Leeds Nostalgia: ‘Peasant to plc’ tale reveals reality of rural life in 1930s Yorkshire

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Retired Leeds businessman Eric Hall was born during the tough economic times of the 1930s in North Newbald near Hull, then one of the most poverty-stricken villages in Yorkshire, where life was dictated by the landed estate which owned it.

Eric’s grandfather, who was appointed by the estate to pull the small community out of dereliction and despair, was a huge influence on him. Lessons Eric learned in his village childhood helped him on his path to success in Farnell, the Yorkshire based electronics company.

Eric trained as an electrical engineer and rose to a top job in Farnell. The book also sheds light on his sudden sacking which sent shockwaves through the company and caused headlines in local and national newspapers, including the Yorkshire Evening Post and Yorkshire Post in 1992.

After dusting himself down, Eric went on to develop Brandon Medical, now based in Morley, into a highly successful company which has won a Queen’s Award. He lives near Wetherby.

Eric’s memoir was ghost-written by Richmond-based memoir writer Caroline Brannigan, who runs a business in Richmond writing people’s memoirs for them and producing them as books, mainly for family and friends. She has now produced more than 60 stories.

She said, “Eric’s childhood in a village left him with a strong sense of self-reliance and innovation which inspired him throughout his career. When he was dumped by Farnell, it helped him to survive and start all over again.

“Eric is a good example of the marvellous stories which are part of Yorkshire’s social history but which are not usually written down. I work with people who call themselves ordinary and don’t get a look-in in today’s celebrity culture but who have extraordinary tales to tell.

“I am constantly amazed when I listen to these stories how much has changed in one person’s lifetime. Eric grew up in a cottage which had no water supply at all and his father had to walk to a spring each morning with two buckets suspended from a yoke across his shoulders.

“I have written about a Yorkshire farmer who as a child had to hand-milk the family’s only cow. He grew up to establish a large pedigree dairy herd and used computers to monitor yield and feed.

“A woman from Leeds became one of the city’s first female ‘postmen’ in modern times after sexual discrimination laws were brought. At her interview she was told, ‘Nobody wants you here because you’re a woman.’ But she got the job anyway.

“Today we talk about children being the best at using technology but it has always been the young people who get to grips with it first - radio, television and tractors.

“I often write about Yorkshire-born people who hardly went outside their home town or village as children but who grew up to have careers which took them across the world, to Siberia, the Falkland Islands, Australia and other far-flung places.

“These stories can be fascinating, heart-breaking and at times very funny and they deserve to be told.”

One of the snippets from Eric’s book relates to his childhood:

It reads: ‘A mischievous trick for young boys like me was to slip out in the dark armed with a thin bit of pipe, creep up to the closet in which sat some unsuspecting child - the victims were nearly always girls - put the pipe through a hole in the wood and blow out the candle inside.

‘This was swiftly followed by running footsteps back to the house and cries of, “They’ve blown my candle out!” Another prank was to tie nettles on to a stick and prod that through.’

Another recalls: ‘Floors downstairs were either red bricks or tiles. Life revolved around the living room, which was quite unlike what we visualize today.

It was dominated by a large iron range with an open coal fire in the centre on which the kettle was always singing. The hot coals also heated an oven on one side and water boiler on the other, filled with cold water from buckets. When hot, water was scooped out with a large boiler mug, which I still have. If you were lucky, the boiler had a tap but ours didn’t.

Yet another reads: ‘We always kept two pigs and when pig killing day came we all had to be present, from youngest to oldest. If you didn’t help, you didn’t get any of the delicious black pudding or offal which was the immediate treat afterwards. To any children reading this and going, “Yuck”, I’d like to point out that we knew exactly what we were eating and where it had come from.’

Find out more about Caroline’s work by calling her on 01748 821041 or going to www.carolinebrannigan.com

The Town Hall and Market Square, Wetherby.

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