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BUILDING OF THE RANCH - Peter Dawson, August 2012

During the Autumn of 1940 the Second World War was brought right home to people living in the industrial cities of Britain. September saw the concentrated bombing of London and in November Coventry, a centre of industry and engineering factories which had been turned over to war work, was seen as fair game for the German Lufftwaffe. The British war effort could not afford to lose the production of these factories in the Midlands and contingency plans had to be drawn up.

A scheme to set up so called shadow factories was instigated. Areas of the country were selected which would have been less known to the Germans, which would have been at the limits of the range of the heavy German bombers and where factory space was available.  Earby was one of the areas chosen and Grove Mill  and Sough Bridge Mill were requisitioned and put at the disposal of the Rover Company who had switched from producing cars to manufacturing engines for aircraft and parts used in the building of tanks. Naturally the workers had to come with the work and living accommodation had to be considered as well. Earby’s population had declined during the 1930s which meant that there were a number of empty properties available but this was not nearly enough.

The Ministry of Supply decided that temporary accommodation would be needed in Earby in the form of an estate of prefabricated houses.

I was still at school when a start was made on what is now the Northolme Estate. Its official name was Earby Camp and all documentation eg delivery notes was addressed accordingly; to others it was for some reason nicknamed The Holy City.

Some of us lads used to go up Salterforth Lane to watch the huge earth-moving machines levelling the ground which was to become Warwick Drive. On part of the site there was a large depression which the earth movers were filling by scraping soil off the higher ground into the hollow. We had never seen the likes of those enormous earth movers which were towed by large track laying tractors fitted with a bulldozer blade. I had no idea that I would be working there when I left school.

In those days you normally finished school at the age of 14 and on the Friday I left, all the boys were told to report to the labour exchange in Earby. This we duly did the following Monday and were given a card  a “Green Card” with a number on it and I was told to report to the building site office at 7-30am. Another boy, Jim Walker, went with me and he was given work in the office. The firm given the contract to build the prefabs was Pollards, a London based company.

At that time, anybody of working age was subject to the “Essential Working Order”. Under the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act the Minister of Labour, Ernest Bevin, had complete control over the labour force and the allocation of manpower. We had no choice in the matter.

Each of the men and boys working on the site was given a lead disc with a number stamped on it. At the end of the working day (5:30 pm) the disc was handed in and this was used as proof of your attendance at work. A time keeper was employed instead of a clocking on machine We worked on Saturday mornings as well to make up our 48 hour working week, We worked Monday top Friday from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm with and hour off for lunch and until lunch time of Saturdays. For this the wage was 30/- (£1.50 p) for a 14 year old boy.

The whole site was like a scene from the Western Front of World War I. There were duck boards to walk on but if you slipped off you were knee deep in mud.

I was told to report to the concrete gang and the man in charge told me I would be wheeling barrow loads of concrete. They were very heavy and difficult to manoeuvre over the rough, soft ground.

The prefabs were built on concrete rafts 60 ft x 30 ft(?) and 6 inches deep and the concrete gang was on bonus work. They had to lay one of these bases a day. Once the concrete was set the joiners and brick layers moved on to start the construction of the house.

One day the “big boss” came round and seeing me struggling with a barrow full of wet concrete he asked who had set me on doing this and when I told him he was angry and said the work was far too heavy for a lad to do. Although the concrete gang would be one short I was moved from that job to asbestos cutting.

Flat sheets made from asbestos reinforced cement were delivered to the site in 8 ft by 4 ft sections about a quarter of an inch thick. The usual size sheets used in the construction were 8 ft by 2 ft (called standard sheets) which meant that the delivered sheets had to be cut into two equal pieces. Any broken sheets were not wasted, they were used for the smaller sheets used above and below windows and doors. The sheets had to be cut accurately as they had to be fitted into grooved timber uprights fixed to the base.

The ceilings inside the houses were made of flat asbestos cement sheets which were fixed into metal channels. Sometimes these came out and had to be put back which meant going into the roof space which was very tricky.

The sheets were cut into sets sufficient for a pair of semidetached prefabs and the “Heavy Gang” moved a complete set onto a base ready for construction to begin.

All the cutting was done outside, in all weathers. We made a shelter out of waste timber and old plywood. Tools used for the cutting were curved blades made from old files, these were bent to shape and hardened and made very sharp. The sheets were not cut all the way through but sufficiently deep to enable them to be snapped in to two pieces. The scored sheet was put on a table and holding each end the sheet was broken along the line. The edges produced were quite rough and had to be trimmed using a rasp to take off these rough edges.

No one was provided with any protective wear, not even a pair of gloves and our hands got very sore probably due to the lime in the cement in the asbestos cement mix.

When we wanted a brew we had to go across Salterforth Road to the canteen which was an unfinished house. I remember water was used from a large electric boiler.

Some of the timbers used were treated on site with preservative. The lengths of wood were immersed in long metal tanks which were filled with a green rot proofing liquid which I think was called Solignum, very much like today’s Cuprinol. This was delivered in 45 gallon drums.

One of the big jobs which had to be done was the installation of all the services; water supply, gas, electricity, surface water drains and the biggest job, the laying of sewer pipes.

The main sewer ran down Salterforth Road, it had to be deep and it was stepped down. A mechanical digger was used to do most of the excavation and this ran down each side of the trench. The depth of the trench meant that the ground was unstable so the sides had to be shored up with timber. One day a man was working in the bottom of the trench when the timber supports gave way and he was buried alive as the sides collapsed inwards. It took a while for his work colleagues to dig him out and to get him to hospital in Colne. However it was too late, he died from his injuries. It was said at the time that the weight of the digger had caused the trench to give way.

When the houses were finished the internal floors were coated with Trinidad Lake Asphalt giving the bare floors a very black and shiny appearance and providing a damp proof layer.

A porch was built over the door of each house which was inevitably used for storing prams, they were called pram sheds. In those days prams were quite large and would have taken up a lot of room inside the house. The porch also provided shelter, being on the top or a hill the houses were quite exposed to the elements.

Skilled workers were very hard to find in the building trade as many had been called up in to the forces and skilled men like joiners had to be brought out of retirement. One old man came every morning, what ever the weather, form Settle on a very old motor bike, probably of First World War vintage. He was called Mr King and the men used to call him the King of Settle. I got on very well with him and was sorry to see him go when the houses were finished.


Every Tuesday I went with a man to Colne taking very large sacks to Riddihough’s saw mill (where the end of Vivary Way is now). We went to fill the sacks with saw dust which was used as insulation material in the cavity of the prefab walls. I used to treat this as a day out and in winter months in felt warm in the saw mill.

Most of the roads on the estate were named after places in the Midlands where many of the workers came from. I think this must have been to make then feel more at home.


The roads named were:


  • Warwick Drive (City in Warwickshire)

  • Mosley Avenue (suburb of Birmingham 2 miles south of city centre)

  • Earlsdon Avenue (a district of Coventry)

  • Churchill Avenue (the odd one out)

  • On the opposite side (South) of Salterforth Road were

  • Kenilworth Drive (a town 9 km southwest of Coventry)

  • Tyseley Grove (a district in the southern half of Birmingham)

  • Chesford Avenue (Chesford Bridge is between Leamington Spa and Kenilworth)


In my opinion the site for the estate was chosen to be handy for the shadow factories in Earby, Sough (Rover Co.) and Barnoldswick (Rolls Royce). In fact they would be within walking distance. Another site which was considered was near the Punch Bowl pub but this was rejected, there was talk at the time of drainage and sewer difficulties.

Later on, some of the prefabs were used to house single women brought in from the Barnsley and Wombwell mining area of South Yorkshire. These houses were used as hostels and each house accommodated several girls in each, Some were on Churchill Avenue and some on Earlsdon Avenue.

Other memories are:

  • Street party for Coronation, watching Coronation on Nuttall's 3"(or so it seemed) TV

  • Bonfires on the spare land behind Chesford Avenue; mums treacle toffee

  • Dixons ice cream

  • The rag & bone man with his horse and cart

  • Mobile fish and chip van

  • The pop van, Dandelion and Burdock

  • Hop scotch, marbles, lead soldiers, relieve O, kick-the-can, football in tractors field

  • Betts' PINK American car

  • The Dell (hands up who had their first kiss here!)

  • The windmill at the first farm up the lane

  • The first coloured person I saw came selling dusters and brushes

  • Youth Club

  • Big Jim Seven Bellies night watchman when new houses being built

  • Purdeys' had an old black car - didn't work; we pushed it to the top of Tysley Grove then jumped in and steered it back to the bottom (and still lived)

  • Bob Jackmans' hen hut

  • Saturday afternoon film shows in the library

  • Mr Whippy

  • Sough Park

  • Penny lollies at Yates' shop at bottom of hill

  • Empire cinema

  • The Fair, Rock 'n Roll competitions

  • Skating down 'The Ginnel'

  • Sledging in Harrisons' field

  • Briggs' fish 'n chips

  • The large bus waiting room by the Station Hotel (early courting days)

  • First pint in back room of Station Hotel (landlord Eddie Wood saw me getting off school train and banned me)

  • 'Social nights' at the Baptist church on Water Street

  • Rock 'n Roll nights at the Band Club on New Road, used to peep through door

  • Fetching a bag of coke from the mill across from Fire Station on my trolley (that hill was steep)

  • Running around the garden naked when my mum wanted to bath me

  • Cubs and Scouts at New Road school

  • My dad's first car a green Riley, he shared the cost with Jackman's & Robinsons

  • The Waterfalls

  • Sweet rationing coupons

  • Carts/bogies

  • Telephones made from tin cans

  • Barlick Spud

  • Bopping at the youth club Saturday nights

  • Ranch Rovers football team

  • Football on the spare ground

  • Dens at bonfire night

  • Being chased by 'White cap' on his tractor

  • The Dell

  • The heather wood

  • six-wheel boggie with a sail

  • 5-pack of Woodbines

  • Mr Berry, window cleaner

  • Blue enamel tea container

  • Jumping from first floor of new houses when being built, with an umbrella!

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