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Illingworth House: 34 - Keighworth Returns To Normal

The World War is fading into memory, but greed and class conflict still thrive in Keighworth.

John Waddington-Feather continues his novel of life in a Yorkshire mill town.

By the mid-twenties any sign of the Great War had disappeared in Keighworth - except the new War Memorial, an impressive affair, erected in the Town Hall Square with much ceremony and with the names of the dead on it. Column after column was inscribed there - and added to twenty years later when war broke out yet again.

But the obvious signs of wartime - the prisoner-of-war camp at Skiproyd, the military hospital at Moortown, men and women in uniform and the munitions factories about the town - quickly disappeared.

Those businesses that didn't switch to peacetime trade quick enough simply folded up, and in 1919 Keighworth took up where it had left off five years before. Industrial unrest broke out, and Joe, a militant trades unionist, was soon up to his neck in it.

The war had done more than earn him the Victoria Cross, it had opened his eyes to the way Britain was run, to an unjust and sometimes cruel society. Before the war he had seen how greedy employers had treated men and women as just so many units of work. The war had shown him more: how arrogant generals saw men as just so much gun fodder and sent thousands to their deaths. Both employers and generals lacked understanding and compassion, some of them basic intelligence.

He had seen many grow rich on the spoils of war. The Sam Greenwoods and the Jabez Grimstones. Grimstone was as greedy as ever. He raised rents when wages were good, but when the downturn came and mills and factories began to close, many of his tenants couldn't pay their rents and were evicted onto the street.

Joe and Mary were lucky. She inherited her father's house and Joe had a bit of money when his mother died and was able to buy their house from Grimstone.

Things came to a head with Grimstone one Friday night down the street where they lived. Old Grimstone was doing his usual round of rent collecting with his son, Simon, now fifteen and following in his father's footsteps. He was already shrewd and tight-fisted, hungering after wealth.

But, insensitive as ever, Grimstone made the mistake of doing his round while there was still an evicted family stranded in the street with their belongings. They stood a forlorn, helpless group, as neighbours tried to help them with their furniture, storing it for them till they could find another home or their move to the workhouse - which hung like a spectre over them all.

If he had had any sense, Grimstone would have left his rent collecting till another night, but he walked blindly down the street and only when he got nearer realised he had made a gaff. He turned to go back, but his way was blocked by five men.

"Eh, Grimstone, we want a word wi' thee!" shouted one. "Now we've getten thee face to face, pr'aps tha'll listen."

They surrounded Grimstone, jostling him and knocking off his bowler hat. His son began whimpering and was told to push off. He fled, running to a policeman who lived a few streets away while the men manhandled his dad. Someone punched Jabez in the face and he fell bleeding badly from the mouth. They had begun to put the boot in by the time Joe came to his door to see what all the fuss was about.

"Yer daft buggers!" he yelled, scattering the crowd as he waded in. "Tha'rt bahn to kill 'im t'way tha's goin on!"

The crowd stood back and he pulled Grimstone to his feet and helped him into his own house. Once he had gone, the crowd dispersed and went on taking the furniture indoors. By the time the policeman arrived, there wasn't one person in sight.

Police Sergeant Urwin knocked on Joe's door with Grimstone's snivelling son in tow. When they entered, the copper pulled out his notebook, but Joe told him to put it away. Mary had brought a bowl of water and a cloth and when Grimstone had cleaned himself up he didn't look too bad, though his bowler had taken a bashing. He clutched his Gladstone bag tightly containing his rents. They were his main concern.

Nothing had been taken and when Sgt. Urwin asked if he wanted to press charges, Grimston looked across at Joe. "It'll nobbut make matters worse if tha does, Mr Grimstone," Joe cautioned. "There's some of'em so hot-headed they'd take things further if tha charges 'em. Sling bricks through thy windows an' like. Look what they did to Earnshaw's pawn shop when he crossed em."

Grimstone paled and heeded Joe. It went against the grain, but he said let matters be. He wanted no more trouble.

Before he left, Grimstone wanted to give Joe something, but Joe would have none of it. "If tha wants my advice, Mr Grimstone," said Joe as they parted at the door, "tha'll keep well clear of Garlic Lane an' let somebody else collect thy rents while tempers are running high." Then he added, "An before tha throws folk out of their homes, tha'll do as well to make sure they've somewhere else to go first - even if it means letting em off their rents a week or two."

Grimstone grunted and slunk off escorted by Sergeant Urwin. Yet he heeded Joe and paid a professional collector to gather his rents after that. But the incident left a lasting impression on his son. Ever after he hated the 'lower classes' and when he became a lawyer took it out on them whenever he could.


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