The Wigan Pier Diaries: 13.3.36
Ten minutes to drag him out
This house is bigger that I had imagined. Two rooms and tiny larder under the stairs downstairs, 3 or 4* rooms upstairs. 8 people in the house – 5 adults and 3 children. Front room which should be parlour is used as bedroom. Living room, about 14 by 12, has the usual kitchener, sink and copper. No gas stove. Electric light in all rooms save one. Outside W.C.
The family. Mr Grey, a short powerful man, age about 43, with coarse features, enlarged nose and a very fatigued, pale look. He is rather bald, has his own teeth (unusual in a working class person of that age) but they are very discoloured. A bit deaf, but very ready to talk, especially about technicalities of mining. Has worked in the pit ever since a small boy. On one occasion was buried by a fall of earth or stone – no bones broken, but it took ten minutes to dig him out and two hours to drag him to the cage. He tells me no machinery (stretchers etc.) exists for conveying injured men away from the scene of accidents. Obviously some kind of stretcher running on the trolley rails could be contrived, but this would involve stopping all the haulage of coal while it was being done. So injured men have to be carried to the cage by helpers who are themselves bending double and can only get them along very slowly. Mr G. works at removing the coal onto trucks after it is cut – “scufting” I think it is called. He and his mate are paid piece-work 2/2 per ton – 1/1 each. On full time his wages average £2-10-0 a week. His stoppages amount to 6/11. He works at Darton, about 4 miles away and goes there by bus.Journeys cost 6d a day. So his net wages on full time are about £2-0-0 a week.
Mrs G. is about 10 years younger,** motherly type, always cooking and cleaning, accent less broad then her husband’s. Two little girls, Doreen and Ireen (spelling?) aged 11 and 10. The other lodgers are a widowed joiner, employed on the woodwork at the new dog-track, and his son aged about 11, and a professional singer who is going to sing at one of the pubs. All the larger pubs in Barnsley employ singers and dancers (some of these very immoral according to Mrs G.) more or less constantly.
The house is very clean and decent and my room the best I have had in lodgings up here. Flanelette sheets this time.
*3 [handwritten footnote]
**Actually their ages are 50 & 38 [handwritten footnote]
George Orwell travelled to the north of England in January 1936 to report on living conditions in the wake of the Great Depression. The result was The Road to Wigan Pier, published in 1937 while Orwell was in Spain.
In addition to a great deal of research, the book was based on Orwell’s diaries, which begin in Coventry and end in March 1936, near Barnsley. Orwell Daily is serialising that diary in real-time, eighty-seven years to the day since it was written.
bus ] Orwell’s handwritten emendation for the original ‘tram’.
Thank you for this project! Can’t wait to see this report unfold!