Hazel Lyon

This photo of brewery girls was probably taken around the end of the First World War. Hazel Lyon’s mum, Lily Simpson, is in the white pinafore in the front left of the frame. (The girl on the far left of the back row was Annie Benson. Born in 1907 she grew up at 70 Church Street in the large family of miner Arthur Benson and his wife Mary Elizabeth nee Batty.  Annie was 14 years old in 1921 and the census in June that year gives her occupation as “bottle washer.” In 1928 Annie married Joseph William Hawley, a miner at Fanny pit. They brought up their family in one of the council houses at Crescent Avenue on the Rothwell Haigh estate.)

In the years after they left school and before they got married it was common for Oulton and Woodlesford girls to work at Bentley’s brewery either in the bottling or wine and spirit departments. It’s not known when the tradition began but it was certainly well established when the First World War started and women and girls helped to keep the brewery going as many of the men left to join the military. They also did accounting and secretarial work in the brewery offices. 

Hazel Lyon was born in 1931 and did her four year stint after she left school in 1945, first in the offices sending out invoices and dealing with credit notes, and then in the wine and spirit department where she became a dab hand at filling whisky bottles. 

Hazel’s parents were Percy Boyes and Lily Simpson who were married at Oulton Wesleyan chapel in 1922. Percy was a pit pony driver at Water Haigh, then a byeworker and later a labourer at Armitage’s stone quarry. As he grew older he left the pit and was also taken on at the brewery. Before her marriage Lily had been in the bottling department for about 9 years from when she was 12 years old in 1913. As a child she lived with her family on Alma Street. Her father, Matthew Simpson, was a miner at one of the Bower pits on the Swillington side of the river.

After her three children had grown up Lily returned to the brewery in the Second World War to work in the yeast room. Then she served in the on-site bar where staff could drink their free “allowance” of beer. Widowed when she was 54 she stayed on throughout the 1950s and 60s and by the time she finally retired at the age of 74 she had a grand total of 42 years service. She used to say: “The hardest part of working at the brewery is walking there and walking home.”

Hazel Lyon was also connected to the brewery through her husband, Derek Lyon, who was born in 1926. His father was Alexander Lyon, the son of a traction engine driver from Aberdeenshire who had moved to Yorkshire in the early 1890s. After leaving school to become an assistant at the co-op in Woodlesford Alexander moved to Bentley’s where he eventually became the yard foreman. In 1923 he married Edna Claybrough, the daughter of a Rothwell pit engine winder. After Alexander’s death in 1943 she lived rent free in a small cottage near the brewery entrance carrying out the unpaid duty of locking the offices and gates every night.

Click on the links below to listen to Hazel Lyon talk about growing up in Woodlesford and her and her mum’s experiences at the brewery. 

We couldn’t touch the aspidestra

My mum worked in the yeast room

Hazel and Derek’s wedding in 1953 at Oulton. Left to right: Edna Lyon, Rene Boyes (nee Naylor), Kenneth Abbey, Derek Lyon, Hazel Lyon, Hazel’s sister Phyllis and her daughter, Percy Boyes, Lily Boyes.
Derek Lyon, on the left, with his best man, Kenneth Abbey, at Oulton church in 1953. Kenneth’s father, Horace Abbey, also worked at Bentley’s brewery. The cottages in the background have been demolished.