The Community Spirit – Gill Hawksworth
Living in a village is a moveable feast. For some, raising a family away from the sound and fury of the city is only sustainable if the front door is kept firmly closed to all but invited guests.
Others find much to admire in the camaraderie to be encountered in the vibrant communities of fictional villages such as Raveloe, Lark Rise and Cranford.
Gill and John Hawksworth, who have spent 47 years of married life in Borrowash, belong firmly to the latter camp. Their account of festivals, football, work and floods shows an involvement in, and relish for, communal living that would have been recognised by George Eliot, Flora Thompson and Mrs Gaskell.
Gill’s family hailed from Farm Street in Derby and she met her future husband at a football match:
John used to live in Chaddesden and I went to watch this other chap playing football at Christ Church Hall. They used it for practising and this other chap lived just across the road and said to me and my friend one day, ‘Do you want to come and watch us?’ So we went and that was where I met John. That was fifty years ago now and we’ve been married forty seven.
After leaving Abbey Road School, Gill’s working life began at Renders cloth and material store inDerby, but the pay was bad:
I was only on two pound fourteen when I started. It was horrendous! And she was glad to move to Woolworths where she trebled her income with a weekly salary of £3.
John worked at the Borrowash Baines-Everett flock mill and the newlyweds first home was a council house in Chaddesden. Sometimes Gill caught the bus to meet her husband from the factory:
The bridge on Nottingham Road used to be bumpy and I used to know once we’d passed the bumpy bit, to get ready to get off.
But after a while, it made sense and saved bus fare – to move.
2, Manor Road, Borrowash seemed a good choice:
We bought it off someone called Smith, who went down to Thulston, but before that, an old lady, Mrs Phipps used to live there; it was built for her. She was the Aunty of Cliffords Builders and they built that one and the one next door so those first two are bigger than the rest of the street. They don’t look it but they are.
Young couples setting up home together in the 21st century are finding it hard to get a foot on the property ladder, but financial lending policies at the start of the Swinging Sixties were also restrictive.
No 2, Manor Road was advertised for sale at £1750:
You pay that for a three piece suite now, don’t you?
But getting a mortgage was easier said than done.
The Derbyshire wouldn’t lend us money on the Manor Road one because they said it was too old, so we had to go to the Woolwich.
John’s monthly wage was £11 per month and: at that time they wouldn’t lend you any more than you actually earned.
Four years later, the house realised a small profit on its sale at £2,100 and the Hawksworths felt sufficiently emboldened to venture a price leap when 79, Kimberley Road came onto the market.
Gill’s father had a few sleepless nights at the financial implications of buying a house costing £3,800:
Dad was worried to death that we’d taken on £26 a month in mortgage
But Gill and John were sure-footed about property; selling the Kimberley Road house after 14 years at £19,000 and moving to a £28,000 four bedroomed home at 5, Windsor Road where they stayed for the next 20 years.
In 2003, they down-sized and arranged a property swap with daughter Janice:
We lived across the road, but with Janice at No 4 having three children, she just wanted somewhere bigger. We didn’t need four bedrooms, so we went down to the solicitor and they sorted out the mortgage and everything and we just changed places!
proving that some things really are best kept within the family!
Meanwhile, John was establishing himself as part of the Baines – Everett bed making team:
It was good fun actually; I just went there and I was shown how to put the springs on the wood and they found out I couldn’t reach the bench props so they made me a stool to stand on. But everybody worked together!
They had a woodwork section where they cut all the pieces ready and I got the bare frame with the wooden slats and I started off just putting the springs on the wooden rails. I’d earn about three pounds a week, I think it was. It was a lot of money to me.
Starting piece work – where employees were paid in direct proportion to their individual work rate, offered opportunities because you could earn as much as you liked and the daily round of lifting big divans and interiors all day was made bearable because everybody helped each other.
John enjoyed the friendly atmosphere; the small social club and the fact that the ethos at Baines – Everett was designed to create a shared identity rather than emphasise divisions of seniority and status:
It was properly organised; we used to go playing in cricket matches together; we went to one of the clubs in Draycott and went playing darts at the boxing club. Just things like that – we used to go out together – all organised by the management, not by the ordinary workers.
If the aim was to build commitment and break down barriers, then the Baines – Everettmanagement techniques were ahead of the times; and were put to the test when the pressure was on with a big order of Rhapsody Divans.
We had to get it done for a certain time and they had a load to go that night. We hadn’t finished it, so Mr Williams organised a few of us to stay over to get it done. But I mean it WAS over time!
A couple of lads came down – they went up to the village and came back with a crate of beer and all – fish and chips for us! When the job was done in the early hours, well, I got home at one o’clock in the morning.
Mr Williams was a considerate boss:
He made sure we all got home all right and he said, just come in when you want to next morning.
and his approach paid dividends for the firm, because being loyal; we got up, most of us at a reasonable time. That’s how it was.
But momentum was moving away from small, local firms; certainly those in villages like Borrowash, and the opening of a new centre in Barnsley that was bigger, more spacious and easy to get to, heralded permanent change:
I knew they wouldn’t keep a little place open very long down here. We were taken over by other people; Mr Williams the manager was taken ill and in the end the job got too much and my wages were going down. I had a young family so I had to call it a day. I left in the summer and they closed down in the Christmas of ’72.
It was the end of an era.
John now went to Courtaulds, a UK based multi – national company set in Spondon. It was a big operation and had succeeded British Celanese in the 1950s. John would now be working in the Acetate Department with man – made fibres; chemicals; coatings; packaging and sealant – a daunting prospect for someone fresh from the world of bedroom furniture:
I was told I wouldn’t last there six months. I lasted at Courtaulds 25 years.
Gill had some initial reservations:
He used to smell foul when he came home from work every day. If he’d been on nights, he’d come home at 7 o’clock time in the morning, and his first thing was to strip off and have a bath. I put all his washing in the linen basket because he wasn’t getting in bed smelling like that!
You got it in your hair – everywhere – so it didn’t matter what shift he was on, he’d got to come home and have a bath straight away. And I’d be cooking!
It used to hang in the air all round Spondon. You could taste it!
Some of the neighbours agreed, but complaints to John fell upon stony ground:
What used to upset me was that they used to ring down from the newer houses to tell us about the smell – but I’ve said this a few times and they forget; Spondon just wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for Courtaulds and the old Celanese!
In any case, the annoyance occasioned by anti social smells was not to be compared with the terror of a 1982 bomb scare at a time of IRA atrocities:
I always remember that night I went to Courtaulds and I was on nights and we had a bomb scare. I walked in and all the lads were flashing the guns and the security said, ‘We’ve got to search,’ and told me what had happened. And they searched my bags and everybody was searched before we were allowed down. So when we got down to the plant, they said, ‘Right, special duties tonight,’ and they told me about looking around for unusual things on the plant. And we all said, ‘Well, if they want to blow us up they don’t have to go far! They could put something under the solvent tank there!’ Of course, we used to have to walk right past that and we had to look in all the little bits and bobs. It could be only a little tiny device and we thought, how do we find anything? It was all full of nooks and crannies!
Fortunately, it was a false alarm.
When Gill and John were bringing up a young family, many of their friends were employed locally.
John describes a world of work that would be unrecognisable to their 21st century counterparts:
When we first moved up here, there was plenty of work – we had Bemroses; GIC; Baines – Everett; the lace factory and they’ve all gone now.
Up Kimberley Road, you either worked at the railway, Courtaulds or Royces.
Courtaulds, like Baines – Everett, understood that an effective workforce had the backing of supportive families and its thriving social club was instrumental in creating good will towards the company.
Young mothers like Gill were appreciative:
They had a carnival there once a year where they had a fair and different stalls and things like that. Two of ours, John and Sue won a prize didn’t they?
I made a costume; one was a frog and one was a princess and they went as the frog prince and the princess and they won a first prize didn’t they, or a prize of some kind?
The Courtaulds family entertainment had an excellent reputation and increased the attractions of the firm to outsiders:
Before John started there, a lot of the other kids used to go to the Sports Day but ours couldn’t – until John started at Courtaulds and then they could go.
They thought it was lovely didn’t they?
And they had an old train there that the kids could play on in the grounds.
Friendships forged at work were strengthened by bringing up children who attended local schools.
The men bonded over football; as did their children:
A lot of the boys around here went to Friesland School and they all used to enjoy playing football. When they left school, they decided to start a team called FrieslandOld Boys.
So they hadn’t got a lot of money to start off with, so my son John’s godfather, Dick Clay used to run a team that my husband John played in. We went and asked him if he’d got any old kit didn’t we?
So he gave them an old football kit and they hadn’t got any money for goal nets so Peter Bagley’s dad got them some old haulage nets which they used for goal nets.
The Hawksworths rose to the challenge. Whilst John and his friends got the team going:
There were about three dads in all. We used to turn out and help them at the start
Gill deployed her needle and thread to create a workable goal:
I made them some corner posts out of semaphore flags or something to do with shipping by undoing certain flags and joining other flags onto them to make them right for the corner posts.
And as the team went from strength to strength, attracting sponsorship for a new kit from the Blue Ball pub at Risley, daughter Janice came on board:
When they’d got the new kit, they didn’t want any of it going missing, so in our back garden we used to have a big dustbin that we bought, big plastic dustbin and all the kit used to come back and get put in this big black plastic dustbin, like a dolly tub to punch them up and down and get some of the mud out before we used to put them in the washing machine and then Janice used to do that. They used to pay her – just a few shillings a week I think. It was not very much money, but just enough to make it worthwhile. That was her bit of pocket money for washing the football kit!
Village spirit and commitment to shared responsibilities were the hallmark of Borrowash to Gill and John Hawksworth; in good times and bad.
In 1972, Gill was expecting her youngest child, Janice. She wasn’t expecting to be caught up in the drama of the floods, caused by branches off trees and other rubbish blocking up the bridge on Kimberley Road and the water working back.
People used to throw all sorts of things in there – tree trunks and things like that and then it blocked and once they’d unblocked it, it was as if someone had taken the plug out of the bath and it just went!
John was working nights and arrived home expecting to see a puddle – and Gill and the kids were sitting on top of the stairs!
At No 79, the Hawksworths were spared the devastation:
We were lucky. It was just over the doorstep. It actually got as far as the doorstep but it didn’t get in.
But friends like Sue Looms weren’t so lucky:
The power of the water actually knocked over her fridge — and then her mum told someone in the hairdressers that it wasn’t clean water that came into her house, you know…
Gill and John were relieved to escape the flooding and, on a subsequent occasion, adopted the attitude that forewarned is forearmed:
We took everything; we took the books out and the records and such. I was so well prepared: I even took the cereal bowls, the cornflakes and the milk and everything upstairs so we could still have breakfast.
Meanwhile, there was work to be done and neighbours to be helped:
You know, everybody was just helping. If you hadn’t been flooded, out you went and helped somebody that had.
There were two old ladies who lived in the bungalows across from us – Mrs Taylor and Mrs Rawson and I fetched them to come and sit in our upstairs because they were in bungalows so they couldn’t go upstairs.
Even old Mr Coates came and helped Rhona – I think he only came down to see what was going on and he saw how bad it was and he just rolled his sleeves up.
It was a case of all hands to the plough; the fire brigade arrived and they were ferrying the kids to school in boats, but the Council’s remedy; dredging the brook and lowering the banks appears to have worked.
Gill feels reassured – most of the time:
It’s not happened since, has it?
But you still used to get a bit worried if you walked over and saw it all gushing…
For community – minded people like Gill and John, the Queen’s Jubilee of 1977, was the ideal opportunity for a party, and village enthusiasm outstripped expectations.
The small organising team: Jill Rogers and Mick Rogers and me and John, had initially planned a manageable event for local children, but it soon became apparent that this was going to be a contender for Borrowash party of the century!
There were so many pensioners and different people; they were coming to us and saying ‘there’s some jellies here for when you do your street party, there’s a packet of teabags here, there’s this and that here,’ and we thought, in that case, we’ll open it up and it became a general street party.
This meant dealing with red tape and officialdom:
We all had to go through Long Eaton Council of course to get this street blocked off and get permission and everything like that and the insurance for if anybody got hurt playing football or anything tipped on them.
before allocating tasks:
Pauline Keeling made all the rosettes
and arranging a schedule:
We arranged for the ice-cream van to come around at a certain time so that all the children could have an ice-cream.
Gill was relieved that everything went well. The children enjoyed the puppet theatre just Sooty and Sweep and the sack race and for once, football was a game for the girls:
We had a football match; men versus women and my husband says he’s never going to play again because he got injured more on that day than he ever did playing against the men! Some of the men dressed up in bras and pants – it was just a real good laugh!
Four years later, it was time to take a back seat:
So when it was Charles and Di’s wedding, people wanted to do another one but we let someone else take over and organise that; we thought, no, we’ve done all the hard work once, somebody else can do that now.
The approach of the Millennium found Gill and John Hawksworth back at the helm, enabling Borrowash to greet the new century in style.
Initial planning was tentative because things were so expensive and we’d only got about 16 people interested in coming because a lot had arranged to go to family or baby-sitting for family or they were going out.
But the whole point of being part of a community meant that you always knew somebody who knew what was going on and in this case it was Janet Alsop, the builder’s wife:
She came to my daughter to ask if she was interested and Janice said ‘we’ve said we’ll go to the one at Mum’s church’.
So a few people round here were interested, but not everybody – and then we couldn’t have a drink at the Methodist Church anyway; we couldn’t have booze which didn’t really bother us, but Janice said, ‘well, why don’t we have one combined with the Church and the street?’
It was the ideal solution and Gill and John found themselves in the familiar role of hosts: at 5Windsor.
Neighbours joined forces with people from the Church party and everything went with a swing:
Everybody brought bits of food you know; drink and things and when it got to nearly midnight we had a little service and a prayer and we played Cliff Richard’s Millennium Song and then we went out watching fireworks.
Janet Alsop had brought some fireworks and then we were doing the conga up and down the street – led by the Minister, Michael Webster so that was good!
And after nearly fifty years as a resident of Borrowash, for Gill Hawksworth, the value of a strong and united community is what she has taken from one century and brought to her life in the next:
The thing that I think came most out of it was this. There’s a lot of teenage lads round here; the Alsops have got two lads and the Bainbridges have got a teenage lad and a teenage girl; there were other children as well. We thought, ooh, the teenage lads won’t stay; they’ll come for a bit of food and then they’ll clear off.
They actually stayed until one o’clock in the morning so it must have been good!
And after that, every time they saw you it was, ‘Hi Gill,’ and it really brought the teenagers and the older people closer. I’m not saying they didn’t speak before – but it was different.
It was a different atmosphere.
That worked out really well, didn’t it?
Thanks to Anthony Heron and Paul Hart for conducting the original interviews and Alice Beilby for the transcription.