World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                        Jack Goodison 

THE FORGOTTEN FIRE-CLAY MINERS OF THE LOXLEY VALLEY,

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: JACK GOODISON
Location of story: Sheffield
Background to story: Civilian

 

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Anne Payne of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Mr. Jack Goodison.

I spent most of my working life of nearly 50 years in the clay mines of the Loxley Valley, and that’s where I was during the war. In those days, there were three firms in the Loxley Valley and between them they supplied 95% of all the hollow refractories made in the steel works all over Great Britain. They were Dysons, Thomas Marshall’s and Thomas Wragg and Sons. I worked for Thomas Wragg as man and boy, starting as a house-boy at the owner’s house for 3 ½ very happy years before going down the pit. I worked in all 7 or 8 pits of Wraggs (including Ughill) at one time or other, in the Stannington Pot Clay Seam, which was the only clay that burns white and which mainly had 35% alumina in it. (It stands a higher temperature than red brick clay.) There were between 200 and 300 miners for clay. (The clay looked like stone and had to be ground up and mixed with water later to make clay, and the uphill pouring system enabled the impurities to be taken off more easily, by removing the turbulence when pouring.)

When war was declared, I went and signed up like everyone else. I’d wanted to go in the Navy, but as mining was a reserved occupation, I was told I was going back down the pit! Mining was a very wet job, despite 3 pumps working constantly, and every so often there were floods, which were difficult to bring under control. By the end of the war, I had 30 men under me, and I wouldn’t ask any man to do a job that I couldn’t do myself. I was buried three times, so I was always very careful about safety procedures, and went round the men every afternoon without fail to make sure they were OK. Our industry was vital to the war effort, and if the Germans had bombed the Loxley Valley successfully, the war would have been over very quickly.

Throughout the war, I lived in the Loxley Valley, and there was a gun site on Wood Lane, Stannington. Several planes were shot down by that gun site during the Sheffield Blitz. The nearest came down at Rod Moor, but it only killed a sheep! Whenever a plane was hit, the pilot used to jettison the bombs before it went down. One went into the corner of Damflask Reservoir, one landed in a farm-yard and one landed on Red Moor. I was in the Home Guard and the Unit was about 100 strong and based at Marshall’s and Underbank.

Despite everything, the war made little difference to us. I lived at home in a bungalow with my parents and we kept pigs, hens and rabbits. Often, Government “snoopers” came round, wanting to know if we had any eggs for sale. They appeared to be asking an innocent question, but we all knew who they were. One day, my Dad gave him 3 or 4 tomatoes, when he said he was desparate, knowing that he couldn’t be “done” for giving some food rather than selling it! Unbeknown to him, I had an egg round in Hillsborough and sold rabbits to a butcher for one shilling and fourpence halfpenny per lb (pound - 0.454Kg). They were domestic rabbits, a breed called blue rex, and they were beautiful. We still had rabbit shows during the war, and in 1942 we started the Stannington Village Garden Produce Association, and this year, I’m their President. Yes, I’ve judged all over Sheffield at shows, for vegetables and rabbits. I’ve always felt that country people are more adaptable and sociable, and they just carried on their way of life.

After the war, life was a struggle for many, and there were plenty of losses for folk, with sons and fathers not coming home. People hadn’t the money to raise their families, and for many it was the time of the “baby boom”, which also placed a strain on the finances. Then in 1948, I got onto Bradfield Parish Council. I’d started to get interested in politics as a TU official, collecting the members’ dues each week and representing them. After being on the parish council, I went on to Wortley District Council and later was elected to South Yorkshire County Council. I had a reputation for plain speaking, and in debates, for having a skin like an elephant! I always believed in doing a job right, and that was serving the voters.

Pr-BR