Wigton Salvation army band.

James Allison Blair – Part A (CSWig13a)




2017 Cumbria Speaks Oral History Project


Respondent Code: CSWig13a
Respondent: James Allison Blair
Date of birth: 18/02/1926
Date of Interview: 31/05/2018
Interviewer: Trevor Grahamslaw
Interview conducted at Jimmy Blair’s home.


TG       Do you have any siblings?

JB         Yes I have a younger brother 70 odd, and I lost a brother up in that sanatorium place up at Threlkeld, I also have a sister she just lives by herself her husband just recently died.

TG       What did your mother and father do for work?

JB         My father was a miner originally then he had various jobs after that, I wouldn’t say he was keen of work like (Laugh) but I’ll tell you something about my father he was a good gardener he could grow chrysanthemums and tomatoes you’ve never tasted tomatoes like it! Because he used to feed them on raw blood, he was friendly with a butcher called McMurray and the greenhouse was open at both end so’s you could run a tractor through it and he used to put raw blood on and nothing else, oh my god you could die for them I’ve never tasted tomatoes like them. And my mother she used to sell them and she was that damn greedy she used to cut them in two if she thought it was ganna be too heavy (laugh) and my father used to play hell with her “put some bloody tomatoes in that box” oh what a body she was!

TG       Did your mother have a job as well?

JB         Well there was a pub opposite where we lived, The Globe, and she always cleaned in there, I remember remarking to me dad that she was scrubbing the step old fashioned way on her knees on a mat when she was 80.. and I said I wouldn’t allow that I wouldn’t let my mother do that but you couldn’t stop her. Coz the little bits of copper you know she would save it up you know she was a shrew.

TG       If we talk about the early years when you were in Wigton, (Yes) because when you were born you went to live with your grandmother,

JB         Aye but I didn’t tell you where the school was at, do you know where Saundersons, Saunderson had a warehouse round there and that was a school that was the first school I went till and we just used to play on Market Hill and that was it there was Miss Ivison, Miss Steel, and Miss Moffat them was the teachers.

TG       How old were you when you went to school?

JB         I think you just went when you were about 5 something like that you know, at 5 you were living with your grandmother where were you living? We were living at 21 Market Hill there’s 2 big houses then a row I forget which one but it was on that row the first one I think it is 21. My grandad was there it was a big family you know there was my mother and umpteen sisters and her brother was killed in the first world war and there was 2 other lads and my mother and it was only a little house you know people had to make do with that in them days, mind it had a back door and a cellar and the wash house was behind and in them days they had to use a post, you know what a post is?  And then hang them all out to dry, they don’t do that today do they? They put them in the dryer which is, well I suppose they call it progress do they? It saves work (aye)

When my mother married my dad they went to live at Aspatria they lived at Aspatria but I didn’t go you see but I used to go and visit her on a baking day I used to go to her shop and she used to put a bit of treacle in  for the gingerbread and a lock of syrup for sponge cake oooh you couldn’t buy that today she used to make her own tea cakes they used to call them biscuits them days and  a loaf of bread oh man well it was just a matter of necessities them days learning how to do it and coz you know there wasn’t such a thing as a cream cake or out of that mmm.

TG       So your mother was living in Aspatria, and you were living in Wigton

JB         Mm just going in Park Road they called it Park Road.

TG       Your grandmother had an accident didn’t she?

JB         Aye she caught fire off a gas ring well just say the gas ring was in that corner well in them days they wore big flowing dresses and in them days she just caught fire and it’s vivid in my mind just yet as she bust up in flames you see coz I was just a boy I wouldn’t be any more that 5 or 6 she had multiple burns and she died within a fortnight, terrible.

TG       So what happened to you then after she died?

JB         Well I lived with my aunt and uncle a daughter of hers and they lived over the road at 6 Market Hill, and she took lodgers in you see and I served my time with my uncle as a decorator he was a hard task master he was a good decorator but he wasn’t so good with the La La so I said I’ll have to go because I asked him for a rise and he said no and I had 2 little girls then and I said I can’t live on that, so I went to the factory I got a job at the factory I was at the factory 30 years 32 years.

TG       When you were 5 and you lived with your aunt you also had to help out?

JB         I well they use to live in this house and then they bought a big old house on Market Hill 6 Market Hill well anyway they took lodgers in, oh she took a lot of lodgers and there was about 5 or 6 bedrooms you see and in them day there wasn’t a toilet there was a gazundas and I used to empty these before I went to school it was a pleasant task (Laugh) aye.

TG       And you also had a paper round?

JB         Yes Aye it was a terrible round, I did locally round Wigton, so I set off from Wigton and I went to Kirkbride no Abbeytown and I went from Abbeytown er.. wait a minute I’m getting myself all mixed up here (Newton Arlosh) aye and Little Bampton, Aikton, Gamelsby, Wiggonby and it was tea time before I got home and I was bushed you know what I mean I was knackered but I always got fed well I used to get a rice pudding in one of them big, and I could eat the lot and then at Easter time everybody used to give me a orange and a pasche egg and I got that many I had to hide them behind  a hedge and go back for them. And you did this on a bike? aye an old bone shaker no trailer no carrier bag no nothing on my back that’s why, they always said that’s why I was so fit you know I was fairly fit when I was young aye.

TG       And then you said earlier you mentioned where Saundersons is now you use to go to school and you mentioned the teachers there.

JB         Aye its gone now they’ve built houses on it aye I used to go to school there Miss Moffat and Miss Steel would be the headmaster and a Miss Ivison I think she would be the eldest and Miss Moffat lived out west she was a nice lady.

TG       How old were you then when you went to that school?

JB         I don’t really know, erm well you started there you see then when you got bigger you went to the national school opposite the Nelson school its flats you know they sold them all I went there for years, What were the teachers like? Oh well they were, one of the teachers I loved was a man called Bob Posslethwaite and he was a hard task master you know with a stick he used to say come here what’s that for I used to say and he used to say that’s before you start, me and another lad off Market Hill John Gill   but I loved him I thought he was a great man him  and another fella called Walter Purdham I don’t know whether he’s still alive or not he was a sadist he couldn’t help it with a stick he was always clouting you, you know you wouldn’t get away with it today but that was them days you see and  Mr Scott was a good old teacher he had that big house net to the mini market you know, which is incidentally still shut I don’t know why?

TG       What sort of games did you play at school?

JB         Football and running, mostly football and I wasn’t much good at that I could kick a ball there wasn’t really any internationals, there  was one or two good players mind that went to higher things aye,

TG       You liked the baths as well?

 JB        Oh the baths I lived in the baths the water was in for a week you can imagine for a week and when you went in there was a slipper bath where you were supposed to wash your feet, and there was no mixed bathing then there was girls in one and lads on the other side by the time we had by the time it came to empty the water out well it was a different colour you’ve no idea what was in it I’m not gonna go into any of the details and they just used to, there was a little grate in the 6ft end they used to pull that and it all used to go away and the man I don’t know his name they called him Tibby Fell he was  a caretaker when I went there aye happy days you could go, Sunday mornings you could get in for nowt you could go there maybe threepence in old money oh well it was a novelty coz there wasn’t many places had swimming baths they used to come for far and near I don’t know whether Silloth had one or not? They all used to come in buses they had a good polo team you know water polo there used to be a picture of us beating a Swedish team and Mr Scott’s son Tony he was killed during the war he was a good swimmer a big strapping lad he died of thirst in the desert he was shot down I believe that was the general you know aye, and they just had that one son and I can just imagine how Mr Scott took that badly which is natural isn’t it aye they used to live at the end you go down George street and you turn right to come to the end and they lived in one of them houses down there aye he was a grand fella if you met Mr Scott on the street you used to have to say good morning Mr Scott good afternoon that was then that was manners they don’t do that today you know do they? Well you know I can never understand that I was a caretaker at the school you know I couldn’t believe it I thought its different today from when I went to school they used to draw on everything every desk was riddled with graffiti and all such as that and they kept changing them it must have cost some money because they just used to throw them out, I was a caretaker and the cleaners were at the other end of the school and they used to shout Jimmy “Hello” they used to say toilets blocked and I used to say well get it away and they used to say that’s not our job and it was blocked full I’m not gonna tell you, with all sorts of things aye and what do you call the old.. Ferriby you call him Mr Ferriby he asked me one day if I would help these plumbers to clear the drains out I said well it’s not strictly my job but I’ll do it, ooh you have no idea the stuff we got out of there it’s a wonder the drains were running they were absolutely chocka block with women’s things you know and I couldn’t believe that and I tell you what I did find out, girls are more destructive than boys at school they are! You’ve no idea they used to get into school at night open the windows and get in and carry on the headmaster would stop behind and I would catch them but it was a waste of time it was no good telling them they used to just laugh at you every window along that front was smashed Hills joiners was there repeatedly putting glass in repeatedly!

 When was this er 90’s

no no well I was at the factory eh and erm they dispensed with my services I won’t go into that unless I have to , somewhere in the 50’s I think something like that.

If we take a step back because as you said earlier you said your first job was working for your uncle,

That’s right Uncle Stuart, what sort of a master was he then? He was a hard task master, he was a good tradesman you see in those days you used to go round with a book and people used to pick their wallpaper and then you used to get it for them you know some decorators used to lap the edge over but he never he used to what do you call, butted he could sit down here with a roll of paper like that and scissors and keep rolling it up, spotless! Oh he was a good tradesman and er I used to get the job of washing the ceilings and things like that which was a thankless bloody task excuse me.


How much were you getting paid when you started?

Erm I think I was getting about £2 or summat something like that and 50p for a Saturday morning if I was ill on the Saturday morning he deducted it he didn’t say it doesn’t matter you know well it’s a lot of money that £2.50 you can’t believe that can you, and the rent in the old house was about half a crown well they wouldn’t let you live in them these days, no back door, toilet down the yard, you had to put the fire on with sticks I had to put the fire on before the kids went to school to warm them up you know, this was your first house? Yes aye and they built flats on them you know along that bottom, well I have a grandson that lives in that other bit part of it used to be the police station knocked that down but he bought all that good house inside I think he paid about £90.000 for that coming out of the army aye, You had a couple of run ins with your uncle though is that right, at work? Erm well yes you would call it bullying eh, well I had plenty that day and we used to get washed in the back kitchen they had a stone sconce they called it and a cold water tap, I had to wash in cold water you know you didn’t get any warm water and he come and I just took my shirt off and I said now look here I’ve had enough of you and that was it! He never, he seen the light you see he got the message because I would have dotted him there’s no doubt about that well it’s not respectful is it you know hitting your own. You mentioned that you once pulled a barrow all the way to, Oh well it was a barrow old cart with big cart wheels you know he didn’t have it long I had to pull it and it was damned hard work all the way to Blencogo old mans that lived in Cowga and I kept saying to him why don’t you buy a little van you know I could drive and he wouldn’t here tell of that he ran about on a bloody old bike it had no brakes he used to stop it with his feet, he had enough money you see but he never enjoyed it when you make money it’s to enjoy isn’t it you have to save for summat you know. I’ll say something about my aunt she was a good land lady to the lodgers they were well fed and they always came back and there was a lot of decent fellas among them, because market hill was a busy place in them days, the fair used to come on in them days and the music used to blare away at midnight and my bedroom was all lit up I used to look out of the window, and they used to have a thing and you put a penny on it and rolled it down and you would say wheel them in and I’ll pay well we were up first thing in the morning because when they moved them tents there was pennies lying all over the damn place the was honest you know they missed some and just let them lie they used to come in erm was it a steam roller? A big thing automobile you could hear it coming at Carlisle Bridge we used to run to the bridge I think it was a big traction engine pulled all their stuff, what was their names now? They were regulars you got to know them you know aye that went on for years then when the market was proper it used to go right up the street but not now and there used to be toffee apples and all sorts of things in them days aye and the Blackamoor was a pub you know opposite, it’s still a pub and there’s a fella in there called Billy Gill he owned my grandsons house he had a butchers shop up beside the Blackamoor I bet there isn’t many folk that can remember that and there was another fella that went in there they called him Andrew Savage he kept budgerieguards he was a lodger and what do you called Lord Braggs father? Stanley, aye well he was landlord then.

Did you used to go to the Blackie?

Me, no I never was a boozer My father was, I just didn’t see, well I had 2 little lasses and I would save up and buy a little car because I would rather spend my money on my lasses than put it down my neck which is maybe, some people like drink fair enough, they used to say what’s up you don’t go for a drink Blair and I used to say well I’ve something else to do with my money you see, but everybody to their own. We used to go up to a place called Port Patrick up on the coast there beautiful place when we first discovered that we used to go up in the old car and stop in  a caravan for a week when we got back home they were happy as sand pies aye it was nice then. Since then I’ve been back to Port Patrick but now it’s full of yachts and things like that, it isn’t like it was. Last time I was in there my missus shut the keys in the car and I couldn’t get the damn door open I was a bit irate about that, but there was a fella from beside the boats and he got a coat hanger and he managed to open the door I was sweating, because I don’t know what we would have done without the car aye.

You also served in the war?

 I went in the army, I can’t remember maybe 43 or 44 I served in North West Europe I wasn’t in D Day or out of that, and I was wounded in action going into a village in Germany called Goch, G O C H and my friend in front of me was killed and I got a bullet through my shoulder and I was in a cellar where all the wounded were kept there was a lot of people died in that cellar you know and the Germans flooded the landscape they opened some dam or something and I was in hospital in Nijmegen it was run by Canadians and that penicillin was rare it was just for soldiers apparently they used to come through with it , in my arm, in my backside, I was sore with the damn stuff, supposed to do you good you see, and then I flew home in a Boeing Dakota is what they call them and then landed at Lyneham I remember that and there was WBS women running about  the place with cups of tea and that and then I went into hospital in Leicester Royal Infirmary and I was in a ward called all dames ward I’ll never forget it was full of women and they used to torment you to death, they used to say come on private Blair I am going to give you a bed bath, and I would say you are not! You’re not bathing me I’ll bath myself even with one arm. Aw man there was chap next to me he had lost both his legs they used to put a cover round you but one day I couldn’t help but notice where his legs were was like two lumps of raw meat he used to moan because he would be in a great deal of pain, but when I came out he was dashing round giving out cups of tea in a little trolley when you used to get a cup of tea, marvellous fella, a big fella and apparently he had been laying some kind of explosives beside a German pill box, he was telling me himself  and it went off and when they picked him up he had no legs well he had legs but they took them off shocking. And I’ll tell you something else you know the people that were in Belsen and spots like that there was a ward and it was full of them they fetched a few of them you know the bad ones but you didn’t see much of them and then I think I told you I went to a big country I can’t remember what you called it and there was Chzecks, Poles but there wasn’t any Americans though but I told you about all the rabbits eh, I used to catch rabbits for them to eat, I don’t know where I got the damn ferret from I was always a lad for ferreting you know, aye, very good that.

But that wasn’t the end of your service was it because you went to Palestine?

Oh no I went to Palestine and I was married on the 12th let me think 12th of November and I was married in Palestine and I was there for a year or more, and there was a lot of trouble going on in Palestine you know, the Jews didn’t like the British and were always fighting with the Arabs anyhow. My sympathy always went to the Arab I don’t know why because the Jews were all powerful they were the most powerful army in the middle east and they were cruel, they was a place called Gaza it was there when I was there it’s just like a big enclave and they just put  them all in there it was just like a concentration camp and they had passes for this and they just knocked a house down to build it for a Jew I’ve nothing against Jews like I’m not antiseminist or out of that but they are cruel people I thought, but it was a marvellous country you know them big melons you could buy they used to grow like turnips big rows of them in a field, oranges oh man and grapefruit and all that there was one particular time they weren’t selling or something they were just lying rotten on the ground and donkeys I’ve never saw as many donkeys in my life, the Arab was cruel with a donkey cruel people the Arabs with a donkey you know I didn’t like that! But there you go.

 Because when you were serving one of your daughters was born?

That’s right Jacqueline and I got a telegram and it said daughter born both well that’s what it said.  (26.54)