The Story of an Ordinary Man
Chapter 1, Early Life
Born 1st. May 1924 at Haslams Maternity Home Chorley New Road Bolton Lanes. Second son of Mary Emma, and William Hunter, of Tonge Moor Road Bolton, who lived at that time in the end of terraced house, at the junction of what was to become Crompton Way and Tonge More Road, Bolton which has now been demolished for the widening of Crompton Way. Shortly after I was born the family moved to a semi-detached house no 15 Auberson Road In the Higher Swan Lane area of Bolton where we stayed for about ten years. My earliest recollections of the place are of open fields right in front of us, and open all the way from Lever Edge Lane, which was then a wandering lane, to Plodder Lane, some ribbon development had taken place along there, then open all the way to then open again, as far as Salford Road, (The A6). Part of Tootel Broadhurst and Lee's (owners of Sunny Side Mills), sports ground bordered Auberson Road and we were often chased off there by the grounds man, especially on a Saturday afternoon, as we took a short cut to the Rumworth Cinema, which was on Derby Street, and which changed to the 'Majestic' before eventually closing as did most cinemas.
It is also time I mentioned my brother James Peter, who is four years older than me, he was always called Peter and was christened after our Father's Father, I being Christened after a Mr. Harold Orrell, the husband, of the lady my Mother worked for from before I was born until Mrs. Orrell died.
My memories of Auberson Road are many. When we first moved in the road was not made up, but after a few years a pavement one flag wide was laid in front of the houses. After that came a gas lamp at the bottom of the street, this caused some controversy with the council as all houses up to no 17 had to pay towards the cost of installation. My father and the occupier of no 17 insisted that one gas lamp did not give any light that for up the street, but the council stuck to it that it did. You can imagine how much light was given off by one gas lamp.
The open fields all around gave u s gave all the children plenty of room to play, and we did! We also made good use of T.B.Ls. sports ground when we could get away with it.
Peter went to Sunning Hill School I not being old enough to go, and at about this time mother had to go into hospital. My mother's cousin from Lawley, a small village not far from Wellington (now called Telford), to look after us. She was called Elizabeth, and she brought with her, her son Allan, more about her and her family later in the story. I did not know it at the time but mother had had a miscarriage and soon after this I started in the infants at Sunning Hill. What I remember most about that time was that my peg had a rabbit symbol on it, which meant my blanket; mug and desk had the same. We always had sleep in the afternoon, hence the blanket and when it was fine we slept outside. I can remember to this day, lying on the mattress watching the smoke rising from the chimney of Swan Lane Mills.
Life at school was for me a complete waste of time, I was hopeless in everything I did, and reading, writing and arithmetic, and subjects such as geography and history were very boring. I did not do any good until I was put into the woodwork class, but that was much later. My time at school was interrupted by a spell in hospital; this came about by my not doing as I was told, and 1 am still the same rebellious.
Peter had at ten years of age started to go to the Bolton Boys Brigade at Kings Hall at the corner of Bradshaw Gate, and Breightmet Street. I, who should have stayed around and watched, wandered of with some other who were also not old enough to join, and went to play by the side of the River Croal at the side of the Market Hall. The river at this place has now the Market Place has been built onto the old market at that point, but then was running between high stonewalls. We saw something, I do not now know what, but I decided that I would climb down to get it. I slipped and finished at the bottom with a broken leg. I was dragged up and Peter got me home and into bed. Mother and father were out visiting some friends and when they came home and found me in bed as black as the ace of spades it was into the bath sore leg or not! Next day the doctor came and it was hospital for me. No way did I want to stay in that place but when it was time for me to come out I cried as it was a Saturday morning and I did not want to miss my Saturday dinner which was a large bowl of pea and ham, soup, the best meal of the week. Because the children's ward was full I was put into C3 ward with a lot of old men. Some of who died during my stay. Mother claimed this was one of the reasons for my hardness towards other people. Mother came one day and asked were the nice old man was from the next bed, I apparently answered matter of tactly, "he died last night", I was not at all bothered.
Townley's as it was then called, is now the much larger Royal Bolton Hospital, but bigger is not always better.
I have mentioned Peter being a member of Bolton Boys Brigade, I eventually joined and enjoyed going to camp at Rhyl and Bridlington. One camp I remember particularly was at Rhyl when it rained very heavily, so much rain fell and so suddenly that there was not enough time to slacken the guy ropes to the sleeping tents, some of which collapsed. Most people were wet through, the whole camp being sodden; the night was spent in the large hall in the Rhyl Town Hall. I can still remember the Mayor at the prize giving ceremony, saying how surprised he was when we marched through the town in the dark to the hall, instead of the miserable bunch of lads he expected to see, we were marching in step cheerfully singing our heads off, to us it was a great adventure- The only person to be affected by the experience was the C. O. of the Battalion Capt. Orrell, who suffered from a very bad cold.
Both Peter, and I attended the Sunday school, of Kings Hall Methodist Church, this was built, as an extension to, the Victoria Hall, due to the fact, that the Vic could not hold all the people, who wished to attend the services there. We had some good outings from there, the Sunday school organizing picnics, to Rivington Pike, 'H' tram to Horwich, walk from there to the bottom of the pike then, climb to the top and walk all the way back again. Kids today would most likely think we were mad to have enjoyed this.
Another place we used to visit was Moss Bank Park, again the tram, but this time the 'S' tram to Lower Pools Church Road. This route like the 'W' Walkden one, was mostly single track working, but the 'W' one had long stretches of straight stretches, not so the 'S' route, it twisted and turned. From St George's Road, into Vernon Street, and from there, made it's way to Elgin Street, via Mount Street, (past the Mount Cinema,) Darley Street, and Eskrick Street, With all these twists and turns, it was necessary for the route to be controlled by lights, these were placed on the poles carrying the wires, and operated by the tram 00 drivers, if the light was against him, (red) the tram would have to wait, at the passing loop, for the one coming towards him, if the light was green, the driver, would use a key, to alter the light to red. The tram could then proceed, rather simple but, possibly the earliest form of 'traffic lights'. At the corner of Eskrick and Darley Streets, there is an electrical sub station, used for, as far as I know, domestic purposes, but was then, used as a supply point for the tram wire supply, at that time both the trams and electricity for other consumers was generated and supplied by the borough corporation.
Something 1 have not mentioned, relates to the fact that Granddad Hunter came to live with us for a short while. He used to keep a pub and liked a drink and one night he had been out taking Bess our Airedale dog with him. We all heard a commotion as he was coming in at the back door; he was doing some cursing and saying, "Get in you daft animal". Mothers comment was "your dads drunk again", Bess came into the living room and Granddad was still cursing. Eventually he came in with a Billy Goat on the dogs lead. The goat had been the prize in a raffle at the pub he had been to, he had not won the animal but bought it from the man who had, thinking 'it 'ud do fo't lads. Mother later said it should have been a 'Nanny' as she could have milked it. The goat used to be tied up to the railings of the sports ground immediately opposite our house, it never actually butted anyone but many a time caused a commotion by threatening to, and as Peter and I used to lengthen it's tether caused quite a bit of trouble for mum and dad till they gave it to a farmer for a chicken, as chicken was to dear for us, it was a good swap.
I also remember the field mouse we had, it had come into the house and mother being a country girl knew the difference between a field mouse and the house vermin. We had a large goldfish bowl into which we placed a 'lap' from the mill. A lap is a piece of rough cotton wool, which is formed on a roller during the spinning of cotton and is normally thrown away. The mouse used to make a nest out of the laps and then had to start again as soon as it was finished, because we had changed the increasingly smelly nest. The trouble was Mickey sometimes got out and went to sleep in the hem of the curtains, he never came out at the end where he had gone in but chewed his way out at die point where he woke up. Lots of grumbling from mother! I'm getting rid of that mouse! But never did. The most interesting thing happened when Mickey disappeared. He had been gone a few days when dad got up for work one morning and Bess refused to go out for her usual run while he got ready. He could not understand or persuade her, so got down to see what was wrong with her, one paw was held to her chest and there was Mickey fast asleep. It was a mystery how she knew she had to look after a mouse but she did.
The next big event was having to leave Auberson Road, we moved into a corporation house in Charlesworth Avenue off Green Lane, and although it was quite a long walk I still went to Sunning Hill School. On my first morning I called for a friend and his mother asked me what I was doing for dinner, as it was much to far for me to go home. I told her I had brought some sandwiches and she told me to come back with Geoffrey so that I could at least have a cup of tea with them. This 1 did for two weeks I traveled to that school. It was only two weeks as we moved out of that house as soon as we could, because when mother came to cook the dinner on the Sunday, she could not get the oven at the side of the fire to heat up, and this was to have been our first big meal since the house move. The people who had lived in the house before us had blocked up the flue to the oven so as to save fuel. They must not have had any hot meals, as there was no other way of cooking, in the house! There was neither electric cooker unit nor any gas point.
We went from there to no 1 Victoria Street, Farnworth. An interesting point I must mention here, is that I married a girl from that street, she was living there at the time but as far as either of us know, did not at that time meet. We went to live with a cousin of my father's and her friend, it was a small terraced house and the four of us had to share one bedroom. Although this could not last I had to change schools. I can clearly remember being taken by my mother to see the headmaster at what was then known as Farnworth Central School, the headmaster was called Astell, and mother always said he looked, as though he had just given some poor boy a good beating, he looked very disheveled. Mum thought this was a good sign, boys needed to, be kept in check. Although I was not yet eleven I was accepted because I would only have to change schools yet again in a few weeks time, Harper Green, as it is now called; only taking children at eleven.
My attitude to school changed dramatically. I started to like most subjects, woodwork, science, history and what was called practical drawing. This tied in with woodwork as we had to draw a proper plan; side and front elevations of what we wanted to make this stood me well when I later started to study for my engineer's ticket. Also there was gardening which I liked very much, in the first year we looked after what were called house plots, the school being divided into houses, Oats Cornwall and Stevenson, I being in Stevenson. We looked after these plots according to which house we were in, the produce being sold in the school In the second year each boy had his own plot, this produce we could take home, the third year was spent looking after the gardens in the school grounds.
The teacher of gardening was a Mr. Berry, I did not particularly like him, but he taught me a lot about gardening and a good grounding in drawing. Being able to both reasonably well I liked these subjects. My writing was quite poor; my maths nothing to write home about, my English was shocking, and I know there is still room for further improvement. Mr. Penny taught woodwork, here again I did quite well and as my friends know I still do enjoy working with wood in spite of my present limitations.Mr. Davies who taught history and geography was well liked by his pupils and we used to try to side track him to tell us about the first, world war in which he had served. We did not realize at the time that what he was doing was making history interesting. Mr. Gorton took gym and sports'; nothing any one could do would make either of these things interesting to me. Mr. H.P. Stone, always known as 'sauce', taught science.
I have not yet mentioned the school itself, it was built with an open quadrangle which had an assembly hall at each end, the one to the left of the main entrance being for boys the other one for girls. Boys and girls were separate other than at dinnertime. As there was not at that time provision for school meals, pupils were expected to go home. About six of us were unable to, either because like me it was to far or there was no one at home. Thus was the only time girls and boys were allowed to mix ion school hours'; we used to dine in one of the downstairs storerooms with a master or mistress present. It was a case of sandwiches or chips from the shop across the road from the main gates, I have mentioned Mr. Berry previously, when it was his turn to supervise meals he always said before we started "those of you who wish to say grace may now do so", the others always said grace, Mr. Berry who I have found out since from my wife, was a lay preacher gave us gave us the option, teaching us tolerance of other peoples views.
For the two weeks we were at Victoria Street I was able to go back there for dinner, but when we moved to 248 Rishton Lane, Bolton it was too far and as I have said my attitude to school had changed I refused to leave the Farnworth school and go to the one which was only a few hundred yards down the road. I am told this caused a bit of trouble with Bolton Education Authority, as they had to pay Lancashire for my going there, but my parents who had seen the change in my attitude won the argument I still did not do very well academically but I at least enjoyed going.
248 Richton Lane is in the Great Lever area of Bolton, in fact the 'G' tram stopped virtually outside the house. It had three bedrooms, bathroom three down and a cellar, the cellar making a playroom, I liked making model planes, scale models at first then progressed to actual flying models.
June 1938 I started work for a high class bakers and confectioners, Morris's, situated opposite the tramway offices (the shop being owned by a brother and sister Nellie and Dick) on Bradshawgate, as the 'errand lad', this entailed opening the shop at eight o-clock, (the bakery was at the back of the shop), they had old fashioned wooden shutters which slid into a channel at the top and bottom of the widow frame and were quite heavy for a fourteen year old to carry, the shop had to open dead on eight, as tramways staff, drivers and conductors would be waiting for us to open Miss Morris would be busy slicing and buttering flour cakes (barm cakes) to the ignorant, I would have to put on whichever filling was required., when the first rush was over it was sweep up and wash down the pavement outside the shop, then go to the garage nearby to collect the three wheeled box bike to start deliveries of bread and fancies. There was also a bike, with a basket, on the front, this was used mainly for bread and bringing supplies from various places, one of them being Sherries at what is now at the back of the crescent, I was at first nervous of going there as I was told to go and get a ham shank, but given no money, I then had no idea of cheque's or monthly accounts. While here I may as well tell about the end of the boiled ham bones, each member of staff in turn was given the one to take home when as much as possible had been taken of£ (customers did not like lots of 'bits'). The first one I took home made two good meals, one of which was pea and ham soup made by boiling the bone which was broken into a big pan, as dad was still on short time, it was very welcome. I had to peddle the trike a long way up Chorley New Road to a lot of the big houses, where if I was lucky the house keeper would give me a hot or cold drink, and sometimes a piece of homemade cake. Most of the housekeepers were very nice, but would check the order to see that it was not damaged. One occasion that really sticks in my mind was going right to the top of Derby Street for some Brawn, a meat based sandwich filling made from boiled pigs brains and gelatin, coming back down I lost control of the heavy bike and came off breaking both pots of brawn, and damaging the bike, Dick Morris was more upset about the bike, and kept telling his sister not to fuss over me what would they do about the Haugh deliveries that were due in the afternoon? It meant using the box trike which as it was a lot heavier would make me late with some of the deliveries, customers then did not like that.
1939 came and I left there to go to the Co-op Boot and Shoe repair works in Kay Street, it was part of a fairly large complex, housing the milk pasteurizing and bottling department, on thing I liked about this arrangement was that one could walk into the milk dept. and get a mug of hot milk whenever one wanted to. The drug department, plus large stables, there were not many motor vehicles, being used. I was told to buy two brown smocks, one on one in the wash. And put unto the finishing part of the process, my first job being to put a dark pink die called ink, which was onto the soles and heals' of the repaired items using a small sponge which meant the fingers were stained as well as the leather, more about that shortly. This was then buffed up using revolving brushes, later I was to put Black or Brown 'ink onto the sides of the soles and heals' using a tooth brush, and then a wax slightly melted with a gas flame which again was polished on the brushes.
After a while I was put in charge of a 'Bench man' that being the name given to the person who would strip off the worn soles and heals and replace them with new ones to go to the sole stitching machines or if nailed to the finishing dept. Hear I learned something I can still remember how to do if my fingers would let me that is how to make a waxed thread for hand stitched soles, some customers did at that time want their soles hand stitched. One would take short lengths of hemp and straightening them out, roll them on ones knee applying wax as one worked make a long length of thread, and fit a bristle at each end so that the thread could be passed through the hole made by an Awl, the thread was long, strong and water proof. It is one of those things once taught one never forgets.
I think here is the best time to tell you, about a lesson learned the hard way, a lesson about life not the job. I tried to play a practical joke on one of the workmen but he caught me at it and gave me such a thump in my stomach that I doubled over, I was having none of this and went to complain to the foreman, he asked me what I had done and when I told him he took a piece of leather from his bench, and laying me down on the bench gave me a few good strokes with it, I decided I was going home and without clocking off got on my bike for home. On getting there my father who was still on short time asked me why I was home, on telling him he took off his belt and I got my third punishment for one bad deed. And told to go and ask for my job back, jobs were too scarce to be thrown away like that. Off I went hardly able to sit on the saddle, as I entered the workshop, Walt Kirkman the foreman just said do you want your job back, as I started to tell him what had happened at home he said get your coat off and don't waste time I never ever told tales after that. Walter Kirkman was a very fair boss and although strict, one of the nicest men I have ever met.
The drug department was staffed by young ladies and I once made a date with one of them and as my fingers were badly stained with pink sole ink, I used some Lannary bleach to get them clean, when we met she took one smell of me and that was the end of the date, and she told all the other girls about it and they gave me hell for a few weeks. During the June holiday of 1939, five of us went on a biking holiday for a week in Wales, four of us had bikes but Roy Tatersall had not (yes the one who played for Lancashire), so we made him one out of the spares we had, It was a proper B.S. A, bits shoved anywhere. Going down a steep hill he lost control and finished up in a stream, we crowded round the bike not bothering about Roy, (shades of Dick Morris). But it was a very enjoyable holiday.
On 3rd. September 1939, war was declared, this brought about a great change in all our lives. I became a member of the AR P. as it was then called, (it was later called the Civil Defense), as a messenger, I was issued with a police whistle a key for the Eriksson police phone pillars, an arm band and was sent to H for Harry Wardens Post, I was then issued with a steel helmet and a gasmask which had longer duration than the ordinary civilian one, and later with a uniform. The wardens' post was what had been the foreman's cabin of the Settle Street brick works, the brickworks was closed for the duration but later reopened, I had left the post by then so do not know what happened to it.
This is where I can tell you about Higsons and Thompson's Our house 148 Rishton Lane had a cellar, no 150 Hinson's had a part cellar, which was just high enough to walk through at a crouch, no 252 Thompson's had no cellar, so a hole was knocked through between the cellars of 248 and 250. When the air raid sirens sounded. Mr. And Mrs. Thompson would come out of their house door (which was right next to that of Higsons) into Higsons and then they would come through to our cellar which had been fitted up as an air raid shelter, it had power and light one bed some easy chairs, a large coal fire place, it was stocked with food, tea, and coal and spent many a night down there when there was raid and was not on duty. My father had become a member of one of the Heavy Rescue Units of the ARP; Peter had joined the Home Guard.
As a messenger we practiced with stirrup pumps for putting out small fires, and a long handled scoop for putting out incendiary bombs with sand, some hope, we also had mock incidents, as a messenger I had to learn the shortest route to the nearest AJFS, (fire) post, first aid and rescue posts, and the next nearest Wardens Posts. But during the practice incidents, which we had quite often, find a Special Constable barring ones path and declaring that "these streets are blocked, the houses have been demolished", or "there is an unexploded bomb so you can not go this way". I may only have had to go mile by the shortest way, but would be worn out by the time I got back. We had to learn how to deal with incendiary bombs, how and when to use a stirrup pump/ not on incendiary bombs'; water would cause the magnesium to splatter spreading the fire, and take a first aid course. In the event it was not necessary for me to have to put any of this to actual use in earnest.
After a few months I was transferred to the operations room, which was a large house on Radcliff Road. The cellar used as the main ops room, the ground floor for recreational purposes the first floor offices, dealing with the day to day running of the Civil Defense. At this station messengers had to take reports of incidents, from one booth to another, (the four walls were lined with booths), where the operator at that booth was in touch with one of the services, e.g. rescue fire first aid, the biggest number of booths were for the wardens posts from where the incidents would most likely be reported. Obviously as we could look over the shoulder of each operator, we got used to anticipating where we had to go and stood poised hand out stretched for the message. We also had to be available to go out if necessary.
May 1st. 1941 I became seventeen and received my driving license and transferred to the CD. Ambulance service. (No driving tests in those days). The borough ambulance depot was in a large building in Blackhorse Street, now a car park opposite the bus station. Above the ambulance bays was a room for training, here we spent the night on camp beds waiting for Amber warnings meaning raid imminent we then had to bring the ambulances from their garages which were old buildings on what had been the old wholesale market, (Now occupied by the Octagon Multiple story car park).
We had to bring the ambulances to Blackhorse Street, leave them outside, and carry on playing games or trying to sleep, and wait for a red alert, which was when the sirens sounded the drivers would sit in the cabs and wait for the attendant to bring any messages.
Here I should mention that, at first this was all voluntary. Originally the volunteers turned out from home each time the sirens sounded, this put a hell of a strain on the persons involved, as the raids became more frequent in some parts of the country, all fit persons were directed to one of the CD, services I found out later that some people still dodged the column! This happened at about the time I was transferred to the control center. I for my duty as an ambulance driver, always did Saturday night, this suited me in a number of ways, I did not have to work the next morning, I could spend the evening at the Palais-de-Dance or the pictures, then go on duty without going home. On the Sunday morning, the garage mechanic taking the corporation bus to pick up the early bus and tram crews, picked us up and dropped us off as near to our homes as he could to our homes as long as it did not take him too far off his route 1 do not suppose it was legal but we showed our appreciation.
The ambulances we drove were converted from large engined cars, the one I drove being a Ford V 8 Pilot, the back of the vehicle had been cut off and canvas and thin wooden lath body built on with racks for four stretchers, not a lot of different from the ones we had outcast, but of course they had been purpose built. The CD ones were hell to drive fully loaded, at every corner one thought they were going to turn over, again only in practices.
Things did not change at work except we began to do a bit of overtime, as far as girls went that did not improve either, the main thing I remember was making a date with what I thought was a smashing girl, she was the daughter of the local police sergeant. I was already to go out to meet her when my father noticed that the creases in my trousers were not to his liking. It was out with the ironing board and get them done! Making the remark that if she did not wait for me she's not worth bothering about, needless to say she did not wait. It later turned out that she the softest girl in our area, would not go anywhere that was considered, 'not quite right', and scared of her own shadow! At that time this did not suit me, as I was too much the other way, I would have a do at anything.
This had to come to an end, I had volunteered on my birthday (first May) my call up papers arrived, I had two days to leave my job, and on the 11th. Of November I had to report for service. Walt wanted me to finish the week out as most people had more time between the papers arriving and having to report for duty. I had booked to go to the Odeon cinema on the Thursday 11th. With a Caroline Stafford, a friend of my brothers to see Gone with the Wind. She it was who got Hilda to write me while I was out east, they were dancing partners. (Not many men about). I have still not seen Gone with the Wind!