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Monday, 24 November 2014

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Family turns dad’s notes into history

A Workington family’s chance discovery of dozens of notebooks crammed with information about their father has led them to publish his memoirs.

Bill Ferris, of High Street, died in 2011 aged 80. A miner who grew up on the town’s Marsh and Quay, he was the last manager of the town’s Solway Colliery.

After he died, his children Danny, Alan and Barbara found the notebooks in a drawer in his bedroom.

Danny, 63, of Chaucer Road, said: “When we found the diaries we were quite surprised. He had mentioned to me that he may write something in the past but he never mentioned it again, so we just assumed he never went ahead with it.”

Bill had begun writing in 1988 and finished in 2000.

His children decided to turn his work into a book – The Bill Ferris Memoirs – to share his experiences.

Alan, 61, of Wesley Court, who worked alongside his dad as a mining surveyor in the 1970s, said: “It’s fascinating to see how much detail he has gone into and the things he has remembered such as the names of people he started school with all those years ago and all of his exam results right back to his primary school years.

“Some of the stuff most of us wouldn’t remember. I know I certainly don’t.”

Bill’s ambition to be manager of the Solway Colliery started during his first two weeks at the pit in 1946. At 15 he was asked to work a 500-yard tunnel under the Solway Firth with trainer Tom Graham.

He was to spend 26 years at the colliery, becoming its manager by 1965, with a starting salary of £1,900.

The pit, near Mossbay Road, closed in 1973.

Bill went on to work as the manager of a colliery in Lancashire, then took up a position as area salvaging manager in Stoke and later became a consultant for British Coal.

His memoirs look back at the miners’ strikes of 1926, 1970 and 1984, the closure of 32 pits in 1992 and privatisation in 1995.

Bill’s great-grandparents were Irish immigrants who fled the aftermath of the potato famine in 1871 and settled at Henry Street on the quay. Industry was booming at the time of their arrival, with four iron companies, five steel companies and two blast furnaces in West Cumbria.

By 1881 there were 1,790 Irish immigrants living in Workington.

In Bill’s early life the industrial depression hit the area and saw 40.5 per cent of men unemployed by 1934.

His family lived a frugal existence at Henry Street with no running water or central heating.

Bill would regularly go hawking around the doors with strings of cod which had been caught on his grandmother’s fishing boat which his father fished on.

He spent 26 years on the street, qualifying him for the bragging rights of a Quay lad, which became a badge he wore with pride.

Barbara Watson, 58, of Milburn Croft, Seaton, said: “He started at the bottom and worked his way up.

“He was a very private person and didn’t really talk much about his days down the pits and the past so we were really shocked by the sheer scale of the notebooks. They went back at least 50 or 60 years.”

The book touches on his education at Lawrence Street School and the County Technical and Secondary School, outings to the Hippodrome cinema on Hagg Hill, and his life with wife Kathleen Glover and his children.

Anyone who would like a free copy of the book should email Alan at ferris_alan@sky.com

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