LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE!

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Stanley
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LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE!

Post by Stanley » 03 May 2020, 05:06

LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE!

It's probably as well that we tend to forget the bad times and see the past through rose tinted spectacles but the job of the historian is to remind us of the reality of the past because many a time what looked like a very dark cloud can prove to have a silver lining. We have a lovely example in Barlick in the story of the catastrophic decline of our major industry, textiles, from 1920 onwards. Perhaps now is a good time to remind ourselves of this.

WHEN THE VIKINGS INVADED BARLICK.

November 20th this year (2000) is the 60th anniversary of the Viking invasion of Barlick. No, I haven’t lost my marbles, these particular Vikings didn’t wear funny hats and drag longships around with them, they were fitters who worked for the Rover Car Co. whose logo, carried on all their radiators is a Viking Longship
Regular readers will remember me telling you about a surprise telephone call I got a couple of months ago from Eddie Spencer who used to live in the house where I am now. The good news about Eddie is that he has survived a serious operation and is now on the way to a full recovery but with a bit less lung capacity than he started out with! He rang me up the other day to remind me that November 20th this year is the 60th anniversary of the day he and his five mates came up from Coventry to inaugurate what was then The Rover Company’s but is now Rolls Royce’s association with the town. He wanted to tell the story for our readers but isn’t fully up to speed yet so I offered to tell his story for him. So what follows is Eddies account of Rover and Barlick.

EDDIE’S STORY.
The week leading up to November 20th 1940 had been bad in Coventry, we had several twelve hour air raids and the city was getting knocked to bits. I was working for the Rover Company as a service fitter and since the beginning of the war we had been working flat out reconditioning Armstrong Siddely Cheetah aero engines which were used in Oxford trainers and Anson coastal defence aircraft. It was pretty obvious to everyone that the Germans knew exactly where the Rover works was and it was only a matter of time before it was completely flattened and essential war production ceased.
The government had foreseen this danger and the Ministry of Aircraft Production had scoured the country looking for out of the way places where there were empty factories and a local workforce who were used to factory work and could be re-trained. The Pendle area was perfect, plenty of empty mills and a reliable labour force so the MAP requisitioned some of them. They took Bankfield, Calf Hall and Butts in Barlick, Grove at Earby, Sough mill and Waterloo at Cltheroe. Overnight these were all designated Rover factories and turned over to war production. Of course, it wasn’t quite as simple as that!
The first we knew about it was when six of us, Bill Tilsley, Jimmy Johnson, Sid Shaw, Cyril Galby, Les Banks and myself were told to get ourselves up to a place called Barnoldswick and start working. A bus was laid on to take us but Les and I went up in his Singer Bantam car and after many adventures in the dark with no maps, no signposts, no street lighting and a slipping clutch we arrived outside Bankfield Shed in the early hours of the morning. Mrs King, who lived in a house at the end of the lane down to the shed, gave me and Les a pot of tea and a bacon butty at seven o’clock out of the kindness of her heart and this was our welcome to Barlick.
We set to straight away. We found a room, cleaned it out, scrounged some old benches and installed our toolboxes. This was the start of what was to be a lifelong association with the town for both me and the industry. Within a few days, the massive (in those days anyway!) RAF ‘Queen Mary’ lorries were delivering aero engines to us for reconditioning. We couldn’t get these wagons down the side of the mill so we had to unload them by hand and carry all the material into the mill.
In a very short time we had our act together and were turning good engines out. Conditions were primitive, no heating, no service machinery and we had to do test runs on a makeshift wooden cradle out in the road. If we were short of work at Bankfield we went up to Calf Hall to help with the conversion of that mill into what was to become our permanent home. I can still see the looms in the shed and the look on Mr Metcalfe’s face as we tore out the shafting and gearing to make room for our machinery.
Eventually we moved into Calf Hall and Bankfield started to concentrate entirely on the development of the jet engine. It was strange being in Barlick after the hell that was Coventry in those days. It seemed so quiet and peaceful, we could hardly believe there was a war on at all. I suppose that nowadays we’d be diagnosed as having post traumatic stress! All we knew then was that it was a definite improvement.
We were billeted in the Vicarage and the landlord and landlady were Jack and Eileen Usher. They were from Birmingham originally and Jack worked on crankshafts with me but his wife looked after the Vicarage. By this time we were full time at Calf Hall and I remember many a morning getting a lift on Town’s horse drawn coal wagon up into town on the way to work. Many girls who worked in the factories were billeted at the end of Greenberfield Lane in the building that is now the Rolls Welfare and Sports centre.
Our families were still in Coventry in the middle of the bombing of course and we did all we could to get back home to visit but this wasn’t easy. If we went by rail we had to leave for Skipton at six in the evening and we were lucky if we got to Coventry by eight the following morning. The trains were often delayed and were packed so we often had to stand all the way. Travelling by car was better but there was the problem of petrol rationing. Fortunately the RAF drivers always had plenty of spare fuel in jerry cans and we could buy them for the price of a pint so we managed!
Life wasn’t all doom and gloom, we managed the odd pint of beer and occasionally we had parties in the billets. We often walked down to Earby via Ben Lane carrying bottles of home made whisky which a man and his sister distilled in a farm not a million miles from the canal bridge. One of our co-workers, Tommy Rushton kept the Commercial so we were often in there as well. I remember we were having a party at the Vicarage just before Christmas 1941 and we ran out of beer so me and my mate went up town with a big enamel jug to get some. We had a couple of pints in the Commercial and set off down Wellhouse Road with the jug. Just before we got to Skipton Road we were stopped by a bobby who wanted to know what we were doing. We told him about the party and offered him a drink. He told us he couldn’t drink on duty, looked round, took his helmet off and lowered the level in our jug for us!
As time went on things got well organised. Gill Brow was built by the Ministry of Aircraft Production as an ancillary to Bankfield which was working on the development of the jet engine. Calf Hall was still doing the Cheetah engines and Butts was where the American Pratt and Whitney engines were overhauled.
By 1943 demand for the Cheetahs was falling but a new engine had been developed by Rolls for use as a tank engine, it was an un-supercharged version of the Merlin and was called the Meteor. A deal had been done between Rover and Rolls and we got the new tank engine while Rolls took over Bankfield and the jet engine. Production of the Meteor in Coventry at the rebuilt Rover factory was behind schedule and several of the old Coventry hands, me included were sent down to help out. We found out later that the main problem was union activity and, in effect, we had been sent down as strike-breakers. This wasn’t a happy time but at least we were with our families. I had met a lass in Barlick called Widdup who lived on Calf Hall Road and was now a family man myself.
Rolls Royce were now in charge at Bankfield and Gill brow but the other mills stayed in Rover hands until the end of the war when all the facilities were moved back to the Midlands. Rolls however stayed in Barlick and grew into the world class industry they are today.
After the war I wanted to stay on with Rover but we ended up having to live in a bed sit with a bad landlady and finally we decided to move back to Barlick. I bought the house that Stanley lives in now and started a small garage in Butts yard doing bodywork and paint spraying with a home made compressor. I played about with my motor bikes and cars and it was a happy time until by 1963 things were going downhill in Barlick. I visited my family in my home town of Holyhead which at that time was booming so we decided to move there. So, things have gone full circle, I was born in Holyhead and here I am back home again but I still have fond memories of the funny little town that played such a big part in my life. As soon as I am a bit fitter I shall be back for a visit.

That’s Eddie’s story as he told it to me. I’m sure he’s right, it’s a good thing to remind ourselves that due to an accident of fate, Hitler gave Barlick a lifeline at a time when the cotton industry was in sharp decline. People forget that many mills were closed before the war started. Where would Barlick have been without the aero engine industry? The strange thing is that this was not the result of some strategic economic planning, it was an accident of fate.

As a historian there’s an even stranger facet to this, when Barlick faced disaster in 1887 with the collapse of the Bracewell empire it was the Shed Companies who saved the day by investing in the town. It was these same mills that saved us again in 1940 by becoming an invaluable aid to war production. The cotton industry served us well for 100 years. The aero engine industry has been here for sixty years. As Eddie said to me, “Good luck to Rolls and the town.” But how long can they go on? What pulls us out of the mire next time round?

SCG/14 October 2000
1810 words

There is a sequel to Eddie's story in that when the shadow factories were returned to the owners after the war we had modernised factories standing empty at low rents and an available workforce, this was what triggered the revival of industry in the town, Carlson, Silentnight, Armoride and Bristol Tractors to name but a few.
What looked at the time like a disaster became, purely by accident, a vehicle for investment in the town that still serves us well today.
Who knows, the disruption of industry and the economy caused by the pandemic might prove to have surprising consequences and not all of them bad. Let's look on the bright side!
Stanley Challenger Graham
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scg1936 at talktalk.net

"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

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Cathy
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Re: LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE!

Post by Cathy » 03 May 2020, 06:21

Thanks Eddie and Stanley. Loved the story and Eddie’s turn of phrase.
I know I'm in my own little world, but it's OK... they know me here. :)

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Stanley
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Re: LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE!

Post by Stanley » 03 May 2020, 06:27

He was a good man Cathy and for some reason he has popped up again recently, a welcome revival and the story has many lessons for us today.
Stanley Challenger Graham
Stanley's View
scg1936 at talktalk.net

"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

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Stanley
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Re: LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE!

Post by Stanley » 04 May 2020, 04:44

I am pleasantly surprised by the amount of feed back I have had from this piece. I have a mailing list I have always sent the BET articles to and have expanded it to include more now and it's evident that there is an appetite out there for my pieces. Nice. When I was talking to Paulette yesterday she said that Uncle Bob loves feedback as well, we authors are so insecure!
See this LINK if you want to let him know how much you appreciate Bob's Bits.
Stanley Challenger Graham
Stanley's View
scg1936 at talktalk.net

"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

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