18.3.36

The Barnsley public baths are very bad. Old-fashioned bathtubs, none too clean, and not nearly enough of them. I judged by the appearance of the place there were at most 50 baths* – this in a town of 70–80 thousand inhabitants, largely miners, not one of whom has a bath in his own house, except in the new Corporation houses.

Some curious coincidences. When I went to see Len Kaye he recommended me to see Tommy Degnan, to whom I had also been recommended by Paddy Grady at Wigan. But what was more curious still, D. was one of the men who were thrown out at Mosley’s meeting, though not the one I actually saw thrown out. I went round to see D. last night and had some difficulty in finding him. He lives in a dreadful barn of a place called Garden House, which is an old almost ruinous house which half a dozen unemployed men have taken and made a sort of lodging house of. D. himself is not unemployed, though at the moment “playing” because a few days before the hammering he got at M.’s meeting he was slightly crushed by a fall of stone in the mine. We went out to look for the man whom I actually saw thrown out, as I want to get particulars and see his bruises before writing to the papers about it, but couldn’t find him, and I am to see him today. Then in the street we ran across another man whom I saw thrown out. The latter’s ejection was an interesting instance of the way any upset can be misrepresented and turned to advantage by a demagogue of the type of Mosley. At the time of the uproar at the back of the hall, this last man – name Hennesy,** I think – was seen to rush on to the stage, and everyone thought he had gone there to shout something out and interrupt M.’s speech. It struck me at the time as curious that though on the stage he didn’t shout anything out, and the next moment, of course, the Blackshirts on the platform seized him and bundled him out. M. shouted out, “A typical example of Red tactics!” It now appears what happened was this. Hennesey° saw the Blackshirts at the back of the hall bashing D., and couldn’t get to him to help him because there is no aisle up the middle; but there was an aisle up the right hand side, and the only way he could get to this was over the stage. D. after being thrown out was charged under the Public Meetings Act, but H not. I don’t know yet whether the other man, Marshall, was. The woman who was thrown out – this was somewhere at the back and I didn’t see it – was hit on the head with a trumpet and was a day in hospital. D. and H. were in the Army together and H. was wounded in the leg and D. taken prisoner when the Vth Army [1] was defeated in 1918. D., being a miner, was sent to work in the Polish mines. He said all of them had pit-head baths. H. says the French ones have them too.

G. told me a dreadful story of how a friend of his, a “dataller”, was buried alive. He was buried under a fall of small stone, and they rushed to him and, though they could not get him out completely, they got his head and shoulders free so that he could breathe. He was alive and spoke to them. At this moment they saw that the roof was coming down again and had to take to flight themselves. Once again he was buried, and once again they managed to get to him and uncover his head, and again he was alive and spoke to them. Then the roof came down again, and this time they did not get him out for some hours, after which, of course, he was dead. But the real point of the story, from G.’s point of view, was that this man had known beforehand that this part of the mine was unsafe and likely to bury him: “And it worked on his mind to that extent that he kissed his wife before he went to work. And she told me afterwards that it was the first time in years he’d kissed her.”

There is a very old woman – a Lancashire woman – living near here who in her day has worked down the pit, dragging tubs of coal with a harness and chain. She is 83, so I suppose this would be in the seventies.

*Actually 19!

**His name is Firth, I got it as Hennessey because he was introduced to me as Hellis Firth. (Ellis Firth – people here very capricious about their H’s.)

[1] Vth Army: Presumably D. was taken prisoner during the German spring offensive south of the River Somme launched by Erich Ludendorff on 21 March 1918. The Fifth Army was forced to retreat and suffered very heavy casualties.

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One Response to 18.3.36

  1. Pingback: 20.3.36 | The Road to Wigan Pier

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