Unexamined Lives

The story of the 20th century as lived by residents in the Derbyshire village of Borrowash


A Borrowash Dynasty – Paul Slater

Remembrance Day 2011 was a milestone for a custom that seems as embedded in the blood and bone of the nation as 1066. In fact, Remembrance observance is relatively recent; inaugurated in 1919 to commemorate those who gave their lives in the First World War.

Sadly, the 1914-18 war was not the war to end all wars, and during the course of the 20thcentury, ceremonies at the Cenotaph and memorial services in villages, towns and cities throughout the United Kingdom widened to encompass the Second World War; the Falklands War and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

What made 2011 unique and especially poignant, was that for the first time, there were no survivors to bear witness to the Great War. 

But there are still people for whom the death of a relative in the First World War is part of their personal story – such as Paul Slater who has talked to Unexamined Lives about the life and times of his Borrowash family.

Harry Phipps, Paul’s great uncle, was born in the village on May 15th 1873. He was the eldest child of Annie and her husband Enoch who worked as a Railway Goods Guard.

The arrival of Harry was followed by the birth of sisters Mary Ellen and Eliza in 1878 and 1880, and by 1881, the family was established at 28, Nelson Street, Derby, nearer to Enoch’s place of work.

The Phipps family was complete with the birth of Paul’s grandmother Emma at the Derby house on 13th May 1883, but joy was succeeded by grief when three year old Eliza died scarcely a month later.

She was buried in the old Borrowash Cemetery near the Methodist Church; the family returned to the village and moved to Yew Cottage on Victoria Avenue.

Harry emulated his father with a job at the railway, – but left his Fireman post to join the Royal Navy as a 2nd Class Stoker in 1900.

He was nearly seventeen, and Navy records chronicle a man of 5 feet 6 and three quarter inches tall with brown hair, blue eyes, a fresh complexion and an anchor tattooed on his left forearm.

Seafaring  suited him and from 1900 – 1908, he rose through the ranks; Stoker 1st Class; Leading Stoker 1st Class; Leading Stoker 2nd Class; Leading Stoker 1st Class and by 1908,Mechanician  on his fourth ship, HMS Victorious.

In 1911, he transferred to HMS Formidable.

HMS Formidable was a 15,250 tons pre-Dreadnought Battleship, launched in 1898 and first commissioned in 1901.

On New Year’s Day 1915 it was torpedoed whilst on exercises by German U-boat 24 and sank in 180 feet of water, about 37 miles off the Devon Coast.

It was the first British battleship to be sunk in World War One and 540 sailors perished – including Harry Phipps from Borrowash.

The Lyme Regis Philpot Museum provides a moving account of events after a torpedo attack at 2.30am on the starboard side demolished the engine room, followed an hour later by a fatal assault on the portside.

Huge waves thirty feet high lashed the stricken ship, with strong winds, rain and hail, sinking it in less than two hours.

Captain Loxley, his second in command, Commander Ballard, and the  signaller stayed at their posts throughout, sending flares and rockets off at regular intervals. There was no panic; the men waiting calmly for the lifeboats to be lowered. Someone played ragtime on the piano, others sang.

The Chaplain, Reverend G Brooke Robinson went down with the ship by risking his life going below to find cigarettes. Suddenly the ship gave a tremendous lurch, the Captain shouted ‘Lads, this is the last, all hands for themselves and may God bless you and guide you to safety’.

He then walked to the fore bridge, lit a cigarette and, with his terrier, Bruce on duty at his side, waited for the end, in true Royal Naval tradition.

The piano was thrown overboard; many of the boats were smashed as they were lowered into the water, killing all occupants, or else were swamped and sank...

The enormous swell was terrifying, but morale was kept up by any means, humour, singing, even bullying. Petty Officer Bing admitted punching men who wanted to give up. The survivors unanimously agreed they owed their lives to Leading Seaman Carroll, the  coxswain, who continued to cheer and inspire , not allowing them to sink into despair.

Harry Phipps did not survive.

He is commemorated on Panel 11 of the Chatham Naval Memorial; on a Memorial Plaque in All Saints Church, Ockbrook and on the gravestone of his parents Enoch and Annie in the adjacent cemetery.

We know nothing of his final hours, but Paul’s sister, Avril Simcox, keeps his work toolset; a personalised bronze plaque inscribed ‘He Died for Freedom and Honour’ and a framed letter of condolence from King George 5th:

I join with my grateful people in sending you this memorial of a brave life given for others in the Great War.

His memory lives afresh for later generations of his family.

For the immediate family in post-war Borrowash, the loss must have been devastating.

Infant mortality was common in the early 20th century, but always tragic, and Annie’s daughter Eliza had died aged three.

Now the eldest child, Harry was a war casualty – and Annie herself died five years later on 17thSeptember 1920.

Her eldest daughter, Mary Ellen had become Mrs John Smith Murfin on her 1902 marriage, so care of widower Enoch fell to the youngest child, Emma.

But unlike many women who faced life as a spinster because of the death of a parent, Emma did not have to shoulder the burden alone.

She had married Harry Dakin in 1907 and they lived with Enoch at the family home in Yew Cottage until his death in1929.

Paul Slater’s mother Annie was born on 16th March 1916. She was the youngest of Emma and Harry’s children, following Leslie and Ernest who were born in 1920 and 1912 respectively.

The family moved to 1, Kimberley Road and 13 year old Annie was glad to leave the damp and gloomy Yew Cottage which was later demolished.

Emma and Harry must have liked their new home; they remained in it until their deaths in 1964 and 1973. It is special to Paul who was born there in 1947:

Mum lived there during the war while Dad was away in the army.

We moved to Spondon in about 1950, but I did keep a close association with Borrowash through my grandparents because I come from a large family. I was the second eldest and mum was having children every two years and whenever mum was expecting another baby or when baby was born, I was packed off to Grandma’s on Kimberley Road.

Emma and Harry were ‘hands on’ grandparents.

Like Enoch, Harry worked on the railway and caught the Workman’s Special to Derby each day. His grandsons Paul and Peter met him off the train each evening.

It was a great excuse to mess around near the canal and lock, but Harry also took Peter fishing on the banks of the Derwent – although it had to stop because Peter couldn’t stay still long enough to catch the fish!

In 1951, Harry, or Pop Dakin, retired from the railway and became Borrowash Library’s first Caretaker.

Paul spent time with his grandfather:

I used to go with him down to the Library of an evening when he used to have to stoke the boiler and polish the grey lino floor.

It was a mixed blessing.

On the one hand:

As a small boy, the place seemed a bit scary. It was all right while Pop was about but if he went down the cellar to tend the boiler and I was left alone in the empty building, my imagination began to run riot. Was something nasty lurking behind the curtains off stage? Was someone behind the bookshelves, just waiting to pounce as I passed? All this, plus the fact that it was an old chapel with its own atmosphere really gave me the willies.

On the other hand, caretaking at a library meant exposure to books:

I could go down with granddad and while he was doing his cleaning and pottering about, I’d got all these books! I mean, that’s really what started me off with an interest in reading and history and all that sort of thing.

When he wasn’t stoking boilers, Pop Dakin enjoyed gardening and grew all his own vegetables. He had a greenhouse for tomatoes and cucumbers and tended damson and bramley apple trees – although the apple tree only bore fruit every other year.

Emma’s cooking was excellent:

The most fantastic meat and potato pies, steak pies and apple pies. Steamed suet puddings were her speciality

and wasted on Pop Dakin, who was virtually vegetarian, limiting meat intake to streaky bacon fried very crisp or occasionally, a little chicken breast.

His explanation for this singular diet was that he’d seen enough red meat in the First World War.

Paul and his siblings marvelled at the excellence of the army cookhouse, feeding them red meat every day

before realising that Pop wasn’t recovering from over-indulgence – but recoiling from involuntary mental associations between the Sunday roast and the sights of carnage he must have seen in the trenches.

In some respects, 1950s Kimberley Road belonged to an earlier era.

One without electricity:

People imagine that electric must have been available in the 1930s, but it certainly wasn’t in their house!

My grandparents didn’t have it until about 1954/55….. I remember distinctly because Pop Dakin, he had a Friday night ritual. He used to wind the clock on the wall; he used to very carefully take the gas mantle off the gas light in the ceiling in the centre of the room ( gas mantles were very expensive, you daren’t  damage a gas mantle); take the gas mantle out; take down the big white reflector, about twelve inch white enamel and polish it. Then he’d throw all that back together and get the tin bath out. Me and my brother would go in the tin bath first! Then we were packed off to bed of course, and then grandma and granddad would get in after! All very nice, in front of the fire and very cosy. But the electric didn’t come in until the mid fifties.

Operating a wireless was cumbersome:

Granddad had an aerial which went the length of the garden …. It stretched from the house right to the top of the garden which must be forty or fifty feet if not more. And the wireless was run on accumulators; glass batteries… there was a huge low tension battery, about a foot long; twelve inches by six inches by about four inches deep.

The accumulators required weekly charging and it was the children’s job

on a Friday night, to take two accumulators round to Don Highton on Elm Street and you would leave them with him and bring back two charged up ones – the ones you left the week before. It cost six pence to have each one charged up so we used to leave the shilling there and take them back home again and they were for the wireless.

Running a wireless was pricey, so Pop Dakin deployed censorship.

Miraculously, the battery always had enough power for The Archers and cricket, but if it was anything frivolous like the Goon show, he was very iffy about my brother and me listening to that sort of stuff, that sort of rubbish!

The eventual arrival of electricity was momentous:

The electric company would install one light in the living room and one socket by it, which was a two amp three pin socket with round plugs on it; a little tiny thing it was. Anything extra, you had to pay for, so my granddad, (he was a bit careful with his money), had one put into the kitchen and that was it! No other sockets in the house which was fine for him because that one socket ran his wireless!

It was only later that they had the electric in all the rooms; I don’t think there were ever any sockets upstairs…

Pop Dakin stayed as Library Caretaker until 1964. Paul still joined him at work, but now there was no time to read:

Unfortunately, with old age, his mind started to deteriorate and eventually it became my duty to take him to the Library and help him with his work. If left on his own, the poor soul couldn’t find his way home. He passed away peacefully in his sleep one night in 1964.

Emma Dakin was a tough-minded matriarch with a keen sense of responsibility.

She juggled child-rearing with caring for her widowed father, and kept an eye on nephews, Sid and Harry Murfin, after the death of their mother, Mary Ellen, in 1940.

They were bachelors all their lives and lived together at 35, Victoria Avenue until they died.

Both worked shifts at Fair’s factory and every day when they were on night shift, Gran used to plate up a dinner for each of them and toddle off down the Avenue to their house. She would leave the meals in the fireside oven to keep warm until they got up. She did it for years until old age forced her to stop.

Emma cooked a midday meal for Paul when he started school, and delivered him back toBorrowash Infants when he ran home at break time on his first day.

She was a staunch Methodist who lived by a code that daunted lesser mortals like Paul’s mother, Annie:

She was never known to take alcohol in her life. Her only tipple was an Iron Brew of an evening to ‘keep her strength up’. When Mum was young and courting Dad, they used to go into Derby and maybe have a few drinks. Mum used to say that she was ‘frightened to death’ in case Gran smelt drink on her as she knew there would be trouble!

Gran had never been into a public house until later years as her opinion was that there’s only one sort of woman went there!

She eventually softened in her views and went along to weddings etc on licensed premises but still never touched alcohol.

Paul’s grandmother belonged to the Women’s Institute and attended meetings in the old Chapel opposite the Library. For some reason, she told her grandchildren that she was going roller skating!

Strange thing was, we really believed her!

After the death of her husband, Emma soldiered on at 1 Kimberley Road, becoming increasingly reliant upon next door neighbour Annie at No 3.

Old age finally caught up with her and she had to sleep downstairs in the front room because she couldn’t get upstairs.

In her final years, she was profoundly deaf, so conversation was almost impossible as she could only hear if you shouted quite loudly. In the last years her eyesight began to fail and she was bedridden because of arthritis.

The fact that Emma remained at home until she died was due to the ministrations of her family – including Paul.

I spent her final hours with her because Mum was tired out looking after her and a large family (Paul was one of seven children).

I had never been with anyone who was dying before and it was a very moving experience, very emotional but not unpleasant. She died in the early hours aged 90.

While the Phipps clan epitomised traditional ‘Victorian values’, the Slater side of Paul’s family was much racier!

They hailed from West Hallam in 1730; subsequentlyStanton-by-Dale and Derby.

Paul’s grandfather, Henry, worked beside his own father at Stanton Ironworks as a Pattern Maker before transferring to Lee’s Foundry in Derby at the turn of the century.

By 1922, he was presiding at a Borrowash cycle shop on theNottingham and Gordon Road corner.

Henry’s marriage to Hannah, a former seamstress at Risley Hall, ended in the early 1920s (possibly because of his penchant for gambling) and she ‘took up’ with a Mr Meakin.

According to Paul:

They ran away to Belfast!

Henry stayed in the village for some years after the split and then, around 1933, moved to Codford nearSalisbury. The family story says that he was heading to Devon for a holiday; stopped at the Hillside Café, Codford on the way, met a Miss Pulford and never left! He died there in 1956 aged 81.

I never knew him but have visited his grave inSalisbury Cemetery.

Hannah and her children started afresh in Belfast with Mr Meakin.

Eric and Noel accepted the situation, but 9 year old Lyndon disliked his new father and took drastic action:

He stowed away on the Irish Ferry, hitched back to Borrowash and stayed for a while with my Aunty Doll who was already married to Les Blackshaw.

When Hannah moved to Liverpool, Lyndon tried living at home again but cannot have been happy because at 13, he signed up as a Cabin Boy and set sail from Liverpool with theWhite Star Line.

It was not as glamorous as it sounds:

Dad did many trips to America and the Caribbean but always used to say that it was a terrible life. The Cabin and Bell Boys were treated very poorly; rotten food and accommodation.

Dad queued all night to be one of the first through the Mersey Tunnel when it opened in 1934.

Eventually, Hannah and family returned to Borrowash; she moved into a cottage on Victoria Avenue and lived there until her death in 1961.

Her restless son Lyndon, found his own reason to put down roots in the village – Annie Dakin – whom he married in 1939.

They set up home with Annie’s parents, Emma and Harry. Paul’s brother Peter, the first of seven children, was born at 1, Kimberley Road in 1941.

Mid 20th century Borrowash had an eye to the future but a foot in the past.

House building in Kimberley Road solved one problem and created another:

I can remember the lorries coming; they didn’t have any fork-lift trucks or anything like that and they used to have to hand all the bricks off; throw them in twos and throw them down to this guy. We used to stand fascinated waiting for this guy at the bottom to get hit! Because, you see, that field and the brook at the end of it, they were our playground, that’s where we spent all of our time, rope swings, that sort of thing…

Extra traffic necessitated the construction of a bypass – with advantages and disadvantages:

I remember the bypass being built; well the bypass was laid out before the war and never touched – it must have been the mid 50s before they did anything with it.

When we were kids, we used to go and play down in the sewers there; they were about four or five feet deep and then of course when it was built it was only built up to half way between Borrowash and Risley.

It started at Spondon Island near Celanese and gradually expanded – there were no flyovers then at Cole Lane and you could walk straight across into Ockbrook. In fact you could when they built the bypass because they had an actual road junction atVictoria Avenue and one up by Cole Lane. But there were that many people getting killed in accidents there…

Owning any form of transport other than a bicycle was the exception rather than the rule for the residents of Kimberley Road:

Dad had a van; Mr Dewsbury at one of the council houses had a car; Geoff Borrington next door to us at number 5 had a motorbike and I think Mr Woodall opposite had a motorbike as well 

and silence was broken by the coal lorries:

Many people say it was quiet in Borrowash but it wasn’t; every now and again you’d get these huge coal lorries come thundering down Victoria Avenue ; and they did thunder because they were like huge Fodens, loaded with coal and they were going from the pit to the power station.

Paul’s birth in 1947 coincided with the dawn of the National Health Service but the effects of major national change took longer to register in Borrowash…

People say ‘Ah, the good old days,’ well, they weren’t really. I remember croup, scarlet fever, diphtheria and measles; everybody had measles and everybody had chicken pox. It was almost like a rite of passage.

Another character in Kimberley Road in the first council house on the left, Mrs Martin – some would call her the witch but she wasn’t really – not in that context.

She was the woman you always called in. If it was a birth, or somebody died and needed laying out, it was Mrs Martin you called in. Half a crown to lay people out you know and then you don’t think about it at the time – its just part of life. That went back to pre – war when if you wanted a doctor you had to pay. So you’d go down to Mrs Martin to see what she’d got  – anything for croup or whatever and she’d know. You went to Mrs Martin for your medications – a very nice old lady – well, she was probably only in her mid forties

Paul attended primary school in Borrowash and despite saying that I can’t remember much about school at all; gives plenty of detail about mid 20th century early years state education.

Borrowash Infants School was staffed by elderly ladies, with one exception. I don’t know if that was something to do with the war; they were the only teachers available….

Schoolwork was kept in A4 type boxes and the youngest children were rewarded by rides on asuperb rocking horse; I can’t ever remember riding on it actually…

However, he does have a very clear memory of Miss Johns:

I’m afraid to say that Miss Johns was a tyrant.

A lot of people have got a lot of affection for Miss Johns but we plebs never did because you sat in four rows in front of her going down the classroom; if you were in the left hand row, that was her top class row, and they were destined for the grammar school and they were her favourites – it’s a well known thing in Borrowash ‘the rest of you?’!!

Well the rest of us were just left to our own devices. And she had one or two interesting forms of punishment; she did literally wash our mouth out with soap if you were caught swearing or anything like that. Then for minor misdemeanours, you were called to the front of the class and you had a choice; she’d have the ruler in her hand. You could have six slaps on the palm of your hand or three slaps on the back of your hand with the edge of the ruler.

I failed my eleven plus and went to Spondon House…

At Spondon House, he got off on the wrong foot, courtesy of Miss Johns:

With them all being women teachers, we never played football or anything like that, so when I went to secondary school I was at a total disadvantage.

We used to play rounders – and egg and spoon races.

And in the school nativity plays I was always a shepherd, I was never very good for anything else!

It must have been a relief to leave school and start work with his father.

Lyndon Slater’s rule of thumb was ‘work hard; play hard’.

He established a small business in the 1950s, painting telephone kiosks and letter boxes

and travelled the length of the country in a motorbike and sidecar:

The sidecar body had been removed and Dad had built a long rectangular box for storing the paint etc. We nicknamed it the coffin.

The work was seasonal and in winter, Lyndon turned his hand to decorating and odd jobs such as delivery driver for a laundry,

Eventually, cash stretched to the purchase of a Bradford van with a novel heating system:

Vans did not have heaters as standard in those days, so on colder days, he used to leave a paraffin Primus stove burning in the back as he travelled around. No health and safety then!

Once over the threshold, household interiors were a revelation:

We worked on Ivy House once; I think Mrs Burgess owned it.  I remember about that house – it was a very old house of course, and as you opened the cellar door, all down the cellar wall there were Zulu shields and spears and all that. I didn’t think too much at the time, but of course, thinking about it now, I would imagine that possibly her father, or more likely, her grandfather, would have been in the Boer War.

Paul took pride in wallpapering and being part of Lyndon’s workforce:

Wall paper after the war was very hard to come by and when you could get it, it hadn’t been trimmed… somewhere in the depths I’ve still got the trimmer.

I can remember emulsion coming in – prior to that it was all mixing powder with water. We did Len Clarke’s garage out with limewash and it was all garden lime mixed with water. If you got some in your eye it was lethal stuff! They’ve banned the use of it nowadays…

When I went working for Dad, he wouldn’t let me work with him because he wanted me to learn how to run my own gang of men. He put me with Ellis Pidgeon. Ellis was a real friend to me. He looked after me when we were working away from home, saw that I ate properly and generally taught me the ropes.

He also taught me how to drive but I must have been a bad learner because he wouldn’t let me go any faster than 30mph and not under any circumstances engage top gear! He must have taught me well though, because I passed first time in 1965.

Unfortunately the business suffered a reversal in 1960 when Lyndon set fire to a farm barn, after using a blowtorch to strip paint from letter box in a farm wall!

The farmer claimed £5,000 for the price of straw and two tractors, leaving Lyndon out of pocket because he was only insured for £1, 2000. The business had only just recovered shortly before he died in 1966.

Mid 20th century Borrowash had a limited range of activities for ‘teenagers’ and the public toilets were a focus of attention:

There used to be toilets opposite what is now the Chinese take away, you can see them in old photos, next to the door that was Burrow’s fish shop. When they closed the fish shop on the main road, Burrows opened this fish shop there. It was next door to the public toilets and you got the teddy boys hanging around outside the public toilets you see. I always had to walk on the other side of the road. They were really just posing; they didn’t really scare me, and I never saw them being violent…

Joining forces with Lyndon was a safer bet; whether it was drinking at the old Forrester’s pub, where the landlady kept a pet fox at the bar, or visiting the Ex Servicemen’s Club on Ladysmith Road.

Dad did like a drink and was well known in the Ex Servicemen’s!

He was on the Club Committee and was also a keen darts player. In the early 1960s, he donated the Slater Darts Cup to be played for annually. I have tried, without success, to see if it is still in existence and is being played for locally.

Lyndon took turns as a quizmaster and impromptu vocalist:

He had a fine tenor voice and his signature tune was ‘Jimmy Brown’, also called ‘The Three Bells’.

I’ve seen old ladies weep when he sang that.

14 year old Paul joined Lyndon on a darts trip to Blackpool and saw a few sights – although not the illuminations:

The coach arrived at Ladysmith Street about 7am and was loaded with crate after crate of ale. You couldn’t move in the aisle for it! The drinking started as soon as we set off and continued all the way to Blackpool! On arrival, everybody stepped off the coach into a nearby pub and they stayed there all day, except for a short break for a fish and chip tea! Around 9 at night, they all got back on the coach and headed home having seen nothing of Blackpool except a short stretch of pavement between the coach and the pub! On the way home, the ale ran out and they had to stop at the Bulls Head, Hulland Ward, for supplies.

The Ex Servicemen’s Club was a Slater family institution because Paul’s grandfather Henry had been a prime mover in getting the original one built:

An L-shaped wooden structure, after the First World War. We spent most of our childhood there as entertainment. They had some superb Christmas parties for kids; a magic show and a projectionist, showing Laurel and Hardy films and a party for the old folks.

Lyndon was the prime mover behind the demolition of the old Club and the building of a new one. It opened in November 1966.

On December 14th, the Slater connection with the Borrowash Ex Servicemen’s Club came to a sad end.

In Paul’s words:

There were still some painting works to be done at the Club and Dad and I were there to finish it off.

I’d started courting and my girlfriend at the time worked in a shop and she got Wednesday afternoon off so we could go Christmas shopping.

I knocked off at lunchtime and took my girlfriend to Nottingham, leaving Dad sitting in the Club with his pie and pint.

When I returned, I saw that Aunt Doll’s car was outside our house and I immediately knew something was wrong. She only visited when there was a crisis in the family.

Apparently, Dad had had a heart attack in the Club, keeled over and died.

Paul was devastated to lose his father:

Even now after 45 years, I find it difficult to talk about that period of my life.

He would have liked to continue the business, but was too young to apply for the tender. His elder brother, Peter was climbing the ladder as an accountant and so GPO Painting Works died with Lyndon. For Paul this meant a career change. He started work at Rolls Royce; married Marilyn Shenton in 1969 and left the village, returning in 1984. He has since retired, but his later success as a brick restorer brought the added satisfaction of enabling him to utilise some of the skills learned from Lyndon.  

The Ex Servicemen’s Club was not so fortunate and its role in the village, nurtured by Henry Slater, did not survive the death of his son. If anything, it seemed cursed and the managers resorted to showcasing strippers in a desperate attempt to boost income. It closed its doors in the early 1970s and takes its place in the Borrowash of yesterday:

Gone – but still missed by Paul:

It was a real pity. During my childhood it was a place where ordinary folk could enjoy a drink and their wives and children were welcome.

You still hear all these rumours about the Club – ‘Ooh – it wasn’t the place to go – ooh they had all sorts of things going on there.’

But it wasn’t like that. It used to be the place for families. It wasn’t like that at all

Helen Clark would like to thank Paul Slater; Paul Hart and Anthony Heron for conducting the original interview and Alice Beilby for the transcription.

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