Interviewer: Mr. D. J. Wood (DW)
Interviewed: Mr Artie Payne (AP)
Date of Interview: 27th June 1984
DW. Where would you like to start?
AP. Speaking without book knowledge, I would say that Barwell's population at the time of my boyhood, was between two and three thousand, it could be more, it was mainly agricultural. A lot of Barwell's work people would walk to Hinckley (because of the lack of transport) to work in the hosiery factories. With the coming of the shoe trade to Barwell that meant Barwell had a small proportion of prosperity. It was not until the 1914-18 war that Barwell really became an industrial village, and work was found for the bulk of its people.
DW. What was Barwell like then?
AP. Barwell was entirely surrounded by playing fields and open country, there were not many houses beyond Kirkby Road, except the odd one which was on the way to Kirkby Mallory. In fact Shilton Road, which is its major road, hardly went beyond Hill Street, except for a mud house, and the Frisby Mansion. It really meant that the 1914-18 war brought about an increase in population.
DW. What about Barwell's industry?
AP. One of its leading industrialists, a Mr. George Ward (now deceased), was anxious to develop the boot and shoe industry. To find work for Barwell's inhabitants he was faced with a major problem, that of housing. Mr. Thomas Powers owned practically all land surrounding Barwell He had Barwell land locked and it was only his need of cash that made him yield to the overtures of Messrs. Ward, Harvey and Freer, that Barwell was released from its imprisoned land lock system. The local council was able to go into a major and mammoth system of council house building. One by one Barwell's open country and fields disappeared, until Barwell had reached roughly a population figure of seven to eight thousand.
DW. Let's talk about facilities in those days?
AP. An early impression is how one would see workpeople leaving the factory, the men in particular still wearing their dirty aprons. Barwell was limited in point of trading shops and facilities. There was a local horse brake which operated from Burbage to Earl Shilton owned by a Mr. Chesterman. It seemed years until we had a petrol operated transport system, which was the Green Bus services from Leicester. That was a journey of faith on many occasions, because the old man who took the money (the conductor) always had a supply of bricks in case, in negotiating Shilton Hill, a freely packed bus was too much for the petrol system and it was in danger of careering backwards. Such was life in those early days, with mechanised transport and cheap petrol, it meant that people enjoyed a freedom their parents never knew.
Barwell prospered mainly because of the 1914-18 war and an increased volume of trade. People by and large could purchase motorcycles (petrol driven) and later the motor car, which meant that Barwell people enjoyed a freedom of travel, exploration of the surrounding countryside, which they had not known before. By and large the ordinary push-bike disappeared.
DW. Any interesting features?
AP. Interesting features, Barwell boasted its village pump which was adjacent to what is known as the Blacksmith's Arms in Barwell The hub of activity was mainly the two clubs, the conservative and Liberal. The occasional public-house dotted here and there, in its main streets and side streets.
The Anglican church primarily, as a religious and social centre, the two Methodist churches, the Wesleyan Methodist in Chapel Street, the Primitive Methodist in Shilton Road. Home entertainment around the piano and the early gramophone, were in the main the only sources of amusement, religious instruction and human fellowship too strengthen the inner life.
DW. What about local personalities and characters?
AP. Personalities which I knew in those early days, the lives of men in particular which affected me. First and foremost by school master, a man named Hill, in advance of his times, he came from London with a science degree. He was the first headmaster of a newly built school in Townend Road. That was a school which embraced all ages, from the youngest to a leaving age of thirteen. From there those with means and scholastic potential would go to the Hinckley Grammar School, under the headship of Mr. Coxhead.
Mr. Hill abounded in personality and his enthusiasm for literature and music, in particular had a profound and lasting effect upon his pupils. So many of the later educational ideas and projects had their rise, in men of the quality of W. W. Hill, a born teacher. A man who played an increasing part, for good in local life. To live and function under such a man was inevitably bound to have a lasting effect upon those who had the privilege of being with him during the formative years of say ten to thirteen. He had a profound effect upon my life personally, things that he instilled into me, a love of music and the spoken word. How words arise and how words are responsible for shaping of thought all these had their rise in W.W. Hill.
Another interesting personality was a man named Edward Hall, a man who had a limited education, but he had a strong and most contagious Christian faith. Impressions of that man in Sunday School at the Wesleyan Methodist church in chapel Street abound. Rugged in appearance he was locally known as Barwell's "John the Baptist". His shaggy hair, bristling eyebrows and his bold eyes, which in act of prayer and in Christian testimony made the man a veritable giant amongst men.
Another major personality was the late Alderman George ward, in many ways Barwell's leading citizen. Thanks to him Barwell knew a prosperity it had never known hitherto it meant that he was a benefactor to the colliery villages. Through the releasing of land which was owned by the late Mr. Tom Powers, people in the colliery villages had the offer and the chance of another means of employment. George ward expanded until his company was one of the largest in the country. A man who was a living testimony to "Samuel Smiles gospel of self help." It was said of George Ward, that before entering public life, he read every word in the "English Dictionary" and read "Fowler's Modern English Usage", as a preparation to knowing his way about the world of words. George ward was a leading Methodist, he was a lay preacher, he was a Magistrate and a County Councillor. He bought a Spitfire and gave it to the nation, he generously endowed Hinckley Technical college and Nottingham University. His works abide and his influence abides in the hearts of many.
Another local personality was William Freer, who kept the shoe shop in Barwell Square. A rugged character, he originated from Hinckley It was said of him that he was so hostile to religion, that on a given occasion when an evangelist was speaking in Stapleton's Primitive Methodist church, William Freer came with the deliberate intention of upsetting the meeting and ruining everything the evangelist had attempted, but by the grace of God something happened and from that moment forth he became a changed man and a leading personality and a Primitive Methodist lay preacher. One other character that could be named is John Batty Elwell who, along with W. W. Hill, controlled the educational life of Barwell.
DW. Can you remember anything out of the ordinary happening?
AP. One of my earliest recollections is what was called the American exodus. America, thanks to the gold rush, was a magnet to so many people under the pressure of the times. I can recall people in various streets announcing their intention of going to America and Canada in particular, to make their fortunes there. The effect denuded local churches, non-conformist churches in particular were heavily denuded of worshippers, because of this emigration to Canada and the States.
DW. What about the first world war?
AP. The first world war 1914-18? I was at day school and it was a sad experience going home one day, for my mother to have to say to me, your father has taken the King's shilling. Naturally, it was a puzzle to me, what did she mean by the King's shilling. She said, "unfortunately your father was persuaded by a local sergeant to take the King's shilling, whatever induced him I don't know, but it is going to make things so difficult for me."
I had been given the chance by W.W. Hill to go to the grammar school and he was confident he could get me through the scholarship. when he asked my mother for her final opinion, I spoke for her, I said, "Mr. Hill as much as I would like extra education, it is impossible. I've got to be the breadwinner, my mother will merely have a soldier's allowance and you know that is a mere pittance, she has my brothers to think of too".
Barwell was denuded of its manpower, industry and local church life alike suffered. Many of the young men one knew went off to the war and one never saw them again. Barwell did pay a price for fighting German tyranny in those days of 1914-18& I happened to be at work one morning, I had just begun work (it was my first year), when the foreman announced that the war had finished. Spontaneously everybody downed tools and felt they had to process the streets and shout, "Kaiser Bill's beaten." Some of us, lured by the dance floor, walked all the way to Hinckley and had a grand romp in the old drill hall (now a D.I.Y. centre in New Buildings).
DW. Lets move on to the second world war.
AP. The second world war seemed different, the expectation was that it would be more of a trial of strength and a test of endurance. with scientific progress, Germany under the leadership of Hitler, had amassed a vast superiority in arms. One felt that the mother country would have to fight for its very existence. There again young men one worked with, one by one heard the call or were pressed into service.
Possibly our greatest fear in those days was enemy bombing. One morning going to work I heard a noise in the sky and saw a Heinkel bomber pass over Shilton Road. The next thing I heard was a thud, it had just missed Earl Shilton Parish church. Another recollection was, preparing the evening meal I heard another heavy thud. A land mine had been dropped across Stapleton Lane just outside the village.
I remember seeing men come home from leave, the leave seemed all too short and they had to say their good-byes.
The pressure of the times was manifest in the daily ration. wives had to do miracles of ingenuity to provide a meal and give us sufficient vitamins to endure our work-a-day life. One does pay a tribute to the mothers at home, who played their part even as the men did on the battlefield and in the skies. I can recall vividly the anxiety felt nationally and even locally, as we heard the news that the "Battle of Britain" was being fought. Many a prayer was offered for these men in the skies who were fighting for freedom.
Now the intensive bombing of Coventry, some of us mounted a skyscraper alongside Barwell's three storeyed factory in Shilton Road. We saw the fires of Coventry being stoked, until the sky seemed one mass of red flame. The enemy bombers came along the Stamford valley, being chased by fighters from Coventry and thereabouts. Returning they dropped flares in the High cross on the extreme edge of Barwell we all felt that Barwell was doomed, but thankfully Barwell survived thanks to the auxiliary services.
DW. A meteorite fell around here didn't it?
AP. The meteorite from the sky. A friend of mine, who lived adjacent to where the meteorite fell, happened to be in his garden. when he saw the thing falling from the heavens, he knew it fell quite near to him. It was the shock of his life. We understand that what did fall from the sky was so precious that they (the Museum) paid quite a substantial price for it. I entertained the fancy that I might find a bit of that meteorite, but unluckily it wasn't to be so.
DW. Can we look at the political scene?
AP. Local Parish and District council political rivalry was intense, Liberal or Tory you belonged to either camp. There was no halfway stage because socialism was merely on the horizon locally. There were no socialist candidates. On the night of the declaration it was almost impossible to find standing room outside the national schools. when the results of the parish and the district council elections were announced, hoots of joy greeted the victors and howls of derision greeted the defeated.
One parliamentary election memory is most apparent to me. The late George ward was the first Barwell man to stand for parliament and he was successful. I can recall, along with others racing to his house to greet his approach from Coalville. He came in his car and enthusiastic Liberals stopped the car and embraced it with heavy ropes. They pulled Mr. Ward from his home "Lyndhurst", in Shilton Road to Barwell's new Liberal club. There he was greeted in triumph. I can recall, in connection with that campaign, Mr. Winston Churchill speaking in the cinema, which is now where the headquarters of the Anglia Building Society in Hinckley is built. I can go further, I can recall the late Mr. Lloyd George speaking in Barwell's square. I went with hundreds of others to the old Hinckley United Football Ground, where I heard that magical orator and thought then, as I feel now, that I never heard a man with such a remarkable gift of oratory, as the welsh wizard.
DW. Tell me more about Mr. Thomas Powers?
AP. The late Mr. Thomas Powers lived at the manor; seemingly old buildings, especially manor houses, fascinated him. It was proverbial how he would return from a sale with an emblem or a piece of masonry or something belonging to an old hall, like Normanton Hall. so the manor house became embellished.
It was my privilege one day to go into the manor house and to admire the lovely oak panelling in his rooms. My own father was the one who installed the panelling. The panelling had been brought from country mansions up and down the country Upstairs in an alcove was something I prized, that was a copy, a first edition of, "Nichols History of Leicestershire" and I wished it was mine and not Mr Powers'. In his dining room was a piece of sculpture embodying Virgil's idea of the Laecoon, suggesting that man was helpless in the grip of fate There was depicted an elderly man embracing his two sons, as they were slowly crushed to death in the coils of a marathon sized serpent.
Thinking about the manor house, and the adjacent parish church and its rectory, now demolished, brings to mind the very early days of Barwell life. Before the 1914-18 war, Barwell had a generous benefactor in the person of Mr. Richard Titley. He was so concerned about the deprivation that existed in Barwell, that along with his wife he instigated a soup kitchen. Such was the respect held for that man and his wife, that upon entering day school every boy and girl would rise in salute and say "Sir". It was a spectacle to see women who belonged to the parish church in particular giving a graceful curtsy upon meeting the rector and his wife in Barwell's High Street.
DW. What was the Blood Hut?
AP. What is known or was known then as Barwell's Blood Hut! (a visiting drama group). Drama seemed to fascinate me. I would do many an errand for a few coppers to enjoy the thrills of seeing: The Murder at the Red Barn; The Dumb Man from Manchester; East Lynn and the Tragedy of a Mormon's wife we were enthralled and what we saw flowing, we never assumed it was anything other than blood. There was a murder guaranteed every night, we sat on the barest of boards, but that was no problem to us. we were enthralled, we were seeing the living theatre.
Thinking of drama, one of our biggest thrills was walking from Barwell to Earl Shilton where a Mr. Harry cooper had opened the first silent film shows. Most Saturdays we would walk eagerly from Barwell to Earl Shilton counting nothing of the journey to and from, we would see: Charlie Chaplin; Max Sennett, and the Key Stone cops. One day Mr. Cooper's son, whilst showing us "Martyer's of the Arena", asked us all not to panic as the projector and film had caught fire. At personal risk and injury he put the fire out. we had to go home because we felt we could not bear a re-showing of the "Martyer's of the Arena", after seeing a man fighting flames.
DW. And the first talkies?
AP. The same Mr. Cooper brought the first talkies film which depicted Al Jolson as a singing fool. Although an increase in price it was a must that we should see not only Al Jolson, but the Birth of a Nation; Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks enact our own dreams in the person of them. Not only on a silent screen, but now a talking screen.
DW. Is there anything else which comes to mind to finish off with?
AP. I can remember vividly a ministerial friend and neighbour of ours building crystal sets. He used to invite us in for hearing and it was mainly 2.L.0. from London. How wonderful it seemed to us that a man could speak from London and we could hear his voice. we heard a violin and the sounds of children's voices raised in song. That early crystal set occupied the table, it. was a primitive thing and we had to wear headphones. we were thrilled, we felt it was a major breakthrough.
Transcript by: Jean & David Wood.