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George Owen's Story

George was born in 1905 in Shuttle Street, which was just about where College Way is now. He was one a family of eleven and he first went to school at Christ Church, which is just across from the gardens were the big college is now. Then when he had reached standard 3 he went to St Paul's on Moor Lane.

During his school days tragedy struck. First his mother died when he was seven, then his father died two years later. All the family split up after that. George went into lodgings in Harris Street with one of his sisters, to be looked after by his brother who now had a big responsibility on his shoulders. This meant his brother could not join up in the war years. After the war his brother got married and George had to go and live with another one of his sisters in Joseph Lee Street.

He remembers Shuttle Street and Joseph Lee Street as ordinary everyday streets. These houses were already old when he lived in them, they had no baths and only an outside toilet. Shuttle Street had just one big backyard with, just a couple of toilets between all the houses. He also remembers his mother dying. It was in the house next door to the Regent, picture house, they took her body round to number twelve Shuttle Street laid on a toilet door from Mrs Berwick's in Harris Street. It was on the same day has the Hebron Hall field day when all the kids took a cup and were given some coffee and a bun, but nothing make up for the loss of a mother, while the loss of your father makes it an even harder struggle.

That's how it was in Harris Street. The lodgings were alright, but his brother and sister had to muck around doing anything for a few pennies just to make ends meet. George reckons he had more dinner tines than dinners. But the experience taught him to paddle his own canoe. He had to learn to do things for himself, not just cooking and so on. Anyone who has seen him garden will know how capable he is.

While he lived in Harris Street he saw the Zeppelins come over in the First World War. One fire bomb fell in Penningtons Yard, were all the horse were bought for the army and were paraded, round. The bomb fell through, the stables and through a sick horse that was being nursed by Bill Owen (no relation).

The kids round there were the same as every where/ always fighting and all that. But the cops in those days did not lock you up, they'd just give you a clout and shift you on. They used to walk in twos down Bank Street, but at least they were on the beat. You never see them these days despite the rise in numbers, says George.

When he was twelve he did what most kids in those days did by starting has a half timer in the mill. He was a little piecer at Cannons Mill. He made his way up to a side piecer but he never liked it in the mill, because it's not a life for a person who liked being outside, too stifling. In the mills everybody worked under the spinners, higher than him was the underlooker then the overlooker. At Cannons Mill the overlooker was called Grundy and the underlooker was called Jack Hunt. They never saw much of the mill owners. In those days all the mules where made locally, either by Threlfalls or by Dobson and Barlows. The rope came from Levers Rope Works in Delph Street. Other bits of machinery came from Musgraves foundry in Kays Street, and the oil came from Moscrops. Clogs and shawls were made locally to like the Lions clog works on Churchgate. It was 7/- then for a new pair of clogs with brass nails and different colours, while a set of clog irons cost 4d, clogs were working gear and other shoes were for going out in.

After there he went to Bessemer's Forge for a while. He liked it there, He didn't find it a weary life like in the mill and he held down a mans job while he was still a young lad. He worked on a 'Becking' hammer were he flattened blooms and ingots by putting them under a ten ton hammer. These would then go to another hammer which made them into wheels for trams and other things. There was another hammer, a fifty ton hammer which made crank shaft, Bill Crook who lived off Spa Road was the main man on this. George would have stayed at Bessemer's but he got wind that they were going to close. So he tried for another job and got on at Nails the Carriers were he would be happy working outside in the fresh air from 1922 - 1972 when he retired. Bessemer's forge closed down in 1924.

He started as a chain lad. This meant going out with a chain horse to hook on carts that were going back to the yard. After six weeks he got a horse drawn lorry and delivered goods from Nails goods yard next to the train station. He delivered all over Bolton.

The day would start at 3.30 when George would have to leave home so he could clock on at 4.00 am. He'd go to the garage on Manchester Road and put the horse in the cart shafts. These had to be kept clean even, though Bill Leach and Harold Seddon were the horse keepers. In 1922 there were 110 horses at Nail's and when any of them were sick, drivers like George, would help by stopping all night with them.

Many people might remember George. He delivered to every shop in town. They might remember his horse better, Elena was its name. Every day it would stop at Tog's ice-cream kiosk on Market Street for an ice-cream. It just walked up to the kiosk for a cornet. Two doors up from Tog's was Seddons cake shop, they gave her meat pies to eat. Then there were the girls at Rieds in Newport Street, they would give her sugar lumps. It seemed to be a good life for a horse. They'd get so used to the streets that they could do the round on their own and many's the time they did, especially if the driver was in the shop to long.

One foggy night, Elena left George in a shop were the T.S.B. is now. He came out and she had gone. He looked everywhere and he finally found her in the back street behind Market Street. She was eating pies at Seddons back door. She had got there on her own through the fog, and she managed to miss all the parked cars on her way.

Because he was a willing helper and enjoyed his job, George used to be the odd job man at Nails. He drove the steam wagon as well as the carts, and after he passed his driving test in 1934 he drove the petrol ones too. The steam wagons came in handy, because in those days there was no normal finishing time. The day could last till 8.00 pm from 4.00 in the morning, and after overtime he would come home with about £5 a week in the 1930's. Carter couldn't knock off at any time they wanted because they could still be on the road. They'd get half an hour for breakfast, an hour for dinner and half an hour for tea, all without pay. There was no canteen so that's where the steam engines came in, they could cook there dinner on a spade over the boiler, they would cook bacon and eggs on it. They heated everything up there, George has also cooked eggs in a pan on a wall heater at Rivetts Castleton mill, where he used to deliver skips of yarn.

One of the other jobs he did was to deliver all the bottles and casks of beer that came in by rail. So, despite being a life time teetotaler and non smoker he new all the pubs very well. He also new how to stillage and even tap the barrels as well, because this was part of the contract that Bass Brewery had with British Rail. He delivered at the Saddle, the Victoria, Yates's Wine Lodge, the Swan, the Derby Arms and the Golden Lion. While at the Three Crowns he had to tap the barrels for Agnes Ford, who ran it, she was the champion high diver of the North West. At the Saddle he had to drop the barrels down a sheer drop into the cellar.

Another job was removals. The Railways did removals then he'd get hired out from Nails to B.R. He's moved local notables like the Reverend Reece and loads of Bolton Wanderers players, like Dick Pym, Jones the goalie, Butler, Taylor and Blackmoor. This was when they moved in and out of Bolton. Dick Pym went back to Plymouth. This job took George all ever the place and it's not easy going in to a house, packing all the stuff up for removal and getting it loaded on to the wagon without damaging any of it.

In 1955 Nails was taken over by B.R. and George was made up to a foreman. He did a similar job to what he did before. By then they were in Scarab three wheelers which seemed to be everywhere at the time. He drove these, both rigid and articulated, till he retired with a gold watch in 1972. He missed out on a big redundancy payment because he was too old, but he made a lot of friends, people still recognise him when he goes in the market hall. Well at least the older ones do, he's seen a lot of changes. He remembers Marks & Spencers starting up as a little shop at the back, of the Co-op chemist on Market Street. He's also got some bad memories, like his wife dying 20 years ago.

He regrets when he lost her, "one of the best in the world" he said. He got married to Annie Edmondson in 1929. She came from Deane Road near the pocket and she was a weaver at Deardens. They moved into Harris Street and after their name had been down on the council list for 10 years, they got a house on what is now called the Willows estate. At first his wife cried because the house was so filthy, with drawings on the walls and bacon fat all over. It was only a couple of years old but they had to throw a lot of things away, just as if it was an old one. But when they got it straight, it was better than were they lived before.

He'd sooner have it up there, the airs is better it's more open, there's a view of the moors and the houses are good. It's built where Seddons farm was on spion cop. Prior to the estate being built, George had carted loads of floorboards up to Seddons and they'd be stored were Hibernia street is now. In 1940 he brought loads of swings and roundabouts from the yard and they were put on St George's field for the kids to play on. George has missed his wife during his retirement, but he's kept himself busy like he always has. He doesn't make desk or stools or anything like he used to, or the rocking horses which have lasted for years. Nevertheless, he's still a keen gardener, walking around his garden is like being in another world. There are pathways meandering round all sorts of shrub that he has grown from cuttings. There is a sun house a green house and a shed that he has built himself. It's a magic little world all built and grown by himself. He won 22 first prizes and five runners up prizes in the estate garden competition. He's only just stopped going to Lytham by motor bike to do his nieces garden. However, time brings charges and George has seen a lot of them so what does he think?

"Its a different world now" he says "there was unity in the old days, there's none today... At one time you didn't know what it was like to lock your door, but: they take your windows out now". Six out of eight people in the grove have had burglars and somebody tried to break in his house, while he was in it. But like he says, there is a lot of unemployment 'there is nowt for the youth to do'. People have central heating and cannot afford to turn it on. There's bad days now says George and I getting to 83 and not worried how it comes anymore.

The story was from the Willows Magazine published in 1988