Colin Cookson

I would have loved to see the water wheel going. My father saw that going. But unfortunately at one stage, they took a portion out, like a piece of cake, to put a passageway to make a better entrance. So it couldn’t be shown working again, after that time. But it’s still in that building. It was Raymond Freeman who had to cut it. Canny!

Everybody at Chipping who was anybody, had a nickname. “Go and see Canny” – they knew who you meant.

The chap who lived at the end house, to you, those across from the works, the end one up to Kirk House drive, were called DoDo (DoughDough?) Don’t ask me why. And I only knew him as – when I started at Berry’s, I only knew him as DoDo. Somebody said: “Go and ask, go to the old mill and ask DoDo something.” And I went up there and said: “Hiya DoDo” “You ever call me DoDo again” he said. I hadn’t realised that nobody ever called that to his face. People only ever called it to him when he wasn’t there.

John Seed, up at the old lab, they called him Ivor. They come and say: Go and see Ivor.

Well, I started there in 1963, I started there. Went from a local office job in a local village in Longridge, but the money was a lot better there and also, it felt more like – in those days, an office job was felt more of a girl’s job. You didn’t feel like a man if you were doing that sort of a job, daft as it may sound these days. It was more of a hands-on job. Plus the money was a lot better in manufacturing then, as well. And I went there and I started in the old mill, working with a lot of the ones who were then in their sixties and had been there a long, long time. And they talked very, very old Chipping-dialect, really. I mean, for instance, I went out one dinnertime and it was raining and I came back and then they said: Has thee getten thee witchet? I said, You what, Dennis? Has thee getten witchet? I said, I’m sorry, what you on about? Wet feett! Are thee feet wet?

‘Witchet’ in Chipping apparently means ‘wet feet.’ You know. That was just one of the things. And then a lad came from High Wycombe, who worked for Ercol furniture – which you’ve heard of Ercol. And he married a girl from up this end so he came to live up here. She wanted to come back, she was a nurse. And so he came and he wrote to Mr Berry, explaining the situation. Mr Berry told him to come and see him and he gave him a job. And the first day he came – we used to wear, when we did jobs, we wore, like, an apron to protect we clothing, it was like old leather cloth or bits of chair seats, but all the odds and sods cut up and tied around you. But he came in, in a nice white apron and a proper tool box, proper job. And he came in the old shop and he said: “Alright, lad! Where’s thee getting thee braht frey?” “I beg your pardon?” “Where’s thee getting thee braht frey?” He said: “I’m awfully sorry, I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about” Well, “braht” means apron, you know, “where did you get your apron from?”

They were a very, very strong dialect. Because they’d never moved out of Chipping, really. They’d always lived in Chipping all their lives. Don’t forget we’re not going back that far, but back even then in the 60’s, a lot of those people had never been much further than Preston. You know, it’d be an adventure to go to Preston and back. Because going back when they were little, when my father was little, he got his first car when he was 18, 19. He was adventurous to have had a car, then, before he went in the army.

And my uncle used to come out with a jug – because cars used a lot of water then anyway because they weren’t watertight like they are now. “Does it want a sup?” And it’d be like giving the horse a drink. Me Uncle Jim. And he worked at Berry’s as well – he was a French polisher at Berry’s. He did the old French polishing upstairs in the old mill. And my grandfather, he was a packer and he worked into his 80s as a packer. He hadn’t started there when he was young, he was older when he started, whereas my Uncle Jim worked there for a long time.

And then my father, when he was still at school, from being about 10 or so, he used to go in, in the morning and switch the glue kettles on – 6 o’clock in the morning so the glue was heated when they came to work at 7. Because it was animal glue, it needed melting down and then it could be there to be used when they came in. Then my father started there when he was 12, til the war – he was away 6 years in the war – and when he came back after the war, he started again. And things were in a big chaos, apparently, because things had got a bit higgledy piggledy and mixed up and Mr Berry had said to me father: Can you help sort it out a bit?

And that’s where he went from there and eventually, worked his way up and became the works manager. And he retired when he was 65 as a works manager. So he worked up through the company and, of course, he knew most jobs there, because he’d done most of them. Apart from polishing. He hadn’t done any polishing, but that was a job of its own anyway, so was upholstery. But all the solvents and that used in polishing, perhaps it’s a good job – it wasn’t a very healthy side to the job, that. He was in the old mill because what we called the old mill was the only place – that WAS the mill. That old Arkwright mill was the mill until just after the war, the new place was built across the stream. I can remember when I was a lad, some Germans coming to our house for the day and they were fitting the kilns in there that dried the wood.

And my Dad had invited them back for tea, which was a little controversial at the time, because you’re talking of just after the war, really. But, you know, as my father said, he’d been in the army and the Germans weren’t the Nazis, they were different people. It was different, it wasn’t the same thing. And it was all set up then, the factory got going really, then, in the ‘50s, early 60s, they were really, really busy. They were making, like 1200 chairs a day.

At that time, with about 250 people. They were flying off, you know. But then, shortly after that, maybe in the 70s, one or two of the people we supplied started disappearing from the scene, sometimes owing quite a lot of money to the firm, you know, as foreign competition started to come in, unfortunately. And one by one, the old traditional furniture companies started to go, because we used to supply people like Liebers, they used to make their own cabinets and sideboards, because we weren’t into that, but neither were they into chairs and tables. So we would make the chairs and tables for them to sell and they weren’t sold as HJ Berry and son, they were sold as their brand.

Because it was cheaper for them to buy off us than to make their own. But, as I say, gradually, that, plus the fact that traditional furniture shops started to disappear, that we sold to in towns and cities, going to these outsized superstores, which bought from anywhere in the world. That started to disappear and one by one, the foreign stuff was coming in cheaper until, I think at one stage, Berry more or less said some of the chairs were coming in at more or less the price we could buy the wood for, which is then becoming very difficult so then they had to try and get more specialised. But then one of the main features of Berry’s furniture was that it lasted for years. Years and years. They could tell the old pub landlords: come and buy from us and your furniture will last 50 years, but as things have changed, people don’t want – most people don’t want stuff to last that long any more, they want to have a change in 10 or 15 years, which therefore knocked that argument on the head – it was no longer a very good selling point as it always had been.

Unfortunately, that’s led eventually, I think, the change in people’s attitude to things lasting and what they want and changing styles, led to the demise of the firm, I think.

 

When I first started there, I started doing the machining for the old traditional chairs, the old ladderbacks and spindlebacks, doing the morticing and tendering and sanding and making the seats, the side seats that the rush goes round and all that. And then in a few years, I was moved to the main machine shop, I went tinto what they called – they opened up a building which is on the roadside, which is called the Windsor Building, by the stream and I was involved in opening that with the foreman, Ken Seed and we opened that and started off making the Windsor-type chair with the wooden seats and the hoop backs and the spindles in the back, or some with the wheel in the middle, called wheelbacks, which he’d never done before at Berry’s, which is a bit of a change for them. We went into that – and then that was then, because it was a bit specialised with all different machines up there, the apprentices started coming through us up there, when the Labour government ? quite a bit of apprenticeships scheme, so lads came in on a proper apprenticeship and learned with us up there and then moved on into the factory elsewhere, as they became more proficient. But gradually, that scheme wound down and that stopped. But the Windsor Building kept going. But then, Bob Seed, who was the foreman in the old mill retired and I was offered his job up there. And so I went back up there then, doing the sanding and machining. Well, I know a lad, Peter, was assembling them, Peter Sharples, and then eventually, Peter moved away, I ended up assembling them. And then it became so few of the traditional chairs that I was doing the machining and assembling them.

Because there was then only one or two rush seaters, instead of fourteen. And then even more towards the end, I then got involved a lot in health and safety because insurance companies and legislation demanded a health and safety culture and risk assessments, manual handler assessments, kosh (?) assessments, that I got more taken over – nobody would do it – and I ended up agreeing to do it, because I could see my job as becoming less viable as a full time job and I didn’t know where, maybe, it would end up, if I carried on just doing that. It was definitely not going to be a full time job so I probably ended up doing two weeks, two days a week, sorry, making the furniture and three days on health and safety

And that was right until I retired, dealing with the factory inspectors, I had to see the Ribble Valley environmental officer considerably. And that’s another thing, in my opinion, that led to the demise of the firm, the costs involved in some of these things … For instance, the smoke, coming out of the chimney, the emissions. Because they burnt timber, their own wood, you’ve got to take readings, what the chimney was giving out. The costs alone to get a cherry picker up and get the probes into the chimney every year.

Then, some has to be taken away and analysed for thousands of pounds, to prove that you were, every time, it wasn’t an issue, it was clean, it was right. But within twelve months, they were back for another test, which to me cost Berry’s thousands and thousands of pounds, proving they were OK. They were never told – they were never, ever wrong. And then the same applied, eventually, to polishes. All the polish, all the extraction from the polish booths – they started to be reading what was going into the atmosphere.

Which, fine being green, but there’s a limit to it. So someone’s making them in China and pouring out what they want into the atmosphere has the world gained anything? And then sending them across in a ship. Where we, by putting a little bit into the atmosphere, producing them on site, I don’t know. But it’s an argument I would consider valid. Maybe everybody won’t, but …I think it went just a bit too far in that respect. But that’s the way things have gone in the European, in Europe as it is now and that’s just the way it is, isn’t it?

Unfortunately. And it did cost an awful lot of money. I did actually tell the environmental officer – nice chap, got on well with him – I said, not being funny or anything, but you’ll end up breaking this firm one day. He said: well, there’s nothing I can do. I have to apply by the legislation, which, I agree, he had to. He had no option, you know. I know, I could see that, but you could see yourself it seemed a bit unfair, but that’s the way it had to be. That’s eventually the way it did go, isn’t it?

 

 

 

 

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