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Extract of an Interview with Mr Walsh

Mr Walsh, foreman at Brickworks, talks with Carmela about arriving in Bedfordshire from Ireland.

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“Thirty of us were sent to Marston Valley. We arrived at Brogborough and what struck me, to start with, was the vastness of the industry itself… the size of the yard and the whole operation! We arrived on December 5th. in the evening. One of our men looking over the hill, in to Marston Vale, said, “We’re all right, boys; we’re near a big city!” What he was actually looking at was the lights of the pits and the lights of Stewartby, another vast brickworks! Later, I said to myself, “Stewartby plus Marston Valley, plus Marston Yard, if you put the whole thing down on Waterford City it would block it out! There was a small brick works in Waterford which I took no notice of. I hardly noticed. That was closed down and wasn’t working in my time. But I thought… the size of this industry!

Ridgmont… Linear kilns… four of them… a quarter of a mile long. The capacity was 11 million bricks a week!

So where were you lodging when you arrived?

What the company did was to try and find us accommodation but the women of Brogborough just grabbed us –I don’t mean sexually; I mean landladies. They just grabbed us for lodgings. Because we were allowed 24 shillings a week subsistence allowance by the government and that would go straight to them, or supposedly should go straight to them. Because we were transit workers.
The point was, had I had left Ireland, got on a train- which I could have done- arrived in Marston Valley, took a job, I wouldn’t have got that subsistence allowance… I was entitled to three vouchers a year to go home, worth 7 shilling and sixpence (37.5p). I only had to pay 7/6d and the government paid the rest of the fare.

Were the 30 men all single men?

Some men had wives in Ireland, which they never brought over, some their wives came, some were single men with attachments in Ireland… of that thirty, there is only two of us left. Eddie Casey in Lidlington and me…

Later on, when I was loading foreman in the yard( and the intake was always 30 into a department for training) one young man amongst them asked me, “How do you think we will get on with this 30, compared with your thirty?” I told him, 5 will leave, 3 will stay and become foreman and managers, the rest will just live out your life in an ordinary way, quietly, two of you will be dead in an accident. You can predict who’s going to be managers, who’s going to live a quiet life but I can’t predict who’s going to die, so be careful.

Did any of your 30 go into hostels?

Eventually the army camp in Marston was taken over as a hostel but the company had the Brogborough housing estate. They were all company houses, built before the war. A lot of London people were evacuated down to them. Some worked in the brick works and several houses were empty, so Horace Simpson, who was the general factotum for the works office, he took us up to Brogborough and he put about five of us in a house to fend for ourselves…”

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