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 over.

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 pasty).

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 Furness

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 well."

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 else.

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 of Lancashire.

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 their thirst.

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 to draw."

"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 her efforts.

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 Ground.

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 and remembrance.

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 to do.

Five years later there would be a General Election and the serious business of establishing a lasting peace would begin in earnest.

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 and tomorrow."

...... "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 the thing."

....... "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 13 v.59....

"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

their unbelief."