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Friends for Life

by Tom McFarlane

Tom Mcfarlane was born in Bridgewater Street in 1924. His story begins in the late 1920's.

There was a high rate of unemployment and money was scarce for most families. Those lucky enough to be working in the pits and mills, Tom describes as "probably not really the lucky ones" due to the terrible working conditions. Tom continues "the work available was slave labour, long hours, and very little pay". However, though the majority of Farnworth people had no money or anything, what they did have a lot of was a great deal of respect for each other".

The problems around this time for most of the workers were severe health problems caused by the terrible working conditions they suffered in the pits and mills." There would be a lot more lads my age still around today" says Tom "most of them were told they had bronchitis, but it was pneumoconiosis, a real killer, that was the real problem. If this had been diagnosed they would have been given a decent pension, and they'd have had a better standard of living while they were ill".

Tom recalls that sadly only a very small number were actually diagnosed with pneumoconiosis, even though they did suffer from it.

Even so, life wasn't so bad. They still found time for enjoyment despite the severe money shortage. Tom remembers one of the favourite childhood pastimes 'piggy' the game of hitting a piece of wood up into the air then batting it with a stick, etc. etc although everyone had no money or anything we still managed to find good clean fun without the need for any of today's expensive equipment. (I wish somebody1would tell my kids).

Tom tells me that many of the poorer children didn't even have a pair of clogs and that a charity would come round and supply 'coal boats'. "These were great big heavy clogs, that came right up their legs, they looked like something that Dr. Frankenstein's monster wears and these were little kids with skinny legs". Tom also remembers the damage a loose clog iron could do, "if the iron came loose it would swing round and stick out and it was sharp and could make a really nasty and painful cut on your leg".

The major sources of enjoyment were football and pigeon flying" continues Tom. Toms' uncle, Paddy McAtee was the local bookie around this time. He won loads of prizes flying his pigeons, he wasn't short of money so he could afford good pigeons".

Tom also remembers Bridgewater Street Celtic football team. "They won lots of honours for a long time, some of the players even went into the big leagues."

The first wireless in Bridgewater Street was very popular everybody wanted to listen to it. "The Kelly's were the first to have one, and that's because they won the pools" jokes Tom.

After leaving St Gregory's school at the age of 14, Tom went to work for George Mason of Farnworth as an errand boy and hated it. He did deliveries on a great big heavy bike with an enormous basket full of groceries It was as big as this table, and it was hard for young Tom who 'stood at 4 foot nothing'. He soon left this job to work in the mill, he remembers "it wasn't common to leave a job in those days and my mother went mad".

At the start of World War 2, Tom worked at Dobson and Barlow making aircraft wings, he also worked at Risley building hostels (which were more like cabins) for the munitions workers. This was another job that wasn't suited to Tom. However after this Tom found his true vocation in life as a steeplejack. He worked for local man Fred Mills, then he went to work for a Manchester firm of steeplejacks.

In 1942, at the age of 18 Tom joined the Navy. He was in the Tank Landing Class Service in Italy, Sicily and Normandy. Tom laughs about an incident he remembers during his time in the Navy, I had just landed two officers ashore, (this was in Bizerta, North Africa) when I saw this lad with a beard, and a beard was very unusual in those days. He told me lie was with the RAF, and wanted to get on board, when we got up close I could hardly believe my eyes, it was my next door neighbour Joe Wild". Tom remembers the late Joe Wild as the man of the Farnworth people.

Click here for more about Tom's wartime adventures

When Tom was demobbed he returned to work again for Fred Mills. He then started his own business as a steeplejack in Farnworth. Tom has worked on St James church in New Bury - "I put a Celtic Cross on the roof there, I've often wondered if a Church of England Church would want one but it's still there today and that was 40 years ago". Tom remained in his own business for several more years without anyone asking him to take it down. Tom tells me that through his experience as a steeplejack it was amazing just how many chimneys and mills were in such a small area like Farnworth. "In Farnworth there used to be such a lot of them, but since the demolition of so, many it's now more common to see moss on the ro0ves of buildings, because the atmosphere is so much cleaner these days". In my opinion the ever increasing number of motors cm the roads will reverse this effect!

Tom still spends some of his spare time with his childhood pals in the Vets, which is situated around the area where they all grew up together.

Many locals will remember Joe McFarlane (Tom's brother and the Great-Grandfather of my kids) as a local hero from his time during the 2nd World War.