Irish Joe, the mill’s night watchman
Dear Sir, — Some of the mills in Congleton had a chimney stack that Fred Dibnah would have loved to climb. The smell of the burning coke mixed with steam was not unusual, and meant that the mill was in full production and lots of local people were employed.
In those days you never saw an able man walking through the streets of Congleton, as everyone was fully employed. It didn’t matter if you were a sweeper, knitter, packer, weaver, fixer or whatever the mill needed; you had a job. There seemed to be as many jobs as there were people who were willing to work.
Schools had regular visits from local successful businesses to find prospective suitable pupils who were able to fulfil the requirements of a future apprenticeship.
There were so many textile mills and small engineering factories in Congleton that it was easy to get a job without many qualifications. Turn up on time, do your job and do what you were told. If you didn’t like the job, you could leave, and have another job in a couple of days.
There was a shortage of labour and most people were very happy to make a decent living, pay all their bills with a couple of quid left over. That was used for a bit of a sing song at the pub on the weekend.
Most mills had a night watchman. His duty was to make sure all the doors were locked after every one had departed safely from the premises. Then he had to check all the lights were off and have a walk around the building to make sure there was no open windows, especially on the ground floor. One night watchman’s name was Irish Joe.
The size of Irish Joe was enough to frighten any hardened thief. His black eyebrows met in the middle and he had a look on his face that you knew if you had crossed him, you were going to get it.
Joe had lots of experiences at swinging the hands when needed.
When he had completed his inspection of the mill, it was time for a brew. Joe had been a night watchman all his life and was very good at his job. He was proud to wear his uniform as a night watchman.
At about 6.30am he would unlock the door for the workers to get in and then sit in a little windowed office and greet everyone with a good morning after they had clocked in. Joe’s shift being over at about 8.30am he would hand over the reins to the commissionaire for the day duty.
The big stack chuffed out smoke, the sewing machines sounded like a swarm of bumblebees and the mill was in full production. The works radio was tuned into the BBC Home service and everyone loved listening to Workers’ Playtime and the Jimmy Young Show.
Garments were being made at a steady speed and were placed into large wicker baskets with metal wheels that bounced on every wooden floorboard. The clothing was then taken for inspection before being delivered to the packing department. Some garments were packed into boxes and some were wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, all ready for dispatch to the customer.
One morning a group of young lads who were at the time clock, clocking in, started to chat with big Irish Joe, one asked how long he had been a night watchman.
“All me life!” Joe explained that he knew nothing else and he was happy to carry on till he retired.
One of the young fellas said to Joe: “It looks like you have never done a day’s work in your life then. Not seeing the humorous side, Irish Joe stood up with a rage that you would not see in the wildest beast. His eyebrows arched over his eyes and he was snorting like a raging bull.
He chased the witty, whippersnapper into the factory shouting (in an Irish accent) “Come over here and I will block your head off!” It took some time for Joe to settle down and figure out what the young ‘un meant. It is surprising what a Ginger nut and a cup of tea will do.
Eventually Joe and the young ‘un became good friends after realising that they both had the same sense of humour and liked a cup of tea and a ginger nut, or maybe something a bit stronger. — Yours faithfully,