They were all long gone. The last one closed twenty years ago just before or after I was born. The mills are still there though; big red brick buildings and high chimneys. There is not much happening here any more.
The biggest thing in the last five years was the demolition of a chimney at the Old Black Mill. This was the biggest mill, it had two chimneys and one was unsafe. We all watched it being blown up – it collapsed in the wrong direction and knocked down the other chimney too – big excitement!
Most of them are empty, but some are used for keeping animals. I live in an old mill; it belongs to Jim. He lives in it with his family and fixes cars, tractors or anything that will bring in some money. I help him sometimes; I help his brother Nathaniel with his taxi business.
I say taxi business, he has one old car which Jim somehow keeps on the road. I'm not going anywhere, that is true. All my brothers and sisters have left. When Mum died they insisted on selling the house, not that they got much for it. So I live in Jim's old mill now.
One night, Nat was drunk, I had to take the taxi and pick up some woman from the big town and bring her back home. It was the usual sort of early morning run. The woman was quite old but too well dressed for our part of the world. She wanted to go to MARPAS.
“No! Lady!” I said “The factory is closed now. Where's your home?” She laughed and said that she really lived there. So I took her there. The drive took only twenty minutes but in this time she pulled the story of my life out of me. I normally don't talk much about myself, I'm not that interesting, but she insisted.
I took her there and waited until she had taken a key and let herself in. I was prepared to take her somewhere else if necessary – I didn't want to leave a lady in the middle of nowhere at that time of night.
The factory makes little boxes or something; it is in the old Five Ways Mill; it's the only big place of work around here, over fifty people. Three days later she rang Nat; she wanted me to take her for a ride in the countryside for a few hours. This seemed like easy money.
I drove the five miles to the factory and asked a worker in the yard “How can you work here? It's so loud.” “Oh! It's good. It means we've got a contract. Very soon it will be quiet again.” “Where do I find Mrs Thring?” “Oh!” he said “Try the big house round the back. Are you after a job?”
I walked around to the big house. She was waiting for me. She said hello and gave me some car keys “Let's take a proper car and not that old heap of junk you call a taxi.” The car was almost new. I had never driven a new one before, new cars don't exist where we live, no one has the money. She sat in the front next to me as before – most customers want to sit in the back.
We drove to the New Black Mill. “We started here” she said “but it was too small, so we moved.” A bit further down the road we stopped on the top of a railway bridge. “What do you see down there?” she asked. “Yeah! The railway.” “But do you see something odd?” she insisted.
I looked and said “The tracks are close together here but over there is a big gap between them. I've never noticed that before.” “Yes! That was where the station was.”
“You mean trains stopped here!” I said. “Yes they did. Many of the mills had sidings. When we started all of our deliveries were by rail. Our products went out and coal and coke came in. But that's long ago.”
Over the next weeks we visited all the mills. She knew all the names, what they made and when they closed. “But that's a long time ago.”
One morning it was loud again in the factory. She took me inside and showed me the machines that stamped, pressed, drilled, painted, packed, everything. Was it loud!
She showed me the offices where the plans were made, the orders taken, the bookkeeping, the whole administration. She said that most people thought that the pressing and the stamping was the most important; and that the office work was boring.
“But it's not true!” she said. “What we make is not important. No, our success is simple – if you want up to five thousand of these things and you need them tomorrow, then we are the best. And that's the truth. If you want two or two million, then don't ask us. The manufacturing is just a small part; the trick is the right things, at the right price and delivered at the right time.”
Yes, we started in the New Black Mill, just five people, three young men, Robert and myself. We made the things in small quantities and we were quite successful. MARPAS is of course Marline's And Robert's Pressings And Stampings. We soon realised that just making the things wasn't enough; we streamlined the whole process from order to delivery and we became rich. That's when we moved to the Five Ways Mill.
I got the impression that she was slowly telling me the story of her life. We went everywhere and every somewhere told a small tale from her life.
I took her to High Cliff, but somehow I knew that she wanted to go there. We didn't get out of the car. We sat there and looked at the view – you could see most of the mills from up there. She said that her husband had proposed to her on the cliff. I asked “Was it a surprise?” “No! I told him to do it.” We stayed there for hours; she was asleep and I was lost in my thoughts.
The next day she did not feel well enough to go for a ride. “Oh, just come and look at my photo collection.” She showed me pictures of the mills how they used to be. Old photos of this and that. I found them fascinating, though young people like me don't go for that. Her chef made lunch for us. It was very good, though she ate very little.
Yes, I think I must be suffering from something. My doctor says that I must stay in bed for a few days. Come and talk to me. I'll be better soon.
After a week she was still not feeling too good. The nurse held one hand and I held the other. No one said anything for a long time. The nurse said “She's dead.”
For a long time I thought that was the end of the story. The story of her life took months and visits to all the old mills to tell. The story of my life did not fill a paragraph and it was not going to get any longer; I was going nowhere in this part of the world.
Two years after her death a lawyer came to me and said that I was now the owner of MARPAS, she had no relatives and had left everything to me. I grabbed my life with both hands and turned MARPAS into the huge international company that it now is. I took her ideas and many more of my own to enter new fields and greatly expand the business. Once in a while I go back and look at the old mills.