Fred Baxter lived in the same house on Airedale Grove in Woodlesford for most of his life. He was born in 1927 and up until a few weeks before his death, in October 2011, he was still having a pint (or two) in the Midland Hotel as he used to do when he came off shift at Water Haigh colliery when he was a miner.
Fred’s grandfather, Jeremiah Baxter, was born at Town Street in Idle near Bradford in 1850 where his father John was a miner and where Jeremiah also first went to work underground. By 1911 Jeremiah was living with his family at 9 Airedale View and working at the newly opened Water Haigh colliery, although he would have worked at other local collieries before that.
His wife, Elizabeth Hutchinson, was born in Woodlesford in 1853 and they probably met when she went to work in a woollen mill in Bradford. Her father worked in one of the stone quarries in Woodlesford and she grew up living in a cottage at Dobson’s Fold off Church Street near the White Hart pub. Her mother was a paper dresser at Oddie’s Mill. Elizabeth gave birth to 12 children but in 1911 only 5 of them were still alive.
Fred’s father, also called Fred, was born at Temperance Terrace in Oulton in 1895. By the time he was 16 he was working underground hauling coal with a pit pony. His brother Edwin, who was 14 years older, was a miner and still living at home. In 1916 Fred married Laura Frith from Silkstone Row in Altofts where her father was also a miner.
One day in April 1926 Fred senior heard shouts coming from the small reservoir of water which was used to cool the steel saws in Armitage’s quarry mill. A little boy called Newbould had fallen in and was drowning. Despite walking with a limp, after a recent operation at Leeds Infirmary, Fred jumped into the pond fully dressed to pull the boy out and gave him artificial respiration.
The Wakefield Express reported that the boy “was little the worse for his alarming experience.” However Fred, who was out of work at the time, had spoiled his suit and the paper appealed for him to be given money from a local fund to replace it.
Fred’s heroics probably helped him get a job as a watchman at the brickworks and a few years later he was in the papers again for raising the alarm when one of the drying sheds caught fire.
It happened on Saturday 7 June 1930 when Fred saw the black smoke and flames belching from the roof at about 6.15 in evening. Oulton-with-Woodleford didn’t have it own fire engine at the time and the Stanley Fire Brigade were first on the scene with their brand new engine. The Leeds fire appliance arrived a little later and with their joint efforts it took about an hour and half to put the fire out. £500 worth of damage had been caused, apparently by the overheating of sawdust in the shed.
After spending most of the rest of his working life at Armitage’s Fred senior went back to finish his days in the lamp room at Water Haigh, which was a traditional job for older men.
Fred junior went straight from school to work as an apprentice with the pit top joinery team but after a couple of years he too went underground and spent about 20 years hewing coal.
Fred married Hilda Heslop in 1947. They were both 19 years old and she was the daughter of a bricklayer from Middleton. Like his father Fred also came out of the pit and worked as a drayman for Bentley’s Yorkshire Breweries before moving to the Tetley brewery in Leeds from where he retired.
Click on the link below to hear Fred talk about his family and working life.