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Paul Roberts
Reminiscences of his life.

Paul's mother was born in Rushden and lived in Cromwell Road (The Rock), so he had grandparents here. He lived at sometime in Rushden, but his later years were back at Raunds.

In March 1940 I left Adams Bros. factory at Raunds to work as a clicker at the firm of Wilkins and Denton's in Station Road, Rushden. I had attended the Boot & Shoe Institute in Victoria Road, Rushden the previous year to learn clicking & pattern cutting. Meeting with other young clickers I realised that greater opportunities for higher earnings and promotion existed in Rushden. Boot & Shoe work in Raunds seemed to offer little for ambitious youngsters.

That first winter of the war I had my brush with the forces of the law in Rushden. All vehicle lamps had to be blacked out to a regulation pattern. My cycle lamp glass and reflector I covered with brown paper. A brown paper tube wrapped round the bulb to the glass. This gave a very limited light. The little beam enabled me to see the Way Posts down the Cow Pastures in Higham and along the Stanwick bottom road in the fog and blackness.

In those days the road past the Royal Theatre was steeper and by peddling fast one could get up enough speed to ride up Higham Hill without having to walk. Returning home from night school just after nine o’clock, I went over the pedestrian crossing at the Washbrook Road junction at full pedal power. I hurled between a line of figures using the crossing. They were Police officers. They ordered me to stop. I was ticked off for not having the regulation blackout mask on my lamp; I showed too much light. They sent me on my way with a caution.

Many workers cycled to Rushden in those days. If the bottom road from Stanwick to Chowns Mill was flooded, we would all have to turn back and take the Stanwick Top Road. In the winter when the weather was bad, we would all take the bus. Two double-deckers from Raunds and a single-decker from Stanwick. One of the double-decker buses starting at Ringstead. I cannot think of anyone who used a motor car to go to work.

One morning in the winter of 1940-41 the frost and ice prevented the buses from getting up the hill from Chowns Mill to Higham Ferrers. We had to get out and push the buses up to Windmill Banks in Higham Ferrers. I remember looking back at the line of seven buses being pushed by men from Raunds, Stanwick, Irthlingborough and Finedon.

The factory owners were George Denton and a Mr Wilkins. I think that George Denton had ginger hair. Mr Wilkins seemed an elderly, grey man who wore a Homburg hat. He regularly came down from London to visit the factory.

The Station Road site was the former Jaques & Son factory, which had been burnt down in 1921, was all on one level. To me the factory seemed immense and full of light. This was unlike Raunds factories that were old, dark and vertical. Conversation in the greater space was limited. This prevented the clickers from debating. They did not debate politics or religion nor did they sing songs and hymns in harmony as they worked as they did in Adams' clicking room. They took snuff, but in moderation. The great difference from a Raunds factory was that the men did not ridicule me for going to Technical School. Rushden accepted and encouraged one to go to the Boot & Shoe Technical School.

Geoff Morgan and two of his apprentices were engaged to install modern lighting in my first year. I cannot recall if they also installed electric motors on the presses, or whether they had previously been changed from belt drive.

The Clicking Room foreman was Dennis Knight. His mother-in-law, Mrs Desborough kept the little sweet shop lower down Station Road. I was again the one sent out for cigarettes for the foreman. Dennis Knight was my instructor at the Boot & Shoe Technical Institute. He later left the firm to go elsewhere. The new foreman came from London. I did not know the closing room forewoman. Relationship between the foremen of all departments was very formal. Nothing occurred like the clash of temperament and personalities that occurred at factories at Raunds. It was a totally different world of shoe manufacture in Rushden.

One clicker from Cromwell Road was a man named Garley. Another elderly clicker was a man called Dooley; he was very skilled at his job. There was a man called Clayton who was a sorter. He lived in one of those houses in Portland Road opposite the CWS factory. Another sorter was Charlie Hales. His son sold newspapers outside the Rose and Crown on Saturday evenings for years. As Charlie Hales passed with his arms full of work to be sorted, he would speak to Bill Clayton the other sorter. Bill would carry on sorting but would learn backwards and slightly turn his head to listen. The conversation and action were very quick and almost imperceptible. Only by following the gaze of the sorter was it possible to guess about whom they were talking about. If the conversation was long then out would come the snuff box.

I can remember all the clickers at Adams to this day, yet I only remember some of the clickers at Wilkins & Denton’s. I joined the Air Training Corps at Raunds when it was formed and the ARP as a messenger boy. Memories of two years at the firm are a little blurred and merge with joining up in the RAF on the Tuesday of the Bank holiday week in 1942.

Other boys in the Clicking Room were a boy called Ernie, Peter Hewitt, Douglas Coe and Geoffrey Ballard. Geoffrey's grandfather had been a landlord of the Wheatsheaf Inn. Of those whom were on the second call up one was Cyril Drage from Wollaston [Bozeat]. Peter was killed in Bomber Command in the RAF and Cyril was killed in the Army. Another clicker became a Pilot in the RAF and he was killed. His name I think was Parsons. He was very quiet and knowledgeable. He had relations that kept the Pub at Little Irchester.

After the Battle of Britain when the call went out for more production, they decided that we would work all day on Saturdays. This only happened for three Saturdays and they dropped the scheme. Production over the whole six days did not match production for the five and a half day week. Too much leather was used which they could not supply so quickly.

They employed two women in the Clicking Room to fill the labour gaps caused by the call-up. They did the bench jobs such as stamping the linings, punching caps and pricking. These were the first women that I saw in a clicking room. One said to me one day that she was going to spend a penny. I blushed because I had never heard a woman talk like that before.

Later the firm opened up a Clicking Room on the top floor of a small vertical factory on the corner of Moor Road and Wentworth Road.* It was my task to fetch the leather and the tickets for the orders from the clicking room in Station Road to this small factory. For this purpose a trolley was used. I would leave the leather outside the entrance in the street. The Clickers would each carry up a role of leather as they visited the toilets for a smoke at the rear of the factory. *T.T. Clarke Bespoke Boot Manufacturer

The clickers at this little clicking room were Rolly Ball (I had worked with his father at Adams' at Raunds). Two clickers, I forget their names, but one lived in Denmark Road and had his house damaged by bombs. The other played in a Dance Band. There was Frank Eyres. Frank held an office in the British Legion. His wife died while I worked there and we all suffered with him in his troubles and final grief. Ernie Bryant came from the family that lived near Grandma Watt's in Cromwell Road. His brother was among the missing at DUNKIRK. For weeks we asked anxiously if they had received news. Then one day the great news came that Ernie's Brother was alive and a prisoner of war. I do not think that in those days we were a special generation who shared a work mate or neighbour's grief. Rather two-world wars' tragedies brought out a community feeling of sharing grief and problems on everyone.

The entrance to the little factory was immediately below the top floor front windows. To go to the toilet one had to go into the street and round the back of the building. For a joke we would fill a milk bottle with water from the tank on the landing. By careful timing one could tip the water from the landing window over a person leaving the outside door below. The joke had to stop when they accidentally caught and drenched with water the owner of the premises who had a Bottom Stock ancillary business on the lower floors.

It was from the windows of the top floor that we saw the flash of the German aircraft as it flew along the town and heard the roar of its engines. Looking out of the windows we witnessed the bombs exploding on Alfred Street Schools and Marlow's factory. After seeing the bombs explode Roland Ball from Doddington declared "Duck, they are bombing us" and we all dived under the benches. We all stopped work and went home. Going along Duck Street I looked up College Street and saw the side of the Alfred Street School a heap of rubble with people climbing over to get inside. Crowds from Marlow’s factory stood in the street. Ladders were being placed against the front of the factory and men were climbing them. [Cave's?]

At first I went up to Grandma's for my dinners. As war progressed feeding a large family became very difficult. When rationing came it was impossible. It was at this time that Wilkins & Denton’s opened up a Works Canteen. This facility I used for my dinners. I think that a dinner cost nine pence. A married couple from London were the cooks. (The man and his wife later reminded me of John and Fanny Craddock!)

It was a novelty then to have canteen meals. We suffered many adverse comments from other workers for whom dinner was the substantial home cooked fare. I liked the meals and enjoyed being with the other workers. They came from BOZEAT, WOLLASTON, PODINGTON, WYMINGTON, IRTHLINGBOROUGH, HIGHAM FERRERS, RAUNDS and FINEDON. The desperate days of 1940 and 1941 occupied much of the conversation. Being brought up to join in adults' conversation and, having been taken to WEA classes by my parents, I naturally joined in these discussions.

Among those that I remember well are Jack Sugars from Podington. He said that his older brother shocked Podington by being the first to refuse to touch his forelock to Colonel Orlibar of Hinwick Hall. I believe that this brother was a well-known Rushden Co-operative man.

Another clicker was Jack Partridge from Bozeat. Honest Jack they called him. The High Street at Bozeat had several families named Partridge all said not to be related to each other. The Leather man in the Clicking Room was also a Bozeat Partridge.

Wilkins and Denton may have taken work producing Government orders only in the past few years. This may explain why they had underpaid the Arbitration Board's Statement price for Government work. The Statement price had increased but not at the firm, that may have used an older statement. After many visits and complaints, the Trade under Arthur Allen negotiated the new price. They back dated the Statement price for only half the period in a compromise agreement.

The foreman brought to the outside men the back pay to those who had cut the work. Jack Partridge refused to take his money. After an argument the foreman took the money to the office. Mr Brown the Manager came to Jack with the money. The argument started very quietly gradually rising to a crescendo. Mr Brown was de­feated. Jack refused the back pay.

I stood next to Jack on the clicking presses and after Mr Brown had departed I ask Jack why did he refuse the back pay when no one else had.

Jack turned to me his forefinger wagging under my nose he said "My boy, I can look them straight in the eye if they cannot look me. I give an honest day's work and I expect an honest day’s pay". He never took the back pay. Jack was perhaps the last of the old time shoe maker - contentious, difficult and uncompromising in his beliefs. He was out of place at Rushden but he would have fitted in at Raunds.

The greatest dispute in a clicking room always occurred over the pattern sizes. This was a special dispute among the press clickers. The long runs of Government work enabled a clicker to work efficiently on one size. Size eight was the base size followed by sizes seven and nine. Then sizes six and ten and size eleven and five. With these sizes other work such as women's ARMY shoe and WAAF shoes would be run in. Some clickers would collect and keep under their bench the lower size.

One day only pattern sizes eleven and ten were available to Jack Partridge. Saying nothing for a week Jack only cut those sizes. The leather waste was enormous. Eventually the Foreman gave a sigh and squaring his shoulders walked over to the pressmen and demanded that all patterns be produced. He then distributed the sizes fairly again. For several days no clicker spoke to another clicker. The hand clickers kept quiet because they did the same and kept patterns under their bench. Eventually the oppressive atmosphere cleared and snuff boxes were produced and clicker was again friendly with clicker. Many decry snuff taking as a terrible and dirty habit. Perhaps it was especially to us boys sweeping up. Yet it calmed many angry arguments.

Those men and their disputes may seem strange to the modern generation. In the past the factories were full of those men and women - they were all very skilled workers, who knew that they were very skilled at their job. It could be said they were arrogant with their skill.

These are my Memories to add to those of my Mother. The Watts, the Matthews, the Sugars and the Partridge’s, were some of the characters that came to Rushden to find work, some of them stayed to settle down. Rushden is the sum of all those characters stretching back over the generations. They all have made RUSHDEN.

Paul Roberts
Written c2000

Note: Paul was enthusiastic member of the Northamptonshire Family History Society and Rushden and District History Society.
Although he had shown us his memories of that aircrash in 1946, he didn't want it published, but relented in 2007 after he had talked about that time, and got really upset, shortly before he was to lay a wreath at Raunds. KC
Paul died in 2013 at Raunds.

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