Ray Walker

Ray has to be the leading contender for the prize for the Berry’s worker with the most incredible memory! He has named over 100 people in the 1949 photo marking the opening of the new mill and has recalled a good number of the nicknames used at the chair works. Fantastic stuff!

Here’s his story:

I started in 1941 at the old mill. There was no new shop then. I started there and I hadn’t been there so long when I was sent, with some fellers, to Inskip aerodrome. I think it must have been Bill, but these trees must have been chopped down when they were making it, we went to fetch them back. We took the horses from Berry’s, two great big horses. And we snigged them back to Chipping with the wagon. Old Digger Wilson, Tommy Cookson. That was one of my first jobs. They chopped trees down on this aerodrome. We looked up and Barracudas and Swordfish were landing.

It’d be ’42 when they put that ramp across. And they made their own electric. And when you went down the side where the waterwheel was, there were great big glass jars that must have been acid – because they made their own electric. And then they had that great big engine down the bottom.

I think my clocking in number was number 16, if I remember rightly.

I went to Longridge school and, well, everyone came to Berry’s. My Auntie Polly worked there and – lots of family worked there. I left school on the Friday at 14, and started Monday morning at Berry’s. I went into the forces when I was 18 in 1948. I went in ’46, came out in ‘48.

As you went in, off the main road, there used to be a big board there … it had a photo of all the lads that had gone and it had written over the top: “Our Stalwarts

When I was there, they made NAAFI chairs for the army. Making hundreds, they were. Hundreds and hundreds of chairs. They were going through them like wild fire. And that dried up. So then they went onto, there was another chair called the Suffolk chair. They had a slatted seat. And then that went jiggered! And then they went onto the baby, baby chairs. There were a fair boom on that! We made a lot of baby chairs. And then that packed up. And I packed up then!

Do you remember the terrible accident with Harold Berry?

If you went out of the door at the polish shop, and then you went over a bridge onto some spare land. Well, that’s what was called ‘Parson’s Garden’. So when we went home that night the brook, it was terrible. You could hear it big boulders rolling down. So us lads, we got the bus and went home. And when we came back in the morning, all the lads – Frank Cookson, Bill, Tommy, they were all coming back, dragging chains and hooks. They’d been dredging the river all night.

And they found him just Saturday morning just on the edge of the Hodder.

I reckon that was one of the main features about Berry’s in our time. In our time. Cause you’ve two brothers: one’s clerical work and John is grafting. The man dies – what happens? It’s all changed. Not a lot, but the things changed.

Old John, he had a boy and a girl. He had a boy and a girl – Jack wanted to be a gamekeeper, but he had to come into the shop and work. I don’t know what school he went to, must have been a big school … and Eve got married to a man called Brian Carlisle.

What was the first job at Berry’s?

They made fronts and cramped them, not like now, they used to have a handle and push it hard, cramp and nail them – well that’s what I was doing.

That North End incident

North End were playing Manchester United and about 4 or 5 of us said we’d go to the North End. So when it came to the day to go, they said they weren’t going. And I said, well I’m going. So I went.

There must have been only me and John Berry there. Because when I came to work in the morning, the cards were on the table, the wages. I got sacked! So I daren’t go home. I daren’t go home. I lived at Preston then and I daren’t go home. So I went with Tommy Cookson round Liverpool, with a load of chairs and I got home about, I don’t know, about 5 o’clock. And I said – “can I have me tea first?” So I had my tea and I said to my mother, I said – “here you are,” she said “what’s that”? And I said “I’m getting sacked!”

She said: “Get changed! And come back up to Berry’s.” At night! Up to John Berry’s house. “Come in!” – so I went in and we talked. She said “well he’ll not get a job anywhere else,” because of my age, you see. Anyhow, he said: “I’ll take him back on,” he said. So I went back on there and I went on the wagons.

The furthest we went were Sheffield, Carlisle, Manchester, Liverpool, Birkenhead – all round there. And to go to Carlisle was a two-day job. I mean, those wagons only travelled about 40 mph. And then Derek Double started and John Tyson started and after a couple of months, they were doing London and back in a day, Glasgow and back in a day … not like today, they were working day and night sort of thing.

The canteen

I think we started at 7, half past 7, something like that. And then you stopped and had your breakfast then. I remember the first breakfast I had there. You got cheese dreams. Everbody said: “What the heck’s cheese dreams?” And it was two slices of bread, which, you’d have done them in the chip pan, if you will. It was good!

I think dinner was about 2 pounds something a week. The food was top rate. But they had then, when I was there, they had their own hens, they had their own pigs – you know. And they killed them.

It was a good shop. Best paid shop anywhere around this area and Preston, I should imagine.

Going back to Berry’s

I started courting, you see, a Chipping lass. And her mother, like, she said: “you want to go and see Berry, get back there. You’re living here, not travelling,” which was common sense. So I went to see Mr. John. And he said: “I don’t know, he said. I’ll think about it.” It must have been a weekend. And I went back, like and he said: “I’ve thought about it, very much.” He said: “Do you still support North End?!!!” I said – “not so much, like, now. I don’t bother so much now.” Well, he said, “I’ve watched you at the dances with Ciss” – that’s me wife – and he said: “you seem to have changed a lot.” I said, “well I think I have really.” “Well,” he said, “you can start – serve your week’s notice and start.” That’s how I come to be back at Berry’s.

And I went up into the old yard, labouring. And Herbert Freeman come in, he said: “you’re wasting your time, get on the saws.” I said “I can’t – I’m not in your union.” You see. There were two unions at Berry’s then. There was NUFDAW. And the sawyers, the Amalgamated Society for Cutting Machinists. I went on the saws. And Tom McCreary was a big union man for NUFDAW and he came in and he said: “What are you doing?” I said: “what’s it look like?!” “Get off it. Stop that saw and get off it.” I said: “Fair enough – I’m not bothered, like.” So I bumped into Herbert Freeman: “What are you doing walking about?” I said, “well, I haven’t to do it.”

And then after that, I think there were only 2 jobs I never did at Berry’s and they were: spraying and rushbottoming. I went round Liverpool, Manchester with the wagon, with loads … there weren’t so many could load those wagons, but I could load them.


It was dangerous. You were dangerous, not the machines. They got this big saw in – I was inside, with that. And you put your tree on, clamp them down, it goes through, skimming off and then you’re supposed to press a button and it lifts it back to clear the saw. You press another button, it goes back to the guide, it goes through again, the plank. Bob Parker was on that and Jack says: “I’ll have a do.” So Jack had a do, didn’t he? But after the first one went through, he never took it back and it fetched the big blade off. And blades would stretch from there to there, the blades. And that was that, like!

There was diesel all over the place, ripped the wall off, you know. And another case with that saw was Derek Double. Well he worked labouring on this particular day, labouring on there and I don’t know who was sawing, but the saw it backed until it dropped off. It had gone through and Derek stood there to lift it up, there was a fella at the other end. And the machine came back and it caught the plank and when we went to it, it scoured all the skin right down to the bone. And it closed the shop, closed that yard for about 5 or 6 days, something like that, for Health and Safety. Jimmy Heaton, I saw him take two fingers off. He was on cutting brackets. There were no doctors – they just had a first aid man. Jimmy picked them up, picked his fingers up, put them in his hand and went to first aid. There were a lot there with bad fingers and that, that’d been cut. Uncle Bob Marsden – his fingers were turned up, curled up, two of them. They wouldn’t do today, but they were then. Herbert Freeman lost his thumb.

Naughty boys!

When we were lads, going to the toilets – it were about 8 ft long, about 2 ft wide… little tiny window. We were in there one day, about 5 of us smoking away like the clappers and all of a sudden, a bucket of water came over us … it was about that much over the door. It came over the door! We all creeped out – old Johnny was there. He said: “I thought there were a fire!”

Memories, memories, memories!

Everybody at Berry’s had a nickname. … ?, Crasher, Mine was Chips. Will ? were Mushy. Tom ? were ? … and then there were Driver, Digger, Old Digger. His name was Wilson, we called him Digger. They all had nicknames, didn’t they? They christened me when I got there. Chips. I lived at a chip shop, see. So I got Chips. And I still get it to this day

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