Hostel Memories

D — (from Doncaster. In hostel 1930s)

‘I came to Triangle at the age of 14. The number of girls were to 64 at one period. We started work at 6 am then worked until 5.15 pm. I shared a room with 4 other girls. Mrs Brown, the Matron, would come to all the bedrooms to say ‘Goodnight’. After she had gone we would all get into one bed, light the gas and talk or read until we were ready for settling down.’

‘We had to clean our own rooms and take turns washing steps down and cleaning baths, wash basins and toilets. We did our washing on Friday night in a bucket on the floor. There were only 2 wash basins and the senior girls used those. [We only had] a bath once a week, again in turn.’

‘We had to go to Sunday School and our treat was to walk up Norland and sit on Ladstone Rock. [Another] weekly treat was a visit to the Electric Cinema in Sowerby Bridge – 5d [old pence] admission. We walked there and back and managed a pennyworth of chips on the way home.’

‘We had a party at Christmas and I bought a red dress for 6 shillings, a row of red beads and a ring with a red stone in it for 6 pence and I felt like a toff.’

Mavis (from Royston. In hostel 1930s)

‘My mother worked for Morris’, so I was carrying on the tradition.’

‘The girls aged in range between 14 and 19. I shared a room with 10 girls on the top floor. The Matron after Mrs Brown [Miss Margison?] was a stickler for rules. [She] used to sneak  through the halls listening at bedroom doors. If she heard any talking she would burst in and we were all soundly castigated and told we could not go out after work next evening.’

‘I was amazed at the way everybody called the foreman and over- lookers by their first names. It all seemed very democratic to me. We had some boys who worked on the floor and when one of them was called up Albert Varley, the over-looker, told me I was going to do his job. I had to weigh the skeps with empty bobbins, then weigh them with the full bobbins. I had to subtract the two weights and then add up the total for the day. I made mistakes and Albert would yell at me. I kept asking him to give me something else to do but he told me I was one of the few girls who could lift the full skeps.’

‘[We went] dancing at the Regent and the Town hall and I went to Youth group meeting for a while.’

Mary (from Weardale, Durham. In hostel 1944 – 1958)

‘My sister Alice was recruited first to Triangle and I followed her. They let me leave school three months before I was 14 because my mum was finding it hard to live off the Army pension. I sent  my mum 10 shillings a week for 10 years  I think most of us did.’

‘We were like sisters and I became an older sister. They were a nice set of lassies.  We didn’t hear much about the war. Being in the hostel was a different world. I shared a room with five others but before I left I had a room [to myself]. At first they didn’t use the attics but they got so many people in they opened up the attics. There must have been eighty women when I was there maybe more, and the older girls in the annex.’

‘I remember the bathrooms. They were all through the building but somehow we would all end up in the bottom bathrooms with curtains. If there was a dance on we were all rushing round. We’d flip the curtain and there we all were in the ‘all together’ washing our hair or making up and all talking together. You could have a bath whenever you liked.’

‘One Sunday [my friend and I] went into the woods [at Kebroyd]. [Royal Engineers were billeted at Kebroyd during World war 11] There were three ropes and we started playing on them. I was holding on to two ropes, swinging and crossing my feet. As we packed up we could hear clapping but we couldn’t see the mill. Four weeks later Wilkie [Miss Wilkinson] came into the dining room with an Officer. ‘Now then girls she said this is Cpt. So-and- So and he wants to praise two girls that was in the woods.’ We didn’t own up cause we would get into trouble. Well he said I just wanted them to know they was better than a lot of my men. When we went to cross over our legs they must have seen our knickers and everything. They could see us but we couldn’t see them.’

‘I loved dancing. We had our own band from Sowerby Bridge and we had dances every week. We all danced the jitterbug and jive. We also went to the cinema and the milk bars.’

‘[In the mill] I went through the system starting as a doffer, then oiling and twisting,  combing and drawing. I ended up in drawing. That job was better paid. We worked 7,30 am to 5,30 pm with ¾ hour for lunch.  We went home for tea. I wouldn’t call it hard [work]. It was noisy and not always safe. We used to have to knock cogs out and put new ones in while it ran. That was the only way you could do it. At the end of the mill they use to have a big boiler room that ran the kickers. A big metal rod ran right through the whole mill on each floor and it had big wheels on and it had leather straps that ran down to a machine. The over-lookers used to have go up. They would stitch them up with a snap. They used to go up a ladder that stood free to get up to the kickers and they held that and work the new strap onto the wire [while the machines were going]. I never saw one go over. But you could be killed doing that.

One day the boiler blew up. The boiler must have been a little bit higher, and in this room the floor was raised and people use to sit on that and have their bait [their food]. It blew the over-seer up [but he was not seriously injured] After that we got electric. It was half way through my time.’

You made your own clothes. Well you couldn’t afford them. They were too expensive and there were coupons. They let me use the hostel sewing machine. I didn’t use patterns. Mr Hall called me into Wilkie’s office and he says ‘Do you think you can make costumes? [for a show]. He wanted costumes [like those in] ‘The Windmill’ in London. They were all in black and white. It was a variety  show and we would go round the pubs and all the mills in Bingley and Bradford and put shows on. It was great. We learned stage make up. I could tap dance and I was in the chorus and I was told not to sing.’

‘A gang of us would walk back [after a night out] from the Sowerby Bridge dance hall singing. We let the last bus go. We were noisy and we were unrestrained ’cause we were without our parents but we weren’t bad. I know we had a bit of a name. The local boys came after us and the local girls didn’t get a look in. Of course we had a dance hall and they must have thought we had a lot more goodies than they did. Every week we put a dance on. There was no hank- panky or anything like that. I think a couple maybe three hostel women became pregnant [in 14 years]. One girl met a soldier and in two weeks she was married. We thought that ever so romantic.’

‘It was a marvellous time.’

Alice (From Sunderland. In hostel 1940s for 15 years)

‘There was a lot of girls in my time, so some of the rooms were overcrowded so three of us or four moved into cottage just over the road from the hostel. We also had a knocker-upper who woke us up in time to get breakfast and go to work.’ 

‘ I started in the mill as a doffer. At first I wanted to go home. It was very noisy, but after a week I settled down.  Life after that was like been in heaven, I made lots of lovely friends and I still keep in touch with some of [my friends’] children.’ 

‘The hostel was a real ‘home from home’. Wilkie was a woman you could take any problem to and she always gave good advice.  Miss Hughes was a very quiet under-matron and listened to any problems we had.  What a responsibility they had – nearly 90 young girls to take care of!’  

‘When I first started at the mill it was run on steam. Sometimes it made the machines slow. It would slow your machine up and snap all the threads, then (a miracle) we got electricity which was great: no more broken ends, also music while you worked.  Also you could make a cup of tea at 10 clock – luxury!  The work in the mill was not too hard, I ended up being a ‘Worsted Drawer’. Our boss, Mr Hall, loved his girls. He often came to visit and talk to us. He was [a father figure] and his son often came with him.’ 

‘We had four good meals a day. Your room was checked every week so to make sure you kept them clean, which we did. If it was bath night my friend the cook would run a bath for us, as there were not many bathrooms.  We bathed together – maybe four or more people shared the bath as there was a water shortage.’ 

‘I have lots of happy memories.  We only went out at weekends, as most of us had to send most of our wages home, as times for our families were hard.  Sometimes we went into Halifax to the Empress Ballroom. It was always packed. We all had to make a dash to catch the last bus. It was a long walk if you missed it.’ 

‘We had a lot of British troops stationed at Kebroyd. The army would put on a dance for the soldiers and it was great. It was the first time we had seen American dances. Most of them were just young boys and we made friends with a few of them, I got friendly with one young man. We wrote to each other every day by air mail.  He was killed in Italy two years after he left Triangle.’ 

‘When the troops had their training before going to war they used to march past the hostel around midnight.  A lot of us would gather on the fire escape to cheer them on their way. We called their names and wished them good luck.  As it was wartime there were no lights. They carried one lantern at the front and one at the back.  I often wonder how many of those young boys survived the war.’ 

‘As we girls got older we got to go into the Triangle Inn pub, there was always a lot of local people and soldiers. The piano was playing, everyone was singing and having a good time. When the Second World War ended we had the best time ever. You could not dance as the place was jam packed.’  

‘All the mills had a cricket team, Mr Hall liked to show his girls off. When the team were invited to play at other mills we would go by coach to support our team On summer days we all went to watch our Triangle team play at Grassy Bottom.’  

‘Some Sunday mornings we would walk to Sowerby Bridge to the swimming baths.  Once we all brought swimming suits on the market, you didn’t have to pay coupons as they were white parachute silk. When we hit the water they all went transparent. What a laugh! Thank goodness it was all females or there would have been lots of blushes.’  

‘Our Sunday night dances were good fun. We had our own dance band.  Our  partners were all local lads, no soldiers. They must not have been allowed. Doors were locked at 10 o’clock. Wilkie would do the rounds to make sure everyone was accounted for. Most of us smoked them days it was the in thing those days, (No Drugs).’ 

When I look back at my time in Triangle it was the best of times.

Jean (from Horden. In hostel 1950s)

‘My two sisters had been before to the Triangle hostel and I thought I would like to try that. I didn’t want to leave my mum and my dad. My mum was so proud of me and my sisters because we got on. There were seventy to eighty women in the hostel [when I was there]. In my sisters time before me there were over 100.’

‘I worked at the Triangle mill. I was a spinner and drawer for 4/5 years before I got married. We started work at 7.30 and worked till 5. We came home for lunch and at tea time we would have our dinner  6 -7 pm.  If you had cross-bread yarn – very hairy sort of stuff – the ends had to be pieced together and they wouldn’t stay up. So it would be rolling round the roller all the time. But other yarn was all right. So it wasn’t always bad. It was dirty and noisy but there were a lot noisier mills. They would find easier jobs for older women and they would place you where was best for you. They were very flexible. There were different jobs, spinning, twisting, drawing and doffing. When the bobbins were full they would call ‘Doff’ and the doffers would come and doff all on, then you would clean it all up and it would start all over again.’

‘We used to go to the ‘Golden Lion’ in Ripponden. It used to be a sing-song and I would get up and sing. It was really nice. I liked Elvis Presley. Then we would go to The Wharf and sing songs there. It was like a club.’

‘I would save me money up to buy clothes. I like nice bright things -dresses and coats. I never bought things that I couldn’t afford. I was careful because I didn’t have a lot.’

‘Opposite the hostel there was a row of houses, where the Co-op used to be and Jonathan, my boyfriend, had digs in the middle of the row. His bedroom was opposite mine on the other side of the road and we used to wave to each other. His landlady would be looking out of the window when we were talking.‘

‘There was one girl with blond hair and she was very jealous and nasty to me. There weren’t many problems in the hostel but I was scared of her. I never let her see it and then she picked on somebody else. Miss Wilkinson never knew about this. I never told her.’

Vera ( From Horden. In hostel 1950 – 1955)

‘I was fifteen and a half [when I came to the hostel] but I did not work in the mill until I was seventeen. So I worked in the dining room first then the kitchen and bedrooms. Then I started in the mill. Five years I worked in the mill before I got married. There were 80 to 90 girls when I was there. Sometimes the numbers went over one hundred and they would put extra beds in the rooms for them. There were usually four girls in our room. The older, more serious, less flighty ones lived in ‘The Cottage’ (an annex) across the road. We were all good friends together.’

‘Most of the hostel girls came from the north east but a few came from Doncaster and some from Scotland.  A lot of it (recruitment) was word of mouth. Miss Wilkinson came from Sunderland. She had a car, with her own chauffer when she was recruiting.  She was well known in the area. She was kind and was good to us. She was firm but fair.’

‘There was some local resentment of the hostel girls. We were taking all the local lads. The girls were labelled ‘Comer-inners’ by local people but the mill bosses were very good to us.’

When we had left the hostel we all kept in touch and most friendships have endured. Many girls were bridesmaids for each other or godmothers to their children. It was common for the children to call the hostel girls as “Auntie Jenny” “Auntie Nip” etc. although they were not related.

‘We worked five and a half days a week. When they (the mill bosses) needed extra orders we had to work Saturday afternoons as well. But you were given a half day off to compensate. There was lots of different work to do and if you didn’t like what you were doing they would try to find something else for you, as an opening came up.’

‘Doffing is when you put pull the frame down, you take the empty bobbins off and replace them with a full one twisting it a certain way. Then there was spinning. Then I went to winding and to reeling. I went to the combing shed to start there. I enjoyed that. There was a big tin hat and when the big bales came in I would take the hanks out and place them over a big tin hat. The outer edge you had to take off first or it would get all tangled. So that was comb winding in the sheds.’

‘They would move us around a bit where we were needed and it was up to how well you worked at the job. I liked a job with a bit of interest. It was lovely working in the reeling room. You could see the water and swans out of the window, which was nice. Conditions in the mills had improved a lot by the 1950s. It was really good and they looked after us. The bosses put on buses to run us to work and back again, if we were working at Corporation Mill in Sowerby Bridge.’

‘There were so many living at the hostel that the Stansfield Mill women would get out at 5.15 for tea. The other ones in Corporation Mill Sowerby Bridge would get out ten minutes later. By the time they got back to the dining room at Triangle the early ones would have finished (their tea).’

‘I would spend money on little things that I needed but I always saved up to send money home and some for when I went home in the  holiday. I didn’t want to leave me mum but it was better that she did not have to clothe or feed me. I would send a 10 shilling postal order home every week but a few times I saved and gave my mum a white £5 note. When I went home she thought she was a millionaire! I said ‘That’s for you to treat yourself’ but she never did. It would help to feed my younger brother and sister. After the war things were really scarce and you had to have coupons for most things.’

‘We had a good trading system in the hostel. Some girls used to lend or swop things. We all got on really well. Just one or two were not quite as worthy. They got up to mischief and one or two of them would pinch things or lie. They didn’t stop long’.

‘Baths was the big thing in the hostel. We had a bath every day. On Saturday we would do our cleaning and washing, have a bath and after lunch go shopping to Sowerby Bridge or Halifax. We also went swimming at least one night midweek. Near the clock in Sowerby Bridge there was a milk bar with a juke box. ‘O my love, my darling’ was one of my favourite records. At tea time we went back to the hostel to have tea then get ready and go either dancing at the Essoldo or to the pictures. We used to have good fun on Saturday.’

‘Miss Wilkinson was nice but firm. She’d say “You only have one life and if you go wrong you are lost.” We were very young but numbers made us strong. We all looked out for each other and cared for each other. Younger girls would shadow older girls who would show them what to do.’

‘There was one phone in the hostel on the middle landing, half way up the stairs. There was always someone on the phone arranging dates etc.  As most of our families back home did not have phones we wrote letters home and had letters back with news from home.  Miss Wilkinson and the bosses were good to us in an emergency. The Easington pit disaster was in 1953 and the bosses put on two buses to take girls home if any member of their family was involved.’

‘The mill owners paid for the wedding receptions of the hostel girls. When you reached your 21stbirthday the hostel gave you a birthday party and a large present. At Christmas we had three Christmas dinners: in the hostel (the week before), at the Essoldo, with dancing and the Saturday before Christmas. On Christmas day itself you were served by Miss Wilkinson, Miss Hughes and the mill owners).’

Vera wrote this poem for Charlie, her over-looker, who had been in hospital, many years after she had left the hostel.

Get well soon Charlie

Worked on the 4th floor with you Charlie

Other end to Albert Varley.

Doffing, spinning you overlooking

From the 5th floor, smelled the cooking.

Always wrote my poems and rhymes

You nearly copped me several times.

Such a long time, how times passes

You’ve not forgot your northern lasses.

You showed us the ropes, as orders goes

Sure did keep us on our toes.

You helped us grow up, and I’ve not forgot

Not let us be picked on, not your lot.

Hope this helps more than a letter

To cheer you up and feel much better. 

By Veronica Fielder. Written in the late 60’s early 70’s

Janice from Redcar. In hostel 1965 – 1967

‘My friend found an advert in our local paper and Miss Wilkinson came out to see us and she talked us into it.’

‘It was so exciting going away from home and living with loads of other girls and being away from home. There were about sixty women in the hostel when I was there. The demand was dwindling by then and the mill and hostel closed in the 1972.’

‘ I went to work at Corporation Mills in Sowerby Bridge. It was the most frightening thing I ever saw when I went in, all those great big machines. I thought ‘What a noisy place’. But after the first week I loved it.  I started off as a doffer and then after about three months I was trained to be a spinner and I stayed as a spinner at the mill until I got married.’

‘We started work at 7.30 so we had to be up for half past six. If you missed the bus you were in trouble. So, many a time, it was a case of snatching a drink and a slice of toast and sitting on the coach drinking a cup of tea and eating my toast going down to Sowerby Bridge, spilling more than I drank. I were never one for getting up early. Always the last minute. I was in the fourth floor, setting machines on. At 9 am they came round with a cup of tea. We had a break of an hour from 12 – 1. You didn’t have to stay in the mill. You could go out but there was a canteen in the mill. Then we worked till 4. When we got back to the hostel we would have our tea. Our teas were always ready for us. If you wanted a bath first you would have that first and come down for tea. You’d decide what you were doing that night. There was a TV room if you wanted to watch telly.’

‘It was noisy in the hostel but the camaraderie among everybody was great and we made friends with the local girls in Sowerby Bridge. I didn’t meet much hostility. I spent most of my earnings on clothes and going out and on train fares to go home at the weekends. I could be home for 10 on a Friday night and come back on a Sunday afternoon. I didn’t save much. I wasn’t a saver. We went into Halifax for clothes, Leeds, Huddersfield and Manchester. We weren’t big drinkers so we went to the cinema in Halifax or the Roxy in Sowerby Bridge and the Essoldo and the Criterion Milk Bar and round the market on a Friday. We also went to the Wharf Hotel on Friday and Saturday nights because they had live music.’

‘The Triangle Inn was very popular in those days with sing songs and that. The girls whose rooms were at the front of the hostel would hang out the windows so when any boys came for the girls they would shout out ‘So and so is here for so and so’. ‘I met my future husband in the Triangle Inn on a Sunday night. Neither of us had any money. He was an apprentice tool fitter. He had his bus fare to get to Triangle and to get back  so we went for a walk. When I told Miss Wilkinson I was getting married she asked if I want them to make me cake as a present from Morris’.  I went from the hostel in my wedding dress.’

‘We had Christmas parties but the dances had stopped by then. You could invite your boyfriend and we used to do silly things like sliding down the stairs on a mattress or having cold baths and get shouted at. It was just fun. There was very little trouble when I was there. There was always someone playing records or a transistor in the lounge. I used to bring my records from home. I would sit and play them in the lounge. Billy Fury was one of my favourites.’

‘When they made the hostel into flats my daughter went to live there and one of the rooms she had was part of my old bedroom. It was a coincidence. There was a big porch and sun room and absolutely beautiful grounds. We would sit out there for picnics and after work and chat when it was nice in the evenings.’

‘There was not a curfew but they didn’t like you being out after midnight. They were very good to us. They were not as strict as they were with the ones before us.’