An Audley Life: The Autobiography of George Dobson (1865-1946)
The society is grateful to Mrs Twemlow, George Dobson’s granddaughter, for permission to print this article. Spellings and punctuation are as they appear in the transcript provided for us, but section headings have been added.
The following lines are dedicated to my family and were written by me in my 78th year, in my days of retirement. I was at a loss what to do, to keep my mind active, owing to being a cripple through a fracture to my hip. I could not get about much, so fixed on doing a bit of writing. I thought it might be interesting to some of you if I endeavoured to relate a few incidents and experiences I had met with during my career, so if my effort is appreciated it will not have been in vain. Though how imperfectly done, I best know myself. Well here it is:
Audley in my early days
I was born at Chapel Street, Bignall End on the 12th of April, 1865. As a child I attended the Audley Wesleyan Day and Sunday School and collected money for the New Chapel Building Fund. The foundation for this was laid on the 18th of October 1875. Miss Vernon laid the corner stone on the west side. There is a cavity in this and in the cavity were placed a bottle containing coins of the period, newspapers and other documents. I was present later when the Chapel was opened and heard the first sermon. I sat upstairs in the second front pew near the organ on the left of the Preacher.
The opening day had been looked forward to and people came from all parts of the circuit. The Schools were enlarged out of the old Chapel. Hundreds of children received their education there and became worthy citizens.
In my early days, Chapel Street and Ravens Lane was a different place to what it is today. Two old cottages stood where the Wesleyan Chapel now extends and it was an open field opposite the Chapel. Two old cottages stood on the brick bank, near where Boughey's house now stands and I remember the house and shop where I now reside being built.
There were no houses on the left going up Ravens Lane, until you arrived near the railway bridge. It was all fields, in which there were several old pit shafts.
There was no Hope Street or Tibb Street, what few residents there was in Ravens Lane they lived in old cottages on the Boughey Estate. Some were old thatched cottages and one or two still remain, Mrs Price being the Tenant of one, which is still internally very nice and cosy. There stood a Blacksmith's Shop opposite the present Co-op Stores where an old man named Oakes used to make nails.
There was several nail makers on Boon Hill. These nails were hand made and boot and shoe repairers in the Potteries and district were supplied with them. Boots and shoes in those days were mostly hand made and the inhabitants who required them were measured and supplied with them from the local Shoemakers.
In Audley and District clothing was mostly obtained locally. There was several well known Tailors who supplied the Public need and more durable clothing was obtained in comparison to what we get today from ready made shops.
Continuing my description of what Audley and District was like in my early days, it might be interesting to relate there was no Gas Works, Water or Electricity. Domestic lighting, such as we had, was obtained from candles and oil lamps, by those who could afford them. Electric was then unknown. The district was badly in need of water, a subject on which I hope to deal with later on. People who wanted to go to the Potteries had to get there the best way they could, that meant walking there and back, or walking to Chesterton and then take a horse drawn vehicle of which there were several plying for hire to Newcastte and back and few got someone in Audley to take them in one of their horse drawn vehicles.
Later on a branch line railway passenger service was opened in 1881 between Stoke and Harecastle. Stations on this branch being Newcastle, Silverdale, Keele, Leycett, Halmerend and Audley.
This remained opened for about 50 years. I was a passenger on the first day of opening, taking the 8 o'clock morning train to Harecastle, then on to Macclesfield to visit my Sister Patty who was then in domestic service with Hollands in Chestergate. During the time the station was open a bus service grew rapidly, the Public found this more convenient, being picked up close to their homes, consequently the railway receipts were not so favourable and the Railway Company decided to close this branch line in 1931 and leave it to the buses to carry on.
Pit work... and hard times
I don't pretend to claim that the incidents I am referring to are being described in the order that they occurred, but just dealt with as they occur to me, to be most suitable time. I now come to where I left school and commenced to work in the pit as a pony driver, this is a job where the horse takes empty waggons and brought to the pit bottom and sent to the surface, the person who put these waggons on the cage being called the hooker-on. Some of these workings were almost half a mile from the pit bottom. The Woodpit Colliery where I worked was considered a safe one and those employed under ground got what light they had from candles, four a day being issued to each Workman, a small piece of moist clay was used, into which the Workman inserted the bottom end of his candle and then stuck it on the coal face near where he was working. I as the horse driver was supplied with a [word illegible] of iron lantern, to prevent my candle being blown out when travelling in and out of the workings The horse I drove was named Charlie and when passing through the wood at Wood Lane on my way to work I often picked up a bundle of nice green grass for him. By some reason or another he seemed to know when I was getting near the stable, whether by smelling the grass or recognising my footsteps I do not know, but he commenced to dance about the stable until he got the grass.
The winters in those days seemed a lot more severe than what they are today.
I along with my Dad left home about 5.15 each morning and it was quite a usual occurrence to meet with snow anything up twelve and fifteen inches deep, this made it bad going, especially for me who was but a boy of 11, who had commenced work in the pit at an early age in order to augment the family income a bit, as there was a large family depending on Dad's income. It was in the month of December, 1876 that my Dad met with an accident at this Colliery that later proved to be fatal. Mother was then left a Widow with a young family and I the only wage earner. The two youngest being twins (both are still living - Councillor Tom Dobson J.P. and Mrs Harriett Beech, wife of the late Ben Beech a well known and highly respected local Preacher). Mother had to look out for some assistance so that the family could have food and clothing. Tom and Harriet were then only babes - 1 year and 8 months old. The Widow's compensation was then unknown and the Employers Liability Act was not in existence, consequently Mother applied to the Newcastle Board of Guardians. Audley then returned four members. After hearing the application, relief was granted 2/- per week for Mother and l/-d per week for each dependent child, plus one 4lb loaf per week for each member. The bread in those days was not of the best and was called Parish Bread, but hunger and need sharpens the appetite.
We had to be thankful for what we got. In later years the quality was improved. It was baked in Newcastle and delivered in Audley weekly by the Relieving Officer, who was met at appointed places by the poor people to receive the bread and what allowance had been granted by the Board of Guardians. So that is how Mother struggled on for a few years after Dad's death, my two eldest sisters were both in domestic service in Macclesfield. I well remember how my Mother regularly called me in the house to write her letters to my sisters, sometimes I may have been a bit reluctant when fetched in to write, instead of being out in the street playing. Mother dictated what I should write.
I did not realize what it meant for a parent to be writing to those she loved and wished well. I have since found out. In 1882, five years after Dad's death, Mother died - a victim of Cancer. Patty the eldest sister came home to manage the house and look after what family there remained until they were capable to look after themselves. As time went on we got separated and married, Lilly and Minnie in Blackpool, both are now dead and buried in Laynton Cemetery. Jack, my brother joined the Police Force and married and lived in Birmingham - he is now dead and buried in Handsworth Cemetery. Patty and Polly, my two eldest Sisters are dead and buried in Audley leaving myself, Tom and Harriett still living, who will be the next it is hard to say, we all know we have to go sometime - the chief thing is being prepared for the call which often comes in an hour in which we think not. Be good and be ready.
Although my mind was bent on becoming an Engine man, I worked underground in the Pit until I was about 17 years of age. Then I came out on the surface to become an Engine Attendant at the DigIake Colliery, during this time I obtained a good knowledge of pumps and engines. I often used to assist the Engineer, to replace buckets and clacks in the pit shaft pumps, when necessary. The knowledge and experience I then obtained came in useful later on. By this time I had married and settled down in a nice comfortable home. After being Engine Attendant for a time I was then moved to Boyles Hall Colliery to be Engine Winder where I remained so long as the Colliery was working. I relate here an experience that I had at this Colliery which I shall never forget It occurred on 14th January, 1895 when 77 underground workers lost their lives through an outbreak of water from some old workings. I was on the day turn when it happened and drew up the Boyles Hall shaft 150 persons who were fortunate to escape, otherwise the loss would have been far more serious.
It was a sad and gloomy time for Audley - snow lay 6" deep and people flocked to the Pit to try and find out if there was any hope for their dear ones who they had been sitting up and waiting for, in the hope that they would return. Ralph Taylor my Brother-in-Law was one of those who was left in the pit. Brother Tom was fortunate to escape, being amongst the last to be rescued. About 70 victims still remain in the flooded pit.
Looking back and by way of a change, I will now endeavour to relate what I did to find pleasure in different kinds of recreation. I was very fond of witnessing cricket and football matches. Have seen cricket test matches played at Stoke, Manchester, Nottingham and Leeds, the match at Stoke was friendly, the others test matches. In one test match at Old Trafford, I saw the worlds famous Batman W.G. Grace make 2 ducks in one match. Rangitshinge, the famous cricketer made 168 not out in the same match.
It has been my pleasure to see Bradman, the famous Australian in test cricket at Leeds. I was Secretary and Treasurer to the Bignall End Cricket Club for a number of years and on relinquishing my duties was presented with an illuminated address and purse of gold. It may be interesting to relate one or two outstanding incidents that I experienced during the time I was Secretary. Bignall End were in the North Staffordshire League and it was a rule that one club must not attempt to poach or try to get a player to leave his club. In the earIy part of 1896 if came to my knowledge that Mr E.J. Oliver, the Secretary of the Burslem Club had been over to Bignall End, interviewed two of our best players, Jack Dale and T Burgess, given them both money and persuaded them to apply for their transfers from Bignall End to Burslem. I at once reported this to the League and a special meeting was held at the North Staffordshire Hotel, Stoke, to hear the charge. A large number were present, all the Clubs in the League being represented.
The result of it was that Burslem got suspended for the season of 1896. The Chairman read out the resolution which had been passed unanimously and signed by each member of the Committee. J Dale and T Burgess were censured for their part in the transaction and were informed, that any similar offence in future, would in all probability lead to their permanent suspension from League Cricket. The Committee through the Chairman unanimously begged to thanked Mr G Dobson, Secretary of the Bignall End Cricket Club for his services in the matter and for the good service he had rendered to Cricket in the district generally, by bringing forward the case and the clear and able way he had presented it. Mr E.J. Oliver, the Burslem Secretary, was not allowed to take any further part in League Cricket.
Now I recall a League Match played at Crewe. A large crowd were present, the takings were for Crewe Hospital. Bignall End batted first, all out for 47. Crewe followed, the first wicket fell at 27. 30 went up, only one man out, 40 only one out The second wicket fell at 41. Then a collapse set in and they were all out for 42 and we won by 5 runs. The Crewe spectators returned home very disappointed. We were naturally very pleased at this remarkable result, which was so unexpectedly achieved.
In the following pages I refer to being a keen follower of Football, but seeing Football Matches then and now were quite different. When I married wages then were only 18/- per week, but I managed out of that to see most of the Home League Matches at Stoke. That was before the buses were running and I could go and enjoy the Saturday afternoon and have quite a good time as most people of today and return home with change out of one shilling after paying all my expenses. This may appear most incredible. Let me tell you how it was done. I and a companion would walk to Etruria Station, about six miles, pay our first penny to Stoke then pay 6d. to the Football Ground.
At half-time we got a 2d. meat pie and a cup of coffee or tea for 1d. We had then spent 10d. each. After the match we went to Stoke Station, took the train to Etruria spending another 1d. We had 1d left out of the shilling, we then walked back over Wolstanton Marsh and had enjoyed the match and felt all the better for it. As I state on the following page I have seen a lot of Football since then at a more costly note, but looking back it all recalls pleasant memories.
As before stated, in the winter months I was a keen follower of Football and attended the league Matches at Stoke. I have seen two English Cup Finals played, the first at Fallowfield, Manchester, between Wolverhampton and Everton and the second final I witnessed was at Wembley, near London.
Now London is mentioned I am reminded of my first weeks visit there, accompanied with my dear wife, where we spent a very interesting time visiting the Houses of Parliament listening to debates and we saw most of the interesting places and had a good time, I have been there again several times. The last time being accompanied with my youngest daughter Patty, to whom I had the pleasure of showing the sights of London and we saw it at its best, it was on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of King George V, the streets were specially decorated for the event. We extended our visit to Brighton and enjoyed the breezes on the Brighton sea front. This was not the first time Pat had seen the sea, for in 1906 I and my dear Wife took all our four girls, Viz Lizzie, Alice, Harriet and Pat to Blackpool for a week, when we returned home, we like most people had to bring home some Blackpool rock and a piece of which I still retain for a keepsake of our family visit. This rock has now been in my possession for over 36 years, this is a small matter to refer to, but still should be interesting to those of you who shared the rest of it.
The family holiday in Blackpool was not the first family holiday we had together. In 1900, to mark the 25th Anniversary and our Silver Wedding, I hired Harry Hancocks car and engaged him to take us all for a trip to North Wales, Llangollen, being our destination. I and my wife and 4 girls were the party. We went through Nantwich, Whichurch, Chirk, where we called to inspect the famous castles gates. I had an interview with the Lodge Keeper, who allowed us to take the car through the Park where we saw squirrels up in the trees with their shaggy tails. On arrival at Llangollen we had dinner afterwards going up the mountain to Crow Castle and inspected the old ruins, we purchased a few curios, as a memento of our visit. We travelled back by Flint and Chester and the trip was a thorough success, thoroughly enjoyed we returned home safe and felt all the better for our outing and that is how we celebrated our Silver Wedding and 25 years of happy married life.
I derived a lot of pleasure in motoring. For a number of years I and other friends made it a rule to have our first seasons out on Good Friday, most of the interesting places in Wales were visited in turn. Other places where we could spend the day were also visited such as Blackpool, Liverpool, Llandudno, Colwyn Bay, Stratford on Avon, Southport, Holyhead, on these trips we covered 150 to 200 miles per day. The outings were looked forward to and very much enjoyed and we felt better for the outing. In those days we could always rely on obtaining some substantial meals at Hotels, who made a special effort to cater for travellers. Poultry, joints of beef, legs of lamb were always provided with plenty of salads, all of which we did enjoy and there was no limit to what we could eat, the charges were always moderate. What a contrast to what we are experiencing in 1942, today it is not a question of what shall we eat or drink, under the war rationing conditions all this is allotted out for us.
Perhaps this is all for the best, otherwise some would live, while others died because they could not obtain their share, not only food but clothing is also rationed We are all taught to practice economy. If this will be the means of achieving the desired end, then the effort will not have been in vain, we must therefore be patient and hope for the best.
I spent the last weekend of April, 1894 in Manchester. On Sunday afternoon I sailed from Manchester to Liverpool on the Ship Canal, which was to be officially opened the next day by Queen Victoria. Coming from Liverpool back to Manchester by train. Then on the following day I saw Queen Victoria at the Town Hall, Albert Square, where she attended before going to the Ship Canal. It was a bright summers day being 1st May, 1894. At the dock gates the queen was on the Royal Yacht Enchantress, she pressed a button which electrically opened the dock gates and she said "I proudly declare the Manchester Canal open". About 20,000 watchers cheered themselves hoarse.
The canal took 61 years to build and 76,000,000 tonnes of rock were excavated.
When clothing, boots and shoes are mentioned, I think how much dearer things are than when I was rearing my young family. It was in July, 1900 that I walked to Tunstall to buy four pairs of boots for the approaching school charity in August. Ma was always very anxious that the girls should appear at their best. Lizzie was then 13 years and took size 2 boots. Alice was 9 years and took size 11 boots. Harriet was 7 years and took size 10 boots and Patty was 5 years and took size 9 boots. I obtained all four pairs for a total sum of 13/-. Then I bought each girl a pair of cheap black stockings for about 3d the lot. I recall an amusing incident here. When the girls took off their stockings, their legs and feet appeared black.
The dye had come out. That was in the days before people went about with bare legs, otherwise it would have proved another economical stunt, to have let the dye remain on their legs for a time. Many changes have taken place since then. In all our experiences we have always endeavoured to make our home life happy, not only for ourselves, but for others with whom we came in contact.
In my spare time, I always found pleasure in voluntary public service, when I got the chance, especially when the effort was for some charitable object. For years I was the Secretary to the Old Folks Treat Committee, North Staffordshire Infirmary Hospital Saturday Committee for Audley and Bignall End, Distress Fund Committee during the Colliers prolonged strike. This work brought me in contact with some of the best persons of the district of whom it was always a pleasure to meet, moreover the knowledge and the experience obtained was always beneficial to me. For years I had the honour of marshalling the processions when the Chairman of the Council, paid his annual official visit to Church.
I was Secretary to the Committee who were appointed to arrange for the mass gathering of the school children of the district when the King and Queen visited Audley and I went to Stoke to hire some flags to decorate round the bridge at Audley Station, where the King was supposed to stay for a few minutes, during which time the massed school children sang the National Anthem, being led by a brass band under the conductorship of Bob Herod. It was declared a public holiday for Audley District and the houses and shops were gaily dressed for the occasion, with flags and bunting. The King was on his way from Crewe Hall to the Potteries. This was April 23rd, 1913.
Water is a subject I claim to have a bit of knowledge about. I previously stated how badly off Audley was for water in my early days. People walked miles for it.
What we obtained was from small pumps and wells, where folks waited in turn sometimes for an hour an hour or more. The situation was relieved a little when a deep well was sunk in the sandstone rock at the top of Chapel Street and a pump was fixed at the junction of the two roads, this in time proved to be inadequate and the whole of the district was feeling the need for a better supply, something had to be done. The local Board were then responsible, they commenced to put trial boreholes down in different parts to ascertain the most suitable spot to obtain a supply of good water for the whole of the district, eventually the present sight of the waterworks was decided upon. We little think when we want a glass of water (we just go to the tap and quench our thirst), never realising for one moment what it has cost, to place this blessing so near at hand. Had you lived in the days that I have previously referred to, when water was so badly needed, would have learned to appreciate it more and not waste it. It costs money and labour to put this so near at hand. It is very important it should not be wasted.
After the local board had decided the spot for their waterworks, then two wells had to be sunk to obtain an adequate supply. This then had to be brought and distributed throughout the district. Two storage tanks were placed at Alsagers Bank and one at Talke, these being the highest points where the water could gravitate to the district, from when the pumps were not working. Two pumps had to be fixed at the waterworks to supply these tanks. 40 miles of distribution mains had to be laid throughout the district for distribution purposes. These pipes were made of cast iron ranging from 2" to 8" in diameter, the tanks held 168,000 gallons of water each. To fix the engines and pumps, lay the mains all took time, besides entailing a lot of expense. It took two or three years to do this. The work was now complete and it was the local boards duty to fix a day for the opening. At that time Mr Frank Rigby was the Chairman of the local Board
I was then winding at the Boyles Hall Colliery. The local Board decided to officially open the waterworks on July 8th, 1891. Mrs Frank Rigby was invited to start the engines and pumps. Mr Rigby had invited the local Board members and friends to a luncheon, to which I was fortunate to receive an invitation. This luncheon was held in a large tent on the Townfield. After Mr Rigby had started the pumps the district was visited. Halmerend, the first colliery place where hydrants were tested, then the party went to Audley. It was a red letter day and a day of public rejoicing now that water was being brought to our homes. The local Board members and friends then went to the luncheon, provided by Mrs Ledward of the Boughey Arms Hotel.
I was one of the party. I seemed to detect a frown on the face of Mrs Ledward, when I went into lunch with the rest of the party, which seemed to say "What are you doing, a working man, amongst all these gentlemen?" I little thought then that in course of time, I was to become the Engineer and have charge and control of the waterworks I had seen opened that day.
Years rolled on, I remained at the Boyles Hall Colliery as long as it was open, and had a very comfortable place there, when this was closed down, I went to Apedale and remained at the Burley Colliery dip engines until February, 1905. Then a vacancy occurred at the Audley Waterworks and in that month I commenced my duties as Assistant Engineer to Mr H.B. Shufflebotham. He retired in 1912 and I was unanimously appointed Water Engineer in his place. I was in charge of the waterworks for 20 years, until 1932 that being the year that the Urban Council ceased to exist and the Audley and Bignall End part of the district was amalgamated with the Newcastle Rural District Council. Talke and Butt Lane were taken over by Kidsgrove Urban District Council. Some of the Officers of the Council were retained, other officials’ duties were merged, the result being that some officials were not required. The water engineers and the gas managers duties were merged consequently. I had to retire, but this was subject to compensation for loss of office.
For some years before I left the waterworks, it became very evident to me, owing to the districts increased demands for water, that something would have to be done to argument the supply. On October 22nd, 1930 1 advised the Council that when they took up this question, in my opinion, it would be best to consult a Geological expert who would inform them of the best means of increasing the supply. At their first meeting after I had left, the joint Water Committee discussed matters and Professor W.S. Bolton, Birmingham, the eminent Geologist was engaged for this purpose. Boreholes were put down in the field adjoining the waterworks, more water was found and a new Electric Plant was installed. The new works were opened on Wednesday June 22nd, 1938 by Councillor E Latham the whole of the district has now an excellent supply.
Before I finally finished up a number of friends and the workmen decided to make their appreciation by making me and my dear wife a little presentation. We were both, along with members of my family, invited down to the waterworks where Mr David Riley, County Councillor, made the presentation, which consisted of a Gold Engraved fountain pen and travelling case for myself and an engraved Silver mounted umbrella for my dear wife. On behalf of us both I thanked my Friends and workmen. I urged the workmen to be loyal and as obedient to my successor as they had been to me. With mixed feelings we bade the party Rood night and went home and that is how I left the Waterworks in 1932. During the time I had been there I had made many friends and it was some consolation to know, that I hoped to meet them again in my days of retirement, when time would not be so pressing and we should be more at liberty, when we met, to adjourn to come convenient spot, have a smoke and if required a little light refreshment.
I found consolation when I anticipated, this was how I hoped to spend some of my time in the days of my retirement.
During the years I had been engaged at the waterworks my family of four good girls grew up and three of then got married. The youngest one, Pat, remaining single and stayed at home with her Mother and Dad. Alice who lived next door was able to come in the shop and she and Pat got along well together, this enabled Ma and I to get out together and have a holiday. Just when we thought fit this we did for about two years, often attending football matches at Stoke. It was when attending a football match at Stoke, that we entered into conversation with Sir Frances Joseph to whom I had become acquainted through business matters, he remarked how pleased he was to see us both at our age so interested in football, when I informed him that before the football season closed, we were hoping to celebrate our Golden Wedding (he was President of the Stoke Club) and said how pleased he was to hear that and he invited us both to attend a football match on a date nearest to our Golden Wedding. We were to be in the Directors room and be their guests, unfortunately this did not come off owing to the sudden death of my wife in about six weeks after, viz on the 16th November, 1934. Had she lived until the following March we should have celebrated our Golden Wedding and 50 years of Happy married Life. She was one of the best and my sudden bereavement seriously affected my health. Words fail to tell how I missed her companionship which I had enjoyed for 50 years. Blackpool had always been our favourite place for a holiday, the year she passed away we had been there 3 times and only returned from there about six weeks before she died. It was to Blackpool I went about two years after hoping to recuperate my health thereby. I remained there about 6 years, then met with an unfortunate accident falling down and fracturing my hip, this resulted in me returning home again to my family, all of whom were pleased I had come back to be looked after by them.
They are all striving to do their best to make me comfortable in my declining years. How long it will be for it is hard to foretell. When the time comes I pray I may be ready for the call and by God's mercy be reunited to my life partner, never more to part again. In my concluding remarks I pray that each member of my family will endeavour to do that which is right and honest, live good and upright lives, keep together to assist one another in time of need, extend a hand of sympathy to any deserving and needy friend. By doing this, in due time you will meet with your reward.
God Bless and protect you all, is the sincere wish of your Dear Father....