The Definitive History of the Surname STABLES in Yorkshire

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The Autobiography of Brian Stables (b.1929 Tickhill)


The First Ten Years - 1929 to 1939

This is Brian Stables's fascinating and very funny autobiography, written in his own words. Brian was born in Tickhill in 1929 and emigrated to Canada in 1976. Brian has promised to serialise his life story for us, as and when he gets the chance.

He has also provided a superb collection of photographs to accompany his story. Click the photo for a larger image.

Read the other parts of Brian's Autobiography...

bulletThe School Years
bulletDoncaster Road - 1929 to 1947
bulletEva Stables, (nee Burns) 1907-1983
bulletWilliam Henry Stables (1904-1991)
bulletRaymond Stables (1927-2002)
bulletTeen Age
bulletValerie Jean Stables
bulletTying The Knot
bulletHong Kong
bulletAden & Kenya
bulletBlackpool & Tickhill
bulletFamily Life Begins
bulletEmigration To Canada
bulletLate Middle Age

Bunty's Family Photo For Web.jpg (43685 bytes)I was born in a small upstairs room of a two-bedroom row house on Doncaster Road, Tickhill, Yorkshire.    I do not remember anything about that, but my parents, who were there, informed me of this and I believe it.

My father, (William Henry) was a coalmine worker at the time; “Colliery surface worker” was the jargon, this being much more acceptable than being a miner in those times.  It was not long before the troubles in the coalmines came about.  I wish it known that this was not my fault. The mineworkers were being very severely abused by the mine owners in those days and jobs were hard to come by, the big stock market depression of 1929 was in its early days and working class families were hard put to in making ends meet.   

The house was a very small; two up and two down, the outside toilet was, what was then known as, an ‘earth toilet’, which had to be cleaned out at frequent intervals, laundry was done in a communal shed, shared by the neighbours of the row. This had a coal-fired tub. There was no electricity and the water supply was from a well up to the time of my arrival.  Shortly after which a water tap was provided by the landlord and placed over the kitchen sink.  The hot water was supplied from a small reservoir situated at the right hand side of the open coal fire, there was an oven to the left and a warming shelf above, the weekly bath ritual took up most of a day as I grew older.  When my Dad did manage to have work, his routine was to have a bath in front of the fire then have his supper, have an hour in the garden tending his vegetables and pigeons, then totter off to bed and rise again at five o-clock.  His days off were Saturday afternoon and Sunday.   

Across the road from us my dads family (Pictured Above), (William Richard hereafter noted as ‘Bunty’) were lucky enough to have a more modern house with electricity and hot and cold water, plus a real bathroom and water closet, the latter accessible from outside only, oddly enough.  To me this was the very lap of luxury.  In the household, which was a three bedroom, semi detached, my two grandparents Bunty and Lily, together with their, now grown children; Frank, Herbert, Arthur, Gertrude and Mary, all got along just fine.  I have no recollection of Uncle Fred living there and Uncle Maurice had died many years before.  The girls both got married during these years but I saw them quite often as they both purchased houses at the other side of Tickhill on Worksop road.  The three remaining boys did not get married, and indeed, I never knew them to have steady girl friends, in the case of Arthur, (known as Pobs, for some reason) this was understandable as he was schizophrenic and the whole household suffered as consequence.  I loved them all, particularly Bunty and Pobs.

Just about two doors down from them lived another Stables family Harry and Dot. The funny thing is that I was discouraged from visiting them, and in retrospect, I imagine there must have been a family quarrel carried over from God knows when, and, as is the way, perpetuated far too long.  

Another skeleton for which I have only a vague understanding, (and which will not be revealed) is that my brother, named Raymond but known to all as ‘Bob’ was never made welcome at my grandparents, indeed I recollect him being told to “bugger off, you little blankety blank” whenever he ventured over there. Happily, the other grandparent always made a big fuss of him; unfortunately, they lived some miles away, just South of Grantham in Stoke Rochford.

One of the favourite games was for the strikers to gather at the home of a ‘blackleg’ and keep the poor chap awake for hours on end. 

My very first memory is being seated on the table next to an oil lamp, (no electricity, remember?) whilst mum did some work on the floor.   I have always been inquisitive and took a peak down the chimney, this promptly terrified poor mum by catching my hair afire, eyebrows and lashes together with the ‘forelock’ all frizzled up, I remember the smell to this day.  It was shortly after this that my next memory comes; I was still small enough to require mum to bathe me in the galvanized bathtub in front of the fireplace, all was proceeding well when a house brick came crashing in through the window, followed by a voice shouting, “Sorry Bill, wrong house!”. Times were stimulating in those days of strikes and riots!

One of the favourite games was for the strikers to gather at the home of a ‘blackleg’ and keep the poor chap awake for hours on end.  They did this to make him so tired it would be impossible for him to break the strike by going to the mine.  I remember seeing them chase one poor man around his garden; they took it in turns and all, except for the victim, seemed to be having fun to me.

I think one of the funniest stories of those early years was to do with granddad Bunty.   Up to about four years old, my mum liked to have my hair in a style that I later thought of as a ‘Shirley Temple’ cut, I had blond hair and it was very curly so there I was looking like a little cherub from an ancient painting.   I recall, vividly, visiting old Bunty and him looking me over and saying; “Nah than lad, go and bring me the haircutting kit”, being an obedient child, off I went and produced the items as instructed.  He proceeded to give me a ‘proper’ haircut; he did this by grasping my forelock in one hand and cutting off all the remainder, to the bone, as you might say.   “By gow, that looks right bonny” he said, “now go and show thee mam”.

Her screams ring in my ears to this day.

I have no recollection of deprivation, we must have been very short of money for Dad was on ‘The Parish’ as relief for the unemployed was supplied from Parish funds in those days. This money had to be reimbursed to the council when he found employment again.   I know that the vegetable garden was most useful as one of my jobs was collecting the produce whenever my mum required it.   My grandparents kept chickens so we had fresh eggs and the occasional broiler bird from them, there seemed to be a system of sharing stuff with neighbours in those days, perhaps we found alleviation for our mutual misery by sharing what we had.

The pubs were always busy, considering there was little or no money for groceries...

The interests of the grown men seemed to be owning and racing pigeons plus team sports such as soccer and cricket, boxing was of interest through the newspapers and the talk in the barber shop was always very loud with disputes as to the merits of the various champions of the day.  The pubs were always busy, considering there was little or no money for groceries there was always a brisk trade in the ‘Working Men’s Institute’ or the ‘stute as it became known.   Dad had a cobblers last and repaired the shoes of the four families who occupied the other houses in the yard, they had to supply the leather and nails, but dad would do the job.   It was about this time that the traveling out of work men, (tramps) would come into the yard on their long walk ‘down south’ looking for employment, they would stand in the yard and sing, with varying degrees of competence, and invariably would be offered a meal, and, if possible, a coin or two to help them on their way.  There was a lodging house in Sunderland street just in west of the old tollbooth where the lucky ones would be able to get shelter.    There were itinerant vendors calling by all the time.   We had tinsmiths and knife sharpening men who transported their tools in barrows, amongst others, again, with varying skill, but all of them made very welcome, as everyone knew that they were trying to make a living, and “There but for the grace of God go I”.  I do remember mum hiding on one occasion, for she was unable to face the chap who was trying to sing because she did not have a coin to give him.  Old Bunty used to give me the odd penny for performing odd jobs, cleaning the chicken roost etc. and this I spent very quickly, as soon as the ice cream seller came around.  The ice cream man traveled from Doncaster in a horse, (Pony?) drawn trap.  The ice cream was kept cool with dry ice in an insulated container, the trap was very colourful due to the owner being an immigrant from Italy, a refugee, (as I understood it) from the Fascist regime in Italy of that period.  The salesman was a very grumpy individual who was crippled with a club foot.   In retrospect, I count myself lucky, my basic diet was just what modern “experts’ now call healthy, lots of vegetables, (we could not afford anything else) and no candy, cakes or chocolate.  The fruit was there for the picking, we had access to plums, pears and apples right there in either our garden or the neighbours, and when that was gone from the tree, the women had preserved the surplus for the winter months.

School started at age five, as I believe it still does. I was a reluctant scholar and was able to think of many other things to do with my time. There were two schools in Tickhill in 1935; both were Church of England. The infants was behind the old candle factory, which ran North of Sunderland street close to the Buttercross behind the Rectory, I tried very hard to be a good pupil, but found it hard to concentrate on simple things like the alphabet, because I was already able to read books quite well. My mother said later, she encouraged me to read because it was the only thing that would keep me quiet! There was no television in those days and we could not afford a wireless, (radio) at that time.

I took part in many school functions, I do not know why, it may have been because my Mum was good at making the outfits I was required to wear, I just do not know. I participated in May Queen Parades. I particularly enjoyed the Maypole and sword dancing. To perform this latter, about eight of us boys obtained flat wooden sticks and we were taught how to lock them into intricate patterns. The maypole was another complicated affair with girls and boys dancing in and out, half dancing clockwise the other half anti-clockwise, the rehearsals were a lot of fun with the ribbons getting all tied up in wrong designs.

We all started at the other school, (close to St Mary's Church) at about eight year old, (I think). The first thing I learned there was to share cigarettes in the adjoining field, hidden by the boys' toilets. I am so happy that I found this pastime too expensive for me, and have never smoked since.

I did have a job as milk boy for a while, in those days milk delivery was direct from the farm to the customer's door, it was my job to rise early and go down to the farm on the corner of Common Lane, the farmers name was Mr. Count. I enjoyed the pocket money but disliked the can handles cutting into my hands when carrying them. I was, and still am, a wimp.

The farmer did not have a very large herd and, twice daily, either he, or his sister, would milk the cows by hand, a skill, which I found difficult to master. I was always leaving some residue and if the farmer had not supervised me the poor cow would, (I have no doubt) have been infected with all sorts of illness. The milk was body temperature and had to be cooled, this was achieved by running it down an open corrugated galvanized metal board, (similar to a laundry rubbing board) and then into churns. I am sure they were as hygienic as their contemporaries were, however; even then, I was surprised that this work was performed so close to the central manure heap, where, of course, flies abounded. From the churn, were measured different quantities into the tin cans ready for delivery to the customers.

The main treatment appeared to comprise of putting you to bed and ensuring you did not get out until you either recovered or died!

Throughout this period, I was prone to catching any diseases that were going around; there were such horrors as Measles and Chicken pox, Scarlet fever German measles, Mumps, you name it I got it. There were no antibiotics in those days, and, if one of the school kids got something, it usually passed around rapidly. One exception was a Diphtheria outbreak about 1939/40, I just happened to be one of only a couple in the school to get it, I believe I contracted it from someone who was a 'carrier', for it is possible to have Diphtheria and show no signs at all . I was rapidly isolated to the fever hospital at Conisborough, where we all went to die. Apparently, there was no cure. The main treatment appeared to comprise of putting you to bed and ensuring you did not get out until you either recovered or died! The procedure seemed to be that you lay about in the general ward for a few days, weeks or months, and then moved to a side ward where, after a decent interval, you died. The mortuary staff came for you late at night. This surreptitious, nighttime maneuvering was to preserve the fiction that the rest of us did not know what was happening. When it became my turn for the side ward, I remember thinking, "bugger this, I am going to show them I can live". I, (obviously) did. It took me about three months before I could walk properly as my leg muscles had wasted away.

The 1939-45 war was building up during this period. I recall the only people I knew who were against it happening, were some conscientious objectors and not a few of the 1914-18 veterans, these latter were quite vociferous in stating that they had sacrificed a lot of their youth and lost not a few of their friends in order that this nonsense would never happen again. I have strong memories of local "Red necks" swaggering in the street, shouting; "We beat 'em once we'll beat 'em proper this time". The opposite faction would counter this by retorting, "I bet tha'll be no where near t'front line if t'war happens". They were right too. For me it was an exciting time, for I was an avid newspaper reader. To be honest, I little thought that England would be involved; I thought it a purely European problem, a true Englishman, I believed that the Continent of Europe was 'Foreign' and England was not only isolated, but also superior! We had no idea, (with one exception, which I will explain later) of the atrocities being perpetrated by the Nazi regime, and could not have done anything if we had. Our military was in a very sad state indeed. The big news, to me, was that Hitler had turned around an economy, in a country that was almost moribund, (due to galloping inflation) into a world super power, and all this in just a few short years. A very few people questioned why our own government appeared incapable of emulating this example. I found it fascinating to listen to the arguments of the adults; I regret to say that I never heard any of the Stables family giving a strong opinion one way or another! This fitted their personalities however, so I should not have been surprised.

The exception was that a niece of grandma who had married a German National some time after the Great War of 1914 - 18. They took up residence in Germany. Later on, in the late 1930s, there was a huge flurry of activity in getting documents to prove her racial origins and birth details, these were sent off in great haste, but nothing was ever heard from her, or her husband, ever again.

The threat of war did galvanize industry throughout the country. The men were able to return to work, and, with this sudden influx of money, we were able to move house during the closing days of 1939. We moved to a place on Wilsic road, the 'privy' was still situated outside, and again, there was no hot water but we did have electricity so cooking was a lot easier, it had much more space than the row house,

There were trips to the seaside, Mablethorpe and Skegness, these were usually organized by the Chapel, (on Sunderland Street) and with the acquisition of a bicycle, I was given the freedom to explore the surrounding area. Life was good. My biggest ambition was to travel, in particular to travel the 'Great North Road' a two-lane highway that ran from London to Edinborough, or vise versa, depending on your heritage.

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Raymond "Bob" Stables (Left) and Brian Stables (Right) at Skegness in the 1930s.
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Brian Stables (Cushion Bearer) during the Coronation. 1937.
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Brian Stables. 1930s.
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Brian Stables (Left), William Henry Stables (Centre) and Raymond "Bob" Stables (Right). 1930s.
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Brian Stables (Left), Eva Stables (née Burns) and Raymond "Bob" Stables (Right). 1940.
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Brian Stables, Choirboy. 1940s

It made no sense that our congregation should have the only access to heaven and no one else in the world would be 'saved'.

After my Diphtheria experience, I began to question religion. I had no doubt there was a God, what I could not reconcile was my idea of what the bible taught and the hypocrisy of the sanctimonious people with whom I shared Chapel services. Whenever I broached the subject, almost invariably, I was told to shut up, and that I was too young to understand. How I became to hate that expression. It made no sense that our congregation should have the only access to heaven and no one else in the world would be 'saved'. Besides, the sinners generally appeared to be having all the fun and we were denied the simple pleasure of playing ball on the Sabbath. I decided to try the Church of England. Mum was a bit upset, but there was no holding me and off I went, only to find there was little to choose between them when it came to preaching one thing and living another. Anyway, I joined the choir, there were two reasons for this, one; we received payment for weddings and funerals and secondly; that was where the girls were. Sadly, my natural inquisitiveness and questioning let me down and I was turfed out, rather abruptly, one sunny Sunday morning half way through matins. The vicar probably thought he had had enough of me.

The war came to Tickhill in the final months of 1939. The man who lived at the end of our row, (just before our move) was fortunate enough to have a cellar, and this he reinforced to withstand anything but a direct hit from the expected bombing. He very kindly fitted it out to accommodate all the neighbours in the row, plus a family of an old army pal, (they were veterans of the war to end all wars). Our war had barely begun before the air raid sirens were sounding. Off we went, complete with gas masks, blankets candles flashlights and spare batteries etc. etc. Time went by with people actually listening for the bombs; "Shush" "Shush" went our protecting heroes, and we kids sat there totally bewildered, as well we might be, hell, if there had been a bomb even I could work out that we would have heard it! If it had hit us, it would not have mattered anyway! Upon the 'All clear', sounding the young daughter of the army vet guest starting crying, and the reason? No one had asked her to wear her gas mask!

Read the next installment: Numbers 95 and 112 Doncaster Road - 1929 to 1947

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Copyright © 2004 Andy Stables
Last modified: May 10, 2010