A Tyldesley Boy

The Shakerley estate, also known as Wimpeys, was built straight after the war in 1948, on fields that had until then been part of farms. I grew up there and it was a very pleasant place. New houses with gardens back and front, and fields nearby. The estate was a mile outside the town of Tyldesley, a coalmining, cotton mill town of terraced streets and cobbled stones. The town was part of the recent past, a time of industrial life and world war. The new estate was the beginning of a new world. The town was chimneys and factories and narrow streets. ‘Wimpeys’ was freedom and space and fresh air.


It was my father’s side of the family that belonged to Tyldesley, ever since my grandfather came up from the farms of Cheshire to find work in the mines. My grandmother was a Tyldesley girl born to Irish parents who came from Sligo and Monaghan. Her mother, Mary O’Hara, died young and my grandmother and her sister began working in the cotton mill at 13 and 14 years of age. My own father left school and went down the pit at 14. This was the world they were born into and tied into, by poverty and lack of choice.


I have read today an article by David Olusoga about how the cotton industry of Lancashire was funded by the slave labour of American Negro slaves. Slaves at one end of the process and slaves at the other end too. Hours were long and pay was poor in those mills.


Equally the work in the mines was hard and long and poorly paid. The mines, in those days, were owned by private individuals and they set the rates of pay. My father spent four years down the pit, until at the age of 18, he decided to enlist in the British Army, which was recruiting strongly in those days. He walked eight miles into Wigan to join up. The year was 1934.


At 18 my father made that decision by himself. He knew his mother would be unhappy at his joining, since she had lost two brothers in the First World War. His father would not approve because he was an Irishman and he knew what the British had done in Ireland at the time of the Black and Tans.


Joining up was my father’s great escape. The army was good for him. He loved his time in it, grooming horses and learning a mechanic’s trade, and spending three years in India. His six years service was almost completed and he was looking forward to trying his luck at professional football with a trial at Arsenal. But that year was 1939.


Brian Fahy

28 March 2023

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