An account of the life of Margaret Duddy & Family
Margaret Duddy was born in Ashton in Makerfield on the 12th of January 1898. She was one of twelve children born to John and Margaret. She lived on Heath Rd, Ashton, in a row of cottages, which were directly opposite a playhouse called the Hippodrome. It later became a cinema called the Scala. From her home she was able to hear the noise of the audience and the travelling actors perform plays such as "Maria of the Red Barn" and various other music hall acts.
The row of cottages, which were demolished in the fifties, included in its centre Hunter's Clogger's Shop. One day Margaret had been sent next door but one to collect her father's repaired clogs which he wore for work. To her surprise when she left the shop with clog on each hand, she spotted floating above, a huge hot air balloon unseen before in the area. All the children of the Heath and local area followed this amazing flying invention. On she followed with the crowd until it came down in a field a few miles away in a part of Garswood. Some of the children blindly following the balloon ended up miles from home and unsure of where they were. Margaret was now in bother as she still had her father's clogs on her hands, miles from home and her father late for his shift down the pit. On her eventual return her angry and late father yelled "My clogs only needed to travel two yards but they ended up in Garswood".
School & Childhood
Margaret's family were extremely poor but so was a large proportion of Ashton. The rule of the house was "first up, best dressed", which meant that it wasn't unusual for one of her brothers to go to school with a clog on one foot and a shoe on the other, which was better than bare feet especially in winter. Margaret, and her brothers and sisters, attended St Oswald's Catholic School. The boys' school was where the Ashwood Care home is on Liverpool Road; the girls' school was where Old School Place is now. After registration sets of children would be strictly walked to the church for morning mass but their numbers would be a few less on the way back, as truants would hide in bushes and skip a day's school.
Lord Gerard, being Catholic himself, used to fund and help run the school. Every Christmas he would buy a large tree and leave a present for every pupil in the school. Margaret and her brothers would long for one of the dolls or a train which were hanging from the tree, but the poorer children were always given a frock or jersey (Gansey) of some kind. The lack of proper toys didn't stop Margaret and other children from fashioning their own to play with. Rope taken from packing cases found on the market would make fine skipping ropes, and marbles taken from Codd bottles were a great favourite.
Freedom to play on the heath and paddle in the stream meant that children would always be occupied and active. Margaret would sometimes make a visit to the Ashton hermit and enjoy playing with his many cats. With Haydock Park racecourse being nearby children could also entertain themselves by watching the horses being unloaded at Ashton railway station.
Shops & Market
Margaret, like many of the under-privileged, relied on leftovers of others in the community to get food and the bare necessities to live. Friday being Margaret's father's pay day, she would receive tuppence to buy cheap meat from Charlie Assle the butcher. This would make a basic stew for all the family. Tea and sugar was bought from Mrs Jameson whose shop was on Warrington Road. The tea and sugar would be bought mixed in a small paper bag. All of the bag would then be put in the teapot to last them a week without changing it.
On market day when the stalls were closing many families would go and be given unwanted fruit and vegetables which would not be fit to sell. Many women would be seen carrying them home in their pinnies. The pawn shop, or pop shop as it was sometimes called, was situated near the entrance of Squeeze Bally entry. This was a popular shop, as Mr Turner the keeper would accept almost anything for a few coppers. A dated ticket would be given on each item pawned. If the item wasn't claimed before the date shown he could then try and sell it for a healthy profit. On numerous times in desperation Margaret's father's best shirt would be washed and patted and taken to the shop and pawned, only to be bought back when pay day came around. Often her mother would scour the fender with water and a donkey stone until it shone; this was also pawned for few pence.
Near to the pawn shop was an iron fountain which would be used by the local people who drank from iron cups which were chained to the fountain. This fountain would also be shared with the many horses that passed by on Gerard Street. Few motor cars would be seen around the town, as only well-to-do people could afford them. Horses and carts would be the main form of tranport delivering goods to the shops and market. Even Dr Hannah who lived in Rock House, Gerard St, would have made his visits on a pony and trap.
When Margaret was ten, she and her family moved from Heath Road to a house on the Flags, Stubshaw Cross. The house was quite small, having two rooms downstairs and two upstairs. Stone flags covered the living room floor. In the living room was a large cast iron fireplace with a mantlepiece called the cornish high over the fire. A wooden table, rocking chair and old dresser would make up the rest of the furniture.
Half of this long row of houses belonged to Garswood Hall Collieries; the other half to Crossies Pit. With no electricity or gas, candles and oil lamps were used for lighting. Water was heated in a large pan over the fire and carbolic soap was used to clean themselves and clothes. Coal burned on the fire would be delivered once a month by Bob the horse and his cart. The coal would be dropped at the door and then moved into the pantry by bucket. Mrs Beddows was a particular friend of Bob the horse. She would have a jam butty waiting on the table for him, which the horse itself would enter the house to receive.
Each of these pit houses had to have a worker employed at one of the collieries or the families would be forced to move out. The workers would toil hour after hour in the dark, coming home dirty and black to wash in a slop stone - this was a large shallow rectangular sink. In Margaret's household food was scarce; only when her working father and brothers had eaten could the children have what was left.
One thing that was abundant was a sense of community within the row, sharing anything extra they may have managed to acquire with one another. Margaret's father was once given a clock which he hung facing the window so others in the street could come and see the time. When a death occured, the whole community would club together to buy a coffin for the deceased. Death on the row was common as only three out of Margaret's eleven brothers and sisters lived to be over thirty.
Margaret - the Pit Brow Lass
The day Margaret left school at thirteen, she started work at Garswood Hall Collieries as a pit brew worker. She would be woken by her father at six o'clock, an hour after the knocker-upper had been. She would wear clogs, a long black skirt with a pair of men's pants, a top made of striped calico, which is an Irish linen, over which she wore a jacket, a red spotted scarf and a shoulder shawl to cover her hair. To get to the colliery she would set off down North Street, then onto Lily Lane and then over the fields. Arriving at work, she would need to clock on. Each person had a number which was then hung on a board. Two rows of pit brow lasses would stand either side of a large conveyor belt as tubs of coal were brought up from below and dumped onto the belt. The lasses would then remove any rock, slate, white dirt and coprus out of the coal, which would be dropped around their feet. The coal would then continue to be loaded straight onto wagons waiting at the end. At the end of the day the waste would be shovelled onto the belt and taken away to make slag heaps, which can now be seen as the "Three Sisters".
Margaret's father and two brothers worked at the Number 9 pit - it was common for family members to work together. Her father was the hewer who actually dug the coal; one brother Daniel filled the tubs; and the other, John, was the drawer who took the tubs to the pitee. For days Margaret's father had come home saying there was a strong smell of black damp in the pit. Even though this had been reported, work continued in the pit as usual. On the night of Saturday, 12th November 1932, No. 9 exploded. Many lives were lost: Ernest Yates, Joe Pimblett, Fred Hughes, Harold Woodcock, Bert Hughes, Joseph Clough, William Corless, Hector Beddows are the names of the men and boys who came from Stubshaw Cross. Fortunately for Margaret and her family the explosion didn't happen on the morning shift when her father and brothers would have been working.
Written by Sheila Brown