WORKING IN THE BOOT & SHOE INDUSTRY Part 1

Arthur Moore (b.1905)

I was born in 1905 up Hunter’s Row. There were four of us up Hunter’s Row but eventually there was eight of us. It was only a small place, kitchen and living room and two bedrooms.

The back bedroom where I slept, I’ve got a vision of lying in bed one night and I turned my head – I could see the wheel of the bells going round through the slit of the window of the church – and it’s never left me that hasn’t.

Church Walk cottages, between castle Street and Argents Mead

The cottages ran up by that wall of the church. I asked my brother once how many cottages there were. He said there was ten cottages. They were small, run right up. It were cobbled paths up to them and outside there was the water taps. No taps inside, no toilet, out the back you’d just got a kind of a sink and bowl. You had to go outside for your water.

I went to school when I was four to the church school. That was right near the house. I also went to church school on a Sunday afternoon. It were the Rev Horrell at the time, he was a big feller, six foot, well built, well thought of.

A typical school in Hinckley: Mrs. Whatamore’s School in 1903

The school is still the same now as when I went only there’s a bit been built on the Church Walks site. The front part on Station Road, where the playground is, is exactly the same as when I went. I reckon there were 40 of us in the class. 

I was in Miss Harris’ class and one day I ran away with my sister down Sketchley Brook. The man who comes to see where you are, he came down and fetched us back to school and Miss Harris, she’d got a bag of sweets and she fetched one out and gave me one and my sister one – she was like that, Miss Harris, she was lovely she was.

Station Road

Then I went into the higher classes in the same building. Mr. Taylor was the headmaster and Mrs. Mills was the teacher, and if you didn’t do anything right you were sent to Mr. Taylor and you knew what you were going to get – hand out, the cane. I know I’ve had the same and I went home and told my mother and she said, ‘Well you must have been doing something else or you wouldn’t have had it.’ You didn’t get no sympathy off your mother.

I can’t remember any serious illness but if I had a cold one of my aunts would put a brown tallow on a brown paper and slap it on my chest. It were cold – it used to be horrible. It cured it!

He (dad) as far as I know, worked for Parson & Sherwin in Station Road and then went to the coal mine. Parson & Sherwin was iron ironmongery, tools and everything like that. Then he got a job at the mines in Nuneaton, that made us leave. As my older brothers left school they came to work at Hinckley. I wanted the carpentry.

I used to go two days a week to the woodwork school but when I left school my father couldn’t afford to put me at it, five shilling (25p) a week as an apprentice for five years, so I had to go and get a job then. I drew my first weeks wages before I was 13.

I came to Hinckley to work at Johnson’s boot and shoe factory – I went in the clicking. I thought to myself, I’ve got to give up the carpentry so I might as well go into this trade, so I learnt the clicking right through, right through cutting swains down for the vamp (the top of the shoe). It were a thin material, woolly one side, material on the other. We had to dip it in this paste and then put it on the vamp. The foreman, he used to sort them out you see, it’d be the flimsiest vamp what I should have to put the swains down on.

I went from that onto fitting cutting – that was the lining of the shoe. I worked hard on that and when I’d been on it for about two year and the foreman brought me some leather skin and I had to cut the pattern. They shifted me from where I was next to an experienced man, you see, so I’d get the idea from him. He’d watch me, how I worked the skin up and the art of cutting that skin up was making less waste. I took the vamps up the backbone of the skin and worked the quarters – that’s the leg – up by the side of the vamp, or if you were making boot style you’d work that on the outside as well, so you got the worst part of the leather on the back you see, so the back strap covered a lot of it when it were stitched up. And that were the art of clicking – cutting the skin up so you made less waste – what they call, you know, good costing. 

They made ladies high class shoes there, such as pythons, snakeskins, lizards – they were little skins lizard was – they were awful to cut they were. I should imagine they came from Africa. Some of these python skins were nine or ten feet long. You had to put your pattern so the scale of the python run to the back. You had to follow that with the quarter as well – bringing it to the back. Anaconda was a big one, it was a yellowish colour with big black rings on it, all over, you see.

I went on a lot of short time and dole. Every time you seen a notice at another boot and shoe factory wanting a clicker I should go. I went to several firms, one at Barwell, Gearey’s – that’s closed down now – I finished back at Johnson’s. I’d been away about five years, you had to keep dodging about, whichever firm had go the orders.

They started dropping on short time so I started going round. A friend of mine says why don’t you try selling stockings, he says I can get you some five and six a dozen. So I started going round with stockings, Desford, Barlestone and all round there. Then one day my cousin said, ‘What about coming in and learning heads?’ – hosiery machines that is – so I said, ‘Oh I’d love that.’ He came down to my house and he says, ‘If you want to come and learn, one of the makers will learn you heads.’ So I said, ‘Lovely.’

When I were first married I lived with the wife’s grandparents, well, her grandma. I lived with them for quite a while until her grandma died, and the of course her mother tried to do a little bit of bossing about then you see so I says to the wife, ‘Well, I’m getting out, I’m going to try and get a place of our own.’ So I saw a house to let on Mill Hill and I went there. It was, I think, five shillings a week to rent. Then we went from there – ‘cos we always wanted a little bit better house – down to where I live now, that was in 1937, at ten and six a week, that were a new house, three bedrooms semi-detached. It was only another five shillings extra you see and the wife was in work and I was in work at the time…well, dodging about, one thing and another.

Simmons, he were selling them for £850 for a start and then he got within two houses of where I lived and he stopped selling them. Eighteen months went by and…he says he’d put £250 on ’em – £1,100. I think there was a boon in building then, and of course the hosiery, there was plenty of work, everybody on full time, Atkins was going on, they were coming from out of town you see and living in these houses.

Regents Street

Ron Milton (b.1907)

Margery Milton (b.1912)

In 1912 I should be five, when we moved to Priesthills. I think the house was built and my dad bought it new, no-one else had lived in it…I think it was built by Greaves, local builder. It was a real family house, front room and a living room, a biggish kitchen, which was called the maid’s kitchen originally and a scullery off. There was a long passage from the back of the house right through to the front door with a separate staircase up and one thing we had which a lot of people as that time did not have was a bathroom – we were very lucky.

There was a big bedroom at the back over the kitchen and the two other bedrooms and a box-room with a long landing. It was a biggish house and it still wasn’t big enough for a family of eight. We had to sleep top to toe, the four lads did. I know I had to get up, when I was about seven or eight to light the copper fire and get the water boiling for the washing. Washday was always on a Monday and it was an all day job. You had a mangle that you had to turn. The family was ten including Mum and Dad.

Things were washed, they were rinsed, blued, starched, then they were mangled and they were hung out ‘cos there was no other way of drying them.

You had a knob of blue that you put in the water to get the whites whiter – it was in a sort of little bag that you had to squeeze into the water until it was sufficiently blue. All that’s incorporated in your soap powders today – so they say. There was a big line in the scullery from one end to the other. You’d lower it down, put the clothes on and then pull it up again.

Quite frankly I haven’t got a lot of memories of my father, I saw very little of him – he went in a room by himself for a lot of the time. Those days children were seen and not heard. Outside, no doubt about that. In Priesthills Road there were waste spaces where they built on eventually and we used to have that to play on. They left you on your own, you could be in those days…you had to be in by nine o’clock at night.

These letter boxes, you’d tie a bit of string to the handle, walk some way down the road, someone would come to the door and there’d be no-one about of course. Just larks, nothing really serious. Where we lived, at the bottom of the garden there was a fence and over that was the fields so when there was hay-making we used to go and play in the fields among the hay. And a bit further on the station…just over the bridge was another field and at the bottom of the fields was Sketchley Brook. Oh yes we used to – summer – take a bottle of water or a bottle of pop and something to eat and go and spend most of the day down there.

 

 

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