"How different is the life and times of young men and women of today compared to the period when I was their age. I remember my time in the mill and having to walk two miles to start work for 7.00 am as the bus either got there forty minutes early or ten minutes late after the hooter had gone. In those days, the penalty was one half hour's wage docked for being one minute late clocking in on the first occasion and if it happened twice in the same week, it was a sacking offence and you were promptly given your cards!
My first job was at Bulmer and Lumb's Mill, Cleckheaton in 1957. I started on two pounds and ten shillings a week, from which I received ten shillings back from my mother to spend on myself from one payday to the next. Until one was engaged to be married, one's unopened wage packet was always handed to the woman of the house and woe betide any male who'd been found to have tampered with it betwixt work and home! Once engaged to be married, the young person would be allowed to pay 'board and keep' until the happy day they planned marriage. This allowed the possibility to save for one's bottom drawer when you moved from parental to the marital abode. It was only by the late 1960's when a young man began feeling a bit aggrieved if he was still tipping up his wage packet to mum after the age of 21 years.
It mattered not how posh or poor a property was that a couple could afford for their first matrimonial home, so long as it was their own place. Anyone with an ounce of self-respect would have preferred to have lived in the allotment shed with their newly-married bride than have her share the kitchen space in their mother's house or occupy the adjacent bedroom! As for saving for a place of one's own and starting off married life on the property ladder, all that was required was three year's economic hardship, scrimping and saving, working all the hours God sent in overtime and forgoing 'the nights out with the boys' for 'the nights in with the girl.' Sticking this out for three hard years was what was required in order to get together the deposit on a modest one-up and one-down terraced house in a cobbled backstreet, in the hope that you would be able to save more money for a larger property before the second baby was born.
Occasionally, there were those shot-gun weddings where a couple who'd been found wanting had been 'caught short' and were given what neither had expected. At such times, the parlour curtains would be partly drawn by the shamed parents to signify the loss of a lifelong dream for their once-virgin daughter while the pregnant bride-to-be would be forced to abandon hope of her all-white wedding dress along with the full church ceremony she might otherwise have had. Instead of walking proudly down the church aisle with her father by her side, she'd have to borrow a two-piece Marks and Spark's costume from Aunt Dot to wear at the five-minute-do they'd have at the Registry Office to which only close family members had been invited; though not all might come. For these trapped couples, they had no other option than being obliged to live with their mother-in-law until the baby had been born and a return to work was again possible.
Once newly married, the new husband and now man of the house returned to a lifetime of handing over unopened wage packets to the new woman of the house; his wife! She had now assumed the role of the chancellor of his exchequer and would grant him an agreed spending allowance for sweets, tobacco and beer rations after the rent and other necessities had been met. And if there was nothing left.......(wait for it)......... he got nothing but fresh air to put back inside his pocket to play with!
Though work in the mill or factory could be arduous and life in the home wasn't always a bundle of fun, there was always merriment to be had between the mill workers, whether young or old. All the mill hands seemed to have been born with a wicked sense of humour. Workers in mills came in both sexes, all sizes and all ages, and it was this wide and varied mixture of daily social contact that kept the tedium of one's routine working day at bay. During their first day of work, every new worker in the 1950s and 60's was sent to the storeroom for the 'glass hammer' or a 'long weight' and were not seen on the mill floor again until day two. If today's Saturday night revelers and boozers think that they invented the practice of 'mooning,' then they never saw what happened to the new boy's trousers the very first day he had occasion to walk through a room of women machine workers who were determined to baptise his manhood in their tried and tested textile tradition, by oiling his todger!
By 1960 and the age of 18 years I had changed textile mills and was working a standard 11-hour-day with only one break of a half-hour at dinner time. We could all go to the lavatory, have a smoke or mash a cup of tea, providing we didn't stop the production line and kept our machines running in our absence. Hence, the practice of one machine operative looking out for their mate's machine was born and 'multi-tasking' first came into existence! You see, mill workers knew that to keep the cogs of the British Nation turning, a pairing agreement was essentially required with one's work mate; a practice that the Members of Parliament later stole off the mill workers of Yorkshire and Lancashire.
For the vast majority of us workers, we stayed in the same job for life. We lived on the same street with, played with, went to school with and worked in the mill with the same village folk we'd grown up with all our lives. From this close community bond, we forged lifelong friendships and found marriage partners who knew and accepted our ways. When we married, it was invariably within our own class and those who dared to attempt to cross the social divide via the back door of wedlock were soon discovered once they opened their mouth and started to speak or were presented with a knife, fork and spoon to eat with in polite company. Often, the first 'give away' sign as to which side of the railway track one had been born on was discovered whether one 'ate' or 'dined or 'went to the 'lavatory' or 'toilet.' The clincher though was the time and title of their daily meals: you see, their 'dinner' was our 'tea!'
And yet despite such social differences and class distinctions that aren't experienced today, I wouldn't have changed one bit of my early life and work experiences for all the Cappuccino coffee one could find in today's Costa coffee houses. Bright children from working class homes could progress to the university via the 11-Plus exam pass to Grammar School and social mobility was possible for most to better their lot in life, if they chose or had the opportunity to take it!
I progressed from mill labourer through the ranks of working foreman, supervising foreman and mill manager between the ages of 15-26 years of age and I will always remember my earliest years in the mill as some of the happiest days of my working life. It was a hard life at the time, but it was a good life and an honest life and I'm so pleased that I was a part of those memorable times.
When I look back on the 1950s and 1960's, I know that I lived through a time when great change was happening throughout society, though I could never have realised then how much of the country I had grown up in and loved would one day be lost forever to the people of England. Never could I have imagined the loss of proud practice, treasured heritage, cultural values, community spirit and the breakdown of the nucleus family which have occurred since. Never could I have believed that, as a nation, we would forever lose these precious aspects of 'the good life' to the ravages of sterile modernity and European emptiness!
I feel so so sorry for the youth of today. Though it was always a struggle from crib to grave for the working class man and woman, even in the 1950s and 60's there were choices we could make and there was always light at the end of the tunnel one could glimpse. Any struggle felt during those years wasn't a fight for sheer survival as it appears for so many to be today. I feel intensely for the young of the New Millennium as they continue their struggle through the economic collapse, mass unemployment, insufficient housing stock, educational loans, credit card debt and the moral morass that leaves millions mired in seemingly hopeless circumstances. Never in my wildest of dreams would I have believed how many people in their late thirties still live at home with mum and dad in 2017.
I will end for now as I'm about to have dinner in two hours' time. I'll leave you to figure out the time of day it is!" William Forde: April 7th, 2017