Book, Historical, Non-fiction

The Road To Wigan Pier by Carole Parkes

Today I am bringing you a true life story of Elizabeth Smith as she told to her daughter. Historians will enjoy a look back on the social history of a Lancashire lass.

At ninety nine pages long, this memoir will be sure to capture your heart as well as educate and amuse you.


Elizabeth Alker, the only child of her humble, working class parents, was born in Pemberton, Wigan. She seems to have had it all, a fortunate start with loving parents, followed by a happy marriage, caring children, and a long and healthy life. Yet, everything has not been quite so straightforward for her. Fate has a way of disrupting even the smoothest of paths, and that’s how life was for Elizabeth.

A series of illnesses and deaths, some the result of the 1930s economic depression, marred her teenage years leaving her an orphan, bereft of close family. She married young and, still reeling from the loss of her immediate family, her loving husband did his utmost to ease her loneliness and shock. That is, until fate threw her world into chaos again. As WW2 loomed, her young husband was conscripted and sent away, leaving her alone with her firstborn.

Follow her on her journey through an extraordinary life, sometimes tragic, sometimes hilarious. An ordinary young woman, living her life in the same area and time frame as George Orwell’s study of the working class ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’, she would probably have witnessed the same scenes he depicted. Although he concentrated on the negative side of the 1930s Great Depression, Elizabeth’s recollections show the sheer grit and determination of the community at that time. It is eighty years since Orwell published his work in 1937, a fitting time to publish the memories of a woman of that time.


This describes Elizabeth’s stay in Histon, a village in Cambridge in 1940 and working at the Chivers’ factory.

“Another funny episode at Chivers involved the mincemeat room. This room was only opened in September of every year in preparation for the Christmas mince pies. The mincemeat used to travel down a chute from the room above. When the worker in our room was ready for the mincemeat they had to flick a switch. This set off a red light in the room above, and the workers there would send down the mincemeat through a large funnel. As soon as we had enough mincemeat we were supposed to flick the switch off right away. One afternoon, one of the girls got distracted and forgot to flick off her switch and the stuff just kept pouring down the funnel. She was absolutely covered in mincemeat, and the rest of us laughed so much we were in hysterics. The following day the same thing happened to me and we all fell about laughing again.

There was a really lovely atmosphere in Chivers. It was a great place to work. They played records for us every afternoon, and then Friday afternoon would be request time. Once, I had a lovely surprise when the girls had my song played for me. It was Vera Lynn singing ‘Yours’ and was special for me and George. I made lots of friends there and, for the most part, I was able to keep my mind off the war and all its horrors. Being in Cambridge we were close to an air-field and you could hear the aeroplanes going over but, thankfully, there was no sound of bombing.

Mrs Thulbourne had a married daughter called Greta who had a baby. On my days off, I used to take the baby out. Sometimes Greta and I would go around the market together. It was a really lovely feeling to have money in my pocket, and I could now buy some of the things we wanted as long as I had the right coupons. The Thulbourne’s also had a small dog which I also took out, usually to the large playing field in the middle of the housing estate. The men from the forces would always be playing football there whenever I passed with the dog. Now and again in the evening, we would all go to a concert held in the community hall. It was called ‘Impington Hall’.] All the neighbours would go too and I made many friends.

Time passed and George was now due for another leave. We decided we’d have to go home to Liverpool to see how things were at our own home.

Before we were due to leave Cambridge, I asked my sister-in-law Hannah if she’d like to come to Cambridge for a short holiday. Of course I’d already cleared it first with Mrs Thulbourne. Hannah was elated and spent the last two weeks with me in Cambridge before I left. I was able to take her around the jam factory and show her all the places I found so interesting. It was a very sad day when we had to leave Mrs Thulbourne and her family. She’d been like a mother to me and we’d become very close. I was given many going away presents, some only given as I was about to board the train. Everyone was so kind. Hannah travelled home with me and although I was eager to get home and see George and all my old Liverpool friends, I was also sad at leaving.”

Elizabeth and her husband

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