I was born on the 26th April 1924, in the village of Cadishead, situated on the A57 between Manchester and Warrington in North West Lancashire. I was christened Lawrence, but all my life I have been called Lawrie. My father John Cottam and my mother Martha Helen Miller both came from Yorkshire. My dad was a steel worker for Dorman Longs and my mother was the daughter of a shepherd, working somewhere on the moors. Both my parents were practising Christians and attended the Methodist mission in Cadishead, which later became a Pentecostal church.
Two years after I was born came the general coal strike, which developed into a full general strike with people desperate for fuel to keep their houses warm. They scavenged the coal dumps and railway sidings; some even went out to the moss land to dig peat, in an effort to meet the need for fuel. You see, every house depended upon solid fuel.
Then, in 1929 came the social disaster – The Wall Street stock exchange crash. Things went from bad to worse. The local penny bank closed down. People were desperate. To prevent the children from suffering with rickets, the local council started to tour the streets each dinner time with improvised soup kitchens. The children would go, with a bowl, for soup and a thick slice of bread. Fortunately for us, my father was a very hard- working industrious Christian, who did not drink, smoke or gamble.
We had a large garden in which we kept pigs and chickens and also two allotments which we all worked between us. Even the youngest child tried to help, for we knew it was a means whereby we could all eat well. I will always remember as a child hearing this song, a song which the ex soldiers in American used to sing whilst begging round the streets.
Half a million boots slogging through mud
Full of that Yankee doodle dum
Half a million boots slogging through mud
And I was the kid with the drum
Say don’t you remember, they called me Al
It was Al all the time
Say don’t you remember I’m your pal
Brother can you spare a dime?
This is the first time I have ever written this song down. I have had no need to, for it was impressed upon my memory as a young boy all those years ago. The severe conditions of the time created in me a certain utility mind set that has stood me in good stead for all these years.
The all important factor in the thirties, something that is sadly missing in today’s society, was to get one’s priorities in the right order; to stay out of debt, to save the money up first and then buy the necessary requirements. Emphasis on Necessary Requirements.
We clearly understood this concept, income £1 expenditure £1.10 = misery. Income £1 expenditure 90p = happiness. I have witnessed in the last two years, more than one family where the wife is unwilling to prepare vegetables to make a cheap meal, to economise, in case she damages her false finger nails that cost £20 plus £5 for each repair! Knowing full well that they cannot afford it, husbands and wives spend money on all kinds of pleasure, including sun bed tanning, tobacco, alcohol and take-away meals.
The Lord gives the Christian wisdom to put their priorities in the right order, giving them power over the credit card. I have just mentioned this to point out the great advantage that the Christian has through following the wise instruction given in the scriptures. The things I have mentioned are not sour grapes, but undeniable present day facts.
The apostle Paul declared in Romans 6 “Sin will not have dominion over the Christian.” This gives the Christian a decided advantage, but having said that, it is a sin to be a lazy person. We are instructed, “Let him that stole, steal no more, but rather let him labour with his hands the things that are good, to give to those in need.”
At the age of 12, I could rhyme off many breeds of horse, cattle, pigs, chickens, goats, rabbits and pigeons. Rabbits were a regular part of our diet. We ate at least one a week, so I sent away for a Belgium hare buck and two Flemish giant does. These were of course very large. I seriously set about supplying the same for our household. In order to do this I wanted another rabbit hutch, so I pestered my parents to allow me to build it in the back kitchen. Mother was not pleased, but Dad said I was better working there on a profitable project, than getting into trouble.
When I had finished building the hutch we all stood and laughed, for it was too big to fit through the back door! I had to pull it to pieces and re-assemble it in the back yard. Both breeding and eating the rabbits proved to be 100% successful. Let me just mention the meals we regularly sat down to.
Shin beef and rabbit casserole, tripe and onions, neck end of stew with suet dumplings floating on top, kippers, herrings rolled and baked in the coal fired oven, roasted rabbits and pigeons were a special delight. I cannot remember anyone saying at meal times that they did not like the food. Every plate was licked clean.
During this austere period of my life, an incident occurred. I was forced into a crash-course in cooking (which, by the way has been very useful over the years). I was about 12 years of age and we were living in Albert Street, Cadishead. One day my mother took ill and after a medical examination she was diagnosed as having clots in her legs.
Now the only remedy in those days was to take tablets to thin the blood and to lie with one’s legs raised, avoiding doing work. This condition was referred to as having white legs.
Doctor Drysdale came into our house and told us children that we would have to share the work between us. I volunteered to do all the cooking. John looked after the pigs and chickens and my other brother, Reg, did the garden and ran the errands. Helen did the housework and attended to any bills, paid the insurance man etc. Mother lay on the sofa and gave instructions. I had to go and trim my nails, then using carbolic soap I had to scrub my hands. Then, step by step mother taught me how to cook plain substantial meals and how to bake bread, sultana cakes and drop scones.
Looking back, with the benefit of hind sight, I am impressed by the way our family reacted to what really amounted to a disaster, seeing there was no National Health Service. Although only my younger sister and myself are still alive, I appreciate the way Helen and my two brothers all worked together without grumbling. After long analysis, I put it down to the excellent example set for us by our parents.
Just in passing, I remember one occasion when my mother announced to my dad that we hadn’t got enough eggs to go around. As quick as a flash he replied, “Scramble them and we’ll share them!”
My second interest or love was all things connected with the sea. I read every sea story I could get hold of, just skipping words I could not understand. My imagination helped me a good deal with this. I read all about Cortes, Magellan, Columbus, Blackbeard the pirate, Drake, Raleigh, Frobisher and even about Long John Silver and the Mary
My friend Frank and I once built a small boat and spent a full day struggling twelve miles up the river Glaze, from Cadishead to Leigh Flash. I never dreamed that one day I would cross the Atlantic in a small landing craft (Ha! Ha!)
Because of over crowding, I used to share a bed with my older brother John. One night, after reading about Blackbeard, I nearly strangled my brother as he slept. Fortunately he was much stronger than I, so he suffered no harm.
So, how can I truthfully describe myself the day I left school? Strong, good looking, top of the class in wood and metal work, but sadly I was semi-illiterate. I used to spell phonetically. The only writing I did was to send away for seeds and livestock; I even spelt my own name wrong. Instead of writing Lawrie, I would spell it as a farm lorry. I left school at the age of 14, with no qualifications, at a time when farmers were finding it hard to make a living and many had gone bankrupt.
One farmer travelled three miles with horse and cart from Rixton down to Cadishead in order to sell his potatoes to the owners of chip shops. Also, he would go around the streets selling to anyone who would buy. When the farmer arrived at our door he asked me a question. “Why are you not working?” I explained that I had not go a job and he asked me if I would like to work for him. He said, “If you would, put your bike on the cart and help me carry the rest of this load off.”
Two hours later, tired and satisfied, but so pleased I had a job, I returned to his farm in Rixton in order to find out where the farm was. From that day I worked for 3½ years and I took to farming like a duck to water.
It must be clearly understood that because of the shortage of man power owing to the war, men and women were called upon to do jobs they normally would not do. So, I was soon promoted to ploughman.
I loved working with the shire horses (Jerry, Captain and Prince). It is so different working with horses compared to an unfeeling, noisy machine. The most satisfying thing was ploughing, turning the ground over and burying the debris of last year’s crops, resulting in a field of fine straight furrows of black soil.
I also found the same satisfaction in the road work, delivering produce to Cadishead and corn to the flour mill at Glazebrook. Although I was strong enough to plough, I was still immature. Our farm produced mixed crops, fattened cattle and also bred large white pigs. Consequently we kept a boar in the orchard which was surrounded by a low corrugated iron fence.
The early ripening Jargon Elle pears were just about ready, so one dinner time I went into the orchard, jumped up, caught a branch, shook it violently and two pears fell down. The boar and I raced for the pears and I beat the boar, stuffing the pears inside my shirt. This procedure was repeated seven times.
Finally the frustrated boar attacked me. First he knocked me down and then, with his big side tooth, he slashed my leg open just below the knee. He then bruised my ribs and ripped the seat out of my pants. I was shocked and frightened, so I scrambled towards the nearby fence and did an undignified belly roll over it, to safety.
The farmer’s sister made improvised bandages by cutting up a clean white pillow case and fastened my pants together with safety pins. I then rode three miles to the Doctor, who put ten stitches in my leg and gave me a tetanus injection. This incident proves the stupidity of greed. This was the first of many irresponsible actions.
From time to time the horses needed re-shoeing. When this occurred I would take the horse to the blacksmith at Hollins Green and spend my dinner time in either the Eagle and Child pub or The Black Swan pub. The motto of the landlord was, ‘If he’s old enough to plough, he’s old enough to have a drink.’ So, from the age of fourteen there was hardly a day went by without me drinking some kind of alcohol.
This really upset my parents. On one occasion, my elder brother John took me into the bathroom for privacy and remonstrated with me concerning my drinking, having been informed by a fellow brick layer, “Your Lawrie wasn’t half knocking them back in the Nags Head, last night.” So I doubled my fist and threatened to punch him if he didn’t keep his nose out of my business.
How I have changed since that day. I now never laugh at a drunk. I feel so sad for the people who are addicted. So there existed in our home a strained atmosphere caused by my conduct and my behaviour.