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Ernest Brooks and his wife, Caroline
Ernest Brooks and his wife, Caroline

A short tribute to Ernest Brooks
from his grandson

by Alan Burrows
(ex Farnworth boy, now living in Australia)

In many ways he was an ordinary man, but he typified the Farnworthian. A tough exterior, hardened by a working lifetime at the coal face, his cheeks and nose `tattooed' with the coal-dust blued scars that singled out every collier. His scalp, too, was marked as, by his early twenties, he had lost most of his hair.

Yet he was a man with a soft centre who cried like a baby when his pet bull terrier dog died, or he lost a mate underground.

Ernest Brooks was my grandfather, my hero. He could neither read nor write but could count well enough to make sure his a change was correct when he bought a packet of Wills Woodbines. He could sign his name and could fill in the football pools or back a horse. To the best of my knowledge he didn't drink apart from an occasional glass of stout at Christmas or New Year.

He loved his radio and would sing his heart out both before and after work. Occasionally my grandmother, Caroline, would say: "Ernie, for God's sake shurrup and give't flamin' wireless a chance.''

I remember cold winter mornings in our terraced home at 33 Campbell Street, Farnworth. By 6am my granddad, now retired and widowed, would wend his way through the snow from 41 Phethean Street and have a roaring fire going in the kitchen by the time I reluctantly flopped out of bed. Two things he excelled at were coal fires and making toast over the flames from cobs of nutty slack.

Warmed by the fire and my granddad's love I would trudge across the Harper Green `playing fields' to Plodder Lane School, taking either the `big path' or the shorter but scary `little path' that ran alongside the council allotments that lay behind a huge privet hedge. Often when I got to school my wellies were sopping wet from an invasion of snow.

My granddad couldn't read music, yet loved it, and had an uncanny sense of rhythm. Somewhere in his youth he learned to play the bones or rick-racks and at many a family gathering he would accompany his daughter Florrie, my mother, as she belted out the old favourites on our upright piano. Those bones made an unforgettable sound.

There was one occasion that was equally unforgettable, too. Granddad Brooks performed on stage one night at Francis Street Congregational Church hall. It was a variety show and was packed. Apart from `getting dressed up to have his picture taken' it was only time I had ever seen him wear a collar and tie. Granddad was loving his five minutes of glory and the audience was loving his animated enthusiasm. Unfortunately his hands became sweaty and one of the rick-racks flew from his grip and hit a lady in the front row on the head with a resounding `bonk'.

"Eee, sorry, Love,'' he said. ``Ar't all reight? Can I 'ave it back?'' It brought the house down.

Granddad Brooks died at our Campbell Street home in 1955. He was 71, which for a miner was a reasonable life span, but I bitterly regret not knowing him even better.

I still have those ebony rick-racks - as black as the coal he used to gouge from the earth - and a little set of white bones, probably made from animal ribs, that he bought me when I was about eight. Sometimes, even now in my sixties, when there's no one listening I get them out and have a clumsy little clatter and remember my granddad, my hero ... and shed a little tear as I am doing now.