In the eighty first year of my life, I am persuaded to record a short autobiography.
My earliest memories take me back to the third or fourth years of my life which began on the 1st day of March, 1908. My parents, along with two older sisters, Ida and Hilda, lived at number 160, Barrow Hill, near what was known as the “big end” and just four doors away from the Primitive Methodist Chapel, which as an infant I attended.
My father, who originated from Woodview Road, off Dewsbury Road, Leeds, was a Head Shunter on the old Midland Railway, but where we lived the house belonged to the Staveley Coal and Iron Co., Ltd. We lived with my Grandfather, John Darkin, a coal miner.
Barrow Hill was almost wholly tenanted by colliery workers who were conveyed to the pits i.e. Ireland, Markham, Hartington, Barlboro’ etc, by Paddy Mail from Barrow Hill station at a quarter to four six mornings a week and returning to Barrow Hill at a quarter to four in the afternoon. Other than on a Sunday, some of them would not be at home in the daylight for months. No wonder then that in later years at the United Methodist Church which I had now joined, I recall the Sunday morning service opening with regularity the hymn “O day of rest and gladness, O day of joy and light” with some fervour.
As children, our playground was the “slack heap” which later in or about 1921 was levelled by younger men on strike and older boys from the school under the supervision of Mr Ben Marson, the mining engineer. The play area then became known as the “Blue Fly.” At a later date, a bowling green was laid and charge of the whole was committed by the Chairman and Managing Director of Staveley Company, Mr C.P.Markham, to Mr Teddy Williamson at the Barrow Hill Hotel.
The Primitive Methodist Chapel was well supported by the Fern family who were goodly in number, I was happy in later years to marry a Fern, Carrie, the daughter of John Thomas and Alice. Many were the activities at the chapel in those days. The highlights being the Sunday School Sermons with a full platform of scholars and choir, and a full house on the first two Sundays in May each year, the annual Sunday School trip to Cleethorpes on Staveley Feast Monday (my Mother’s brother William died from poisoning at the age of 13 after one such trip), the Hospital Sunday when members of all the churches, together with the Barrow Hill Band and other institutions paraded the village and then assembled in Smales field at the end of the Devonshire Cottages.
Until the National Health Service commenced, one could not visit Hospital without a “Recommend” issued by a Sick Club or other society which had made some contribution to the Hospital. By courtesy of the Staveley Company, their ambulance was used to convey the sick and injured.
The primary Department at the Chapel had an annual outing under the supervision of Mrs J.T.Fern and Mrs A.Jukes to the Chesterfield Queen’s Park. It was a thrill to have a ride on the boat round the lake, even a train ride was looked forward to then games were played in the Park.
At the very bottom of Barrow Hill, where the village joins the junction of the Hollingwood and New Whittington Road, the point was known as Solomon’s Pump. What is now Franczak’s motor repair shop was the stables for the Midland Railway dray horses. The drayman. Mr J.Couzens, lived in a house almost adjoining, now demolished, as was a small row of cottages across the road running towards the railway bank. The Stationmaster’s house stood on the corner of the railway bridge.
Tragedy began to strike our family. My father fell victim to T.B., a common illness, before and for some time after the first world war. Although a Head Shunter on the railway, his weekly wage never exceeded £1 per week. My grandfather, already a widower since 1897, worked down the pit until he was 71 and died at that age in March 1915. The family tombstone is on the left hand side just inside the entrance to Staveley Cemetery. This necessitated our leaving 160, Barrow Hill in January 1916 and moving into a railway house at number 11, Midland Terrace, which was to be tenanted by my sister Hilda until 1985. After myself, Stanley, May and Eileen had arrived in that order. Sadly, we lost Ida in 1947 at the early age of 48.
During my time as a resident of Barrow Hill, there was a very active community. Apart from everybody knowing everybody else, the two chapels were all very active forces. The Salvation Army played a very important part too. The Orchestral Society was well know as was the Barrow Hill Silver Prize Band. Whist drives and dances were held regularly in the schools and, for many years until the building of the Church Hall, the C. of E. held their Sunday School there.
Education had improved greatly and it had now become compulsory for children to attend school, free of charge. When my mother started school about 1883, a charge of 3d per week was made which, for the average family of six to eight children or more, meant some sacrifice. Remember, no pay – no school. This system was later abolished. I well remember the teachers of my school days. in the infants Miss Hibberd (later Mrs Maurice Unwin) was Head, then Mrs Jones, Miss Godber and Miss Donovan. In the boys school the Head, Mr F.E.Walters, was a great teacher and disciplinarian, Maurice Unwin, Richard Phillips, Miss Sherwin, Miss Wake and Miss Kent.
The teachers were very patriotic people, they held their school and the country, with the Royal family, in high esteem. The scholars, joined by parents, would celebrate Empire day and other special occasions with singing national anthems and songs in the schoolyard and when the Royal train passed through Barrow Hill, on the nearby railway we would all line up on the railway embankment and wave our Union Jacks as the train passed by.
The normal busy place on Barrow Hill was on the “big end.” Starting from the bottom rows was Deco Hill’s chip shop, followed upwards by Tommy Marriott the fruiterer, then Mr Bore’s garden, the Primitive Methodist Chapel, then Parry’s haberdashery shop (a packet of pins 1d), Davy’s grocery, “Daddy” Gilbert the cobbler, then the slaughterhouse for butchers Fletcher and Millard who both had shops at the other end of the row, then Lewis Hall’s sweet shop, Dolly Bingham the barber, Rush’s chip shop and paraffin, Cook’s grocery and general and later, T.Shooter and Sons the clothiers. Nearby the butchers shops was Harry Hill the barber, Hunt’s sweet shop and bits and bobs, and Stirlings house-come-shop.
Although the house at No.11, Midland Terrace was good, the conveniences left much to be desired compared with the present day. Electric light had not yet arrived at Barrow Hill. Running water on the Blocks was one stand pipe to each block of three houses. There were no W.C.’s, simply middens and pans in the railway houses, there was no gas, all means of light was from oil lamps which had to be trimmed daily. For quite a few years after moving to No.11, although taps had been installed in the houses, there was no pressure of water and one would have to collect drinking water from a spring in the nearby field. A wash down in a zinc bath in front of the fire when other members of the family were either out or in bed was a luxury. For wash day with copper and two tubs, my mother would sit up almost all the previous night to draw sufficient water. In those days, a ponch and dolly pegs were used and a mangle as big as a tractor engine.
This brings me to the age of something between nine and ten at which age I was fortunate to be part-time employed by butcher Millard delivering baskets of meat to his customers on Friday nights and Saturdays until 4pm. It was heavy going, going as far as White Lodge Farm and Campbell Cottages in winter and summer alike. This was for the princely sum of 1/6d plus half a pound of pork pie for my dinner on Saturdays.
At eleven years of age, the opportunity came for an indoor job which I readily accepted. It was to be the lather boy for Mr Harry Hill who, although he worked at the pit five days a week, did barbering each night and all day Saturday. My hours were Monday, Wednesday and Friday 5 to 8pm and on Saturday 9am to 8pm. Barbering was a thriving business, remembering that the safety razor had not yet been introduced and, unless one could use a cut throat, he must go to the barbers for a shave mostly every other day. 2d for a shave, 4d for a haircut. 3d for boys.
On the top row of Barrow Hill, the tenants living in numbers 16 to 27 each had a pig sty across the road some twenty feet from their house door, and if they themselves did not keep pigs in the sty it would be let to someone else. These would be knocked down in 1926 when the ash pits and middens were replaced with a W.C. and wash house. At No.32 lived the Jessop family who were expert cobblers and also had a wagonette drawn by two horses, with this the Band of Hope at the Top Chapel had its annual outing to Caudwell Valley.
The locum was the bearded Dr Blight. Different from today, after morning surgery he would start on the top row and wind his way down the village, usually riding a bicycle, to visit his sick patients, to visit those outside the village at New Whittington, Brimington, etc. He had two black horses and employed a coachman, Jonathan Fogg. Two policemen were stationed permanently at Barrow Hill.
In the early days of our Grandparents, the railway engines at the sheds would join the main line by running between a row of block houses, the long row, and behind the hotel. For years, where the sleepers had been laid, we would bounce along the old track on our cycles. This of course was dispensed with when the new curve which crosses the bridge on Whittington Lane was made.
The first motor car to be running the roads locally was owned by Mr C.P. Markham and was known as the “Yellow Peril.” This would be at a time about the end of the First World War. The first privately owned charabanc was in the hands of one Harry Cresswell, christened “Peveril of the Peak” and, although he did a bit of local tripping he never developed the business. The idea of motor transport was then seized upon by Jimmy Briggs who used a lorry-cum-bus for carting coal but, on Friday nights with the aid of a cover on his lorry, ran a service from Barrow Hill to Staveley market. In the late 1920’s, Mathers of Tupton ran a skeleton service with a small bus to Chesterfield. He was later bought out by the East Midland Motor Company. This was the beginning of the end of railway passenger traffic from Barrow Hill to other local stations.
My lather boy days came to an end in 1921. Leaving school at 13 years of age, I started work on the 28th April that year. It was the year of the general strike when almost every kind of work was at a standstill and there was great poverty for many months. Fortunately for me, the schoolmaster, Mr Walters, had recommended me for a vacancy as office boy in the Horse-keeping Department under Mr R.J.Hawley. This was one department of the Staveley Company that had to work as the 500 pit ponies had been brought to the surface to graze in various places and had to be constantly attended to. I had little to do whilst the strike lasted other than answer the telephone and run a few errands. My early pay packets showed I had earned 6/3d per week. Of this, I had 1/- spending money. My mother had the rest. It was the norm to have an increase in wage for juniors each birthday. One would have to knock on the Secretary’s door (Mr Sam Berresford), wait for the “come in”, salute, and remind him of the day. On reaching 18 years of age, my wage had increased by increments to £1.5s.0d per week, this was in 1926, the year of another general strike and the year I contracted pneumonia, being off work for almost four months at St Anne’s convalescent home at Bridlington. At 21, I was earning £2.5s.0d per week, after which I had increases according to merit and responsibility.
Our marriage took place at Barrow Hill Ebenezer Methodist Church, the Rev E. Isherwood officiating, by which time my earnings had reached £3.0.0. per week. Carrie and myself had previously agreed we would not marry until I had save £100. This was accomplished and included £10 for the honeymoon in London. It was sufficient to furnish a promised bungalow, No.5 Sycamore Lane, Hollingwood.
The standard wage for a labourer on the works was 7/- per day, £2.2s.0d for a full week. In our department, we had men living in Hollingwood, a new village, earning this amount. The rent was 12/10d per week and other stoppages included 10d for National Health (then known as Lloyd George) and 10d for Unemployment Benefit. This meant a take home pay of £1.7s.6d. There were no statutory holidays, all time lost including Easter, Whitsun, Christmas and sickness were deducted from the wage. I have known men take a 3d bit home on Friday.
It turned out lucky for me that I had not been successful in obtaining two other jobs outside the Company for circumstances at work began to change. I worked hard, completing a commercial course at evening classed in Chesterfield three nights per week, at the same time studying the organ. I was appointed organist at Barrow Hill Methodist Church in 1932 at which I had been received into membership in 1926 and where I served as Church Secretary, Teacher and Superintendent in the Sunday School, Trustee, and other incidental offices.
My manager at work, Mr Hawley, was appointed Superintendent of the Ambulance Division in 1929. The divisional funds were raised firstly by the Company contributing £1 per efficient member, raffles, Christmas draws and selling scent cards and pencils at 1d per time. The new Super looked and found a more beneficial way of boosting the funds. There was no provision on the Foundries section of the works where one could buy a cup or can of tea, or a packet of cigarettes, so the first canteen, being part of the tennis pavilion near the General Offices was opened in 1929. I well recall the first days takings were 17/6d. A young lady was later engaged as the attendant and paid 12/6d per week. Woodbines were sold at 5 for 2d, better brands 10 for 6d, a cup of tea for 1d and 2d for a can of tea. The venture proved a great success, so much so that a new larger wooden structure canteen was built in 1935 and placed at the entrance to the new Sand Spun Pipe Plant. The new plant had been built on an area of ground where only a few years previously, a new mine shaft had been sunk but quickly abandoned because of a major fault in the coal seam. It was known as Duewell Colliery, the first manager being Mr Harold Kirk. The canteen was later transferred across the road to a point near the weight office and the entrance to the New Works. A second canteen, including a mess room, was brick built for the new plant and kept open on a three-shift system round the clock, seven days a week.
During the 1930’s, there was a great trade depression and the war clouds were looming. By 1938 and before, it was evident trouble was brewing, it became more visible – Herr Hitler was trying to conquer Europe and part of the British Empire for Germany. The storm broke on 3rd September 1939 when Britain declared war on Germany to stop the advance of the German forces and it developed into WW2. From this time on, rationing of almost everything was being steadily introduced at different stages, from food, to clothes, to petrol, to soap, and practically all else as the war prolonged from months to years.
The works had now been almost completely turned into a near munition factory and, to keep the workers happy and fit, extra food other than home rations was to be available at the canteens. The Ambulance Room canteen, which until recently had been the Foundry Offices, was opened in 1940. This was followed in 1942, on a Government Statutory Order, with the Central mail meal canteen and the Devonshire Works main meal canteen, making in all five canteens to be administered. The charges: – dinner 8d, sweet 3d, and a cup of tea 1d. With Mr Hawley as my overlord, I was appointed manager of these which, in all, found work for 50 women and 6 men.
By now, we had moved house from Sycamore Lane to No.9 Hollingwood Crescent. The war stretched on until May 1945 in Europe and August 1945 in Japan. The number of workers catered for was 10,000, the Foundries having 6,000 men and women, and the Devonshire Works 4,000. Food Office authorisations during the years of WW2, 1939-1945 were as follows, variable according to availability:-
Tea, 280 cups to 1lb; Sugar, 1/5th oz per meal or hot beverage; Milk, 6 pints per 100 hot beverages; Cooking fat, 1/8th oz per meal; Margarine, 5/16th oz per meal; Cheese, 1/7th oz per meal; Bacon 3/7th oz per breakfast or 1/7th oz per main meal or 1/28th oz per light meal; Meat 3 and 21/32 oz per meal; Processed eggs, 2oz per 100 meals; Shell eggs, 1 for every 225 meals; Cake, confectionery and flour, 8 and 1/2 lbs per 1000 light meals.
Other rationed foods: Starch foods, canned fruit, baked beans, canned fish, coffee essence, dried fruit, canned meat, dried apples. Other items, including potatoes, cabbage and other greens and, according to season, strawberries, gooseberries, rhubarb, etc had to be obtained from merchants and local farmers.
At the end of the war, in 1945, I had my first car, an Austin 7 Ruby saloon, cost £165, this I kept for 2 years before moving up to a bigger model. It was nigh impossible to buy a new car during the war years but I had learned to drive on the canteen van to cover any emergency. Rationing continued in varying but decreasing forms until the end of 1953 when it faded out and canteen services were seen to decline. It was now I visualised the demise of Works catering, although I was slightly wrong in my timing. However, the opportunity came for me right on the doorstep on Hollingwood Crescent to say goodbye to the Company for whom I had worked for 33 years and establish myself in a grocery business, taking over from J.W.Hodson & Sons. This happened on the 4th January 1954.
Quote from Staveley Company’s Magazine January 1954 – “New proprietor of a grocery and provisions business in the centre of Hollingwood is Mr Arthur Fox, until the end of 1953 Manager of the Works Canteens. He joined the Horse-keeping Department of the old Staveley Coal and Iron Company in 1921. Main meals for war workers were a necessity in 1942, and permanent canteens with modern kitchens and facilities were opened on Devonshire Works and near the Foundry Central Offices. Light meals served at the Central Canteen have increased from 24,000 in the early days to 230,000 last year. At the Ambulance Canteens, 6,500.000 light meals have been served since food rationing began in 1940.”
The venture at the shop, although hard work with long hours, proved very rewarding, so much so, that in November 1960, I was able to purchase the business of Norman Henton in Cedar Street as well. This was later sold to my brother-in-law, Harry Burton, in 1964, and the Hollingwood Crescent shop was sold to my brother Stanley in April 1967. We had employed a staff of eight assistants at the two shops in addition to Carrie and myself.
By this time, and by careful management, we were in a position to retire, and did so. We purchased a bungalow being built at No.18 Elliott Drive, Inkersall, for £3,000 into which we moved in January 1966, and where we still reside.
Not least, by far, God has committed to our care a son, Spencer, in 1936, and a daughter, Carole, in 1944, and it is with great joy that I remember their childhood as the happiest days of my life. These have continued with many years of happy marriage with Carrie.
© The family of Arthur Fox
(reproduced here by kind permission of Arthur’s daughter Carole)
Arthur’s story, combined with the incredible local knowledge of his sister Eileen (Newham), inspired much of the research and many of the articles on this website. Many of the photographs on this website are from their personal albums.