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Muckleston Family History Group

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Portrait of a father

                                                                  by Bill Mackleston



My father was born in Manchester on the 27th of February 1895, the second child of Arthur and Charlotte Mackleston.


Arthur Mackleston was a tinsmith and, although apparently a good one, his income as such was rarely sufficient to cater for the needs of a wife and nine children.


To eke out the family finances my father used to help in the local grocers shop after school, being paid sometimes in cash and sometimes in groceries.


At school, he was an above average scholar especially in Mathematics and English and learned to write the most beautiful copperplate handwriting which he used in all his correspondence until the day he died.


When he was twelve years of age, the family finances being more than usually precarious he applied to sit, and passed, the school leaving test. This meant that he was now able to work full time for the grocer.


Shortly after reaching the age of fourteen my father started an apprenticeship with the clothing firm of Briggs, Jones and Gibson, who specialised in making various types of uniforms, and was well on the way to becoming a journeyman tailor when World War One broke out.


My father (like millions of others) joined the army and became a machine-gunner serving in France and the Middle East. During his service one of his feet was crushed by the wheel of a field gun, flattening it to the extent that the injured foot thereafter was always 1.1/2 shoe sizes larger than the other. He was also wounded in the chest by flying shrapnel. This last was a source of fascination to me as, over the years, the pieces of shrapnel tracked down my father’s body just below the skin, finally exiting at the big toe of his injured foot.


At the end of the war my father returned to his old job and completed his apprenticeship. His company were a good firm to work for and paid above average wages, a fair amount of which went towards supporting his younger brothers and sisters.


In 1921 my father met my mother and fell in love. They were married on the 12th of June 1922. My paternal grandfather having died in 1921 and with my father feeling responsible for his mother and brothers, a fair amount of my father’s income went towards supporting them, with the result that, for reasons of economy, my parents lodged with my maternal grandparents for the first four years of their marriage. During this time my elder sister Margaret (Madge) was born in 1923 and myself in 1925.


Shortly after my birth my father had the offer of a small house in a rundown area of Beswick, Manchester. It was a two up, two down, terraced house with an outside lavatory and a paved yard and the front door was divided in to an upper and a lower half just like a stable. It was the first home of their own that my parents had ever had and they loved it.


A few months after we moved in there was tragedy. My elder sister Madge died of Diphtheria and my parents were devastated. Death in childhood, however, was much more common in those days, and an accepted part of life so, after a period of mourning, life went on.


The people on the street where we lived were, for the most part, poorly paid, getting their wages on Friday and being broke on Monday. Being rather better paid than they were, and having a steady job, my father used to help them out during the week, his responsibilities to his mother and brothers being eased by the fact that two of his brothers were now working. On Friday nights, therefore, a procession of the neighbours would visit the house to pay back any small loans.


The honesty of the neighbours was such that my father said every penny borrowed was scrupulously paid back even if they were asking for another loan the following Monday.


My parents and I lived in that little terraced house for three years and, although I was very young, and don't remember the early part of my time there, the latter part of my stay I remember with great affection.


Among the memories of my father at that time I can remember being sent with a note, and some money, to the local corner shop to fetch some cigarettes and matches for my father. When I arrived home I had one cigarette behind each ear (in true gangster style) and a lighted one in my mouth. My father didn't smack me (he rarely did) but made me smoke almost the whole of the cigarette upon which I was violently sick. Doing that today would bring a horde of horrified do-gooders down upon him, but it cured me and I have never smoked since.


In 1929 my father was asked if he would consider working in a new branch of the factory which was being opened in North Staffordshire. The wages were better and there was the prospect of a new, three bed-roomed, semi-detached house, with of all things a GARDEN!


The house we moved into in 1929 was on a country road on the outskirts of the Potteries town of Longton. We were almost at the end of a row of houses beyond which there was nothing but open countryside. The house, at the front, looked out on to a farm and, at the back of us, were large woods.


Although it's a long time ago now I can still remember the pleasure of having my first bath in a bathroom and, even more wonderful, not having to go out into the cold to go to the lavatory!


The house itself was about six miles from the factory where my father was employed and he used to do the journey by bicycle each day. When the weather was fine I used to sit on the front porch step each evening and wait for him to come home. My father always carried an umbrella strapped to his bike and, when it rained, he would open it and carry it in his left hand, steering his bike with his right. This was quite a source of amusement to the neighbours!


Much of the food we ate was supplied by the farmer and his wife across the road. There were the usual vegetables and fruit together with butter, cheese and eggs and I was allowed to carry the milk home in a jug, still warm from the cow. The farmer's wife also sold her own bread deliciously hot from the oven.


As there was not a lot of money to spare for entertainment we made our own. Both my parents enjoyed walking and we spent many hours in the woods and fields watching squirrels and rabbits at play and even seeing the occasional fox and stoat.


The farmer was very friendly and I played with his son who was a little older than me. We played cowboys and indians and I fell off my horse more times than I can remember.


After two rather bad winters at the house my father decided to move nearer his place of work so, accordingly, he rented a new house about a quarter of a mile from the factory. This one was similar to the old one but was on a housing estate and for a while I missed the countryside. About this time my father was promoted to a slightly better paid job and there was now a little money available for luxuries. One of these was going to see Stoke City play football on Saturday afternoons and I have memories of being hoisted on my father's shoulders to get a better view of that "wizard of dribble" Stanley Matthews racing down the field.


This house also had a garden and, as I was a very grown up six year old, I was allowed to help. As I remember it seemed to consist mainly of pulling up rhubarb and collecting peas and sprouts for dinner. I was allowed a small patch of the garden for my own use where I mostly grew the tallest sun flowers in the street.


When Stoke City were playing away games my parents would, for a treat take me to zoos, fairs and markets. A favourite place of my father’s was the Bull Ring market at Birmingham where he loved to haggle for bargains. (I can just hear my children saying "So that's where he got it from"!)


My dad had a favourite pub called the "Hanging Gate" that he used to call in at some two or three times a week on the way home from work. On Sunday lunchtime he would take me and my mother there but, as I was not allowed inside we sat on an outside bench, dad with his pint of mild ale, mother with her gin and lime and me with a glass of lemonade and a packet of some new fangled things called "crisps", with its little blue bag of salt.


After about four years in this house my father was again promoted and he decided that, instead of paying rent, he could now afford to buy his own house.


It was the summer of 1937 and I was 11 years old. Our new house was one half of a farmhouse with two big bedrooms and a large kitchen and living room. The walls were very thick and the doors solid oak. At the front of the house was a large, heavily overgrown, lawn that took my father and I two days of hard work with hand shears to reduce the grass to a height where we could use the lawn mower.


My father’s new job meant that he was now away most of the week travelling all over Britain for his firm. Much of the day was spent travelling on trains and, due to boredom he said, his consumption of cigarettes went up from 20 a day to as many as 80. With all the travelling he did my mother used to worry whether he was eating properly but he reassured her that he never left the hotels he stayed in without having a three course breakfast. In later years he told me that this usually consisted of a cup of tea, a cigarette and a good cough!


Shortly after moving into the house my mother decided that all the rooms needed redecorating and my father, rather reluctantly, set to work. Eventually the house was finished and my father, who was never a keen decorator, breathed a sigh of relief. The new colour schemes, on the whole met with my mother’s approval with the exception of the kitchen. At her insistence he bought some new paint and changed the decor. After inspecting my father's latest effort my mother shook her head and said "I think I would prefer it light blue".


There was an ominous silence and my father said "I will paint it blue but if I have any more complaints I will paint it black!" The kitchen was duly painted light blue and, for a fortnight all was well. Then one day my mother remarked " I don't think blue is right for the kitchen". My father said nothing. Next day he went out and bought some more paint. That night, while we were all in bed, my father stayed up and repainted the kitchen. When we got up the next morning he had enamelled the whole of the kitchen, including the ceiling, black. It stayed that way for six months before my father relented and repainted it in pastel colours. Our black kitchen was the talk of the street and the number of neighbours that popped in to look at it was extraordinary. If my mother ever argued with my father about decorating after that, he would only have to say "black kitchen" and the argument was over!


Beyond our rear fence were fields belonging to a local farmer called Harry Ball. He and my father became quite good friends (they both liked a flutter on the horses) and both my father and I were persuaded to help with the haymaking. I thoroughly enjoyed this and, although Harry never paid us for the work, (he was notoriously tight with his money) we always got an excellent tea afterwards courtesy of Mrs Ball. In all fairness we were allowed to help ourselves from his orchard and he never charged for the vegetables he regularly gave us.


Weekends were great times. On Saturday the whole family would go shopping (by now I had two younger sisters) and, on the way home we would call at the local pub where we would all sit outside, my father with his pint of mild ale, my mother with her gin and lime juice and we children with our lemonade and crisps. 


It was 1939. My younger sisters were getting older (one was 10 and the other was 6) and the house we were living in only had two bedrooms. My father decided it was time to move so, in September, just as the second world war broke out we moved into a new three bed roomed house about half a mile away. The garden was bigger than our old one and my father had plans to grow fruit in it. My sisters were pleased that they did not have to share a room with mum and dad and I was pleased because shortly after we moved he bought a six foot snooker table and taught me how to play. We were still in the stage of the “phoney war” with airplanes dropping leaflets instead of bombs and everyone (except my father and a few other old soldiers) had great faith in the ability of the Maginot line to keep out the invading Germans.


Christmas 1939 saw me leave school and, in February 1940 I got my first job as an apprentice hairdresser for the princely sum of 2 shillings and 6 pence per week. The job lasted three months until I broke my leg in a cycling accident and spent six weeks in hospital. After a period of convalescence my father persuaded the firm he worked for to take me on as an apprentice tailor and I was working once again.


During the early part of the war my father still spent most of his time travelling for the firm, but as younger members of the staff were called up for war service, he spent more and more time at the factory in an advisory role.


When my father was at the factory we often came home for lunch together and we would each pick up a copy of the Daily Express to see, after lunch, who could finish the crossword first. Dad usually won but I savoured the moments when (not very often!) I beat him.


As Dads travels for the firm took him too many of the larger cities we worried about him during the air raids. Twice, the hotel he was staying at was hit by a bomb but he escaped with nothing more than a few scratches.


It was 1942 when the “Dig For Victory” campaign was in full swing that I, together with two mates from work, decided we would go all patriotic, rent an allotment, and grow our own food. The cost of the piece of land was 2 shillings and 6 pence a year (I was now getting 10 shillings a week) and we started to dig. Our enthusiasm lasted until we had taken the turf off the top of our plot and then drained away. My father kept popping over to the allotment to see how I was doing (it was only 100 yards from our house) and, after total inactivity on my part over a period of two months, dragged me out of bed early one Sunday morning, grabbed two spades and we spent until 8pm that evening rough digging the whole of the plot. After my joints stopped aching I went to work on that piece of land and eventually produced a good and varied crop of vegetables. My father, in the meantime created a miniature orchard (we had an especially good crop of apples, but the cherries were a dead loss) and we had strawberries, raspberries and gooseberries in abundance. Mother kept hens so we lived quite well.


We escaped most of the “blitz”. A house at the back of us was hit by incendiaries and went up in flames but, on the whole, we escaped lightly compared to the cities.


In 1943 I volunteered for the Royal Navy (I must have been mad!) and early in 1944 I was called up. My father took me to Stoke railway station and, before I got on the train, pressed some pound notes in my hands and, after wishing me luck, said “Don’t forget the duty free cigarettes!”


During my first few months in the Navy, while I was undergoing my initial training, my father wrote regularly. His letters were mostly about his job and about the people we both knew at work. For the family and local gossip I had to depend on letters from Mum. My own letters in reply, were about everyday naval life and the new friends I was making. As I was shore based at the time I was unable to obtain the duty free cigarettes that my father would have liked (they were larger and much cheaper than the usual type) so, although a non smoker myself, I purchased a supply of my fathers favourite brand and took home several hundred of these on my first leave. I was also able to obtain for him several packets of double sided razor blades which, in civilian life were almost unobtainable. (I had memories of trying to sharpen my own blades, prior to joining the Navy, by sliding them from side to side in a tumbler!)


Before joining my ship I was given the usual embarkation leave and, on arriving home, was given a party, the family having saved up part of their rations for several weeks in order to provide a good spread. My sister May, who I discovered had tuberculosis, was cheerful and uncomplaining. It was the last time I was to see her.


My ship was destined for the Far East and, on the way out, mail from home was very irregular being picked up at the ports we called at. I was in Bombay when I received news of May's death. She was only 16 years old.


On our arrival at Trincomalee, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) we were told that our ship had been loaned to the US Navy. To bring us up to their standards of comfort we were equipped with a laundry, soft drinks bar and a store where we could buy such luxuries as tins of ham, canned fruit and jam. With the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan the war finished unexpectantly and the US Navy found they had no further use for us so they handed us back. Before they did so most of us abroad were sufficiently crafty enough to purchase fair quantities of American food which we put aside until such time as we should return home. No longer being shore based I could now buy duty free cigarettes and I quietly salted away a stock of these. Eventually, we learnt that we were returning to England and following a call again at Trimcomalee, I purchased several pounds of tea.


Back home I arrived at the house with two large suitcases full of items the family hadn’t seen in years and enough cigarettes to keep my father happy for months.


After I was demobilised I lived at home and started to train as a nurse. I think that my father was a little disappointed that I wasn’t continuing in the tailoring trade but accepted that I wanted a change in career. As a nurse my hours were naturally irregular but, whenever possible, I would join him at the local pub for a lunchtime drink on Saturdays. Our little chats over a pint of mild ale gave me a greater insight into my fathers’ feelings and philosophy of life than I had previously known and brought us closer than ever before.


After I married in 1955, my dad and my wife Mary took a special liking to each other and they were great friends until his death. When we eventually got our first house money was very tight (nurses pay was even worse then than it is now) and Dad would arrive at the house, usually on a Saturday morning, with some little treat. He bought us our first television set.


Dad retired at 65. He didn’t want to, his work was most of his life, but it was company policy and by now his health was deteriorating. He bought a smaller house and spent most of his time pottering about the garden and watching television. Some months after retirement he was diagnosed as having Hodgkin’s Disease. Less than 18 months after he had finished work he was admitted to hospital and died on 8th September 1961. He was 66.


My father was, essentially a very private man. When he did things he didn’t always explain why and his motives were frequently misunderstood. When approached he was generous and helpful and I wish especially in the early years, that I had known him better.