At Evans Hart, we pride ourselves on delivering a personal and bespoke service to a wide range of clients, many of whom we have been privileged to work with over many years.
Building a strong personal relationship with our clients is the foundation stone of our business and through our interactions over time we have become aware of the many personal histories of the people we deal with. These stories are always incredibly interesting on a personal level as they reveal insights and historical detail, through direct personal experience, of times forgotten by many.
We felt that it was important that these personal histories should not be forgotten and that sharing these opened a window to the experiences of life in the early 20th Century.
Sam Price was born on the 15 October 1921 in Oldham, Lancashire. His home was a terraced block of brick houses built in the nineteenth century. On the ground floor there was a scullery, a large living room and a lounge with three bedrooms on the upper floor. Sam was born in the front room.
As was normal, in those times, there were no indoor facilities and the toilet and coal shed were in the backyard of the premises, this area being separated from the adjoining houses by brick walls and exited through a gate to the “backs”, a dirt way running the length of the street.
The lounge was furnished to the best which could be afforded and was little used, except as a showpiece, the whole of family life being concentrated in the living room. This was the focal point of the home and included a miscellaneous variety of chairs, mainly dining, along with a wooden 19th century armchair with loose cushions for his father, and an upholstered nursing chair for his mother. Central to the room was a large wooden dining table on which all meals were taken.
The room was heated by an open coal fire sited in an iron range, with adjacent ovens to the fire, for cooking, heated through manually opened flues. The house was lit solely by gas which was normal for working class houses of the period. Electrical installation to homes was still in its infancy – this was the environment into which Sam Price was born.
His family, comprised of his father, aged fifty-one, his mother aged forty-one, his three sisters, Jennie, Alice and Ena aged fifteen, fourteen and eleven respectively and his brother Teddie aged seven. His eldest sister Rosa, aged twenty-one, was married and lived in Hollinwood. Jennie and Alice were both working, the school leaving age at that time being thirteen.
His father was a master butcher employed by the Cooperative society who managed the butchers shop on Chapel Road some ten minutes’ walk from home. Jennie was employed by Ferranti electrical engineers in Hollinwood and Alice was beginning her commercial career, I think at a firm called T & R Lees in Drury Lane. Ena was at Hollins central school and Teddie at Incline Road council school.
Sam recalls from the age of three his pram situated in the lounge adjacent to the wall facing the fireplace, it was deep bodied, brown with small wheels and his sister Ena taking him out to Coalshaw Green Park. At the age of three Sam had the measles which necessitated him being placed in a cot in the living room and the gas mantle being shaded because the infection had reached my eyes. This caused permanent damage to his right eye.
The family was a very closely knit unit, not only the immediate one but the near relatives – aunts, uncles and cousins – and from an early age Sam knew of his father’s four brothers and two sisters. The fact that two of these brothers lived in South Africa was a source of pride and some wonderment. This was reinforced by the sight of artefacts sent over by them. A lion skin and seal skin decorated the floor of the bedroom, an ostrich egg in a glass case, ostrich feathers and a carved wooden handled horse hair flail to keep the South African insects at bay. All made a huge impression on young Sam – to such an extent that his brother, designated to look after him occasionally, would use this as an excuse to get rid of me. On one occasion, he was dispatched home saying that Uncle Fred had arrived from South Africa with a great Easter egg for him and the disappointment on reaching home to find this was not the case has been registered permanently in his memory to this day. This was Easter 1925.
The environs of the house comprised, at the front, the road and waste ground running north some three hundred yards or so to Chapel road and the rear of his father’s shop and the adjacent Coop. grocery department. To the right, approximately thirty yards to the east lay Hollins road which, with its tramway, was the nearest main road to Oldham.
To the left, School Road stretched several hundred yards alongside a high brick wall which formed the boundary to the “destructor” or where the towns refuse was burned and road maintenance materials were stored. This wall, low at the end, rose to a height of perhaps seven feet and was capped with wide coping stones. “I recall lying on the top of this, hidden from passers-by, and trying to deposit small rolled pellets of gas tar into the “vees” on the top of men’s trilbies as they passed below”. At the end of the housing block, to the west, and down by the”destructor” fencing ran a dirt road, by name the “jiggs” this being the then disused route by which coal was transported to the canal from the nearby Oak colliery in the 18 /l 9th Centuries. Opposite, and to the west was a short row of old slum cottages called “starting chair”. The name came from a group of then disused stone steps to assist in the mounting of horses in times long past.
This was poverty at its worst – uncovered stone flag floors, empty boxes for furniture, the dirt and the smells. The toilet facilities comprised a communal, outside, small wooden shed which housed a large metal can emptied in the very, early, dark hours of the morning by what was generally referred to as the corporation ‘muck cart” a deep, high sided wooden, horse drawn cart.
With the built-in class system of the working classes this was a very much isolated group. However, Sam made friends with a boy of his own age called Billy Williams. This did not have the approval of his mother as Billy’s father was one of the forgotten soldiers of the first world war, unemployed and destitute …
The aftermath of this war was very much in evidence with tattered uniforms still being used by unemployed, poverty stricken ex-soldiers, many limbless and blind, singing in the streets for coppers. His mother was still, as a throw-back to her youth, singing Boer war songs (“goodbye Dolly I must leave you”) around the house and he remembers her pointing out an ex-soldier in Hollinwood who fought in the Crimean war who must have then been turning ninety.
The adjacent main road carried the tram service into Oldham with the waggons transporting the huge bales of cotton from the Manchester docks for the Oldham mills. These waggons were drawn by teams of shire horses and had a reserve horse at the rear. They stopped on the road nearby, adjacent to Tusons shoe and clog repairers, on a regular basis, where they were fed with oats via canvas nosebags to prepare them for the steep incline. Showers of sparks could be their steel shod hooves slipped as they restarted and took grip. Steam waggons were also used as an alternative means of transporting the cotton and these were noisy, flat fronted, with a chimney and were quite spectacular on a dull day with the glowing ash pan underneath.
So, to school in the winter of 1925.
This was the St.Margarets church infant school on Grammar school road which was about ten to fifteen minutes walk from home, the direct way being across Incline road and open waste ground about the size of two football pitches. Of course, in those days, the mother only took the child on the first day. It was unheard of for the children to be collected from and taken to school even at the age of four.
Sam has vivid recollections of his first class. “This was in a very small classroom and the teacher was named Mrs Grodnett, an elderly person, or so it seemed to me at the age of four. The reason that I have retained this memory is centred on one specific set of actions by her.
This was at a time, whilst not for our family, of extreme poverty in the area, and many parents had not the means of feeding and clothing their families adequately. This manifested itself in the frequency of poorly clad and undernourished children some with deformed legs (rickets). I recall this teacher with a small tray on which were many odd cups. She took pity on those children who had not been fed that morning and out of her own pocket gave those children a slice of bread and a cup of cocoa. “
It should be realised that Oldham, now, was the largest cotton spinning town in the world and housed approximately three hundred Cotton mills with factory chimneys belching forth clouds of dense smoke. Additionally, all houses were heated by coal fires, all this pollution resulting, in the winter, with fog. “These fogs had to be experienced to be believed! Yellow, grey, black impenetrable, visibility down frequently to zero or at the most a yard or so.”
The direct route to the infant’s school was largely across open waste ground and one winter afternoon in the winter of 1925/6 there was a fog to end-all fogs. “I recall leaving school and after the few yards to the end of the street I was confronted by a blank wall of fog which blanketed the open space of waste ground. I was shocked and could not face that prospect and I thought of an alternative. I felt my way along the street which lay at right angles to the open ground. This street housed the skip works where skips were made from cane for the cotton mills. Feeling my way along the wall of the works this led to school road and the “destructor” and on gaining this l felt my way along this wall and so arrived home safely. Very unusually the house was deserted, my mother having decided to collect me from school because of the exceptional and dangerous conditions. However, she herself had become lost and completely disorientated and it was a full hour before she returned home with the assistance of another passer-by.”
Most of the family shopping, in the 1920s. was carried out at the cooperative society shops. Friday generally being the day it was all done was universally called ”buying in” day. The co-op, overall, was quite extensive in its operations and covering everything from groceries and meat to clothing, footwear, pharmacy, furniture, general goods and banking.
The co-op being a non-profit operation and paying a cash, periodic dividend to members was a benefit in those times since with little or no residual money it was a means of controlled savings and most families relied on these few pounds to clothe their children. Each customer had an individual number and, on purchase, the shop issued a hand written duplicated receipt to enable a check to be carried out in anticipation of the dividend.
“After almost seventy years without use, I still remember the individual numbers of my mother and father as 30682 and 12791. All purchases were on my mother’s account, except thick twist pipe tobacco and it was my job at a very early age to check the totals on the announcement of the “divi”. My fathers were a simple multiplication 4 ½ pence per ½ ounce and this never varied over all the years of my childhood. “
Careful planning was necessary to avoid accumulation of debt and the prudent housewife generally joined clubs, usually held at a church school and deposited whatever minor amount she had allowing it to accumulate as enforced savings over a year. These were, named clubs such as burial or clothing clubs.
It should also be recognised that there was no health service provided by the state. People would sign onto the doctor’s “panel” whereby a set sum, to pay the bills, was collected each week by the doctors visiting representative. “Our own family was on this “panel” and I recall, even as far back as 1924, this collection being every Friday evening the sum being one shilling and sixpence per week. I recall the doctors name as Dr Baynes and my mother told me, although I have no recollection of this that he tethered his horse to the gas lamp post, sited outside No 3.”
The Hollinwood market on Hollins road was held on the Thursday of each week and was always an occasion with attendance being high in the search for cheap goods. In the winter afternoons the stalls were, in the early twenties, lit with pressure paraffin lamps. There was an additional, but much smaller market held on Fridays and this was sited on Manchester Road and confined to the open space in front of the Bowling green public house. I recall one evening in 1924/5 when my mother took me and we entered an antique/second hand shop on Manchester road near to the market and she bought me my first book, second hand, for two pence “Beowulf’. It is dated 1908 and I have always treasured this, since it served to fire my childs imagination, and I have it still. We were then not aware that these stories were from the oldest book of poems in the English language now held in the British Museum. (“5 Schoooo” my 3/4 years of age printing is on the flyleaf)
One evening in 1924/5 I remember my mother taking me to the bottom of Hollins road to an area of, waste ground (now occupied by the Roxy cinema) on the centre of which was a large wooden shed. This was used for the manufacture of bundles of oily firewood then used extensively for lighting household fires. The building had caught fire and a huge and spectacular conflagration had resulted.
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