Stories about my Dad (2)

In 1946, my Dad, Fred,  left the Brylcreem Boys of the RAF and Bomber Command, and signed up to be trained as a teacher. He finished up getting a job quite near to his home in Hartshorne Road, Woodville. It was at the school in Hastings Road in Church Gresley. He taught there until the mid-1950s. In the 1990s, when I used to go and watch the local football/soccer team, Gresley Rovers, I met one or two of his erstwhile pupils who all remembered him, as a very strict teacher who brooked no nonsense. That might well have been because the teenage sons of coalminers at Hastings Road would have been a tough proposition to keep under control in classes of more than forty, especially for a first time teacher. I can quite well imagine that Fred would have had to employ what DH Lawrence, faced also with teaching the teenage sons of coalminers, called “three years’ savage teaching of collier lads”.

Here’s Hastings Road School. I have used one of the reprinted Victorian maps of England sold by Alan Godfrey . Hastings Road is in the middle of the eastern edge:

Notice how many “Old coal shafts” there are, even in this small area. Just after the war, there were up to 17 coal mines active in the area, as well as numerous vast open cast clay mines. Just try to imagine how small a human figure would be on this postcard, if those are full sized factory buildings in the background. Open cast clay mines were really gigantic…….

All of these activities, of course, left the entire area prey to subsidence. I found a very short article about this particular area on the internet. It said that

“…….the subsidence here was so severe the town’s plight became a national embarrassment. Schools, libraries and even entire streets were either propped up or knocked down as the town sank at an alarming rate.”

As a little boy in the late 1950s, we often used to drive up to Church Gresley to see the houses which had been damaged by the subsidence, which was produced by a 150-odd years of intensive coal mining. These houses were easily recognisable, being  propped up with huge beams of wood or extra long railway sleepers. Here are some of the less serious supports in a picture from a 1949 newspaper. I can remember enormously thick beams of wood when I saw them in the late 1950s. The houses must have been in an even worse state by then. Most of them had, in fact, been evacuated.:

The caption reads:

“SOME OF THE HOUSES IN CORONATION STREET” Built between the two great wars, and therefore comparatively new, as age is assessed in terms of bricks and mortar. There are nearly 50, supported by great baulks of timber, like those shown above and bound together with iron rods. Two are empty, being quite uninhabitable, and in others ceilings are falling, windows cracking and doors refusing to function.”

If the the houses were built in a coronation year, “between the two great wars” they can only date from 1936 and were thus only thirteen years old at  the time of the newpaper photograph. There is a very short video available.  The title refers to “Swadlincote” which is the name of the local area:

Thirty, forty years after my Dad had left Hastings Road School. I went to Hastings Road to take some photographs of the school. Alas, the buildings were no longer there, and had clearly fallen victim to the subsidence that I knew had claimed so many local houses. I began to investigate but I couldn’t find anybody who knew for certain the true detailed story of the demise of Hastings Road  School. Perhaps one day, the beams arrived, and the next day, before they could be put into position, the whole school fell down. That must have cheered up all those “collier lads”. Here’s the school today. Today’s pavement would have been directly in front of the school’s front wall:



Filed under Bomber Command, History, my Dad, Personal, Science

21 responses to “Stories about my Dad (2)

  1. This is fascinating, John. I couldn’t get Aberfan out of my head.

    • As I was only 10 I can’t remember Kennedy being shot very well, but I certainly remember where I was when I found out about Aberfan. In different ways, coal mining certainly did a great deal of damage over the years, and Aberfan was the very worst of all.

  2. Chris Waller

    Reading this takes me back to the Swadlincote of my childhood and the perpetual sulphurous smell of coal-smoke. I was christened at Hastings Road Chapel – it, and the school, were finally demolished around 1960, if I remember correctly. The subsidence in the area was so bad it was discussed in the House of Lords. ( ). The building of Goseley Estate was begun in anticipation of a mass evacuation of parts of Swadlincote and Gresley. I remember one night when my uncle came to our house very late to ask my dad to help him move his mother-in-law out of her house, in Wilmot Road, as it was actually collapsing.

    I don’t envy your dad’s having to teach in Gresley. He must have felt like Daniel in the lions’ den.

    • I didn’t know that about Goseley Estate, Chris. What surprised me as a child was just how long people were prepared to live in houses held up by railway sleepers, although they were certainly something which fascinated us. Every time we went to Swadlincote Library, we used to come back up Wilmot Road, probably in expectation of another house having fallen down since last time.

  3. GP

    I enhanced your picture somewhat to clearly see just how dangerous the situation was.

    • Thank you so much, you’ve done an excellent job there. As young boys of ten or eleven, we used to play in such places when the workmen had gone home. There were even other boys who once built a raft to sail on the water which invariably built up to create a lake in the biggest holes. Most of these open cast mines are gone now, filled up with soil, and grass planted on top to create a “country park”.

  4. I bought a house in West Hallam near Ilkeston on land over an old pit. The houses were built on concrete slabs so they could tilt and move without cracking.

    What subject did your dad teach?

    • That’s interesting about West Hallam. Nowadays, there are lots of new builds in Church Gresley, and something similar must have been done because none of them have fallen down (so far). My Dad studied Geography as his main subject at teacher training college, but he was asked to teach every subject to the class allocated to him. In those days there seem to have been lots of schools that put Juniors and Secondary together, with an age range of perhaps 9-14 or whatever the school leaving age was. My Dad,I presume, was given a class of the oldest pupils. a rather dirty trick to play on a newly qualified teacher. But they didn’t beat him, which was quite an achievement. He was also the teacher in charge of the school football team, which may have been a way for him to get to know his pupils.

  5. Those were dire conditions for people living in coal mining towns.

    • They certainly were, but in “The Age of Coal” virtually the whole of the North and Midlands in England faced such problems. What most people are unaware of is the pollution caused by the clay mines which produced great clouds of dust as they worked. In addition, the lorries which transported the clay would shed lots of mud as they went along and the result was a coating of grey sludge not only on the roads and pavements, but also on the fronts of any houses near the road.
      And all that in a area which was naturally very beautiful countryside before the mines were dug.

  6. In the library the floor fell over three feet. Pathe news. And that was in a building that survived!
    Miners kids would have been tough to teach but very rewarding once you gained their trust I imagine.

    • To be honest, I don’t know the answer to that one. My Dad never talked about them so they can’t have been that awful. On the other hand, in an all boys’ class of forty they may have been able to continue any misbehaviour way beyond the point where it should have stopped.
      Teaching there must have been quite strange. All the teachers knew exactly where all of the boys would finish up……..”Down pit”. They could perhaps be forgiven for a cynical attitude, especially given their wages. Even in the 1960s, in a different school, my Dad got less pay than the caretakers.

  7. Very interesting John and great to see the old photos. I just hope they’ve carried out some serious ground work before building those new houses, if not the same fate will befall them too!

    • Glad you liked it! I can’t imagine that with the relentlessly high standard of house building in England that every precaution necessary has not been taken. Safety has always been the watchword with the builders of South Derbyshire.
      Usually they float the house on a concrete base which supposedly makes it collapse-proof, although I would never buy a house there in a million years!

  8. Wow, what an incredible story. I would hope present day times will learn from the past. At least we can hope.

    • Yes, there’s always that hope, and it’s a hope that will always triumph over experience! And by the way, welcome back, it’s lovely to see you back with us.

  9. Thank you for sharing a part of your history!!.. another wonderful example of peoples determination and will to succeed given the limited amount of resources and knowledge they had compared to today’s world.. 🙂

    Until we meet again..
    May your troubles be less
    Your blessings be more
    And nothing but happiness
    Come through your door
    (Irish Saying)

    • You are absolutely right there. The present generation has five times everything they need, and yet all their possessions seem, if anything, to make them a very unhappy group of people. My belief, for what it’s worth, is that they put too much faith in material things and expect to lead a perfect life, better than everybody else’s. That’s never going to happen, and what’s “everybody else” got to do with it anyway?

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