Douglas Theaker
His Life

1922 - 2003

Hello, my name is Douglas Theaker, born November 30th 1922. To avoid any confusion among future researchers, my birth certificate shows I was born 38 Hough Lane, Wombwell. This was a nursing home where my mother was advised to go for my birth. We were living at 18 Station Lane, Wombwell. About 1935 Station Lane was named Station Road and the number altered to 52 Station Road, my present address. 

How did my branch of the Theaker family come to live in Wombwell? My grandfather James Theaker who was born in 1845 and died in 1896 was living in Scrooby, a village in Nottinghamshire, when during a conversation with a local Gentleman named (Garland) grandfather who was a bricklayer and stonemason said work was difficult to find. The Gentleman, whose family owned a coal mine in Wombwell, invited him to come and work at the mine as a bricklayer. This he did in about 1874 and started work at Mitchell Main colliery. In 1893 my grandfather was injured in a scuffle at the colliery during a strike. He died in 1896. My father always said that it was as a result of a blow to the head which eventually caused his death. In 1893 Mr. Garland loaned grandfather some money to buy some land and build six houses in Station Lane. The houses have always been owned by the Theaker family. Theakers have always lived in the house I now occupy. My grandmother remarried to Joe Roebuck in early 1900s or late 1890s. She was born in 1849 and died in 1915. Grandfather had three children, Thomas, James, my father, and Edith. He was married to Frances Hall who was born 1849 and died 1933.

 
In the 1860s Wombwell was a farming community with about 6000 population, when coal was discovered families from all over the country flocked to coal mining areas. Wombwell's population had grown to about 18,000, it is still about that today in 2003. My father, James Theaker, was born in 1876 and died 1944. He left school at 13 years of age and went to work with his father down the pit as a bricklayer, after grandfather died, father went sinking. Sinking is digging a new mineshaft, very heavy and dangerous work. After that he became a contractor in the mine on the nightshift. He used to pay his men out on a friday after the nightshift at about 6am in a nearby pub. the pub opened up to sell beer and if some of the wives didn't come to fetch them out they spent nearly all their money. On the Sixth of the March 1902 my father married my mother, Laurie Winifred Booth. They lived only two doors apart, father at number 18 and mother at number 16 Station Lane. They lived at Cudworth, a nearby village for a short while and then moved to Marsh Street in Wombwell.

In 1910 my father lost his sight in one eye, there were three years before he was able to work again as a miner and only a low paid job. He had one pound a week income and 7s 6d of that went in rent, remember there were twenty shillings to the pound. With six mouths to cater for something had to be done. A pea and pie, and shellfish stall came up for sale in Wombwell Market, so he bought it, that was in 1910, we kept it till 1940.

During the late 1920s my father had a series of operations which meant he no longer work, he wasn't able to bend down and tie his boot laces. He was 6ft tall and built in proportion. He was quite often in some discomfort. Fortunately he could go on walks, which he did, taking the dog, Scamp, with him. He was also a prolific reader, we took the Daily Herald newspaper with some coupons you clipped out, after collecting the required amount you sent them of with a small amount of money for the books which were on offer. Father bought a complete set of Dickens and a set of encyclopaedias, along with books of a similar nature, all beautifully bound. I still have them all on my shelf. Father died in 1944, being 15 years not well. He never complained. He and my mother brought us all up in a firm but fair manner. He encouraged us all to enjoy reading, literature and poetry and in my younger days always bought me the childrens' newspaper and I have been hooked on serious newspapers ever since. He died while I was abroad. His last words to me when I left home on March the third 1941 to join the navy were "Take care lad".

My mother was born in 1882 and died in 1974. She was christened Laurie Winifred Booth. the Booth family came from Nottinghamshire to Wombwell for grandfather Booth to work in the coal mines. He was already a miner but come to Wombwell to get regular work. This was about 1884 when mother was two years old. Grandmother's family consisted of three sons, Herbert Henry - known as Denny, Walter and Archie, and three daughters, mother, Thirza and Eleanor. Mother left school when she was twelve years old, shortly afterwards she went into service. This was a form of domestic service where youngsters like mother went to work for moneyed people, Huddersfield and Harrogate were popular places. They lived there and came home once a week. Going into service for young girls was popular in mining areas there being very little work for females. Their wages were always sent home to help the family finances. Working with older servants youngsters learnt all about running a home, mother used to say that by the time she was eighteen she could carry out any task needed to run a home, including looking after children. She said she had served an apprenticeship for being a housewife.

Uncle Denny, mother's brother, worked as a coal miner. He joined the army, in the 14th Hussars, and fought in the Boer War. His name is engraved on a plaque at the side of Wombwell town hall - H. Booth 14th Hussars. After the war he emigrated to New Zealand and started a poultry farm. At the outbreak of World War One he joined the army and fought in France. He was demobilised in England and in 1919 he decided to return to New Zealand. He persuaded grandfather and grandmother Booth, mother's father and mother, along with his sister Thirza and brother Walter to go with him. Mother was outraged. Her parents were in their sixties, completely unsuited to a long sea journey and the uncertain life as settlers in a far away country, they were living in primitive conditions. Mother said he only took them to look after him, he was unmarried, she never forgave him. Uncle Denny was a hard worker, he worked ........

My eldest sister Doris, born 1902 died 1991, after a short spell at home she went into service in Wales, shortly after her return she married Robert Lazenby, always known as Bob, from Darfield, a village next to Wombwell, in 1926. Bob was a born entrepreneur, he left the mines and started a business in Darfield selling timber and hardware. He moved into larger premises where Doris sold wallpaper and helped in the shop. When wirelesses became popular Bob started selling them, and became a local dealer for well known makes. After wireless or radio as it is now called, came television, and Bob did well getting in on the ground floor. Shortly after World War 2 he moved into a shop at Wombwell selling TVs, washers, etc. and Doris sold crockery and fancy goods. My sister Edith helped out at busy times. the business was eventually sold and they had a shop built next to the Prince of Wales pub in Wombwell selling sweets, tobacco and fancy goods. Doris and Bob worked extremely hard together and rarely got a holiday together. They had one daughter, Gwen.

My other sister Edith Annie, she was born in 1905 and died in 1985. She was always known as Edith. At school she was quite a little scholar but had to leave at 13 years of age to help with the house. She couldn't be spared to go into service as mother was not always in the best of health. She never married. She felt her duty was to the home and family. Mother and Edith worked together to run the house. She was the backbone of the family and had a kind and generous nature.

The three men each had different shifts and required feeding and hot water for washing in a tin bath poured non stop. My eldest brother James William, always known as Jim, was born in 1906 and died in 1948. He left school at 13 years of age and went to work at Mitchell Main colliery. Unless you were very lucky or your parents had some influence it was very difficult to obtain an apprenticeship. Many clever young men ended up working in the coal mines. His first job was pony driving which meant harnessing the pony to a line of tubs of coal from the coal face, they had been filled by colliers, [and taken] to the pit shaft where they were shoved onto the cage. The cage is another word, used in the pits, for the lift, to take them to the surface. Some of these ponies were very temperamental and would give the driver a nip with their teeth or a kick. This generally happened when Jim was putting a harness on the pony. After a period of pony driving it was customary to go and work at the coal face where the coal was being dug. The colliers, the men who dug the coal, .....

After a period of tramming young men such as Jim became colliers. Getting to the place of work at the . was quite an arduous task. On a morning shift . about 4.30am and walked to the pit . no transport in their younger days. When they got to the pit they went to the cage . as it is known. When they left the cage it was sometimes half an hours walk over rough ground most of the time bent almost double. They must have been tired out before starting their heavy work. Whatever Jim did he carried it out hook line and sinker. Although he worked hard at the pit he decided to be a health and strength man, he had some weights, dumb-bells, Indian clubs, chest expanders which had strong springs attached to handles and you pulled them at arms length. He certainly built up some muscles. This was about the late 1920s and early 1930s. He then took an interest in motorbikes. His first bike was a flat tank Raleigh. After that he bought a Triumph. He'd take me for rides on the pillion, sometimes we went to Scarborough about 90 miles away on the east coast. I could hardly walk when I got off the bike. I was about 12 years old. Father always insisted we saved some money in the Barnsley Building Society, Jim had amassed about 100, enough to furnish a house at that time. Typical Jim and his outlook he drew it all out and bought a top of the range motorbike, a Sunbeam, it was a beauty. I thought my father was going to have a fit. This was about 1935. Jim was a good mechanic and always interested in mechanical things. One day father went to the shed where Jim kept his bike, what he saw was Jim with a bike engine in pieces, there was nothing wrong with it, he said he was just stripping it down to, in his words, what made it tick. Father could hardly control his rage, after all the bike was nearly new. Fortunately it all went back together. He had a great deal of pleasure from the Sunbeam. He was always proud of his appearance, he had a few grey hairs .. temple and ... me to pull them out with some tweezers. He was most upset if I pulled one out which was not grey. Sometimes he would fetch me from school on his motorbike and we'd go for a short run. When my schoolpals saw him waiting for me they would shout "Doug, your Dad's come", he wasn't very pleased, after all he was only about 16 years older than me at that time. When he was dressed in his best suit he looked very smart, hair brushed straight back and gleaming, sharp features, he had a trim figure and always wore some eye catching shoes. At that time, in the Daily Herald, the newspaper we read, there was a racing tipster whose name was Larry Lynx, no doubt because he was sharp eyed at spotting winners. On the paper he looked very much like Jim, so to tease him when he was in his best clothes I used to call him Larry Lynx. He was a real handyman about the property dealing with tap washers, sash cords, painting, pointing and other jobs. He also had a vegetable plot in the garden and kept all the fencing, gates, etc in good repair. He married Connie Priestley who came from Barnsley. They lived in the next yard at number 38 Station Road. He sold his beloved Sunbeam to help to buy furniture for the home. They had two sons, James and Kenneth. The day Kenneth was born, [in] 1938, Jim moved into a house in the yard at number 42 Station Road, that was 65 years ago, and Connie is still living there. In Station Road was a sports stadium which featured greyhound racing and speedway. The speedway was going in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Even at a young age I was an addict and someone took me from time to time. [The] speedway closed about 1934. The oval track consisted of ash and if you stood on a corner you were showered with black dust as the riders banked their bikes to get round the corner and controlled them by what is called leg trailing. You needed a wash when you got home. In 1947 the speedway opened again, it was very popular and attended by hundreds of people. Many spectators came by bicycle to the track. At that time Jim was off work through ill health, money was short. He put up a board saying bicycles would be looked after, sixpence a bike, they were parked in a field behind our house. I still have the board he created and displayed. Tragedy struck the family when Jim died. We were all heartbroken, especially mother, he was the main part of the glue which kept things together. I not only lost a brother [but] a close friend, companion and confidante. With his passing a light was out in the Theaker family.

 Jim's widow Connie kept the bicycle parking going for a while. She then got a job working in the stadium canteen and money was short but she was determined that James and Ken would not go short of anything. When the stadium closed down she got a job in the canteen at nearby Darfield Main Colliery rising at 5am to get ready for the night shift who came in at 6am. Connie was then offered a job collecting for the Barnsley British Cooperative Society, she accepted and stayed several years. It meant going from door to door to members of the Coop to sell and collect money for Coop checks. Cooperative money was loaned to members normally at about 5 to 10 pounds in the form of a voucher which could only be spent at the Coop. Any change given was given in Coop money which was lightweight and could only be spent at the Coop. She then took a job at the bakehouse .... Barkers the Bakers. She also helped out at a newsagents shop near Sheffield. The manageress of the Darfield Main canteen asked her to return with the promise of her job when she retired. This Connie did and worked as the manageress for several years. When she retired from there she helped to look after her aging mother at Barnsley till she died. Connie worked long and hard to give her two sons the best she could. They have been a credit to her.

James, the eldest was a colliery electrician and Ken went to Grammar school then teachers training college. He became a teacher, assistant Head, Headmaster and adviser with Lancashire Education Department, a top job. They are very close to their mother and her determination to do her best for them has resulted in a wonderful close knit family. Connie celebrated her 90th birthday in January 2003 surrounded by her family of five grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

My other brother Eric, was born 1908 and died in 1995. After attending Kings Road School he left at the age of 14 and went to work at Mitchell Main colliery. In his early 20s he wanted to join the West Riding of Yorkshire Police Force. He was advised to join a Guards regiment for twelve years serving three years as a soldier and nine years on reserve. He joined the 3rd Battalion Cold Stream Guards. This would be about the early 1930s. He did guard duty at Buckingham Palace, the Tower, Windsor Castle and other royal residences. He looked very smart in his red uniform. After serving his three years he was accepted into the police force. Competition was very keen to join the police and no doubt his army service helped. He married Mary Robinson from (Hemmingfield) a village next to Wombwell. They had two children, Jean and John. He was stationed in several places in the West Riding before being called up as a reservist in 1939. He went back to his old Guards regiment but was then transferred to the Military Police when it emerged he had been a policeman. He served mainly in Persia and became a sergeant. Following demobilisation after the war he went back to the police force and served in several places in the West Riding becoming a sergeant. On retirement he went to live at Bispham near Blackpool to be near his daughter Jean. She was born just before the war and in later years followed her father's footsteps and joined the police force for several years. John, born just after the war, became a teacher and later joined the Crown Agents for the colonies. He has had a very successful career. 

I had heard of Thelma Theaker for a long time but had never met her. About two years ago we made contact. Since then we have become firm friends and visit each other regularly for coffee or a meal. She has become more than a friend, I call her my favourite relation. She is a generous, kind and thoughtful lady. Thelma comes from my Uncle Tom's side of the family. Her father was Jimmy Theaker, Uncle Tom's son. She was a special needs teacher until she retired. She leads a very busy life with a wide range of interests. Thelma was widowed some years ago and now lives in Wentworth, a village about four miles from Wombwell. She has a daughter, a son and one grandchild. 

People who do not live in a coal mining area have the impression that coal miners are rough, tough and heavy drinkers. Some of them were but others played a very prominent part in the community becoming aldermen, county councillors, members of boards of governors of local schools and becoming pillars of the church, mainly Methodists. Some becoming local preachers. This mixture of people produced a vibrant and closely knit community. Many miners studied with the Workers Education Association and other institutes and became union officials and Members of Parliament. Aneurin Bevan, founder of the National Health Service, was a miner in his younger day. 

My earliest recollections are not of people but of the kitchen. It was what was called a living kitchen. Large enough to accommodate the usual domestic activities, us having meals etc there. Our kitchen measures fifteen foot by nine foot. Focal point of the kitchen was a Yorkshire range. It could be a monster belching forth soot, dust, smoke and fumes. It were a necessary part of life providing hot water and heat. These ranges were fitted to most houses built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Yorkshire range were a big cast iron unit, measured 4 foot square by 20 inches deep. It consisted of a large oven, fire place and a boiler in which water was heated by the fire. Raised at the back of the fire grate was a flat area where you could throw a couple of buckets full of coal and rake it down on the fire when required. The top of the range was a cast iron shelf called a mantelpiece and ran the full length of the range. Above this was usually a large mirror. On the mantelpiece stood a clock and some ornaments and all the normal things you will find someone putting on a flat surface just for the time being. There was a regular clearout. Underneath the mantelpiece usually was a rail sometimes made of brass running the full length of the range. This was used to hang towels etc to dry. On the floor in front of the range we had what was called the hearth plate. This was thin steel. It was enamelled and a picture painted on it. The hearth plate ran the full length of the range and was about eighteen inches wide. It's purpose was to prevent any hot ashes falling to the floor in front and ran the full length of the fireguard. This was a frame with wire mesh fitted to it. It was shaped like a letter E with the middle line missing. It was about two foot six high and about eighteen inch deep and had a brass top. The fireguard was to prevent hot coals flying from the fire and onto the carpet. It was also used to dry towels etc on. It was nice to sit on one and have a warm after coming in from the cold. Lighting the fire was a work of art. The fire grate was given a poke with a poker to get rid of the ash from the previous fire. The ash and dust fell below the fire grate into a cavity. The ash and dust had to be shovelled into a bucket causing dust to fly about. The fire was then laid. Screwed up pieces of newspaper were placed on the bottom of the grate and some sticks, pieces of wood about seven or eight inches long and about one inch square, were placed on top of the paper and while small cobbles of coal placed on top of the sticks. The newspaper was then lit and hopefully did not go out before the sticks caught fire. If it did go out everything had to be removed and the whole process started again. All this before you could have a warm on a cold and frosty morning. To assist the fire to burn we had what was known as a draw tin. This was a piece of thin steel fitted with a handle. The tin fitted in front of the fire and left enough room for air to be drawn through by the chimney, thus creating a draught to help the fire to burn a little fiercer. Every day of the year otherwise you would have no hot water. It was alright in the winter but a bit warm in the summer.

Warm water came from a tap over a stone sink against a (copper?) being made of sandstone. The sink edges were used for sharpening knives etc. You could always tell where the sharpening took place and it wore the corner of the sink. The flues were swept by a brush on the end of some stiff twisted wire. They were made for the job. The chimney had to be swept regularly. This was carried out by the local chimney sweep by pushing a round stiff brush up the chimney by a series on rods which screwed together. It was my job to go out and see if the brush had appeared out of the chimney pot. The chimney sweep gathered up all the soot and blocked up the fireplace front so nought could escape. Some always did and it was another clear up operation in the kitchen. My Uncle Archibald, mother's brother, swept chimneys in his spare time from the coal mine. If sweeping the chimney had been neglected the soot would catch fire and flames and soot would shoot out of the chimney pot spreading soot all over the place. If someone had hung their washing out to dry it would have to be washed again. Normally the fire would die down but if it didn't the fire brigade were called. It was great fun for us kids watching all this. The people who lived in the house where the chimney caught fire were never very popular. 

Everything had to be cooked or boiled on the fire using cast iron pans and cast iron kettle which were heavy when they were empty. Meat and Yorkshire puddings were cooked in this way. Getting the correct temperature for the oven was only gained by experience. Toast was made by putting a slice of bread on the end of what was known as a toasting fork. This was a special fork so your hands didn't get burned when holding the toast in front of the fire. The fire had to be glowing red for the best results. We had what was known as a smoking chimney which meant that when the wind was in a certain direction the smoke would blow back down the chimney filling the kitchen with smoke and fumes. Sometimes it was so bad we had to abandon the kitchen and use another room. Every week the range was black leaded to make it look nice, even the draw tin was done. Black polish was brushed on then brushed off to give a nice black shine. It was my job to fetch the coal from the cellar and chop the sticks for the fire. Edith and mother used to light the fire. The Yorkshire range took about two thirds of the end of the kitchen. Taking up the other third was what was known as a copper. This was made of cast iron and shaped like a dome. It was about fourteen inches across and fourteen inches deep. This was set in a brick frame and had a small fireplace underneath. The purpose of the copper was to supply hot water for the tin bath on wash day. The fire could be as temperamental to light as the one in the Yorkshire range. When we had our copper removed in the late 1930s I used it to boil potatoes for the pigs and it still exists today.

Monday was the traditional wash day. It was up early for Mother and Edith to light the fires to get the hot water. The hot water was put in what was know as a peggy tub. Sometimes they were made of wood but later they were made of corrugated galvanised steel. They were about twenty-four inches high and about twenty inches across. Soap powder was then added and the dirty clothes put in. A rubbing board which was a wooden frame on legs which held a piece of corrugated galvanised steel. The clothes were soaked and rubbed up and down the corrugations until they were clean. They were rinsed in clean water in another tub then put through a mangle to squeeze the water out. the mangle consisted of two rollers turned by a handle. The clothes were then hung out to dry. If it was raining they had to be dried in the kitchen. It was like being in a sauna bath. The clothes then had to be ironed. The flat iron was heated in front of the fire. If it was two hot they would scorch the clothes and if they weren't hot enough they wouldn't iron properly. The correct temperature was arrived at by using what I called the sizzle test. This was carried out by wetting a finger tip and dabbing it on the hot iron. The amount of sizzle told whether the iron was at a correct temperature. This test could only be perfected by experience and some burnt finger ends. One of my Mother's jobs was baking bread, teacakes, spice cakes and seed cakes, etc. She had what was called a (panchion?), a big clay tapered pot, about fourteen inches high and fourteen inches across. Flour was measured out and put into the panchion. Yeast was then added and the whole lot was kneaded into dough. It was placed in front of the fire to rise. Attention was now paid to the oven. Only experience could tell you when the correct temperature had been reached. There was an opening at the side of the oven which opened onto the fire. If the oven needed to be hotter some fire was shovelled underneath.

 Sometimes my Mother would say the oven needs livening up. Top do this a squib was used. This was a small firework which went off with a sharp bang when lit. It wasn't very powerful enough to do any damage and was made for the job. It was put into the oven flue and when it went off it would bring down soot which was stuck to the sides thus preventing the oven getting hot. We had a dog called Scamp who was frightened of bangs. On bonfire night he would run upstairs and get under a bed. Mother kept the squibs in a tin. She only had to put her hand on the tin to get a squib and Scamp would be off. When the dough had risen it was cut into pieces, put in a loaf tin and put in the oven. Nothing tasted nicer than home made bread. Edith would take over the baking when Mother was ill. She made some wonderful cakes from old recipes and we are still using the same recipes today even for a Christmas pudding. As far back as I can remember Mother always kept some hens and other feathered livestock. She always favoured Rhode Island Reds. She also kept a Rhode Island Red cockerel so the eggs were fertile. She always reared some chickens and would say that a prticular hen was broody, she could tell by looking at it that it would sit on the eggs till they were hatched. We couldn't just put any hen on some eggs because it would not sit on the eggs long enough to hatch them out. How she could tell a broody hen I'll never know but she was never wrong. I would put a nest box in a place away from other hens and put some straw in the bottom. Mother would tell me to dig a grass sod and put that in next on top of the straw and put some straw on top of the grass sod. A dozen eggs were placed on the straw and the hen was put on the eggs till they hatched. After a few weeks it was (possible) to tell the hens from the cocks. The cocks were earmarked for fattening up for the pot and the hens were left for laying. Mother always kept a cockerel back to replace the present one. When a flock of hens got too big Mother sold as what was known as boiling fowls. These required a little longer in the (pot).


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