Looking for Bill’s Friends: Names in the Archives

One of the startling characteristics of Bill Naughton’s writing is that he mentions real places and real people, not only in his autobiographies, but also in his short stories and novels – or he disguises people so thinly that it is easy to identify in real life. Such an example is Harriet Davenport also known as 'Skinny Nancy' who ran a toy shop/sports shop on Derby Road in Bolton. In Bill’s short story he refers to 'Skinny Nancy' and there is independent evidence from Norman Kenyon’s autobiographical pamphlets, which confirms that Bill is indeed refering to Harriet Davenport and her shop. She is described as crabby and tight-fisted and the shop as a dusty, ramshackle place. Bill also referred to her brother Mark by name, describing him as a wood turner who lived only a few doors up the road from the shop. Bill however, mixes fact with fiction, and in the story the shop burns down and Nancy dies, whilst in real life she carried on until 1935, dying of natural causes it would seem.  The point of the tale is that Nancy, despite her reputation, does young Bill a great kindness although she demands that he should not tell anyone that she has another side to her character.

In unpublished work, and no doubt in his journals (which are ‘closed’ until 2030), Bill notes down and lists the real names of several people he knew and worked with. We need your help! Some of these people must have had children, who may also have had children. Can we follow them up and find them? Do the children and grandchildren of these people know they were Bill Naughton’s friends or workmates? In the catalogue of the Mass Observation (MO) Archive in Bolton Library there is also a list of local people who volunteered at Davenport Street. This is by no means complete, MO recorded many names but didnot have a comprehensive list of volunteers.

So, we have the beginnings of a list of people either involved with Bill or with Mass Observation. Are any of the people listed below your grandad?

Fist of all then the local people identified as volunteers with Mass Observation between 1937 and 1940:

  • Peter Jackson wrote a report (reports?) on Saturday afternoon leisure.

  • Bill Rigby, ex miner

  • Tom Honeyford - spinner.  In the MO archive in Sussex is an account of his life he wrote himself. He was a spinner before the Great War, became disillusioned as a result of wartime experiences particularly appalled by ‘funking  officers' and 'hypocritical padres.'  He returned to the mill but had to work his way back ‘up’ from a side piecer.  This was difficult as he would not 'kow tow' to the bosses, however, eventually, he did attain the status of spinner again, but as he still would not conform, was eventually sacked.  He earned his living after that playing piano in a pub and running a beer house.  By 1939 he was working as a ‘gold beater’ a self-employed trade. He died in 1956. He contributed to the MO and signed his reports using his full name or using his initialsTHH. There are some reports initialled TH which could be contributed to Tom Honeyford but this has not yet been established. He also had an uncle who was a school board man who worked until he was at least seventy!

  • Leslie Taylor, pharmacist’s assistant  

  • Eric Bennet, unemployed shop assistant 

  • Jack Fagan, member of the National Unemployed Worker’s Movement (NUWM) and a Labour Party member. 

  • Harry Gordon.

  • Joyce Mangnall.  She used to go to Davenport Street with a tall ‘Junoesque friend’ and they did womanly things like cooking and washing up.  Joyce is reputed to have had an affair with sociologist Dennis Chapman.  During the war she and her husband worked at the Chorley Ordnance factory but afterwards she emigrated to Australia and had a distinguished career as  a social worker, in Melbourne probably.  

  • Bill Naughton.

  • Philip (Phil) Neville Harker.  There is quite a lot of information known on this man. Both his grandfathers were ministers and one started the Labour Church in Bolton. Phil’s father was a post office worker and Phil was brought up in Red Lane, Bolton. He too became post office worker, started training as a Unitarian Minister, but got transfixed by ‘Socialism’, joined the NUWM. He led Bolton’s contingent in a 1932 hunger March to London, coercing the vicar of Bolton into being a front man for a demo in Dec 1932, which turned into near riot, as a result of which Phil was imprisoned.  Arrested again in Mawdsley Street for another near riot in 1935, he joined the 'International Brigade' and went to Spain in 1936, but returned three months later. Although he was a Communist Party (CP) member, other CP members accused him of deserting the 'International Brigade'. Later, he ran a stall in Blackpool with a girlfriend and in the war was imprisoned again in Buxton after beating himself over the head with an iron bar and pretending that he had been assaulted and robbed of the £200 he was carrying for his employer. He lived after the war in Bexhill-on-Sea where he married and lived with his fourth wife.  He had at least one son, David.

  • John Bright, Unitarian minister, whose church was in Halliwell. Left Book club member.

  • Albert Smith, son of an insurance agent.  Oxbridge educated through some sort of scholarship. Ran WEA classes where some of the above were found to volunteer for MO.  Refused to register in the war or to get an ID card, but was left alone. 

  • Eric Letchford, unemployed iron miller, atheist, big drinker - he it was who wrote the unforgettable report on the use of spittoons. 

  • Tom Binks, ex Catholic piecer.  

Also worth mentioning here is Penelope Barlow: decidedly NOT working class. She went to Cheltenham Ladies College, Newnham College Cambridge and in 1938 was studying Personnel Management at the LSE (at the time Personnel Management was seen as a branch of Social Work, a very upper class occupation at the time). She was the daughter of Thomas Dalmahoy Barlow, owner and Managing Director of Barlow and Jones, the huge Bolton based spinning and weaving conglomerate. The family members included James Barlow, Mayor of Bolton in the C19th, and who donated the land for Thomas Stevenson’s children’s home complex at Crowthorne; Sir Thomas Barlow, Physician to Queen Victoria; Alice Barlow who started the Council run Fostering Service and Annie Barlow, the Egyptologist.  Thomas Dalmahoye Barlow was approached by Harrison, and was so impressed by him that he part funded the MO project in Bolton.  It is believed that Tom Harrison had a brief romance with Penelope and that it was she who introduced him to her dad.  Indeed, Penelope spent two periods of several weeks  ‘working’ in a mill.  In December 1938, she worked in the cardroom at the Atlas mill complex on Chorley Old Road and became a friend of fellow worker in the card room, one Edith Lilian Greenhalgh (known as Lilian), of Astley Bridge. Penelope Barlow wrote an extensive piece about her experiences in the mill, including much about Lilian's life and opinions.  In 1932, Lilian had been the first winner of the National ‘Personality Girl’ competition. For this she received a prize of twenty guineas and spent a year opening fetes and shops across the country and judging other beauty and personality girl contests. But at the time of the MO, just five years later she was back working in a card room. Penelope Barlow reported that Lilian seemed 'defeated and disillusioned.'  She wrote that Lilian had a fiancé in Australia and that there were plans for her to follow him out there, but there  seems to be no record of her passage over there.  Where did she go?  

Several names of real people he worked with are found in unpublished texts in the Bill Naughton Collection in Bolton Archive. They include:  

  • Abraham (‘Yab’) Lomax was the owner or manager of the 'Ainsworth Mercerising Company' he owned a limousine so he was rich.

  • Jeff Perry, Union representative at the 'Ainsworth Mercerising Company' in 1929.   (the Union was 'no good because the secretary was bent’)

  • Tom Holt worked at AMC with Bill, but had his hand crushed in machinery and with his compensation started a packing business. He lived into the 1970s.

  • Bob Sinclair was a bookmaker on Silverwell Street with a reputation for a number of 'affiliation orders' out against him – (an affiliation order being a court order for a man to support the mother of an illegitimate child when there was evidence enough that he was the father.)

  • Hetty Bibby worked at 'Kershaw’s Weaving shed' in the 1920s when Bill worked there as a young lad. He loved her from a distance, but she was engaged to Charlton Barnes. Who could compete with a name like that?  

  • There was also a Bibby who ran a fried fish shop on Birkdale Street near Bill’s house.

  • Bill’s dancing pals included (recorded in the Bill Naughton Collection at in ZNA 1/344):

    • James Hockhart, 

    • Arthur Finnemore, 

    • Bill Allen, 

    • Tommy Carter, 

    • Bill Fitton, 

    • Leslie Parker 

    • Johnny Dolan

  • Bill’s pals on the coal delivery carts and lorries included (in ZNA 1/366):

    • Tom Isherwood

    • Jimmy Wilcock (this was Bill’s father in law, whose idea it was for him to stand outside the coal depot looking for a day’s work in the first place)

    • Old Whittle 

    • Wellington Iddon

    • Johnny Beck, (‘he’s like a terrier dog.  he’ll neither f***, fight, nor stand back’)

    • Alf Waring 

    • Andy Openshaw 



This project has been developed in conjunction with, and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund