Saddleworth Voices: Mary Broadbent

Over the past four years, Saddleworth Voices have recorded almost 70 interviews to preserve fond memories and anecdotes of all things local.

With the support of Saddleworth Parish Council, Delph Community Association, Delph library, Saddleworth Museum, and the North West Sound Archive in Clitheroe, the team of volunteers has created an oral record of our times, with the added advantage of capturing accent and dialect.

Here, Martin Plant looks at the life of Mary Broadbent.

Mary Broadbent was born in Mossley in 1925, one of four children. Her father was born in Tipperary in 1894, served in the First World War and had a brother killed. He was a strong church­goer and disciplinarian and “though he never smacked us (our mother did that!) we did as we were told!”

Mary recalls: “It was quite a hard life. We never ever went on holiday, and when, in 1939, I finished at St Joseph’s School, I won a bursary to a commercial school in Manchester but my parents couldn’t afford for me not to work so I began work as a sectional warper at Tanners Mill in Greenfield.”

It was a noisy, dusty environment and Mary, as a 14 year old, earned 5 shillings a week.

The war made things difficult. She remembers her mother going without food at times so the family would be fed. She also recalls people saying somebody’s dad, brother, or son wouldn’t be coming home and people in Oldham being killed by bombing raids.

One raid in particular was on Christmas Eve, 1944, when more than 20 people were killed by a “doodlebug”, a V1 flying bomb, which destroyed a row of terraced houses. A bomb landed on Greenfield cricket ground in 1941 but luckily failed to go off.

Mary had to be at work in the mill at 7.30am. If the weather was bad and the bus was late or they had to walk, a “little elderly man on the door would see us coming but if we weren’t there on the dot he would shut the door and lock us out for quarter of an hour, even if it was raining, and we would lose a quarter of an hour’s pay.”

At the age of 22 she joined her mother and father at the Irish League Club in Mossley. Mary ordered a shandy but her father refused to allow her to have it and took it away!

Shortly afterwards, Mary met her future husband who had been married before and already had a son. When Mary’s father found out she was meeting a divorcee he told Mary “You don’t come in here again.”

She had to go back the next day to collect her clothes but “I never saw my father again, except six years later after he had died and was laid out for the funeral.”

Mary’s husband had served in the Navy, on mine­sweepers, during the war. They lived in Greenfield after they were married where Mary has lived ever since.

Her first holiday away was a week in a rented caravan in Rhyl. She has four sons and one stepson, and grandchildren.

Mary worked at Tanners Mill for 22 years then at Kinders Mill warping tartan, and finally at Kenworthys Mill for nine years until it shut.

She has loved living in Greenfield. All her family are keen walkers and enjoy the countryside. And she insists: “I do not live in Oldham! I live in Saddleworth! In Yorkshire!”


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