This is the story of Val Hodgkinson and his brother Wilf - 9 year old twins born in the East End of London - who were evacuated to Longridge at the start of WW2
When war was declared in September 1939, the pupils in our London primary school were taken to Paddington station and evacuated, en masse, to Somerset, whilst we were taken to Euston and put on a train, full to the brim with Servicemen, with cards hanging from our necks giving instructions that, at Crewe, we were to be transferred to the Carlisle train and put off at Preston.
Our destination was The Manse, an imposing house on the corner of Berry Lane and Church Street; the front door had a bell-pull - a sure sign of status - and a box of little red flags in the kitchen. In former times, no doubt, when the bell sounded and one of the flags dropped down, the maid would go to the appropriate door or room. It was a far cry from our terraced Council house in London.
Berry Lane in the 1930s.
The Manse was the home of the Rev. Bill Haigh, a Welshman, and his wife Lily. Bill was Minister of the Congregational church (now the Methodist & United Reform Church) on the other side of the road. Lily, a former nurse, was in her mid-30s’ whilst Bill would have been three or four years older. We called them ‘Uncle’ and ‘Auntie’. Bill had a good sense of humour and was a popular preacher. Hilda Slater (nee Kenyon), a friend and classmate who still resides in the village, remembers Lily, a former nurse, as “strict”. Due to the constant stream of visitors to the house, it was made clear that we were to be ‘seen but not heard’.
Photo: Robert Wade
It was not until our return to London, three years later, that we learned that Lily had nursed our three older siblings - a boy and twin girls - when they were ill in a London hospital. Sadly, our brother and one of the twins died of pneumonia for which there were no drugs. With their deaths on Mum and Dad’s minds, it must have been with a heavy heart that, to keep us safe, they were prepared to send us so far away. We surmise that Mum had kept touch with Lily who had offered to take us in, rather than be evacuated to Somerset with our schoolmates.
With ‘Uncle’ and Auntie’
On our first morning, we were woken up by the noise of banging on windows: it was the ‘knocker-upper’ on the last leg of his round. Within minutes, the sound of the mill workers’ clogs could be heard as they walked down Berry Lane to start work at 6.30 a.m. Later in the day we were taken to one of the three ‘Cloggers’ in the village to be measured for our wooden clogs with their leather uppers, metal toecaps and clinkers under the sole and heel. (‘Sparking your clogs’ on the cobblestones was a favourite pastime.
We quickly settled in, made friends, and acquired the local accent. Our Council school classroom was in the Congregational church hall so it took less than a minute to get to school. As the Haighs had no telephone - only the wealthy had phones in those days - our mother and Lily corresponded by letter. Occasionally, Lily would read out snippets from Mum’s letters and we occasionally wrote letters that Lily enclosed with her own. Neither Mum nor Dad made the journey to Longridge, probably because of the cost and, perhaps, in the knowledge that a visit might upset all concerned.
The Co-operative Society
In addition to Thelma, our friends included Billy & Betty Charnley, John Wood, Tony Humphreys and others whose names we’ve forgotten. The Charnleys lived next to the Post Office that was opposite the Co-operative building, an impressive structure that stands to this day; at that time, it contained a Grocery, Butchers, Bakers, Bakery, Men’s and Ladies’ Outfitters, Shoe shop and Furniture shop. It also had a large hall on the first floor for dances and the like, together with meeting rooms and rooms for hire. As the Co-op provided for all eventualities, including funerals, villagers seldom went to Preston for their shopping. In a sense, the Co-op and the churches were the glue that kept the village together,
For pocket money, Wilf did a paper round and I worked as a Saturday boy in Mr Booth’s old-fashioned hardware shop to the right of the Post Office: Booth lived on his own in the large house (now NatWest Bank) opposite the Manse. Whenever I see the Two Ronnies’ Fork Handles sketch on the TV, I‘m reminded of the shop and Mr Booth.
The main sources of employment in the village were the quarry and the three cotton mills: Queens on Chatburn Road, John Smiths on Berry Lane (now part occupied by Booths) and Whittles on Preston Road. On reaching their 14th birthday, most girls in the village including Hilda, left school to work in the hot, noisy and dusty mills. Wages were based upon piecework rates so the greater the production, the better the pay. For 14 year-olds working 55 hours a week, the weekly wage the equivalent of £25 in today’s money. In Wake’s Week, when the mills shut down, the workers went on a trip - as did workers in other mill villages but on different days - by charabanc to Blackpool where most of the hotels/boarding houses had been taken over for use by trainee airmen who could not be accommodated in nearby RAF camps.
On Sundays we went to church in the morning, afternoon and evening. Whilst waiting for the service to begin, we could see some ladies talking to each other but making no sound: they were ‘reading lips’ just as they did whilst working in the mills. On Mondays Bill retired to his Study that was lined with books including two complete sets of the Encyclopaedia Britannica that we loved to read. On a lighter note, Wilf and I performed in several shows that were put on by members of the congregation and produced by Bill, the only man involved. (Except for the older men, the remainder had been conscripted into the armed forces.
The Cast (from left to right)
Back row:M Bleazard, B Singleton, N Seed, E Charnley, F Kenyon, A Metcalfe, E Carsley, Bill, G Kenyon
Middle row: S Kenyon, R Woods, S Mason, O Hurlstone, M Metcalfe
Front row: M Moulding, J Woods, A Humphreys, Wilf, Val
From time to time we accompanied Bill when he preached in hamlets such as Chipping, Grimsargh and Whittingham, a mental hospital - now the Guild site - in pastoral surrounds some three miles away. The journey to the hospital was by bus or ‘Shank’s pony’ to Grimsargh where a special Lancashire County Council train carried staff/visitors, free of charge, to a station inside the grounds.
At the time of our arrival in the village, the hospital is on record as having 3,533 patients and 558 staff, a population equal to that of Longridge, and was said to be the largest such institution in the UK if not Europe. As some patients were ex-WW1 & WW2 servicemen, the medical staff included RAMC personnel. Self-contained, the hospital had a Brewery, Gas Works, Post Office, Church, Cemetery, Theatre, Ballroom, Brass Band, Orchestra and, unusually, its own sewage plant, not to mention highly-rated sports facilities and teams. The orchestra was said to one of the best in the North West.
The Grimsargh - Whittingham Train
Staff and patients put on concerts including Christmas pantomimes that outsiders could attend. Some inmates were allowed, in certain instances, to walk, unsupervised, in the grounds. (During one visit, a man introduced himself as ‘Admiral Lord Nelson’, a meeting that was both scary and funny)
Towards the end of our three-year stay in the village, we spent a week with Lily’s sister, husband and two daughters in Durham. Evidently, after we had left for London, the nieces stayed with the Haighs and were regarded as our cousins. When I explained to Hilda recently that we were not in any way related to the girls or the Haighs, she was “gobsmacked”.
Unlike London, the village seemed relatively unaffected by the war. Food rationing, in particular, didn’t seem to present problems for most families. Mr Metcalfe, well known in the village, had a farm (now Forshaws on Preston Road) and taught us how to milk by hand. Mr Sharples, another well-known figure, was the Manager at the cheese factory on Preston Road. As part of the ‘Dig For Victory’ campaign, we grew vegetables on the school’s allotment behind The Dog Inn.
Whilst Bill and Lily were very strict, they were also fond and proud of us. In June 1942 we learned that we had passed the Scholarship for free entry to Grammar School. (Had the Haighs not nurtured us during that crucial period in our development, we might not have passed the examination)
In 1942 - when the bombing raids had eased - we returned to London to meet and have direct contact with our parents for the first time in three years.
Did we enjoy our enforced sojourn in Longridge? Yes.
Did it have a positive affect on our lives and do we have fond memories of the village and its inhabitants? Yes
On our return to London, we were admitted to a Grammar school that, less than two years later, was half demolished by a ‘Doodle Bug’. Thereafter, our education can only be described as ‘chaotic’ but that’s another story.
Val & Wilf went on to have successful careers in the RAF and education
© Longridge & District History Society