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A Shout From The Attic: Vincent

...All weavers could lip read; it was the only way they could communicate. I never learned to lip read, but I did learn to shout. The obvious benefit to me was that I could sing at the top of my voice all the workday long. I loved it. The elderly lady weavers took to me because I was always cheerful and willing. I fetched sacks of rolled paper weft and placed them next to their machines, singing like Caruso – at least, I was as loud as Caruso...

Ronnie Bray recalls his first job, working in a Yorkshire textile mill. To read more of Ronnie's memories please click on A Shout From The Attic in the menu on this page.

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'I look at th' yealds, and there they stick;
I ne'er seen the like sin' I wur wick!
What pity could befall a heart,
To think about these hard-sized warps!'


Sykes and Tunnicliffe in Almondbury manufactured mohair pile rugs, mats, and pew runners. Their products were top quality. The weaving shed foreman was Vincent. He was a quiet, pleasant man, balding with glasses. He was about forty years old. Although he could not drive, he had a car and was taking driving lessons.

Every morning he drove to work illegally. He crawled close to the kerb and travelled at around four miles an hour, just faster than a brisk walking pace. Vincent was my tutor in the arcane practices of the weaving shed. He was gentle and patient – as was his driving.

The weaving shed was the noisiest place I had ever been in. There were about 18 or 20 looms working with their clatter and din. Many of the weavers, mostly women, were either deaf or had some degree of hearing impairment caused by the incessant noise. Ear protection was not provided, not even thought of.

All weavers could lip read; it was the only way they could communicate. I never learned to lip read, but I did learn to shout. The obvious benefit to me was that I could sing at the top of my voice all the workday long. I loved it. The elderly lady weavers took to me because I was always cheerful and willing. I fetched sacks of rolled paper weft and placed them next to their machines, singing like Caruso – at least, I was as loud as Caruso.

Another of my duties was ‘tying in.’ This was the method of joining the old warp to the new, when a beam was changed. The warp was wound round a giant bobbin. Called a beam, and when this had been used up it was replaced by a full one. The ends of the old were tied to the ends of the old, and the knots pulled through the sley so that weaving could continue. The knots had to be secure or else they would slip and the single thread had to be threaded through all the complicated elements of the loom. The two ends were separated with the forefinger, and knotted with two fingers and the thumb of one hand.

One of the weavers was Michael, a Pole. He had come to England after the war to escape the tyranny of the new Communist masters. He was courting one of the weavers, a red-haired girl, with temper to match, who lived near the mill. Michael lived in Halifax in lodgings.

He said that his landlady was upset because he kept his coffin in his bedroom. He had a small collection of gramophone records, including “Music, Music, Music,” by Teresa Brewer, and Pee Wee Hunt’s “Twelfth Street Rag.” He lent me these records, from which time they became firm favourites. I loved Teresa Brewer’s enthusiasm and verve.

About this time, early 1950, another singer was making a name for himself. Johnny Ray, a native of Utah, recorded, “Cry.” I had never heard such emotion in singing. It was a chorus of colour, a stream of fast-rising glory, awakening in me an unfamiliar sense of grandeur. I believe that the only emotion I had ever felt was despair. I knew not the joy of love, nor that life held any joy. “Cry” suggested to me that there were dimensions available to human feeling that could be beneficial. Around this time, Kay Starr released '‘Wheel of Fortune,” which had a similar effect on me.

I have little doubt but that Michael’s red-haired fiancée continued to make his life miserable long after I left the mill. She shouted at him and threatened him in public. He just smiled and made light of it. He was probably right to do so, for they rubbed along reasonably well, in spite of what seemed to be their mutual hostilities.


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