Albert Wright grew up in Oulton in the years between the two world wars and despite being an “exile” in Derbyshire for much of his life still has many fond memories of his days as a schoolboy and young adult in the village community. His father, uncle, grandfather and great uncle all worked at Bentley’s Yorkshire Breweries in Woodlesford.
Albert was born in a stone cottage on Leeds Road next door but one to the Three Horse Shoes which was owned by Bentley’s. One of his earliest memories is of neighbour Eliza Mirfin who lived next door. She had a concession to hand out corned beef sandwiches and soap to homeless men who passed by walking between their shelters at Rothwell Haigh and Pontefract. The men were looked down upon and called “tramps” although many of them would have been soldiers in the First World War who couldn’t find jobs during the depression of the 1920s and 30s.
Albert’s father, Tom Wright, was the son of Harry Wright, who started as a labourer at the brewery. Harry was from Thriplow near Royston in Cambridgeshire and as a young boy had moved to London with his parents where they lived in the parish of Mile End Old Town. His father worked as a chaff cutter operating a machine cutting up straw, either for animal feed or possibly to be used in mattresses.
In 1881, when he was 14 years old, Harry was back in Thriplow and working as an agricultural labourer living with his elderley grandfather at his uncle William Stockbridge’s house. His mother had died in 1874, possibly in giving birth to his sister Louisa who was named after her. Louisa along with Harry’s younger brother, Albert, who may have been named after the street where they lived in Whitechapel, were in the workhouse not far away in Royston so it appears their father, and another sister, had also died. Harry may have spent some time being looked after in the workhouse before reaching working age and moving to live with his relatives.
By the early 1890s the brothers had moved north to Oulton where they were both working at Bentley’s brewery, Harry as a barrel washer, and Albert as a general labourer. They lodged at Burnill’s Yard off Hobb Lane in the home of charwoman Martha Wheelhouse who was a widow.
Also crammed into the small cottage were Martha’s son, Joseph, who was a blacksmith’s striker, and two other lodgers, general labourer George Oldfield from Hunslet and George Leach from Droitwich in Worcestershire who was a porter at Woodlesford station.
By the turn of the century Harry was well established in Oulton with a young family living in a house in the yard of the Old Masons Arms. At Rothwell church in 1897 he had married a local girl, dressmaker Annie Elizabeth Walker, the daughter of quarryman Thomas Walker. His father, Benjamin, was a master tailor from Newcastle upon Tyne who for many years had been a tenant of two cottages and a garden belonging to the Calverley estate at Chapel Yard. Harry and Annie’s first child, Edith, was born in 1898. Four boys and another girl followed as a well as promotion to foreman barrel washer at the brewery and a move to a cottage at 2 Willow Square.
Albert Wright’s father, Thomas Baden Wright, was born in the Old Masons’ house in 1900. He went to Oulton St. John’s school where for his good attendance record he was presented with a bible from the Calverley family. After he left school he worked on the Calverley estate for a while and then followed his father to the brewery. Probably because many of the older men had volunteered to fight in the First World War he quickly became a steersman driving a steam wagon delivering beer. A month after his 18th birthday in June 1918 he too joined the army signing his enlistment papers at Pontefract.
He was posted to the 53rd Battalion and then the 51st Battalion of the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. Both battalions were part of the training reserve based at Clipstone near Mansfield. Luckily he avoided being sent to the frontline in France spending his time driving steam wagons. He was discharged in February 1919 having only blotted his copybook once for an offence for which he was docked four days pay and confined to barracks for three days.
After the war Tom returned to Bentley’s where he became a painter, part of a team of decorators travelling around Yorkshire and Durham renovating the brewery’s tied houses. His brother George also worked at the brewery starting in 1914 as an apprentice to the foreman cooper, William Henry Brown. George left to join the navy in 1916 returning to finish his apprenticeship in 1922. Later he went to Scarborough and Whitby Breweries in Scarborough as their only cooper before moving to Camerons in Hartlepool where he was head cooper.
In June 1921, at Oulton church, Tom married Florence Mary Ward who was 21 years older than him and a widow twice over.
She was born in Leeds after her father, George Blore, moved north to carry on his trade as a wire worker. He came from the Euston area of London but seems to have travelled around quite a bit. In Bradford he married the daughter of a bootmaker from Shaftesbury in Dorset, and after the birth of his first two children moved back south to live at East Tisbury in Wiltshire. In the 1890s he moved north again to Leeds living first in Harehills and then in Burley. In 1911 he was making fireguards in a Leeds factory.
The travelling bug also affected three of Florence Mary’s brothers, Ernest, Percy and Norman who all emigrated to Winnipeg in Canada. Ernest went first in 1907 from Liverpool on a ship called Liberian. His wife and two sons followed on the Victorian, the first trans-Atlantic liner powered by steam turbines. Percy went in 1909 and Norman left in 1922 after serving in the Army Ordnance Corps during the war. His records indicate he was joining a brother who had become a farmer.
While Florence Mary had been working as a waitress in a restaurant close to Leeds Bridge she had met her first husband, John Thomas Kaye, who was a mechanic and crane driver at Armitage’s quarry. They married in 1901 at Oulton church. Incidentally a couple of years later the restaurant closed down and the owner, John Young Calvert, was declared bankrupt. He told creditors that business was bad because of high prices since the start of the Boer War and he had lost custom as many of the workshops in the neighbourhood had closed down.
Back in Oulton John Thomas Kaye’s father, William, had come from Colne in Lancashire. He worked first as a farm labourer living on Hollow Balk Lane, later renamed Holmsley Field Lane. He then became a quarryman and brought up his family in the house next door but one to the Three Horse Shoes. For a time in the 1870s it was also a grocer’s shop.
John Thomas and Florence Mary inherited the tenancy and had six children but he died in 1918, possibly after an accident in the quarry, or he may have been a victim of the flu pandemic which killed up to a 100 million people worldwide in the two years after the First World War.
1920 must have been a difficult year for Florence Mary. On 3 July she married her second husband, 39 year old Arthur Ward who was a miner, but by the middle of August he had passed away and was buried in Oulton churchyard just across the road from their home. The following June she married Tom Wright and Albert came along in 1922 followed by his sister, Louie, in 1925.
At first they all lived in the Leeds Road house which was lit by gas and had no electricity. When he was about six years old the family moved into a newly built council house on North Lane where Albert remembers the luxury of having hot running water to bathe in. Like others of his generation he went to the infants school at Oulton St. John’s at the age of three and continued there until he went to Whitwood Technical College after missing out on one of the two places available for grammar schools in Leeds and Normanton.
When he was a boy Albert Wright can remember going to stay with an aunty in Liverpool where he believes he said goodbye to some of his Blore relatives who were going to Canada on a ship called the Duchess of Atholl. Coincidentally it was the same ship on which Norman Blore and his wife, Hilda, returned to England two days before Christmas 1932. Albert remembers his uncle giving him a sixpence when they arrived in Oulton just before he performed in a concert at the Harold Hall. Norman started a cobbler’s business in a hut in the garden of the Wright’s house in North Lane which he later moved to a shop on Highfield Lane opposite Woodlesford school.
The church, cubs, scouts and sport played a big part in Albert’s life. In 1936 he was the youngest member of the Oulton United cup winning football team coached by Oulton teacher John Biscomb Plows. The following year he played for a team at Kippax along with Len Shackleton who became a professional and played for Newcastle United, Sunderland and England after the war. Len lived in Bradford and would stay at the Wright’s home before Kippax home games. Along with another local lad, Sid Jones, they were all sent for trials at Arsenal but Albert returned home after a month.
Albert also trained with the wrestler Cyril Knowles from Greenland Farm who went on to have a professional career and was a European champion.
Other memories include being given a sixpence for performing with the church choir at Christmas at Oulton Hall hospital and spending his pocket money on the annual choir trip to the seaside.Albert’s mother died in 1937 and just before the Second World War he joined the Royal Air Force. In 1947 he returned to live on North Lane with his sister, Edith, who had married churchwarden Ted Budding. By that time Albert had decided to become a teacher, training at a college in Lancaster before returning again to teach at Mickletown and in Rothwell. After being one of the first teachers at the new secondary school on Pennington Lane he moved to Ilkeston in Derbyshire in 1957.
Click on the link below to listen to Albert Wright talk about Oulton in the 1920s and 1930s.