|My life began at Leycett post office. It was my parents’ home at the time, as we lived with my grandmother Agnes Cowell, the postmistress. The photo of the post office (left column), I suppose in the late 1920s, the girl on the right is my mother, Marjorie Cowell; I can’t identify for certain the other person in the picture.
These are family photos; firstly (left column) the Leycett colliery engineer John Downend and his family (wife Helen, daughter Millicent, son (Geoffrey or Dennis – I don’t know which of them it is) and secondly in the photo on the right, his mother Sarah Downend (left) and his sister Agnes Downend (right). These photos were taken at Woodburn, Leycett and the date would be about 1915.
These photos may be seen in the context of the reminiscences of Millicent Adams (nee Downend). The transcript is of a talk Millicent gave to the Betley Women’s Institute in 1992. These reminiscences were also published in 1992 as a chapter in a book entitled Staffordshire Within Living Memory [ISBN 1-85306-205-7] by Countryside Books of Newbury There is a form on the publisher’s website http://www.countrysidebooks.co.uk via which they can be contacted. COUNTRYSIDE BOOKS: Highfield House, 2 Highfield Avenue, Newbury. Berkshire. RG14 5DS
| Rhoda Farrington, President of the Wrinehill and Betley Women’s Institute, gave me the title of the
book. Her telephone number is 01270 820022.
Patrick Corness –
Staffordshire. Within Living Memory. W.I. 1992
A Colliery Village – Millicent Adams
My father, John Downend, was the engineer at Leycett Colliery from 1913 – 1941. The colliery was the village and the village was the colliery. Everyone who lived there was employed by the colliery. It was surrounded by fields which were farmed by Mr. Broadhead who lived near the station, and Mr. Martin the carter who lived in a cottage by the sand-hole, a place we were forbidden to go to.
The manager for a long time was Mr. Peasgood, who lived in the first house in the village – coming up Leycett Lane from Madeley. It had a big garden and a tennis court, and it had a fine view over Madeley to Bar Hill. Our house was the last one at the other end of the village – the end one of four known as Woodburn. We looked over the Wilmer Hills towards Betley, and from the back to Scot Hay fields, down which we used to sledge whenever there was snow. Gangs from Leycett and Scot Hay appeared at the first snow, without any communication. There were many gorse bushes, so if you sledged into one you were well and truly prickled. We had a big garden and later, a tennis court which was often used as a bowling green, some of the men from the village playing bowls there. I learned to play when I was quite small.
On Scot Hay fields there were ruins of cottages known as Top Huts and Bottom Huts and we were forbidden to go there too. There was a dirt road across the middle of the fields, the road the colliers used to walk from Halmerend and Miles Green to Leycett. From one side of the house we could see the dirt tip, cone shaped from one side, which we called Fuji-Pyjama. I could see the men at nights pushing the trucks and tipping them. At the end of regulation prayers, for all relations I added ‘God bless all the men on the dirt tip’.
The village had three streets, Top Street, Middle Street and Bottom Street – back to back with tiny squares of garden, and a terrace that was much posher with front gardens, and at the end a bigger house where the under-manager lived, Mr. Maskrey. The colliery had three shafts – the Lady Pit, Bang-up and Clarke’s Pit. Two took men down the pit – the winder worked the cages up and down, a very responsible job.
Clarke’s Pit was used only, I think, for circulating air down below. There was a square brick building – ‘The Offices’ where the officials had their own places (with big tables, I remember). There were two surveyors, Mr. Lees and Mr. Emerson and various clerks. One was called Mr. Collier – he had a beard and lived down in the ‘Meadows’ with a wife and two children and kept goats that roamed about freely and came to be milked when he called them. I thought this romantic. He was called ‘The old man of the woods’. The meadow was a lovely place, full of wild flowers and trembling grass and weeds and little ditches – I loved it. At the end was a stile into Walton’s Wood with a rough road going down to Madeley Heath. There was sort of cave that frightened us, but it was where ice was stored for the Manor house. There was a ditch by the meadow where the first celandines grew – and there was a fast sledge-bank there too.
Near to our house were two pit-shafts, one used to pump water from underground that was yellow with ochre. This ran down a man-made gully of bricks and flat stones known to us as the water-chute and the water was warm, so good for paddling. At the end of the chute it went under the railway bridge and then down the little wood and the warm water brought the bluebells and anemones out there earlier than anywhere else. There was a big tree there with a hole in it with water, said to cure warts.
There was a reservoir in Scot Hay fields built by and used by the pit. This was the ‘Big Razzer’, and there was a pool lower down named ‘Little Razzer’ where the village boys bathed. Nearby was a cottage with Mr. & Mrs. Groom – she was a big woman and he was small and known as ‘Billy two-foot’ as he was always measuring things. She had a sister, Mrs. Lomax, who lived in Scot Hay. She would come to the top of the hill and have a screaming conversation with Mrs. Groom at the bottom. If you were in between you got the gist.
There were three locomotives (locos) at the pit, their names on the side: Nancy, Lena, Hesketh, the three children of Mr. Ramsden, one of the owners. They took the coal down the ‘mineral line’ to Madeley station on the main L.M.S. line, the line going the other way passed our house to the repair shops. At the ‘Shops’ there worked a blacksmith called Bob Tomkinson, who lived at Mill Dale, Audley and walked to work across Craddock’s Moss. 1 loved to watch him at the forge.
There was a mission church – the parish church was in Madeley and we attended both. The village church was encased in corrugated sheeting and was known as the tin tabernacle, but on Sunday nights it was cosy and comforting. Father became a lay preacher and was asked to [preach at] the local churches.
In the 1930s pit head baths were built and opened by Lord Crewe. Tennis courts were made near the cricket field. A village hall was built where we had a badminton club, billiards, concerts, dances, W.I. meetings and parties – a wonderful place.