Guy Oates (1905-1987): Life and Labour – Part Six

[Guy] soon found [him]self a very busy person, and for the first time, due to staff calling [him] sir [he] realised, [he] was an important person, which [he] did not allow to go to [his] head’

(Oates, 6:4).

‘Lancashire County Hospital. Wigan Road. Ormskirk’ (6:4) 1937 – 1945

‘Part of the staff’ (6:9).

In 1937 Guy and Doris began a new journey in an institution in Lancashire on the 23rd of September. There was a lot more excitement about the hiring of the couple than there had been ‘at any other of [their] selections. Present were the local press and photographers’ which readers will know are ‘two things [Guy] dislikes the Press and a fuss’ (6:4). The following day they began their duties having ‘went straight from Atlleborough [sic] to Ormskirk without a holiday or break’ (6:4). Compared to his office at that institution his new ‘office was three times as large’ (6:4). What was so different about this institution to any other Guy had previously been in was how it was ‘the fourth largest’ (6:4) institution in Lancashire with, ‘584 beds plus a further 80 for Casuals’ (6:4) the staffing is listed in a table drew by Guy further down this blog post. Guy ‘now had a senior clerk, (Mr Askin, known as old John. He was about 65 years of age and lived out coming in each day at 9:0 am and leaving at 5:30 pm.  [He] also had a first clerk a Mr Beck and a typist a Mrs Nelson, both living out’ (6:4). Given that the institution was so large Guy assumed there would also be an ‘Assistant Master’ but there wasn’t one. ‘This meant that when the office was closed and all had left, [Guy] was alone with everything to do [that was] connected with the office. The place was so well organised and the staff so well trained’ (6:4), and so there wasn’t any need for extra staff or worry. Each member of staff had to sign in and out of the building, ‘it was from the “poters book” [that Guy] made up [his] wages record each week’ (6:4). Thanks to the reliable ‘lodger porter [who] had been a Captain in the first World War,’ (6:4) Guy trusted his judgement as ‘he was a fine man and a gentlemen, standing no nonsense from any member of the staff coming in late and asking to be booked in at the right time’ (6:4).

Guy soon found himself to be a person of great importance, he always had jobs to do around the institution, Guy wanted the staff to work as a team, ‘the one thing [he] wanted was that they all pulled together’ (6:4). Guy and Doris for two weeks, ‘every morning at 9:0am’ (6:6) would make their rounds around the office checking up on their staff, their reports and the labour they had done seeing if the standard of work was up to scratch. After a couple of months of being at this institution Guy ‘tried to assess each one’ of the staff seeing ‘how much [they] knew about [their] particular work and how interested [they were] in it’ (6:6). Since Guy had years of experience and ‘having done most of their jobs [he] felt confident in discussing [their jobs] with them’ (6:6). Most of the staff were from Northern backgrounds; they were ‘the sort who would not accept at once all [Guy] said but would reason it out for themselves’ (6:6). The benefits to these staff were their loyalty, ‘if they found [Guy] just and true’ they would ‘go through fire and water to support you’ (6:6). Guy used the skills he had learnt over the years from his time in the farm to speak to the gardeners, to his storekeeping months, he ‘was very glad [he] had studied and obtained [his] certificate’ (the Poor Law Examinations Board) ‘it helped when talking with the Clerk to the committee, he treated [Guy] with respect and a man of knowledge’ (6:10). Guy mentions in brackets, ‘fancy me being regarded as knowing anything after my education, it struck [him] as funny’ (6:10). This was a very proud moment for me to read, Guy being modest once again.

Guy and Doris (6:8)
Newspaper clipping (6:8)

‘Usuary [sic] Agreement’ and the ‘area covered by the Institution’ (6:11)

Since the Ormskirk institution was so large, ‘covered a wide and densely populated area, taking the town of Ormskirk, the whole of Southport, the Litherland and Aintree parts of Liverpool and surrounding villages’ (6:11). Since Southport did not have a Poor Law Institution this was why the entirety of it was included in Ormskirk facilities, ‘being a seaside resort as far back as 1830 it did not want to taint the town by building a Workhouse when the Poor Law Act came into force in 1834’ (6:11). The governing body stated that as long as they could make an agreement with a neighbouring town (Ormskirk) and agreed to cover ‘so many beds for their own use for which they would agree as to payment then and in the future’ (6:11), then it wasn’t an issue. This is called a ‘Usuary [usury] agreement’ (6:11), and the Southport Board of Guardians would have ‘appoint[ed] one or more Relieving Officers’ (6:11) to carry out duties in ‘part of the institution’ (6:11) governed by them, they ‘would have all the rights and priviledges [sic] over that part of the institution’ (6:11). They would also hold meetings, and ‘sit in on all Committees dealing[s] with the Poor Law, Lunacy Acts and Mental Defficiency [sic] Act[s] and Vagrany Acts’ (6:11). If a Southport reliving officer wanted to admit somebody, they had the right to do so, as ‘long as he produced an authorised order the master was bound to’ bring in the person. This particular arrangement was ‘the only “Usuary [sic] Agreement” [Guy] ever knew of, giving [him] an experience few other Masters would know anything about’ (6:14). This contract meant that they ‘had to keep separate registers in some cases, and completing special forms in order [for] the Lancashire Public Committee, [to] charge the Southport Committee, for each person admitted’ (6:14). The Southport Committee were also allowed to visit the institution ‘on a rotary system’ and sit in meetings. ‘Every quarter ending [Guy] had to send to [their] Public Assistance Officer a statement showing the number of days all new admissions from Southport during that quarter had been in and the number of those that had died, or been discharged’ (6:15). So, the officer could ‘render an account to the Southport Corporation’ (6:15).

‘Rehabilitation of Young Casuals’

‘An instruction was received from the Public Assistance Officer, whereby the Master was to interview every tramp between the ages of 18 years to 25 years’ (6:20). The reasoning behind these regulations was ‘to try and get these young men off the roads before they became habitual vagrants’ (6:19). The idea set in place was to arrange Guy’s ‘labour master, to bring to [Guy’s] office every morning any man who may have come in the night before between these ages’ (6:19). If a person had came in the night before Guy would then ‘talk to the man about the scheme of Rehabilitation, then [he would] ask [them] if [they] would like to take advantage’ (6:19) of the new scheme. A building was purchased by ‘The Lancashire County Council’ called ‘“Windleston Hall” in the County of Durham’ (6:20), here they would attempt to prevent any tramp from going back onto the streets. If they decided to take the offer, they were ‘housed and cared for during the time [they were] being trained to a trade of his choosing’ (6:19). Guy noticed that ‘when interviewing [candidates], when a man had got past the age of 23 years and had been on the road for three or more years he rarely wished to take advantage of the scheme’ (6:19). Guy speculated that this was because they ‘took to the easy life and would put up with all the inconveiences [inconveniences]’ (6:20). If this proposition was taken up, Guy would then have to ‘complete the required forms and send them off. When [he] received the reply saying [the tramp] had been accepted, it was [then Guy’s] job to get [them] to windleston Hall’ (6:20). Guy always made sure he called up in advance informing them of when they were expected to arrive it was ‘around 120 Miles’ (6:20) away and Guy made sure he was as close to the time as he had given as he could, ‘[he] went a few times, never being more than six minutes out’ (6:20).

Baby Oates

Guy and Doris’ baby girl was ‘born the following February’ from their arrival at Ormskirk in late September (1938). ‘Through all this time [Guy’s] wife [Doris] carried on with her every day duties right up to the night [their daughter] was born’ (6:21). This was not only a very exciting time for the Oates family but for the Institution also as ‘this was the first child to be born to a Master and Matron at this hospital for over eighty years’ (6:21). Facilitating this birth were their own ‘Medical Officer, together with one other Doctor officiating. Although the birth was normal [it took a] rather long time’ (6:21). However, Guy was grateful that they ‘had moved from Attleborough’ (6:21). As he was confident in his staff, ‘in other hands things could have gone wrong,’ (6:21) but with these members of his team, he had complete faith in them. Once Guy could he ‘wrote to Mr Gaymer, telling him of the happy event, asking him to dispatch to the two Doctors, a case of their Sparkling Pommetta cyder’ (6:21) to express his and Doris’ gratitude for all of their help during the birth. Guy later ‘received a very nice letter from Mr Gaymer, offering his congratulations and telling [Guy] he had dispatched the cases of cyder as requested all with his compliaments [sic], and one for [them]selves’ (6:21).

Doris “Marion” Oates (6:82).
‘No man could ask for more’ Doris and Doris “Marion” Oates (6:52).

‘Banging on the Dining Room table with Knives and Mugs’ (6:21)

I am sure many of us have watched prison documentaries or series based around life in prison, and so we all know when a riot breaks out that it needs to be deescalated as quickly as possible. Guy had ‘only once [has] experienced anything as serious’ as the riot that broke out in the prison one lunchtime, ‘it was a sight and a sound [he] never want[ed] to hear or see again’ (6:21). The riot was mainly ‘led by the young able bodied male inmates, with the older ones joining to give show of strength’ (6:21). The inmates were ‘all banging their tin mugs on the table’ and their cutlery as well, ‘the porter on duty supervising the meal came running to [Guy’s] office, telling [him] that the inmates were rioting in the dining hall’ (6:21). As Guy left his office, he began to ‘hear this hammering on the tables getting louder and louder’ (6:21) as he got closer to the hall, by the time he arrived some of the inmates ‘were standing on their chairs shouting’ (6:21). When Guy presence became known this provoked the rioters, even more, ‘the noise seem[ed] to increase’ (6:21). At this stage no authoritative figures could be heard over the shouting, ‘if anyone is reading this has never faced such a scene, then [he] hope[s] they never will’ (6:21). Guy was not aware of why this riot had broken out but he knew he needed to handle the situation. Yet ‘seeing such a sight and hearing such a noise [made Guy’s] mind [go] almost blank […] and for a few seconds [he] hadn’t a notion on how to tackle this situation’ (6:2). Luckily for Guy at this moment he ‘remembered the position [he] was in at Downham Market, and how walking straight into the trouble and not showing fear, and using a tact it [tactic] got [him] out of trouble’ (6:2). It was because of this Guy decided to head to the stage, although he ‘was scared stiff, [he] realised [he] was now higher than they [the inmates] were and it had its effect’ (6:2). Soon the ‘bagging [banging] stopped and [he] was able to speak’ (6:21), Guy was informed that ‘the dinner was unpalatable owing to it being burnt’ (6:21). After tasting a couple of the meals for himself Guy also agreed with this comment, when dealing with these kinds of people ‘the under dog[s], if you are just and fair and firm, they will accept what you say, providing you are prepared to back your words’ (6:21). Since the dinner was ruined Guy had no reason to attempt to deceive the inmates and so he ‘agreed with them that the meal was uneatable, but only the first course,’ (6:22) so the inmates ‘could have [had] their pudding, and as there was not time now in which to prepare another hot meal, [Guy] arranged for them to have some bread, butter and cheese’ (6:22) and that ‘they would [have] a hot meal at tea time’ (6:22). To repay them for the ‘inconvenience caused they would be allowed a cup of tea immediately after [their] meal. This giving of a cup of tea was out side the regulations and may sound a little weak’ (6:22) but Guy found that in these types of situations you just have to be grateful that things didn’t turn out worse. ‘The men calmed down in the knowledge that their complaint had been listened too and that something was being done to put it right’ (2:22) the best way to deal with this was through appeasement.

‘The Errection [sic] of a New Hospital’ (6:26)

With speculations circulating about a war happening Guy was informed that ‘some of [their] Poor Law hospital beds [needed to] be ready to admit civilians injured, or even military’ (6:26). In 1938 ‘the County Medical Officer of Health (Dr F. Hall) together with many more influential people came to see Doris and [Guy], to have a look over the whole of the hospital and the grounds, with a view [of] seeing whether it was possible to build a hospital within the grounds and see whether the present fascilities [sic] could cope with the extra numbers’ (6:26). Without sharing too much information, they ‘were told that the war with Germany was imminent’ (6:26). Guy and Doris were then tasked with the job of ‘work[ing] out the number of staff […] that would be required to run the new hospital of 252 beds’ (6:26), they had just 5 days to complete this responsibility and so they began working out numbers that evening, once Guy shared the figures needed ‘in no time a body of workmen and loads of building materials began to arrive’ (6:26), it was decided that the hospital was to be built in ‘Cedar wood’ (6:26). All was going smoothly until a situation with the tiles caused a strike ‘typical of the British workman and especially the Unions’ (6:27). The Union assessed the situation and ‘decided, as the tiles were of wood it was the joiners job to fit the tiles’ (6:27) something which Guy ‘thought a child would have [been able] to decide this’ (6:27). In comes sarcastic Guy, ‘but oh no: they had to strike. Does anyone wonder [why] the country is in the state it is in’ (6:27) I appreciate an ironic Guy and he does make a valid point. ‘Early in 1939 the hospital was finished’ (6:27) making it almost the first Emergency Hospital to be completed in Lancashire. ‘Once the hospital was complete and all the men had left, it was expected that Doris and [Guy] as senior officials [to] set about having it thoroughly cleaned with [their] own poor law staff’ (6:28). The tramps came in handy for this task as they provided labour for ‘the scrubbing and general cleaning’ (2:28). It was a huge task assigned to them and so all hands on deck was required to accomplish this ‘Poor Law staff [had to be taken] off their everyday jobs’ and were asked to ‘give so many hours helping to erect the beds, put on the mattresses then [the] mak[ing of] the beds’ (6:29). Additional furniture like ‘curtains were made in [their] sewing room while the joiner did all the fitting. [Guy’s] painter touched up any paint knocked off during the fitting out, and to get the job done as quickly as possible, many of [Guy’s] male staff stayed on after their official duties had finished giving a hand’ (6:28). Of course, Guy and Doris handled their fair share in the jobs, ‘it was this that encouraged the staff to stay long into the night’ (6:28). While this was no easy task they managed to get everything fitted in time, ‘by now war had been declared, hence [their] rush to have the hospital ready in case it was needed urgently’ (6:28). They ‘had all worked hard and long, it was a satisfying feeling when all was finished and [they] realised the magnitude of the job’ (6:28).

Over the next few days ‘Doris got the order from the County M.O to go ahead and appoint nursing and domestic staff according to figures already agreed. 1 deputy matron, 1 home sister, 11 ward sisters, 10 assistant nurses, 38 auxilliary [sic] nurses, 4 hospital porters, and 16 cleaners and laundry hands’ (6:28). To accommodate this many people Guy ‘had to clear a ward adjoining [his] office, and have a hole knocked into his office for access to this new one’ (6:28). Guy trained and appointed somebody to calculate the amount of food needed ‘to feed the military who were allowed greater rations than civilians’ (6:28) this was passed onto the storekeeper and then sent to the kitchen. Once the trainee ‘had a hold of the idea [Guy] gave her the job of working out the dietary and amount required for all the Poor Law inmates and patients,’ (6:29) Guy’s previous storekeeping job would have provided him with very useful skills here. ‘To make the job easier [Guy] arranged to appoint a cook with the necessary kitchen equipment and for her to cook the nurses meals’ (6:29). Overall, ‘counting all the Poor Law inmates and patients and the Poor Law staff together with all of the tramps that came in each night, plus the military and the Emergency Hospital Staff, […] nearly 1000 people [needed] to be fed daily’ (6:29). This additional work was expected, but there was ‘no suggestion of extra pay, it was supposed to be [their] war effort’ (6:29).

Two hospitals full staff and occupied (6:30).

‘In addition to these figures, add [on] the Major and his staff having to be fed daily, together with a mid day meal for all the Emergency Staff when on duty’ (6:30). When the Major arrived at the institution, he came to announce it to Guy who then, ‘took him into [their] private quarters when over a few drinks [they] discussed the matter, and [their] to respective positions. Without any bad feeling [they] both part[ed] good friends’ (6:31). Although it was ‘all hard work, sometimes interesting, sometimes exciting and often worrying’ (6:31). Guy reflects on how he came from being ‘that sruffy [sic] little school boy, [to who he is now] [he] had come a long way. For a boy who did not know his father, a wife who did not know her mother, […] [they] had pulled together, worked hard and eventually reached the top’ (6:31).

The War

As the war began and progressed, Guy was asked to build air raid shelters, to become ‘Sub-control K’ (a control room placed in the cellars ‘where any incident of anything to do with the war would be reported’ 6:33), and to the set up of blood bank facilities and stretcher bearers in the Institution. As well as providing ‘all [Guy’s] male staff’ with the ‘carry[ing] out of Fire Watching’ (6:34) during their off-duty periods, they were required to give up so many hours their time each week. Since Guy was ‘not in any of the Forces and not wearing any uniform, [he] was very self conscious with so many military about’ (6:41). With the new hospital being used by military patients Guy made sure whenever he ‘wanted anything done and it concerned the military [he] was always careful to do it through the major’ (6:41). When he needed something done about ‘civilian patients and it concerned medical staff [he[ did it through the medical Suptndt.’ (6:41). This way the operation ran smoothly and ‘during the whole five years there was never any friction’ (6:41). A convoy could come to the Institution at any time during the war ‘as much as twenty four hours notice’ or as little as just ‘a few hours’ and with some rare cases ‘no notice what so ever’ (6:42) could be given of their arrival and ‘this could be [at] any hour of the day or night’ (6:42).

Part Six of ‘Life and Labour’ will be a continuation on from Volume 6 of Guy’s time at the Lancashire County Hospital in Ormskirk.
(Remember to check Twitter for updates @TashaSiloLJMU).

If you have enjoyed reading about Guy’s life, you may like to explore the full collection of Guy Oates Posts.

If you would like to read some of our fellow Writing Lives students, blogs then look no further! Here are some of the posts Sarah and I enjoyed for this particular theme:

Joel O’Toole: blog post focuses on Olga Pyne Clarke. Olga knew how to use her strengths correctly as she always used her knowledge of horses to find work. Jenny Dalton’s author Rosa Bell was a true working-class lady, who had numerous jobs throughout her life, but most importantly she was a writer.

Rosa Pocknell’s post on Maud Clarke shows the various roles of a work-class woman although her jobs were mostly domestic she was also able to earn her own salary.


Oates, Guy. The Years That Are Gone. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, Vol. 6.

Further Reading:
Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies 30.3 (1987): 335-363. 
Rogers, Helen and Emily Cuming, ‘Revealing Fragments: Close and Distant reading of Working-Class Autobiography’, Family & Community History, 21:3 (2019): 180-201.
Rose, Jonathan, ‘Rereading the English Common Reader: A Preface to a History of Audiences.’ Journal of the History of Ideas. 1 (1992): 47- 70. 
Savage, Mike. Social Class in the 21st Century. London: Penguin, 2015.
Vincent, David. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class.’ Social History, 5.2 (1980): 223-247. 

Barringer, Tim J. Men at Work: Art and Labour in Victorian Britain New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2005.
Burnett, John ed. Useful Toil: Autobiographies of Working People from the 1820s to the 1920s London: Routledge, 1994.
Fowler, Simon. The People, The Places, The Life Behind Doors. Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books, 2014.
Longmate, Norman. The Workhouse. London: Temple Smith, 1974.
Savage, Mike. Identities and Social Change in Britain since 1940: the Politics of Method. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
‘The Workhouse: The Story of an Institution.’ N.d. Web. Accessed 24 April 2019.

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