I believe our lives are controlled by a time switch… I don’t know who controls it but for some we have been allowed a little more time here on earth than others. No one should ever be guilty of wasting their allotted time especially now in the 21st century with the opportunities never envisaged by the people I have known who lived in those hard days of the late nineteenth into the twentieth century.
After passing the regulatory life span of three score and ten by 15 years and now at the age of 85 I can still recall many of those stories going back over one hundred and forty eight years. told by my parents and grandparents. My maternal grandfather was born in 1866 and died of ‘the dust’ an ailment caused by particles of coal inhaled into his lungs after working below ground in 18 inch high tunnels when he was a coal miner. He lived to be well over the average life span for a collier when his miner’s lamp went out in 1936 at the age of 71.
My maternal grandmother was born in Sligo, Ireland, in 1870 and lived to the wonderful age of 92. Although never having been to school and unable to read or write she had a wonderful memory right up to the day her parish priest gave her the last rites and she went with her rosary beads and a lifelong faith to join her Lord in heaven.
My father was born in 1891 and during his 78 years lived through what I believe were the greatest known changes our world has seen so far. Another player in that changing world was my mother who remained with us until one month before
her eightieth birthday in 1973. My parents were nine and eight years old when they moved with Queen Victoria and her British Empire into the twentieth century. Both lived through the arrival of the motor car, the receiving of live radio broadcasting and television and the first flight of an aeroplane. In their last years they read of rockets going into space and watched on television a man land on the moon.
In 1929 I decided it was time for me to make a move into the world and I met up with Doctor Hitchon Chadwick, a huge man of sartorial elegance, a true representative of his profession and regarded by all his patients as one of the family. In the downstairs front room of our two up two down terraced house after giving me a welcoming slap on the back Dr Chadwick placed me gently into my mother¹s awaiting arms. I had arrived into a world of uncertainty which still exists today in our year of 2014. During my early years I experienced what it was like living in a mixed marriage, my father being Protestant and my mother a Roman Catholic. In those days religion played a big part in everyday life and I was locked out from both sides of my family after my parents couldn’t agree which faith I should follow.
My mother’s family were concerned that I had not been accepted into their church and baptised with a splash of holy water and if I died then I would float around forever in a state of Limbo. I well remember my grandmother saying to me “with that smile you could have made a fine priest”. Yet with having no religion my grandmother remained very close to me. I learnt from her about her life in Ireland and how she had to leave her home in County Sligo at the age of nine years to work in service over one hundred miles from home. It was then for the first time she had worn a pair of shoes having gone barefoot as a child. Her parents had survived the potato famine and my grandmother had very little contact with them after leaving to be a servant in what she described as ‘a very big house’. She told stories of the everyday hardships and of her childhood happiness while living those early years in a fishing village on the West Coast of Ireland. A sad story came from her telling of an uncle being sent abroad for stealing turnips from his landlord’s field to feed his hungry brothers and sisters.
When my grandmother was 19 she met my grandfather a British soldier serving in Ireland, and after their marriage my grandfather’s regiment in 1892 came back to Lancashire. My grandmother, carrying my 18-month-old aunt and heavily pregnant with my mother, arrived alone at Burnley’s main rail station. It was dark and my grandfather’s relatives who were to meet her hadn’t turned up and she had to walk three miles to the village where they were to live. She never forgot her arrival in Liverpool then to Manchester and finally arriving in Burnley with its dark wet streets and the feeling of being very much alone in a new country. My grandmother’s three-mile walk through the town and along unlit country lanes in her condition must have been a daunting experience. No wonder she never forgot her introduction to England.
My grandfather came out of the army and went back to work in the coal mine which he had left at the age of 16 to join the army. At school my mother and aunt suffered racial abuse through their mother being Irish, ending with my aunt’s fists
sorting out those problems. By 1914 my grandmother had a family of four daughters and a son, having lost three other children in childbirth. When the First Wold War started my grandfather re enlisted in the army and at 48 years of age went off to France with the British Expeditionary Force. The old saying ‘little boys should be seen and not heard’ helped me to listen to stories from my grandparents and those told by my mother and father. I also shared living through the 1930s with my parents and grandmother, my grandfather died in 1937 when I was eight years old. Although our country was going through what was described as hard times in the 30s there was no comparison to what my grandparents had
experienced in their early years…
One recollection I have of the early 30s is being with my aunt outside a local weaving shed with a group of workers on strike. A furniture van made its way through the strikers and as the tailgate dropped down several truncheon wielding policemen rushed out and set about the workers. I can’t remember much of the incident but pieced together the story later with my aunt. I do remember as she ran away from the mill of me looking back over her shoulder and seeing police fighting with women as well as the men. Local police were never involved in breaking up strikes through their nearness to the people and the officers I saw had been brought from Liverpool. Come the Second World War there was very little to do in a blacked-out country with lots of restrictions and the worry of air raids so people stayed near home. With my mother’s sisters and brother living just doors away from my grandmother we had many family gatherings and it was there I heard lots of tales from the past.
In 1943, starting work on our local newspaper as a photographer, I recorded a town at war through the lens of my camera. Later in life I was to cover two wars and the troubles in Northern Ireland. I didn’t only picture man’s inhumanity to man, I photographed everyday news and events both national and international. My regret is not getting on tape those real life stories which I heard from my parents and grandparents and there were many. I think now is the time for me to put fingers to keyboard and write some of their and my stories from the two centuries… if nothing else it will help to keep me out of the pub.