The author of a new book which looks at the lives of working class people has spoken exclusively to Times Past about the project which took him three years to complete.
Former Leeds Trinity and All Saints College student David Hall, who has written a number of books previously and was the biographer of renowned steeplejack Fred Dibnah, has just published Working Lives: The forgotten lives of Britain’s post-war working class.
The book focuses on the everyday jobs which were the bread and butter of the working classes both during the war and in the post-war period.
During the research for the project, David interviewed dozens of people across the country, including some from Leeds.
The former television producer, who turned 66 on Thursday, said: “I used to do all the programmes with Fred Dibnah and it involved going up and down the country and meeting all kinds of people working in industry.
“I spoke to many people who worked in those kind of jobs – jobs like mining and steel factories but also other industries like textiles and other factories – when they were at the height in the 1950s and 1960s.
“At that time, Britain was still a major industrial power with a huge manufacturing base.
“I realised these people were getting older and that if no-one took down their stories, then they would just disappear and I felt they had important stories to tell.”
Stories like that of Irene Wharton, who was born and brought up in Hunslet and who worked in tailoring from the time she left school.
When war broke out, she went to work at Clayton’s boilermakers as a rivet-heater.
She said: “I used to warm the rivets red hot, take them out of the stove and throw them up to this old lad we used to call ‘dumb lugs’.
“He’d been in there years and years. There was a big platform and there were all these long rails on it and he were on top of that.
“A crane would come and put one of these rails on top of the other, then he’d have to rivet it together.
“There were two holes in the rails and he’d line them up and I’d say, ‘Here you are, dumb lugs’ and throw the rivet to him.
“He’d have his cap ready and he’d catch them in that and hold them in it. I’d be on this stove and it would be all red inside and I used to have to keep it hot with a foot pump.
“But if there were no rivets about and you had no work to do you used to let it die down. It were a man’s job but I enjoyed it and we used to have some good laughs. After that, I were on welding.”
Irene earned £2.50 a week.
Her story is typical of those in the book, which forms a chronicle of ordinary folk’s lives.
David said: “One of the things that comes across is just how dangerous some of these jobs were.
“Having visited many of the places, I was always aware of the dangers of coal mines and steel factories but there are other places, like textile mills, which were just as bad.
“I put off publication of the book to coincide with the year of the Queen’s jubilee, because that seemed to chime in with the experiences of the people and the fact that she came to the throne when these industries were at their height.
“In many ways, it was my experience too. Many of the people grew up in the slums and when they were five or six years old they would have moved out of those and go to live on a new council estate on the edge of the countryside.
“For the first time, they had running water, a bath, a garden and their father would have started growing things. In many ways, it was brilliant.
“There are an enormous number of people with that experience.”
Another story from the book is that of Enid Rice, who worked as a machinist in the 1940s and also as a tailor for Sid Field.
She said: “I left school at Christmas when I was 14 and started work the day after Boxing Day at this tailors.
“They taught you every aspect of cutting and sewing and putting the clothes all together. I used to make trousers and waistcoats. The lapels on the jackets all had to be done by hand.
“Mr Field’s father had started the business with Marks & Spencer when it was just Marks.”
* Working Lives by David Hall is published by Bantam Press, £25.