11.2.36

Staying at 72 Warrington Lane, Wigan. [1] Board and lodging 25/- a week. Share room with another lodger (unemployed railwayman), meals in kitchen and wash at scullery sink. Food all right but indigestible and in monstrous quantities. Lancashire method of eating tripe (cold with vinegar) horrible.

The family. Mr Hornby, aged 39, has worked in the pit since he was 13. Now out of work for nine months. A largish, fair, slow-moving, very mild and nice-mannered man who considers carefully before he answers when you ask him a question, and begins, “In my estimation.” Has not much accent. Ten years ago he got a spurt of coal dust in his left eye and practically lost the sight of it. Was put to work “on top” for a while but went back to the pit as he could earn more there. Nine months ago his other eye went wrong (there is something called “nyastygmus” or some such name that miners suffer from) and he can only see a few yards. Is on “compensation” of 29/- a week, but they are talking of putting him on “partial compensation” of 14/- a week. It all depends whether the doctor passes him as fit for work, though of course there would not be any work, expect perhaps a job “on top,” but there are very few of these. If he is put on partial compensation he can draw dole until his stamps are exhausted.

Mrs Hornby. Four years older than her husband. Less than 5 feet tall. Toby-jug figure. Merry disposition. Very ignorant – adds up 27 and 10 and makes it 31. Very broad accent. There seems to be 2 ways of dealing with the “the” here. Before consonants it is often omitted altogether (“put joog on table,” etc.) before vowels it is often incorporated with the word. eg. “My sister’s in thospital” – th as in thin.

The son “our Joe,” just turned 15 and has been working in the pit a year. At present is on night shift. Goes to work about 9 pm returns between 7 and 8  am, has breakfast and promptly goes to bed in bed vacated by another lodger. Usually sleeps till 5 or 6pm. He started work on 2/8 a day, was raised to 3/4, ie. £ a week. Out of this 1/8 a week comes off for stoppages (insurance etc.) and 4d a day for his tram fares to and from the pit. So his net wage, working full time, is 16/4 a week. In summer, however, he will only be working short-time. A tallish, frail, deadly pale youth, obviously much exhausted by his work, but seems fairly happy.

Tom, Mrs Hornby’s cousin, unmarried and lodging there – paying 25/- a week. A very hairy man with a hare-lip, mild disposition and very simple. Also on night shift.

Joe, another lodger, single. Unemployed on 17/- a week. Pays 6/- a week for his room and sees to his own food. Gets up about 8 to give his bed up to “our Joe” and remains out of doors, in Public Library etc., most of the day. A bit of an ass but has some education and enjoys a resounding phrase. Explaining why he never married, he says portentously, “Matrimonial chains is a big item.” Repeated this sentence a number of times, evidently having an affection for it. Has been totally unemployed for 7 years. Drinks when he gets the chance, which of course he never does nowadays.

The house has two rooms and scullery downstairs, 3 rooms upstairs, tiny back yard and outside lavatory. No hot water laid on. Is in bad repair – front wall is bulging. Rent 12/- and with rates 14/-. The total income of the Hornbys is:

Mr Hornby’s compensation ……………………29/- a week

Joe’s wages ………………………………………….16/4   ”

Tom’s weekly payment ………………………….25/-   ”

Joe’s ditto ……………………………………………..6/-   ”

Total……………………………………………….£3-14-4. [2]

Payment of rent and rates leaves £3-2-4. This has to feed 4 people and clothe and otherwise provide for 3.* Of course at present there is my own contribution as well but that is an abnormality.

Wigan in the centre does not seem as bad as it has been represented – distinctly less depressing than Manchester. Wigan Pier said to have been demolished. Clogs commonly worn here and general in the smaller places outside such as Hindley. Shawl over head commonly worn by older women, but girls evidently only do it under pressure of dire poverty. Nearly everyone one sees very badly dressed and youths on the corners markedly less smart and rowdy than in London, but no very obvious signs of poverty except the number of empty shops. One in three of registered workers said to be unemployed.

Last night to Co-Op hall with various people from the N. U. W. M. to hear Wal Hannington [3] speak. A poor speaker, using all the padding and clichés of the Socialist orator, and with the wrong kind of cockney accent (once again, though a Communist entirely a bourgeois), but he got the people well worked up. Was surprised by the amount of Communist feeling here. Loud cheers when Hannington announced that if England and U.S.S.R went to war U.S.S.R would win. Audience very rough and all obviously unemployed (about 1 in 10 of them women) but very attentive. After the address a collection taken for expenses – hire of hall and H.’s train-fare from London. £1-6-0 raised, not bad from about 200 unemployed people.

You can always tell a miner by the blue tattooing of coal dust on the bridge of his nose. Some of the older men have their foreheads veined with it like Roquefort cheese.

* The H.s are well-off by local standards [Orwell’s handwritten footnote].

[1] Warrington Lane: illustrated in Peter Lewis, George Orwell: The Road to 1984 (1981, p.50. Wigan Pier is illustrated on the same page.)

[2] The total income of the Hornbys is roughly equivalent to £150 today.

[3] Wal Hannington: (1896 – 1996), a leader of the NUWM and author of Unemployed Struggles 1919-1936 and The Problem of Distressed Areas, published by the Left Book Club in November 1937. Like The Road to Wigan Pier, which preceded it, it had a centre section of thirty-two plates. Reg Reynolds, one of Orwell’s pacifist friends, writing of his sympathy with the Hunger Marchers, observed that when they arrived at Hyde Park Corner, London, they ‘did not look at all hungry – least of all that stout Communist, Wal Hannington, who led them’ (My Life and Crimes, 1996, p. 106). Hannington also wrote the useful Mr Chairman! A Short Guide to the Conduct and Procedure of Meetings (1950). The £1-6-0 raised is equivalent to 312 pence – by an audience of about 200, so about a penny-ha’penny from each person on average.

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