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Derbyshire Memories

The following is a tribute to the late Bert Boam, remembered with great affection. He died on 15th December 2001, four weeks short of his 93rd birthday. The article was composed and written by Sally Mosley and appeared in The Peak Advertiser, following several wonderful chats with Bert at his Bonsall home.

“I am 86 years old, I was born in January 1908, and how I managed to get to this age I often wonder – the bumps and scrapes I’ve had along the way were enough to finish me off on many an occasion.

My first recollection is of when I was about five. My family lived at that time in rooms attached to the Post Office house in Woolley’s Yard at Winster, and my granny lived across the road next to the Hall. I remember running out of our house and straight into the Main Street without looking, right into the path of a carriage and pair. I was knocked to the ground and found myself lying under one of the horses looking up and thinking ‘so that’s what a horse’s belly looks like!’ There was shouting and chaos and I was scooped up and carried inside bruised and shaken but none the worse for my ordeal. This was just the start!

Living next door to the Post Office meant that as a young lad of 7 or 8, I was expected to help out. The phone here was the only one in the village and surrounding area so that when a telegram came through I was summoned to deliver it. I was paid 6d if it was going to Gratton, Wensley, Elton or Birchover, and 9d if it meant going past the Post Office in any of these villages, as this was considered to be out of area. I ran as fast as I could but often it meant that I was late for school and no matter what my excuses, this resulted in four strokes of the cane! Gregory’s across the street hired out push bikes at 3d an hour but we could not afford to pay this at that time.

The Post Office House was in Woolley’s Yard where several houses shared water from a single tap which was fed by a little reservoir up West Bank, where the water was pumped from Birchover direction. In summer dry spells we were rationed for a while until the water finally ran out and the tap ran dry. When this happened my brother Randolph and I would get up earlier than normal and take the hand cart to the top of Winster where we got an empty churn from the big milk stand near Islington Mere and carted it to Shothouse Spring on the way to Grange Mill. We filled it up and returned home, and all this before going to school.

Most people in the village kept a pig or two and some fowls. We had a bit of land and a shed just past the school on the way to Wensley where we kept three pigs. My mother prepared the pig’s food in the morning and I took it in a handcart and fed them on my way to school. At lunchtime I brought the bucket home to be refilled and took it back with me in the afternoon for their evening feed. This meant that we often had hams and bacons hung up in the house and real home-cured bacon and fresh eggs to eat. Nothing today tastes the same. We also ate bread and dripping or bread and lard from the roast port.

When we bought cheese it would be a whole 30lb cheese from Gratton. We would cut off a slice and store the remainder in the larder where after a while the exposed edge would begin to go maggoty. This was the tastiest bit which we would cut off and fry in a pan then dip fresh bread into it. Snap for the workers would always be bread and cheese, and often men would eat a raw onion with this.

My father at this time worked at Millclose Mine at Darley Dale. He earned £7 and was paid every 7 weeks. I had three brothers and three sisters and we were all given 1/2d each every week as pocket money. When Dad was paid we were sent down to Thorpe’s the grocers to pay the grocery bill for which we were given a twist of paper filled with sweets from three jars of our choice. We then shared this out between us and spent out pocket money on something like 24 aniseed balls for 1/2d.

My father opened a little greengrocery shop on Winster’s main street; it was a lean-to with a galvanised roof. Every week my sister Winnie and I took half a day off school and walked to Matlock to Edge’s the Wholesalers on Dale Road. We bought as many apples, nuts and fruit as we could carry in a netting bag and walked back home through Cawdor Quarry, up Wensley Dale and back to Winster, and then went to school in the afternoon.

Around 1920 my mother went to see Mr Heathcote, who owned the Post Office, about renting a house further up the street. She then closed the greengrocers and opened up a fish and chip shop. My dad bought a Ford car which was one of only a handful in the village. It had a detachable body with a choice of a taxi back or flat bottom for carrying loads of anything. We kept it in a garage with a pulley system for lifting the different sections on and off. Every day apart from Monday my father went to Darley Dale and met the early milk train which also carried fresh fish layered in ice from Grimsby or Fleetwood. On a Saturday morning at 10 o’clock, my eldest sister and I had to deliver fried fish to neighbouring villages. We carried it in wicker baskets and went as far as Stanton-in-Peak selling it at 7 pieces of battered fish for a shilling. My father took fish to other villages in the car and ran a taxi service as well.

I was often called upon as a child to run errands. If not taking telegrams, it was to deliver messages or to fetch help. When I was 10 years old, Dr Fletcher asked me to go with him to Heathcote’s Farm up near Clough Wood where one of the young twins was poorly. It was a dark night and we set off with the storm lantern and climbed up the bankside. I was to leave the doctor there and go home then call back for him later, but when we arrived the little girl had unfortunately died so I was sent to Critchlow’s Farm to fetch Mrs Critchlow who would lay the body out. It was dark and spooky and I got a bit frightened. To get to Critchlow’s meant crossing a brook in the bottom of the valley. It was very dark and I only had my lantern to guide me. My foot slipped and I fell in, the lantern went out and I was alone in the darkness miles from home. I screamed out and shouted but no one could hear my cries so I had to pull myself out. Then I ran full pelt to Critchlow’s and nearly kicked the door down. What they must have thought when they opened the door I don’t know, I had a real fright that night!

Another of my little jobs was to pump up the organ at the church for which I was paid every three months.

When I was 11 and on the morning of breaking up for the school summer holidays, a policeman came and asked if I would go with him to Gurda Farm near Wensley as there had been an accident. John Wood, a 16 year old, had been shot dead. They asked if I could help on the farm in his place during the holidays as my eldest brother had worked there in the past. I worked out in the fallow field thinning turnips which was a rum job and back breaking work. It paid a shilling a day. One day we were thistle mowing and stood a minute talking with the scythe at an angle on the ground. The farm dog which was sat near us suddenly got up after a rabbit and ran straight into the scythe, slitting its throat. We wrapped some clothes around its neck and took it on the back of a car to the vets in Bakewell, where it was stitched up and survived its ordeal.

Another day a load of grains was delivered to Darley Station so Stanley Heathcote who owned the farm and another man who was helping hi, took two horses and carts down to load up. I went with them. When one cart was loaded we set off back up Wensley Hill with a sling horse, which is an extra horse chained to the front to help pull the heavy load, and I had to ride this bareback. I rode as fast as I could up the hill then went back with the sling horse to attach it to the other cart.

All that bareback riding in the hot summer weather wore the skin right off my backside till it was red raw and bleeding, I could hardly walk.

I also learned the trade of milking by going to a barn at Dudwood every morning which is a mile from Winster, and carried the milk back by yokes and cans.

I left school about three weeks before Christmas when I was almost 13. I was allowed to leave a bit early because I had a job to go to. Mr Heath who lived in the village had a few cows and a horse and cart, and employed Bert Mosley who took the cart to Darley Station to load up with 10 cwt of coal and bring it back to Winster where he would empty it into the street and sell it. He did two journeys a day, one in the morning about 7.30 and another in the afternoon. My mum heart that Bert was going to work at Millclose Lead Mine so sent me round to Mr Heath’s to apply for the job.

The first morning I had to get the horse and harness it up to the big cart and set off for Darley Dale. That day was the most awful freezing cold with ice on the roads like glass, right down Wensley. You could hardly stand! If Bert Mosley had still been going he would have gone to Vincent’s the blacksmiths and had frost nails fitted to the horse’s shoes. These were two studs that stuck out a bit and cut into the ice, but I was fresh and didn’t know anything about this. I set off with the cart and loaded up at Darley Dale. Coming back up Wensley just past Oaker Lane End the horse went down and was stuck. I sat on its head to stop it struggling and started shouting for help. It was still early and there was no one about, but eventually a man from a nearby cottage heard me and came over. We managed to get the harness and chains off the horse and get it up, so left the cart there with the coal still in it and I took the horse back to Winster. Mr Heath was out when I returned but Mrs Heath sent me up to Vincent’s to fit the frost nails then told me to go home. Mr Heath later went to see my mother and told her that he thought I was a bit too young to do the job – I was only 12 after all – and that one load and a half a day’s work was the end of that employment.

After that I went to Caudwell’s Farm as a runner between the milk sheds carrying the cans and yokes. I didn’t get paid but I was fed four meals a day and it was good food which we couldn’t afford at home, and this built me up a lot. I worked from about 6.30 in the morning until it went dark. It lasted about three months.

My next job was lovely – I was a gardener at Oddo Hall. It was a big house with three servants and a cook. Marjorie Marsden, two Brassington sisters and the cook really looked after me. I tried to run errands for them and be helpful so got well in with them. I got 12s a week which was good money in those days.

When Mr Garratt who owned the Hall died, we were all laid off and I was on the move again, this time to Burycliffe Quarry just outside of Elton on the road to Alport. My brother Randolph was blacksmith so I was apprenticed to him, sharpening picks and bars. I had to temper the steel and I loved the job. I really took to it. It was an inside job so that in bad weather when the quarrymen couldn’t work and didn’t get paid anything, I still got paid. I earned about 19s a week. One night a man came up to see my dad from Millclose; they were setting up two shifts running from 6-4 and 4-2, so they needed extra workers. He asked my dad if he would let me go down working on the picking tables getting the stone and lead out and throwing it down a chute. It paid a guinea (£1 1s) a week which was more than I was on as a blacksmith so I was made to leave my lovely job and go to the mine. I didn’t want to do it but I had to because of the extra money for my parents. By now I was about 14 or 15 years old. I got used to it after a while and made the best of it. I worked mornings one week and afternoons the next. When I finished at two o’clock in the morning I would walk to Winster up Clough Wood with a crowd of other Winster men and called at my Granny’s. I let myself in and took her a cup of tea up to her bedroom. Men walked from as far as Middleton by Wirksworth to Millclose on paths over Bonsall Moor. One morning just after 2am when we were going though Clough Wood we stood and listened to a nightingale singing. It was the most beautiful sound; I had never heard it before and have not heard it again to this day.

Working at Millclose made me a strong lad. If anyone was ill who worked on the jigs I would stand in for them. This was the highest paid surface job and you could earn 8s 2d a shift. Here the stone and lead was crushed. Millclose was the second largest producer of pure lead in the world at that time, 1,000 tons of pure dressed lead was produced every week. I was the youngest on the jigs and was allowed to mix with the men. One day though I and another young lad called Charlie Gratton, who had just started at Millclose, were caught larking about by the boss. It just so happened that my brother Harold had gone to the mine that morning to see if there were any jobs going but was told that there were none. The boss said to me and Charlie that we had got the sack and I was to go home and tell my brother that there was a job for him now and he could start tomorrow. I was pleased for him but I was unemployed once more, but it wasn’t to last for long!

Next day my dad got me a job at Tommy Twyford’s quarry at Birchover. The owner had two brothers at Harthill Farm so I went farming in the morning for Abe and Ralph Twyford then often worked at the quarry afterwards. I used to cart manure and do farm labouring at Harthill. A meal was provided for me which at first I ate with the family and other workers. One day though I was told to have my meal outside in the barn and a tray was brought out to me. This went on for a while and I couldn’t understand why I was being treated differently. When Mr Twyford’s daughter brought me my meal out I asked for the reason. She said that her mother had seen me smoking and they didn’t approve of this dirty habit so I was not allowed in the house anymore.

Once at the quarry I escaped serious injury when a horse and cart slipped off a high wall with me driving it. The shaft broke and the harness was cut off but thankfully neither the horse not I were injured.

I must have worked at Birchover for about a year and had then finished at Harthill when Kenny Gregory from Winster, who was deputy at Millclose, persuaded me to go back, this time to work underground. For a whilst I still worked at the quarry from 7 until 5pm then came home, had my tea, and went down the mine at 10pm. I worked with Charlie Beckett filling wagons which ran on rails.

The men working the shift went down the mine together and had a bit of a chat then all set off in different directions to the various levels and worked mainly in pairs.

One of my friends around that time was Harold Oulsnam. We had a mutual interest in football. One day we finished work early at 12 to go and see a match being played at Chesterfield. For some reason I had to borrow a pair of Harold’s shoes which were not the right size. I fell and broke my ankle badly. With Harold to help I hopped all the way to the Square and Compass then a passing lorry gave us a lift to the Whitworth Hospital. I was off work for 16 weeks with no sick pay and my parents had to pay out £3 a week for me to have special treatment and massage for my ankle which was paralysed.

When water flooded the mine, work ceased for a while. My brother Randolph then worked at Rowsley on the huge water main which was being laid from Ladybower Reservoir, and I went farming again, this time to Hope’s Farm at Shothouse. I was a cowman and worked alongside a man called Ernest and a lad called Bernard. Once, when the farmer was out for the day and we were left in charge, Ernest went to the pub and turned up for milking drunk, so I got cross and pushed him in the muck heap. Off he went home to clean up and didn’t return. Young Bernard was only learning to milk so it left me virtually alone to milk 36 cows by hand. By the time I’d finished it was time to start again!

It took about a year for Millclose to set up again, this time with electric pumps installed as well as steam engines to get rid of the excess water. I was working with a man called Joe Vardy forty five or so feet down a shaft. Joe did boring and firing and I shovelled into a bucket which was winched up by compressed air. We went down the shaft on steel ladders and we wore clogs because Wellington boots would have just filled up with water. One day I was going down the ladder while Joe was setting up a charge and my clog slipped and sent me hurtling forty five feet backwards into two feet of water below. I managed to catch hold of a plank of wood sticking out on the way down which slowed me, and I never broke a single bone, although I was shaken and bruised. Joe tied a rope around me and I was hoisted up and sent home once again.

I got on very well with Joe but I also worked with a man who was not easy to get along with, and one day we had an argument when he tipped my wagon over into the water. It turned into a scrap and I hit him and broke two of his ribs. The next day the deputy sent me to see Mr Williams the Mine Manager. Fighting was strictly not allowed and meant instant dismissal. Of course I expected to be sacked but Mr Williams told me that I was a good worker and he didn’t want to lose me. He knew I had been provoked, but fighting could not be condoned, so I was to take my papers and go out of the door and down the steps. I was then to come up the other side and he took me on again! The other man who had caused the argument was sacked when he returned to work two weeks later. I felt guilty because I had broken his ribs so went to his home afterwards to make friends and offered him £5 as compensation.

Although it was hard down the mine in awful conditions, they were happy days. I must have eaten no end of lead as my nose was permanently bunged up with dust, but I survived. There was only one fatal accident that I remember. A man called Mayall was squashed and killed in a rock fall. Vic Littlewood who was with him had broken arms and legs. Vernon Wild and I volunteered to get them out and we had to lie Vic on a plank of wood and wrap fuse coil around him then hoist him up to the surface.

I got into trouble with the law when I was younger. One Winster carnival day four of my mates from the mine came up and we all went to the Crown pub on the main street which was run by my Uncle Bill. Later on we all decided to go to a dance in Burton Institute, but one of the lads had been in trouble at Masson dance the week before and the doorman would not let him in. There was a rumpus and a policeman was called for who pushed my friend over and he fell down some steps. I was so cross with the policeman that I pushed him over and he fell down the steps as well. I had to appear in Bakewell Court and got fined £5 and 12 months probation. Weeks later when I was coming home from the mine I cut a couple of young trees down out of Clough Wood and dragged them home with me. My dad had a little farm shed with a loft over and needed a ladder to reach it, so I decided to make him one. On the way home though I bumped into the same policeman that I had pushed down the steps, and he saw what I had done.

I trimmed the trees to get rid of the little branches but at one point the axe slipped and I cut my ankle badly which needed several stitches. Meanwhile, the policeman had got the agent from Stanton Estate and they came to the house to question me about the trees I had stolen. I had to go to Bakewell Court again, but when the magistrate saw me hobble into the courtroom with a walking stick and learnt how I had injured myself he let me off saying that I had suffered enough.

I saved up and bought a Triumph motorbike which was my pride and joy. I used to wear high leggings and a leather coat daubed well with linseed oil as waterproofing. One day in a bad thunderstorm I was heading towards Matlock Bath and lost control on Artists Corner. My bike shot from under me and smashed into a lamp-post, and I slid right up the road like a bar of soap!

Afterwards, I bought a Valasett with an overhead cam shaft which went like a rocket. My friend James and I went for a drink on it one day to Youlgrave. We drank the landlord’s special brew which was potent stuff. When we set off back James put his pipe out and popped it into his pocket. We went down the hill to Alport and headed towards Winster when we passed my brother Hedley who flagged us down madly. We discovered that James coat had set on fire and flames were creeping up his back. We doused him down then rode home.

I left Millclose in 1938 by which time I was courting Hilda Poundall who was later to become my wife. I met her when she was carnival queen for Bonsall. I was offered a job working for ICI at Buxton which was better money that Millclose had been, but the day before I was due to start Hilda and I met Sammy Elliott who had several lorries and he offered me a job driving. I did not know which to take. Hilda did not want me to go to Buxton, so I had to choose between love and money – I started driving for Sammy that week!

Some days I would be contracted to the Electricity Board and other times carted slack to Masson Mill or Hollin’s Mill. It was very hard work and you had to hand wind every load, there was no automatic tipping gear in those days! When carting to Masson I put a brush on the weigh bridge roof which was a special code as Hilda could see this and came and had lunch with me in the cab.

War broke out in 1939 and Hilda and I got married on June 17. We had a reception at the Barley Mow but no honeymoon as we couldn’t afford it. We moved into a little cottage at Bonsall. Later I got another job driving for Balfour Beatty of Chesterfield laying cables through Sherwood Forest and Edwinstowe near Newark. We could see all the ammunition dumps and stored tanks and shells hidden in the trees and covered with branches and camouflage netting.

After the war I rented some land near Study Drive in Bonsall and started farming for myself. I borrowed £200 from my mum and bought my first four cows from Clifford Mosley who let me pay a deposit of £10 down and the rest when I could afford it. One time I bought a donkey off Clifford which we brought home in a trailer. When we got back to Bonsall it wouldn’t come out. It was the funniest sight to see Hilda pulling its tail and me pushing it from the front. Eventually we got it unloaded though. It was the friendliest little creature and often carried three little kiddies on its back at once.

After a week of farming, Herbert Land came working for me for 16 shillings a week. He was the best lad anyone could have.

My son Phillip was born in 1942 and Hilda and I later bought a house up Study Drive and moved from Arter Hill.

Although my farm buildings were also up Study Drive, Herbert and I had to milk every day on the moor. Once when coming down the steep track into the village, Herbert realised that the brakes had failed. I was also on the tractor and grabbed the wheel to try and steer it for the brook to slow us up, but one of the tractor’s large back wheels came clean off and the tractor finished straight upside down. We were both very shaken and taken to hospital, but apart from me having some back trouble, we both escaped unscathed.

One year whilst stoking the sheaves of corn at harvest time, Hilda was helping and lost her wedding ring, which was never found, and it is probably somewhere in that field to this day.

In 1957 I had a sale and gave up farming and went working full time for the East Midlands Electricity Board along with my son Phillip who was an apprentice electrician and I was a joiners mate and relief driver.

One day I drove to Baslow with a 3-ton drum of cable. It was unloaded into a field which sloped down to the river. The foreman accidentally knocked the chock out which was holding the drum and the next thing it was rolling down the field with us chasing it. The drum managed to find the deepest part of the river and frogmen and a crane had to get it out the next day!

When aged 50 I developed severe tonsillitis and went to Derby Infirmary to have my tonsils removed. It was a serious operation and I had to go in an oxygen tent at one point. All this was surprising as I had had my tonsils removed when I was 6 but they had grown back to cause me trouble yet again!

I’ve had many bumps, scrapes, near misses, accidents and events over the years. Once when on holiday with my family in Great Yarmouth we looked out of our boarding house window and saw a man with a bag on his back running from a Hillman Imp car. We watched him as he behaved very suspiciously but decided not to get involved. We discovered afterwards however that it was one of the great train robbers with his ill-gotten haul. It could only have happened to me!