Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Mill apprentice’s tale brings back memories

Nostalgia - Margaret Cosgrove,  an apprentice at Wormalds and Walker's mill, Thornhill Lees
Nostalgia - Margaret Cosgrove, an apprentice at Wormalds and Walker's mill, Thornhill Lees

The other week I showed a photograph of 15-year-old Alan Bain, who was an apprentice joiner at Wormalds and Walker’s mill, Thornhill Lees, over 50 years ago.

This week I am showing one of another young apprentice who worked at the mill at the same time, Margaret Cosgrove, who went there aged 15 to train as a weaver.

Margaret and I lived in the same street in Springfield and went to the same school. She left before me and went to work at Wormalds and Walker, while I went to work at the Reporter.

Both of us stayed at our respective place of work our entire working lives, both receiving the best training possible, and both continued to live locally.

We were the best of mates, and shared a dream of one day going to work in Canada, but the furthest we ever got was a package holiday to Spain when we were both in our early teens.

Margaret managed to pay for her holiday out of her savings, I had to borrow mine because a trainee journalist wasn’t paid as much as a skilled weaver.

My article about Wormalds and Walker created a great deal of interest, as I expected it would, for there are still many employees living locally who have warm memories of their time there.

One letter from David Sharp, of Mirfield, recalls working at the mill with Alan Bain, who attended the same day-release course as he did at Dewsbury Technical College.

They first met when they were aged 15 on the first day of their first year of a part-time City and Guilds course in carpentry and joinery.

They were both apprentice joiners at the time, Alan at Wormalds and Walker, and David at Fred Stead’s, of Mirfield.

Two years after they first met, the building industry was in recession and David’s employer had to ‘let him go’, which put David into a dilemma as to how he could continue his apprenticeship.

Alan suggested he should enquire at Wormalds and Walker to see if they had an opening there for him. The work there would be interesting and he would be sheltered from the ups and downs of the building trade.

David took his friend’s advice and was successful in landing a job in the maintenance section working alongside Alan.

The following details, taken from David’s letter, gives us a glimpse of what working life was like at mills like Wormalds and Walker in the 1950s and the opportunities which were available to young apprentices through further education schemes at that time.

David writes: “Our working hours were from 7.30am to 5.30pm, plus Saturday morning, and my clocking on/off number was 1175, something one never forgets.

“The work was full of variety under the guidance of experienced tradesmen and learning many aspects of other trades.

“Also the processes involved across three mills within the textile industry, and the production of those famous Dormy blankets.

“The works manager was called Philip Deeping, the chief engineer was Sam Scatchard, and his chief assistant was Dennis Thurlow.

“We lived in awe of them. They congratulated us when we’d done well and rebuked us when need be.

“On a lighter note, I recall one lunch-break when the BBC Radio held their ‘Workers’ Playtime’ programme in the works canteen.

“The compere was Randal Herley, the well-known radio personality, who introduced the stars - a singing group called The Stargazers, Dennis Goodwin the comedian and business partner of Bob Monkhouse, Jack Watson, a comedian and character actor, and a male vocalist, very popular at the time, called Denis Lotis. What an exciting lunchtime that was.

“By the time Alan and I reached our late teens, we had both flown the nest and gone into the building industry direct, Alan with Samuel Johnson’s, of Newgate, Mirfield, and myself with George Richardson and Sons, of Batley Carr, Dewsbury.

“We remained good friends. I continued my studies in general building and he branched out, I believe working for a company specialising in the erection of exhibition stands with trade fairs both in the UK and into Europe.

“I took up employment with Dewsbury Council architects’ department as clerk of works and attended a City and Guilds teacher training course at Dewsbury Technical College where I gained a further education teacher’s certificate. This gave me an opening into lecturing which I had always fancied.

“I lectured evening classes at Dewsbury Tech, Leeds College of Building, and Huddersfield Polytechnic, prior to working through the Overseas Development administration as a lecturer in general building at the Swaziland College of Technology in Southern Africa.

“Later I worked at the Malawi Polytechnic in Central Africa as general building section leader with the department of civil engineering.

“With Alan and I both going our separate ways, we lost contact, but I do believe he lived in White Lee Road, Batley.”

Just a reminder to people interested in the history of Ravensthorpe. Stuart Hartley, chairman of Dewsbury Matters, will be giving the second part of his talk on the history of the village at their next meeting on Thursday February 27 at Dewsbury Minster Church at 7.30pm.