Bringing home the Turf.

Me, Grandad Ned and the Ass-Cart

As a child, I have fond memories of spending summer times on holiday in Galway, Ireland with my maternal Grandparent, and on speaking to my mother recently about this, it all came flooding back. 

Looking through some old photos, I found the above old photo of me with my Grandfather Ned, bringing home the turf in his Donkey-Cart, or "Ass-Cart" as he always called it. I was about 12 years old at the time. [“Turf” is the name used in Ireland for dried peat.]

It may seem strange to many people nowadays  that even in the 1960’s peat was still been cut from bog-land and widely used to heat the homes in rural Ireland, but this was the norm in the small town where my Grandparents lived, indeed it is still very common to this day to see people using this fuel in the home. My Grandparents would have paid the owner of the bog land a certain price per yard for the right to cut turf for their own use, although at one time the family did own some bog-land of their own.

The photo above shows the type of cart many people had in their back yard, ideal for being pulled over wet bog-land because of it’s large wheels, by a donkey at the time…..can’t remember the name of the donkey, if indeed had a name, but my Grandfather always seemed to have a donkey around on land at the back of their house, as many others did, and I remember going to sleep one warm summer’s evening with the bedroom window wide open, to be woken up in the morning with the donkey sticking it’s head through the window and braying for food!

My Grandfather, assisted by his brother-in-law, Tommy, had the job of cutting and then transporting the dried turf back home.

Cutting the turf was very labour intensive in those days and involved cutting into the wet bog with a specially shaped shovel called a ”slean”.

The Slean
“Saving” the turf involved turning each piece of turf to ensure the sun and wind could help in the drying process. The turf was then placed upright or 'footed' for further drying. Footing the turf involved placing five or six pieces of turf upright and leaning against each other in a small stack in order for the wind to get between the turfs to full dry them out fully, ready for storage.

I well remember seeing the sweat on Tommy’s brow, cutting turf on a hot summer days, then stopping for a rest and a cigarette. He and Grandad then loaded it on the cart after drying and brought it the few miles home to be used through winter.

Their home had a large black range in the kitchen which heated the house and was used for cooking as well. It seemed as though we were continually going outside to the shed for another hand full of turf to keep it stoked up, and then emptying the ashes out because it filled up quickly due to the peat not lasting long. Today many people use commercially cut blocks of peat, which are compressed and therefore seem to last a lot longer.

Back-breaking work!

My mother remembers friends in the town, although not in her time, as children having to each take a piece of turf to school with them every morning in order to heat the classroom, otherwise there was no heat for the class!

And just to finish with, I still have the wonderful smell of burning turf in my head from those happy times years ago.

Drying turf stacks

Oxenhope in the Great War

I recently read a book called “Oxenhope in the Great War” which was a very informative story about how WW1 affected this little village in Yorkshire and the lives of the men and women who lived there, where 370 men left home to serve King and Country and 54 of whom never returned.
Usually my articles about WW1 are tinged with sadness about all the young lives lost during this terrible conflict, but in this article I want to talk about people who survived, In particular one individual called Edgar Bancroft who was born in the village, was called up in 1916, and not only survived the war, but stayed on for 6 months after the end of the conflict in the army of occupation in Germany because he wanted “ to have a bit of smooth after the rough!”

As in most areas of the country, many men volunteered to fight, and the above newspaper advert uses comradery and patriotism to try and persuade men to sign up, and many did. The 2nd Bradford Pals Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment visited Oxenhope on a recruiting parade and on 24th March 1915. The men, women and children of Oxenhope, who had been taken out of school that day all watched as the soldiers marched and were welcomed in the village.
Edgar was born on 3rd November 1897 in Oxenhope, the younger son of Alfred and Sarah [nee O’Hara]. Alfred was a master tailor, who later in life became a farmer and cattle dealer living at Stone Top Farm. Edgar became an apprentice plumber, working in Keighley for a Tom Slater.
He was called up and enlisted with the York & Lancaster Regiment on 12th September 1916, and travelled by train from Keighley to Halifax, where he reported to the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment at their collecting depot. From there he was sent to the transit camp at Clipstone near Mansfield, and was the youngest man in the hut. After training, he went to France, travelling overnight by train to Dover, then drafted out to Abbeville and St. Omer.

He did not go into combat immediately, but eventually served at Ypres and Passchendaele. One of his memories there was standing directly behind a gun and watching the large shells for a second or so as they went down the trajectory. Some of the guns were huge and before a battle when the artillery put over a massive barrage, the ground would shake like a jelly, and the guns would leap into the air as they recoiled.
He joined the Machine Gun Corps when volunteers were called for and was given two days leave as a reward. Sixty other lads who hadn’t volunteered were also drafted into the MGC, but without any leave.
Edgar was later transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and the 9th Kite Balloon Squadron, and he would watch the officer go up in the balloon to check and correct the range of the artillery fire. However, sometimes the Germans sent over a plane to shoot down the balloon, and when the officer saw it coming, would have to quickly parachute out. One particular morning this happened several times.
As mentioned earlier, at the end of the war Edgar was asked to stay on for an additional six months, and went to Germany with the army of occupation, and was most impressed with the city of Cologne. Although he was offered promotion to sergeant, he declined to stay on any longer, and was demobilised on 7th August 1919, transferring to the RAF Reserves.

Edgar is named on the Oxenhope Wesleyan memorial.
He died, age 65 years, on 1st March 1962.

[I am grateful to be allowed to use extract from the excellent book “Oxenhope in the Great War” by Norma Mackrell. Anyone who wishes to purchase this book, the profit of which go to Manorlands Hospice in Oxenhope, can do so on the following website.] 

The Weaver’s Complaint….a poem from 1834

I recently came across a rather long poem written anonymously by someone from Keighley in 1834, which gives a vivid insight into the life of a weaver, and his family around this time, as the industry moved from the cottage to the mill.
There are many examples of 18th and 19th Century BANCROFT families earning a living from hand loom weaving in their homes, before the invention of machinery, which made production on a large scale possible in the mills, and spelt the demise of this cottage industry.
An insight into the living conditions of a hand loom weaver in the nearby village of Heptonstall, is graphically described in the following extract from the book 'The History of the typhus of Heptonstall Slack' by S Gibson: 
" The reminiscences of a Heptonstall Handloom Weaver, born in 1809, shows just how low was his standard of life in this period. His cottage had no under-drawing, was cold and damp, and snow blew in during the winter. His bedding consisted of two cotton blankets, a rough cotton quilt and pillows filled with chopped straw. Furniture consisted of a three-legged table, two old chairs, two three-legged stools and a chest of drawers. Food was monotonous and poor and utensils were scanty. His porridge pan doubled as a frying pan. Owing to a shortage of knives and forks, some of the family ate with their fingers. There were a few broken cups and saucers, and old teaspoon and a jug for fetching milk. The diet consisted of porridge, old milk, treacle, potatoes and oatcake. For dinner he had fried suet with salt and water for gravy. Occasionally he had tea or coffee, but normally drank a brew of mint, hyssop or tansey from the garden. He worked an 11 and a half hour day for 6/6d per week."
Only in the 1840's, in the woollen industries, did the power looms in the factories competed fully and directly with hand looms. Until that time the two existed side by side, with the hand loom weaver reduced to being an auxiliary of the factory, but not yet driven out of existence by competition. Their role was to take up the slack in boom times, and to bear the first brunt of recession. They also acted as a check on the wages of power loom weavers, most of whom were women.
The owners of these newly set up mills were known for their exploitation of their workers, and especially the children who worked for them, and this is vividly shown in the poem.
Bancroft sisters a't Mill...late 19th Century

Here are the first few verses of the poem:

'Draw near, honest people, of every degree
And listen a little, I pray unto thee
While I shall attempt to unfold in my tale
A few of the tricks which in England prevail

Then first, for the weavers, a set of poor souls
With cloths on their backs much like riddles for holes
With faces quite pale, and eyes sunk in the head
As if the whole race were half famished for bread

Indeed, when these wretches you happen to meet
You think they were shadows you see in the street
For thin water-porridge is all they can get
And even with that they are often hard set…..

 The weaver stands staring, the master shouts out
“ Come take this five shillings, or else go without
For charity’s sake, I employ you you know
Or else to the workhouse you’d soon have to go”

 At last the poor weaver is forc’d to submit
This workhouse has frightened him out of his wit
So take it and think so, tho’ it only small
Five shillings are better than nothing at all'

The full poem, all 50 pages, can be downloaded here, but please be aware that much of it is a bit rambling and not just relevant to the life of a weaver.

A Hand-Loom Weaver