Oldham Historical Research Group

'Oldham Stories'

     'Oldham Stories'
by Mary Dickinson

Working in the Mill

By the time I was twelve years old in 1918 I was a Half-Timer working in the mill and going to school. I won't say I didn't like it, I made many friends in the mill and there was nothing else for us to do except work in the cotton mills. Very few children went to grammar schools in those days.

First of all you had to have a medical, then you were given a Half -Timer's book which had to be stamped every week. All the little tenters would troop down to the warehouse on Saturday momings with our books to show that we had a full attendance. When we worked momings we had to be up at 5 o'clock and start work at 6 o'clock. We thought it was lovely to take off our big blue overalls and change into something nice to go to school. The following week we went to school in the moming and worked in the mill in the aftemoon. We didn't leam much at school that last year, we had to sit at the back of the classroom and we were very tired. By the time I was thirteen I was a fully- fledged mill worker.

I had to work for a week or two at Wemeth Spinning Company, without pay, just to learn how to do the job. Then I went to Lees and Wrigley's on Glodwick Rd. and worked for a wage. I got eleven shillings and seven pence for momings and nine shillings and three pence for aftemoons. I remember setting off wondering what was in store for me and it did seem a long way away. I would set off at 5.30am. and the streets would be crowded with workers going to the mills. I would see the same faces every day. I passed a drink shop where you could get a cup of coffee for a penny and a tot of rum for 2d. It must have been very warming on a cold moming.

It was very warm walking into the mill. You would hear a lot of whistling but I was told it was onlv crickets. When the mill was quiet you could hear them chirping.

The little tenters had a lot of hard work to do. We had to clean under the frames and that meant crawling about on the floor amongst the waste cotton and oil. Then we had to clean all the bobbin boxes and when that was done we had to mop and stone a big wide ally leading to the carder's cabin. We worked as a team and there was no going home till it was finished.

You had to be at work on time. If you were late you were sent home and there was no pay for that day. I remember one Imorning my friend Violet Smith and myself were very early so we decided to walk round the mill-lodge. We imagined we were at the seaside. It took us a long time to walk rormd the lodge and when we got to the big mill doors we found they were locked. We shouted but they would not let us in, we were late and we had to go home. We cried all the way home but the worst part was telling our mothers. I suppose they were thinking of the money. Violet's mother came in and I was so frightened I ran in the coal place. You would have thought we had committed a crime. I never saw Violet again that day, I think we both had to do house work. I was only twelve.

The First World War was still on but it was over later that year. The mill workers were given a bonus. I didn't think I would get anything but I got twelve shillings. After the war Lees and Wrigleys had a canteen built and drinking fountains installed. Later on half time was stopped and children couldn't start work till they were 14. I missed a lot of my education but I haven't done so bad. You don't need a certificate to be a wife and mother.

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