Oldham ’85. Sheltered Housing, Care of the Elderly: Portraits and Conversations 2017-08-02T22:45:21+00:00

Oldham ’85. Sheltered Housing, Care of the Elderly: Portraits and Conversations

This project was commissioned by Oldham Leisure Services and North West Arts, these photographs and conversations were made during the summer of 1985 and exhibited at Oldham Art Gallery in September later that year.

All the schemes I visited were in the former cotton mill town of Failsworth, within the Metropolitan Borough of Oldham, Greater Manchester. Failsworth was known for its textile manufacture and in particulate hat making, however today its disused cotton mills still dominate the urban landscape and high levels of unemployment make Failsworth an economically deprived area.

Sheltered housing is specifically designed to provide accommodation to elderly and vulnerable people allowing them to live independently, yet with the security and support of an ‘on site’ warden. The sheltered housing schemes I visited were the self contained flats at Charles Morris House, Walton House and individual bungalows at Iris Street and Lynmouth Avenue which were supported by an ‘off site’ warden.

The residents I photographed are the last of a generation that were born at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, most lived through two world wars and endured the hardships of a long life of manual work. I particularly wanted to include in the exhibition the conversations I had with the residents as I photographed them, their comments and thoughts were recorded on a tape recorder, transcribed and edited later.

I was interested in their childhood, work life particularly in the cotton mills, war work and military service, marriage, family, happy times and living here in sheltered accommodation. These conversations were intended to give the residents the opportunity to recount personal stories and experiences that add understanding and insight to the wider historic events they lived through.

These photographs were taken using a Plaubel Makina W 67 camera and tripod.

All images are Strictly Copyright © 2017 Bill Stephenson All Rights Reserved

Oldham 1985 Mr Sam Whitehead b.1891. Charles Morris House

[OL 01] Mr Sam Whitehead b.1891 and Mrs Lily Whitehead. Charles Morris House.

” I went to work for Rothwells brewery when I was 13 in the bottling department at 8 shillings a week, working from 6.30 in the morning till 5.30 at night…

…My great interest has always been cricket, I was a batter and wanted to be a professional cricketer, the biggest score I ever had was 120 not out playing for Woodhouse Cricket Club. I had a trial at Old Trafford, but then the war came along and put paid to my chances…

…I was sent to France and worked on a dump 12 miles from Calais. I used to hand out bell tents, saddles, shovels, axes and get grub for the men. I had a terrier dog and two German prisoners with me who used to pull a hand cart made from two aeroplane wheels, I used to tell them, ‘be honest with me and I’ll be honest with you’, and I used to give them a tin of bully beef occasionally.”

Oldham 1985 Ann Slack b.1923 and Gail Coward warden at Charles Morris House

[OL 02] Ann Slack b.1923 and Gail Coward warden at Charles Morris House.

” I found it hard to settle here at first, because of space, I had to fit five rooms worth of furniture into two. It took nine rolls of wall paper to cover one room in my old house, but I’m glad to be out, it was cold and draughty, I think this place will be warm in winter…

…I think Oldham is a shocking place now, what with all the alterations and traffic, I get worried a car will hit me. I miss the corner shops, I don’t like the new shopping centres…

…Looking back over my life the best time I had was between the ages of 16 and 21 before I was married. I used to go dancing at the Majestic or ‘Tikker’ as we knew it, with five or six girlfriends. It was the big band sound, I hate this ‘pop’ music in pubs now. Your age has driven ours out”.

Mrs Turner b. 1899. Walton House and the Rector Quance from St John's Church, Failsworth

[OL 03] Mrs Turner b. 1899. Walton House and the Rector Quance from St John’s Church, Failsworth.

“I started courting when I was very young, we had a long courtship in those days, my fiancé joined the army in 1915. He was 17 but told the recruiting sergeant he was 18. We started corresponding, he sent me funny letters all the time from France, letters with silly signatures, that sort of thing… 

…I had two brothers killed in France, it was terrible because they had to go. One brother was killed doing another mans job, he was sent to the front line delivering rations, he was killed by a shell. My other brother was an officer’s batman. He was killed along with his officer. He was so soft hearted, he couldn’t have shot anybody, even the army recognised this, thats why they made him a batman, doing chores rather than fighting…

…Living here is very peaceful, I never go out. The Rector gives me Mass every month and a home helps wash me. Things couldn’t be better, I’m like a baby again.”

Oldham 1985 Mrs Rose Branwood.  b 1904. Lynmouth Avenue

[OL 04] Mrs Rose Branwood.  b 1904. Lynmouth Avenue.

” I’ve been living here for the last 8 years. My doctor said I ought to move somewhere with warden control when I started losing my eyesight. I’m quite happy here, but its terrible going blind, it makes knitting harder and harder…

I brought my son up on my own, he’s fifty now, as my husband was killed by a boy on a motorcycle in Yorkshire Street, that was in 1946…

…Money has always been short, but we’ve managed all right. The most important thing to me was when I was 16 and joined the Salvation Army. I heard their band one Sunday afternoon in a park and that was it, I went home, got my coat and joined up straight away. I’ve been in ever since. Thats the most important thing in my life”.

Oldham 1985 Mr & Mrs Bardsley and Rector Quance. Walton House

[OL 05] Mr & Mrs Bardsley and Rector Quance. Walton House. Mr Bardsley b.1910

“We used to have a smashing house before we came here, but the wife fell down stairs and broke her hip, so we had to come here… 

…I was in the army from 1939-1945. I started as an ordinary private in an infantry regiment and ended up in the armoured corps driving a Churchill tank. I was one of the first ashore on D-day. I  remember going across the Channel in a massive convoy, it took 7-8 hours to cross. Every so often there would be a big bang as an ammo-ship would go up, it reminded me of fireworks at Belle Vue. We weren’t scared at all, apart from some that had come back from Dunkirk, they started screaming. We spent the time playing cards in a flat bottomed boat…

…When we got ashore I remember being surprised to see the beach covered with wooden bullets, these were more lethal than steel ones at close range. I was safe enough in a Churchill though, four inches of armour, just the sound of bullets smacking the sides. But I’ll tell you this, I’d rather have a German than a Frenchman and least of all a Yank!”.

Oldham 1985 Kath Sharples b.1924.  Charles Morris House

[OL 06] Kath Sharples  b.1924.  Charles Morris House.

“I came from a big family house which was too big for me, particularly when my father died 5 years ago, which left me on my own. I like it here, I’m never without company…

…I left school when I was 14 and went to work at A. V. Roe as an office girl. After the war broke out I got a job at Platt’s and Ferranti’s who made bullets. After the war I worked with my father at Arthur Smart and Sons, working on the switchboard for 23 years, until the Japanese took over the cotton waste trade and made everyone redundant. I couldn’t get another job so I’m here now…

…It will be miracle if I get married now…if they do I’ll hold the reception at the Town Hall! I think it was in the cards for me to be an old maid, still I’m happy and I wouldn’t change a thing”.

Mrs Edna Wall b.1911. Iris Street, Oldham 1985

[OL 07] Mrs Edna Wall b.1911. Iris Street.

” I moved here from my old house because I couldn’t climb the stairs anymore, I suffer from byssinosis. I contracted byssinosis, or as its known ‘the cotton disease’ just after the war, from the card room, its in the dust from the cotton, I didn’t even work there very long. I can’t walk very far now. I have a special pension because of it. Still looking back, working in the mills was a very jolly life, I never dreaded going to work…

…My husband died 12 months ago, its still something I’m trying to cope with, I get browned off and lonely, especially on Sundays. I’ve five children, all married, but they have their own lives to get on with…

…I bought the television for my husband, but since his death I’ve lost interest in it, I’m just passing time now”.

Miss Betty Cadd b.1903. Lynmouth Avenue, Oldham 1985

[OL 08] Miss Betty Cadd b.1903. Lynmouth Avenue.

I was twelve when I started work, that was 6 to 12 at the mill, then school in the afternoon. I used to hate going to sleep, because I knew once I had fallen asleep the next thing would be work. I hated the sight and sound of the mill, we were the last of the children that were exploited by the Industrial Revolution. The cotton industry was founded on the backs of children, I’ve no regrets in seeing the mills close down…

…During the war I worked for Vickers-Armstrong in Blackpool. I worked the capstan lathe making parts for Wellington bombers. The factory was completely underground and I remember on our breaks we used to turn the lights out and open a bomb-proof door to let some air in, I remember you could see the sea. A lot of workers including myself were affected by skin ailments from working there, so I had to get out and stayed with relatives until I recovered. Then it was back to cotton as a beamer for the rest of my life…

…I’ve suffered from rickets all my life, I didn’t have enough milk when I was young. Its been the scourge of my life. You get sympathy when you’re young but when you’re old, you’re just a figure of fun”.

Mrs Hughes and Stanley. Iris Street, Oldham 1985

[OL 09] Mrs Hughes and Stanley. Iris Street.

” We’ve looked after Stanley since his birth, 56 years this November, Stanley’s parents separated when he was 10 months old, his mother died in 1973, her last words were ‘look after my lad’…

…We’ve given our married life to looking after him. We took our holidays at Butlin’s Skegness or Filey, we went for 21 years, but we’re to old now to manage him. Stanley used to love going to Butlin’s, he would be off now if he could. We always used to write to Billy Butlin and thank him for our holiday…

…It was a shock to receive my medal from the Pope. I was dumb struck because you do these things for the love of them, if you can do them, you must do them, there’s no choice…

…Were thankful for Stanley and only pray we can look after him for as long as possible, its very difficult for Stanley as he has the brain of a normal man, but because of his afflictions he cannot talk or walk”.

Eileen Davey b.1915. Charles Morris House, Oldham 1985

[OL 10] Eileen Davey b.1915. Charles Morris House.

” I lived in a flat for 11 years before I came here, but after my operation I couldn’t climb stairs so I had to come here. Before I had my leg off, I used to sleep on an easy chair in a sleeping bag because the pain was so bad, but now I’d rather have the pain, than have no leg. I suffer from phantom aches and cramp, but when I put my hand down there’s no leg to rub, I never thought it would be like this…

…After leaving school I went to work at Ferranti’s as a wireless assembler, but I had to leave in 1936 when I got married, Ferranti’s wouldn’t employ married women, only single women and spinsters…

…During the war I worked at A.V. Roe’s, I worked nights riveting wings for Lancaster bombers, I liked that as it was interesting, well paid and it was mostly women who worked on the wings…

…The happiest time of my life was when I was 19 and courting, we used to catch the train from Oldham to the Winter Gardens in Blackpool to go dancing, it only cost 2/6 for the evening”.

Mrs Lily Whitehead b.1903. Charles Morris House, Oldham 1985

[OL 11] Mrs Lily Whitehead b.1903. Charles Morris House.

” I like it here, everything is convenient, I sometimes have to call someone twice a night when I fall over, its arthritis which is very awkward…

…I left school when I was 13 and went to be a machinist with Cohen and Wilkes in Manchester. We made a material called ‘Aquatite’, for raincoats, during the war we made khaki for uniforms. We had to work from 8 till 6 and 8 till 1 on Saturday. It was a good firm, I worked for them all my life until I was 60, 47 years…

… One of the things I remember most was when the war was over and all the men came into the workshops and everyone was cheering, then you could hear someone who was crying who had lost someone, then they sent us home for the day”.

Mrs Bella Prince b.1900. Walton House, Oldham 1985

[OL 12] Mrs Bella Prince b.1900. Walton House.

“My first job was working in a tin plate factory soldering pan handles on. It was terribly long hours, 6 in the morning to 5.30 at night…

…When the first war broke out I was sent to a munitions factory at Newton Heath, I was only 14. When I was 17 I worked on a lathe making cylinder heads for aircraft, that was at Mather and Platts. I believe they’re still there…

…I’ve had five boys and the only way I could bring them up was by washing and cleaning for other people. Every time a boy reached 18 he was called up, that was another bread winner gone. My husband died in 1950 so I went work in a laundry, after that closed in 1969 I went to work in a clothing factory, I worked there until I was 76. Work hasn’t done me any harm…

…I love living here, it’s the best thing I ever did, I’ve got independence, friends and privacy if I want it, its taken years off me living here. Looking back over my life the happiest time I’ve ever had has been living here”.

Bill Moran, decorating his room at Walton House, Oldham 1985

[OL 13] Bill Moran, decorating his room at Walton House.

Resident at Walton House, Oldham 1985

[OL 14] Resident at Walton House.