’s protégés.
What I am going to say now sounds terrible but if I’m not going to tell the truth I might as well not bother. What George knew about the technicalities of running a large steam engine could be written in a very slim book. I soon realised that apart from his growing antipathy towards me, there wasn’t going to be much I could learn from him. This didn’t seem too much of a problem, it would all be written down somewhere, all I had to do was find the books.
I attacked the library and inter-library loan and got hold of every book on steam raising and engines that I could lay my hands on. I read the lot and learned many interesting things about the maintenance and construction of chimneys, boilers and engines but nowhere was there any practical information on how you actually ran the damn things. It had never been written down! Evidently it had all been passed on by word of mouth or learned from experience and as there had never been a formal educational course or apprenticeship in running land-based boilers and engines, there was no literature.
In the course of looking for practical information I came across an interesting fact about the status of land-based steam engineers and boiler tenters. In 1897 a Bill was introduced in the English Parliament, [60 Vict} Steam engines and Boilers (Persons in Charge), which was intended to come into force on January 1 1898. It wasn’t intended to apply to Agriculture or road engines but was to introduce standard qualifications which would lead to certification of Engineers and Boiler Attendants rather like the existing structure of certification applying to Marine boilers and Engines. Unfortunately, there was a royal visit in London that day that was expected to lead to traffic problems and Parliament adjourned early before the Bill had been discussed. It lost its place in the timetable and was withdrawn on 12 July 1897. If it had gone forward, the craft of tending land based boilers and engines would have been given high status as was the case with marine engineers. However, this never happened and there was never any agreed qualification right up to the end of the industry. Unfortunately, though interesting, this wasn’t getting me anywhere, I started to get a bit disheartened!
Then, I heard about a man called Newton Pickles. He was the son of the founder of the engineering firm Henry Brown Sons and Pickles which was still working out of rented premises at Wellhouse Mill in Barlick and was the best firm of millwrights and engineers anywhere to be found. I went to see Newton and told him my problems. He told me not to worry, he would set me straight and all I had to do was ask him the questions. He was as good as his word and was to be a tower of strength for me. I can’t emphasise too much how expert he is (he is still alive as I write) , how generous he has been with his time and what a good friend he was every time I thought I was running into trouble. Men like this are very rare in this world and I was incredibly lucky that fate threw Newton and me together at just the right time. I know quite a bit about the subject now but I would never have got started if it hadn’t been for Newton Pickles. If you detect a bit of hero worship here, you’re right. As far as engineering is concerned I want to be Newton Pickles when I grow up!
On the broader front the transition from wagon driving to working at Bancroft completely changed my life. It’s hard to over emphasise the effects, both long and short term, it had on me. Looking back I can see now that there was a head of steam building up in me for change. As is so often true in situations like this, I only vaguely understood this at the time. I think I made as good a fist as I could at managing what was happening to me and think I recognise now some of the places where I went off course a bit but, having said this, I don’t really see how I could have done any better with the knowledge and resources I had at the time. Further, I have no certainty that if I’d done things differently the end result would have been any better. All I am certain of is this, I was dealt a hand of cards and played them as best I could. If I had to go back and do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.
The first major change was that instead of climbing into my place of solitary confinement in the cab of the wagon each morning and assuming complete control of my immediate surroundings for as long as I stayed there, I walked down the field, climbed over the fence and became part of the wonderful mechanism called Bancroft Shed. I wasn’t the Lone Ranger any more, what I did affected everybody else and they in turn affected my life, it was a lot nearer to the real world. I know now that this was a very disturbing change for me but hadn’t worked it out then.
The older I get the more I become convinced that the perceived quality of my life depends on the degree to which I have control. Show me a distressing situation and I’ll demonstrate that if you pursue it to its roots, it always ends up as an issue of control. In the wagon I had almost perfect control of my life, I was responsible for the existence of everybody and every thing in my sphere of influence. If I made a wrong move I could die or destroy property or kill somebody. I really do believe that this is the one single factor that explains most of what people see as altered behaviour when driving a vehicle. I only had one master, the physical laws of the world, I couldn’t fight time, weight, gradient, weather or distance, these had to be managed but these variables are easily quantified, they are known, there are no surprises so my job, which was to work with them, became logical and there was a degree of certainty about the outcome which isn’t often met with in this world. I believe that this is why I like working with machines so much, the same rules apply. Conversely, it might be the explanation why I am so bad with human beings! Obviously I hate to admit this and can’t quite square up why this doesn’t apply to children and animals, I have no problems at all with them, perhaps it’s because they are working on a much simpler level and have more easily identifiable agendas. Then again, I might be talking about women! I think you have enough clues here to grasp the sense of what I am trying to convey, I’m not going to make what I would see as a mistake at this point by trying to take this analysis too far. It would be misleading because much of my refined thought about these matters is the result of circumstances which, at this point in my life, are still far in the future. I’ll only add one rider at this point, I rather think I was a slow developer!
I started at the mill in late spring and we were out of the heating season. The significance of this is that I was in plenty of time if I started at seven in the morning. Couple this with the fact that I was home by five o’clock in the evening and you have the first major change. I could be a proper member of the family again. My weekends became my own and the long summer evenings were available for all sorts of pleasant little tasks which I had never been able to attend to before. It was wonderful for me and I think an improvement for everybody else as well. Certainly, at this distance in time, my impression is that it was a very happy time at Hey Farm. Mother had settled down well in her house in Avon Drive after father’s death and there was plenty of communication between us. My association with Drinkall’s hadn’t ended either, Richard asked me whether I’d take responsibility for maintenance of the wagons just as before and I was glad to do it. For a start, it was a useful supplement to our income and I enjoyed the work and the continued contact with my friends.
There was another consequence which followed working at the mill. I started to identify a new orbit of friends and acquaintances. People who know me are often surprised at my lack of knowledge of Barlick and its inhabitants between 1960 and 1974. Not surprising really when you consider that the only times I was in the town was during the hours of darkness! A bit of an exaggeration I know but beyond purely family contacts, I didn’t live in the town I just slept there if I was lucky, my home town was mainland Britain. This all changed, I came into contact with everyone in the mill for a start off, then there were the regular visitors. In this respect, Bancroft was like the industries I knew as a child. If you were an outsider and wanted to visit your friend or relation during working hours you just walked in the mill and had a conversation. There was no security, no barrier, you just walked in. Children would come in to see their Aunts, I even saw a mail order delivery man come in one day to deliver a parcel! George and I in particular were a law unto ourselves, if we wanted ten minutes to go to the shop or run an errand we covered for each other and went and did whatever we had to do. The boiler house was almost like a local meeting place, my mates would call in and have a word if they were passing and I have had many a cup of tea sat on a stone ledge in the mill yard while the job took care of itself. All this was a tremendous change, when you’re driving you have to retain total concentration for hours at a stretch. Vera will tell you that I didn’t even like to talk while I was driving, I couldn’t afford the distraction. I could have a five minute spell and a crack any time I wanted and relax when I was running the boiler.
Another delight during good weather was that you could always take time to go for a walk out to the lodge where we stored the water for the condenser on the engine and have a look at the moorhens and ducks. If I lifted my eyes I was looking at Hey Farm land with our cattle grazing quietly away in the field. I wasn’t confined at all. In bad weather I still got plenty of exercise because it was essential that as firebeater I knew what was going on in the mill so that I could assess steam demand. I used to go and have a walk round frequently during the day to see who was doing what. There was plenty of opportunity for a crack with the weavers or the tacklers while on my rounds and this passed the time on nicely.
Mind you, increased contact with people had disadvantages as well! I can’t remember how it came about but I met the husband of one of the teachers at Church School, Raymond Rance. We got talking and it turned out that he was in a bit of trouble, he and his father were in partnership as builders and they had taken on what was, for them, quite a big contract. At this time Burnley Council was widening the main road from the Prairie at Reedley to Duke Bar and as part of the contract they had demolished the end two houses of every row butting on to the road. Raymond and his dad had the job of building a new skin on the end of each row of houses and repairing the roofs. They only had two to do before they got paid but had run out of credit and materials. Raymond wasn’t a mate of mine but there was a connection in that his wife was teaching our children so I offered to help him out. I said he could buy the timber that I had bought when I was thinking of doing the roof of the farm. I told him he could have it for what I paid for it plus 50%. It was still cheap because I had bought it at a very good price and timber prices had risen sharply in the two years it had been sitting in the garden, sheeted up. He accepted with glee and took the timber away.
A couple of months afterwards I was walking up Folly Lane past Folly Cottages where he lived and I met him in the road. I asked him when he would be able to pay me and he said he wasn’t going to give me any money. He said there was nothing I could do about it and so there was no point bothering him! To say I was surprised would be to put it mildly! I told him that I suspected he had just made the biggest mistake of his life and that if he didn’t bring the money to Hey Farm by five that evening I would take steps which would astound him! He never came so the following day I went to see Keith McCaan my solicitor and asked him what it would cost me to bankrupt Rance. “Not a lot. You can join in with the others!” So I did and it cost me £40. Rance and his father went down on the 26th of June 1975 for £18,462 and had no assets to cover this, everything was in their wives names. The thing that really annoyed me when I got the Summary of Statement of the case and the Official Receiver’s Observations was that they admitted knowing they were insolvent in August 1974, well before I helped them out. I see Rance occasionally in the town and wonder how anybody can be as bare faced as he is. I did him a good turn when he needed it and he shit all over me. I have a theory that it all levels out in the end and I wouldn’t like to be in his shoes when it does. One thing is sure and certain, Vera and I lost out but we never lost any sleep. Vera was devastated at the time, she couldn’t believe that anyone could be so heartless. Seeing her lose her faith like that hurt me more than the money and I will never, ever, forgive Mr Raymond Rance. Funnily enough, this incident did me a favour later but we’ll come to that at the proper time.
When I went to Bancroft I was 38 years old. Apart from the long term problem of a back damaged by too much lifting in the early days I was in good health. I was as strong as a horse, I had no problem lifting 300 lbs and would throw a 45 gallon drum of oil upright from a horizontal position by myself, these drums weighed over 500 lbs. Firing the boiler involved a lot of shovelling of coal. I would think nothing of throwing five tons of coal into the bunker after the coal wagon had tipped. We couldn’t get it all in straight from the wagon and there was usually some to get inside afterwards so that the boiler house door could be shut and locked.
On the whole then, the transition went well. I never for one minute questioned my decision to move and I don’t think it caused any problems at home either. What we had to report was progress, everything in the garden was looking fine!
THE WORK AT BANCROFT
Bancroft Shed was built by James Nutter with the profits he made from manufacturing in the room and power system whereby he rented accommodation in other local mills. Like other local manufacturers he found himself in a position at the beginning of the century where he could afford to build his own mill and this was an economic proposition as the long term cost was less than paying rent. He started to build in 1914, the last weaving shed to be built in Barlick. Due to the war the shed wasn’t finished until 1920 when it was opened with all due ceremony and started to produce cloth. You’ll notice as I tell this story that some mills are referred to as mills and others as sheds. Almost without exception the distinction is that a mill is a factory that once included spinning in its activities and a shed was built solely for weaving. In the early days of the industry mills often spun their own yarn but as the industry developed firms began to specialise to reduce costs and spinning died out in Barlick, it was cheaper to buy the yarn in from South Lancashire than manufacture it. Bancroft never had any spinning and so was always known as a mill but named Bancroft Shed.
The prime necessity for a steam driven mill is a reliable supply of water for the condenser pond. This water is used to cool the condenser on the engine which is essential to economic running. The pond or lodge was, in effect, a heat sink for the condenser. The water supply at Bancroft was Gillian’s Beck, the same beck that ran through the field at Hey Farm.
The main element of a mill like Bancroft is the large, single storey weaving shed sunk into the hillside. This was fronted by a two storey section which had the warehouse on the bottom floor and yarn and beam preparation departments upstairs. On the left hand end of the mill was an office block and on the right hand, the engine house with the boiler house and chimney behind. The layout of the building was absolutely typical, cast iron frame, stone walls and blue slate roofs. The lodge lay in front of the mill and there was space down the right hand side for a large coal reserve against any interruption in fuel supply.
The engine house was about the size of a small chapel and looked very much like one because of its large window in the north end. This window had a very practical purpose, if removed it would permit egress for the largest part of the engine in case of the need for repairs. Behind the engine house was the boiler house which contained the coal bunker which would hold about twenty tons of coal, the lancashire boiler, the economisers and a smaller, disused boiler which had been installed after WWII to increase steam capacity but had never been a success because of lack of draught from the chimney. The 130ft high chimney stood behind the boiler house and was the exhaust for the gases produced when coal was burnt in the boiler to raise steam.
The man who looked after the engine was traditionally known as the ‘tenter’ or watcher. The man who fired the boiler was known locally as the ‘firebeater’, in other areas he would be called a stoker.
My job as firebeater was to raise enough steam by burning coal in the boiler to supply all the needs of the mill but keep a constant pressure of about 140psi. The problem was that the demand for steam fluctuated because it was used for process and heating as well as driving the engine. The demand from the engine could alter suddenly if the lights had to be put on because we generated our own electricity and this could increase the power turned out by the engine by 20%. I soon learned that the secret was anticipation and the more I knew about what was happening in the mill or with the weather outside the better the estimates I could make of future demand. I had to predict ahead because one of the characteristics of a Lancashire boiler is that it is slow to react, if I wanted more steam I had to act 15 minutes before the demand came on. Once I had cracked the routine and the technicalities, which didn’t take long, the job became easy and a joy because you always had to be thinking ahead. It became a matter of pride to me that steam didn’t vary by more than five pounds unless there was an entirely unforeseen circumstance.
The engine fascinated me. If ever there was an example of pure, concentrated engineering, a working steam engine has to come somewhere near it. It embodied all the laws of thermodynamics, gas theory and mechanics. It was, on the surface, so simple and yet the more you studied it the more complicated it became. Imagine peeling an onion and on each succeeding skin you find writing, by layer three you are the stage of ‘Gone With the Wind’, a couple of layers later you are on a complete copy of the Bible and shortly after that you are expecting the complete ‘Encyclopaedia Britannica’! I remember reading a report once of the retirement speech of one of the great railway Chief Engineers, he said it was a pity he was retiring because after 50 years in the job he felt he was on the verge of understanding the simple slide valve! I think I know what he meant. I’m sure this applies to many more situations in life, if not all, but the steam engine brings it home to you very forcibly.
A favourite calling shop was the tackler’s cabin in the warehouse. The tacklers were the men who tuned the looms and kept them in order for the weavers. They each had their own set of looms, about 100 each, and knew the looms and the weavers inside out. I soon made a very good friend in Ernie Roberts, he was a marvellous bloke who had been ‘woven out’ five times. In other words he had been working at a mill where they were closing down and because of the nature of the job, the looms gradually reduce in number until there are none left. Something like a slow death. Despite this, Ernie was still in the industry and had retained his sense of humour. He eventually reached the stage where his house was paid for and he could retire gracefully. After six months of well-earned rest he got a brain tumour and died a horrible death. It was so bloody unfair. It reinforced my oft-repeated contention that someone, somewhere has a very strange sense of humour!
I spent a lot of time with Ernie before he died and he was one of the first people I taped when I decided to record the industry. He told me some marvellous stories about his war service but two stand out in particular. Ernie was in Signals, he said that apart from shooting on the range he never fired his rifle once! He was in India and Burma and on the quiet he had a hard war. He told me once that he and his mate Charlie were in a slit trench and there was a lot of ‘incoming mail’. As they cowered down with shells and mortars bombs raining down on their position Charlie said to him “Do you know what blood smells like?” Ernie said he didn’t and asked Charlie why he had put the question. “Because if it smells like shit, th’art wounded!” Another time, they were paraded and a man came and addressed them about the necessity to take imaginative measures to beat the Japs. At the end of his speech he asked for volunteers, Charlie was about to take one pace forward when Ernie grabbed his shirt. “Stay where you are, this bugger’s mad!” It turned out that his name was Orde Wingate and he was calling for volunteers for the Chindits. He and his volunteers marched off into the jungle eventually to almost certain death and very few of them survived. Ernie was dead right.
Ernie got Black Water Fever. He was sent back to a forward hospital for assessment and one of the first examinations was of his stool. Ernie went off to a small canvas tent with a tin to produce the sample. One of the main indicators of Black Water Fever is very thin, black motions, hence the name. He filled his tin and two blokes who were in there from a Highland regiment wrinkled their noses when they saw it and asked what it was. Ernie told them and added that it was a Blighty Ticket, in other words he would be invalided home as there was no cure. Five minutes later he emerged from the tent ten shillings richer having provided the other two with a sample. They all went home together. Ernie had what he called bootlace diarrhoea until the day he died. There are still people walking round carrying the burdens of the war, like Ernie and Bill Robertshaw and we should never forget.
Back at home we were now without any form of transport. I decided we had better do something about this and bought two moribund Ford Anglias. The idea was to make one good car out of the two so I set to work in my spare time. I partially succeeded in the end but have to admit that even when I had finished, our ‘new’ car left a lot to be desired. Nevertheless, we were mobile and visits to my sister and shopping trips to Burnley became possible.
At this time I would occasionally go to work in the car if it was raining or if I had an errand to run during the day. I was going up towards the mill one morning and met Raymond Rance coming the opposite way in a brand new Morris Marina! This absolutely incensed me. Here I was, doing everything right and as honest as the day was long and there was Rance, who still owed me for the timber he had stolen off me and gone bankrupt into the bargain, riding round in a new car while I was trailing round in a scrapper! I couldn’t help tending towards the conclusion that something was wrong somewhere. A few days afterwards, Vera and I had been shopping somewhere Burnley way and as we returned home over Whitemoor Vera asked me why the car was making a funny noise. I told her I suspected it had broken in two and the noise she could hear was the gearbox dragging on the floor. I got it home, had a look underneath and welded in a temporary solution but my mind was racing now!
I went to several people who’s opinions I respected and told them of my problem and what I had in mind as a solution. They all agreed that I was thinking correctly and so, after consulting with Vera I sold the big field to our neighbour, young Sid Demain and went out and bought a brand new 12 seater diesel Land Rover Safari! It cost £4,800, more than twice what I had paid for the farm but was a wonderful investment, we were really mobile now. My idea was that it would be a safe, if not speedy, vehicle, it would have plenty of room for the kids and it could be used for other purposes as well. I could see that the mill wasn’t going to last for ever and a good utility vehicle like this would make an ideal mobile workshop. Old Arthur Entwistle thoroughly approved and we got to the stage where we went on visits to see him and Amy and eventually stayed at his son’s house as well.
Young Arthur was a different kettle of fish altogether than his father. On first acquaintance he was plausible and had some admirable skills. He had an interest in sub-aqua diving and I got my first experience of SCUBA gear through him which I enjoyed very much. He had bought a wreck sunk off the Isle of Skye and supplemented his income by diving on it and retrieving non ferrous metals. He had a shot-firer’s licence which he got by retrieving bodies free for Birmingham City Police in the days before they had their own underwater division. He had an agreement with them that he would do fifty bodies for them and in return, they would send him on an explosives course at Ardeer in Scotland to qualify for a shot-firer’s licence. He used submarine blasting gelegnite to cut the large bronze castings underwater. He was also a source of cheap Land Rover spares. He said they were trade price but I always suspected there was a bit more to this than met the eye. I couldn’t understand at the time why my daughters didn’t like him. In later years they have told me that they didn’t feel safe round him and if rumours I have heard since are true they had good reason. In the end, young Arthur and I fell out over something, I can’t remember what it was but that was the end of that relationship. I remember explaining to Old Arthur why I had fallen out with his son and he stopped me dead, he said I was quite right, he understood and it wouldn’t affect us.
Shortly after I got the Land Rover I did something which even I find hard to believe now. Vera came out to the workshop one Saturday morning a couple of months after we had got the motor and found me lifting the engine out of it! She asked me what I was doing and I said I wasn’t satisfied with the engine, they had built it wrong and so I was going to strip it down, rebuild it and see if it was any better! She didn’t argue, she left me to it but I can well imagine that even Vera thought I’d gone too far this time. It took me two days but I completely stripped the engine and rebuilt it with one or two adjustments to my own specifications. I should say at this point I wasn’t working completely in the dark. For some time I had been reconditioning Rover diesel engines for Walt Johnson at Crawshawbooth where I had bought the motor and had gained a lot of insight into the basic faults of the engine. Walt always said my rebuilds were better than Rover’s. When I had it sewn up together again I took it out for a run and what a difference! It ran quieter, had more power and used less diesel. Game set and match to Stanley! (Could it have been an issue of control?)
Years later, Margaret my eldest daughter was at the Royal Show at Stoneleigh and she saw our old Safari parked nearby. She went to the bloke who was sat in the driving seat eating his lunch and told him that her dad had bought his motor new. He said he’d like to meet me because he wanted to know what I had done to the chassis that had made it virtually rustproof. She told him I’d filled it with steam engine cylinder oil. She also said I’d rebuilt the engine while it was new. He told her that the engine had only had one set of injectors and a new pump and it had done almost 300,000 miles and hardly burnt any oil. I reckon I must have got that one about right! With the loss of the barn and the field our livestock enterprises were reduced to a few stirks in the croft every now and again. Edward still lived in the caravan in the back garden but had got himself a job at Lontex. He surprised us all one day when he announced that he had become a father by a girl in the town. He didn’t marry the lass but supported the child. I saw it once in the pram and its nose was just like Edward’s!
The Land Rover came in handy for all sorts of jobs. I knew where there was a chain saw I could borrow any time I wanted and used to go out to local farms and clear fallen trees for them. I took the logs back to the Hey and we always had a big wood pile to keep the fire supplied in the front room.
Margaret was 12 years old and was in her first year at New Road School, which was shortly to be upgraded to Craven High School. Susan and Janet were still at Church School and doing well. Vera had a part-time job and I can’t be sure whether it was as a home help or as a dinner lady at school. Whatever, she was still making a bob or two on the side and surprising me every now and again by her comparative wealth. She still looked after the finances but things were getting a bit easier. I was earning at Bancroft and had Drinkall’s money for maintaining the wagons so we were not feeling the pinch as much. The wonderful thing was that we were going through a period of very high inflation and wages were rising as was the value of the house and yet the debt repayment to Lloyds Bank was still only £15 a month. I always thought that someone somewhere had slipped up there but it was to our advantage.
The next milestone was July 1974 when George retired and I became engineer. We had advertised for a firebeater and a young lad called Ben Gregory applied and I gave him the job. He knew nothing but was young and prepared to learn. It was the Annual holidays I was master of all I surveyed in the engine house and had my own labourer! It struck me at the time that there must be thousands of people in the country who would have given their eye teeth to have my job. We were one of the last engines to run and tenters were a dying breed. Another thought that came to me was that I must be the youngest bloke left in the country running an engine and that one day, with a bit of luck, I would be the last!
ENGINEER AT BANCROFT SHED
The first thing I had to do when George retired was supervise the annual shut down and maintenance work on the boiler and engine. The boiler was under statutory insurance and had to be inspected at least every 14 months. In effect this meant every year at Barlick holidays. The insurance surveyor would let me know what items he wanted to inspect and I would have them stripped out and ready for him when he came. At the same time I would prepare the boiler for the flue men who came in to clean all the flue dust out of the flues round the boiler. If any scaling needed doing in the boiler they would do this as well. The object of the exercise was to have all the flues and the interior of the boiler clean and in fit condition to inspect by about Wednesday of the first week of the holidays, this gave time for any repairs or replacements before the mill opened again.
The first part of this was to blow the boiler down on the last day of work before the holidays started. We used to do this as soon as the weavers were out of the shed. This was often before official stopping time because it was an accepted fact that as soon as the weavers had their holiday pay in their hands they were off. Many a time we didn’t start again after dinner. This was a good thing for me and the firebeater as it gave us a good start.
By the time the weavers were gone, the firebeater would have drawn his fires and ashed out, in other words, all the clinker and ash was removed from the two furnaces. Then I would go on the top of the boiler and open the low water safety valve, propping the lever up with a couple of bricks. This allowed the steam in the boiler to escape to the open air through a three inch diameter pipe. This made a tremendous roar and signalled to the whole of Barlick that we were on holiday! I’m going to break here for a story for you about this. I forget exactly which year it was but it was the last day before the annual fortnight’s break and we were doing our usual routine, draw the fires and ash out before dinner because there would be no one working after as they’d drawn their pay. I was sat in the engine house having a brew and a sandwich when Jim Pollard, the Weaving Manager, came in. He looked a bit harassed so I asked him what was up. He said the weavers were having a dispute with the management about holiday pay and the upshot was that until this was settled, they wouldn’t be going home as they were frightened of losing their pay. In other words I had to run the engine after lunch!
I told Jim we had a bit of a problem, we had drawn the fires. He said we’d have to relight them but there was no way I was going to do this. I went down and had a look and we had plenty of water and about 120psi on so I shut the dampers to stop the draught cooling the boiler and told Jim we’d run as long as we had steam, there wasn’t time to relight. He went off into the mill and we started up at 01:30 as usual. The point is that we ran until 03:30 with no fire in. Even I was amazed how little steam the engine was using. It reinforced a theory I had held for a long time that the place the heat went to was keeping the settings hot and making up heat losses, the engine hardly used any! We got away with this because as the pressure dropped the superheated water in the boiler effervesced and released more steam. This was the great advantage of the Lancashire boiler, its great water capacity made it slow to react to firing but ensured that there was a tremendous reserve of steam which could be used to iron out fluctuations in demand. If a situation arose where you were hard pressed to make steam as fast as it was used, you simply shut down the feedwater and allowed the water level to sink slowly. Governing the boiler with the feed pump against a fire adjusted to its most efficient level was the most economical way to run the boiler but depended on having a very reliable pump.
Anyway, back to our closing down routine. When the pressure had dropped to about 60psi I would go into the boiler house and open the blow-down valve under the front of the boiler. This allowed what water was left in the boiler to drain away under pressure. As the water drained out it carried much of the sediment which builds up in the boiler out with it. At the same time I would go out to the dam and open the clough which let all the condenser water flow away down the beck. This took a lot of muck out of the dam with it.
While this was happening the firebeater and I would be having a brew. As soon as things quietened down we would go on top of the boiler and open the large manhole on top of the boiler and lift the lid out of the way with a block and tackle. This was a ticklish job because as soon as you opened the lid, scalding vapour would pour out until all the water had dried off the inside of the boiler. The trick was to knock the lid in and leave it hanging on the tackle until things had cooled down a bit. Then we would take a similar manhole out from the front of the boiler at the bottom and check that all the chimney dampers were wide open. At this point we left the boiler with cold air circulating through all the flues and through the water space of the boiler itself. The object was to have the boiler and settings cool enough next morning for the flue men to get in and do their stuff. I would often come back last thing at night and knock the flue doors off under the front plates so as to encourage better circulation through the side and sole flues. The better it was for my flue men the better the job they would do for me. Remember that the brickwork in the settings and the flue dust in the flues was still red-hot at this point.
The following morning Ben and I were in for eight o’clock and had everything opened up ready for the arrival of Mr Charles Sutton of Brierfield who’s firm, Welldone would clean the flues. His son Pat worked with him together with Jack who was no relation but had been with them for years. Charlie Sutton was one of the world’s great characters, Jack, his man was possibly the hardest man I have ever seen and Pat his son was a good worker but didn’t have his heart in the job. I don’t blame him, flueing is one of the worst jobs in the world. Later he joined the army and went in the Military Police, he’s a bobby in Clitheroe now.
There’s nothing complicated about what fluers do. They go into the flues, gather up the flue dust which is the fine ash carried over by the draught through the firebox which settles in the flue spaces round the boiler and bucket it or shovel it out of the nearest hole to the outside world. Two men work in the flues and one outside carrying away in the barrow to the ash heap outside. Actually we piled the flue dust separately as when it was weathered it was ideal for laying stone flags and we used to give it away to anyone who wanted some. Incidentally, we provided another service free while we were running, if your dog or cat died we would cremate it in the fires! The only thing about this was that we wouldn’t do a cremation within fourteen days of flueing because it wasn’t fair on the fluers, the smell hung in the flues for over a week despite the high temperatures. Charlie used to tell us that in the old days other things got cremated in the flues as well. He reckoned he once found melted gold in the downtake of a boiler and said that more than one nagging wife had left the world that way!
Once the flues were dealt with, this took about four hours, Charlie and his men had a brew and then started on the scale. A boiler is like a kettle and if the water isn’t properly treated, scale builds up on the internal surfaces and interferes with heat transmission and inspection. Ideally, a sixteenth of an inch is just right, this actually protects the boiler plates. Wen I took over at Bancroft we had a bad scale build up and we had to spend a day and a half chipping inside the boiler to get it in good enough condition to inspect. I made a mental note to sort out the water treatment and get the scale down. It was over 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the boiler and scaling is hard work in a confined space. I could do about an hour but Jack could go on for ever it seemed. My earlier assessment of how hard he was was based on things like this. He just didn’t give up!
I soon sorted the water treatment out by sacking our supplier and getting a specialised firm in. This brought another good man into the engine house, Charlie Southwell who owned his own company. He was a good man and showed me how to test the boiler water myself, something that had never been done before. By testing the water regularly and constantly adjusting the amount of water treatment I soon got on top of the scale problem and we never had to scale the boiler again.
Unless there was a repair to do to the brickwork in the flues, Charlie and the lads were finished by the end of the day and the flues were spotless, they did a wonderful job. All Ben and I had to do was clean up in the boiler house and then attack any jobs that needed doing to get us ready for the inspector. Most of the old inspectors were retired marine engineers, they were fully trained and certificated and were a good reservoir for the insurance companies to draw on. At that time we were insured with Commercial Union and, the inspector was Ron Ellerby from Dewsbury. He knew his job, knew the boiler and had evidently made up his mind to trust me. This meant that he didn’t want everything doing by the book every year, he used his head and just did a selection of jobs. This was the sensible way to go about looking after the boiler and I think he appreciated the fact that I was asking his advice instead of regarding him as an enemy which was the way George had treated him. All he asked for that first year was to have the feed valve stripped for inspection, this was only a small job. The main part of his inspection was the internal inspection and ‘hammer test’. This consisted of tapping the rivet heads with a small hand hammer. A ¾ lb. hammer was plenty big enough, all he was listening for was a difference in note which would alert him to a cracked or loose rivet. Exactly the same inspection used to be given to the tyres on the wheels of railway wagons. The ‘wheel tapper’ would go down the train tapping the wheels with a long handled hammer. Any discrepancy in the note given off alerted him to a fault.
We got through the inspection with no faults and could then start to lace the boiler up again. We cleaned all the mating surfaces on the joints of the manholes and any fittings we had taken off, fitted new packings and re-made the joints. A bit of care here could save a lot of work later, the better a joint was prepared the less trouble to deal with it the next time and no leaks in between. We would give it a dose of water treatment through the lid before shutting it up by chucking a couple of buckets of compo in and then fill it with water to working level with the fire hose. In between these jobs, Ben and I had drawn all the firebars out and cleaned them up and inspected them. You wouldn’t believe how much space two mouthfuls of firebars took up when stacked in the bunker bottom! It usually took us the rest of the week to get the boiler ready for steaming.
One interesting side issue here was the fact that we used sheets of special jointing compound to pack flanged steam joints. Newton told me that on the railways no packing was allowed. The mating faces were perfectly prepared and simply painted with a mixture of red lead and a light oil derived from condensing the volatiles from hot wood. Funnily enough this was the same thing as what we used to call Driffield Oil which was used as a disinfectant and lubricant when calving cows. The railway companies did this to avoid the danger of blown packings on the footplate which could be very dangerous as there was no escape for the crew if this happened in such a confined space as the cab of a loco.
Once we had dealt with the boiler there might be odd jobs to do on the engine and repairs in the rest of the mill. We usually managed to get two or three days off but that was our holiday! On the Saturday before we were due to start I would come in and light a fire in the boiler. I wouldn’t use the stokers but just build a big slow fire by hand firing and leave it with the dampers just cracked open to smoulder for 24 hours to warm the boiler slowly. Steam built up slowly and warmed the main steam line to the engine. We had a bypass on this pipe which, when open, allowed steam to travel from the top side of the stop valve into the high pressure cylinder. From there it could wander through into the rest of the engine. Any condensation drained away through the cylinder drains which were left open. The result was that as the boiler warmed up, so did the engine.
On the Sunday we would steam the boiler to 150psi and roll the engine over once it was warm. A good practice to follow here was to roll the engine over with the barring engine for a couple of revolutions. This ensured that there were no surprises like a cylinder full of condensate because a drain was choked. Once we had done this the main valve was opened and the engine run for five minutes and all the oils checked. We then knew we were ready for the following morning when all the weavers were back from holiday. The boiler was left with a full head of water and steam and about 25 shovels of coal in each furnace smouldering away to make up for heat loss during the night. This was called ‘banking’ the boiler. Because the settings were cold we had to make sure we were in in good time on the first day back at work and started with a full boiler, steam as high as we could get it and good fires in the furnaces. By the middle of the week when the settings had got hot things were a lot easier. The fires in the boiler wouldn’t be let out again until the next holiday which was September. This was when the firebeater and I tried to get a weeks holiday in because we didn’t flue then. George always used to but I reckoned there wasn’t enough dust from three months summer firing to warrant it.
Ben needed a lot of watching for the first few weeks, he wasn’t the liveliest lad in the world and I didn’t really trust him yet. I had my own job in the engine house to attend to and to tell you the truth, could ill afford the time watching my firebeater. It was a stressful time for me. The job of engine tenter carries a lot of responsibility, if you don’t get it right, everybody suffers because they lose pay. On the other hand, if you get it right, the weaving goes better and everybody is happy because the wages go up. On top of all this, starting, controlling and tending for a large machine like a steam engine is a stressful job on its own. When you start it in the morning you are very conscious of the fact that you are handling enough power to kill you if you don’t get it right. It’s not so bad once you get used to it but I can tell you I was fairly hyped up that first week! I soon settled into the collar however and began to get up to mischief!
The first thing to realise about Bancroft is that it was run on the same lines as any shed like it in the 19th century. The buildings and the machinery were an anachronism, anybody who worked in the first steam driven weaving shed in Barlick in 1842 would have recognised the place and been completely at home. The old hierarchies had been preserved as well, weaving was controlled by the tacklers, Ernie Roberts, Roy Wellock and Ernie Macro in the large cabin and Steve Clark and Albert Gornall in the small one. The winding department was presided over by the winding master, Frank Bleasdale, George’s brother, who had two winders, Judy Northage, and Jean Smith Warp preparation was divided between Fred Roberts who ran the Barber knotting machine and Jim Pollard who did the drawing in. Tape sizing was done by the tapers, Norman Gray and Joe Nutter. Power and maintenance was the province of the engineer. Overall production was controlled by the weaving manager Jim Pollard. The office was run by Sidney Nutter with part time help on making up days from Eughtred Nutter. The mill was owned by K.O. Boardman’s of Stockport and the managing director, who came in two or three days a week was Peter Birtles. Incidentally, there was a coincidence here, Peter’s doctor when he was young was Tommy O’Connell same as me. He told me that Tommy was still alive and living in Heaton Moor.
The engine house was always seen as the single most important part of the mill. If the engineer didn’t come in and start on time nobody else could do anything. This wasn’t true of any other job in the mill. The consequence was that the engineer was always left alone, he was a law unto himself and all anybody cared about was whether the engine started to time and ran without trouble. This meant that a lot of people coveted the job and it soon became evident that there were pockets of resentment inside the mill directed against this outsider who had popped up from nowhere and pinched the plum! It sounds a bit petty I know but this was the mechanism that was at work. It took me a while to identify this but I soon worked out where the flack was coming from and dealt with it.
Another factor was that there was a big backlog of maintenance that hadn’t been attended to. Some of it was major stuff like the fact that we hadn’t any reliable way of putting feed water in the boilers. For years George had been making do and we were getting to the stage where a lot of the pigeons were coming home to roost. A lot of these faults were costing money. A good example was the boiler feed, if we could get it right we could save about five tons of coal a week in winter because we could increase the temperature of the feed water to the boiler. I decided not to tackle everything at once but to get settled in.
The engine house was about a hundred feet long and fifty feet wide. The walls were glazed brick up to about six feet high and it was warm and well lit. Even nicer, there was a good view of the fields outside so I could run the engine and watch cattle grazing! There were carpets down along both sides of the engine, these were to give a good grip on the floor and also tended to trap dust and grit which was a good thing because it was better there than in the bearings. My first job was to move all George’s stuff out of the engine house and put it in the garage. He had a desk, a sofa and all sorts of spare parts for his car. There were also lots of plant pots which he had used for growing tomatoes and flowers in the engine house. All this was chucked out and we had a good clean up. I installed a better desk out of the warehouse and an easy chair in the corner. While the engine was running I couldn’t leave it for more than about five or ten minutes at a time so a bit of comfort was essential.
I relied a lot on Ben Gregory my firebeater. He was learning well and had got to the stage where I could leave him alone to make steam while I got on with my jobs in the engine house. However, we were approaching the heating season and I knew that this would be the testing time for him. A north light shed is about the worst building in the world to heat. The weaving process itself is very sensitive to humidity, the warps give a lot of trouble if they are too dry so no form of forced heating, such as fans, could be used. We heated the shed by two inch steam pipes at boiler pressure slung about eight feet off the ground and running back and forth across the shed. This meant that any heat put in the shed went straight up into the roof. It was painful to try to get the shed to 55 degrees by starting time. You put steam in the shed and watched the temperature drop for the first two hours as the hot air rose and forced the cold air down! I have seen us have to start steaming the shed at one o’clock in the morning when the weather was really cold so it was going to be essential that Ben was able to get up in the morning. This was a problem waiting to happen so, though it worried me, I had to wait and see.
Jim, the weaving manager and I got on well from the start. I talked with him a lot and he gave me clues as to how things could be improved. The main area I concentrated on in the first instance was to get the engine running as smoothly as possible. The more steady the engine, the better the looms wove and the more pay the weavers earned. It seemed to me that if I could gain an improvement there I would have treasures in heaven and my job in other areas would be a lot easier. I spent hours just sitting there smoking and weighing the engine up. When I was absolutely sure I understood how the engine worked and what the adjustments on the valve gear controlled I started tuning the engine up. Newton took a lot of interest in this. He was really pleased that I actually cared how the place ran and he soon found me an indicator which used to belong to a very good engineer who ran Wellhouse. It cost me £20 but was well worth it. In another place I’ll have a lot to say about how indicators are much over-rated but they have their uses and I started indicating the engine regularly, identifying changes that could be made in the valve events, making the adjustment and then checking again. My final arbiter was always how steadily the engine ran and what reports I got from the weavers.
My main man in the shed was a weaver on the ‘pensioners side’, these were sets of looms containing eight looms each under the lineshaft which were mainly run by people over retiring age, the rest of the sets were ten looms each. He was nicknamed ‘Billy Two Rivers’ (Billy Lambert) and used to be a tackler but had injured his neck and gone back to weaving. He knew his job and I used to go in and have a word with him every morning as to how it was running, I’d take notice of what he said and then go back and make slight adjustments to speed. My adjustments to the valves meant that the engine was running smoother and the final improvement was to give the driving ropes a good dressing. Cotton driving ropes are a wonderful, shock free, flexible drive. If properly looked after they could last forty or fifty years. The main problem was that they wore on the pulleys as they drove.
There has always been a controversy about rope drives, some engineers say they drive best and wear longest if the ropes rotate as they drive in the grooves because this evens the wear out. In order to get ropes to do this you have to have the drives slightly out of line to encourage the ropes to roll in the groove. The flywheel and second motion pulley at Bancroft were perfectly aligned and the ropes didn’t roll, this didn’t seem to harm them, some of them were original from when the mill was built in 1919.
The best way to give them some protection was to dress them with a mixture of tallow and graphite. I used to set the barring engine on and as it slowly turned the engine I would smear rope grease on the ropes as they passed me until I had given them all a good coat well rubbed in. Funnily enough the grip in the grooves of the flywheel and second motion pulley was improved. I had to slow the engine down slightly when I first greased them. However, after a couple of days running they had polished up and slipped slightly. This made the drive even more smooth and the weavers benefited in the shed. The net result of these adjustments and maintenance was that after about six weeks Jim told me that the average wage in the shed had gone up by £1.50 a week, this on a top wage of £35 so everybody, including the management, was pleased. This was the foundation for the rest of the campaign to get the essential maintenance up to date. The management started to realise it was worth listening to me.
The next target was to get the cellar sorted out and improve our boiler feed arrangements. Ben and I gave the cellar a good clean out and disinfected it. George had been in the habit of peeing down the side of the flywheel into the cellar instead of going out in the cold to the lavatory. The space under the flywheel stank so we scrubbed it out, whitewashed it and shifted all the rubbish. I examined the pumps and came to the conclusion we needed to completely alter the way we fed water to the boiler. This meant a new pump and refurbishment of the old Pearn three throw. I started to hunt round for a pump.
We made our own electricity at Bancroft and in early October as we started to come into the heating season the load on the boiler went up. I started to get complaints from Fred Roberts about there not being enough power to run the Barber knotting machine. This ran on 110 volts DC and any drop in the alternator supply made a big difference to his voltage level. It ran OK off the mains but wouldn’t perform off the engine. His version of it was that I was frightened of the engine and was running it too slow! Not surprisingly this got my back up and I told him that things were no different than they had been for the last twenty years, there was a fault somewhere and I would find it.
I had a fair idea that there was a fault because the electronic adding machine in the office wouldn’t work properly off engine power so I suspected the voltage was down. According to the instruments on the panel all was OK but I spent £85 on a heavy duty Avometer and did some tests of my own. I found that instead of turning out 450 volts on three phase we were only doing 390, the voltmeter on the board was way out. I tried altering the resistance to the exciter but couldn’t get more than 410 volts so I sent for the sparks and got them to alter the permanent resistances in the circuit. That did the trick! We could get 450 volts now with ease.
Jim came down and told me Fred Roberts was in a right mess. He couldn’t control the knotting machine, it was going too fast. I went up and informed Fred that I had sorted out the problem at my end, he was now on 450 volts as per design and any problems he had were his own. Go to it Fred! He never spoke to me again as long as the mill ran, this did not cause me any problems!
A side effect of raising the voltage was that the lighting in the shed was much better, this delighted the weavers. Mind you, I blew a lot of bulbs but I had a stroke of luck. The fair came to town and I was talking to one of the lads who ran the mobile generators for them and he told me they had a lot of Edison Cap bulbs that were no use to them now. (Screw cap instead of bayonet) He said they were 150 watt, just what we used at the mill so I bought all they had for £15. When we counted them there were a thousand! We didn’t buy another bulb for years. The increased load on the alternator made the belts on the counterdrive slip a bit and I had to attend to that as well. For the first few months it was like this, you put one thing right and it triggered off something else.
As I say, the heating season had started and this meant that Ben had to be in early in the morning. We would decide the night before what time this should be but I never trusted him. I had found that if you stood on the toilet seat at Hey Farm and peered through the window you could see whether the light was on in the mill yard. I used to get up and check it, if there was no light I would go across and fire myself. Even this precaution didn’t solve all the problems. I checked on him one morning at three o’clock and the light was on. When I went in at seven he was asleep, the boiler was out and we started that morning with a cold shed and only 80psi on the engine instead of 150!
Sidney asked me if I would look at the office heating, he said that George had tried to improve it but hadn’t done any good and could I have a go. The only way they could keep warm was by lighting the coal fire in the office! I had a ferret round, found what I thought was the problem, put it right and went back to the engine house. Half an hour later Sidney was on the blower from the office, he asked me to get up there as quickly as possible. When I went in it was like an oven, the thermometer was reading 85 degrees and all the windows were open! Sidney said “I think you’ve cured it!” and I told him that the fault had been that the steam trap on the end of the line had been fitted the wrong way round twenty years ago! All I had done was clean it out and reverse it! It took me a week to get the steam adjusted to just the right level but there again, I was in good odour in the office.
As I got the engine more in tune I could afford to run at higher pressure which was more economical but because of the smaller valve events I started to run into problems with sticking valves. I suspected the cylinder oil I inherited from George was to blame. When I looked into the matter I found he had been buying a high temperature oil used in foundries for mixing with sand to make cores! It wasn’t cylinder oil at all! I contacted the main man at Walker’s Century oils in Hanley because I knew they supplied the Coal Board with oil for their steam winders and it would be top quality. He sent me five gallons up to try and this solved all the problems. Peter wanted to know why the oil cost 50% more, I told him to watch his fuel figures and repair bills. Give him his due, he let me have my head.
At the beginning of November Ben Gregory handed in his notice. He knew I was on the verge of sacking him, he just couldn’t get up in the morning. We advertised in the paper and the first bloke to apply for the job was Vera’s Uncle Bob! He started on the 9 November and was a good man, I still checked through the window in the mornings but he was always there on time.
Just after Bob started a funny thing happened. We were quietly running the shed one morning when Harold Duxbury came into the yard. He gave me a parcel and said “I’ll bet you were wondering where this was!” Just then Bob came into the engine house and cracked a joke about backhanders and I told him he couldn’t guess in a thousand years what I had hold of. Intrigued he came over and I unwrapped the parcel, it was a lovely oak casket with father’s ashes in! I remember that Bob, who was a devout Catholic, crossed himself! It certainly took the wind out of his sails. I took the ashes home and put them on the mantelpiece. Mother didn’t think much about it but I told her if she didn’t drop it I’d wait until she died and take her ashes to Australia as well! It was to be twelve years before I got round to it.
Newton found me a pump and all I had to do was get Peter Birtles to agree to it. When I approached him about the pump he didn’t want to know, he was dead against spending any money. I persuaded him by saying that I would pay for the pump and install it free, all I wanted was 50% of the fuel savings. At first Peter thought I was joking but when he realised I was serious he gave in and let me buy it. The pump was one of Brown and Pickles’ own manufacture which had originally been installed in Finsley Gate Mill at Brierfield. When the engine was taken out they had bought it and refurbished it for re-installation at Hill’s Pharmaceuticals but as they had never followed up the inquiry about it Newton said we could have it. It was a big three ram pump, very well made and had a separate clack box which made it very easy to maintain. Bob and I poured the bed for it, Brown and Pickles erected it and I piped it up. I refurbished the old Pearn three ram pump and following Bob’s suggestion, ran it on a by-pass. It was a wonderful improvement, we could keep the water exactly where we wanted it under any circumstances and were putting almost boiling water in to the boiler. All told it cost £500 to install but it saved five tons of coal a week, that is, it paid for itself in three weeks with coal at £35 a ton. Another success chalked up. One word of advice here about valve setting on feed pumps. I’ve never seen anyone set clack valves right on feedpumps, they all set them too wide. If you give the delivery valve 1/32” clearance and the suction valve 1/16” you’ll find it’s plenty. If you set them any wider they let too much water jump back at the end of the stroke. Everyone seems to think that the wider they are the easier it is for the water to get through them. If you want to prove this to yourself, cut a 1/16” slit the length of the circumference of the valve in the bottom of a bucket and watch how fast the water runs out with no pressure at all behind it. Think how much will pass with a pressure differential of say 100psi. As for back flow, remember that you have the differential plus boiler pressure in the delivery main, probably about 300psi. The valve doesn’t need to be open long to let all the water you have pushed up it bounce back. This was Newton’s teaching and he was right. The new pump ran beautifully and we never had a problem with water feed again.
Once I had tackled the major problems I could devote some time to general maintenance. I got into the routine of shaft lubrication in the mill and tackled numerous small jobs like tuning the donkey engine which ran the tapes while the main engine was stopped at dinnertime. The tape sizing machines couldn’t be allowed to stop in the middle of a warp so they had to have auxiliary power. There was another thing that was bothering me and I decided to have a crack at it. Every time the engine started or stopped there was a loud rattling sound inside the flywheel. I should explain that the flywheel was about sixteen feet in diameter, made of iron castings and was covered around the spokes with wooden boarding to stop it picking up the air in the engine house and acting as a giant fan. I took some boards off one weekend and climbed inside the wheel. I soon found out that the rattling noise was loose nuts which had dropped off the bolts that secured the wind-boarding to the wheel. Some of them must have been in there for years because they were worn round! I got the loose ones out and went round the structure inside replacing missing nuts and tightening the others up. I put the boards back on and started the engine and it was like a Rolls Royce, no sound at all. Only a small thing but it got rid of a great annoyance.
By spring 1975 I was completely settled in. The engine was running beautifully, the weavers were happy, Jim Pollard was happy and the management were getting better fuel figures than they had seen for years. I think you could say that I’d settled in nicely.
Because Bancroft was one of the last two steam driven weaving sheds we had a lot of visitors to see the engine. Now I had a bit more spare time I was getting interested in the history of the mill, the technology and the impact on the town of the cotton industry. The more I read the more I realised there were tremendous gaps in the published accounts of the industry. It seemed to me that the people who had done the research and written the books had no first hand knowledge. As soon as they touched on the practical aspects of what they were trying to describe their lack of insight showed. This was apparent from the visitors to the engine house as well, all they could see was this romantic steam engine, this gentle giant, and they came, wondered and went away. Occasionally it got even worse, I would have people coming in who hadn’t even got time to stop long enough to look at it properly because their schedule demanded they go somewhere else to look at another engine. I used to say to them that they must be far more clever than me, I spent all day studying the engine and hadn’t peeled more than a couple of layers off the onion!
Another consequence of working in the engine house and getting to grips with the job was that I had more time to walk round the mill and watch what was going on in there. What struck me was the enormous skill demanded by the various jobs. Like the engine, the more you delved into what people were doing the more complicated the task became. Jim Pollard was very good to me, he knew the industry inside out and answered all my questions, he never lost patience with me. Like Newton, he enjoyed teaching someone who was showing serious interest in his skills. Further than the knowledge I was gaining, I was meeting different people all the time, a vast difference from driving, this was anything but solitary confinement! My horizons were opening out, I was beginning to think beyond the job in hand and some fascinating ideas were beginning to nag at the back of my mind.
Back at the farm we had a wonderful red letter day. We made the final payment on the loan from Lloyds Bank, Hey Farm was ours! I went to Peter McCaan and got him to draw up a Deed of Gift by which I gave half of the equity in Hey Farm to Vera. We had always agreed that as long as there was a debt I would carry it but as soon as we were paid up we would have joint ownership. I can still remember the opening words of the document. “In recognition of the love and affection borne by Stanley Graham for Vera Graham…….” That mightn’t be exactly right but it does give the tenor of the wording. We were so happy, for years I had been telling Vera that all the hard work was worth while and here we were at last reaping the reward for the hard years and the long hours. I remember telling one of my friends about it and he said I was lucky. I’m afraid I went straight for his throat! “There was no luck about it. Where were you when I was tramming up and down the road seven days a week. In the pub, that’s where!” I was so angry about that.
In November that year I had a visitor at the engine house. A tall young man with a slight stoop came in and wiped his feet. He told me his name was Daniel Meadows and I asked him what had taken him so long! Then I brewed him a cup of tea and we sat down and started talking. Twenty four years later I am still talking to him.
I had read about Daniel in the local paper. He had been appointed Artist in Residence for the Pendle area under a joint grant by the Gulbenkian Foundation, the local authority and other funders. His task was to photograph every listed building in the area under the auspices of Pendle Heritage Centre and apart from that, seek out Pendle and snap it! As Bancroft was the last working engine in Pendle I expected him sooner of later. Apart from that I knew nothing about him.
Every now and again you meet the right person at the right time and the trick is to take notice of your voices. I had no idea when Daniel walked in that the input he was to make into my life was going to be so important, all I knew was that on first impressions, I liked him and so I gave him some time. This sounds a touch arrogant but isn’t meant to be, whether he understood it or not, he made exactly the same assessment and decision and we both profited. I showed him the engine and the mill and I think he came over to the farm for one of Vera’s farmhouse teas. Whatever, she soon met him and liked him just as much as I did. He became a regular visitor and I told him what was going on in my head. Without voicing it we came to an arrangement, I would introduce him to my world and he would let me into his. This included encouraging me to take up photography in a fairly serious manner and this was to be a wonderful asset in all the things I did later.
Round about this time another bloke walked in the engine house, I can’t be sure of the date but we had better introduce him as well because he too was going to be very important. His name was Robert Aram and he was a teacher in Nottingham. He had a great interest in Industrial Archaeology and had his own collection at home in Cossall. He was, and still is, a very private bloke, in fact at the time I put him down as a secretive bugger and he will smile when he reads this because he will admit I’m sure that this wasn’t far from the truth. I had no idea at that time just how extensive or ambitious his collection was but I was in for a shock. He had a black Labrador called Emma and she was the only visitor to the engine house who automatically got my easy chair as a seat as soon as she came in!
I can’t go into a full list of all the visitors to my kingdom at this time but must mention one more who whilst not of any great importance to my future was always a delight. This was John Wilfred Pickard a retired local GP. He would pop in at all sorts of odd times and we always had wonderfully esoteric and informative conversations. He used to work at the VD clinic in Burnley and I had long conversations with him about terrible infections. He always took my pulse as soon as he came in and told me every time that my heart was beating at exactly the same speed as the engine, 67rpm! There were many wonderful stories about Dr Pickard and I used to ask him if they were true or not. One which he said contained more truth than some of the others concerned a visit he made on the Coates Estate in Barlick to a baby that wouldn’t stop crying. John examined the baby and then turned round to the woman who was looking after it and said “The reason the baby’s crying is because it’s hungry. Is it breast or bottle fed?” The woman told him it was on the breast. John shoved his hand down the front of her blouse, felt her breast and said “You have no milk Madam!” The woman said that it would be a miracle if she had, she was the baby’s Aunt and was only looking after it! John gave me his old stethoscope which I used to use on the engine, it was marvellous what you could hear if you let the engine talk to you.
I think you may be starting to get the picture. I was completely at home in the engine house and had learned enough to make it a joy to be there. I was still searching for knowledge and learning more. It wasn’t only the engine that fascinated me but the whole complicated structure of how the engine, the mill and the industry knitted in so well with the local society. There was a perfect interface between the work and the human beings. Bancroft could never be described as a comfortable place in terms of what is seen as important nowadays. It was ridiculously old-fashioned, there were absolutely no amenities for the workers, it was seriously noisy, dirty and insanitary, the toilets were a joke! Any one of the workers could have made more money by going down to Rolls Royce and getting a job sweeping the floor and yet it was the happiest atmosphere I have ever worked in. My version of it is that everybody knew exactly what their job was and how it fitted in with everybody else’s. They all saw the cloth rolling off the looms and being stacked in the warehouse, they knew the end product and what it was for. The chain of command was very short. They knew exactly who they were responsible to and that the end of the chain was in the office at the top of the warehouse. Every one in that chain was called by their first name and apart from Peter Birtles everyone knew who everybody else was related to. It was almost a family, certainly a community and the whole was well integrated with the town, the local society. As far as I could see it was a model system which everybody else ought to be emulating. There was a common thread with the dairy, nobody in the mill was after anyone else’s job. Everyone was satisfied with what they had and instead of rivalry and friction there was co-operation and thought for other people. If you needed a hand with something you only had to ask, you would never be refused. I must confess I look at modern industry and management and wonder how far we have progressed. They might be making more money but they aren’t making happier memories.
The more I read and the more I felt that this way of life and technology ought to be recorded. I still hadn’t found anything written down which addressed the practical aspects of mill life. I didn’t realise it at the time but I was gradually working out a method of doing this and Daniel was the key to the first part of it. He encouraged me to take pictures and gradually introduced me to the mysteries of composition, shooting up to a point and the decisive moment. He showed me how to master the techniques of shooting in bad light, developing my own film and making my own prints. I was a willing pupil and when I look back at my negative files I see that I went from tyro to semi-professional at an incredible speed. I got in the habit of taking pictures at work and started to build up a unique archive of negatives describing an industry which was on its last legs. The pictures I took then can never be repeated, the whole of the industry and the technology has gone and so the first legacy I owe to Daniel is that archive. That alone would be good reason for eternal gratitude but there was to be more!
One constantly recurring conversation with Daniel was related to my conviction that the mill was on its last legs and that I was giving serious thought to what I would do when it closed. I was very conscious of the fact that even though I was as strong as a horse, I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life grafting. I could think of no worse fate than going into Rolls Royce and becoming an Eight ‘til four man for the rest of my working life. I wanted to use my head and gradually formulated the idea of going to university and doing a degree. This was always my aim from the beginning. As soon as the bug of further education bit I knew that I wouldn’t be satisfied by flitting round the edges. I wanted to go for broke!
There was a bit of an interruption at the mill when Bob Parkinson handed in his notice. He finished on my birthday, 14 Feb. 1976. His successor was Stephen Howard who was useless, he only lasted until March 6th when I sacked him. He was followed by Don Parkinson who was also useless, I sacked him on May the 24th.! I got lucky then and a good lad called Paul Golding set on as firebeater. He was far too well educated for the job and there was a bit of a history behind him I suspect. He settled in and was to be with me until February 1977.
Round about this time I started to have serious conversations with Vera about what we were going to do with our lives. We had paid for the farm and were, for the first time in both our lives, financially secure. The kids were growing up and I was looking ahead to where we’d be in five years time. I was concerned mainly about Vera, she had spent her whole life doing the family bit, she was always there for the children and had virtually no other interests. I’d spent my life on the move, ranging the country and building up a store of experience which was, with hindsight, bound to explode one day. Vera had succumbed to the relentless pressure of biology and built the family. I had always given her the power at home but had certainly operated in Andy Capp mode, I followed the only tradition I knew, I was head of the family and initiated most of the major decisions. I’m not trying to excuse my actions, just offering an explanation. I’m not ashamed of the results, flawed though our strategy was, it produced a stable loving family and three kids who have demonstrated by the way they have run their lives that there were no irreparable traumas in their upbringing. However, by late 1975 the pressures were building, I was moving very quickly, events and chance meetings were reinforcing the change. My head was buzzing with thoughts and schemes and I could see that Vera and I were moving apart. I remember saying to her one day that I was worried about what was going to happen. I had seen it before with other families. Just when they reached the broad sunlit uplands of financial security and the kids left home giving the redundant parents time to breathe and spread their wings, the whole thing fell to pieces! I know I must have been very unsettling for Vera at this time, I realise with hindsight that I was frightening her. I could see so clearly the pitfalls awaiting us and in my efforts to convey this to Vera I made things worse.
The surprising thing about all this to me now looking back with 20/20 vision is that I didn’t see what was happening at the time. A friend of mine had had a lousy deal when his marriage blew up in his face through no fault of his own. This was a marriage made in heaven as far as the outside world was concerned, a lovely wife, a good provider and suddenly she went off the rails and left him for another man. He needed someone to talk to at the time and we came to the conclusion that because her father had ignored her when she was a child she had adopted her husband as a father figure and then felt the need for a lover. I remember at the time asking Vera why this hadn’t happened to us because as far as I could see my friend had described my marriage. Vera never knew her father, he had left the family when she was three months old, why weren’t we in the same boat? Vera told me that even if my theory was true, I was forgetting, she had my father as a ready made father figure while he was alive.
In mid 1975 I started writing, I had this urge to put things down on paper and wrote the story of my life on the road and at Bancroft in longhand. My sister typed it out for me and I started thinking about getting it published. I wrote to Allan Thomas the editor of Motor Transport in October and asked his advice and he told me to write to a bloke called John Pudney, an established author who he thought might have been commissioned to write a book on the road. I wrote to John in November and received an immediate and encouraging reply, he was visiting the North of England at Christmas and could he call in on Boxing Day and visit me! Needless to say this was soon arranged.
I had to go over to the mill on Boxing Day and on my return I walked into the kitchen and Vera pointed me towards the front room where I heard voices. I stood in the doorway and saw an unusual sight. A large, heavily built man with a marvellous mane of white hair was stood in front of a rapt semi-circle of children, there was Margaret, Susan and Janet and some of their friends. The man was declaiming poetry, definitely a first for Hey Farm. I can remember the poems even now, there was one about a white rabbit and a waterfall and another about the man who repaired the Queen’s refrigerator and couldn’t tell people whether she used Stork or butter as it would infringe the Official Secrets Act! The man was John Pudney, his wife Monica had dropped him off and was going to come back and pick him up later. Once again, I got the sense that a significant life event was happening before my eyes and a quick decision had to be made! Actually, there was no decision about it. I was so flattered that somebody had actually listened to my shout for help and immediately done something about it that I would have listened to John even if he’d had horns on his head and a forked tail!
John and I plunged into conversation and he questioned me closely for about an hour. I have no doubt that my answers were verbose, arrogant and disjointed but he sorted out the wheat from the chaff. He told me it was obvious to him that I was on the verge of serious changes in my life and that I was quite right, I had something to say and what I should do was get on with it! I should forget about collaboration with him or anyone else but get on with polishing my writing skills and start producing a body of work. He listened to my argument that I needed more education and said that whilst that might be true I shouldn’t let it get in the way of actually doing things. He pointed out to me that I was thrashing about as though I was caught in a net but actually I wasn’t. His analogy was that I imagined myself to be in some sort of a prison but that in fact it only had three walls and the roof was open to the Yorkshire sky. As far as the history, the photography and the writing was concerned, I was ready. His bottom line was that I certainly had it in me to do good work, all I had to do was produce, what route I chose to prepare myself was up to me but he warned me against too much displacement activity, the most important thing was to write. Later on other people told me exactly the same thing and even now I don’t know whether the route I took was the right one. There’s a good argument for saying I would have been better off if I’d started writing seriously then, but as I say, I don’t know. All I can say with certainty is that if I had, I would have missed out on a lot more experiences.
After what can only be described as one of the most stimulating days of my life, Monica came and took John away. A month later he was diagnosed with throat cancer and this eventually killed him on November 10th 1977. From the day I met him until the day he died John and Monica were in constant correspondence with us, he sent me poems for the engine house, his letters were full of praise and good advice and they brought another dimension into life at Hey Farm. In July that year we visited them at Greenwich and had a wonderful stay with them. John was alcoholic but took me and Vera on a tour of London riverside pubs, visits to strange people like the man who lived in the original London Rubber Company’s condom factory and painted portraits, he was working on one of Helen Bonham Carter when we were there. I’ve never met a man who wore a green sombrero and an opera cape in the house before……….
John introduced us to a whole new world and I for one soaked up every bit of the juice. His life experience was on a different planet than mine, his first wife was A.E.Herbert’s daughter, he had been a parliamentary candidate, he was a famous poet and writer, he wrote ‘Johnny’ the poem about the fighter pilot which was made famous during the war. At one point he was in charge of the American publisher Putnam’s office in London. In connection with the latter he told me about the joy he had derived from being Gerard Hoffnung’s publisher. John said he was a wonderful man but terribly exasperating. He was in his office one day in November 1956 contemplating the fact that Putnams in London was just about bankrupt when the phone rang. He picked it up and a voice said “This is the Royal Festival Hall speaking.” John said his first reaction was how nice it was that the Festival Hall had taken the time and trouble to contact him! RFH went on to say that Mr Hoffnung had booked the Hall for three days and could John confirm that Putnams would guarantee the hire charge. John asked how much this was and it was a ridiculously small amount, I think he mentioned £3,000 but can’t be sure, anyway John agreed to this as they were going bankrupt anyway. He then contacted Gerard and asked out of curiosity why he had hired the Albert Hall? Gerard said that he wanted to do a performance of his Concerto for Hosepipe and Strings. John decided that things couldn’t get any worse and Gerard went ahead. The concert was a sell-out and the aftermath did Putnams nothing but good and saved the London office from closure.
Shortly afterwards John received a message from their printers which, roughly translated, said if John didn’t ensure that Mr Hoffnung kept away from their premises, he would have to find a new printer. John decided he’d better go and see Gerard so he drove over to his house. When he got near the house he found the road was blocked with traffic and so decided to park his car and walk the rest of the way. He discovered that the cause of the hold up was a Council bin wagon abandoned in the middle of the road. When he went up the steps to Gerard’s house he heard the strains of a cello being played inside. He went in and all was revealed, Gerard was at half way up the stairs demonstrating the finer points of the Elgar Cello Concerto to an attentive audience of bin men reclining on the stairs!
When I look back at the way John focused his attention on my request and, with Monica’s full co-operation, devoted time and energy to me and Vera at a time when he was fighting cancer, I can’t help thanking the gods that there are still nice, caring people in the world. They didn’t know anything about us but opened up completely. I think Vera and I were the last non-family members to visit him shortly before he died. He was obviously in great discomfort but wanted to see us one more time. He was, and his memory still is, an integral part of my life. It was a privilege to have his friendship and he’s very much in my thoughts as, twenty years later, I set about what he told me I must do, write it down!
As if all this activity wasn’t enough we had a serious upset at home when Janet was suddenly taken ill. She had acute appendicitis and was taken into Burnley Hospital and operated on immediately. I remember the surgeon came in in full evening dress and did the operation straight away. After the operation he said that we had only just been in time but that Janet would be all right. About ten days later we brought her out one evening and as we were driving home with Janet wrapped in a blanket on Vera’s knee a small voice asked if there were any baked beans in the house! I looked at Vera and we stopped at an all night grocery shop at the Boundary between Colne and Nelson. I bought a bunch of Heinz Beans and that was all right! Janet had a passion for baked beans, still has in fact, and I remember Daniel buying her half a case for a Christmas present a year later. She kept them under her bed and wouldn’t let anybody have any! She made a slow recovery and eventually proved to be none the worse for her narrow escape.
Janet had a Dougal, this was a soft toy which was modelled on a character in the popular TV program, Magic Roundabout. Remember Zebedee when I had my accident? Same programme. I think as many adults were hooked on MR as children, it really was magic! I was busy in the workshop one day when Janet came in. “Please will you make Dougal a house?” I told her I would, we discussed the design and I set to. Using scrap wood that was about and some dreadful pink paint I knocked a house together with a chimney and painted it. I have always said that I have only ever made one thing in my life that I was totally satisfied with and this was it. It was exactly right, after it had dried Janet took it into the house, begged a tobacco tin off me and filled it with sugar lumps and Dougal took up residence in his house with his favourite food. He has been there ever since and when I was in Australia last year I got quite emotional when I saw Dougal in his house next to Janet’s bed in Perth. I did a quick check and found he had no tobacco tin or sugar lumps. I bought some tobacco in a tin, found some sugar lumps in the local supermarket and restored the status quo. One last sugar lump story. It must have been in mid 1976 that Janet came downstairs one day and asked me if I could get her a suitcase down off the top of the wardrobe. When I asked her why she wanted it she said she was leaving home because there wasn’t a sugar lump in the house. I went to Mrs Brown’s shop, got some sugar lumps and managed to persuade her to stay.
I hope you are keeping track of this three month period, I know a lot has happened so far but there is more to come! One day early in 1976 Daniel walked into the engine house with a bloke in a suit and shoes. He got the usual treatment, wipe the feet and don’t touch anything, and then we settled down to pints of tea and introductions. The man was David James Moore, Principal of Nelson and Colne College. Daniel had persuaded him to come to Barlick in his lunch hour and meet this mad engineer he had found!
I took to the bloke right away, he was direct, energetic and said all the right things to me. I could see that he had recognised me instantly and had made up his mind that I was just his cup of tea. It took him about ten minutes to extract the juice from me, I saw his eyes light up when I told him I wanted to go to university and have an entirely new course in life. He immediately told me what my options were, I could either do straight ‘A’ levels, take the Baccalaureate, a new route to higher education or, if I was really adventurous I could do a new course which his office cleaner, Joyce Tierney had invented and go into Lancaster University by that route. They left, I went home that night and talked it over with Vera, went and saw David at the College later that week and signed up for Open College. Years later, Susan Obler was to tell me that there is a price to pay for higher education late in life, it may be a nervous breakdown a divorce or a gall bladder operation, I didn’t know it at the time but my God, was she ever right, I scored two out of three!
I think that this would be a good time to stand back and try to make some assessments of what was actually happening at this time. It won’t surprise you to know that writing this has sent me back into my negative files and correspondence to work out the chronology of all these events. I have to say it’s a fascinating exercise, I didn’t realise until today that all these potentially life shattering events happened within the space of three months! If ever a bloke was getting a clear message from the gods it was me. There are two ways of looking at what was happening, the easy way is to dismiss the whole episode as a typical male mid-life crisis. I strongly deny this, to describe it in this way devalues what I know I was about. This wasn’t a bloke rebelling against family and age by chasing younger women to try to convince himself that he isn’t getting older. As far as any illicit contact with other women was concerned I was pure as the driven snow, the thought had never entered my head. My version of it was that it was permissible for me to try to improve myself within the secure base of the family and a house that was bought and paid for. I would have been a fool to look at it any other way. My feelings towards Vera were as they always had been, she was my trusted partner in life and we had fought through some very hard times together but had not only survived but triumphed. At mid life we had a family almost grown, a wonderful circle of friends and a secure financial base. The difference between me and Vera was that I saw this as a foundation for further progress and Vera saw it as a secure base to rest on. This sounds like a hard assessment but I think it’s accurate. I don’t blame Vera for this, it was the way she was and the way she thought, the problem was that she could no more move towards me than I could slow down. I had hold of a tiger by its tail and the one thing I couldn’t do was let go. As I said to Vera at the time, I had to see it through because otherwise I would be left with the worse thing in the world, ‘What might have been.’ She understood this but with hindsight, it didn’t make it any easier for her. To her, I was a loose cannon, I was behaving unnaturally and it began to wear her down.
Looking back, I can see many different ways I could have gone at the time but none of them would have addressed what was almost a primeval urge within me and I can’t help reflecting that if any part of that urge had been stifled I would have turned in on myself and I think in the end, this would have had serious consequences. I don’t think you can repress feelings as strong as this without damage. I chose my course as you will see and if I had to go back I doubt if I’d change a single thing. All this was in the future. At the time, it was exciting and I was wonderfully productive. I threw myself into work, photography and Open College. The nearest analogy I can give is that it was like opening shutters in a large room and in the light, finding possessions I never knew I had and they all delighted me, I could do no wrong, everything was working out fine, I was invulnerable.
The biggest problem we had at the mill, apart from falling orders, was the heat, 1976 was the hottest summer we had for a long time. It got so hot in the mill that some of the shafts expanded until they were running into the wall. It was the first time since the mill was built that this had happened. I had to cut three inches off the ends of three of the shafts to keep the mill running. I think it was later that year that we had the fuel crisis and the three day week. There were power cuts and we were using oil lamps at times at the farm. We got right down to the bottom of the stock pile and I was burning coal which was sent over from the United States after the war. It was lousy stuff, I had to mix it with good coal to get it to burn! The paradoxical thing was that we were immune to power cuts as long as we had coal but it was strictly rationed. We never knew when coal was coming, we just had to take our turn. One day a wagon drew into the yard and asked if we were Bankfield Mill. I assumed temporary deafness and said yes and we backed him in and tipped his load. It was Sutton Manor Pit washed singles from over St Helens way and was wonderful steam coal. Of course I knew that he’d made a mistake, Bankfield Shed was the Rolls Royce factory and we had pinched 20 tons of their coal! It took about five days for the penny to drop but by that time it was too late to do anything about it, we had burned it. I left it to the management to sort out and carried on as best as I could.
The three day week gave me an unexpected problem. I noticed one day that I had a grunt in the high pressure cylinder, once every stroke. It wasn’t too bad but occasionally it would do a big one and the engine house vibrated. I listened to it for a while, flooded the cylinder with oil and tried every trick I could think of like opening the drains and altering the balance between High pressure and Low pressure cylinders but nothing helped. In the end I rang Newton and asked him to come up. I remember that as he came through the door with a fag hanging out of the corner of his mouth the cylinder gave one of its big grunts and the engine house shook. Newton grabbed the fag and didn’t even ask me what was wrong, he just stood next to the cylinder with me and listened to it. Eventually he agreed with me that it sounded like a broken piston ring but neither of us was sure. We arranged that as long as it didn’t get any worse I would run it until stopping time and we’d whip the cover off and have a look in the bore.
At stopping time I made sure the piston was at the front of the cylinder and started to take the cover off. Newton landed up and we drew the cover back far enough to look into the bore and immediately saw the problem. There was a patch of rust on the side of the bore where the piston usually stopped at night ready for the first stroke on starting the following day. We worked out that there was a spongy patch in the casting there and as we were leaving steam on the engine 24 hours a day even though we were only working a three day week, this patch must have coincided with the one of the gaps in the piston ring and the steam was having four days at a time to wash the oil out of the casting and start a corrosion cell off. We rubbed the patch down with emery cloth, put the cover back on with a new packing and it never bothered me again because after that I let the engine stop where it wanted to so that the same patch wasn’t getting the erosion every time. It was only a small thing but could have broken a ring in the end. One thing was sure and certain, it put the wind up me when it happened!
Back at the farm, we were all having a good time. Janet recovered well, Guides and Brownies were dumped in favour of Young Farmers and the girls took us into different activities. The Land Rover was wonderful, we went to agricultural shows, public speaking contests and weekly meetings of the YF. We visited John and Monica in London, went for trips into the Dales, visited Cyril and Elsie at Stainton, went to the seaside and visited Arthur Ent in the Midlands. We made more improvements in the house and Ted Waite was a constant presence in his caravan in the back garden. We were all busy, we took time out and the year flew by. Daniel became almost a member of the family, he was living in Nelson in a house that was scheduled to be demolished when the new motorway, the M65, was built. It was on Surrey Road near the Nelson Cricket Club ground and he and his dog , Zap , became part of the community. They were supplemented at times by a young lady of Daniel’s acquaintance called Shireen Shah who was a sight for sore eyes. I often protest my purity in matters of sex but have to admit Shireen was one of those rare women who could awaken a flicker of interest in even me! She was a frequent visitor at the farm and the kids thought she was wonderful. Of course we all started matchmaking but it takes two to tango and in the end it wasn’t to be. Years later, I happened to be in the canteen at the Langham Hotel which in those days was an annexe to Broadcasting House and a woman walked into the room. She saw me at the same moment as I saw her and I am proud to report that we were the centre of attention of the whole room who couldn’t understand why this beautiful woman was welded to an old fart in full public view. I still follow her career and will never forget her for her beauty and wonderful temperament.
Paul Golding, my firebeater finished in January 1977 and I was lucky enough to get John Plummer to replace him. John came from the north east and had been a firebeater all his life. He started on Drifters going up to Bear Island and graduated to Fyffe’s banana boats. He had five children and could actually get more on Social Security than he could by working. He was fed up of doing nothing and came up to see me. He was a good man and was to stay the course right up to the mill closing.
Robert Aram was a frequent visitor and often stayed the night as he had a lot of interests in the area. One weekend he came with a serious purpose and with Daniel in tow we all went across to Middleton near Manchester to meet his steeplejack, Peter Tatham and have a look at a chimney Robert was interested in buying. You may well be asking yourself why anybody would want to buy a chimney! Good question! One of the things I had found out about Robert was that his ‘collection’ of things connected to industrial archaeology didn’t stop at small artefacts, it extended to things like mill lodges, old water mill sites and redundant chimneys! ‘Swabs’ chimney at Middleton was his biggest prospect yet. It was the detached chimney which served the boilers at Rhodes Mill in Middleton which was at that time owned by the Bernstein family and manufactured furniture. It was called Swabs chimney because the original owners of the mill when the chimney was built was Simon Schwab who were cloth finishers and dyers. They had 13 Lancashire boilers and so needed a big chimney but it was now redundant. The chimney was enormous, it stood over three hundred feet tall and was at the time the largest brick chimney in Europe. The purpose of our visit on the Saturday was for Peter to inspect the chimney and for Robert to climb it. Peter had laddered it during that week and Daniel and I went along to watch the fun. Old Arthur Entwistle was visiting at the time and he came along too. My function was to give an opinion about the state of the chimney and anything else that I thought Robert should take into consideration before buying it.
Robert did well. Peter asked him if he’d ever been up a ladder before and Robert told him he had, on to the roof of the family bungalow at Mablethorpe! Peter took this in and gave Robert a crash course in serious ladder climbing. Robert asked if he should go up first and Peter said no, if Robert dropped off he didn’t want to be underneath! Up they went and when they got to the top Peter swung out off the side of the ladder while Robert climbed past him to look at the top. Then Robert came down while Peter took some photos of the chimney head. The wind was getting up a bit and Peter came down the ladder two rungs at a time! Champagne all round at the chimney base and then I cast a damper on the proceedings by telling Robert we needed to look in the flues before we made any final decisions about buying it. The deal that Robert had been offered was that he could have the chimney for a nominal sum, £10. For this he got the chimney, the valuable piece of real estate it stood on and the responsibility of maintaining the stack. This was the big problem as far as I could see because it was literally within two feet of the pavement and the road.
The following day we were back at the mill. There was just Robert, Peter, Daniel and myself. This time we started in the boiler house in the mill on the opposite side of the main road from the chimney. We put on overalls, rugged up with fents (cloth ends from the shed at Bancroft) and set off into the flues. They were enormous, very dirty and in bad condition. The last boilers to run had evidently been oil-fired and the burners badly adjusted, the bottom of the flue was wet and there was about six inches of black oily sludge to wade through. The further we got in the worse it got and eventually we were met with a solid wall of flue dust at the entrance to the chimney base, it hadn’t been flued for at least twenty years. We had to go back and get some boards to place on top of the dust so we could crawl over the top and into the base of the chimney. It was enormous, I have never seen a chimney so big inside. I measured it and it was twenty two feet across internally, there was a cruciform wall dividing it into four sections and each had a separate flue coming in from the main flue. The chimney liner only went up about forty feet and there were internal lightning conductors, something I had never seen before.
When we had got our fill we got out, cleaned up and retired to the pub. Robert asked me what I thought and I told him that if he bought it he would regret it. Peter Tatham agreed with me and we left Robert to come to his own conclusions. In the end he decided not to buy it and this was a sensible decision. A steeplejack bought it and went bankrupt while demolishing it, another tried and went the same way and eventually it was finished by a third firm. The weekend hadn’t been wasted though, I had met Peter Tatham and he and I were to do some pretty impressive jobs together in years to come!
Later on in 1977 my ideas about Bancroft and the need to record the technology had become more cohesive. I decided that the person I needed to convince was Her Majesty’s Inspector of Ancient Monuments for the North West of England. This man worked for the Department of the Environment in London and his name was Peter White. I wrote to him, no doubt at great length, described what I wanted to do and then proceeded to embarrass him by posting a high quality 10x8 black and white picture of some aspect of the mill’s workings every Saturday so that it was on his desk on Monday morning. This was unfair pressure I freely admit, but in the end it worked and Peter arranged a meeting between me and a man called Dr John Marshall who was in charge of the Centre for North West Regional Studies at Lancaster University. We met in a pub at Clapham one wet and windy night. The outcome of the meeting was that the quality of the images I was producing convinced them that there was some serious work to be done at Bancroft and that I was the one to do it because I had access. It was decided that it would be called the Lancashire Textile Project. Daniel’s patient tuition had paid off, the men with the shoes were beginning to take notice! There was a sad event to record the same month, John Pudney finally lost his brave fight against cancer and died on the 10th of November 1977. I was hard hit by this, in the two years I was privileged to know him, John had been a wonderful source of common sense, encouragement and enlightenment. I can still see him now as I write this over twenty years later, he is stood in the front room at Hey Farm reading poetry to a bunch of enraptured children. I can’t help thinking he would like the fact that that is how I remember him.
Early in 1978 I had a request from New Road School asking permission for two of their teachers to visit the engine house to assess whether it would be a worthwhile trip for their pupils. Two teachers came, Mary Hunter and one of her colleagues who, I am sad to report, must have been instantly forgettable because I have no memory of him. I gave them the tour and they were both interested but Mary was definitely turned on by the engine. It was the first steam engine she had ever seen at work and if you are at all susceptible to them, it’s an unforgettable experience. Mary made another visit a few days later and we had a long conversation about the historical aspects of the mill and its importance. She gave me her address and phone number and a few days later I rang and asked if I could come down and see her, I had a proposal for her. I went down and suggested she might like to come and work for me for nothing! I told her about the Lancashire Textile Project and what it was leading to and she said she’d discuss it with her husband John and get back to me with an answer.
It wasn’t long before she got in touch with me again and came round to the farm where she met Vera and we had a long conversation. As so often happens in this life I was the right person at the right time for her. She was not happy teaching at New Road and had been vaguely looking for a way out for some time but had no definite ideas. My proposal looked interesting because it was a totally new field and one which she was eminently well qualified for as I wanted her to look after the administration for me while I got on with the pics and the recordings.
At this stage in my life I was very much involved with Nelson and Colne College of course and what was more pertinent, David Moore the Principal and I had become very good friends, we met frequently and corresponded all the time. I suggested to Mary that a meeting with David might be a good thing and that I would think further about our collaboration on the LTP and get back to her. Early in March Mary met David Moore at the College, I was there on the first occasion and I can remember that she had a streaming cold, she really wasn’t fit to be going anywhere. This didn’t put David off however, he was far to good a man for that. He and Mary arranged a further meeting and the upshot of all this was that he advised Mary to apply for a job with Granada TV to help administer a programme that was based in Liverpool. I can’t remember the name of it but it was a year’s contract. Mary applied, got the job and this gave her the break that she needed to get away from New Road. Later on, from that base, she applied for another job in TV with Yorkshire Television. This was the post of Community Education Officer, the first one in the country to be appointed and she virtually wrote her own job description. She was at Yorkshire TV for about ten years. This wasn’t my doing of course but was an direct result of her being open enough to look at the LTP. Opportunities come in strange disguises at times!
This was when I had my first experience of working with government departments and committees. All I can say is that their world moves on a parallel plane, completely divorced from the realities I had do face. Months of discussion went by while Bancroft moved inevitably towards closure. Eventually support was given and we agreed a format for the exercise. When, by early 1978 we were all agreed I have to admit that the process of consultation, if not the time it took, had been worth while. Peter White had suggested an oral history project and I had refined this by suggesting we used decisive moments from processes captured on black and white prints as triggers for informants. In other words, the informants described in their own words what they were doing in a picture of the process, a series of images would cover the whole process and the result would be a cohesive description straight from the horse’s mouth. This was further expanded by agreeing with Elizabeth Roberts at CNWRS that we could use her standard questions on social history thus adding another dimension to the project. Most important we agreed that the project had to be fully transcribed and indexed and the master copies of all material deposited in the library at Lancaster University. The short name for the project was the Lancashire Textile Project and during 1978 the LTP took up an enormous amount of my time. I spent a couple of months making enquiries of various authorities as to what the best recording equipment was, what tape we should use, and various other technical matters. By June I was ready and started to do the recordings, my first informant was Jim Pollard and this was the start of a lot of hard work, none of it paid for and I even had to buy the film The DOE paid for the tapes but film was always a problem. I remember one day ringing Tom Clarke who owned Silentnight, a local firm, which was the biggest manufacturer of mattresses in the world. I told him I needed some film and he sent his secretary up in a chauffeur driven car to deliver £100 in notes. He didn’t even want a receipt. I’ve never forgotten that gesture, it made all the difference.
Looking back, this was a hard time for Vera, I was spending most evenings out doing recordings and most of my time at home copying tapes, listening to tapes in order to do précis of them and writing letters. In addition to this I had been doing evening classes at Nelson and Colne College for two years and by mid 1978 had passed both segments of the course and was qualified for entry to Lancaster University. As far as I was concerned things were hectic but on course. It’s important to say here that at no time was there ever any direct opposition to what I was doing. With hindsight, it almost seems that Vera had given up on me.
Cyril Richardson had retired from farming during 1977 and he seemed to be at a loss. He and Elsie retired to Grassington but he would turn up at Hey Farm frequently for a cup of tea and some conversation. I remember that Vera and I commented on the fact that he was like a ship without a rudder and we both agreed that even though his stays sometimes became almost embarrassing he was obviously getting some comfort from coming and it was not a problem as far as we were concerned. I began to get a little worried when, whilst looking back through my neg files to find a picture I suddenly realised how many pictures I had taken of Cyril in the last twelve months in which he was in animated conversation with Vera. It’s a funny thing about making pictures, you often shoot a roll of film and it isn’t until you develop the film that you realise that you weren’t necessarily shooting what you thought you were. A classic example of this was when we went to my cousin Doreen’s 25th wedding anniversary party. There was a woman there who I thought was very attractive. When I developed the films I found that half the pictures I had done had this woman in them! Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with this but the point is that when you’re shooting by instinct your sub-conscious can take over. Anyway, back to the Cyril pictures, I looked through the negatives again and I began to wonder what was going on, I hasten to say that there was no thought in my mind about any impropriety, I knew Vera too well to have any doubts about that but my mind went back to the conversation we had years before about father figures, my father had been dead for four years. I had things to think about.
I don’t want to give the impression I was just accepting what was happening. Actually it was no surprise. I had warned Vera earlier of the dangers in store for us due to kids leaving home etc. but what I hadn’t realised was that I was going to precipitate us into these same dangers by doing what I thought was best for the future! I had suggested to Vera that she learn to drive but she didn’t want to. I got the idea in my head of opening a book shop in Barlick. Vera loved books and she was half tempted by this. I even went to see Gerards, the booksellers in Nelson and asked them what their attitude would be to supplying books to sell on commission if we provided the premises but it all came to nothing.
I remember walking across Letcliffe with Monica Pudney one day when she was visiting and in her own inimitably direct way she said to me, “You realise of course that Vera’s in love with Cyril?” I said yes, I thought she might be right. “What are you going to do about it?” I told her what I had done already and said that unless I gave up the idea of going to university and took a nine to five job, I couldn’t see things changing and I wasn’t going to throw up the chance of university for anyone. I told her that I had really thought about all this and couldn’t see a way out. Apart from my natural unwillingness to give up the chance of improvement I’d made for myself, what would be the consequence if I chucked it all up? I reckoned I would just become bitter and twisted and would always blame Vera for having stopped me from going onwards and upwards. Monica said she could understand this but she had no other suggestions to offer. She asked me what was going to happen and I said that as far as I could see things were going to come to a head soon and then all I could do was to move out so that the kids had least disturbance, they were my main worry but I couldn’t see how to shield them from the consequences of what was happening no matter what I did. So it seemed to me that the best course was to limit the damage by making sure that the farm environment went on as long as possible.
At the mill we were having a bad time. Cloth orders were down and we were reduced to commission weaving, the worst form of trade. This is when you take in weaving jobs from other sheds that haven’t the capacity to cope. It was always the worst warps and the lowest price. In addition, as the numbers of looms fell and the load came off the engine I was having trouble with the Proctor Stokers on the boiler. It is a characteristic of this type of stoker that they won’t fire smoke free unless they are carrying a reasonably heavy fire. We started to get complaints from the ‘nuisance man’ our name for the inspector from the Environmental Health Department at Pendle Council. In turn I was getting flack from the management even though they knew it wasn’t my fault. I looked into the problem and worked out that if we burnt our coal stock and used the money saved plus an efficiency grant from the government to install new under-fired stokers we would stop the smoke, cut down on coal use and it wouldn’t cost the management a halfpenny. I put the proposal to Peter Birtles and waited. After a reasonable interval the order came back to start burning the stock. When I heard this I told John he was looking at the biggest idiot under the sun. He asked me why, I said “I may be wrong, but I think I’ve just closed this mill down!” Events proved me right, the management had forgotten they had almost £10,000 in coal stock in the yard. I was sure their intention was to burn the stock, capitalise on the asset, close the mill down and scrap it. On the 5th of September the mill received a warning about smoke emission and the management used this as an excuse to announce that the mill would close after all current orders were woven out. What it boiled down to was that they were more interested in asset stripping than carrying on, they could make money easier that way.
The atmosphere at the mill changed completely, we were all on a slippery slope and before Christmas we would all be out of a job. I wasn’t too worried because I had applied for admittance to Lancaster University and had been accepted for Autumn 1979. The DOE had promised to employ me as a researcher to finish the LTP and do some work on water mills in the Lake District when the mill closed down so things could have been worse. There had been a change in the office, Sidney Nutter had retired early because of ill health. He died before the year was out, he was a good bloke with a puckish sense of humour and we all missed him. It was a pity he couldn’t have seen the job out.
I have a story about Sidney which demonstrates his sense of humour exactly. I used to deal with any commercial travellers who were in any way technical. One day we had a caller who was selling a miracle cure for blocked drains. He asked if he could demonstrate how his product worked. I agreed and he swung into what was quite clearly a very well rehearsed performance. He took a Pyrex beaker out of his case, poured some soil into it and added a lump of grease. He then reached into his bag and produced the biggest sanitary towel I have ever seen in my life, wiped his hands on it and, saying, “There’s always one of these!” stuffed it into the beaker. He held it up and said, “There you are, that’s a blockage!” He then added some water and poured in his ‘miracle cure’, the whole lot fizzed up alarmingly and finally settled into half a beaker of dirty water, the chemical was some sort of very concentrated acid judging by the smell. “Blockage dispersed! It can now be flushed away with water!”
I knew that there was no way I was going to buy any of this drain destroyer from him but I knew Sidney wasn’t very busy so I told the representative he should repeat this demo for our Mr Nutter who was in charge of purchases. I called Sidney up and we all went up to the office where Sidney sat at his desk, pipe in mouth, awaiting our arrival. The bloke went through his demo again but when he got to the sanitary towel Sidney took his pipe out of his mouth and said “What is it lad? A blindfold!” This stopped the rep. dead, he had never been asked that question before! He went into a long explanation of exactly what it was he was holding in his hand. When he had finished Sidney took his pipe out again and said “Eh, isn’t it wonderful, whatever will they think of next!” At this point the rep. gave up, packed his bag and departed Bancroft for ever. I’ll bet he never forgot Sidney!
I’m not sure exactly when it was but Vera and I were having a conversation one afternoon and I asked her a question, given the choice, who would she rather go on holiday with, me or Cyril? She didn’t even have to think about the answer, “Cyril!”. I told her we had a problem and I thought she had better give some serious consideration to this. I didn’t want to do anything in a rush but said I’d ask her again in three months. I honestly didn’t know what else I could do. There was no point in having World War Three, if Vera had reached the end of the road as far as I was concerned, that was how it would have to be. I have to say I wasn’t too enthusiastic about the situation myself, my version of the matter was that now the constant struggle to survive and rear the kids had been lifted off our backs we were diverging and moving further away from each other. I don’t see anything wrong with that, the last thing I wanted was ‘Lives of quiet desperation’ and God knows, I knew plenty of people who were living them. So, in autumn of 1978 Vera and I were at a stand-off. I suppose we were each waiting for the other to make the first move. Three months later I asked the question again and got the same answer, or rather I got no answer at all which was just as bad. Eventually we sat down and talked and decided that it would be best if we drew a line under the account. I think we agreed that I’d leave the house after Christmas as this would be the least upset all round. I don’t know whether we agreed it then or later but we came to a very clear decision about what we would do about dividing the spoils; the house was equally owned so no problem there, I suggested that apart from a few personal things, Vera keep the contents of the house and I would have the Land-Rover and the workshop. As far as divorce was concerned we would wait two years and do it on the grounds of separation. In fact we waited longer than that because it simplified the grant allocation for my university course. The bottom line was that by November 1978 we had decided on a strategy for ending the marriage and there was no falling out. I thought at the time that this was about the best we could hope for under the circumstances.
A funny thing happened at this time. It must have been in early November when Ernie the cloth-looker rang me from the office and asked if I could come up and talk to somebody on the phone, he couldn’t understand what they wanted. I looked round the oil bottles on the engine and slipped up to the office. The caller was from Gisburn Primary School and she wanted to know if, when we trained weavers, we used a model loom as she wanted one for the school play. They were going to do ‘The Kings New Clothes’ and wanted a small loom for the swindlers to pretend to weave on. I told her that we didn’t have what she wanted, any training that had been done was on the full sized looms. She was really bothered about this as she said she had tried everywhere she could think of. I told her to stop worrying because I had an idea we had a loom at home and if we didn’t I’d make her one. I asked how I could get in touch with her and what was her name. “Mrs Thomas” she said. I realised that it was Maureen Thomas who used to teach the kids at Church School. I asked if she was still living in Park Avenue and she said yes. I got her telephone number and told her I’d ring her when I’d consulted with the kids but that she was to stop worrying, one way or another we would sort the problem out because if I couldn’t find one, I’d make a loom for her.
When I got home and we were having tea I raised the matter with the kids and Margaret told me I should know where the loom was because I’d been sleeping over it for years. It was under our bed, it was a Sears loom we had bought Margaret years ago but it had never even been opened. I asked Margaret what she wanted for it and she said nothing but I said it would be better if she sold it to Mrs Thomas and suggested £2-50. Margaret thought that would be OK so I rang Maureen. She said she had put the car away and I asked her what that had to do with it, I could carry it up there it wasn’t that big. So I had a wash and shave and set off for Maureen Thomas’s with the loom.
It’s always nice when you can, with little effort, solve what seems to be a major problem to somebody else. Maureen was delighted with the loom, gave me the £2.50 and offered me a cup of coffee. After a few minutes conversation I’d finished my coffee and was ready to leave, as I was getting up out of my chair she said “Well, you’ve been so successful with my problem with the loom, perhaps you can help me to solve another problem. I want a little man of my own about five feet nine inches tall!” I sat down again and did the mental equivalent of a double take.
I can’t speak for anyone else’s state of mind when they are in the throes of breaking up a long term relationship but I do know what mine was. My sole mental pre-occupation was trying to deal with the fact that my security base of the last 18 years was in the process of dissolving around me. There were massive problems looming like where I was going to live, how I was going to support two households, my imminent redundancy and how best to manage the immediate situation living in a family where I no longer had any sort of control. Displacement activity like another relationship hadn’t entered my head. As I said to David Moore at the time, 18 years of marriage doesn’t encourage the maintenance of the skills needed to initiate these things. Maureen’s question opened up a realisation that the rules of the game were totally different now, perhaps I ought to be ditching the old rule book and starting to play from the new!
I thought I knew that Maureen couldn’t know anything about the problems Vera and I were having but I asked her anyway. “Did you know that Vera and I are considering separation and divorce?” Of course, she didn’t and I could see that it was a surprise to her, she was genuinely shocked and realised that what she had intended to be a joke question had, unwittingly, opened a whole new vista of possibilities. “Let me tell you a story.” I said.
I told her about Miss Hogg and the pigtail and reminded her of the night when I took the two bales of straw down to Walden, the house she lived in then down Gisburn Road. I told her the effect she had on me when she came to the door with her hair down and she told me that she remembered it well, she had felt just the same. We had a long conversation, I told her exactly what was going on in my life and that there were no certainties, for all I knew there might be a sudden change in circumstances and everything might drop back into the groove. I had absolutely no idea of what was going on in Cyril’s life for example. What seemed a possibility now might fade away if Elsie, his wife, shoved her oar in.
Maureen told me about her circumstances and we ended up agreeing that it was an interesting situation that needed monitoring! She had told me that she did nothing but work and sleep, she never went anywhere so I suggested that if I was doing anything interesting I would give her a call and see if she wanted to come along for the ride. That way we would have a bit of fun, get to know each other better and if things did develop as worst case we’d have some basis for making further decisions. This suited her well because neither of us wanted any quick decisions or irrevocable actions, as she said, “You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube!” I went back to Hey Farm with lots to think about. A couple of days later she rang to ask if she could bring a party of her children to see the engine and of course I said yes, they came the following week. I have to say that I have never seen a more polite, attentive and well-behaved school group than the one she brought to the engine house. They were a delight and I remember as they went out of the door after the visit every one of them said “Thank you Mr Graham.”, only a small thing but very impressive.
The visitor count at the engine house rose steadily, partly because of the news of the closure which had made the local and national papers but also due to the fact that as I moved further into recording the mill more people became aware of its existence and came to see it. I was also agitating at government level for something to be done about Bancroft. My point was that sooner or later they would have to pick a weaving mill to preserve and the time to do it was while the mill was running and was a viable business. Peter White from the DOE came up to have a look and I asked him why the government didn’t step in and buy the place. If they did it would cost them £60,000 for the whole thing, lock stock and barrel. My scheme was that they should then divide the shed, half for weaving and the other half for Brown and Pickles. If they gave the weaving side an order for government tea towels they would get their towels better and cheaper, save the mill and the skills that kept it going. Brown and Pickles could carry on with their normal trade but could also become repairers and trainers for the whole of the steam heritage sector in the country. This would require some investment but I was sure the engineering unions would be partners in this and in the end it would turn a profit and preserve several important aspects of the heritage. It wasn’t even considered because the government couldn’t be seen to be engaging in industry. When I asked how this squared up with nationalisation and the Royal Ordnance factories I was told this was entirely different!
Twenty years later I have to tell you that I was right and they were wrong. The mill they had chosen as the favourite for preservation, Jubilee at Padiham was sold and demolished under their noses and the only one left, Queen Street at Burnley had to be chosen and supported and many things went wrong there. It still struggles on but in my opinion will always eat money. Bancroft was in the right place, it had plenty of space round it for development, it could have been a multi-interest site and a great opportunity for Bancroft and the town.
As for the mechanics of running the mill were concerned, by 1978 I had mastered it completely. This isn’t to say I had stopped learning but I could run the place with one hand behind my back and my eyes shut. John Plummer was my firebeater and he was a gem. John was always cheerful and interested in his job and I treated him as well as I could. We enjoyed ourselves and did a good job. Coal consumption in winter used to be over 25 tons a week. We had got it to below 20 tons on the same load and could have gone lower but nobody was interested any more.
Weaving a shed out is a painful task. The way it worked in the weaving shed was that as warps wove out in the individual looms they were not replaced. This meant that weavers work gradually diminished and it got to a point where it was economical to stop that set of looms, finish the weaver, cut the remaining warps out and transfer them to another set of looms. Every day looms finished and the load went down. If the engine house hadn’t been so well tuned up this could have caused a problem but I had it running so well that it would govern safely on no load and steam at top pressure so there was no sweat as far as I was concerned. What was soul-destroying was the constant fact that as you were doing a long term maintenance job like oiling the main shaft, you would suddenly realise that this was the last time you would do this. When the notice went up as regards closure I rang Charlie Sutton and told him we would never flue again, he was the first casualty. This attrition went on and on and was the worst part of the process. I found it very depressing and so, I think, did everybody else. What made it worse was that it was the end of steam weaving in Barnoldswick. What a sad thought.
The pensioners up the line shaft side were the first to go. I remember, one Friday night, I did my usual trip into the shed after shutting the steam to the engine off to listen for any hot bearings as the shafting slowed and stopped. They would squeal as they slowed down and you could identify where they were. One of the older weavers, I forget her name, was standing in the alley with her shopping bag in her hand, listening to the shafting and watching it stop. I asked her if she was all right and she said that she was. She said she’d worked in the mills since she was 13 years old and in all that time had never seen the shafting stop, she was always out of the shed as soon as it was going home time! She wanted to know if it always made that banging noise when it was finally stopping. This was the bevel gears rattling as they slowed and stopped. I told her it was quite normal and she smiled and walked out of the shed. Just think about that, she had never wasted a second in the shed all those years. That was the sort of attitude that made them such wonderful workers. All this counted for nothing when the chips were down, they were surplus to requirements and on the scrap heap, What a bloody waste!
It was Wednesday of the last week when we were running and I rang Newton Pickles up and suggested he come up after lunch. We only had about ten looms weaving and I had an idea that when we stopped that day we would never start again. Newton came and I had another visitor that day, Professor Owen Ashmore, a noted industrial archaeologist was there, he had called in to see the engine. I told him he had picked a good day and if he hung on until after lunch I suspected he might see the mill stop for the last time. By about two thirty in the afternoon the rot had set in, the three weavers that were still working decided they had had enough and stopped. Owen got quite excited and wanted to take a picture of me stopping the engine. I told him I wasn’t going to do it, Newton had more claim than me. He protested but in the end I told him that he had to do it so Newton Pickles stopped the last steam engine on its final working day. I did a picture of him as he watched it stop, somehow it seemed more fitting to record the history than be the engineer.
It wasn’t the last time the engine ran, Newton and I ran it the following day and flooded it with oil to give it a good internal coating. Then we dosed all the pumps with anti freeze and drained all the tanks. Finally we blew the boiler down and opened the lids to let air circulate through it. John and I had some other jobs to attend to like shutting off the sprinklers and draining the system down. We opened the clough in the dam so that there was no danger to the kids who would inevitably start to use it as a playground. Finally, we locked up and walked away.
It was the end of a fascinating five years. I had learned more about the cotton industry and the technology of weaving in that time than I could ever have imagined. Years later, I am the only person left who worked in the industry, did the research, took the pictures and did the higher education to understand it all properly. When I have finished the story of my life for my children and grandchildren I shall set about the task of leaving an accurate record of all the things I learned by experience and from people like Newton and Jim. As far as I know it will be the only time that this has been described properly and it should be a valuable resource for historians in the future who want to know more. But, as far as this story goes, it is just coming up to Christmas 1978 and there is much change on the horizon!
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