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Illingworth House: 41 – Confusion In The Cinema

The depression hits Keighworth, workers begin to lose their jobs and there are ugly incidents.

John Waddington-Feather continues his story of a Yorkshire mill owning dynasty.

As Keighworth entered the 1930s, tension began to mount in the town. The depression had set in and more and more workers were laid off as businesses collapsed.

Joe Gibson, branch secretary of his union, found himself at the heart of more and more ugly incidents with the employers. Wages were cut and men sacked at the drop of a hat. Neither side would give, and in the end all the foundries came out on strike. There was a riot and though Joe did his best to calm the men, it was to no avail. He was accused by the men of siding with the bosses, while employers accused him of inciting the men to strike and riot.

"He's always been a trouble-maker!" declared Sir Abe at a meeting of the Keighworth Employers' Federation. "If he comes up before me on the bench, I swear I'll send him down. Make no mistake!"

But Joe didn't go before the bench and steered well clear of the hotheads who went on the rampage.

Property belonging to the Illingworths, including a brand new cinema they had invested in, was damaged. Shop windows were kicked in and a mob stormed up Black Lane baying for Sir Abe's blood. For weeks he hadn't been able to walk out alone in Keighworth.

He had to have a police bodyguard escort him wherever he went. A posse of mounted police kept guard over his home by day and policemen ringed his house by night after a mob had tried to scale the walls. After that, foot patrols took over inside the grounds and guard dogs were let loose.

By the time the riot had calmed down much property had been damaged and the ringleaders sent to prison. Scores of others were fined.

As the recession bit, Joe organised collections for the unemployed and set up soup kitchens at various points in the town. He also encouraged unemployed men to take up an allotment and grow their own food. Many built pigsties and began rearing poultry like Joe. Others began making pinewood furniture and selling it on the market.

His involvement with the unions nipped Helen Greenwood's first romance in the bud. She had taken up with a bank clerk who went to Trinity Church. He was regarded by the congregation there as a good catch, and several girls had been angling after him.

Ronald Louthwaite was a willowy young man, full of himself, and he fancied Helen. Who wouldn't? She was a stunner. At the same time he considered himself above her socially and thought he was doing her a favour walking her home after church.

He lived in the same area as the Grimstones, in Fieldhouses, over the railway bridge which separated Garlic Lane from the middle-crustians. Louthwaite’s dad was chief cashier at the Yorkshire Penny Bank, a highly respected man who was churchwarden at Trinity. In general, he was regarded at church as a man of substance and status.

Mary thought her sister had made a good catch and was thrilled when she asked young Louthwaite home for tea one day. The best tablecloth and china were laid out. Mary wore her best frock and Joe wore his Sunday suit.

But Louthwaite wasn't the only one to fancy Helen. The garage lads where she worked had all taken a shine to her, but being a secretary she was a cut above them. She was bookish and well read, and that put her into a different bracket, too. Some folks down Garlic Lane accused her of being a snob, but she wasn't. Just very shy.

In one way, she envied the mill-lasses who were her neighbours. They'd no inhibitions about courting. They were never awkward once they had given the glad eye to a lad they fancied and pulled him, whereas Helen had no idea how to handle a lad. For weeks one summer, young Louthwaite walked her home and took tea with Joe and Mary without so much as holding her hand or giving her a kiss goodbye.

It was his clumsy efforts at making up for lost time that finished their relationship. He had taken her to the newly opened plush cinema in which the Illingworths had a stake. It was a glitzy place with a brand new Wurlitzer organ and a foyer straight out of Hollywood. You couldn't have imagined a bigger difference between being inside in the Ritz and outside in grimy Keighworth. Once you had entered its foyer you were in the fantasy world of Hollywood, all glitz and chrome.

Louthwaite had invested in the most expensive seats on the back row where courting couples snogged away like mad once the lights went out.

Helen panicked. Either side of her the couples were going at it like mad. She had never been caught up in anything like this before, and when young Louthwaite started playing footsy she froze and edged away. She just couldn't handle it. Young Louthwaite thought he had better warm things up, so he put one hand round her shoulders, the other on her knee and pecked at her face.

That finished it. She brushed his hand away, got up and struggled along the row, covered with confusion and as she brushed past the couples sitting there. He followed, puzzled and angry.

"What do you think you were playing at in there, Ronald?" she demanded when they were outside.

He smiled weakly. "Just having a bit of fun," he said. "That's what going to the flicks is all about, didn't you know?"

"It's not my idea of fun," she retorted.

He scowled, then said angrily, "Then it's the last time you go out with me, Helen Greenwood, with anyone like me."

"And what do you mean by that?" she said.

"Your family. Your uncle. Pretty low isn't he? Shop steward at work and all that, Socialist. You won't get another chance with someone like me," he smirked.

He had gone too far. She said not another word but slapped his face and stalked off home. It did for the Louthwaites going to Holy Trinity as well. They decamped to the more fashionable Parish Church in town.

It was some time before Helen went out with a boy again, but when she did it was in a big way.


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