Local industries in Lakeland towns eighty years ago were much as today, because every township needs its builders, joiners, roofers, drystone wallers, and skilled craftsmen; but in those days, a new house might be built for only #500 or less, and a skilled craftsmen was content earning less than two shillings an hour.
Then, as now, the local quarryman supplied the raw materials, sometimes at great personal cost:
"I remember as a child an old gentleman, he used to go very early to the quarries and one of them blew up and he got terribly burned. You didn't pay much insurance, I don't know if they paid anything really. They did try to start up a union while we were quite young and of course the quarry master, he wouldn't have it, it didn't start because he would close it down. They didn't strike, there never was a strike, not as I remember, but there was always work, it wasn't very well paid, but there was always work."
There were always accidents, too, often involving explosions, bad burns, and rock falls:
"It wasn't that people were often injured, they were generally killed...not many injured, as I say, but if there was an accident it was a killing job."
Men were hit on the head by falling rocks; some fell down great quarry holes. One man actually survived such a fall:
"He fell down I don't know how many feet and he did survive, to die unfortunately blown off the wagon going to Coniston, blown off the wagon by a strong wind and dropped on this fence that had these spikes.... another lad was killed, Joe Dixon was killed and this other lad had his leg blown off and you see, the doctor didn't get there in time. But today you'd have had him in hospital and put him a leg on. Very, very raw was life in the valleys."
Few men killed in the quarries had made a will, and their property passed automtically to the eldest son, bypassing the widow and sometimes leaving her without a roof over her head and no pension:
"My mother was left with seven children, one of them a week old, not a penny coming in. He was killed at the quarries. Not a penny from anywhere. So she used to make shirts at a shilling a time, big heavy calico shirts. She'd many a time say she'd give the children what she'd got and she had nothing. It was all she could do."
Finding a job in the building trade as an ordinary "tradesman" or "journeyman" often entailed a practical test. One man had already worked for years in the family building firm, doing farm repairs and building the occasional house, when he had to find a job nearer his new home:
"..he just had a word with me, who was I, where I was from, and who were my family and one thing and another...alright, he says, just go down the yard, see our yard man and he'll give you a slate lathe, and there's a heap of slate just next to the smithy, just go down there and set me a cottage roof out, will you, and I'll be down in about ten minutes."
The man found a forty ton heap of slate waiting, all different sizes, and before long had set a roof by "random" slating, assessing sizes of slates and how they would fit together:
"This is where you find out where men are men and mice are mice...I'm talking about random slating, which is where the craftsmanship comes in. I mean, today even local slating is more or less size slating, it all comes one size, so to me it isn't slating, its tiling."
But despite his craftsmanship, he was taken on as a journeyman and not a master builder; and it hadn't been easy either as an apprentice in the depression years of the 1930s:
"My age group was unfortunate in many ways when we came in as apprentices and started our trades at a time when there was a terrible lot of tradesmen hanging up the back of the door - in other words, you were on the Labour Exchange books. So therefore tradesmen were not forthcoming in passing information on to apprentices, they'd show you nowt. You had to see for yourself. And you'd to keep your eyes open, because its the only way you learned owt. They wouldn't tell you, no way, because the more they told you, the more you knew, and you were a younger fellow. Their job was hanging on that dependability. So they could only hang on to their jobs, a lot of them, by their knowledge and if they parted with that knowledge to a younger man they became vulnerable for going on the dole queue..."
Men may have risked serious injury or death working in the quarries, but being a builder was no advertisement for the great outdoors either:
"It has its occupational hazards. I mean, I don't think there's anybody in the trade hasn't got a bad back, lumbago or arthritis, from the position that you're walling or slating. If you're walling, you're leaning forward, if you're slating, you're leaning forward with the wind and rain on the lower regions of your back - I mean, this is it."
Up until the last War, every village had a wheelwright to repair the farmers' carts:
"To my personal knowledge we only repaired two cartwheels after the '39-45 War.And I well remember the cost because they had to be re-hooped, and they cost about £45 to be repaired and re-hooped, and I remember the old farmer coming along to pay and saying to my father, "Tha knows, its forty years since I got this cart mended - your spot...and it was £10 complete with hay-shelvings. It shows how times have worsened: its got £45 to repair t'wheel, but I'se not grumbling, you know."
A joiner would usually make a pair of cartwheels, which were then taken to the blacksmith:
"He would take the circumference of the wheel and measure out the metal, the amount of stick metal required, and shape it and join it; he'd anneal it together in the forge and then they used to build a fire which was more or less the diameter of the wheel, and they'd really get it going right round and then they'd put this hoop, as we called it, on to the fire until it was really red hot. Now at six intervals, there'd been holes drilled through the hoop and once the hoop was hot enough, it was dropped on to the wooden rim and knocked into position. Sometimes it hadn't swelled enough, hadn't the metal, so it wouldn't go on, so it had to be put back in the fire, the fire re-stoked and then they tried again. But once it was in position the fixing nails were rapidly put in through the holes, and then the hoop was carried bodily to the local duck pond where there was a special portion which had been deepened and the wheel was dropped in so that it would shrink quickly, and then once it had cooled off it was brought back to our workshops and painted up. And then of course the whole cart was painted and usually they used lead red, and very often the wheels would be finished in red, the body work green and certain ornamentation, sometimes floral work."
There were any number of tradesmen; wheelwrights, painters, plasterers, saddlers, blacksmiths, wallers and masons. But the carpenter was top of his ladder,because his job required greater versatility:
"They had to be so versatile that they could do anything. Whether it was making a window, it might have to be a sash window, or a swivel window, pivot window or they would have to make a coffin, or a staircase, straight flight or flights of stairs with winders. They had to be capable of making roof trusses, putting on a roof, putting in floor joists, laying floors: they were all round tradesmen...usually you found that in any firm where they had a multiplicity of trades, more often than not it was the foeman was a joiner, and he would do not only his own trade but he knew the majority of the other trades.