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Saving: interview with Joe Darbyshire and his wife (Reel 24 Box 30/A)

The MO volunteers worked hard at observing life, interviewing and writing up their notes. Just looking at the reports done by Leslie Taylor for instance, you wonder if he had time to draw breath. But to support this, volunteers were used to their strengths. Eric Bennett was a trade union official and member of the Trades Council, so he observed Trades Council meetings, Labour Party meetings and Borough Council meetings. Tom Binks, a lapsed Catholic, observed Catholic services. Walter Hood, Ruskin College educated but working class to his roots seems to have got on well with several of the local volunteers nd worked with them.

researchThe MO volunteers also took the opportunities available to them. So for the 18 hour observation of a day in the life in an ordinary street they chose Davenport Street. Gertrud Wagner ‘followed’ the Davenport Street housekeeper on day on a shopping trip to the Market Hall. When Walter Hood was looking to observe family mealtimes he went to Ernie Luetchford’s house for high tea one Sunday afternoon – hardly unobstrusive as Mary Luetchford put on such a spread for Walter it made the children’s eyes pop. The interview with Joe Darbyshire was similar. Joe had been a volunteer observer when he had been unemployed early in 1938, but by 6th June 1938 he was working as a labourer on an outside construction job. (Moss Bank Way was being built at the time so the work may have been there). By that time Gertrud Wagner had arrived at Davenport Street to undertake a survey on working people and saving. A lot of activity that summer and autumn was associated with that project, as this interview was.

Joe and his wife were interviewed by Walter Hood. Direct quotes from Walter Hood’s report are in italic.

Last week Joe had two days off, one for illness and the other due to rain. Mrs D said she did not know how they were going to cope. Yesterday it was awful – the kids could not understand that there wasn’t any butties. On Saturday we paid out all that we owe and yesterday they only had six slices of bread and marge and some potatoes.

Obs asked if working people were really good at managing money. JD said they didn’t have a chance – the wages are condemned before the wife had a chance to lay out the money. She’s working all the time in a debt – that is people that are getting the wage that I am. I don't think anyone who tries to do their best these days can save. I really don't.

Joe then said that his wife had to buy food day by day, implying that it was more expensive to do that than to buy in bulk.

Joe said that no saving is done by a man that’s labouring and has a family. It’s like the people down the street. He’s a bus driver and she works in a mill.flash st mill They’ve got two lads one ten, the other’s twelve. They live ‘frugally’, but they run a car and that takes them into circles they wouldn't otherwise like. Now they can manage to get an ‘oliday and put summat by for savings. There’s another chap working at our shop. He’s a ‘tuppeny man’ (getting tuppence more an hour more than the ordinary labourer because he works a pneumatic pick). He’s a widow(er). Now he’s got two daughters working at the mill, one about 20 and the other over that. He’s courtin’ again and the woman gives them their dinners for 5/- a week. So he saves on that really you see. Now he can put money into the bank and as one fellow said ‘his girls are keepin’ him’…and he can afford to go on his holidays.


  • Joe Darbyshire must have been paid on a daily basis – turn up and you get paid, don't and you won’t.

  • The Darbyshires worked on a weekly economy. The pattern was to pay off the rent, food bills and so on Saturday afternoon (or lay it aside, in different jars on the mantel for instance) and what’s left was for food. This honourable approach – settling your debts first – was a key aspect of respectable working class life.

  • buskingMrs Derbyshire, like many women, had responsibility for managing the cash coming into the household. Fine with a predictable wage coming in but how do you cope if like this week you have only wages for three days work? (In Spring and Port Wine Bill Naughton’s 1970 film set in Bolton this is exactly the situation, in which Mrs Crompton, Daisy, cannot cope with the responsibility. By 1970 this tradition was unravelling, but Naughton wrote the novel the film is based on [Rafe Granite] in the late 1940s. It is about Naughton’s own family circumstances of the 1930s when his wife Annie got into real difficulties managing the family budget).

  • Perishable items were often bought daily – meat and milk for instance - as no one had refrigerators, or much storage space, but things like flour for baking (which many women did) and vegetables may have been bought weekly.

  • Running a car was extremely unusual for a working man pre-war and probably means the fellow had some mechanical knowledge and fettled the machine himself. Joe’s implication that the car takes them into higher class circles is interesting - the car seen as a status symbol as much as of practical use.

  • Tuppence an hour more on a fifty-hour week adds to 8/- more weekly wage, a considerable sum.

  • Opportunistic infections which could not be managed with antibiotics (as there were none) the cost of doctors, plentiful industrial accidents and the dangers of childbirth meant that many people in the 1930s died young. So the man up the road, in his late forties probably, being a widower was by no means unusual. After such a bereavement many married again quickly, which meant that reconstituted families and step parentage may have been nearly as common then as they are today. The ‘courting’ described, suited both ‘the widower’ (who would have been looking for his domestic tasks to be done) and ‘the woman’ (who would be looking for the protection and status of marriage).

Dave Burnham for Live from Worktown