JACK BETHEL

Tony Ingham has written to us about his grandfather, Jack (David John) Bethel. Wonderful memories of growing up in Leicester and BU.

“I was born in Leicester in June, 1942, when my father was away in the REME in the Channel Ports Division. He had served in the RAOC initially and was in the BEF in France. He was evacuated through Dunkirk in 1940.
My mother took me home to 44 Hunter Road where we lived with my grandparents, David John (Jack) and
Annie Bethel, until after the War had ended.  Father returned in 1946. I was the only one of four grandchildren to live with them. Mother worked in the Hosiery industry and grandmother had a large machine from one of the hosiery companies from time to time in the back room at home and did outwork. She, of course looked after me at home. They had bought the house, which was unusual in those days.

I attach one photograph of Jack and Annie Bethel taken from the wedding photographs of my parents in 1939, which someof your older readers might recognise them from.

Jack Bethel, as he would have been known by his colleagues had well over 40 years service with the BU and retired in 1955, aged 65, on pension from the BU which he was so proud of. He was born in Wales and came to the Midlands with his parents and siblings to live in the Nottingham area. His grandfather had been killed in the largest mining disaster ever in the Country in 1878, in Abercarn, leaving the family without parents as the mother had died before. His father was a carpenter and could find work other than in the pits and worked on canals, rising to Inspector of Canals in the Nottingham area. I know from what had been said that Jack had even been down the mines in the Nottingham area when he was short of work but did not stay. He was medically unfit to be called up.

Somehow he came to Leicester and lodged in the Coral Street area of Belgrave near to where his wife-to-be Annie also lived. He had somehow gained experience on a metal-planing machine and that is what he found work with at the BU, where he stayed for the rest of his working life. I recall going down Law Street, Belgrave when I was young and about one third of the way along the factory building from Ross’ Walk I found the point where his machine was. I knew where to look as he had taken me to an open day at the factory and I had seen where he worked inside, which was massive to a small boy. The
windows were high and blocked out on the lower panes but I often attracted someone’s attention inside and they would sometimes fetch Jack to wave to me! It was the original factory building then with camouflage paint still showing on the brickwork as I always pointed out to my own children when visiting.
The amazing thing about him was that he was what they called in those days, ‘stone deaf’. Some family affliction had made some of his siblings and parents deaf and it caught up with him in his late teens to early twenties, after he had learned to speak as a hearing person, which helped him greatly. Nowadays he would not have stood a chance working on machinery of the sort he did, being hearing impaired but he got the job and stayed with it! The Health and Safety gurus nowadays would have a fit! He only had one accident to my knowledge in all of his service with the BU when his hand was caught in the machine and he had an index finger amputated. That just made him all the more of a hero to us children, arm in a sling and a big bandage! When he recovered he went straight back on the same machine until the end of his service.
He was a marvel at lip-reading and my youngest daughter, having known her great-grandfather all her life asked me one day, “Is grandfather deaf? and we all fell about laughing as she really did not know. We did not have much of a garden at Hunter Road as there was a concrete-roofed air-raid shelter covering most of it but a strip was still available. He would lurk in the entry at weekends and wait for the milk cart, drawn by a horse, and as soon as it left some ‘presents’ on the road he would be the first to nip out with dustpan and bucket and collect it for the garden. What he did not use at home he would take in a sack to his allotment. His favourite thing at the weekends at lunchtime was to walk round to the Institute in Hildyard Road
for a couple of pints with some cronies, who also had no trouble communicating with him as he lip-read them too. When I visited as an adult he took great pleasure, and it was mutual, in walking round with me to the Institute and showing me off.
As a child my life was very much marked by ‘the hooter’ of the BU and we did not need a clock. I echo the words of the other lady who also lived in Hunter Road and mentioned the mass of humanity emerging from the factory at closing time. I lost track of the BU after Jack died (he was 92 years of age) and was horrified to hear of what happened to the Company and of course the pension fund. He would have been heartbroken that any such thing had happened to his beloved works. The pension kept him and grandmother in comfort for the whole of the rest of their lives, their needs being very small. My
parents and I moved into rented house of our own in about 1948 but I still spent much time with Jack and grandmother until I moved away to Worcestershire in 1961. I always visited whenever I could for the best oxtail stew ever on a Saturday lunchtime, after a couple of pints at the Institute.
As long as they were able they came to us in Worcestershire for holidays each summer and were welcomed by our three children. My daughter has two of their kitchen-type chairs and is waiting anxiously for me to pop my clogs so she can get her hands on the brass bedstead, mangle, dolly-tub and dolly plunger, all from Hunter Road. A similar era rocking horse came from the neighbours at 42 Hunter Road, Mr and Mrs James, and she has her eyes on that too! What are children like? She will value it all as coming from her great-grandparents.
One last thing I recall about Hunter Road is that it was unadopted and cobbled, and with gas lighting when I was a child. There were great hollows in the road caused by subsidence of some sort and of course being unadopted they stayed and were not repaired. When it rained a lot they made wonderful big puddles to play around.
One last question to anyone reading this. Over the years my mother lost or misplaced many family photographs and one which I longed to have was of the VE or VJ Day street party in Hunter Road, with a loaded table up the middle of the street. The photograph of course vanished. I would love to have a copy of this if anyone has one and will pay any reasonable costs incurred.”

Tony Ingham, May 2019

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