Margaret wanted to be a nurse, but instead her mum found her a job weaving at Peel Fold Mill in Stanhill village. She was only 15 so couldn’t work more than 40 hours a week, but that meant she could continue with her paper round, which was the only money she was able to keep for herself until she married at 18.
Margaret’s enthusiasm for mill life shines through in her vivid and captivating descriptions. She talks in great detail about the different weaving processes, using a long-lost vocabulary of technical terms. And she remembers high days and holidays too – Wakes Week, holidays with pay (different from paid holidays), days out with Stanhill Ring Mill, and the almost forgotten Christmas ritual of the Mock Wedding.
Margaret worked her way through many different departments, finishing as a winding and beaming supervisor at Hildens, where she retired in 2002, having spent over 40 years in the textile industry. She has written extensively in Lancashire dialect about mill life, and she recites one of her poems during the interview.
This transcript has been edited for ease of reading. Click on the audio icon to listen to the original interview, which due to the pandemic, was recorded over the phone.
We lived in Poulton-le-Fylde when I was very very young. And then we moved to Stanhill Village, I was only 18 months old when we moved there. And my parents, my father was a property owner -he didn't work, he had his own property and my mother looked after us children. There were four of us, there was John the older brother and then me, and then my younger brother David and then my little sister Dorothy. And we lived up in the village and we had a wonderful happy childhood really because we were never short of anything and we lived in a very big four bedroomed house and we had a good childhood, it was lovely.
We went to West End County Primary School down Aspen Lane, off Stanhill Lane and I was very good at English and fair at Maths, but my weak subjects were art, I couldn't draw anything to save my life, but I were quite good at P. E. and things like that. I liked geography and history, but I wasn't very good at it but I'm better at it now that I've got older, but at school it used to frighten me a bit, especially the history talking about all the wars and the royalty, that were, you know quite -challenging really, some of the royalty from years ago go. But other than that, you know I enjoyed my school life very much yeah I did.
What I wanted to do, I wanted to be a nurse. Because my cousin, she had been to the High School, she was a nurse and I used to love looking at her picture in her nurse's uniform and I wanted to do that, but my mother said under no circumstances are you being a nurse. You're going in the mill and that was the end of anything I wanted to do, it was just that's it, you can't do it, you've got to go in the mill.
I think my dad had better ideas for me really, but he didn't get a lot of say because by then my dad had a health issue and he left everything to my mother. But my dad sent me to elocution lessons because my dad had quite a good upbringing really and he talked differently than what Lancashire people do and he wanted me to speak like that. So he sent me to elocution lessons when I was 13 and of course he didn't like me speaking in the broad Lancashire accent, but when I left school and I had to go in the mill, well I rebelled a bit against that! And I started talking in a strong Lancashire accent like all the rest of the mill girls did, because that's where I'd been put.
I was 15, I went to 15 on the 9th of December, and I left school at the Christmas holidays. Obviously, I went to the mill because my mother and my auntie Joan who actually worked at the mill as well, had sorted all that out for me. So I had to start work, but I started work the day after Boxing Day at Christmas, so I didn't have many days off school before I had to go to work. I worked at Peel Fold Mill. I went into Peel Fold Mill which was the mill in the Stanhill village itself.
(Margaret has written a great deal of poetry in Lancashire dialect. This one is called
A Cotton Mill Girl from 1959 onwards
I must find a job, I leave school this year.
This thought in my head, I am filled with great fear.
Can I work at Chaigley* or be a nurse? I asked Mum.
She looked at me strangely-I'd just struck her dumb.
A nurse? she said, shocked. No! you can't!
You're going in t'mill, the one in the village just over th'hill.
If it's good enough for Auntie Joan, for you it will do.
So no more messing it's settled now for you.
So on that first day, I felt full of dread.
A job like this? just to earn daily bread?
The looms made a loud noise,
It was like being in hell, but my instructor consoled me
And said don't worry you'll do well. I settled down later to learn my new trade,
I found it intriguing, how the cloth was made.
But I still found it noisy and I didn't like that
But my mum said you'll stay there and that's that.
I worked in Stanhill Mill and then down West End
But everyone helped me and made me a friend.
The work was hard, and shift work was not good
But somehow eventually, textiles gets in your blood.
The best was JB Smith in so many ways,
I even worked permanently, just on days.
I loved working there and I was so very blue
When the mill closed down in 2002.
I said to Simon Hargreaves don't, please don't close my mill!
He said it's our mill Margaret, and I'm afraid that we will.
I'm retired now, and happy in my life day by day
But the memories of Mill life with me forever will stay.
When I started, right at the beginning, towards the end of December that year, I worked from 7:20 in the morning to 5:20 at night- that was because of the bus services, how the buses ran were what time we could start work. So it was 7:20 till 5:20. And then when I'd been there a few weeks the foreman came to me and said you're too young you're under 16, you can't work 45 hours, you can only work 40 and he, so they said you can either go home earlier at night, or you can have Friday afternoon off. But I went home earlier at night because I used to take the papers before I left school, and I wanted to carry on with my evening paper round. And with going home at 4:20 instead of 5:20, I could do my paper round as well!
It added to my pocket money because other than that I didn't have anything. I got 2 pounds 8 shillings. I didn't spend it on anything, I had to give it me mother and my mother gave me the 8 shillings back and I had 8 shillings and she had the £2. I didn't get to keep any more. That's what I got- 8 shillings a week until my wage went up a bit and then I got 10 shillings a week -and I never ever until I got married got any more than 10 shillings a week spending money. I think that's why I wanted to do my paper round, you know a bit of extra money from that.
The alley had two weavers in altogether, there were 10 looms in the alley, but you got 5 each. You've got five looms and I ran two drop-boxes, which had two different colours of yarn in, it dropped down and then came back up. I had two circular box looms which could have as many as 6 different coloured cops in for the different, for the material. And then I had one ordinary plain white loom that just did, sometimes it did stuff for bandages, sometimes it just made ordinary white cotton cloth.
And they were fascinating. I loved them, because there was such a different, a variety of things to look at. The drop-boxes did mostly checked tablecloths, because they had the red and white or blue and white, yellow and white, and they did the checked tablecloths. But the others made, I did Black Watch tartan and Royal Scot tartan and various tartans on one of them, and on the other one, it were more curtains. It were like a jacquard at the top, with pegs in and you could get a pattern where they had the leaves and that on curtains, it all worked out. I don't know how it worked because I didn't understand things in them days, I was only 15, but that's what the jacquard looms did and they were coloured as well.
You just switched it on and there is a flay, what they call the flay - it was a big wooden thing with like a reed in, where all the ends were threaded through, and then there were some creels at the back what you threaded them through as well, and they'd go up and down. The ends were going up and down and so the shuttle went in different parts of it as it went through each time. And there was a picking stick at the end, and it threw the shuttle across and then there's a picking stick at the other end, and it threw it back and that's how it worked until the yarn in the shuttle run out. Then you'd to stop the loom and put a new cop in. Refill it with the yarn. And the picking stick was one with a leather strap and if that strap broke, and the stick didn't pick the shuttle across, the shuttle flew out and hit you on the head or hit you anywhere really. But I got hit twice on the head when I were working there in that first mill.
Well, you could catch your fingers in the rollers and that bloomin' hurt if you did that. Because there were a band, it went round one roller and through, but, you know a bit like a mangle sort of thing. And then it came out and went around a big roller at the bottom, the cloth, and that could be dangerous. And then at the back, some of the looms had what they called letting back wheels at the back, so if you got it weaving without weft, that's if you let the shuttle run out and there was no weft, it would come through, just the ends would just come through at the front, and you had to turn the beam at the back, back to wind it back so that you got to where the cloth were.
And the letting back wheels sometimes, I once got my skirt trapped in these letting back wheels and I had to rip my skirt to get it out and I had a bloomin' big rip in my skirt that day. And you know you start going round the letting back wheels and it was very hazardous. Then there were the loom sweepers that used to come, and they would get under the looms and sometimes they were still running when they were under, sweeping the dirt from under the looms. There were a lot of danger in the original mill where I worked when I were only 15. They did change things eventually, but it was quite hazardous really.
The men were paid more money than us in them days, and the tacklers were quite well paid, I think. For mill work, I mean mill workers were never paid as much as engineering workers and other industries but obviously the tacklers got a lot more money than us weavers. See, we had to make our own money, we got so much . . . once I learnt my job after 3-months, and I were on my own, you got a basic pay and then you'd to make your own money by how much cloth you wove in a week. It were called piece work and how hard you worked and that and if you left your loom running while you're having a sandwich and that, you could earn more money than if you stopped them to have your break.
But the men, the tacklers as they called them then, they earned a lot more money than us and they were sat in the boiler house most of t'day! Chattin', just waiting for the weavers to come and fix whatever they needed fixing. They had a much easier job than us, probably a bit heavier when they were working but they got paid better wages and all and some of them were quite, you know a bit, how can I put it, intrusive on women when they shouldn't have been. You know especially with young girls, you'd to watch them.
There were one of the tacklers in particular were really bad, and if he could touch you with his hands in not nice places, he would do. He would bide his opportunity if he thought nobody were looking down the alley. And you know, you'd to sort of push him away. He were a bit like you know what you would call a sexual predator these days I would think.
(You’d) Shove him away and tell him to clear off. but you know you'd to shout because you couldn't hear in the mill, it was so blooming noisy, it were horrendous. What you meant when you were shoving him away, your actions itself, even though you told him to. If he couldn't hear you, he knew what you meant.
Quite honestly, I don't know if anybody else did, (complain) but I never did. I was always frightened of complaining in case it came back on me and they blamed me for it. I had that fear all my life. You know, even when I were a little girl, if I told my mum anything had happened, I would probably finish off getting a clout "Well you must have been doing something first", you know. So it put that fear in me that if I told anybody they wouldn't believe me but although a lot of weavers did tell me later on, that this one particular guy tried it on with nearly everybody. Every woman in mill, apart from the middle age ladies if you will.
I got married at 18 and I went to work at a mill down Church for a short while because I moved down there when I got married with my little boy, and I were at Chambers at Church, but not for very long. And then after that I went to Stanhill Ring Mill because I could go on evenings there. I did evenings when my children were very tiny.
He was pretty good were my husband. He always tipped his wage packet up and we had some of them black boxes with keys and we used to put the rent money in one, the gas money in another, the electric money in another. It was pretty efficient that way and then we could pay the bills. Then we knew what we had left for food after that. So we managed quite well, even though we were poor, we didn't have any luxury and no steak teas or anything like that. We'd simple meals and that but we managed. We had three children in 2 years and 11 months. And I went to work evenings after each one of them and then when my youngest got to 5, I went full time then at Stanhill Ring.
It was different all together than the smaller mills, the little weaving mills, just weaving and a small winding department. But Stanhill Mill was a very big ring mill, down West End it was. And on the ground floor it was where they received all the raw cotton. Half of it, that was loading bays and all that and then further up through that room they had the mixing room, what they used to chop all the big bales of cotton up into smaller pieces and then it went up this piping and it went on to the next floor into what they called the glowing room and it were in this big massive machine and it would be tossed about like that to thin it down and make it to small pieces.
And then it went from there, and on the same floor as that further back, was the card room. And it went in there into the carding part and then on to the slubbing machines which made it quite narrower about, how can I say, a bit like rope really, it was like that then and spun onto the slubbing bobbins. And it went after that, to the spinning room, that was the third floor up, and then it was spun on the spinning machines and made into cops for the winders and they, not for the weavers, it was different yarn at that stage, it were for the winders to wind onto the bobbins in that mill.
And then it went up to the winding room and that's where all these big tubs of perns, they were called, when they come from the spinning room, they were called perns and they were full of cotton. These perns went into the winding room, and then the winders made the perns into big cheeses, to go in the creels which made the - they left our mill then. They went in the creels and put on to beams, ready to go into the weaving loom. But they had to be what they called glue-sized, so that the ends on the beams went stiff, so that when it actually went into the weaving shed, they'd move up and down quite easily. If it were just floppy cotton, it would have been wafted about in the weaving room and it wouldn't have worked, so they had to put glue-size on it, to make it stiff, like it had been starched. And then they came into the weaving mills then, where I originally worked.
But it was very interesting, Stanhill Ring. I loved it there, I worked there for a long time at Stanhill. But I went on evening shift when my children were little and then on the -at first it were days, and then after that, they stopped all the days and evening shift, and they went on 6-2 and 2-10.
My husband worked there so we did opposite shifts then, 6-2 and 2-10. When he were on 6-2, I were on 2-10 and we hardly ever saw each other, but that's how we worked to make enough money for, to keep the place going.
No, no, the weaving wasn't done at Stanhill Ring, no. And even the glue-sizing wasn't done there, it was done at, well, I think there were a mill in, well Hilden did it, glue-sizing, and there's a mill in Nelson that did glue-sizing, and then all these big, they put them on big - the beams that we made in the beaming section at Stanhill Ring, where we put them on big beams - they were what we call 10 beams or 8 beams, which were how many ends they wanted altogether for the material. They were called sets of beams, and if you got a set of 10 beams, when they went to the glue-sizing, the whole of them 10 beams went onto one big massive beam, because of the weaving loom. The whole of the 10, the ends that were on, say we had 500 ends on each, so you'd 5000 ends going on the weavers' beam. This were later on, they'd got really wide looms then. When I worked at first in the mill, the looms were only 48, 36, inches wide, but the looms later on went across a full room – big, massive wide looms. It was absolutely captivating, fascinating work. My mother put me in the mill, but when I got working in it, I found it so fascinating I were glad that she had done really.
Because I worked in all the different departments in different mills I worked at, I learnt from the beginning, the preparation, not the mixing rooms, most of the men did them, from the winding and beaming and creeling and beaming, and then into, that was my last job on production was beaming, making the beams that went in the sizing, and I worked at Hilden doing that. And then after that I was, for the last 4 or 5 years of my working life at Hilden, when I were supervisor, I wasn't on the machines then, I was supervising the winding and beaming department in the mill.
In 2002, it shut down, did the mill, so. . . I weren't due to retire while 2004, but it shut down in 2002 and my husband was a sick man, so I stayed at home after that and looked after him.
We did get better wages then (in the 70s) but what they did at Stanhill Ring Mill, and I were lucky, cos my children were a bit older, they started an evening shift again for the ladies with younger babies, and they put the shift workers on what they called extended days. And they worked from 7 while 5, a bit like the old times when I worked in the first job I had. We worked from 7 till 5 but we got quite a good, substantial rise in pay because we'd those extra unsociable hours. And that's what we did, we worked those extended days in Stanhill Ring and then, it finally closed down.
And then somebody else opened it up for a while, and we still worked there, but we just did ordinary days then but for a while, for quite a few years, we did extended days, from 7 o'clock in the morning till 5 and both me and my husband, he worked in the card room and I worked in the winding and beaming room, and me mother saw to the children before school and picked them up from school and waited for us till we got home from work. And that's how we arranged the childcare then. Me mum were very good and did it for us.
Well, I think mill life were very very hard work. I don't think some of these young lasses now leaving school, could do it, to be honest. Because it were very demanding, and everything had to be precise, because it were all about, people didn't want to wear clothes with big gaps in them where the bloomin' thing hadn't been wove proper! Everything had to be done, you know, you'd to steer towards perfection in everything you did, and if you didn't do it, you got fetched up with cut-looker as you called them, and you got into trouble.
On the looms, the first looms I worked on, later they took them off on the rollers, the whole lot on one roller, but when I was young, in Stanhill Ring, when you'd done a hundred yards of cloth, you'd to cut it out of the loom, and then you'd to fold it up, and the warehouse boy would come and take it away, and there were 100 yards of cloth in that.
And then there were men in this cut-looking room, because it were called a cut of cloth you see, a hundred yards, so they called them cut-lookers. And if they saw a flaw in any of that cloth where you'd had an end out and missed it, if you saw the warehouse boy coming up towards the looms you used to want to crawl under the loom because you knew you were going to get into trouble with the cut looker. You know, and there were a bit of fear there with that, you know.
When you'd 5 looms, because you'd to get hold of t'flay and get the feel of it and put your hand under and it would be going forwards and backwards really quick and you'd all that to do, and going testing all 5 looms, that flay were working right and everything And then you'd probably go back to the first loom and you'd had an end out for about maybe a couple of yards, and it's gone right to the bottom roller and then you to start-it's confusing but there were two ends matched and if one end came out, you'd to get your little weaver's comb and take the other end out that matched with it and then scratch it up. And the cloth would look alright then. But if you missed it, and then you realised it had gone right to the bottom roller, then you could only scratch so much of it up, so you knew the cut-looker would look and see where the gap were.
And you knew you were going to get brought up before the cloths went in the warehouse, so you just dreaded the warehouse boy, because it used to be a young lad, the warehouse boy, and you'd think "Oh no here he comes I've got to go and get shouted at now", you know, that were a bit scary. When you're only a kid, and up to Christmas that year, I had been at school, sat at a school desk, and then all of a sudden, you'd all this work, about whether you've done everything right, you know no and it were a big responsibility for kids at 15 and they don't work now while they're about 25 I don't think, most people. They have it a lot easier in that way now. I think they have it much easier, they don't have children going in the mills. At 15, you're literally a child really.
Most people are at school while they're 18, and then after school some go to, well they go to college while they're about 18 and then after that some go to university, but other people they go on courses and that, and they don't actually have a job until they're in their early 20s, most people these days.
Maybe they have it easier, maybe they have it harder to find work then we did. You could leave a job at a mill when I was 15 and walk in another mill the following Monday and have a job there. Jobs were easy to get, so I think they have it harder that way these days than we had, but I think mill life -I think that's why it's gone now - it gave me a buzz because I like working hard.
I'm always hard at it at home now even though I'm retired. I like working hard and I wouldn't have liked to have been in a job, like sat in an office, writing with a pen all the time, I wouldn't like that. I like to be climbing up my ladder in my creel and running my beamer at the front and the same with my five looms, you know, getting hold of a flay, I'm keeping myself busy all the time. You went in at 7:20 in the morning and before you knew where you were it was 4:20 because you're so busy all day and I like the busyness of the mill life by that.
I've talked to Peter Hargreaves quite a lot about the mill, because you know I speak to him a lot, the man who owns Oswaldtwistle Mills, talked to him about my working life, and he's fascinated by how much I liked it.
I loved that bit of it, the business of it were amazing. I used to help labourers do their job while I were watching my own machine. The labourers used to be in the middle room, doing what we call tubbing up, putting the bobbins that were going to be hung in our creels into tubs, so that he could wheel them into the creel and hang them on. And I used to empty the pallets and tub up with him while I were watching my own. Because you see machines then, machines in later years, if the machine stopped if anything went wrong it stopped immediately, because they had pins that dropped and it told you that you had an end broken. In my first job there were nothing like that, you had to look for every end that broke out like a hawk.
(If I were setting out on a career now), I'd still like to go into some sort of production work that would keep me busy. I would never like an office job. I mean, I sit down and do my writing now when I want to do it. I sit and relax maybe for an hour an hour and a half in an afternoon, I write a poem or I write part of a story. I wrote one called That Damned Pandemic, but that's took me, and writing every week about it, different things that happened every week, to get it down as a record because in years to come people will want to know what happened, and we'll all be gone and nobody will be able to tell them. So I've written it all down.
I think this day and age, you can't tell a young 'un what to do. They'll say "Well I'm not doing that" and they won't do it and when I was young if you said that you'd get a clip round the earhole, and they say you're doing it and that's the end of the story. This is the way the world's changed, the children, to me, have more say in what's happening than the actual grown-ups do.
And I think this is down to all these government rules about you can't do this to a child, you can't do that to a child, and all that, and my mother would have been in jail over and over again, I think if. . .because we used to get punished, and we felt like we deserved it, it never affected us. And me mother were a good mother, she looked after us and kept us clean and tidy and sat up all night with us if we were ill. We had all the benefits that way I don't think that's the same any more really, there's not as much intense family life now as what they used to be when we were little. Children just go in their bedrooms and their parents don't see them till morning after. They are sat there on their machines all the time, we interacted as a family, with my parents. My dad had a piano and we used to sing to them, and we interacted as a family all the time. They don't do that anymore, they just go in their bedrooms and play on their machines all the time, these kids. I go down to my children's houses you know, and the children, they're just in their bedrooms all the time, I never see them. They're playing on, either their computers or these tablets, like I have here now in front of me.
But I have to say that my experiences in the mill were amazing and I've wrote quite a few poems about mill life, not just that one about my first day. I've wrote some about some of the things we used to get up to in the mill, you know, we used to have mock weddings and that at Christmas. We had all sorts of things going on in the mill, and to me, it was a wonderful life. I loved it.
When it was Christmas celebrations, bosses were a bit lenient nearing to the Christmas time, and they used to get one of the most elderly ladies in the mill, and one of the youngest boys, and they used to dress the boy in top hat and tails, and the woman in a wedding frock, and they had a mock wedding. And there were a few of the other old women, especially the larger they were, the better, in the bridesmaids’ frocks, and you know, we used to have a mock wedding, and a celebration, and it was great fun you know. We loved the mock weddings at Christmas time, we used to do them a lot you know. And then they'd get- the lads would tie you up, they had these baskets what you put the cotton in tied up with string around the edges, and a lid on and tied up with string and they used to put the girls in them, tie the string up and send you up and down in the lift at Christmas. They used to get up to things that they wouldn't have been allowed to, health and safety these days, but it was great fun. We used to have great fun like that at Christmas. We were allowed a little bit of what I call breathing space around Christmas time.
And the people were so friendly and the comradeness about it all, if you know what I mean, everybody were amazing. Even, if you used to get told off with the older hands, but yet they were very fond of us, because we were sort of their children in the mill if you will. I just enjoyed it all, everything.
We once did a thing at Stanhill Ring, that somebody brought some, this will sound revolting, joke dog muck in, and it went round the mill all day. All day, this! And you could hear them screaming in the distance all day, "Oh my God!" and then at the finish, the foreman saw it and he had us all. " Right girls all my girls this is out of bounds, here you must stay away this is disgusting" and he went downstairs, and he got a long mop and bucket and shovel, and he came back up into the winding room and when he got there it had gone because we moved it! And I think all of us just spent all day that day laughing. We were doing us work but it was just in different parts, keep going round and people keep putting it somewhere and if somebody will find it, and this foreman -he was called Fred, he was so good- "My girls, all this terrible trouble for you, oh it's disgusting, you stay out of the way, it's out of bounds round here." and then when we saw him coming out of the lift, with the buckets, he had a mask on and a brush and a shovel and a mop and bucket, and it wasn't there anymore, we'd moved it!
We had sports days out at Stanhill Ring. They used to take us out at the weekend, we used to meet up on a big sports field and we'd have a sports day. Probably somewhere in the Yorkshire Dales, somewhere where there is a lot of countryside and we had this field and we did all this competition. There was sack races, 100m, hurdles, all sorts of races and all these different mills challenged each other, and then at night, each time we went we went to a different place, but one week we came back home to Oswaldtwistle and went into what was called Thwaites Arms then on Thwaites Road and we went in there and we had a competition with darts, dominoes and other things that they'd play in pubs and we had that at night, you know, and we all had a social evening after the sports day. We used to have really - they were good at t'mill, they were good days, they were really.
We had Wakes Week every July and what it was in the mill, we got holidays with pay, which is different to paid holidays. And what they used to do, they used to have a percentage of your wage -whether they took it off you or the boss put it in I have no idea -but there was a percentage of your wage put away every week and you got a big holiday pay for the summer holidays. It were like maybe equivalent to 2 or 3 weeks’ pay on top of your wages and it were called holidays with pay, but all the other holidays you had like Easter -well you only had good Friday and Easter Monday off then in them days- we used to have 2 days at September, Monday and Tuesday, then Christmas you just had Christmas day and Boxing Day and New Year's Day off when I first went to work.
In them days you didn't get paid for them, you had what they called broken weeks and the whole of your holiday pay were paid to you at July for the July holidays for Wakes fortnight and so you got quite a bit of extra money, so people were going away, you know, they enjoyed it like that, the mill workers, because they got used to it and they put up with the broken weeks and the short holidays, so they could have good money in the summer holidays.
When I started work, the first year I went to Windy Harbour Caravan Site that's funnily enough near Poulton-le-Fylde. It's still there, Windy Harbour caravan site. We went there 2 years on the run, the first two years I were at work and then we went to Butlins at Pwllheli. And then after that I were married. I did get holidays because my sister-in-law lived in Blackpool, so we used to go to her 'cos she had a hotel in Blackpool, my husband's brother and his wife. So we used to go there when my husband was off work you know when the children are babies, when we were off work, we used to go there for a week, to Blackpool in this hotel where his brother lived but you know I didn't go abroad until 1983.
END *(the local manor house)