5.3.36

At 21 Estcourt Avenue, Headingley, Leeds. [1]

I left Sheffield at 10.30 this morning, and in spite of its being such a frightful place and of the relief of getting back into a comfortable house, I was quite sorry to leave the Searles. I have seldom met people with more natural decency. They were as kind to me as anyone could possibly be, and I hope and trust they liked me. Of course I got their whole life-history from them by degrees. Searle is 33 and was an only child. When a youth he joined the Army and was in the Ordnance Corps (or whatever it is called) with the army of occupation in Palestine and in Egypt. He has vivid memories of Egypt and wishes he was back there. Since then he has only had short-lived jobs, eg. as store-keeper and check-weighman at various works, also as railway (outside) porter. Mrs. S. comes from a somewhat more prosperous family, as her father till only a few weeks ago* was in a good job at £5 a week and also made something on the side by making fishing rods. But it was a very large family (11) and she went into service. She married S. when he was on the dole, against the opposition of her family. At first they could not get a house, and lived in a single room, in which two children were born and one died. They told me they had only one bed for the family and had to “lay out” the dead baby in the perambulator. Finally, after frightful difficulty (one reason for this is that private landlords are not too keen on letting to people on the dole and there is a certain amount of bribery of agents) they got this house, of which the rent is about 8/6. Mrs. S. earns about 9/- a week from her charring. Exactly what deduction is made for this from S’s dole I don’t know, but their total income is 32/6. In spite of which I had great difficulty in getting them to accept enough for my keep while there – they wanted to charge only 6/- for full board and lodging from Monday night to Thursday morning. They keep the house very clean and decent, have a bit of garden, though they can’t do much with it, as it has factory chimneys on one side and the gas works on the other, besides being poor soil, and are very fond of one another. I was surprised by Mrs S’s grasp of the economic situation and also of abstract ideas – quite unlike most working-class women in this, though she is I think not far from illiterate. She does not seem resentful against the people who employ her – indeed she says they are kind to her – but sees quite clearly the essential facts about domestic service. She told me how the other day as she waited at the lunch table she calculated the price of the food on the table (for 5 persons for one meal) and it came to 6/3 – as much as the P.A.C. allows her child for a fortnight.

Brown was very good and took my request to “show me over Sheffield” even too seriously, so that from morning to night I was being rushed from place to place, largely on foot, to see public buildings, slums, housing estates etc. But he is a tiresome person to be with, being definitely disgruntled and too conscious of his Communist convictions. In Rotherham we had to have lunch at a slightly expensive restaurant because there didn’t seem to be any others except pubs (B. is TT.), and when in there he was sweating and groaning about the “bourgeois atmosphere” and saying he could not eat this kind of food. As he declares that it is necessary to literally hate the bourgeoisie, I wondered what he thought of me, because he told me at the very start I was a bourgeois and remarked on my “public school twang.” However, I think he was disposed to treat me as a sort of honorary proletarian, partly because I had no objection to washing in the sink etc., but more because I seemed interested in Sheffield. He was very generous and though I had told him at the start that I was going to pay for his meals etc. while we were together, he would always go out of his way to spare me expense. It seems that he lives on 10/- a week – I had this from Searle: exactly where B’s 10/- comes from I don’t know – and the rent of his room is 6/-. Of course it would not be possible to subsist on the remainder, allowing for fuel. You could only keep alive on 4/- a week (see attached) [2] if you spent nothing on fuel and nothing on tobacco or clothes. I gather B. gets meals from time to time from the S’s and other friends, also from his brother who is in comparatively good employ. His room is decent and even cultured-looking, as it has bits of “antique” furniture which he has made himself, and some crude but not disagreeable pictures, mostly of circuses, which he has painted. Much of his bitterness obviously comes from sexual starvation. His deformity handicaps him with women, his fear of transmitting it has stopped him from marrying (he says he would only marry a woman past the childbearing age), and his inability to earn money makes it more impossible still. However, at one of the Adelphi summer schools he picked up with some schoolmistress (aged 43) who I gather is his mistress when opportunities permit and who is willing to marry him, only her parents oppose it. The Searles say he has improved greatly since taking up this woman – before that he used to have fits occasionally.

We had an argument one evening in the Searles’ house because I helped Mrs S. with the washing-up. Both of the men disapproved of this, of course. Mrs S. seemed doubtful. She said that in the North working-class men never offered any courtesies to women (women are allowed to do all the housework unaided, even when the man is unemployed, and it is always the man who sits in the comfortable chair), and she took this state of things for granted, but did not see why it should not be changed. She said that she thought the women now-a-days, especially the younger women, would like it if men opened doors for them etc. The position now-a-days is anomalous. The man is practically always out of work, whereas the woman occasionally is working. Yet the woman continues to do all the housework and the man not a handsturn, except carpentering and gardening. Yet I think it is instinctively felt by both sexes that the man would lose his manhood if, merely because he was out of work, he became a “Mary Ann.”

One particular picture of Sheffield stays by me. A frightful piece of waste ground (somehow, up here a piece of waste ground attains a squalor that would be impossible even in London), trampled quite bare of grass and littered with newspaper, old saucepans etc. To the right, an isolated row of gaunt four-room houses, dark red blackened by smoke. To the left an interminable vista of factory chimneys, chimney behind chimney, fading away into a dim blackish haze. Behind me a railway embankment made from the slag of furnaces. In front, across the piece of waste ground, a cubical building of dingy red and yellow brick, with the sign, “John Grocock, Haulage Contractor.”

Other memories of Sheffield: stone walls blackened by smoke, a shallow river yellow with chemicals, serrated flames, like circular saws, coming out from the cowls of the foundry chimneys, thump and scream of steam hammers (the iron seems to scream under the blow), smell of sulphur, yellow clay, backsides of women wagging laboriously from side to side as they shove their perambulators up the hills.

Mrs Searle’s recipe for fruit loaf (very good with butter) which I will write down here before I lose it:

1 lb flour. 1 egg. 4 oz. treacle. 4 oz. mixed fruit (or currants). 8 oz. sugar. 6 oz. margarine or lard.

Cream the sugar and margarine, beat the egg and add it, add the treacle and then the flour, put in greased tins and bake about ½ to ¾ hour in a moderate oven.

Also her ‘54321’ recipe for sponge cake:

5 oz. flour, 4 oz. sugar, 3 oz. grease (butter best), 2 eggs, 1 teaspoonful baking powder. Mix as above and bake.

*He died very suddenly & his wife has now no resources expect the old age pension & an insurance policy [handwritten footnote].

[1] 21 Estcourt Avenue: Home of Orwell’s older sister, Marjorie (1898–1946) and her husband, Humphrey Dakin (1896–1970). They had married in July 1920. He worked for the National Savings Committee. Orwell visited them from time to time ‘to get some writing done and be looked after by his sister. Humphrey seemed to resent this’, considering Orwell as a work-shy drop-out (see Orwell Remembered, pp. 127-30). Orwell stayed with the Dakins from 5-11 and 26-30 March 1936.

[2] attached: the item attached was a cutting from the News of the World, 1 March 1936, showing how a W. Leach of Lilford Road, London, S.E., needed to spend only 3s 11½d a week on food (20p in decimal currency). When, in November 1993, I costed the items he listed the total came to about £8.80. Mr Leach stated that though he preferred to boil the carrots he bought, he ate them raw because ‘to boil water cost too much’. This remark prompts one to wonder how genuine was Mr Leach’s claim. For further details see The Road to Wigan Pier, pp. 87-8.

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3.3.36

This house: Two up two down, living room about 14’ by 12’, parlour rather smaller. Sink and copper in living room, no gas fire, outside W.C. Rent with rates about 8/6. 2 cellars as well. Husband is out of work (P.A.C. – was previously store-keeper at a factory which closed down and discharged its whole staff), wife works as a char at 6d an hour. One kid aged 5.

James Brown: age 45 but looks less. Has malformed right hand, also one foot. This was inherited and he fears it is transmissible, so will not marry. Owing to this has never had much in the way of regular work. Was with a circus for some years as groom, clown and “Wild West” rider – he could apparently handle the bridle with his damaged hand. Now lives alone and for some reason gets no dole, only something from the parish and help from his brother. Has a single room with only an open fireplace, no oven, to cook on. Is terribly embittered and declares that feeling of actual hatred for the bourgeoisie, even personal hatred of individuals, is necessary to any genuine Socialist. Is nevertheless a good fellow and very anxious to help. Mixed up with his political feelings is the usual local patriotism of the Yorkshireman and much of his conversation consists of comparison between London and Sheffield to the detriment of the former. Sheffield is held to lead London in everything, eg. on the one hand the new housing schemes in Sheffield are immensely superior, and on the other hand the Sheffield slums are more squalid than anything London can show. I notice that apart from the usual hatred between the Northerner and the Southerner, there is also hatred between the Yorkshireman and the Lancashireman, and also internecine hatred between the various Yorkshire towns. No one up here seems to have heard of any place in the south of England except London. If you come from the south you are assumed to be a cockney however often you deny it. At the same time as the Northerner despises the Southerner he has an uneasy feeling that the latter knows more of the arts of life and is very anxious to impress him.

Had a very long and exhausting day (I am now continuing this March 4th) being shown every quarter of Sheffield on foot and by tram. I have now traversed almost the whole city. It seems to me, by daylight, one of the most appalling places I have ever seen. In whichever direction you look you see the same landscape of monstrous chimneys pouring forth smoke which is sometimes black and sometimes of a rosy tint said to be due to sulphur. You can smell the sulphur in the air all the while. All buildings are blackened within a year or two of being put up. Halting at one place I counted the factory chimneys I could see and there were 33. But it was very misty as well as smoky – there would have been many more visible on a clear day. I doubt whether there are any architecturally decent buildings in the town. The town is very hilly (said to be built on seven hills, like Rome) and everywhere streets of mean little houses blackened by smoke run up at sharp angles, paved with cobbles which are purposely set unevenly to gives horses etc. a grip. At night the hilliness creates fine effects because you look across from one hillside to the other and see the lamps twinkling like stars. Huge jets of flame shoot periodically out of the rooves of the foundries (many working night shifts at present) and show a splendid rosy colour through the smoke and steam. When you get a glimpse inside you see enormous fiery serpents of red-hot and white-hot (really lemon coloured) iron being rolled out into rails. In the central slummy part of the town are the small workshops of the “little bosses,” ie, smaller employers who are making chiefly cutlery. I don’t think I ever in my life saw so many broken windows. Some of these workshops have hardly a pane of glass in their windows and you would not believe they were inhabitable if you did not see the employees, mostly girls, at work inside.

The town is being torn down and rebuilt at an immense speed. Everywhere among the slums are gaps with squalid mounds of bricks where condemned houses have been demolished and on all the outskirts of the town new estates of Corporation houses are going up. These are much inferior, at any rate in appearance, to those at Liverpool. They are in terribly bleak situations, too. One estate just behind where I am living now, at the very summit of a hill, on horrible sticky clay soil and swept by icy winds. Notice that the people going into these new houses from the slums will always be paying higher rents, and also will have to spend much more on fuel to keep themselves warm. Also, in many cases, will be further from their work and therefore spend more on conveyances.

In the evening was taken to a Methodist Church where some kind of men’s association (they call it a Brotherhood) [1] meet once a week to listen to a lecture and have discussions. Next week a Communist is speaking, to the evident dismay of the clergyman who made the announcements. This week a clergyman who spoke on “Clean and Dirty Water.” His lecture consisted of incredibly silly and disconnected ramblings about Shaw’s Adventures of a Black Girl [2] etc. Most of the audience did not understand a word of it and in fact hardly listened, and the talk and the questions afterwards were so unbearable that Brown and I slipped out with his friend Binns to see the latter’s back to back house, on which I took notes. B. says that most of the members of this Brotherhood are unemployed men who will put up with almost anything in order to have a warm place where they can sit for a few hours.

Accent in Sheffield not so broad as in Lancashire. A very few people, mostly miners I think, wear clogs.

[1] Brotherhood: in Nineteen Eighty-Four, O’Brien explains that those who have read Goldstein’s Testament ‘will be full members of the Brotherhood’, which opposes the State (CW, IX, p. 182).

[2] Adventures of a Black Girl: The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God by George Bernard Shaw, 1932, in which the author, posing as an innocent but intelligent and inquisitive black girl, makes an allegorical philosophical journey asking such questions as why God is male. In the Preface, Shaw explains that he was inspired to write ‘this tale’ when held up in Knysna, South Africa, for five weeks ‘in the African summer and English winter of 1932’. He had intended to write a play ‘but found myself writing the story of the black girl instead’. Having written it, ‘I proceed to speculate on what it means’.

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2.3.36

At 154 Wallace Road, Sheffield.

Thick snow everywhere on the hills as I came along. Stone boundaries between the fields running across the snow like black piping across a white dress. Warm and sunny, however. For the first time in my life saw rooks copulating. On the ground, not in a tree. The manner of courtship was peculiar. The female stood with her beak open and the male walked round her and it appeared as though he was feeding her.

Memories of Wigan: Slagheaps like mountains, smoke, rows of blackened houses, sticky mud criss-crossed by imprints of clogs, heavy-set young women standing at street corners with their babies wrapped in their shawls, immense piles of broken chocolate in cut-price confectioners’ windows.

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27.2.36

On Wednesday (25th) went over to Liverpool to see the Deiners [1] and Garrett.[2] I was to have come back the same night, but almost as soon as I got to Liverpool I felt unwell and was ignominiously sick, so the Deiners insisted on putting me to bed and then on my staying the night.[3] I came back yesterday evening.

I was very greatly impressed by Garrett. Had I known before that it is he who writes under the pseudonym of Marr Lowe in the Adelphi and one or two other places, I would have taken steps to meet him earlier. He is a biggish hefty chap of about 36, Liverpool-Irish, brought up a Catholic but now a Communist. He says he has had about 9 months’ work in (I think) about the last 6 years. He went to sea as a lad and was at sea about 10 years, then worked as a docker. During the War he was torpedoed on a ship that sank in 7 minutes, but they had expected to be torpedoed and had got their boats ready, and were all saved except the wireless operator, who refused to leave his post until he had got an answer. He also worked in an illicit brewery in Chicago during Prohibition, saw various hold-ups, saw Battling Siki immediately after he had been shot in a street brawl, etc. etc. All this however interests him much less than Communist politics. I urged him to write his autobiography, but as usual, living in about 2 rooms on the dole with a wife (who I gather objects to his writing) and a number of kids, he finds it impossible to settle to any long work and can only do short stories. Apart from the enormous unemployment in Liverpool it is almost impossible for him to get work because he is blacklisted everywhere as a Communist.

He took me down to the docks to see dockers being taken on for an unloading job. When we got there we found about 200 men waiting in a ring and police holding them back. It appeared that there was a fruit ship which needed unloading and on the news that there were jobs going there had been a fight between the dockers which the police had to intervene to stop. After a while the agent of the company (known as the stevedore, I think) emerged from a shed and began calling out the names or rather numbers of gangs whom he had engaged earlier in the day. Then he needed about 10 men more, and walked round the ring picking out a man here and there. He would pause, select a man, take him by the shoulder and haul him foreward,° exactly as at a sale of cattle. Presently he announced that that was all. A sort of groan went up from the remaining dockers, and they trailed off, about 50 men having been engaged out of 200. It appears that unemployed dockers have to sign on twice a day, otherwise they are presumed to have been working (as their work is mainly casual labour, by the day) and their dole docked for that day.

I was impressed by the fact that Liverpool is doing much more in the way of slum-clearance than most towns. The slums are still very bad but there are great quantities of Corporation houses and flats at low rents. Just outside Liverpool there are quite considerable towns consisting entirely of Corporation houses, which are really quite livable and decent to look at, but having as usual the objection that they take people a long way from their work. In the centre of the town there are huge blocks of workers’ flats imitated from those in Vienna. They are built in the form of an immense ring, five stories high, round a central courtyard about 60 yards across, which forms a playground for children. Round the inner side run balconies, and there are wide windows on each side so that everyone gets some sunlight. I was not able to get inside any of these flats, but I gather each has either 2 or 3 rooms,* kitchenette and bathroom with hot water. The rents vary from about 7/- at the top to 10/- at the bottom. (No lifts, of course.) It is noteworthy that the people in Liverpool have got used to the idea of flats (or tenements, as they call them) whereas in a place like Wigan the people, though realising that flats solve the problem of letting people live near their work, all say they would rather have a house of their own, however bad it was.

There are one or two interesting points here. The re-housing is almost entirely the work of the Corporation, which is said to be entirely ruthless towards private ownership and to be even too ready to condemn slum houses without compensation. Here therefore you have what is in effect Socialist legislation, though it is done by a local authority. But the Corporation of Liverpool is almost entirely Conservative. Moreover, though the re-housing from the public funds is, as I say, in effect a Socialist measure, the actual work is done by private contractors, and one may assume that here as elsewhere the contractors tend to be the friends, brothers, nephews etc. of those on the Corporation. Beyond a certain point therefore Socialism and Capitalism are not easy to distinguish, the State and the capitalist tending to merge into one. On the other side of the river, the Birkenhead side (we went through the Mersey tunnel) you have Port Sunlight, a city within a city, all built and owned by the Leverhulme soap works. Here again are excellent houses at fairly low rents, but, as with publicly-owned property, burdened by restrictions. Looking at the Corporation buildings on the one side, and Lord Leverhulme’s building on the other, you would find it hard to say which was which.

Another point is this. Liverpool is practically governed by Roman Catholics. The Roman Catholic ideal, at any rate as put forward by the Chesterton-Beachcomber[4] type of writer, is always in favour of private ownership and against Socialist legislation and “progress” generally. The Chesterton type of writer wants to see a free peasant or other small-owner living in his own privately owned and probably insanitary cottage; not a wage-slave living in an excellently appointed Corporation flat and tied down by restrictions as to sanitation etc. The R.Cs in Liverpool, therefore, are going against the supposed implications of their own religion. But I suppose that if the Chestertons et hoc genus grasped that it is possible for the R.Cs to capture the machinery of local and other government, even when it is called Socialist, they would change their tune.

No clogs or shawl over head in Liverpool. Returning by car, noticed how abruptly this custom stops a little west of Wigan.**

Am trying to arrange to return to London by sea if G. can get me a passage on a cargo boat.

Bought two brass candlesticks and a ship in a bottle. Paid 9/- for the candlesticks. G. considered I was swindled but they are quite nice brass.

*presumably 3 – living room & 2 bedrooms [handwritten footnote].

** It is said by everyone in Wigan that clogs are going out. Yet in the poorer quarters 1 person in 2 seems to me to wear clogs, & there are (I think) 10 shops which sell nothing else.

[1] May and John Deiner ran the Liverpool branch of The Adelphi circle. Orwell was introduced to them either by Middleton Murry or Richard Rees of The Adelphi. John was a telephone engineer. Orwell arrived very ill and because of this he saw less of Liverpool than he had hoped. He spoke to them of wishing to return to London by ship in order to experience conditions at sea. There is a charming memoir of Orwell by May Deiner in Orwell Remembered, pp. 134 – 6. She concludes: ‘he was such a real man…We didn’t feel any embarrassment at all with him. Just that he hadn’t much to say unless he was talking about his books or the things that interested him, about the depression…and yet you felt the warmth there; you felt the concern if you like’.

[2] George Garrett (1896 – 1966) was an unemployed seaman with whom Orwell got on very well. He wrote for The Adelphi and short stories under the pseudonym ‘Matt Lowe’ (i.e. matelot). He had spent much of the 1920’s in the USA and was a member of ‘the Wobblies’, the Industrial Workers of the World, a revolutionary industrial union. His ability to imitate an American accent won him small parts at the Merseyside Unity Theatre.

[3] Of the four or five days Orwell stayed with the Deiners, Orwell was, at their insistence, kept in bed for three days (Crick, p. 285).

[4] Chesterton-Beachcomber: G. K. Chesterton (1897 – 1925), Roman Catholic apologist, editor, and prolific writer, creator of the priest-detective, Father Brown. He had published Orwell’s first professional article in English (‘A Farthing Newspaper’, 1928, CW, X, pp. 119-21). The ‘Beachcomber’ column in the Daily Express was started in 1924 by J. B. Morton (1893 – 1979), also a Roman Catholic. The column was mildly satiric and the object of frequent pejorative reference by Orwell. For a more considered comparison of Chesterton and Morton by Orwell, see ‘As I Please’, no 30 (23 June 1944, CW, XVI, pp. 262-5).

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24.2.36

Yesterday went down Crippen’s mine with Jerry Kennan, [1] another electrician friend of his, two small sons of the latter, two other electricians and an engineer belonging to the pit, who showed us round. The depth to the cage bottom was 300 yards. We went down at 10.30 and came up at 1.30, having covered, according to the engineer who showed us round, about 2 miles.

As the cage goes down you have the usual momentary qualm in your belly, then a curious stuffed-up feeling in your ears. In the middle of its run the cage works up a tremendous speed (in some of the deeper mines they are said to touch 60 mph. or more) then slows down so abruptly that it is difficult to believe you are not going upwards again. The cages are tiny – about 8 feet long by 3½ wide by 6 high. They are supposed to hold 10 men or (I think) about a ton and a half of coal. There were only six of us and two boys, but we had difficulty in packing in and it is important to face in the direction you are going to get out the other end.

Down below it was lighter than I expected, because apart from the lamps we all carried there were electric lights in the main roads. But what I had not expected, and what for me was the most important feature all through, was the lowness of the roof. I had vaguely imagined wandering about in places rather like the tunnels of the Underground; but as a matter of fact there were very few places where you could stand upright. In general the roof was about 4 ft. or 4 ft. 6 ins high, sometimes much lower, with every now and again a beam larger than the others under which you had to duck especially low. In places the walls were quite neatly built up, almost like the stone walls in Derbyshire, with slabs of shale. There were pit-props, almost all of wood, every yard or so overhead. They are made of small larch trees sawn to the appropriate length (from the quantity used I see now why people laying down plantations almost always plant larch) and are simply laid on the ends of the upright props, which are laid on slabs of wood, thus:

and not fixed in any way. The bottom slabs gradually sink into the floor, or, as the miners put it, “the floor comes up,” but the weight overhead keeps the whole thing in place. By the way the steel girders used here and there instead of wooden props had buckled, you got an idea of the weight of the roof. Underfoot is thick stone dust and the rails, about 2 ½ ft. wide, for the trolleys. When the path is down hill miners often slide down these on their clogs, which, being hollow underneath, more or less fit onto the rails.

After a few hundred yards of walking doubled up and once or twice having to crawl, I began to feel the effects in a violent pain all down my thighs. One also gets a bad crick in the neck, because though stooping one has to look up for fear of knocking into the beams, but the pain in the thighs is the worst. Of course as we got nearer the coal face the roads tended to get lower. Once we crawled through a temporary tunnel which was like an enlarged rat hole, with no props, and in one place there had been a fall of stone during the night – 3 or 4* tons of stuff, I should judge. It had blocked up the entire road except for a tiny aperture near the roof which we had to crawl through without touching any timber. Presently I had to stop for a minute to rest my knees, which were giving way, and then after a few hundred yards more we came to the first working. This was only a small working with a machine worked by two men, much like an enlarged version of the electric drills [2] used for street mending. Nearby was the dynamo (or whatever it is called) which supplied the power through cables to this and the other machines; also the comparatively small drills (but they weigh 50 lbs. each and have to be hoisted onto the shoulder) for drilling holes for blasting charges; also bundles of miners’ tools locked together on wires like bundles of keys, which is always done for fear of losing them.

We went a few hundred yards further and came to one of the main workings. The men were not actually working here, but a shift was just coming down to start work about 250 yards further on. Here there was one of the larger machines which have a crew of 5 men to work them. This machine has a revolving wheel on which there are teeth about a couple of inches long set at various angles; in principle it is rather like an immensely thickened circular saw with the teeth much further apart, and running horizontally instead of vertically. The machine is dragged into position by the crew and the front part of it can be swivelled round in any direction and pressed against the coal face by the man working it. Two men called “scufters” shovel the coal onto a rubberbelt conveyor which carries it through a tunnel to the tubs on the main road, where it is hauled by steam haulage to the cages. I had not realised before that the men operating the coal-cutter are working in a place rather less than a yard high. When we crawled in under the roof to the coal face we could at best kneel, and then not kneel upright, and I fancy the men must do most of their work lying on their bellies. The heat also was frightful – round about 100 degrees F. so far as I could judge. The crew keep burrowing into the coal face, cutting a semi-circular track, periodically hauling the machine forward and propping as they go. I was puzzled to know how that monstrous machine – flat in shape, of course, but 6 or 8 feet long and weighing several tons, and only fitted with skids, not wheels – could have been got into position through that mile or so of passages. Even to drag the thing forward as the seam advances must be a frightful labour, seeing that then men have to do it practically lying down. Up near the coal face we saw a number of mice, which are said to abound there. They are said to be commonest in pits where there are or have been horses. I don’t know how they get down into the mine in the first place. Probably in the cages, but possibly by falling down the shaft, as it is said that a mouse (owing to its surface area being large relative to its weight) can drop any distance uninjured.

On the way back my exhaustion grew so great that I could hardly keep going at all, and towards the end I had to stop and rest every fifty yards. The periodical effort of bending and raising oneself at each successive beam was fearful, and the relief when one could stand upright, usually owing to a hole in the roof, was enormous. At times my knees simply refused to lift me after I had knelt down. It was made worse by the fact that at the lowest parts the roof is usually on a slope, so that besides bending you have to walk more or less sideways. We were all pretty distressed except the engineer taking us round, who was used to it, and the two small boys, who did not have to bend to any extent; but I was by a good deal the worst, being the tallest. I would like to know whether any miners are as tall as I am, and if so, whether they suffer for it. The few miners whom we met down the pit could move with extraordinary agility, running about on all fours among the props almost like dogs.

After we had at last emerged and washed off the more obtrusive dirt and had some beer, I went home and had dinner and then soaked myself for a long time in a hot bath. I was surprised at the quantity of dirt and the difficulty of getting it off. It had penetrated to every inch of my body in spite of my overalls and my clothes underneath those. Of course very few miners have baths in their homes – only a tub of water in front of the kitchen fire. I should say it would be quite impossible to keep clean without a proper bathtub.

In the room where we changed our clothes there were several cages of canaries. These have to be kept there by law, to test the air in case of explosion. They are sent down in the cage, and, if they do not faint, the air is all right.

The Davy lamps give out a fair amount of light. There is an air intake at the top but the flame is cut off from this by a fine gauze. Flame cannot pass through holes of less than a certain diameter. The gauze therefore lets the air in to sustain the flame but will not let the flame out to explode dangerous gases. Each lamp when full will burn for 8–12 hours, and they are locked, so that if they go out down the pit they cannot be relighted. Miners are searched for matches before going down the pit.

* Jerry Kennan said 20 or 30. I don’t know which of us would be best judge

[1] Jerry (Joe) Kennan: an unemployed collier at the time and an activist in the Independent Labour Party. He maintained that the lodgings at 72 Warrington Lane were spotlessly clean, despite Orwell’s strictures, and ‘that Orwell left it for the tripe shop in order to find something worse’. Whether hurried or not, Orwell’s departure tallies with Mrs Hornby’s illness. Kennan, understandably, may have resented not being sent an autographed copy of The Road to Wigan Pier; on the other hand he was gracious in stating that ‘the book was a fair book. I don’t think it exaggerated the situation at all. And I think it gives a clear picture of what conditions were like in industrial areas in 1936’ (Orwell Remembered, pp. 130 and 133).

[2] Orwell presumably meant pneumatic drills.

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21.2.36

The squalor of this house is beginning to get on my nerves. Nothing is ever cleaned or dusted, the rooms not done out till 5 in the afternoon, and the cloth never even removed from the kitchen table. At supper you still see the crumbs from breakfast. The most revolting feature is Mrs F. being always in bed on the kitchen sofa. She has a terrible habit of tearing off strips of newspaper, wiping her mouth with them and then throwing them onto the floor. Unemptied chamberpot under the table at breakfast this morning. The food is dreadful, too. We are given those little twopenny readymade steak and kidney pies out of stock. I hear horrible stories, too, about the cellars where the tripe is kept and which are said to swarm with black beetles. Apparently they only get in fresh supplies of tripe at long intervals. Mrs F. dates events by this. “Let me see, now, I’ve had in three lots of froze (frozen tripe) since then,” etc. I judge they get in a consignment of “froze” about once in a fortnight. Also it is very tiring being unable to stretch my legs straight out at night.

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20.2.36

This afternoon with Paddy Grady to see the unemployed miners robbing the “dirt-train,” or, as they call it, “scrambling for the coal.” A most astonishing sight. We went by the usual frightful routes along the colliery railway line to fir-tree sidings, on our way meeting various men and women with sacks of stolen coal which they had slung over bicycles. I would like to know where they got these bicycles – perhaps made of odd parts picked off rubbish dumps. None had mudguards, few had saddles and some had not even tyres. When we got to the big dirt-heap where the trainloads of shale from that pit are discharged, we found about 50 men picking over the dirt, and they directed us to the place further up the line where the men board the train. When we got there we found not less than 100 men, a few boys, waiting, each with a sack and coal hammer strapped under his coat tails. Presently the train hove in sight, coming round the bend at about 20 mph. 50 or 70 men rushed for it, seized hold of the bumpers etc. and hoisted themselves onto the trucks. It appears that each truck is regarded as the property of the men who have succeeded in getting onto it while it is moving. The engine ran the trucks up onto the dirt-heap, uncoupled them and came back for the remaining trucks. There was the same wild rush and the second train was boarded in the same manner, only a few men failing to get on to it. As soon as the trucks had been uncoupled the men on top began shovelling the stuff out to their women and other supporters below, who rapidly sorted out the dirt and put all the coal (a considerable amount but all small, in lumps about the size of eggs) into their sacks. Further down the “broo” were the people who had failed to get onto either train and were collecting the tiny fragments of coal that came sliding down from above. You do not, of course, when you are boarding the train, know whether you are getting onto a good truck or not, and what kind of truck you get is entirely luck. Thus some of the trucks, instead of being loaded with the dirt from the floor of the mine, which of course contains a fair quantity of coal, were loaded entirely with shale. But it appears, what I had never heard of before, that among the shale, at any rate in some mines, there occurs an inflammable rock called “cannel” (not certain of spelling) which makes fairly good fuel. It is not commercially valuable because it is hard to work and burns too fast, but for ordinary purposes is good enough. Those who were on the shale trucks were picking out the “cannel,” which is almost exactly like the shale except that it is a little darker and is known by splitting horizontally, almost like slate. I watched the people working until they had almost emptied the trucks. There were twenty trucks and something over 100 people were at work on them. Each, so far as I could judge, got about ½ cwt. of either coal or “cannel.” This performance sometimes happens more than once a day when several dirt-trains are sent out, so it is evident that several tons of fuel are stolen every day.

The economics and ethics of the whole business are rather interesting. In the first place, robbing the dirt-train is of course illegal, and one is technically trespassing by being on the dirt-heap at all. Periodically people are prosecuted – in fact in this morning’s Examiner there was a report of 3 men being fined for it. But no notice is taken of the prosecutions, and in fact one of the men fined was there this afternoon. But at the same time the coal company have no intention of using the coal etc. that is thrown out among the dirt, because it would not repay the cost of sorting. If not stolen, therefore, it would be wasted. Moreover, this business saves the company the expense of emptying the trucks, because by the time the coal-pickers have done with them they are empty. Therefore they connive at the raiding of the train – I noticed that the engine-driver took no notice of the men clambering onto the trucks. The reason for the periodical prosecutions is said to be that there are so many accidents. Only recently a man slipped under the train and had both legs cut off. Considering the speed the train goes at, it is remarkable that accidents do not happen oftener.

The most curious vehicle I saw used for carrying away coal was a cart made of a packing case and the wheels from two kitchen mangles.

Some of this coal that is stolen is said to be on sale in the town at 1/6 a bag.

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