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Illingworth House: 19 - Great Changes

The Great War is bringing enormous social changes to the mill town where the Illingworths are based.

John Waddington-Feather continues his story of the fortunes and misfortunes of a Yorkshire mill-owning dynasty.

Wars change society and the Great War of 1914-18 changed Britain.

It transformed the lives of Joe and Mary. Wages soared and Joe was promoted at work as more of his fellow workers were drafted into the forces. He acquired a large allotment and hen-pen and spent a good deal of his time there after work growing vegetables and rearing hens. Food became short as German submarines took their toll on shipping bringing in supplies from the Empire and elsewhere. The vegetables he grew kept his own home and Mary's parents well supplied.

The Greenwoods' adopted daughter, Helen, was growing apace. She was sent not to the local Board School, but to a small prep school in Fieldhouses, where the Grimstones sent their son. Helen had no friends down Garlic Lane and grew apart from the dialect-speaking lasses living around her, who went into the mill as soon as they left school.

Towards the end of the war, Sam Greenwood was doing so well he was considering moving to Fieldhouses, to the better class high-shouldered newer houses there from his small terrace house. But he never made it. Both he and his wife died in the flu epidemic of 1918.

Jabez Grimstone also did very well out of the war. He wangled himself out of the forces on health grounds and got on various committees that landed him some very lucrative windfalls.

Take for example, the housing needed for the Belgian refugees who poured into the area. Many of them were skilled workers and found good jobs in the engineering works and mills, but they needed housing and Grimstone was there in a flash, offering his property at affordable rents, which he put up when the Belgians were in work and earning.

He increased his properties twofold during the war and became one of Keighworth's wealthy upper-crustians. For wealth before everything else mattered in Keighworth. He who had nowt, was nowt and never made it to uppercrustia - to the Masonic Lodge, the golf and tennis clubs and all the organisations that counted.

His son, Simon, was ten when war broke out, and like his father did his bit for the war effort. He collected rents and grew vegetables on the school playing fields, which they'd dug up, much to his relief for he hated sport. Unknown to the master-in-charge, he did even better. What he grew, he flogged on the quiet to a greengrocer tenant of his dad's.

So, by and large, his parents set him fair for life early on. He helped his mother in the pawnshop, where he acquired his ready eye for making money, and as he grew older he also acquired a ready eye for girls.

In 1915, Rachel Illingworth and her girl friend signed up as auxiliary nurses in a London hospital. Victoria Braithwaite followed suit but continued living the high life down there, Rachel with her girlie set and Victoria with the army officers stationed in London who hit the town at the weekends.

Victoria took up with a dapper little major who remained as training officer throughout the war and never saw action. Back home, in their mother's absence, Mary Calow looked after their children as best she could while supervising the staff in the office in Bradford.

But when it became common knowledge that that her husband had been having a long-standing affair with Mary Calow, Rachel became deeply jealous; even more antagonistic when she began looking after her son.

On the rare occasions she returned to Keighworth, she avoided Mary, but when she had the chance to put the knife in, she did - deep.

One such opportunity came when she heard from the same Mrs Sharp who'd told her about Abe, that Mary was taking young John to watch rugby league matches, where the workers bawled obscenities and got drunk. Certainly not the place for a young upper crustian to be seen.

Rachel complained bitterly to Sir Luke, who promised he'd look into it, but the old man was embarrassed. Mary was the lynch pin at work. When he'd been ill and laid up at home, she'd been very efficient and had come daily and told him how things were. Denton also spoke highly of her when she attended board meetings with him as secretary. In short, she'd become Sir Luke's right hand man and without her he'd have been lost.

But he took his daughter-in-law's point. Abe certainly wouldn't have allowed his son to go to rugby league games, especially when Joe Gibson was still playing, and he himself didn't approve of his grandson standing next to his workers bawling and shouting their heads off, swearing away at the opposing team and getting drunk and brawling after the match in town.

When John poured it all out that he'd actually met Joe Gibson and clearly hero-worshipped him, the old man was shocked but said tactfully, "I don't think your father would approve, John, nor do I. You see, he and that Gibson fellow don't get on. You mustn't go to rugby league games again. I'll mention it to Miss Calow in the morning. Understand?"

Of course, young John didn't understand, not till much later, and he was mortified that he wouldn't be allowed to see those rugby games he enjoyed so much with Mary Calow again.

From that time on, his grandfather took him each Saturday to see the amateur rugby team, a much more gentlemanly team, which played the other side of town. That was the code he played when he was packed off to boarding school, but he never forgot the thrill of watching Joe and the others playing the professional game and the warm friendly liveliness of the crowd. And he never forgave his mother when he found out it was she who'd stopped him going.

The next time he met Joe was years later and under very different circumstances. It was about that time the Gibsons were told that they couldn't have children. They'd been trying for some years, but their doctor discovered Joe had had mumps as a teenager and was infertile.

More than ever Helen became their own child. She lived with them permanently after Ethel Greenwood fell ill and couldn't cope. Despite the war they all lived the good life. Joe and Mary were in well-paid jobs and Joe spent his spare time singing in the church choir, playing rugby or at his hen-pen. After work, he'd carry little Helen there on his shoulders where she had her own garden patch and played with her dolls in his hut, an old railway carriage.

His allotment was one of several down the river path at the end of Garlic Lane. Next to him, one of his pals flew pigeons and another kept dog kennels. There was always something going on which kept little Helen happy. After feeding their livestock or digging their gardens, they'd gather in Joe's hut and yarn and smoke their pipes till it was time for them to go home. More than once he carried Helen home fast asleep, long past her bedtime, and had his ear bent by Mary.

The war could have been a millions miles away and life passed smoothly, but things changed when the casualties began rolling in and a military hospital was opened at Moorton, a village on the outskirts of Keighworth. Ambulances went back and forth loading the injured at Keighworth Railway Station for all to see. The dead were buried in a nearby cemetery, newly opened to receive them, and rapidly filling.

It had a very sobering effect on the town and gradually neighbours turned against Joe, when their own kin were called to the front and were wounded or killed. Why wasn't he in the army with the rest? Many who were older than Joe had volunteered. Why hadn't he? Why wasn't he doing his bit? He was fit and well.

The crunch came when he began receiving white feathers anonymously and heard mutterings in the street as folk turned away and crossed the road. He took it in his stride at first, but as time went on, it got him down.


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