As It Were by John Connolley, Part One
From the age of five
Obviously I cannot give a day-by-day account. I won't be here
that long... some folk were poor and too proud to admit it;
So the following will be interesting points during that time.
At five years old I started school. A Catholic school a good
two miles away. No bus ticket unless you lived three miles
away. How I dreaded those winter morning. I would be in
the company of Cath, Mary, Nora, Tommy and Irene (my siblings).
No overcoats, no gloves; shoes often letting in water. Some
of those winters were bitterly cold and often deep with snow.
We were pleased to get to school and warm our hands on the
hot pipes. Hot aches often bringing us to tears. No school
dinners. We took bread and dripping/lard sandwiches. The elder
sister took a bag with cocoa/sugar mix and made a hot drink
at lunchtime. No milk. That was a luxury. Mum could only afford
½ pint daily.
On arrival back home - no hot dinner awaited us. Just bread
and margarine and maybe a ¼ slice of some pig's chap
or souse. Bedtime - a drink of tea
While on the subject of bed. The nights were cold but as we
were three or four to a bed we kept each other warm.
Sunday meals were exceptional. On Saturday evening mum would
go to the market late and as the butcher was wanting to sell
up and clear his stall she got a really good piece of meat
for 2/6d = 12½ new pence. That meat would last two
days. Mum would spend Sunday afternoon baking bread, cakes
and pasties. Sunday was a feast day and the rest of the week
was "pot luck"
A second tragedy in the family occurred about the same time.
My sister Mary, aged about 11-12 had stayed at home from school
not feeling too well. During the morning my mum decided that
she would have to go to the butcher's to get some steak for
my dad for his meal. Mary, meanwhile, had decided that she would
black lead the stove and clean the ashes from the grate whilst
mum was out. Whilst doing so, unfortunately, her apron caught
fire. Not knowing what to do and in a blind panic she ran outside
and sustained terrible burns. She was unrecognisable. The neighbours
said that they had gone to her aid but that is doubtful according
to the extent of her burns. An ambulance was called and we never
again. Her coffin was sealed as the sight was considered too
If any of us got a new piece of clothing we were over the
moon. The head lice and fleas were always pests. The beds
were saturated with Keatings Powder and our head hair absolutely
stunk of coal tar. Often we would get up in the morning with
red fleabite marks somewhere on our body. Most evenings there
was a ritual for us kiddies. Mother or eldest sister would
sit on a chair and have a piece of paper on her knee. We would
kneel in front of her and with a fine toothcomb she would
catch the little b
s. It was a never-ending war.
Once a month the School Nurse would attend. We would go in
front of her and she would search our hair. "Tell your
mother you have got nits." She would get paid for that.
If I had repeated to her what mother called her I would be
doing penance still.
During this spell of time we lost a brother, Paddy.
He died of pneumonia at less than two years old. That disease
cost many lives in those days. I remember seeing him in his
small coffin, which was resting on the front room table, completely
at peace. Every so often the neighbours would ask permission
to see him and it was always granted. Two or three days and
then it was goodbye. Time went by and our fortunes got worse,
but that is another time.
Life is what you make it!
Approaching summer 1926. Not much coal wanted, so father was
put on a four-day week, which meant a loss of 16/- (80p) from
the weekly wage. Had it been a three-day week he could have
got three days dole money but it seemed the mine owners (father
had a different name for them) and the government, were in cahoots.
Anyway to offset this my eldest brother, Steve,
had started work down the same pit (pony driving) at 10/- per
week, less lorry fare to work and union fees. He gave mother
his entire wage and she gave him 6d spending money per week.
Now at no time were we kids hungry. Not while we could enjoy
mum's "nubble" and jam, margarine, dripping and
lard. Look what the fat did for us - most of my kin hit the
70-year-old mark and we had salt and sugar and fat ad lib.
(Nubble = a cake of home made bread just below the circle
of a dinner plate and 2" thick. Lovely with the
spread mentioned.) Roll on Sundays.
Our weekly spending money we received every Friday night.
Yes, one whole ½d each and that amount would buy one
gobstopper or two bullseyes. They changed colour as you sucked
them. Or ½oz of some teeth rotters. Whenever the jam
jar was empty we would take it to the rag and bone man and
he would give us ½d for it. Of course the jam jar was
of no use to us and no one had any money to put in it and
secrete it away. We was poor!
One day at school it was announced that any child whose father
was on the dole could go to the Council offices and they would
be fitted with a new pair of shoes. I consulted my younger brethren
and they said I must not go. Our father was working... He
who dares! I went. No questions were asked except your name.
I got a new pair of boots. On the top inner edge were two eyelets
no chance of pawning them.
The Brampton Bruiser
In those days we kids had to make our own fun. No wireless to
listen to. We obtained one at a later date though. It was second
hand, 10/- (50p). We enjoyed our spare time in the playfields
in the lane. They had swings and a maypole. Often at school
holiday time, I and two or three of my siblings would hike anything
up to nine miles there and nine miles back to Matlock, Baslow,
and various other places. No trouble and no danger of perverts
as there are today. A good day out with a bottle of water and
the usual sarnies. We did get into trouble occasionally but
I was always wary of my father's belt. A very good deterrent.
The more serious crimes we steered clear of. Thoughts of the
"birch" kept us in check. The minor things were avoided
too. If you were caught say, in "Woolies" shoplifting
you were immediately sent to borstal for three weeks, the shame
of it being in having your hair shaved off. When you returned
home everyone knew you for what you were - a petty thief.
The street where I lived was one of the roughest in the area.
Mostly miners and their families. We kids knew this because
about 4 to 5 am - clump, clump. The sounds of clogs on the
pavement on work mornings and a bang on the door if they thought
you had overlaid.
Up to meeting with a very bad accident, my grandfather called
me the "Brampton Bruiser". You had to defend yourself
and look after your younger siblings in that lane. I got many
a thumping and I may add I thumped many more.
My father told me he went down the mine aged 13 but by the time
my brother left school the age had been increased to 14 years.
Now the real hard times. Before I carry on though, there are
one or two points to mention. As I said it was summer time and
so I was wearing Woolies sandals, 6d each foot, no socks
This day I was running home during lunch time to run an errand
for mum. It was pouring with rain and as I ran a sole of one
of the "pumps" became loose. It was very awkward running
so I stopped and rived if off. I ran the rest of the way with
During these past years we never ever got birthday cards. Our
birthday present would be one shiny new penny coin and we did
not expect anything more. A whole new penny was a dream gift.
Christmas was always looked forward to but we knew what Santa
was going to bring for sure. In the case of sisters, a doll
from Woolies. The girls made dresses for these themselves. In
my case a Hohner mouth organ, must be key C or G. My younger
brother - a smokers chocolate outfit. Our stockings always contained
an orange, an apple and the new penny.
How did my parents fare at Christmas? Well, two sisters and
myself made sure they got a little Christmas fare. Every Christmas
morning for a number of years we three would set off and "carol"
our way from Brampton to Holymoorside. Come 3 o'clock we would
be £2 - £3 richer and had had mince pies and Christmas
cake. Then we could afford a treat. A 1d tram ride
back to Barker Lane. Oh those bygone days
hard but I sometimes yearn for them.
The money we earned was given to mum and she gave us 6d each.
We were rich. By the way, I cannot ever remember having turkey
or Christmas pudding during those years. Beef or pork was
on the Christmas menu.
By now we had an addition to the family. My sister
The Miners' Strike - the details I am not certain of, and as
I am only writing what I actually remember I will pass on that.
First week - no pay, no dole, so... no money. "Don't cry
Ellen" (Dad's pet name for mum). "I will go out and
get some money." He went to the workhouse (lugger) and
they gave him a token for 15/- (75p) to be spent only at a food
store of their choice. Don't forget, I could go to Melias grocery
with 10/- (50p) and get a week's groceries. Father was told
he must repay the loan at 1/- per week when the pits resumed
work. As I said, we kids were never hungry, but during this
period the bread and jam, and dripping and lard worked overtime.
Do you know, I can't remember ever having an egg until I left
school and obtained employment. They were only 1d or 1½d
each. A soup kitchen was opened down Bumpmill Lane and I remember
going daily at lunchtime for a large jug full - beautiful stuff.
Mum reheated it for when we all got home from school. Now the
strike was beginning to hurt and the powers that be were turning
"If they won't work, let them starve!" A mouthful
from a well-known politician.
That night a number of stores were broken into and the miners'
families fed well for a day or two. Come the morrow, Chesterfield
was being patrolled with the addition of the Manchester bobbies.
The strike went on and the miners were tightening their belts.
Illness and Disease
My mother was in great demand in the Lane in those times. She
could prepare a deceased person's body in the most reverend
way. "Mrs Connolley,
has just passed
away. Could you come?" Morning, noon or night
I will come."
We kiddies also had our illnesses but we did not always fly
to the doctors as today. Sores were treated with brimstone and
treacle, a very good remedy too. A boil was treated with linseed
poultice or a bread poultice. Another way was the steam bottle
but that was a very rough cure. It worked though. Oh dear it
Then there was measles, the whooper, chicken pox
and the most feared of the lot - diphtheria. Cases of the latter
were transported to isolation in a black ambulance and if we
kids saw it parked outside a house we would give it a very wide
berth. A very deadly disease. Then there was the small pox scare.
Every child was inoculated on the left arm in four places in
close proximity. I still have the marks. A red ribbon was placed
around the arm and the order don't knock it! You can
imagine how we kids obeyed that order to the letter. I think
it lasted four to five days. Of course we did have our accidents
when a doctor was needed.
Some nice polony for you
The street in which I lived is worth a mention before I proceed
to other things. You can image the frustration of being penniless.
Well, some folk could not stand the pace and were apt to let
rip. My friend Sid and I loved to go the (bugs hut) cinema on
Saturday afternoon. To get there we had to run many errands
for folk to earn the required 2d entrance fee and ½d
for a gobstopper. A mile walk to town to do a message was worth
½d. Anyway, this Saturday Sid was a bit short of cash.
"Come in the house and wait for me John and when Dad comes
in he will give me the money required." "OK Sid."
Now Sid's father was a bit of a drunkard who would spend his
food money on ale. He arrived, and on entering the house said
to his wife "What's for me dinner then?" "Tommy,
I have got some nice polony for you." He picked up the
polony and, better than any cricket fieldsman, it went straight
through the window. Sid and I were off. "We'll see Tom
Mix another Saturday."
There were the odd one or two that fell by the way and turned
to drink instead of supporting the family. You could see these
chaps being turned out of the cop shop on a Sunday morning
after spending the night in "clink". They usually
had a 50p fine on the books but they never paid it - they
As I wrote
the strike collapsed and according to my
dad, the railway men who came out with the miners went back
to work so no more could be achieved. Whatever the strike
was about, I am not sure. The strikers lost the day.
I believe I was about 10 years old when I began to have worries
about a private matter. Mum took me to the doctor's and he
advised an immediate circumcision, but there lies another