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Early Working Life

by Bill Edwards

During the end of my school days, around 1919, things were very much in the poverty period. At that time my aunt and her son were living in Vermont Street, off Chorley Old Road. Her husband had been killed in action, or reported missing, in Sallonica during the battle of the Dardanelles. So she came to see my father to see if he would look after her son and bring him up with the rest of the family. He agreed and after he settled down we were all living together in Mayor Street, opposite the Bowling Green on Queens Park.

After a few months, my cousin was ready to find a job as he was reaching fourteen. He finally got taken on as a side-piecer at Salmon and Taylor's Cotton Spinning Mill in Gilnow Lane. After a few more months we were all round the table having tea, when the question came up about me going to work. My cousin said that his overlooker at the mill wanted a little piecer on a pair of wheels. It was good money, about 15/6d a week full time. So we finished our tea and went to look for the overlooker. We found him on the bowling green and he told me to start next Monday.

The atmosphere in the mill was close and stuffy, it smelled of hot oil and as I was used to being outside this had a big effect on my chest. I worked for two weeks and the next two I spent in bed ill. So my Mother advised me not to go back as it was not the job for me.

During the time I worked there, I had to piece the broken ends together on the machines. Also, when the carriage got covered in dust, we had to cover our right arm with a sack and run down what they called the wheel gate taking the dust with us. We had to bend very low, under all the cotton strands that ran to the cops on the front of the carriage.

I remember one day when I started my run down under the long end going to the cops. As 1 bent down to start, the button on my braces broke I ran down like a periscope on a submarine and broke all the cottons. The overlooker went mad. He said we'd have to come in at 6.30 the next morning and repair all the damage without pay. We agreed.

Anyway, after I was fit for work again following my illness one of the mates I used to knock around with found me a job on Deane Road. It was at Peter and Joshua Crooks Mill, packing the cops from the spinning department into the big skips from Atherton and other areas. It was a much cleaner job and as well as packing for outside mills, we had to serve all the weavers from the firms own weaving sheds. They used to bring their weft tins, which held about a hundred cops and we'd fill them with the special grade they'd be weaving with. Such as 36s, 52s, 80s or 82s depending on the cloth or quilt they had on the frame.

I kept on with my job cop packing. Sometimes I had to go into the weaving shed with weft for the women who worked their looms. They didn't like leaving their looms running, as the shuttle would sometimes run amok and cause what they called seeds in the cloth. As I was now working on my own, I had to learn to lip read so that I could talk to people while going backwards and forwards through the weaving shed.

I soon felt like a change though, as the cotton mill was no life for me. But the class of people there was good. They were nice to get on with and lived in the community round Mayor Street, Chamber Hall, Punch Street, Noble Street and Commission Street. Everything has now changed since those days in 1922.

The Croup line works has gone from the bottom of Deane Road, so has Christ Church and Christ Church School across the road. The Regent picture house has gone, Waller and Riley on the corner of Mayor Street, Dr Beasley's surgery, all the Co-op's, bar the one at the bottom of Oriel Street, Walter Morris's cab yard, Tongues Brewery, Fern Street Mission, Deane Wesleyan Church, Saviours Church, Pooles Mill and so has the Co-op Laundry, but the building is still there. Then there was the Merton Mill with the old engine house and the cooling towers that cooled the water coming from it. Estates have replaced a lot of this.

I remember the time we came to live next door to where one of these estates was being built. They call it the Willows Estate now. We could walk up to the top of the hill on Willows Lane and go into the Post Office, We could go next door to the Herb shop, then out of there into the butchers, then the fruit shop, next a milliners and walk across the road to the Co-op grocery. What else could a community need other than that? Today it's all gone.