Family life - tales
to tell and films of Burnley
Prestwich Street shared its 'back street' with Prince Street
and this was the route all the tradesmen used, it is where the
children could play in reasonable safety and we had a gas lamp
immediately outside our back gate, which in a way gave us a feeling
of more security.
It was the back gate and yard that most of us used to enter
the house including our neighbours and friends. Other visitors
would knock on the front door. I had made a special snack on
the back gate which appeared to all intent and purposes as a
large rounded screw head, but a good press with a thumb and the
snack would be raised and the back gate would swing open. We
had very few strangers in our backyard.
All shopping expeditions went via the back door. Most of our
needs were catered for by the 'corner shops'. Tom Hodge's on
Prestwich Street sold almost everything we needed. His large
round 'parkin' biscuits were excellent value at id. Then there
was Perey Hartley's chip shop on Nairne Street, where a penny
worth of chips and a fish without much batter, was one of Grandad
Smith's favourites. I remember on one occasion we sent our daughter,
Zena, to buy an 'old' loaf so that Edith could cut into it which
would have been difficult with a newly baked loaf of bread, Zena
was quite young at the time and she astonished the shop keeper
by asking, not for an 'old' loaf but a 'dirty' loaf.
The children provided us with lots of fun in these war years.
Although brick air-raid shelters were built on every street and
instructions issued on which shelter we should use, I decided
a safer place to shelter would be under the stairs. So, I converted
the area in the pantry, under the stairs, into a family air-raid
shelter. The floor was covered with a short piece of carpet and
several soft cushions. Two old biscuit tins were used for 'emergency
supplies' - including a first aid kit and one with sweets and
chocolates. This tin was opened for the children each time the
air-raid sent us scurrying under the stairs.
I had already converted part of a bedroom into a workshop
which later became my 'dark room.' for developing and printing
my films. And, not to be out done 'Grandad' Smith decided to
make part of the back yard into a garden for the children. The
trouble was he did not have the bricks to make his garden. He
found the bricks he needed in the loft, where he started to remove
the bricks between our house and next door. We knew nothing of
his escapade until Alf came running down the stairs - "If
Mr Robinson comes to the back door, say nothing." We
did not know what he was talking about, but within seconds Mrs
Robinson came banging on the door, brandishing a brick in her
hand. Alf hid his face behind the Daily Herald.
It transpired that Alf had accidentally pushed one of the
bricks out of the wall and it had dropped through next door's
ceiling and landed, with part of the ceiling, on Mrs Robinson's
bed. It proved to be a costly enterprise for Alf, but the children
did have a back yard garden eventually.
If any sins had to be forgiven, Alf counted on the rest of
us to go to church on Sundays. Apart from 'Grandad' most of the
family went to Holy Trinity church. We sat on Mrs Greenwood's
pew, the third one from the front of the church directly below
the vicar Hughes's pulpit. The children followed the service
as best they could, but always found the psalms difficult. They
listened attentively under the watchful eye of the vicar, but
could be seen to take more interest when the third hymn number
was announced, which signalled that it was time to find their
pennies for the collection and also that the service was nearly
As a sidesman I helped to collect the offertory and it often
required six of us to take the collection when the church was
full. It was the church used by the army barracks and many special
services were held at Holy Trinity. After the morning service
we would walk home, ready for the Sunday dinner. Alf had already
put the potatoes on to boil.
Edith always had a clean white table cloth for Sunday. The
Sunday dinner was special, even during the war years ' where,
with a bit of ingenuity and careful watch on the 'rations' there
was always soup, followed with a 'roast' - potatoes, peas, lots
of gravy and followed by rice pudding. Sometimes there would
be a 'College' pudding - boiled in a cloth, very much the same
as a Christmas pudding, but not as rich, the white sauce made
a tasty covering.
The food was always good, but we all had our likes and dislikes
especially when it came to vegetables. Peas and carrots were
more popular than cabbage. Edith was a superb cook and even when
the family grew up and had left the family home - on their visits
to see us, Edith's "torpedo," were something to be savoured.
(The 'torpedo' was probably a Lancashire version of a Cornish
Sunday afternoon it was Sunday School for the children, with
a drive out into the countryside if the petrol was available.
Otherwise we took the bus to Worsthorne and with a packed picnic,
we would walk to Hurstwood and sit in the tea-garden, fly kites,
play near the river, sail paper boats and generally have a pleasant
afternoon and evening, before catching the bus back for home.
Sunday was also a day for visiting and we often went to have
tea with my mother and father. We would all join in games of
dominoes and whist. My mother was noted for her weak tea, but
tea time, at Grandma's, was a pleasant occasion. The children
could play or work in the garden, which was a change from playing
on the streets near home. In the evening my father would sit
in his rocking chair and sing miners songs and nursery rhymes
especially for the two young ones. If we asked him about his
times abroad he was always a willing to tell us about his adventures.
The Hanna's were always travellers. He told us how his father
was a Protestant coachman for a wealthy Catholic family living
in Kilkeel in Ireland. Although only a servant he fell in love
with his master's daughter and they eloped in 1864.
The Catholic family were none too pleased with their Protestant
coachman running off with their daughter and they hounded them
all over Ireland. But, the young couple escaped to the Isle of
Man, married and lived in a small cottage. His father spent some
time working on the construction of the Laxey Wheel. Eventually
they sailed to England and made their home in Askam-in-Furness
and had thirteen children, of which seven boys survived.
Mother and Dad at Askam in
When the brothers grew up and found it hard to find work they
decided to try their luck abroad. It seems my father (before
I was born) sailed to New Zealand. He remembered the rough seas,
sighting white whales and when in New Zealand, sleeping in the
Bush. He told us how there were no houses only tents. The beds
were made from leaves off the trees.
Dad was a jack-of-all-trades and offered to stay in camp and
cook whilst the rest went out to work. He decided to make a 'pan-pie'
and went to the store for lard and flour. Back at camp there
were no tables only an old box covered with a newspaper. He set
to work to make a bit of pastry - "There was plenty o'meight
and taters, so I put meight in t'pot wi' taters on t'top"
and then I started making pastry. He told us - "The more
I 'andled it, the dirtier it were gooing. I thowt I'm not goo
ing to eight it ! They'll av to eight it when they come in".
They said "By gum,,dinner smells good".
I said, "It's grand, I'll put it out for you".
They said "Do you mean to say you've never been in
t'Bush before ? "
"No," I said.
"Well," they said "you're shaping
But, dad had had enough, he wanted to get back to England.
Two of his brothers had prospected for gold in Africa, but his
brother William had been murdered by a native. Brother Robert,
John and Enus had gone to Canada and America, but dad thought
there was no place like home.
After telling a story he enjoyed smoking a Craven 'A' but
always had a bag of Mint Imperials in his pocket to take the
smoky taste away from his mouth and to share out with everyone
Sweets were welcome when toffee coupons had been used up which
made Aunty Betsy's shop, at the bottom of Coal Clough Lane, a
special place to visit no matter what day of the week. Betsy
Bentley and the Alfrey sisters, Maud, Alice and Margaret, who
lived on the opposite side of Coal Clough Lane with their parents,
often met with the Hannas, usually at the Alfrey's home. Then
there was my good friend Tom Sellers, his wife Mary and their
two boys Jack and Alan, we often exchanged visits and we maintained
regular contact with each other, even though the Sellers moved
around the area before finally settling in the Fylde district
So Sunday was seen as a day for going to church and Sunday
school, having trips out and visiting relations and friends.
When Grandad Smith retired, he often took the children for walks
in Scott Park, where they would give bread crumbs to the swans
and ducks. Scott Park was such a pleasant place to visit for
all of us. There were so many paths to follow, birds to see,
tennis and bowls to watch or play and music to listen to at the
bandstand. The park even had its own drinking fountain with large
iron cups, fastened by chains, that those who cared could quench
We too had our fair share of visitors. Tom Holland, my .other's
brother, would have a good yarn to tell. He often repeated the
same story about how he cleared the soot from the chimney without
calling on the services of a sweep. We would all sit round whilst
he recounted how he called one day to see my other when we lived
on Lydia Street. It seemed that I was in my wooden cradle in
front of the kitchen fire oblivious of all that was going on.
The fire burnt in a cast iron fire place with a boiler at
one side and an oven on the other. On the day that uncle Tom
called y mother had been unable to make the fire draw. She had
gone about her housework, filling first the tub with a ladling
can from the boiler, possing the washing with the dolly-legs
and then scrubbing the clothes on the rubbing board. But, during
all this time the fire had hardly produced a flame.
She continued to put the washing through the wringer and then
hung it on the rack to dry, but there was still no fire. Apparently
I was still asleep in y cradle, my mother had given up on the
fire and started to peg her rug. My father tried to get the fire
to draw by placing a newspaper in front of it, but then uncle
Tom walked in.
"I'll mek you a cup o'tae," said my mother,
filling the brass kettle from the tap above the slop stone.
"But, it'll tek a while t'boil as we can't get fire
"I'll soon fix that," chuckled Tom. He left,
but soon returned with a flintlock pistol. He fired it up the
chimney, stepped back shouting - "Luk up," -
meaning watch out, but mother stepped forward and looked up the
chimney. Soot fell in a huge black cloud covering mother, the
washing on the rack and me in my cradle. We did not see uncle
Tom for several days after that incident.
If this was not amusement enough, on other occasions, he would
further entertain the children by standing on his head, he was
an athletic man despite his ageing years. As a young man he had
swum across Morecambe Bay and much of his leisure time he spent
at Rosegrove or North Street Swimming baths or even in the canal.
He was stone deaf, so once he started telling his stories, there
was no stopping him.
However during the war years visitors were always welcome.
There was good neighbourly spirit and although many of the young
men and women, on the surrounding streets, had gone off to join
the armed services, the ones who remained behind rallied round
offering friendship and contributing, in some way, their services
to the general war effort. Our new next door neighbours the Eddlestons
had not been living on the street for long when Cecil joined
up leaving behind his young wife and baby Ian.
At church on Sunday mornings the vicar would read out a long
list of all the men and women who had lived in the parish and
who were now serving in His Majesty's Forces or had been killed
or reported missing whilst on active service.
Those of us still at home would do our best, in whatever way
we would to help the war effort. Edith, my wife, became the Gannow
Ward Leader for the Penny-a-Week Fund, raising money through
street collections for the Red Cross and St John's. In 1945,
Edith received a letter from Lord Southwood thanking her for
There were several times the air raid sirens screeched out
their wailing warnings, but few troubled to dash to their appointed
air raid shelters. We could see the red sky in the south as Manchester
burned. A few aircraft strayed over the Burnley skies; bombs
were dropped near the Summit and in Thompson Park. I remember
one weekend I had taken the family for a walk near Ribchester
when a German plane flew over the tree tops, the children unaware
of any danger, gave the pilot a wave. Other planes crashed in
fields around the town and many a young collector of souvenirs
would race to the spot to strip the wrecked plane of any prizes
that hands could tear off.
As a teacher I often found pupils playing with live shells,
on one occasion I caught a boy slamming his desk top on to a
bullet he had taken from an aircraft. The was a loud crack -
a cane on his backside.
A.R.P. Wardens went round at night, blowing on their whistles
and calling out - "Put that light out". Some
of the blackouts in the windows had their defects. I had made
our 'blackouts' with plywood which fit exactly in the window
space. My son John, who was an artist, had drawn giant sized
pictures of two of our allied War Leaders.
There was a Billeting Officer in Burnley and several families
took in soldiers and evacuees. But, when the German invasion
never came. There was a more hopeful spirit in the town. No news
broadcast was missed. The newspapers gave us ore hope of an early
end to the war - "Collapse, Berlin, Italy, Austria Fall
- Germans Surrender to Alexander's Armies", "Germans
Capitulate on British Front" announced another headline;
- "Fighting Ends in Holland, Denmark and West Germany";
More Nazi Armies Surrender - South Front Cracks" and then
Only a Few Hours Now".
On the eve of VE Day our wireless set refused to work. It
was around midnight, we were all in bed when I was awaken by
shouting on the street. It was Bill Turner, an ARP Warden, he
worked on the staff of the Burnley Express - "War's over.....
war's over," he was shouting. Neighbours spilled out
of their houses, people were skipping about in the streets. I
got everybody out of bed and grabbed my camera. I had saved a
length of film for this very occasion.
I phoned the Mayor and told him I was on my way. We climbed
into our Ford 8 and sped off towards the Town Hall. I knew I
would need some light if I was to successfully film the occasion,
so the search lights on top of the Fire Station were switched
on and directed as low as they could. Some of the light from
the beams reflected over the heads of the crowd which had gathered
on Manchester Road, so I was able to take a short length of film
to capture the occasion. I used the fastest monochrome film I
had; it was a very special night in the history of Burnley.
The crowd cheered when they saw me, the people waved at the
camera, they were singing all the popular songs of the war years,
there was dancing, one man had brought his dustbin lid to use
as a drum. It was now two o'clock in the morning, the crowd was
growing bigger all the time. Somehow I found Edith and the children
near the Town Hall steps - and although we were all very tired,
we were so happy and excited - the war was over ! We had little
sleep that night.
The celebrations went on into the next few days. With more
film in my camera, I went around the town recording the events.
There were street parties, bon fires on almost every street and
huge bon fires on the recreation grounds, the biggest of which
was lit by the Mayor, Alderman P.T. Taylor, on the Fulledge Recreation
The newspaper headlines read - "GOOD MORNING - THIS
IS VE DAY (Official) EUROPE AT PEACE".
The Mechanics Institute opened its doors and welcomed everybody
to a celebration dance, especially any members of His Majesty's
Services in uniform.
Slowly other general news items started to filter through,
not all of them published. During the war Burnley people had
collected enough money to buy a Spitfire which was commissioned
into 1164 Squadron in April 1941. It was number R7267 and had
emblazoned on its fuselage - 'Burnley and District'.
On its first flight test Flight Commander Powling took off
from RAF Skeabrae in Orkney to put the 'Spit' through its paces.
But, unknown to the pilot, the plane hand not been cleared for
high speed manoeuvres and Officer Powling found himself in trouble
at 2,000 feet and falling fast. He jettisoned the hood and undid
his straps to bale out, but he was too low - so he decided to
crash land. He somersaulted for fifty yards, finally landing
upside down. The ground was boggy.
Now ex- Wing Comander Powling lives in Maidstone, he lived
to tell the story. (Recently he was Chairman of Kent County Council).
The celebrations at the end of the war went on for several
weeks, the lighting of the town bonfire on the Fulledge Recreation
Ground seemed to be a signal for the people in the town to begin
life all over again. The street parties, bonfires, dancing and
singing in the public houses, all added to the euphoria.
On Sunday morning it was a time for more sober reflections
on the war years. St. Peter's Church received the town's dignitaries,
whilst other parish churches held their own services of celebration
On June 10th 1945 I filmed a great parade in Towneley Park.
The platform for the 'march past' was erected in front of Towneley
Hall and demobilisation was on its way. Burnley did it with a
great deal of flourish and re sounding music from the army bandsmen.
It was a time for farewells to the Air Raid Wardens, Fire Watches
and the rest of the war time Auxiliaries. It was a time for standing
up to be stood down which the Burnley people were proud and happy
Five years later there would be a General Election and the
serious business of establishing a lasting peace would begin
I gave a talk to the Burnley Junior Chamber of Commerce about
my interest in making films of local industries. I told them
of my idea of wanting to show the boys what type of employment
there was available in the town, but I was unable to do this
because of the lack of support from my Local Education Authority.
Following my talk, members of the Burnley Junior Chamber of
Commerce offered to help me, saying they had many connections
with 'local industry'. The outcome of this, a film was produced,
which we called - New Fields for Industry . This film served
two purposes, it provided excellent publicity for the industries
in Burnley and the schoolboys in the town were able to see for
themselves places where they could seek employment.
It must have been the first commercial, advertising the area,
to bring new industries to Burnley. It was a film I enjoyed making
because it was about the town I was born in, a town for which
I still held great pride.
The film shows the officials of the District Junior Chamber
of Commerce. The commentator tells the story, the scenes on the
film illustrate the pictures portrayed by the commentator.
"This film has been produced to bring to you a picture
of NE Lancashire's Development Area, to show its past achievements
and the basis of its faith in the future. We believe that after
seeing the facilities available, the skills and versatility of
its people, the beauty of its countryside and the satisfaction
of those who have already made it their home, you'll regard the
area as being fully capable of meeting the requirements of modern
industry and commerce."
......."No this is not an Art Gallery or Civic Centre
(the film showed Platers and Stampers on Coins Road) ... it is
a Burnley factory in the Prestige Group manufacturing kitchen
tools of almost every kind. In an area where Cotton is still
King, pride is taken in the dexterity of the people. Occupying
about 26,000 acres, the factory is sited on a main thoroughfare,
...... it has its own railway siding."
....... "Pride too is found in the knowledge that
as a result of design, development and manufacture within the
area, Britain stands at the fore front of Jet Aviation This is
the mighty Lancastrian Press at Joseph Lucas factory, playing
its ponderous part in combustion systems in jet engines for today
...... "More homely in its products is the factory
of Lambert Howarths here a medium and high grade slipper is made
in helping to swell the firm's output of footwear to nearly 4,000,000
pairs a year." ..
....... "Great sportsmen are the Lancastrians and
his choice of playing and watching is indeed varied. ( shots
of men and women playing on the bowling green and tennis courts
at Scott Park) ... This may not be Wimbledon, but the game's
....... "We thought you might like to see the people
in the area on holiday at Blackpool, Scarborough or Southport,
but to save you the journey we came to Thompson Park ten minutes
walk from the centre of Burnley"..
And so the film and commentary continued to tell the story
of 'New Fields for Industry'. Looking at the film now Burnley
had a great deal to offer. Many of the 'fields' were taken and
for a time Burnley grew and prospered.
Over the years the face of Burnley has changed. The town has
tried to rid itself of its old mill town image, but thanks to
local historians, the town's heritage from the past has not been
entirely destroyed and forgotten. I have offered my life's work
to the town, at a price. But, I am ever mindful of Matthew chapter
"A prophet is not without honour,
save in his own country, and in
his own house. And he did not
many mighty works there because of