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The First World War had started and finished and I (William McMaster) still had a few months to go before leaving school and I knew that things would never be the same again as teenage life approached amidst economic and social change.
The transition from war to peace resulted in the continuation of dire poverty, as the soldiers returned home to mass unemployment, and many a father, son, or relative, did not return. And so the distinction among working class people was as clear as ever, the employed, and the unemployed. Therefore the social consequences were more defined in a small closely knit community like Renfrew, and indeed, would lead to changes In the years to come.
Therefore the teenager, as is always the case, had problems, the town had changed little, and then the Loanhead and Victory Gardens housing schemes were built, but unfortunately most Renfrew people could not afford the rents, better off people then moved In and were instantly branded as interlopers, and as for the Renfrew people who could move in and afford the rent, most of them were in good jobs and had decent wages. So the town was slowly changing, and for many young people there was no future even with an apprenticeship, and the next few years until 1939 and the start of the second World War the years were wasted. Around 1931 the cruellest blow of all was the reduction in the “dole” money and the introduction of the means test.
This test considered the total family income and led to a reduction in “dole” money for one or more of the family if another was working so that everyone suffered and this resulted in a serious disruption of family life. These observations may appear to have little to do with Renfrew’s history but surely social and economic problems and their consequences are a part of the structure of history, Renfrew, or otherwise. Apart from religious organisations having their own social activities, little was or could be done. The churches offered an empty shop in Fulbar Street as a social club and provided a small billiard table, and the Salvation Army had weekly concerts for some time.
The British Legion had a social club in Muir Street, and the Independent Labour Party rented the loft above the disused stable located where the newsagent is on the west side of Hairst Street, both of which provided some sort of social activity. The Brown’s Institute which was meant for the use of the young men of Renfrew, was well furnished, and had a large fall sized billiard table, but somehow it seemed to get taken over by the “better off”, but for those who had the odd “tanner” to spare there was a great snooker hall across the road at 38 Canal Street “up the builders close”.
The Regal Cinema had a weekly matinee at cheap prices, but in the evening the prices varied according to which part of the cinema you occupied, the balcony being the dearest and the front rows the cheapest. Sub standard housing and overcrowding being as it was, the front rows were known as the” flea pits”. There was also another cinema, situated in Moorpark more commonly known as the ‘Moorkies” or for those better acquainted with this establishment “The Bug Hut”.
I pass by the wasted years, and 1939 finds us at the start of the Second World War, and strangely enough a solution to some of the problems. Manpower for the forces having been met, their was employment for men and women at home. Rationing was introduced, and people who once had plenty to eat, found they were far healthier with less, but the black market with different kinds of goods to sell was a temptation, and people who had experienced the hungry years were better fed.
New techniques in engineering and other industries found a need for “semi skilled” and the term labourer was fast disappearing. So I mention these few facts because they have a bearing on the aftermath which proved to be so different from the previous war.