Halifax was built on cloth. We’ve been producing it for almost a thousand years.
Halifax grew into a rich and booming mill town and developed a wide diversity of commerce, from money to sweets – Riley’s toffee rolls as well as good old Mack’s (now part of Nestle) – through engineering to plastics, fish and chip ranges, leather goods and car parts... the list was endless.Businesswise Halifax was a wondrous place.
We have all heard about the old days in the mills, when children had to crawl under machines, sometimes getting maimed, even killed.
Roland, my late brother-in-law, once told me about when he worked at Dean Clough as a lad in the 1930s. He was a small lad and one of the weavers asked him if he would like to earn some extra cash by going in on the Saturday to help him.
It seemed the weavers went in then to clean their looms while they were stopped but the children used to do it while they ran and Roland was the ideal size for going underneath and picking off the fluff and cleaning.
The weaver used to pay him out of his own pocket. Other weavers saw and wanted and he was soon on to a nice little earner, helping to boost his meagre pay.
The mills worked around their women workers with day and sometimes night shifts, along with morning, afternoon or evening shifts.
During school holidays, while Mum worked, our Ern, nan, relative or neighbour would keep an eye on us.
When older, when our Nancy was working at Walker’s mill, off Gibbet Street, Auntie Nelly looked after us. She had worked there in the canteen and her daughter, Joan, and Auntie Mary worked there.
One day she took our Pat and me for a walk and we finished up at the mill. As we approached we became aware of the noise. On entering the smell of oil and wool hit us and the heat nearly knocked us back out of the door!
We entered a busy loading bay and took a lift to our nan’s and Auntie Mary’s room. The noise, heat and small all increased in intensity; the heat would beat the tropics at midday and the clattering of machines was deafening.
Workers went down lines of bobbins, taking off full ones and putting on empty ones. Despite the noise they seemed able to communicate across their machines to other people. It was hard, non-stop toil in blistering heat – but the money wasn’t bad!
In the mills’ heyday people came by coach from places like Barnsley and Wakefield. In my teens they nurtured my young heart at the youth club in the Labour rooms, besides teaching me swear words! When there was overtime the coach would go back late.
You were lucky to work in Halifax then. As the mills declined people moved to something else. But the women lost a nice little earner, although the sewing shops seemed to keep going into recent times, when we seemed to lose the few mills that had remained as solid family businesses.
nAnthony Buckless, left, lives at Sunny Bank Road, Mixenden, Halifax.