The Definitive History of the Surname STABLES in Yorkshire

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The Autobiography of Brian Stables (Part 4)


William Henry Stables. 1904 – 1991

This is the fourth part of Brian Stables's fascinating and very funny autobiography, which is written in his own words.

Brian was born in Tickhill in 1929 and emigrated to Canada in 1976. He is currently serialising his life story for us.

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

Bill,Arthur, Fred, circa 1919.jpg (44150 bytes)
Bill, Arthur & Fred Stables. c.1919.

Bill, as I remember him, did not have a happy life.

There are all sorts of pitfalls in remembering someone whom you knew as a child, there are disappointments associated with false expectations, there is the juvenile perspective of living with and being dependent upon, someone who struggles with the changing times, and then of course, there is the well known generation gap, so lovingly mentioned at frequent intervals by my own offspring.

I am sure that my Daughter and my Son would portray two different people if asked to describe me, and, no doubt, my Granddaughter would describe yet a third.

With the foregoing in mind I have decided to remain strictly within the limits of my personal memory of William Henry and ignore the opinions of others. This may very well ‘short change’ him, but that is the way life is, I guess.

If I had been able to choose my father from the Stables family of Tickhill, I am sure he would have been the one I would have chosen. It was just his ill fortune that he lived in such a place in such an era. In such restricted surroundings, and the culture of the times, he never stood any hope of reaching his full potential. Given half a chance, I am sure he would have been quite a different person to the one that I recall.

So, what do I recall?

We never had a close relationship, this was offset by the enormous amount of freedom I enjoyed, freedom to come and go and explore both physically and spiritually; all the wonderful things that the big world has to offer. Usually this was manifested by a dialogue that went; “Dad, I want to--- “with the interjected reply; “I s’pose tha’ll do as tha’ bloody well likes”.

...he was meticulous, he would fuss over his work to a point bordering on fanaticism

He was a skilled woodworker and if the world had been kind, this type of work is what he would have taken up as a vocation, it was certainly a passion of his to take some pieces of wood and transpose them into beautiful items of whatever it was he had decided to make, he was meticulous, he would fuss over his work to a point bordering on fanaticism, on one occasion he manufactured a wooden railway engine for me, it was correct in all details and painted in the L.N.E.R. livery; green and black. I remember quite well his making a fireside fender with a padded seat at both ends; it was one of my favourite reading places.

Unfortunately the world seldom accommodated the working class in his day, (Nor to-day, now I come to think of it.) His first real paying job was at the age of twelve, as a ‘boy’ at a farm close to Spital Hill on the way to Bircoats. In later years, when we drove by the place, he would take some amount of pleasure in pointing this out and I got the impression that he had been happy there. He and his family lived at the top end of Sunderland Street in those days and, as was the custom, he walked to and from the farm every day. He lost the job when the armed forces were disbanded after WW1. He considered himself very fortunate to get a job at a coal mine, not, I am sure, that he liked the idea of the job being at the pit, the point is, it was a job, and those days any job at all was eagerly sought and protected. I do not know the sequence of events, but I recollect him telling me he had been employed at the mines in Maltby, Harworth and Rossington. His last job was at Rossington, he told me it had to do with the, (mechanical) loading of railway trucks at the colliery marshalling yards. Up to his retirement, excepting the periods of layoffs and strikes, he would ride his bicycle five and sometimes six days per week to and from ’the pit’, as it was known. took him three weeks to pack, unpack and repack his suitcase, and even then would fret that he had forgotten something

He would not countenance any other mode of transport, indeed, in the 1950s when I was going away for a few years, I offered to give him my Lambretta scooter, an easy vehicle to ride and inexpensive to run, but; “I don’ want none o’ them bloody things” was his endearing reply to my offer. He appeared to have an aversion to any motor transport and never did own a motor vehicle, I offered to give him my car on one earlier occasion, again I was going away for a while and I thought he would like to make use of it, it was an Armstrong Siddely with semi automatic gears and very easy to drive, I received a similar reply to that which I received some years later with the scooter. I cannot remember him traveling on any public transport; on the few times he paid a visit to my home I had to transport him there and back in my car, and that was a trauma, it took him three weeks to pack, unpack and repack his suitcase, and even then would fret that he had forgotten something. I remember when I was in the army, stationed in Germany, I would try to get him over there to visit, I even offered to drive him over in my car, but no way would he even countenance such a daring adventure; what? Foreign parts? You must be joking.

Foreigners; those were the people whose territory started at the boundaries of Yorkshire. They were the people to be suspicious of, to avoid if at all possible. He, like most of the inhabitants of Tickhill that I knew at that time, was racially prejudiced. I do not know how he, (or they) formed any opinions of “them”. Bill, in particular, during my time with him, hardly ever met anyone outside of the boundaries of Tickhill and the surrounding villages, I never knew him to visit Doncaster never mind ‘foreign parts’! It took him many months, indeed years, before he could accept Bob’s daughter marrying a kind, family orientated, good looking, and well educated young man named John, whose family had emigrated from the continent of India. If John walked into the room, Bill would walk out!

The telephone was a ‘modern’ gadget that Bill only accepted with deep reluctance, there being a perfectly good instrument in the public phone box by the Butter Cross, and in any case by the time you had made your call you might as well visit the person you wish to contact, after all, anyone worth speaking to lived in Tickhill anyway. His family finally prevailed, and an instrument was installed and situated in the most inconvenient spot in the house, close to the front door in a small corridor, he would not answer its ring even if he was standing next to it and he never once phoned me or my brother, nor, come to think of it did he write any letters or initiate communication to us at all. I have been told that his handwriting was an impeccable (old fashioned) script, but I will never know.

His big economy was to go around the house switching off any electrical appliance or light, even if someone happened to be using it! 

He would have made a good modern day, (2003!) environmentalist. Always frugal, almost to the point of being parsimonious, Bill would never spend a penny if he could help it, he would seldom discard anything “that might be useful” his garden sheds were always overcrowded with these, (supposedly) potentially useful items. Because of our inability to appreciate the finer points of these possessions, Mum, Bob and I could only see junk, but to him it was all treasure, indeed, he was proved correct in one example as, when, after his death and his estate was being cleared up, it was an old oaken table, that he used to use as a work bench, that attracted the highest price of any of the items which were disposed of. His big economy was to go around the house switching off any electrical appliance or light, even if someone happened to be using it! “Tha’ can see alright wi’out that” he would say!

His sense of duty and his work ethic was impeccable, he was like the mail carrier of legend, where nothing, (neither rain nor hail etc.) would deter him from his obligations, I can recall one very bad winter, it must have been about 1945/1946, when the snow had drifted and blocked the road between Tickhill and Rossington, this did little to deter Bill, who walked through the snow drifts to reach his place of work, I am sure this must have greatly surprised the pit manager, or then again, maybe it didn’t.

He was a ‘private’ man, he would never share his feelings, this did little to make him understood by his immediate family, I am sure he loved me but he could never allow himself to demonstrate any affection, a pity, for we all need the comfort that a word or a touch can bring. One illustration of this; are memories of mine, whilst still a child, of running to meet him arriving home from work, and he, dismounting his bike, would utter those unforgettable words; “Bugger off, I ain’t got time for thee right now”, sadly, he never had. Of course when he had had a full working day, plus the bicycle ride to and from Rossington it was natural to be tired, I was unable to understand that at the time however.

I believe his experiences with his father, (Bunty) must have had a bearing on him avoiding drunkenness, I never saw him tipsy, I understand he once had a few too many at one of his sisters weddings, I would have liked to have been there for that, and probably was, but I do not recall it. He would visit the Working Men’s Institute and have a game of dominoes with his friends, during the course of which he would consume a maximum of two bottles of Mackesons Stout; he incessantly smoked Park Drive cigarettes and when he died he had a throat cancer, although it was a pulmonary infection that carried him off.

He never gave me any advice that I can recall, we never discussed or spoke of things that other fathers and sons accept as being part of being a parent/child relationship. He never suggested, for example, as to whether or not, I should do, or not do, anything, smoke, drink, or die of bliss in the arms of some loose woman; my lifestyle, and how I lived it, was left up to me. His only proviso seemed to be that I should be strictly honest with all my dealings. Honesty and speaking the truth, no matter how unpopular, or inappropriate, was another of his obsessions. I have another memory of an occasion when, whilst visiting him during one of my leaves of absence from the army, his Landlady had fallen ill, and Bill was fretting over her not collecting the rent. In those days the rent was paid in cash and the amount noted in a rent book, this was initialed by the recipient; it was an important ritual in his life. I took the sealed envelope containing the money, together with the rent book, around to the Landlady; she struggled out of her sick bed to answer the door, she bitched a bit when I explained what I was about, took the book from me and initialed it, placed the envelope in a drawer and thanked me. I asked if she would not wish to check the amount in the envelope before I left. She threw me a withering look and asked; “Who put the money in the envelope and who sealed it?” “Dad” I answered, “Then it will be correct - to the penny” was her farewell reply.

The 1939 to 1945 war appeared to come as a surprise to Bill, “that bloody Hitler feller wants sorting out” he would avow. 

If Bill had any passion at all it was his garden, he was a gardener ‘par excellence’, it was another of his endeavours from which I was excluded, that, and his racing pigeons was another. He would make it very plain that my help was not required; I had to discover what a ‘cold frame’ did by querying one of the neighbours, his vegetables and lawns were always well tended, he had the proverbial ‘green thumb’. He would invariably grow far more product than what the family could consume and although much was given away, or exchanged for different plants, he would inevitably be forced to throw some on ‘t’midden ’ to form a compost for the following years crops.

The 1939 to 1945 war appeared to come as a surprise to Bill, “that bloody Hitler feller wants sorting out” he would avow. His job at the colliery was considered to be an essential task, but he did not escape the conscription into the local Home Guard, initially called the Local Defense Volunteers, or L.D.V. it changed its name when conscription started. As a keen member of the Army Cadet Corps I did a lot of training with this disparate, (and desperate) group of “Dads Army”, as they were known throughout the land, it was a rare opportunity to share in a common interest, even if it was enforced upon him!

The final two or three times I visited him he was a widower, and coping extremely well, indeed his lifestyle appeared to have changed very little, instead of Eva buying his foodstuffs, clothes and essential items, he now had the social services and neighbours fussing around him, he loved the attention he got. On one of my visits, taking time off from a business trip, (from Canada) over to Germany, I had caught a plane over to England in order to be with him for a couple of days, and, as has always been the way with me; I tried to tell him all of my latest happenings, and all within the space of the first two minutes of meeting him.

“Nah then, I s’all ‘ave to tell thee summat, if tha wants to talk to me, tha’ll ‘ave ter talk proper”

I was gabbing away, and he, sat hunched over in his low easy chair, staring into the fireplace, wearing his cap, smoking his Woodbine, flicking the ash now and then, occasionally nodding his head, finally looked up at me and said; “Nah then, I s’all ‘ave to tell thee summat, if tha wants to talk to me, tha’ll ‘ave ter talk proper”. I had not realized that my Tickhill accent had faded over the years, I still speak with an accent, albeit somewhat modified, due to extensive travel and, of course, my living in Canada for so long. I tried my best.

The final words we spoke were in the hospital where he died; I had returned to help my brother and his wife sort his affairs out and we visited him every day. He was having some, (probably medication induced) hallucinations alternating with spells of lucidity and during one of the latter he looked into my eyes and said; “I’ve not been a very good father have I lad?” “No Dad,” I replied, “but you did your best, and let’s face it, your grandsons have a lot to be grateful for, after all, both Bob and I learned a lot of what not to do from you”

 His obsession, of always speaking the truth, had finally caught up with him.  

Read the next installment: Raymond Stables (1927-2002)

Bill & Eva early 80s.jpg (31577 bytes)
Bill Stables and Eva. Early 1980s.
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Last modified: May 10, 2010