Oral History

George Geary aged 90 years talks about his life in Barwell.

Interviewers: Mr. D. J. Wood (DW)

Interviewed: Mr George Geary (GG)

Date of Interview: 23rd January 1985

DW. Can we first start with your name and your age.

GG. George Geary.

DW. And your age is 90?

GG. Yes, 90 in July. The interesting part of my life was, when we ‘ad to ‘ave a Co-op ‘all, see? Then different businessmen come into the place - Frear, the fishmonga, you could ‘ear ‘im shout from The Waterfall, as soon as ‘e got in the place. A feller, James Argyle, who lived down The Common - ‘e used to be the carrier to ‘inckley from ‘ere, y’see, and er, sit at the bottom of Stanley Street, and shout Mrs Edwards t’goo and fetch ’er work, from a place called, er, it was Perkins, the boot manufacturer in ‘inckley, I daresay Archie’s put you right for the Geary Brothers. They were about the first.

DW. The first for what?

GG. For shoe manufacturing.

DW. I see

GG. I’m very much afraid that some of the Barwell people have said that Geary Brothers was the first but I very much doubt it.

DW. Who do you think was first then?

GG. Y’see, my wife’s father, ‘e come ‘ere to teach ‘em the clicking - that’s the cutting out. Y’see. I can remember coal being, five ‘undred weight for 4/6d. well, some of it come from, er, Ellistown and, er, some of it come from Donisthorpe, and Allensford.

DW. How much would you have earned a week?

GG. Well err, 26 shilling per week. Farm labourers, 16.

DW. How many were there in your family?

GG. There’s nine of us, wi’ me motha and dad, that’d be eleven.

DW. Your parents had got quite a handful?

GG. Yes, well of course, it’s different to what it is now. Me dad was a disciplinarian. When ‘e spoke it was law. I allus said I were boss of our ‘ouse, one word from me and all on ‘em did as they like, even the dog! Well, that’s my motha [Showing a photograph] with the two youngest.

DW. Your mum looks as if she’s got a very homely face.

GG. Oh she were. If ever a woman ought to ‘ave ‘ad a VC it were ‘er. Aye, she brought us up.. Y’see me dad ‘ad died at 45. Well, I were only 22, and that’s the reason why I never got married, y’see til I knew she were on ‘er feet. Ooh ah. Well that’s one of the reasons.

DW. The house must have been a bit crowded with eleven of you?

GG. Well, we did really manage because there were three bedrooms. What ‘appened were, there were 6 boys and 3 girls at one time, y’see, well the 6 boys slept in a big room on their own ,y’see, 3 in a bed. And the 3 girls slept in a smaller one at the back.

DW. So it would be breakfast in relays?

GG. Oh aye! Well, we used to, we lived fairly well because, me dad, ‘e was on fairly good money at the time, ‘til ‘e ‘ad rheumatic fever.

DW. Where did you live?

GG. 6 Stafford Street. Down Stapleton Lane, opposite Geary Brothers. Well, it was Geary Brothers they built that factory. Geary Brothers, their father was my dad’s uncle. We were related that way. My granddad were brother to Arthur and, I think, that there is a photo somewhere.

DW. What did your dad do?

GG. 'e worked at Geary Brothers. 'e was a riveter, well, tacker as we call it, and I believe 'e was on the nigger, what they call the nigger, the console. You’ll understand meh, after it’s come from the machine room, the upper was ready made, y’see, and they just shoved it on iron lasts at that time, and this machine done away with the pulling up as they used to do by ‘and. Y’see, it were quicker.

DW. What did you do?

GG. I were a clicker. I staarted at Geary Brothers.

DW. What were the conditions like in the factory and the hours you worked?

GG. Well (chuckles) of course, different to what it is now! Y’see, you got probably one stool in one big room, practically all scraps, were put on in the clicking department and then, the press room, that were the sole. I remember when a woman came into Baarwell, I’m not certain how many years ago it was, but I should say it wun’t be above twelve. She couldn’t understand it because she said, “They always say that it smells of scraps.” The fire, the ‘eating in the factories. And she says, “There isn’t a smell now.” And I said, “Oh no, it’s all done by electricity, motors.” She couldn’t understand it. She thought she were in the wrong place becos she couldn’t smell the scraps! I can remember one schoolmaster coming and asking me where Shenton’s ‘ouse were. ‘e came from, er, Norfolk, I think, somewhere that way. It were the Rector’s brother and I told ‘im, Shenton’s tree on the Ashby Road.

DW. Yes, it’s gone now hasn’t it?

GG. Yes, it’s gone. I believe there’s a plaque.

DW. I looked for the plaque, I couldn’t find it.

GG. Tommy Powers, that’s the one from the manor, they always said ‘e bought the paddock, what they call the paddock, y’see. Shenton’s ‘ouse. When the feller came back to me he said the Rector’d told ’im Shenton’s ‘ouse could possibly ‘ave been on the road, ‘inckley Road. Oh yes, I can remember the Titleys, y’see, right from the old gentleman.

DW. I’ve got some pictures of the Titleys.

GG. Ah! I’ve got some. I’ve got pictures of the old clerk, the Rector and the treats as we used to call ‘em.

DW. John Needham. He was the gentleman who dug his own grave, wasn’t he?

GG. Yes that’s right

DW. You’ve seen a few treats in your time?

GG. Yes, I’ve seen a few. [Showing a photograph] Look at that! King Dick’s well.

DW. Oh yes, that’s an old one!

GG. 1908

GG. Well, o’course, we’d got a good band ‘ere at that time.

DW. Crow was bandmaster wasn’t he?

DW. Crow was bandmaster wasn’t he?

GG. Aye. Yes. It were a good band, o’course, My wife’s grandfather, ‘e were a good singer, used to goo about singing solos in The Messiah.

DW. There was a lot more closeness wasn’t there in the village, then?

GG. Oh yes, sport and everything like that. There’s nothing now. I mean, we’d got really good cricketers and footballers. Some of ‘em, well quite a few of ‘em went up to Scotland, professionals up theeyer, from this place. Yes, the footballers, they went to Leicester City, well it were Leicester Fosse at the time. Leicester Fosse. Aye, ooh aye! I don’t know if you’ve mentioned Mr Elwell, the school master. I always think it were, Mr Elwell if ‘e’d a lived, y’know, got that going, ‘e never stopped, when school were finished, cricket for the boys especially. You never got anything like you got at school.

DW. It wasn’t extra curriculum then?

GG. Ooh no. It were educated, well, um, you couldn’t’ve been better educated than they were. As regards science, mathematics and all them things, we were taught, all gone away. I mean, y’see, we were taught practically that the moon was on the roof of the world. There were no such thing as knowing how many moons there were on Jupiter. Y’see, is it five moons on Jupiter? That’s the planet. Y’see, well of course, er, my son’s always said that I was better educated than ‘e was, coming up, ‘e said that. But I wouldn’t say that I was as good on mathematics as ‘im. Y’see, the ordinary problems as we done, mind you we only got so faar, we didn’t get to the least common multiple and fraction, y’see. We got a touch of that and chemistreh.

DW. You went to Townsend School?

GG. You run on to that if you got into standard 7.

DW. What about, standard 6?

GG. Well standard 6, Mr Elwell, ‘e took the class, then, and ‘e took the chemistreh and all such as that. Course, it just broke the ice, it wasn’t, such as water, the parts and all such as that. But I can remember winning the prize at 7 years old on scripture.

DW. At what age did you leave school?

GG. Er, well, we started on ‘alf time at 12. One week we went in the morning, the next week we went in the afternoon.

DW. So, when did you start school?

GG. When I was 3.

DW. You went to school when you were 3 and you started part time school when you were 12?

GG. Yes.

DW. If you went to school in the mornings...

GG. You worked in the afternoons.

DW. Worked in the afternoon in a factory?

GG. Yes.

DW. Can you remember water coming to Barwell? Piped water?

GG. Ooh yes! I can remember the piped water coming in and the new sewer were put in after the fust world war. That were when the filter beds were put down thayer.

DW. Was there a lot of illness before piped water was put in?

GG. Well, epidemics you could get y’see, but you never ‘ear talk of ‘em now.

DW. Did you get many?

GG. Well, of course you got a serum for typhoid for a staart in my time. I can remember typhoid. You got one for inflammation y’see and measles and whooping cough y’see once anybody staarted like that it went all round. They even ‘ad to close the school, pneumonia, they used to put, if anybody got pneumonia they used to put scraps down in the road so they wouldn’t ‘ear the vibration of the cattle going by. Of the caarts.

DW. They used to drive the cattle through the village, didn’t they?

GG. Yes. Cows and everything.

DW. Just down the road, where the television man is now, that used to be Green’s farmhouse, hadn’t it?

GG. That ‘ouse was built by Power, not Powers, Power at the manor y’see. Well the lady who is up theeyer now she said she thinks it was built as a hunting lodge.

DW. I see. Power was a big noise in the village?

GG. Yes ‘e was. And so was Powers. Now Powers’s son was the recorder of Leicester. George Powers at one time. And I can remember ‘im when ‘e came to Leicester on the Assizes, ‘e always come to church on a Sunday and ‘e always read the lesson and ‘e used to stop ‘ere while the cases lasted. That were George Powers. And Tommy Powers, I believe ‘e were the youngest of the Powers’s, o’course we didn’t take no notice then but ‘e started with tractioners and ‘e went all over the country with these tractions.

DW. What the traction engines?

GG. The old traction engines - ‘e went all over the countreh.

DW. And what were they used for?

GG. The fields - ploughing the fields. One tractor at one end and one at the other, the plough and then the wire. That one would wind it up and the other one’d shift ’is doin’s and wind it back.

DW. Yes, I’ve heard of this being done before.

GG. Y’see, the chaps used to goo to Lincolnshire - all over the place.

DW. Were there many agricultural workers in the village?

GG. Oh there were quite a few of them. Y’see, well a lot of these factories was built and they were only small. Geary Brothers I should say, well, I don’t know but I should say it was the largest factory it were outside Leicester.

DW. You got married when you were … GG I got married while I were in the army, well I were in France. I’d been in France 21 months when I got married.

DW. You went in both wars, did you?

GG. Oh yes, yes. Yes, I were, I did get into 1918.

DW. Where did you go?

GG. I went til 1918 from 1915. There was five of us. Perhaps you’d like to see the photo.

DW. Yes, I think Vera showed me a photo with five of you. All in uniform.

GG. All in uniform, yes, all outside. Two of ‘em were wounded and three on us went out, me oldest brother, not me oldest, the one next to me, he were in Canada.

DW. Did you manage to get anything in the second world war?

GG. Ooh no, we wun’t ‘ave that. I were told I were a disgrace cos I wun’t join the, now then, what’d they call ‘em, the legion like, there were a lot of ‘em, y’see, joined after, I don’t like telling you this but...

DW. Well if you don’t want to tell me, don’t.

GG. One feller said to me, he said, “You’re a disgrace.”

DW Because you wouldn’t have another spell...

GG I wun’t goo again, y’see. And, er, I said how many have you got in your lot as were in France……. in the same family. …… he said one and he were in the Labour Battalion. ………. Anybody would who come out of that lot. I don’t care who it was.

DW. Now where do you say that the burials are?

GG. They always think that it were Cromwell’s soldiers as were buried there. Y’know where ‘Arveys ‘ouse, where they’ve built theeyer, y’see

DW. If you go up where Dawson’s Lane is, right at the end of there there’s some allotments. Now, there’s a big mound that ends. I was led to believe that down there was called the burials.

GG. Well it were always called the burials and they always reckoned that Cromwell’s soldiers were buried on theeyer, as got killed, that’s the reason why. Then y’see you get all, from Elmesthorpe Lane and down the side o’ theeyer is what they called Billington’s Rough. That were in Cromwell’s time. Cromwell blowed the tower of Elmesthorpe church off, his soldiers y’see. I’ll tell you this y’know the boys at the church wear red surplices. D’you know why? Well royalty’s attended that church some time or other and they always reckoned it were King Dick. Well, everybody can’t wear red surplices.

DW. He is supposed to have gone to Sutton Cheney’s Church just before the Battle of Bosworth to pray.

GG. Ah and then y’see, Shenton, he were in the battle of Bosworth, when ‘e got up the tree and they always said that ‘e took two pigeons up with ‘im and when the soldiers got at the bottom, they were going to climb up the tree and said well ‘e can’t be up theeyer because they’d a-flew out when ‘e’d a-got theeyer, when ‘e went up. And that’s ‘ow they reckon ‘e’d a-got theeyer. Tommy Powers always said that ‘e were going to excavate the moat round theeyer.

DW. The moat is marked on the survey map.

GG. The field in the paddock and I’ll tell you this my sister bought ‘ouse down theeyer and there’s a stone underneath ‘er bay winder as they couldn’t get out.

DW. It’s surprising what you can remember when you start talking.

GG. Well yes you’ve got to talk because, y’see, as I say I can go back to about 1900, y’see. I can remember the Boer War starting and I can remember it finishing. And Tommy Powers ‘ad got his traction engines at that time. I think ‘e’d got 6. Well, y’see, farmers couldn’t afford to …. At that time a pound o’ butter was about 8d a pound, eggs ‘bout a penny each.

DW. Mind you a penny then would buy you a lot more than it does today.

GG. Ah. Well that purse, down ‘ere. That - one penny.

DW. Where from?

GG. Leicester. Marks & Spencers’ penny bazaar.

DW. What was it originally. Was it originally intended to keep photos in?

GG. It’d be made in Germany. The biggest part of the stuff were made in Germany, as they sold.

DW. Was it meant to keep photos in.

GG. Well no it’s a wallet It were one penny that was from Marks & Spencer.

DW. You’ve had your penny's worth.GG I don’t know (laughs) Well that was it and them big pencils as you see with a ring on the end on it. One penny, they’re about 3/6 now! And Woolworth's, the fust thing I saw of them were at Wimbledon, and how I got theeyer I ‘ad to pass a test to drive in London. The Scotland Yaard test to drive in London. I’ve got the doin’s upstairs now where I passed the test and could carry out ordinary running adjustments on combustion engines, the combustion lorry and I ‘ad to pass the test at Scotland Yaard.

Transcript by: Margaret Osborne.

Edited by: David Wood.