The place where I grew up (2)

Last time, we looked at the pretty little village where I grew up. It was called Woodville and it is in Derbyshire, England.

The school I went to was down Moira Road, one of the five roads that met at the Tollgate. Much more interesting, though, was Donald Ward’s scrapyard, where we would call in hoping that we would be given metal ball bearings to use in our schoolboy games of marbles:

Occasionally the metal ball bearings would be thrown at us, but none of us were too proud to reject any projectiles that came whizzing our way. Legend told of an immensely strong gentleman of Ukrainian heritage, who worked in the scrap yard, and who was so strong that he could lift a length of railway line off a lorry without any outside help. Here’s his brother, as I could not find any pictures of a man carrying a railway line. He’s just bought his lunch at the takeaway:

Inside the scrapyard was a traditional bottle kiln, which is still there to this day, because it is a Listed Building:

My grandfather, Will, spent a great deal of his adult life working in a bottle kiln. It was hard physical work, which required an enormous physical effort. Grandad was immensely strong and, although he was only a small man, he had huge slab like forearms and muscles made powerful from years of lifting heavy objects. He worked in the pipeyards at Wragg’s and then at Knowles’s. Both of these companies were near Swadlincote, and they manufactured underground pipes, mostly for drains and sewers. During the 1920s and 1930s, because of the severe physical strains of his job, Will was a relatively well paid employee, earning at one point some 42/- per week (£2.10):

Will’s job was to carry a tray of soft, “green ware” which would have weighed around a hundredweight, perhaps some fifty or so kilos. He took them from the place where they were made from moist clay, on a large wooden carrying tray, into the bottle kiln, to be fired and hardened. The bottle kiln, in an effort to retain heat and to economise, was slightly recessed into the ground. It had a very small door, so that Will was obliged firstly to slide down a gentle slope, and then to dip down so that he could enter through the tiny, heat conserving, door. Finally, Will had to lift the heavy tray with its cargo of wet clay objects upwards onto the racks inside the kiln.

Here, of course, inside the kiln, it might be immensely hot, and stories were often told of how men, stripped to the waist, would drink a whole bucketful of water to slake their huge thirst. They always wore sacking on their feet. Newcomers who arrived wearing a pair of shoes for their first day on the job would find that their footwear barely lasted until finishing time at the end of the first day. When he finally retired in 1964, my Grandad was replaced by a fork-lift truck.

Continuing down Moira Road, on the right was, firstly, the Junior School, and then St Stephen’s Church and then the Church Hall. We’ll look at them in more detail next time, but for now, here’s a glimpse. When I was a child, of course, the younger generation were so clever that they did not need to spray paint the names of the roads on the asphalt:




Filed under History, My House, Personal, Politics

21 responses to “The place where I grew up (2)

  1. Your two strong men remind me of my Dad’s friend, Ron Crabb. Himself a small man, his speciality was to manoeuvre himself under the centre of a piano and stand up.

    • That’s a marvellous trick, Derrick! I think that there were lots of fairly strong men back in that era, but Ron Crabb and my Grandad were certainly stronger than most. As for the Ukrainian gentleman, I don’t know whether the railway track story is true or not, to be honest. Let’s say that it was told and re-told enough times to become true. Or, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

  2. The past generations always seem to humble us with their hard work.

    • Perhaps their world just contained a lot more physical exercise. My Grandad could put a wooden wheel back on a cart. My Dad could replace a punctured tyre on his car, and I can replace the batteries in my remote control (if I can find any).
      I always wonder if this idea that those who have gone before were automatically better than us stretches right back in time to One Million Years BC. Did some Egyptian turn to his friend and say “Well, I ‘ve just finished building 120,000 block pyramid for my tomb, but my Grandad ! He had one with 300,000 blocks.” ?
      A few years back, while he was conducting School Assembly, the Headmaster read out a story about a father who was saying “The younger generation are useless. They lie. They cheat. They are lazy. They can’t do anything for themselves. They are absolute worst in the entire history of Babylon.”

      • hahaha, you had me in stitches here, John and you are absolutely right! It is sometimes all relative. Yes, bread was once 5 cents a loaf, but they only made $1.50 a week!!
        That last line of yours sounds like the Marcus Aurelius diary I read decades ago!

  3. Chris Waller

    This brings back memories. Ward’s Recycling? How times change. I remember it as ‘Scrappy’ Ward’s. And I remember the huge Ukranian bloke – I believe his name was George. And I do recall him rolling handfuls of ball-bearings to us, which we rammed into our pockets. I am not clear why the council have painted ‘Moira Rd.’ on the tarmac since it is only easily visible from above. It isn’t even clearly legible to drivers. Is it for the benefit of the police helicopter? I remember working at Knowles’s as a student. The work was back-breaking. At the end of my first day I didn’t even have the energy to pedal my bike. Looking back now, that kind of manual work seems almost medieval, as does coal-mining.

    • I remember watching the old silent film “The Battle of the Somme” which was made in 1916. There was very little direct fighting but lots of loading shells into carts, onto horses and so on. It was absolutely amazing how many men (and horses) there were. Hundreds and hundreds of men, in a line, passing those shells onto a cart, and then another cart, and another cart. It made me feel like shouting “STOP!!! Just sit down and try to invent the fork lift truck”.
      And that’s the truth. So many men in factories and mines and wars were merely replacing machinery that had not yet been invented. I can remember working in a paper factory in Burton and we used to receive 400 kg drums of paper from Finland, four or five miles of it on one drum, and we used to take it to where it was needed in the factory. Eight or ten of us would push and shove and push and shove and eventually get it to its destination. Nowadays, a ten minute job for a forklift.

  4. What a difficult and dangerous job your grandfather did. The old ‘elf ‘n’ safety’ would have a field day today!

    • To be honest, I don’t think he ever considered it dangerous. The two adjectives would probably have been “boring” and “well paid”.
      A few years back, I went to a Special Needs Training Day in Leeds, and the chap giving it, who was very well thought of, said that some countries, such as Australia and Greece, have no ‘elf ‘n’ safety’ at all. And that fact, he said, was closely connected to the other fact about the two countries, namely that dyslexia and especially dyspraxia, are virtually unknown there.
      Whether that’s true or not I have no idea, but it does seem reasonable that self-reliance might have its benefits.

  5. Joe Mac

    Speaking of ball bearings, my mother used to work as a laborer at a bearing factory in New Britain Connecticut. Fafnir bearings, she applied during the 2nd World War. The company was founded in 1911 as a low cost alternative to purchasing the more expensive bearings from England and Germany.

    I own a 1939 Ford Deluxe Coupe with a flathead V8 that I removed from the car some 20 years ago to have some performance parts put on, while the motor was out, I decided to have the stock transmission checked out and removed that also and brought it to a garage. When I went to pick up the transmission afterwards the person told me everything was in good overall condition but he told me he changed one bearing. He made light that the bearing came from Germany. I found what he told me somewhat interesting that Henry Ford used bearings in his made in the USA cars in that time frame as the 2nd World War started in 1939.

    • Thank you so much for such a long and interesting comment. A 1939 Ford Deluxe Coupe sounds a very “cool car” !!
      I was not too surprised to read that there was a German ball bearing in an American car because Henry Ford was a very great admirer of Hitler’s ideas.
      If you look at the “Henry Ford” page on Wikipedia, some of the things Henry Ford did and said were dreadful by today’s standards. The most interesting bits are in the section called “The coming of World War II and Ford’s mental collapse” from the beginning down as far as “His support of the American war effort, however, was problematic”. The other interesting bit is called “The Dearborn Independent and antisemitism”. Ford wasn’t subtle, as he showed in 1920 when he wrote “If fans wish to know the trouble with American baseball they have it in three words—too much Jew.”
      In actual fact, your ball bearing only just missed being made by a slave. As Wikipedia says, “Beginning in 1940, with the requisitioning of between 100 and 200 French POWs to work as slave laborers, Ford-Werke contravened Article 31 of the 1929 Geneva Convention… At that time, which was before the U.S. entered the war and still had full diplomatic relations with Nazi Germany, Ford-Werke was under the control of the Ford Motor Company. The number of slave laborers grew as the war expanded.”

  6. There is a bottle kiln in West Hallam (Derbyshire) where my family live. It is a garden centre and restaurant now.
    I like the line about granddad being replaced by a fork lift truck.

    • I have been there quite a few times. What a coincidence! One of my best friends was an RS teacher, and he used to live in West Hallam. During the year when he had retired but I hadn’t, I used to drive up there during the holidays to have a coffee and a moan with him. It was a nice way to spend a sunny morning or afternoon, although occasionally the winter sleet would make my Macchiato tepid.

  7. That man lifting a horse blew me away!! I KNOW how heavy horses are! We in this day and age do not have any idea how hard “work” was for some. These stories you tell of you family are needed to be heard, John. And to think your Grandad was replaced by a forklift ….. that right there shouts how strong this man was. Wow!!

    • My Grandad would have been amazed at how much modern factories have changed, with robots and mechanical aids such as fork lifts.
      To be honest, I have always wondered how a man who was born in the Victorian era would react even to an ordinary TV remote. I’m sure he would have thought it was witchcraft!

  8. Great look back in time mate, enjoyed your story and more so that it has recollections relating to your family, so much history out there and it’s great to recall and pass on to descendants.

    • Yes, we are surrounded by history. I just bought a map of that area in 1900 and even I did not realise. that the main street had had a huge brewery and that what would be our back garden overlooked the “Excelsior” Pottery. And tramlines and local railways absolutely everywhere.
      I really wish they’d hurry up and invent the time machine!

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