Home life was good


My family lived first in Lydia Street and that is here I was born. We then moved to 8 Lord Street and finally on to Mile Street. It seemed that when a house was in need of decorating, we moved into another house, leaving the landlord with the opportunity to improve his property. I remember the house on Mile Street, maybe because I was older when we lived there, but also I remember being impressed with the house because it had a gate at the front and it also had a cellar. There were rows upon rows of terraced houses built of local stone. Some were 'back-to-back' houses. Others had a narrow garden at the front of the house with a low wall with spiked iron railings. They were situated close to the cotton mills and coal pits and were rented out to the workers. Most of the houses were 'two up and two down' - a living room/kitchen and parlour downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs. 

The fire range

The hot water boiler was built into the fireplace and provided water for the 'dolly-tub' for washing clothes, water for scrubbing the floors and for the old tin bath. There was no bathroom so the galvanised iron bath had to be brought in from the backyard, placed in front of the fire and filled with water from the boiler. A ladling-can, like a giant-sized drinking mug, was dipped into the water boiler and in this way the water was ladled out and poured into the bath.

Friday night was usually 'bath night', first my brother Billy would step in and I would follow him and mother would give us a good scrub. Dad or mother would empty the bath water down the drain outside the back door, my brother and I would go to bed, then mother would have her bath. Dad always had his bath when he came home from the pit; he needed a bath every day. 

In summertime it was not too bad, it was light enough in the living room, but in winter we had to light the oil lamps and go to bed by candle light. The flickering firelight gave the living room a cosy atmosphere but there was not much furniture. We had a draw-leaf pine dining table, which could be extended by pulling out one or both of the leaves from under the table top. Mother always kept the top scrupulously clean with constant scrubbing and when not in use for meals, covered it with a velvet material all fringed round the edges. After our move on to Mile Street we had furniture made of mahogany. 

The legs of the table were protected from scraping clog irons with discarded woollen stockings, but the stockings came off at weekends and a carpet put down on the floor. The parlour was used on Saturdays and Sundays, it had a impressive but not too comfortable sofa covered in horse hair, there were two stand chairs and a big aspidistra standing in a brass pot in the window. There were pictures on the walls, Dresden style china figures on the mantelpiece and other objects collected or bought on holidays, all valued possessions as in a museum. This was our parlour, the drawing room, the front room, the best room in the house, where almost ceremonious visitations were made. 

Home life was good but simple. Panshine was the cleaning powder that could be bought at the Co-op but mother used the fine ash from the fire, sieved it and used it as her own brand of cleaning powder. I can remember other things we used in the home which must have saved a little money; when we cleaned our teeth my brother and I used the soot from the chimney breast at the back of the open fire. This fine abrasive soot certainly worked and more than eighty years on - I still have most of my own teeth. 

Many traders wheeled their carts round the back streets selling their wares; there was the salt-man, he sold large blocks of salt. We brought them into the house, placed a block on a newspaper covered table and then with a grater we rubbed off fine grains of salt which were then scooped into a saltbox which hung on the wall near the fire place in order to keep the salt dry. 

The rag-bone man exchanged 'donkey-stones' for old rags or empty jam jars. Mother would scrub the steps in front of the house and at the back and then use the 'donkey-stone' to whiten the steps or just the edges round each step. The donkey-stone had a picture of a donkey on one of its surfaces, and although there were other 'whiting' stones that could be used, it was the 'donkey-stone' that was the most popular. 

In the working class district of Sandygate there was a good neighbourly spirit. When both parents went out to work the children were 'minded' by a neighbour. Work started at six in the morning, the sirens from the mills each made their distinctive sounds, as if calling their workers to hurry and not be late. Waking up in the morning was not difficult. The 'Knocker-up' with a long pole with a bunch of thin wires fixed at one end, would beat on the window panes until we were roused from our slumbers. Dad would go to the window to acknowledge we were awake and the 'knocker-up' would move on to the next house down the street but not before shouting out the exact time and reporting on what the weather was like. 

With dad off to work, mother would get us ready for school. From 1908 to 1916 I went to Mitre Street Infant School and then Sandygate School. They were both Church of England (Aided) schools in the parish of Holy Trinity. So, for my early education I was taught the three R's - reading, writing and arithmetic with a Christian background. 

Sandygate School, Burnley

After school I spent a lot of time with my mother, dad was often away on 'union' business. Mother encouraged me to read good books and when dad was at home he would tell me of his travels in the 'new world' . Once a week I went to a local theatre with y father, either to see a play or a musical production. There was culture in my home life, even though, perhaps at the time, I did not fully appreciate it. 

It was in 1910, when I was seven, that things were to change my life for ever. I went with my father as usual to the Victoria Theatre. We climbed the many many steps to the 'gods'. But, that evening I was not well, and I implored my father to take me home. In those days there was not much public transport, so we had to walk a distance of well over a mile. 

My parents realised I was very ill. My father called at the doctor's house. When he described the symptoms, two doctors set out on foot; for at that time the motor car was still in its infancy.