Barker Lane memories
by John Connolley

I was born at 49 Barker Lane very late in the evening on the 9th of May 1917. Up to the age of five years I was under the impression that the stork had delivered me to my mother then I heard two old biddies gossiping over the garden wall - the stork story was just a fairytale! Eighty three years later I am certain it was not the luckiest address to arrive at. My father, John Thomas Connolley, was a miner and we endured poverty and need. The clothes we wore were very plain: trousers were well patched, a jersey often darned and shoes down at heel.

One of my earliest memories is when a friend of my eldest sister came to visit. At the age of five I usually undressed downstairs and went up to bed in my nightshirt. Not this night though: there was no way I was going to remove my trousers in front of a strange girl. Shyness remained with me until I was about thirteen years old. Also at the age of five years I started school in Spencer Street, a distance of over two miles. Only if you lived three miles away could you get a bus ticket.

Saturday afternoons always followed the same routine. My father would say, "fetch the hobbin foot out, John" and then, "get my cobblers tools, John". Then he'd call for some nails, which I would have to find in a drawer of old junk. Two hours later he would have repaired someone's shoes in a fashion, then I had the job of picking up the skivers of leather which he had shaved off the shoe.

By the time I was seven years old our sleeping arrangements were becoming bad. We had only two bedrooms and my mother and father occupied one of them. The family included Steve, Annie, Mary, Cath, Nora and Irene. Seven children, one room, two beds! How did we manage? Simple - four in one bed and three in the other. During the winter months we had insufficient blankets to keep us warm and overcoats came in handy when used as a substitute.

It was about this time that grandfather Daykin asked my mother if she could put him and Albert up for a while. I think he had come from Durham. My mother said she could not refuse her own father and brother so that meant an extra two people in the household. Grandad slept on the sofa and Albert joined the bed of three. Grandad found work in a mine - not a deep one like the type my father worked in but a shallow mine which you could walk down.

During the following three years we acquired another two mouths to feed with new arrivals in the family. We were very overcrowded and something would have to give. When I was about nine years old the miners went on strike and for a while we had more misery, more hunger and more heartache. The miners received no wages so my father went to the union workhouse, which was eventually called the Lugger. There he received tokens to the value of fourteen shillings (70p) to be spent on food only, for the eight of us. This went on for a week or two and then, in Parliament, Churchill said, "If they won't work, let them starve". That same night the miners ganged up and broke into three food shops. I remember my father rushing into the house with a full carrier bag and telling my mother to hide it. Next day Chesterfield was full of Manchester policemen: the local force had asked for help. The strike went on a little longer.

Barker Lane was the roughest street in Brampton during my early teens. Besides having to walk past the bully boys you had to be careful walking the street after 10 pm on a Saturday night. It was not unusual for a rolling pin to come flying through a window and whiz past your ear. Fights between some families were the norm. During the week everyone was friendly but at the weekend the beer took over.

The trouble was The Depression. After the strike many miners could only work four days a week. At eight shillings per day (40p) less sixpence (2 ½p) for bus fare and one shilling (5p) a week Union fees his wage was only about one pound ten shillings and sixpence (£1-52 ½p) a week. These were the good old days. Money-wise they were very bad but socially … I would return to those times tomorrow. No drugs, very little corruption, no one-parent families. Believe it or not you could go out for an hour or two and leave your front door wide open. No one would take advantage: they would most likely close the door for you.

I was fifteen years old when I left Barker Lane. After adventures in London and the army (Royal Army Medical Corps) I returned to Barker Lane for a short while in 1946. One or two old friends were missing, others were ex-Japanese prisoners of war. Times had changed.

During my mother's time in the Lane she was the one the other residents called on when someone died. She was an expert at preparing a corpse for the coffin. I was at home one day after the war when an old man died and my mother was summoned. She said "John, I don't feel like going to this one" so I said "Come on, I will give you a hand." She asked me if I was sure and I told her to trust me. She did.

Goodbye Barker Lane - it was an experience.

As It Were - More memories of Chesterfield by John Connolley
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