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Memories (the poem) by Florence Scott

Memories of old Withnell Fold
y Florence Scott
Originally published in 1988 and long since out of print

reproduced with permission from Flo's daughter

On the 15th Jan 1844, Withnell Fold was 'born', that being the date on which the Paper Mill produced its first roll of paper on its one and only machine.

In 1839 Robert Parke, a prominent Methodist living in the Longton area, bought an extensive part of the Withnell estate and built a cotton mill at the bottom of Bury Lane, Withnell. In the following year his younger brother John, acquired the remainder of the manor of Withnell and built a cotton mill at Abbey Village.

The village of Withnell Fold was actually started in 1843 when Robert Parke's son, Thomas Blinkhorn Parke, built his paper mill by the canal. A row of tiny cottages were built to house the few experienced paper workers, who came mostly from Darwen, but as business increased rapidly a further two paper making machines at the mill and a further three rows of cottages were added - thus emerging into quite a considerable village community.

Life was not easy for the workers in those days - the normal working day commencing at 6 a.m. until 8 p.m., and on Saturday 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. - making an 82 hour working week! - and as families were large and wages small, the children began their working lives at the age of 8. Often the children had to sleep on bedroom floors, and stand at the table at mealtimes, and "tea was only brewed on Sunday" as a special treat.

The houses that Mr. Parke erected however were far better than most industrial dwellings of the time, and Withnell Fold soon became known as a "Model Garden Village". To live in this model village one had to be a Methodist, and at least one member of each family had to work at the mill.

Being so keen on Methodism, in 1852 Mr. Parke built a small Chapel on his own land, and there the village folk were expected to worship each Sunday. The Chapel was so built that as Mr. Parke sat in his pew at the back, and was always there early, he could see and record all who entered, and woe betide those who did not enter, except because of ill health.

During the week part of the Chapel was screened off and used as a day school, not only for children of Withnell Fold, but also for children from Ollerton, Brindle and Higher Wheelton.

Eventually however, these premises became too small to house all the children, so Mr. Parke built a new Methodist Day School in the village in 1897 which officially came into use on May 2nd 1898 and is still in use today.  

The Mill

The building of the Mill was started in 1843 and was opened and began production on 15th January 1844, with one machine. Three years later a second machine was added and business was so successful that a third machine was added in 1855.

These machines were known as "74", "66" and "60" these being the widths of the paper produced. The quality and variety of the paper soon began to improve and in 1849 tissue paper was made, followed in 1856 with coloured tissue.

Writing papers were first introduced in 1863 and had the reputation of being of the finest quality. Cartridge came later in 1878. The mill also supplied newsprint for Preston, Bolton and Liverpool papers.

The firm continued as a family concern until 1890 when it combined with Wiggins Teape & Co., which was an old established firm of stationers whose earliest legal document was dated 1799 - a few months after Nelson's victory on the Nile!

Although this merger did not take place until 1890, the mill had been supplying paper to Wiggins and Teape from 1847 and in an old diary kept by Mr. T.B. Parke there's an entry for February of that year which reads "Am now making double cap ordered by Wiggins & Teape".

Orders were numerous, but the first evidence of the well known W.T. & Co., "Vandyke" border was in 1865. This proved to be the most popular writing paper and was still being produced whilst I was working as a typist in the Despatch Office, 1926 - 1944. Hercules and 3009 Extra Strong came after the 3009 Vandyke and these also were among the best writing papers in the country.

After the merger with Wiggins Teape, who of course owned other mills in various parts of the country, the Parke family were still in charge of the Withnell Fold Mill as directors. Mr. Herbert Thomas Parke took over after the death of his father Mr. Thomas Blinkhorn, and after his death in 1917 his brother Mr. A.E. Parke reigned for a short time until after the first World War when Mr. T.L. Parke, son of Mr. H.T. was appointed resident Director, in which capacity he remained until 1953 when he sold Withnell Fold Hall and moved to Broadway. (The Hall is now a County Old People's Home and I think the residents are very fortunate to be living in such beautiful surroundings!)

Mill managers were appointed by W. T & Co., from 1918, the first one arriving from Cathcart Mill, Glasgow in May of that year. He was Mr. Geo. E. Jordan, a jovial Scotsman with a lovely 'plump' wife and 3 sons and one daughter. They lived in what is known as the Old House, next to the village farm and has housed all the managers since that time. Mr. Jordan and his family mixed well with the villagers, joining in the sporting and other activities until June 1922 when he was transferred to Stoneywood Mill, Aberdeen, another part of the W.T.& Co..concern and named "Alex Pirie & Sons Ltd.," and a much larger mill than Withnell Fold. On his departure he was presented with a cabinet, the presentation ceremony being performed by the then Chief Engineer, Mr. Robert Speak, who himself had had 40 years with the firm.

Mr. Jordan was succeeded by Mr. S.N. Cozens-Hardy who came from the mill at Hele in Devon and remained for almost 12 years before leaving for Stoney-wood on Mr. Jordan's retirement. Mr. Cozens-Hardy was the receipient of a beautiful silver tea set, the presentation being made by Mr. Isaac Hoyle, the Head Foreman.  Mr. Hutchinson from the Greaseproof Paper Mill at Dartford, Kent followed and remained until ill health forced him to retire in July 1939.

Just to deviate a little from Mill Managers. I would like to mention here the Inter-Mill Sports which took place at Laverstoke in 1938. We had been notified of this event so of course all would-be athletes checked in for training on the village cricket ground which was a hive of activity for the next few weeks, when finally the team to represent Withnell Fold Mill was chosen. How thrilled I was when my name was called to run in several races, the highlight being the girls relay race which we proudly won.

It might be appropriate to note here - in these days of "equality of the sexes and equal opportunities" that when any female working at the mill got married she had to leave as the Parke's were great believers in the old adage "a woman's place is in the home".

During the 2nd World War Mr. T.L. Parke took control of the mill until he was joined by Mr. T.C. Davidson who came as Manager until May 1947 when he was appointed Manager of Dover Mill, Kent. Mr. Davidson had never lived in Lancashire before and found the dialect very amusing but rather bewildering, and he used to come into the Despatch Office quite often and want to know what "Old So & So" meant when he said "such-&-such-a-thing".

Following Mr. Davidson, came Mr. G.K. Whitehead who still occupies the Old House altho' the mill has been closed for some time. Mr. Whitehead, however, still worked for W.T & Co., in the capacity of Rag Buyer for the Company for some time.

When the mill was in full production the following papers were produced - 3009 Extra Strong, W.T. & Co. (Vandyke Border), Heralds Loan, Goatskin Parchment, Aeromail & Aeromail Special, Conqueror, Air Conqueror & Imperial Air Mail, some of these such as Heralds Loan being produced in various colours.

Owing to the outbreak of World War II the Mill Centenary could not be celebrated in 1944, and so was deferred until 1953, when all the employees and their families, as well as pensioners, were joined by some of the London Directors for a day's outing to Blackpool, and in ideal weather it was voted and recorded as a "gradely do".

Sadly the mill had to close it's gates in 1967 as by this time the machines had become old fashioned and were not producing at the speed of modern machinery and it was considered uneconomical to bring it up to date.

Some of the employees took up positions at other mills in the Company, the remainder being made redundant.

A few entries from Mr. T.B. Parke's diaries

1877 Friday, 23rd February.
Mr. & Mrs. Tatton, Rebecca Leach, Andrew Cooper, Richard Wilson (my uncle) and Miles Eccles all came to tea.

(Such was the relationship between the Parke family and the village folk who were invited to the Hall a few at a time for tea!)

1877 Friday, 25th May.
I discharged Oliver, i.e. Henry Wignall on account of his having been on the spree all week.

1877 Thursday, 5th June.
I engaged Robert Nelson as gamekeeper aged 37 years to begin today at 21/- per week and a cottage free. Wife and two girls aged 9 and 5.
(This appears to be quite a good wage in those days).

1890 29th May.
Withnell Fold Paper Mill was turned into a Limited Company.

The Village

As stated earlier, the building of the village was started in 1843, the mill to house one paper-making machine and other related buildings and one row of tiny cottages to house the few work people.

Later as business increased, a further mill housing two machines was built and a further 3 rows of cottages. These rows were called Eanam Row, Middle Row, Bottom Row, and Shop Row, there being a Co-op Shop at the end of the latter. Between the Middle Row and Bottom Row, was a square known as the Playground where, of course all the children played, but now this seems to be used more as a car park!

Each cottage had it's own front garden and it's own back yard housing a wash-house, coalhouse and outside toilet. All occupiers of course, were expected to look after their gardens well and keep their backyards and outhouses clean, and the women used to vie with one another as to whose garden was the most colourful and whose backyard was the cleanest, so it soon became known as "Model Village" (In 1961 it was awarded the certificate for "Best Kept Village" in the small village class)

There were also allotments for any of the villagers who wished to grow their own vegetables etc., and hen pens for anyone wishing to produce their own eggs and fresh chickens. Two fields were equipped with drying posts where the women having extra big 'washes' could dry their clothes when there wasn't enough room in their own backyard.

As there were no "water closets" in the early days the toilets were comprised of just a tin container with a 'board' over the top, and these were emptied once a week when the "muck drag" came round. Not a soul was to be seen around the village on these dreadful days! As you can imagine, the sight and smell of this contraption was something to be avoided. One wonders how on earth the men in their revolting leather aprons could possibly do such work!! I remember as a tiny child literally flying into the house the moment I heard the clop-clop of the horse pulling the "muck drag" down the cobbled road.

Still on the subject of outside toilets, my very earliest recollection was of my mother putting me in the high chair facing the window which overlooked the backyard, then disappearing down the yard, leaving me screaming my head off because I thought she'd gone and left me. Soon I was to learn that when mother "went down the yard" she was only going to the toilet.

Later the day dawned when the old tin containers were replaced by "WC's" and Oh! what a treat it was to just pull a chain and everything disappeared from sight - and smell!

Two rows of cottages, namely Bottom Row and Middle Row, were smaller than the rest, being just 2 up and 2 down, but Eanam Row and Shop Row were rather larger and boasted a 'parlour' and 3 bedrooms.

I was born at No. 29, Eanam Row so we had a 'parlour', but we were only allowed in there on Sundays or special occasions when we had visitors.

The end house of each row was bigger than the rest and in these houses the foremen of the mill lived. They even boasted a bathroom, and a breakfast room or maids sitting room.

At the other end of the Middle Row there was a communal Bath House, where the grown-ups took turns to have a bath, but the children used to be bathed in a tin bath in front of the kitchen fire. This is what happened at our house when my brother and I were tiny, but as we grew a little older we were taken every Friday night to No. 1 Bottom Row, the home of Mr. Tatton, to have a bath and shampoo, and that house even had two staircases - the back one being the maids staircase! This ritual went on until I was 7 when we moved from No. 29 to No. 9 Middle Row where we had our own bathroom - sheer luxury in those days!

Indoor recreation for the workers and villagers was housed in the "Reading Room" built in 1890. There was a billiard room in which was a very fine billiard table and all the necessary equipment plus polished brass spitoons containing sawdust and used a lot by the tobacco-chewing (Twist) men of the community. There was also a Reading Room on the ground floor in which were placed all the daily papers and periodicals such as The Tatler, Punch, Tit Bits etc. A meeting room and a kitchen were also on the ground floor. Upstairs was a large concert hall with a platform and a "sprung" dance floor and an Ante-Room.

It was in these upstairs rooms of course where all the social activities of the village took place, and these were quite frequent, as in those days there was no T.V. no buses and of course no Public House - this being a Methodist Community! Because of this fact the village was nick-named "Little Heaven".

People used to come from the surrounding villages whenever there was a concert or a dance and a "Good time was had by all".

The highlight of the year at the Reading Room was the Annual Sunday School Tea Party and Concert. The tea was actually held in the mill dining room which was just across from the Reading Room. The activity started in the dining room in the morning when the ladies who were 'having tables' went along to get their tables ready and laid with their best china and cutlery and their silver teapots etc., whilst others buttered bread, and put the ham and tongue on plates and of course the cakes they'd baked were displayed on the Victorian cake stands with crocheted doyleys, and the fruit and cream in their cut glass bowls and jugs. The ladies were all very proud of their tables and the teas were always voted "The Best". Before the meal began everyone was welcomed by the Sunday School Superintendent then followed the singing of Grace "Be present at our table Lord". After the meal a vote of thanks was proposed to the ladies for the excellent tea they had provided, then everybody - except the washers-up - trooped across to the Reading Room for the concert.

This was provided mainly by the Sunday School scholars with one or two other Guest Artistes such as Arnold West, one of the most popular entertainers from Chorley at that time. Another popular item very often was Fred Fairhurst who lived in the village and could play two tin whistles at once! He also played the bones and the spoons.

The Chapel Choir provided two 'spots' these consisting of part songs such as "The Moon Hath Raised Her Lamp Above", "All on an April Evening" etc.

Other popular concerts held in the Reading Room quite often were given by Madame Annie Chadwick - a soprano singer of repute from Blackburn - and her pupils of whom I was one. Our solo pianist and accompanist for these concerts was none other than Kathleen Ferrier who at that time was making quite a name for herself as a pianist and did broadcast from Manchester on several occasions. Also at the age of 16 she won an upright piano which was the second prize in a national competition. Kathleen eventually married my brother Bert and it was after they moved to Silloth that she took up the challenge following a shilling bet from Bert and entered the contralto class at Carlisle festival winning the Rose Bowl for the best performance of the Festival, and from then on her piano took second place in her astonishing musical career. What a sad day it was when on 8th October 1953 Kathleen died of cancer at the age of 41 after only 10 years as such a world renewed contralto singer.

The dances in the Reading Room were very popular, especially if music was being provided by Alban Yates's Band from Wheelton, as they had a very good following, so it was always Full House on these occasions.

Most of the villagers attended the Chapel, which had a pipe organ - the wind for this having to be pumped in by hand, the boys taking turns to carry out this operation, but later it was electrified. The choir stalls were in front of the organ and the pulpit to one side, the latter being on wheels so that if necessary it could be moved about. There was also a gallery where most of the older children sat during the service. If however there was any noise from up there, they were hauled down and made to sit with the adults.

There was morning Sunday School at 9.30, service at 11 o'clock, afternoon Sunday School at 2 p.m. and evening service at 6 p.m. - not much time left for any other activities on Sunday! The children of the village were not allowed to play ball or anything else on Sunday so the village was very quiet. As Withnell Fold was out in the country and very few people had cars, the preachers often had to walk from Chorley or wherever they lived, so had to be entertained for Sunday dinner and tea by the people of the village, which made Sunday quite a hectic day for the hostess. Our joint along with roast potatoes and a rice pudding was always left in the oven to cook and oh what a lovely smell when we returned from Church. Mother used to say "The Lord's a better cook than I am".

There were quite a few 'characters' amongst the preachers who came and one name that particularly springs to mind is Old John Cowling. There was always a better congregation when Old John was preaching because he was one of the very few who dare - in those days - add a bit of humour to the service. He was so predictable and very often would announce a hymn and say "The third verse will be sung by so-and-so" without any warning so we never quite knew what to expect. Another one used to spit when he was preaching - not deliberately of course, he just couldn't help it, so people used to avoid sitting near the pulpit. Quite a number of them were far too long-winded making the congregation very uneasy sitting on the hard wooden pews. These pews have now been taken out and replaced by chairs as the Chapel has to be used for social functions since the Reading Room is no longer in use.

It was quite an active little Church as every family in the village, as well as many living in the surrounding countryside, were closely involved in some way or other.

Mrs. H.T. Parke herself was for a long time the teacher of "The Young Ladies Class", and I remember my Auntie, who was not a very good reader, telling me that if she had to read a passage from the Bible containing a number of place names which she couldn't pronounce, Mrs. Parke would say "Call them all Manchester, Harriet".

The climax of the whole Church year was the Sunday School Anniversary, which in those days drew people from all over the Chorley Circuit. This of course was the case in all the Churches in the Circuit. Most people used to "do the rounds" of the Sunday School Anniversaries which were always filled to capacity with chairs down the aisles and in any other available space. Our house was always full of people for dinner and tea on these occasions.

Another event which took place once a year and one which we all looked forward to with great anticipation was the visit of the children from the National Children's Home at Edgeworth. They came for the weekend and were housed by families in the village, and on the Saturday night they gave a concert in the Reading Room. Oh! how I envied those children - the way they performed, especially the girls with their skipping ropes. As a small child I thought they were absolutely fantastic! So of course the next few weeks we all practised trying to do what they had done. On the Sunday morning they all came to Church and after dinner were taken back to Edgeworth. It was such a treat in those days to have something like that going on in the village. The children of today would think it very tame, I suppose, after all the sophisticated performances they see on T.V. etc., but to us it was just wonderful!

The Sunday School Field Day was another popular event. This was always held in one of the farm fields, so you had to be careful where you put your feet, as the cows would have occupied the field in the morning. We had races of all descriptions and the Mill Band would entertain. Everybody had to take their own mug and coffee and buns were provided.

The Sunday School Annual trip was also quite an event. We would all climb onto the Mill's horse drawn lorry and be taken somewhere like Fenniscowles Hall, Darwen Tower or Hoghton Bottoms and I remember one of these trips to the latter when the shaft of the lorry broke on the return journey, just when we got to the bottom of the drive leading up to Hoghton Tower. What a tragedy that was. We all had to get off and walk home, but I remember being carried most of the way down Marsh Lane and through Brindle fields on my Dad's shoulders.

The original Day School was held in part of the Chapel and as far back as 1877 children from the surrounding villages attended. But soon it became obvious that larger premises were needed to house all the children, so in 1897 Mr. Parke had a new school built, which was officially opened in May 1898. (Not only is evidence of Mr. Parke's generosity to be seen in Withnell Fold itself, but also in Chorley - the building of the Old Library, in Avondale Road, in Brinscall - the Baths and in various other parts of the Chorley and Withnell districts). The Day School was very much connected with the Chapel, it being a Methodist School, and the Head Mistress was also a Sunday School teacher. I cried to go to school when I was 2 years old and was allowed to join the infant class whose teacher was Miss Greenhalgh - a little old lady as I thought then. She gave the children an extremely good grounding in the three R's before they.moved up into the "Big" room, under Miss Jenkins - a very strict teacher but at the same time a very human and wise personality, and very much loved and respected by both pupils and parents alike.

She didn't think twice about giving children the cane if they really deserved it, and would sometimes put 2 rulers - flat sides together - and give a good swipe across one's hand until one day she split Molly Moss's hand, so that was the end of that type of punishment. In spite of her strictness, Miss Jenkins was an excellent teacher and philosopher, and one only realised later in life what an abundance of wisdom and Christian understanding she passed on to all the scholars under her guidance.

"Special" days were celebrated at school such as Royal Oak Day when everybody was expected to wear a sprig of Oak. Empire Day when a Union Jack was fixed onto the side of the piano and we all had to march past and salute the flag whilst Miss Jenkins played a suitable march on the piano, then she would talk to us about our great Empire. Then, of course there was Armistice Day when everything stopped when the mill whistle blew at 11 o'clock and we stood for 2 minutes silence, after which prayers were said.

Everybody's Birthday was announced and "Happy Birthday" sung at the beginning of the day, but in the "little room" Miss Greenhalgh used to take cakes etc., when it was somebody's Birthday and a little party was held which was one way of teaching the infants how to lay a table and wash up etc., afterwards. When the boys reached the age of 10, unless they intended to take the scholarship examination, they were "part-timers" at the mill, attending school in the morning and working in the mill in the afternoon or vice-versa.

Every so often the school attendance officer came. This was when all the children got the giggles as he was quite an eccentric man with a "blue" nose and always wore knee breeches and turnover top stockings, his mode of transport being the bicycle! His name was Mr. Dewhurst and his initials were L.S.D. so he was knick-named "pounds shillings and pence". He was however a very good artist, as demonstrated by some pictures which he painted specially for my brother Albert and me. He also bred pure Fox Terriers, one of which we had for many years.

In the winter there was always a coal fire burning in the "big room" and on very wet or snowy days Miss Jenkins had dry stockings etc., ready for the children who had to walk any distance, so that they could change and their wet things were put over the fire guard to dry.

One cause for celebration at the school was when for the first time pupils were entered for the County Scholarship, three out of four passing the examination, and later one of them, Mildred Burton, returning to the school as a student teacher.

Miss Jenkins' career as a teacher came to an end after 37 years at the school, but she still remained in the area, which she so obviously loved, until her death in 1940.

Who would have thought in those far off days that this tiny village school would one day be featured on Granada T.V. in the series "The Travelling Man", and later on BBC 1 when at the school Harvest Festival the children sang a hymn tune which had been written in 1936 by Kathleen Ferrier. The Choir master, Mr. Howard Roberts had written the words of a Vesper and couldn't find a tune in the hymn book to fit the words, so he asked Kathleen if she would compose a tune which she did and called it "Withnell Fold". This has now been adopted as the Village school hymn.

The original cricket field was provided by Mr. T.B. Parke after seeing the boys of the village - my father being one of them - trying to play cricket on the village playground which was in those days a very hard surface covered in cinders - not a very suitable surface for cricket! So he provided a field for them. Subsequently Mr. H.T. Parke provided a new ground which was opened on 2nd June 1904 by a match between Withnell Fold and the Gentlemen of the District. Mr. Parke engaged Mr. G. Sutton, an ex-Yorkshire professional, as groundsman and coach. The team joined the Chorley and District Amateur Cricket League in 1904 and won the League Championship in 1924,1933,1939 and 1940.

The ground became known as one of the finest grounds in the district and one of the prettiest.

The village people were very proud of their cricket team and many of them went along with the team when playing away from home, transport being provided by the mill lorry, originally horse-drawn but later motorised, and being driven by Jack Livesey. It was a good thing that in those days there was very little traffic on the roads and no "drink-driving" offences as Old Jack used to spend most of his waiting time in the nearest pub and was therefore in a very happy state on the return journey no matter whether the team had won or lost.

In 1932 a benefit match was played for Jim Hall, a prominent member of the team for many years but because of ill health he unfortunately had to retire. This match drew people from miles around, as the Guest player was none other than the great Leary Constantine.

The Cricket Field was of course used to stage other events, the first of which I can remember was the Peace Celebrations after the first World War. I was seven at the time and the school children were trained by Miss Jenkins to play "human" dominoes, each child wearing a card representing a domino. I can't remember much else about the event except that it attracted crowds of people from miles around, and I seem to remember a small Fair Ground being erected. Another very popular event was the Annual Mill Sports day with competitors coming from far and wide creating much rivalry amongst them. It was a great day of sportsmanship and fun - some of the races such as "Tilt the Bucket" being very amusing to watch.

The field for this event was marked out like a mini Sports Stadium and had to comply strictly to A.A.A. rules - a feat of organisation unrivalled anywhere in the area at that time.

After the Cricket Field was laid a Crown Bowling Green was added and two very fine grass tennis courts which in 1948 were converted to En-tout-cas courts. Originally the Bowling Green was laid by members themselves under the direction of Levi Hodgkinson who threw the first wood in the opening game, but the formal opening took place on Good Friday April 13th 1912, the ceremony being performed by Mr. William Blackledge one of the oldest inhabitants of the village. Since then the green has been enlarged twice and is now regulation size. Matches were played by the Mill team in the Darwen & District Papermakers Bowling League which they won three times, in 1950,1952 and 1955. The Scapa Challenge Cup was presented at a league meeting in October 1955 when each member of the team received a travelling alarm clock.

In the early days of the tennis courts the ladies of the village used to get through their housework quickly so that they could spend the afternoons playing tennis and it was very amusing to see them trying to play in their long white dresses and hear them shout "Service" at the top of their voices - then serve underhand! If you could serve overhand you were considered very good! Eventually however the game progressed and teams were chosen to play friendly matches against other clubs in the area.

The Mill Band

The mill at one time boasted a Silver "Prize" Band equipped with a full set of silver instruments and a handsome uniform. They were open for engagements and were very much sought after for events such as Walking Days, Garden Parties etc. The Band Master was Mr. Joseph Hargreaves who held that position for a great number of years. Other prominent members were Albert and William Nightingale. Robert and Joseph Marsden - both machine men at the mill in those days but later to become managers of other mills in the group - Jack Jones, Joseph Miller, Fred Fairhurst, Ralph Eccles, Eddie Ambrose, Harry Jones - just to mention a few. They had a room on the mill premises for practices which were held each week, but on summer evenings they rehearsed outside, often marching up and down the road preparing for walking days etc. Mr. Hargreaves was an excellent Band Master and at the same time a very 'droll' Lancashire man. If the band were not performing as well as he thought they ought he would say "Na cum on lads, put a bit o' leet & shade in it, it's like a white washed wa'".

The Band, like the Cricket team was also transported by the mill lorry whenever playing in any of the surround­ing towns, there being no other form of transport capable of carrying both men and instruments, plus some of the villagers who went along to support them, as we were all mighty proud of our Band!

Two World Wars

The two World Wars took their toll of the men from the mill. In the first War 83 employees joined the services of whom 14 were killed. Decorations were:- a posthumous V.C. to Private James Miller - a memorial of which still stands in St. Paul's Church yard, Withnell. An M.C. was awarded to Cpt. Alan Parke who was killed in action, and a member of the office staff, Harry Hacking was mentioned in despatches whilst serving in Russia 1918-1919.

In the second War 63 men and one girl served in H.M. Forces of whom five made the supreme sacrifice, including William Porter who died in a prison camp in Japan, and Alan Desoer from Despatch Office whilst serving with the Royal Navy. Three Military Medals were won by David Carlisle, Harry Towers and Wm. Gordon Cocker, and one employee William Hoyle was also mentioned in despatches.

During the second World War the Reading Room was used for various activities such as classes for First Aid, leather work, sewing etc., and talks on How to keep healthy, and How to make nourishing meals from "nothing" etc. There was also one evening each week devoted to making Camouflage nets, the leader of our team being Miss Kathleen Gray, the headmistress at the school during this period. She had a wonderful sense of humour and great fun was had by all at these sessions, which culminated in having supper at her home afterwards. She didn't admit to being a great cook, so some of the concoctions were absolutely out of this world, and we always had to have a piece of her "fawn" cake. Of course white flour was unobtainable so everything baked was "fawn". It was at Miss Gray's one night that we decided to form a Concert Party - the name chosen for this being "The Knutty Netters".

Rehearsals were started and eventually a show was put on at the Reading Room and news of this "excellent show" spread around the district and we were invited to Brinscall, Abbey Village and various other parts of the District and so made quite a name for ourselves! We had, of course, to make our own costumes for the show and as material was not easy to come by, we all trooped up to the Golden Lion at Higher Wheelton where the Landlady had a stock of Black Market materials and foam, there we were able to get more or less what we needed.

Having to make our own entertainment during the war brought out various talents in many people, which would otherwise have remained dormant, and the enjoy­ment we got from all this certainly helped to cheer us, as well as the audiences during those otherwise dull and dangerous years.

The little village was also 'invaded' by evacuees during this period - some very nice but some not quite so nice and I, like many others who had to share their bed with one of the not so very nice ones was the recipient of "nits", something which was very common in those days and something which was not easy to get rid of!

Some of the Characters I remember.

The first character which springs to my mind was that of Old Bill Blackledge. He used to spend his time sitting on a chair outside the backyard at No. 33 smoking Twist tobacco in a dirty old pipe and coughing his head off, and as a small child I was absolutely terrified of going up the 'backs' when Old Bill was sitting there, in spite of being told that he wouldn't do me any harm.

Then there were the three old men who used to sit on a seat by the canal bridge - also smoking their Twist and wearing funny coloured round caps which they called their "smoking" caps. They always seemed to be sitting there whenever we children went down to play in Brindle Wood.

There was Tom - a big strapping lad who refused to get out of bed in the morning until he could smell his bacon and egg cooking. I remember him chasing me round the school yard one day, waving a knife and shouting "I'll till you, you little budder, I'll till you". Happily I was rescued by some of the other boys before he could reach me. He was very fond of the Mill Band and was there at all their practices and when they were marching up and down the road he went ahead of them waving his arms about as tho' he were playing the big drum and shouting "Bumbarado, Bumbarado". I suppose he was harmless enough, but he certainly terrified me as a small child.

Then there were Benny and Janey, unmarried brother and sister living together in one of the cottages. They were rather naive so of course the children of the village used to play all kinds of "pranks" on them, one being a flip flop thrown into their back kitchen on Bonfire Night. There was no chance of anything catching fire from this unruly act, as in those days no carpets adorned the flag floors of the back kitchens in most of the cottages. Of course "Pranks" such as this did not go unnoticed by parents, so whoever was the culprit was severely dealt with afterwards!

Another character - but before my time - was Jimmy who as a boy used to climb up onto the flat roof of the outbuildings with a toy gun when the moon was full and try to shoot it down, and on one occasion he was seen by Mr. Parke shooting up to the sky. "Now Jimmy" said Mr. Parke "what are you doing up there with that gun?" Jimmy's reply was "They say 't'moon's med o' green cheese and mi mam wants some Mesther Parke".

That was Mr. T.B. Parke who himself was quite a character I believe, and knew all his workpeople by name. He was down at the mill early every morning in time to watch the workpeople come through the gate and on one particular morning when "Jimmy" was late Mr. Parke pulled out his pocket watch and said "Can you see my watch Jimmy?" "Aye by gum it's a grand 'un isn't it Mesther Parke" said Jimmy.

The 'gossip spot' for the village was a seat in the backfield and here the old men used to congregate in the mornings chatting and smoking, then in the afternoons it was the turn of the women to air their views and put the village to rights. In the evenings the children gathered there and played games or plotted their next "pranks" to play on certain people.

The meeting place for the older - teenage children was under the lamp at the bottom of the backs and there all the subjects to do with "growing up" were discussed. Teenagers in those days weren't nearly as sophisticated as they are now and of course there was no T.V. from which to learn, and as most parents were reluctant to speak to their children about "life" there was much guess work went on under the lamp!!

Another favourite gossip spot also was, of course, the little shop, and what Reggie Horrocks, George Woods and Harry Miller - the shop-keepers at various times - didn't know about all the families in the village and round about wasn't worth knowing!

Two names which stand out clearly in my mind are those of Georgie Bird and Harry Paminter, neither of whom lived in the village, but came regularly to sell their wares.

Georgie was a baker from Abbey Village and he used to come with his orders on Saturday nights in his pony and trap-cum-van, wearing a black bowler hat. We never knew what time he would be delivering and many times we had to wait up until the early hours of Sunday morning, but the bread when it eventually came was certainly fresh and smelled delicious.

You can imagine that after working so late, Georgie would fall asleep on the way home, but on one occasion he woke up to find himself in Fenniscowles, but being a very gentle man he turned the horse round and said "Oh dear Daisy you have let me down tonight - now be a good girl and take me home". Harry Paminter lived in Higher Wheelton and made delicious oatcakes, crumpets and muffins. His mode of delivery was a large oblong basket carried on his head, and on the days he had been what a lovely supper we had, toasted (in front of the fire) crumpets with butter dripping through the holes or toasted muffins with syrup. Oat­cakes were put into the fire oven to crisp up and eaten with butter and cheese.


What a wonderful thing the memory is and altho' I now have to stop and try to remember what I did only yesterday, things of my childhood come flooding in without any effort, such as being allowed to take my cousin Harry's tea down to him in the mill for the first time. It was a home-made meat and potato pie in a basin covered with a saucer and then put into a red spotted handkerchief and tied up in knots, and a 'billy-can' full of tea. I felt so proud to be entrusted with this meal! Harry worked on the sizing machine, but I remember being taken to the Making Machine and being absolutely fascinated by watching the white milky-looking substance shaking at one end and coming out on to a huge roller at the other end as paper, and most fascinating of all, it had a "watermark". To me that was a miracle! From this machine it was transferred to the 'Sizer' which strengthened it then on to the 'dryer' which was a huge machine stretching for 'miles' and consisting of what seemed to be hundreds of open rollers and the heat around this machine was terrific.

Once it was dry it went to the cutting machine and then to the Guillotine to be trimmed to the desired size. From there it was taken upstairs to the "Salle" where the girls sorted it - taking out all the damaged or dirty sheets, even the tiniest spots were noticed and the speed at which they were trained to do this work amazed me. Of course, they were on piece work so the more they got through the more they earned. The "finishers" were also on piece work and they were the girls or women who counted the sheets into reams of 500. This was done by "fanning" the paper with one hand and counting the sheets by running the thumb and fingers of the other hand along the edge of the fan at an astonishing speed. The reams then went to the packers who wrapped and labelled them and put them into store.

Of course, there were other parts of the mill which were not quite so fascinating or glamorous as the making and finishing departments such as the Rag Room. The paper was made from rags or wood pulp, the rags coming in huge bundles in a rather dirty condition and the Rag Room was where they were sorted. What a job!! The dust, dirt and fleas were everywhere. It was a place to be avoided and I always felt sorry for all who had to work there, but it was, never-the-less an important part of the process of paper-making, but I think the least paid of all the departments.

I haven't yet mentioned the clogs and shawls - the traditional dress for mill workers in the North, paper workers being no exception. The clatter of the clogs on the cobbled road leading to the mill was tremendous early in the morning and again after the whistle blew at 5.30pm. Not only did the work people wear clogs, some of the children also came to school in clogs and how I envied them being able to clatter along and slide in the school yard, so when my parents got so tired of hearing me crying for some I eventually got a pair - the only pair I ever had, 'cos I found them most uncomfortable. They were, however, ideal for the children having to walk some distance to school, being so tough and hard-wearing, and easily and cheaply repaired with new 'irons'. They were also very warm in winter, so I was told!

Another thing I well remember was the canal barge laden high with coal for the mill, and being allowed to stroke the horse and being taken on to the barge by the wife of the bargee and shown the 'galley' and sometimes sailing with them as far as the Gas Works.

The Garden Parties held in the grounds of the Hall were Red letter days for the village and were always well attended and very well organised - there being stalls of all descriptions, afternoon teas on the lawn, tennis knock-out competitions, knobbly knees for the men and dainty ankles for the ladies, also Bonny Baby shows - something for everyone and never a dull moment, the Parke family all entering into the spirit of the event. One attraction in those days was Mr. Parke's tropical greenhouse of which Mr. Samways, the head gardener was very proud.

"Magic Lantern" shows at the Reading Room in aid of Foreign Missions were another great attraction. These were usually shown by ministers who had worked in the Foreign Field and it was so exciting and enlightening to be able to see and hear how people lived at the other side of the world - so very far away in those days.

Holidays abroad and T.V. were things unheard of but I well remember the first wireless set in the village. This was bought by Jesse Searby who worked in the office and lived with his parents at No. 12. What a treat it was when invited in to listen to the wireless and how we wondered at the magic of it all. As 9 o'clock approached everybody was ordered to be dead quiet to listen to the news.

Talking of wireless I once heard two men arguing at the bus stop about the time and one said "I know my watch is reet 'cos I checked it wi't wireless" and the other said "Well tha're late 'cos it teks 5 minutes for't time to come fro London".

Well time marches on and a number of changes have taken place in the village but there's still quite a lot of the old place left, so I'll close by summarising my thoughts in rhyme.


Memories (the poem) by Florence Scott

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