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Extract of an Interview with Mr Killeen

Mr William Killeen, originally from Ireland and a retired brick worker, describes life in hostel in the 1950s.

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“I was aged 18 years. I come over for job experience.

What did your father do?

He’d come over to England a long while before to work in the brick industry. He’d got no work in Ireland. He was over during the war. He worked in Norwich on the airfields, putting the runways down. After that he went down to the brickyards. He was at Coronation Works. He was a burner (firing the bricks). Mum lived in Ireland with the children. He lived in Kempston Hardwick hostel, perhaps for ten years. Dad got me the job (in 1949)… They (company) paid me fare. We both lived at the hostel. I was there for 4 years and then I got married (in 1952). Me mam and me sisters came over and lived at Kempston Hardwick for a little while in a rented house. Then they got one in Wootton…

Did he go back to Ireland?

He went over to Ireland every year on his holidays, once a year, in the summer.

Did he send money over to your mother?

Oh yeh. He sent money to me mam. I sent money to me mam until I got married, then she come over.

Did your brother come over?

Yes he came over much later. He was in the hostel for 4 or 5 years until me mum came over.

Were there many Irish people in the hostel?

Oh yeh. No end of Irish people. When I first came. Then we had the prisoners of war, then in 1952–3 the Italians came over.

What was life like in the hostel?

All right. Very good. The food wasn’t too bad until the Italians came and we had spaghetti. I didn’t like that. After the war we were on rations and we got whale meat and stuff. That wasn’t very nice. Tangy! A terrible taste! After that we were OK.

How many people were in the hostel?

There was 20 rooms to a hut. And each room had six beds. All the Irish were in one place and Poles and Yugoslavs and all that in another. The Italians had their place. We had a television room. Plenty of games… snooker and darts.

Then we had chapel on Sunday morning. A priest come from Bedford. The service was in Latin. Then we had “pictures” (cinema). Pictures and chapel were in the same place. And dances, with a band. People from Kempston Hardwick came in. It was a big hall.

There were some pictures (film shows) during the week.

Where did the women come from?

Some women worked there (at the brickworks). Then there was the (Women’s) Land Army. They were round the corner. There was a hostel. Some of the lads had girlfriends from town. There was more men than girls but there was no trouble. Everyone enjoyed themselves.

Was there alcohol on sale?

No, you had to go into town for drink.”

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