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Illingworth House: 7 - A Fiery Temper

...Joe's temper flared at work when he had run-ins with his boss, Sam Hirst, the iron-master who owned the foundry. Joe was shop steward and Sam Hirst would have got rid of him, but he was a good worker and his being a star rugby player brought some sort of kudos to the firm...

Joe Gibson is a union shop steward, willing to stand up to a bullying boss.

John Waddington-Feather continues his novel which revolves around a mill-owning family, portraying with vivid realism the characters and the conditions which prevailed in a Yorkshire industrial town last century.

Mary Greenwood lived in the next street to Joe Gibson and his widowed mother. Like the Gibsons, her house was rented from Jabez Grimstone, who owned many of the houses down Garlic Lane. Mary, like most of the womenfolk, was a weaver at the Keighworth Weaving Company across the road.

She was courting Joe Gibson whom she'd met at Trinity Church up the lane, where they both sang in the choir. She'd gone with the choir on an outing to Blackpool and there they'd 'clicked'. Their love blossomed, despite opposition from her father, Sam Greenwood, who thought Joe beneath her.

They'd hoped she'd fall for young Alfred Murgatroyd, a bank clerk who lived in the posh part of the parish over the railway in Fieldhouses and was setting his cap at Mary. He also attended Trinity Church and sang in the choir. But she fell in love with Joe and in time wed him.

Joe and his father-in-law never got on. Joe was an active trade unionist and shop steward. Sam Greenwood said he mouthed too much new-fangled socialism, and that stuck in Greenwood's craw, for he was a true blue Conservative, aspiring to a higher class, hoping against hope their daughter would marry the bank clerk who fancied her. But she didn't. She married a socialist, and a drinking socialist at that.

To the end of his life Sam Greenwood held that against Joe. The Greenwoods were strictly teetotal. They'd been Baptists before they switched to the Anglican fold to heave themselves into the middle-crustian ranks.

Thought normally to be quiet, Joe had a fiery temper when roused. More than once he'd been mixed up in pub brawls on a Saturday night, when some tipsy clever dick had taunted him and challenged him to fight.

They were always brawling in Keighworth, which still had something of the frontier town about it. It was the last town of any size up the Aire Valley and many Irish had settled there when they'd finished digging the canal and laying down the railway in the previous century. They were always brawling, but the police turned a blind eye as long as they kept themselves to themselves and their own part of town.

Joe's temper flared at work when he had run-ins with his boss, Sam Hirst, the iron-master who owned the foundry. Joe was shop steward and Sam Hirst would have got rid of him, but he was a good worker and his being a star rugby player brought some sort of kudos to the firm.

Nevertheless, he was a constant thorn in Hirst's side. Like the time when one of the workers was badly burned in a metal spillage. The iron-master claimed it was his own fault, but it was outdated equipment which caused the accident and Joe confronted his boss head-on about it.

"You know you're breaking time coming here, Gibson," growled Hirst, pulling out his fob watch when Joe demanded to see him. "Is it summat personal or is it your damned union business you want to see me about?"

"It's about what happened to Jack Barritt," began Joe.

"Nah don't come botherin' me about him. It were his own fault," cut in the iron-master, lapsing into dialect.

"Beggin' thi' pardon, sir," Joe went on doggedly. "It were because t'leadin' chain broke on t'overhead. It should ha' been replaced months ago."

"Mi manager says it were Barritt's fault, an' I take his word afore anybody else's," growled Hirst, sticking his thumbs in his waistcoat pockets.

"T'manager were nowhere near when t'accident happened," Joe continued. "He were at t'other end o't'foundry."

Hirst lost his rag and yelled, "Ah'm not havin' thee comin' wastin' my time ower summat 'at's nowt to do w' you! For two pins Ah'd send thee packin', Gibson!"

"Try it, Mr Hirst. Just try it an' Ah'll have all t'foundry out on strike. We have rights, tha knaws, an' tha has responsibilities!"

Joe knew Hirst badly wanted to complete his orders and expected him to be sympathetic. Hirst had even offered to pay overtime to get jobs done. But the iron-master wouldn't move and at lunchtime Joe called a meeting of the union committee.

The outcome was a strike that lasted a week before Hirst caved in. There were plenty of other foundries in Keighworth ready to take on his work, for there was a war looming and the War Office was gearing up for it.

Hirst's foundry specialised in ships' propellers and gun parts and was at full stretch with a full order book. When the strike threatened to spread, the other iron-masters leaned on Hirst and he gave in. But he never forgave Joe, and when leaner times came Joe was the first to go.


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