James Walker my mother’s Grandad Jim was born in 1877 in Barnsley, West Yorkshire, his parents were Elizabeth Gillett a Yorkshire lass and the rather grandly named George James Archer Walker who was born in Welney, Cambridgeshire. Grandad Jim had said that his ancestors were farmers in Huntingdonshire and research has proved him right, it seems that his father came to Yorkshire to work on the railway.
Although Jim was born in Barnsley his sister Elizabeth, born a year later, was born back in Welney, maybe on a holiday or perhaps a failed attempt to return to Cambridgeshire, whatever the reason, Jim’s other siblings brothers Alfred and Herbert and sisters, Emily, Harriet and Edith were all born in Yorkshire.
The first job that he had that we have a record of is listed on the 1891 census as a Down Quilt Weaver, I don’t think he ever mentioned this in later years, he lived and breathed (not too much we hope) gas.
By the 1901 census Jim is newly married, living in Featherstone, Yorkshire and working as a gas stoker. I think he was moved to Featherstone by the gas board.
However, he was promoted and moved again with Jane and baby daughter Hannah to Clowne, Derbyshire where he spent the rest of his days.
The 1911 census finds them at 7 Station Road, Clowne with the addition of James born 1904 to the family. Jim’s occupation is Colliery Gas Manager.
I am now going to hand over the blog to my mother who has written down her memories of her Grandfather, her words in blue, I have added notes in red.
My memories and some history of my grandfather. He was a father to me from my being five years old which makes him rather special in my eyes.
Most of his life was spent in Clowne (Derbyshire) but still maintained that ‘aura’ of a Yorkshire lad – which indeed he was!
Working in the gas trade, he took a promotion to work and move to Clowne. Gas was being fitted nationally and expanding. Jim worked placing pipes all over the village. He also was a “jack of all gas trades” in this small outfit – stoker, fitter, collector etc. He had been given a house with the job. It was very near the mine and the gas works. His wife Jane hated it at first and longed for Yorkshire. They had a daughter Hannah and later two sons.
This house was 7 Station Road as mentioned above. The sons were James and Lesley, James died of flu in 1912, Lesley was born the day after James’ death.
His wife Jane discovered that a detached four bedroom house belonging to the gas company was vacant and badgered Jim to ask for it. He was succesful. “71” became a very happy home until the end of the 1940s.
Jim became known locally as “owd Jim” as the years progressed and was very popular.
I remember him working on Sundays for extra money – this was stoking – in other words making gas. My sister and I often took him a pint of beer to refresh him.
I would be six or seven years old and was fascinated to see the red hot coals being dragged from the very long retorts on to the ground with a special long pole, they were immediately drenched in cold water and the result was ‘coke’ which was used in industry and some heating processes. My Grandad was the one using the long rakes or poles in this furnace.
The other work I remember him doing and I watched some times was when the coal for the furnaces came in wagons, from the station nearby. There was a small private link railway line from there to the works. There had to be people to move the lines on to the private track, Jim was one of them. (This was in the years after the mine was closed; originally the mine itself would be providing coal to make the gas.)
Mum also told me that she on several occasions would be walking along the street and would see her Grandad’s head pop out from a hole in the road where he was fixing a pipe.
He was a member of the Constitution Club to which he dressed in his suit and tie to look smart, perhaps once or twice a week. He did not go to the local pubs at all. His friends there were his manager from work – Arthur Seston (Jeanne Smith’s Dad) and Dr Knowles. This was where he took his brothers-in-law when they visited – they were Caleb Butterfield (Geoff Green’s Grandad) and Fred Spivey (Joyce’s Grandad) from Pontefract and Heckmondwike, Yorkshire. They came back slightly tipsy and very amusing. Caleb was a wit and a comic, Fred a little slow getting the jokes (more hilarity!)
Grandad gave my mother the complete run of the house both financially and housekeeper, after my Grandma died.
He actually used to give her his wages and just keep a bit of spending money for himself.
He suggested one day that she sent me for Elocution lessons, what his idea was – we did not know – but I went and it – drama – became a big slice of my life, (Molly Francis, teacher of Speech and Drama).
Mum had had Speech and Drama lessons in Clowne but when war started her teacher joined the forces and the classes finished. “owd Jim” kept reading out the advert in the local paper, “Molly Francis, teacher of Speech and Drama” until eventually Hannah said “do you want our Mollie to go for lessons? He said “yes” and that was that.
I had a few boyfriends who were allowed to visit. If however they touched my hand at all a cough was heard from “owd Jim”.
As a very young girl he’d give me some pennies and always told me to get “acid drops” a tease because he knew I hated them!
It was actually “get me a ha’porth of acid drops”. He also used to ask Mum how July Palmer was, he knew perfectly well that her name was June.
When Spring showed its head he often told my mother that “Stella has got her anniversary dress” – a hint that she should get hers and mine. (Stella was a glamorous, smart lady at our church!) He always hinted, never was dogmatic.
This was for the church and Sunday School anniversary when everyone had new outfits specially for the occasion.
He worked until 68 or 69 and had a few years retirement. He did see me in a play in rep in Wellington – so glad he did.
After he had retired, occasionally gasworks employees would knock on the door to ask about the location of gas pipes in Clowne. Jim had a map of them in his head.
A true and gentle – man.
And a final added note…
He only put his teeth in when he wore his jacket and tie!
And a couple of other things, Jim could tinker out a tune on the piano by ear, (his sister Harriet could play well).
He would not be drawn into discussions on politics, he said “all I will say is we all have to Labour”. When Mum asked him what Conservative meant he said “leave it alone”. Is that what Laissez Faire means? He was pretty shrewd I think.