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  • By Victor Shackleton
    Dec 1, 2009
    "Review in Rochdale Observer" Tales of steeplejacks entertain Written by the staff of Rochdale Observer. Facit, near Whitworth, is a place for fights. Or was. But one fight had the half the village watching on with a mixture of awe and dread. For it took place at the top of a 200ft mill chimney! That was a long time ago, but it’s just one of the fascinating anecdotes that have emerged from the free-flowing pen of former steeplejack Victor Shackleton in a recently-published book, `There Was A Time'. Mr Shackleton was born in Mossley [the review is not correct on this, he was born in Dukinfield] with the scent of brickwork and smoke in his nostrils. His father was a steeplejack, a noble profession in those days when tall mill chimneys were a prominent feature on the skyline of most cotton towns around Rochdale, including Bury Bolton and Oldham. Steeplejacks were considered with awe by most people, not just for their courage and bravery in climbing the outside of such massive... More > structures, but for their undeniable professionalism and satisfaction with a job well done. In his new book, Mr Shackleton, who now lives in Dukinfield, writes that long before Fred Dibnah starred on television screens, there were many steeplejacks who enjoyed the public spotlight as they went about their truly unique business. In fact one had to go back to the late 1800s when a London steeplejack became famous for his repairs to prestigious, high and famous monuments, such as the great clock faces of Big Ben, working from a bosun’s chair. Joseph Smith was a famous Rochdale steeplejack. Mr Smith (as he liked other people to address him) had built up a reputation as a steeplejack of the highest order. Certainly he was no slouch where climbing chimneys was concerned. According to Mr Shackleton, Mr Smith really did earn his money and he tackled some fearful chimney jobs in his time. He never drank, nor smoked, and although lacking in height he was a strong and sturdy type who did not suffer fools gladly. Great crowds would gather in a state of excitement when he was felling a chimney stack. Mr Shackleton relates the story of a contemporary of Mr Smith, Bill Larkins, who was carrying out repairs to a chimney stack when another worker, at the top of the stack with him, suddenly went berserk and tried to throw himself down inside the chimney’s shaft. In desperation Larkins took hold of the man’s feet and lifted him back onto the chimney top. Incredibly Mr Smith had a similar experience when an employee began a heated argument with his boss as they worked aloft. This ended in a fight between the two men, witnessed by a crowd of amazed onlookers on the ground far below They looked on in amazement at the fierce hand-to-hand battle going on above them. The affray ended when Mr Smith knocked his opponent out with a hammer blow to the head, lowering the unfortunate loser to the ground on a pulley. Book Review: There Was a Time (author Victor Shackleton) Page 15 of `Open Hand', January 2010, the magazine of Deafblind UK. Rosemary Sandford reviews a "jolly good read" Victor Shackleton, a member of Deafblind UK, has recently had his autobiography, There Was a Time, republished as a second edition in 2009. It is a vivid account of Lancashire life in the forties and fifties. He began his secondary education in 1941 at `The Boardie’ in Dukinfield. The presence of bullies and a sadistic master made life tough until their reign was ended, and hunger often made the boys faint during assembly. Victor came from a family of steeplejacks and inevitably, in 1947,young Victor began his career as one of those amazing and courageous men who took care of the towering chimneys and fabric of the Lancashire mills, working in all weathers. His account of this life and the lives of other steeplejacks is told with warmth, humour and respect. Apart from his love of his work, Victor‘s great passions in life are cricket, amateur dramatics and above all, opera. He has a huge knowledge of the music, composers, and stories of the operatic greats. His book is well worth reading, giving an insight into tough times when people worked hard and played hard, respected others and themselves. It is the story of a man with great generosity of spirit and a love of life.< Less
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Product Details

Second Edition
Victor Shackleton
May 29, 2009
Perfect-bound Paperback
Interior Ink
Black & white
0.45 lbs.
Dimensions (inches)
6 wide x 9 tall
Product ID
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