A Lancashire Lad

For the first twenty-one years of his life, my Grandpa Monks lived in Earlestown Lancashire. He grew up in a brick row house in an industrial town and spent annual holidays by the seaside. He kept a wonderful collection of photos and documents that show this turn-of-the-century life from 1892-1914.

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Harold Monks lived in Earlestown Lancashire from 1892 – 1914. Postcard sent by Harold’s Dad

Harold Monks was born on October 23 1892 in Earlestown, Lancashire. An 1895 directory described Earlestown as “midway between Liverpool and Manchester, 4 miles east from St. Helens, 4 1/2 miles from Warrington and one from Newtown-in-Makerfield, with a junction station on the London and North Western Railway.”

A History of the County of Lancaster, v. 4, published 1911 (when Harold was 17) described the area: “The Town of Newton is pleasantly situated. By it is a lake surrounded by willows. Earlestown has the less pleasant surroundings of bare open country and few trees. The open country consists of arable fields and pasture land, the former yielding crops of potatoes and corn, with occasional turnip fields. In the west there are still a few patches of mossland, gradually becoming invaded by factories and railways…Earlestown has grown up in recent years around the great wagon works at the Sankey Viaduct; it also has an engineering works and a sugar refinery. A market is held on Friday. The railway company have erected a mechanics’ [Viaduct] institute.”

Newton and Earlestown Community Group has created a super website for sharing local photos and history, especially of the Viaduct Institute’s fabulous gardens! See the Newton-le-Willows Heritage Trail.

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London and Northwestern Railway wagon, probably built at Earlestown “wagon works” by Harold Monks’ dad, William Monks. Carriage at the National Railway Museum

Harold’s dad, William Monks, worked at the the “wagon works” (aka Viaduct Foundry), which built wagons and carriages for the London and North Western Railway (L.N.W.R.) Mr Monks appears in the 1891 census as a general labourer, in the 1901 census as an iron piler. An iron piler’s job was to stack finished wrought iron bars ready for heating and rolling. He may also have bundled scrap metal into piles in preparation for melting down. In the 1911 census, Mr Monks was working as a machinist (so seems to have got increasing levels of skill and responsibility over the years). Mr Monks was apparently also active in trade union activities, possibly in the General Railway Workers Union. He attended meetings / conferences around England. (Harold saved postcards sent from his dad on business in Birkenhead and Exeter — see some postcards in my story “Cards from Dad and Ma”)

There are few resources on the Earlestown wagon works, but the 1895 directory says: “The London and North Western Railway Company have a large establishment here for building their wagons and employ about 1,200 hands.” LNWR Wagons, Vol. 1 edited by Chris Northedge notes: “in 1895, the wagon works produced 4,000 new wagons, 13,000 heavy repairs and 300 horse drawn vehicles of various types.”

The L.N.W.R. built accommodation for their workers. The Monks family lived on Tamworth and later Heald Street. Census records show that most of Harold’s neighbours on these streets also worked at the wagon works. They were typical working class homes: “two up, two down” brick row houses with outdoor privies. This is Harold’s house at 39 Heald Street (an end-of-terrace house facing a field).

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39 Heald Street, Earlestown. Harold’s mother Polly and his cousin Florrie circa 1912-13

I visited Earlestown in 1999 (see the photo below) and found the ivy gone and the vestibule now “lobbied-off” (as my cousin Barbara called it — a door put in to create a lobby). Google street view images from 2020 show that the street has not changed much since this photo.

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A visit to Heald Street in 1999 (Harold’s daughter, his cousin Florrie’s daughter, and myself).

The 1911 England Census shows that many of the Monks’ neighbours on Heald Street were working for the local industries, the Wagon Works, the Sugar Works and the colliery, and the railway (The Traylors at No. 33 were good friends with the Monks family (Harold’s albums have several snapshots of the Traylor sisters)

Heald Street 1911

Harold had an older brother Will (b. 1889) and a sister Florence May (b. 1891) Harold later recalled that as a small boy he was not very happy. All childhood photos of Harold show a pretty serious little boy. Of course this was the style of the time, but Harold himself remembered that he cried a lot. This was quite a change from Harold’s later life in Tofino, when people remember him as “always a smiler.”

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Baby Harold Monks and his brother Will. Harold does not look too happy! Harold grew up to be a cheerful fisherman. Will became an industrial engineer for biscuit manufacturers.

A family tragedy may have affected Harold’s mood. In November 1895, Florence May died in a tragic accident. Apparently, she had run outside to bring in the glass bottle of milk, slipped and fell and bled to death. Afterwards, Harold was sent for awhile to live with his grandparents at Catterall’s Farm, Kitt Green, Pemberton.

There were happier times for the Monks family on their yearly holidays to the Isle of Man. The so-called “Wakes Week” holiday was organized around traditional religious holidays called “Wakes Weeks”, but had become secular by the Industrial Revolution. Alan Fowler notes in Lancashire Cotton Operatives and Work, 1900-1950 (2003) “During the Industrial Revolution the tradition of the wakes was adapted into a regular summer holiday particularly, but not exclusively, in the North of England and industrialised areas of the Midlands where each locality nominated a wakes week during which the local factories, collieries and other industries closed for a week. Each town in Lancashire took the holiday on a different week in the summer so that from June to September one town was on holiday each week.”

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The Monks family and friends on an outing to Sulby Glen, Isle of Man. Harold is at the front in a fur collar. His dad, Will, has a handlebar moustache and wears a straw boater with a manx pin.

The Monks family sailed from Liverpool on a steamship to the Isle of Man and stayed in a guesthouse in Douglas. They went on day trips by electric tram to Ramsay and on carriage rides in the countryside to Sulby Glen, where this photograph was taken. The people in the carriage are Harold and his parents and brother and grandparents, an aunt, cousins etc. Getting photographs taken while on holiday was a Monks family tradition — Harold’s photo collection is full of portraits taken in Isle of Man studios. (These ones below are mini “visiting card” type snapshots from The Manx Studios). A few years ago, I retraced Harold’s travels around the Isle of Man on tram and train – see my Isle of Man photo album.

In fall 1897, Harold started to go to school. The 1895 directory for Earlestown shows that there was a National School (mixed – boys and girls) in Earlestown with approximately 627 students. National Schools were Church of England schools run by the National Society for Promoting Religious Education. (There was also a Methodist School in Earlestown). Harold’s family were members of the Church of England, so he would have attended the National School.

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Infants’ school, Earlestown, 1897. Harold Monks centre in coat with buttons

Harold likely left Earlestown National School at aged 12. (In 1899, the Elementary Education (School Attendance) Act (1893) Amendment Act raised the school leaving age from 10 to 12 years.) He then continued his education until aged 15 or so at Upholland Grammar School in Orrell, Lancashire.

Upholland Grammar School, image from wiganworld.co.uk

A grammar school was a fee-paying school, but it’s more than likely Harold obtained a free scholarship after he took a qualifying test. Under the Education (Administrative Provisions) Act 1907 all grant-aided secondary schools were required to provide at least 25 percent of their places as free scholarships for students from public elementary schools. (Source – Wikipedia – Grammar School, accessed April 20 2019) Perhaps even before 1907, there were free places for students like Harold. Also, Harold would have had a free place to stay while at the school, since his Grandad Barton lived at nearby Kitt Green.

The focus of a grammar school was originally on classical education (Latin and Greek), but “in the Victorian era, grammar schools were reinvented as academically oriented secondary schools following literary or scientific curricula, while often retaining classical subjects.” (Source – Wikipedia – Grammar School, accessed April 20 2019) Harold studied English, French, Latin, Mathematics, History and Geography, and played on the First XI rugby team. In the 1907 Xmas term (aged fifteen), Harold was “good and keen at games, tries his best.” He showed “originality” in essays and displayed “intelligent interest” in literature. Harold had a “lively interest in work,” and “was much improved educationally.”

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Harold’s report card for Xmas term 1907 at Upholland Grammar School

After Harold finished his formal education at aged 15, he likely continued to study at the Viaduct Institute, built by the L.N.W.R. to provide facilities for the workers at the Earlestown Wagon Works. The Viaduct Institute had a library of 5,000 books, a reading room and classrooms. The Viaduct Institute Technical Instruction Committee operated like a community college. Five nights a week, there were classes in science, commercial, art and domestic economy. One of these classes was book-keeping, which Harold likely took because he worked as an accounting clerk. The Prospectus of Classes for 1910-1911 shows that book-keeping courses were taught on Monday evenings at the Wesleyan School on Cross Lane. This image below shows what book-keeping class curriculum:

Viaduct Institute offered a course in book-keeping. Image credit: prospectus shared by Newton-le-Willows Heritage Group

Harold’s dad William Monks was a labourer but his children entered the ‘white collar’ class. The 1911 Census shows that Harold was working as an accounting clerk at Lowe & Sons, Auctioneers. His brother Will Monks was working as a mechanical engineer for T and T Vicars, an Earlestown factory that produced machinery for biscuit-making companies (such as machines to press designs into “fancy biscuits”). Will later worked for Peak Freans and went on work trips to Belgium and the United States. He ended up in a semi-detached house in Willesden, North London.

What did Harold do when he was off work? He probably spent a lot of time at the Viaduct Institute. The 6 acre recreation grounds contained three bowling greens, a cricket pitch, tennis courts and an outdoor gymnasium. There was also a garden with a fountain and statues! Harold may have borrowed books from the Viaduct Institute library, or the local public library, opened in Earlestown in June 1909. Earlestown in the early 1910s also had a building called “The Pavilion”. Newtown Heritage Trail states: “It was initially a roller skating rink but by 1911, as the skating craze subsided, it was converted into a music hall and theatre. By 1913, a projector had been installed and films were being shown…” (Source: newtonheritagetrail.com, accessed April 20 2019).

Harold also participated in amateur dramatics. This photo of the “Julius Caesar” cast is from about circa 1913 (look to the back centre for a Roman senator). Later in Tofino, Harold would act in “vaudeville” productions at the Tofino Legion.

Julius Caesar in Earlestown, circa 1913. Harold Monks plays a Roman senator

Harold probably attended St. John the Baptist Church in Earlestown (where his brother Will married Alice in 1913 – see photo more in my post A Lancashire Family Photo Album). In 1913, Harold must have been attending confirmation classes. In June 1913, he was confirmed at the Emmanuel Church, Wargrave, by the Bishop of Liverpool. (Emmanuel Church was the main parish church). Harold continued his involvement with the Church of England in the 1920s, when he was elected an officer of Tofino’s St. Columba Church mission.

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Harold Monks was confirmed in the Church of England in 1913

As 1913 began, Harold was 20 years old. He was living in a row house with his parents, working at a desk job, acting in plays, going to church groups, doing sports at the recreation ground, watching shows at the theatre, going on annual family holidays. But he wanted something different. Harold wanted to leave Earlestown. Why? The reason was probably a combination of two things: thirst for adventure and limited economic prospects. It’s possible that the 1913 global economic depression could have had an impact on his employment. Harold decided to go to “The Colonies”.

Harold was deciding between going to Australia and Canada, because he had relations in both places. Harold started corresponding with Harry Hilton, a distant relation of his mother’s. Harry and his sister Esther and brother Billy were all living far away on Vargas Island on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Harold decided to move there. Harold’s parents would not let him go until after his twenty-first birthday, then the age of majority. Harold turned twenty-one on October 23 1913. Six months later, he began his journey to a new life on the west coast.

“Yours sincerely, H. Monks” – 21 year old Harold Monks in early 1914, Lancashire accountant ready to start a new adventure in Canada