When I left off last time, I was rising 22 and flat broke, but I will just expand a little on that period with my irascible partner, Fenwick.
It would be 1953 and we had just returned to Hull from out of town bonus work for Spooners, to undertake any jobs that were available and work for ourselves. I have mentioned previously blowing up Dock Street and other escapades.
One of our contacts was a newly qualified architect called Tony Lister. His father was a recently demobbed ex-Sergeant Major in the Gordon Highlanders. He still wore his tam o shanter hat and strutted around as though he was on the parade ground; nevertheless, he was a very nice fellow. He owned land in Swanland and kept pigs. We were engaged to build what was then a quite revolutionary sow and weaner house.
He was also, I believe, the first in the district to process vegetables ready for the table and supplied Marks and Spencer. Tony, his son, seemed to like the work we did and got us several contracts. One of these was to gut and completely restore an old shop property in St Augustine Gate, Hedon. We then fitted it out as a chemist.
Whilst working there, Tony Lister asked if we would like to take on a good friend of his as a labourer. He was a public school character, who had fallen on hard times. No wonder, he gambled on everything and drank like a fish. When we left Hedon, he had run up an account with every landlord. He had the ability, whilst we were walking for the bus, to call off at the pub, sink 2 pints and still be at the bus stop head of us. Apparently the flat he and his wife lived in didn’t possess a stick of furniture. I saw him years later, coming out of the dole office which didn’t surprise me, until someone told me he worked on the other side of the counter.
I recall we were working at a doctor’s surgery on Beverley Road and he was using our concrete mixer on the drive. At the end of the day he did the usual thing, putting in half bricks and hardcore with water to rotate and clean the mixer. Unfortunately the mouth of the rotating mixer was facing the neighbours drive and worse still our neighbour’s lovely clean car. Lendardt our public school labourer, then, without thinking, tipped the mixer and splashed all the contents over the beautiful car. The neighbour was furious and sent his old manservant to clean it after our guy had done his bit. The neighbour was R.G. Tarran.
Between the wars, Mr R G Tarran was a very prominent and colourful figure in Hull, both Civic and as a very successful businessman. His businesses were mainly construction and known as Tarran Industries. He was a great showman and entrepreneur. He built most of the cinemas in Hull in the thirties.
When building the “Regal”, he called all the workforce together and standing on a stage timed himself laying a single brick which took about thirty seconds. He then told everyone that every bricklayer should do the same. 960 bricks per day. He conveniently forgot about building round windows and doorways which take up most of the time. Also when building the “Regis” cinema in Gypsyville, he timed it to start when then the Council where building a Ladies and Gents Toilets nearby. He took three months to build the cinema while the Council took six months to complete the toilets
He enjoyed that sort of publicity. He also erected the Wilberforce Monument in its original position on Monument Bridge. He later entered Civic affairs becoming Sheriff and entertained King George and Queen Elizabeth on their wartime visit to Hull. His downfall came during the war, when his companies were heavily involved building Air Bases and runways, etc. When delivering hardcore and concrete etc his vehicles would drive in and out several times with the same loads obtaining a separate ticket each time for the bogus loads. Several prominent people were party to the various scams. One committed suicide, Tarran went to his majesty’s prison to do some porridge and a few lucky people including a few local politician’s disappeared back into the woodwork. So much for Sheriff Robert G Tarran!
The doctor’s surgery was another milestone in my life. The receptionist’s bike suffered from a slow puncture and Sir Walter Raleigh here was always pumping it up. It eventually cost me my liberty, I married her.
Another foot note, Tony Lister later became the Beverley Borough County Architect and then he took holy orders.
Fenwick and I had taken on a joiner by this time and after the surgery job we hadn’t much work, so we started making ironing boards and odd items of furniture. It may seem naïve or maybe a hell of a cheek, but we made an appointment to see the sales director of G.U. Stores, in Tottenham Court Road in London, to show him our ironing board.
We borrowed my brother’s 1936 Morris 10 and complete with the ironing board on the back seat, we set off. We were ushered into this huge marble hall and the uniformed commissionaire had a rather hard look at us with our ironing board under our arm. The Sales Director was sympathetic and suggested we would be better to start lower down the ladder at, say, John Lewis Partnerships, who most probably wouldn’t want as many as a 1,000 per week as they would. We took the hint, but it was all good experience.
We did many odd jobs, including running pigs to market, even buying and selling a few, but, as I mentioned last time, my partner’s taste for luxury proved our undoing. The final straw was, when he disappeared on holiday with the wages destined for our subbies and employees. That was it. When he returned, broke, of course, but with a second hand Lanchester car on tick, I realised it was hopeless.
I’d had a bit of money. My father gave me a wreckling pig when I was about16 and by the time I joined the R.A.F. I’d bred, bought, sold and kept a few pigs, which were worth probably £100. When I sold up to join the R.A.F for National Service, my dad used the money to buy me 4 small store beasts and geist them out at Lelley in Holderness. When I left the RAF, I sold them and made about £400. It all sounds so little now, but was a lot of money to me in the early 50’s. All this I’d lost.
The old Ford had lain broken down for 12 months, but I got it going and Father and I would go around farms collecting Harker’s sacks. We’d give up to 6d each and obtain 9d each down High Street in Hull from Greenhough, Esplen and Jones, the agents, anything to make a few bob. Dad would buy a few pigs and I would transport them. We would go to sales and as long as we could turn it over quickly, we would buy anything; a crate of chickens or a wurzel chopper. I wasn’t making any money, just enough to live on.
What next? The 1954 rail strike arrived and I again linked up with Blonde Fenwick and we used a converted Ford10cwt pickup to deliver fish from Hull Fish Dock. On the second trip to Leek in Staffordshire, still with most of the fish on board, the big end went and we had to leave the vehicle perched on top of a hill. We told the Police and suggested they helped themselves to the fish and we thumbed a lift back to Hull.
I then borrowed £30 and bought a clapped out Morris Cowley truck, which had stood for 4 months and was previously used for transporting pig manure. It had no battery and flat tyres. A friend of mine got me a cheap battery, I have always been a little unsure where it came from, but I got the old truck going and turned out on the fish dock. Anyone with a vehicle was acceptable, I argued it was a 4 ton, we were paid for vehicle tonnage, but it was really a 2 ton. They loaded me every morning for different places and different drops. It could be Birmingham/Reading/Swindon/Kidderminster/the Lakes or the Welsh Border. Remember, this was 1954 – no motorways. It was like setting off to cross the Gobi Desert, an absolute lottery as to whether the engine would run or boil the coffee.
I remember breaking down at Bawtry, the garage, which helped me out and asked where I was going? When I said Reading, he tapped the engine, which was leaking like a sieve and said, “You’re either mad or you have a heart like a lion.” Believe it or not, I got there and back. Some days my load, although for numerous drops, was relatively light, but I remember the argument about the 2 or 4 ton was again raised and they decided to pile me up with the maximum weight. I crawled off the dock, engine groaning with the wheels touching the metal mudguards. I got to Hessle and stripped off the mudguards to give another ½” clearance.
My first drop was Kidderminster. About two in the morning, I noticed a light at the back of my truck. When I stopped, flames burst out from the tyres and woodwork of the body. I managed to put it out and crawled into Kidderminster and unloaded some fish, which gradually eased my problem.
My last drop was Reading. The whole journey took me 40 hours; I had two hour’s sleep. After three weeks, I was absolutely knackered. Strangely enough, I didn’t make much cash, the truck was a petrol guzzler and, what with repairs, I just cleared enough to pay for the truck and a little to boot.
Which also reminds me of a trip to Keswick, I was running out of petrol about three in the morning and asked the police in Kendal where I could obtain some fuel. They could only suggest a one-man outfit somewhere near Kendal. I crawled there with the place in darkness. I knocked and knocked all around the wooden bungalow near the pumps and after a half hour of knocking I heard one word “8 o’ clock”. I carried on, hoping it would mainly be downhill, and just made it to Windermere and a fill up.
There is no doubt that as the day’s wore on I became increasingly knackered with very little sleep and sometimes only two or three hours rest before I was supposed to be back on Dock. I decided to find someone who could drive to go with me and spell the driving.
It brought it home to me when I left the A1 at Bawtry early one morning heading back home, and when, despite putting my arm and sometimes my face outside the cab, hoping the fresh air would keep me awake, I dropped off several times only to be awakened as the old truck mounted kerbs and a selection of other various obstacles.
Fortunately or so I thought, I managed to get two guys to help; one was a pal from judo who was very good and loved driving. The second guy was not so good and seemed more knackered than me. An example of that was when on our way South one night when I was flagged down by some RAF lads for a lift. My erstwhile driver was fast asleep resting on the door and ended up in a heap on the road, before I could warn him (honest!!!).
He was driving one time when he had clearly lost his way. It was in the early hours and I was asleep when he came to the same conclusion. I was awakened by the shattering of glass as he reversed into a village shop window. I have always been quite ashamed of the desperation and speed with which we left the scene of the crime as we sped away.
All this time, I was hoping people would give me building work and, fortunately, I got about two days work a week from a small builder’s merchant called Windass in Hessle Square. He also used me on Saturdays to deliver sand and gravel or more often to clean people’s blocked drains. I charged plenty for cleaning out other people’s gold plate and always they seemed to be the better off houses. It’s funny how times change, but I remember cleaning all the drains out at the last house down Links Drive, Brough. Most local golfers will know it as the house nearest to the 17th tee and I recall thinking “I wonder what it is that rich people eat or do to cause such a bog?”
Old Mr Evison, the auctioneer and the principal at G H Evison and Sons, owned several farms and gave me a free hand to repair outbuilding roofs and various repairs and renovations at Mount Airey Farm at South Cave. I spent most of one winter up there and literally froze sitting up top of those ridges pointing the tiles. (On a clear day I can see that same roof from my desk in my study). Mr Evison was a nice man and I remember apologising for taking him up to see the work in my old bone shaking truck and he said, “We all have to make a start, my bike was no better.”
The Tenant farmers were the May family and Mr May and his three sons worked the farm while Mrs May and daughter ran the main house. Arthur, the eldest son, was married and lived next door. They were all very friendly and helpful. The old roof we repaired was leaky and buckets were in evidence in strategic places when it rained. I particularly remember Arthur asking for help when a deluge of rain had virtually washed him out of bed. So I repaired roofs and ceilings and was on call for any eventuality. The farm generally was in a poor state and probably had had little done since the 18th century. I built new buttresses to the walls around the fold yard and concreted a new base to the Midden. Eric Smales, my electrician wired the houses and the farmyard. He became a great close friend of the May family.
The one thing that has stayed with me is the shattering of the belief that farmers are early risers. I would arrive for work at 7-30am and nothing stirred till around 9-30am. The lads had lots of holidays and expensive hobbies, visits to Silverstone, Brooklands and Monaco Grand Prix come to mind. Despite the cold and frosty winter, I was grateful for the work whilst it lasted.
To make ends meet, I got a casual employment when my brother obtained for me a fish dock workers union card for working on the fish docks occasionally (particularly Mondays, as they would frequently call all hands at 2 a.m.). This meant all the regulars got a job and they would recruit other casuals to fill in. If more ships than usual were docking, of course, the regular casuals were taken on first, then the irregular casuals composed of a motley crowd of down and outs like me. In general they were ex-regulars who had let the side down through drink, theft or even just disliked by the foreman. It was a bit of a lottery really and similar to the American film “On the Waterfront”. To be taken on you had to catch the eye of the foreman. If I was unsuccessful in getting a job, I would cycle back to Hessle and back to bed around 3am.
I was delighted if I got a job, the wages were good. We worked from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. or 10 a.m., and my card was stamped for the week. If taken on, you would be allocated to a trawler and told what you were to do. My job was scrubbing pound boards usually, but it gave me a good start to the week. The majority of Trawlers landing were the side winder type, which meant the nets were hauled or launched from the side of the ship. The trawlers were about 130 ft long and 30/40 beam. The catch was stored amidships below deck and quality fish like haddock was separated into pounds. A pound was a compartment made by slotting pound boards together to form boxes. When the fish was lifted in baskets and swung ashore the pound boards were then removed for cleaning. The fish went ashore and up came large numbers of pound boards to the cry of firewood. These slings of boards were strewn all over the deck and my job was to scrub them clean. On a cold and frosty morning scrubbing boards with icy water is not the most popular occupation and the most difficult bit was trying to remove the fish scales. Sometimes we were allowed to go to the galley to make a cup of tea, but the dreadful state of the galley and unwashed mugs put you off drinking it, so I just used it to try to unfreeze my hands. The ship owners were keen on a quick turn around and most times trawlers were heading for sea again within three days. This was usually achieved by the ship’s husband. It was his job to make sure a full complement of crew was on time and on ship. Much more difficult than it sounds. In lots of cases the whole crew from decky learner to skipper was in a hurry to enjoy themselves from docking to sailing again. Enjoyment meant being in a permanent state of inebriation, sex with the wife and any other wives whose husbands were at sea. In those days fishermen relied on taxis and they would book a taxi for the three days they were home and refer to it as my taxi. Very often the taxi would arrive at the dock with the taxi driver and the ships husband escorting an unstable crewman on to the departing trawler.
Around this time, lots of people had a private garden air raid shelter, some brick, some concrete, some above and some below ground. Most people wanted rid and I got quite the knack of knocking them down. I would use a long-shafted 14 lb hammer and swing away at the corners until I could get my 8 ton hydraulic jack in, I then gradually jacked up the wall until it split. I did the same with the roof. Sometimes a couple of cracks with the hammer would collapse the roof. If the owner was watching, they would invariably gasp and say “to think I sat in there all the war thinking I was safe.” I would wheel all the rubble down the garden, load it up and use it for hardcore or sell it. I knocked many war time garden shelters down.
I also went to the sale of the old army and squatters’ camps at Tranby Lane, Hessle, the type that Tarran had built and for a few pounds I bought an old ex army hut. I re-erected it on my parent’s smallholding in my spare time and, whenever I had some surplus concrete, gradually laid a floor. I then picked up for a song a couple of hydraulic block making machines and housed them in the hut. In retrospect I was more likely to get a rupture than make a fortune, but I was able to fill my time between jobs making a few blocks and using up any spare concrete over from other jobs. I sold the blocks through Harry Windass and used them for my own jobs.
Squatters camps developed in the late forties like a rash all over Britain. Invariably they were led by demobbed soldiers and their wives fed up with living with their in-laws and little hope of a place of their own. The camps were mostly vacant and ex RAF or ex Army. With most basic facilities of water, electricity and sewage they became a very popular target for young couples desperate to have a place of their own. It wasn’t long before 1000 camps were taken over in England and Wales and a further 152 in Scotland.
With the dock work and Windass, I started to make a living. In 1956, I built my first house under contract, in other words it was not a spec. It was for a partner called Lacey in a garage business at Hedon. I had, of course, built lots of houses before, but this was the first house I costed and built from start to finish, as a sole trader. I enjoyed it. It was profitable, the customer was delighted and I learned a lot. I was recommended for the contract by Eric Smales who I have mentioned earlier and was an electrician and did my electrical work. We had become good friends. He also had a small shop in Hedon and knew Mr Lacey. At that time I did not employ anyone so Mr Lacey fixed me up with a casual labourer. He was certainly casual, still he was a hard working character, with a good sense of humour, he needed it because his ex-wife was on his case chasing him for money, but rather than pay he chose gaol for short spells. That’s how I realised what casual meant. He seemed to know to the day when the police would arrive to escort him to prison, he emptied his pockets of anything of value and was quite philosophical about his lifestyle. I can recall 1956 because Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal and Anthony Eden as Prime Minister decided to send troops and recover it, along with the French. I remember it particularly because I was still on H reserve which meant I might be recalled and ruin my fledgling business. I am pleased to say they managed without me and President Eisenhower did not like it either so it was soon over.
Through delivering for Mr Windass, I met Bert Nicholson who asked for a quote to build a large workshop and he would supply a labourer. That is how I met Fred Brown. Fred was Mary Nicholson’s nephew. I suppose you would describe Fred as a likeable rogue. According to Fred, he had been everywhere and met everybody. Fred was about 42 or so, but we reckoned that by where he had been and what he had done he must be at least a 100. The old story has it that the Pope was on the balcony speaking to his flock in St Peters Square. Someone in the crowd asked who was on the balcony and the reply was. “I am not sure who the guy in white is, but the chap next to him is Fred Brown.”
On one occasion, several of Bert’s men and myself were travelling to Everingham Hall to install a bar for Lady Ann Howard (sister of the Duke of Norfolk) and her husband and as usual Fred was explaining that he knew her husband very well and how they had been friends in the army. We thought Fred’s hoping they will not be there so he can get away with telling us the latest porky. Things seemed to be going his way and we finished the work when her husband arrived to view our installation. His first words were “Hello Fred how is life treating you”? We were all stunned and thought gosh Fred really is nearly a hundred.
I then obtained further contracts improving pubs through Bert Nicholson for Scottish breweries and also obtained regular work from Asbestos and Rubber Co. Hull, to build cold stores for fish merchants and various other businesses throughout the UK. Working in the fish houses and smoke houses was an education in itself. At Maconochies, the girls, who smoked the kippers, came for the season from Scotland. Woe betide the young lads who worked there. If they were cheeky – trousers would be off and credentials kipper stained in a twinkle. The women at Stirks, another fish-house, could out swear any of the men. They wore large oilskin aprons and looked very butch. Stirks salted and dried lots of their fish, it looked like old boots. Apparently it was exported to Africa and was very expensive. It looked appalling. McRae’s, by contrast, was a large, modern factory, well lit with modern packaging machines and the latest welfare arrangements. All the girls wore white coats and overalls and dust caps, etc. A perk at any of these fish houses, whilst working there, was The Fry! A request to the management would be rewarded with half a dozen beautifully oak-smoked Norwegian kippers, a real treat.
I was now an employer in my own right and my first apprentice, Geoff Hunt, was certainly aware of the girls’ fearsome reputation and kept a wary eye out for trouble. He was a good hard working lad and never objected to anything he was asked to do. Concreting large areas, knocking down air raid shelters or repairing roofs three or four storeys high were all part of a day’s work. He was a typical young man, enjoying the music of the day, Marty Wilde, Billy Fury etc. He went to night school as required, but I do know that occasionally his tee square and drawings were parked near the bar in the Admiral Hawke pub in Hessle square. After he finished his time, he left to see the world. Several years later I got a telephone call from him in Australia seeking help. He needed confirmation of his Apprenticeship etc for the Authorities, in order to work as a tradesman. It goes to show that despite my run in with Arthur Scruton you should always try to leave a job on good terms. I was pleased to help. Unfortunately, I heard from one of his local friends some years ago that Geoff had died.
Northern Dairies were then expanding by taking over many small dairies. They usually set about demolishing these places and completely rebuilding. As a subcontractor to the Asbestos and Rubber Company, my job was to plaster out the cold stores and lay special floors. Plastering the cold stores was very hard work, principally because we were required to use sand and cement and plaster it on to cork which is inert and has no absorption. The Portuguese cork was bonded into layers of water bond and stuck to the brick walls and ceilings, and floor, with hot tar and wooden skewers. The sheets were 600 long, 300 high and 100mm wide. The whole place stank from the simmering boiling tar. It was like the black hole of Calcutta. Chicken wire was fastened to the Cork to provide adhesion. Our first job was to render the walls with sand and cement, but we needed a setting agent to replace the normal drying out process. I used calcium chloride but you had to be pretty careful with or it could set in the mixer before you realised. We also had to achieve a high quality finish ready for the final coat of Snowcem. We achieved this by using a two handled darby instead of the conventional wooden float. It was backbreaking. After the walls came the same procedure on the ceilings, with a difference! The difference was sheer hell. Very often we would just get it beautifully finished when a crack or a bulge would occur and a large area would collapse. We stuck at it and when finished laid a floor of granite chips topped with a hard surface of Prodorite. This was needed to cope with the use then of steel wheeled trolleys. The last job was to run a sand and cement cove to walls and ceilings and floors, and send my bill in. These contracts could be as far apart as Ashby-de-la-Zouch or Middlesbrough. Sometimes I would only be told on the Friday night and was expected to start on the Monday. There was one rule – nothing stopped for development. The milk bottles and the merry-go-round continued.
I have stood plastering walls and ceilings with the conveyor belt of bottles passing between my legs. On one occasion I plastered a chill room and the manager would not allow the temperature to rise. By the time I left the walls were below freezing. It was good money and I just had to put up with the inconvenience and short notice.
I was also fortunate to obtain work altering several pubs, mainly for Falloons, then owned by the Townend family and later taken over by Scottish Breweries. One of my first jobs was some alteration work at the George and Dragon, Aldbrough. I learnt a lesson there. I had nailed up some temporary laths to form an arris to a beam. After finishing plastering, I removed the laths and, when I jumped from the platform, a nail protruding from the laths went straight through my foot. There was no doctor available so I drove to Hull with my good leg to get it sorted out. I’ve not done that again.
Mine host then was known to all as Whiskers; he had a very heavy set, but was best known for designing and making his wife’s clothes. Several national newspapers had written articles about him. He was there just before Joseph Cerrutti took over as manager after the property was purchased by several local farmers.
I then won a contract from Townend’s to modernise a very old pub, the White Horse Inn at Nawton near Hemsley. It hadn’t been touched for centuries. The Landlord was called Skillingbeck and was in his 80s. His family lived in the village, and he lived at the pub alone. When we arrived it had an earth closet and the bar was his sitting room, complete with old Yorkshire range. The old man spent most of the day looking at the fire. Both old Skillingbeck and the family hated the idea of change and complained ceaselessly, but we had the job to do and it entailed altering all downstairs, most of the upstairs, providing new stalls and toilets and finally, a new car park. We had new windows and doors to cut in to the outside walls. The walls were solid stone and up to 2 ft thick, every time we cut out a doorway we had several tons of stone to clear and the dust went everywhere. Poor old Skilly played hell, we used to parody the old Hoover song “all the dirt, all the grit, Skilly gets it every bit, as he bleats, as he squeals, as he screams.”
I had just one bricklayer helping me, an ex-night school colleague called John Gooch. We had digs in the village and went home late Saturday and returned early Monday morning. We had to break into a roof space and found a pair of shoes and an old triangular hat; they were about 3 centuries old. These were later on display at York Castle Museum. I have always been fascinated finding old things that have remained undisturbed for centuries. We also found one or two 18th century coins.
I felt a little sorry for the old man. The owners were obviously altering the pub and providing dining facilities and after he had suffered all the disturbance, it was quite clear that they would be looking for a new “mine host”, but that’s life I suppose. John Gooch was a very good and conscientious worker and when work became slack, I had to release him. It was unavoidable of course but I have always regretted it.
Whilst working for Asbestos & Rubber I got married. This was 1958. I remember we were building a cold store for Hans C. Herman, the Danish bacon people, in English Street, Hull. I asked Mr Mcormack the Manager for Saturday morning off, the boss of Asbestos – old Tom Martin, said “There are other plastering contractors aren’t there?” I worked until late Friday night and finished work noon on Saturday and we were married at 2.30 p.m. We had two days honeymoon in London and then back to work.
Our home at that time was a 22ft caravan on my parent’s smallholding. We lived on £5 and Janet’s £8 from Reckitts, where she was the dentist’s nurse/receptionist. I remember saying to a bricklayer I employed at the time, how heavy it had rained the previous night, when he said “Hell I wouldn’t know, I live in a proper bloody house.” I realised my image was rather dinted.
Six weeks after we wed, I obtained another contract through Asbestos. It was a large cold store and crab processing factory for Brands of Bridlington. I took on one plasterer and we dossed down in the back of the van in the factory. It took us 6 weeks and we worked from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day. The work was very physical. As usual, we had to plaster sand and cement on to cork. Not many of the people I occasionally employed would help again. It made you ache in every muscle. Now such insulation is achieved by laminated sheets of all sizes and insulation density.
My brickie/plasterer mate Les was completely eccentric and so was his wife. He had problems, believing that he was an old man and past it at the age of 33. When I challenged him, he would argue that boxers were over the hill at 33 though he showed no inclination to take it up. I began to check my own sanity after several weeks working till 10pm and then having his company sleeping on a mattress in the back of a van. The other torment was thousands of caged crabs croaking to us all night. Still, despite his misery, he was hard working and we did a good job and we finished on time. His wife was also a penny short of a shilling. I recall calling to see him at his home off Holderness Road. I was invited in and sat on the sofa. If you moved, she immediately puffed up the cushions and reset them, similarly with the brass door handles – any move to open a door was followed by her with polish and a duster. Nothing he did was right, if he was late for a meal it was either in the dog or thrown down the passage.
I tried to persuade Asbestos to use a semi hydrate plaster like Keens or Parion, but they were reluctant to change. One job where they did use it was a novel contract. This was a contract to convert and modernise a trawler and renew the fish holds. She was one of the Kingston line, to be renamed Southern Endeavour and to fish off Australia. The hold was lined with cork and we rendered the cork with sand and cement and finished it with polar white plaster. One day the ship would be 6ft below the quay, another day 12ft above. Trying to wheel materials on board from the mixer was like watching silent movies. They also didn’t advise you when they moved the ship. We arrived one day to find the ship missing and later found it up on the slip. Another time I emerged from the hold to find us passing into the next dock on our way for sea trials, so I hopped off and left it.
Whilst working on the ship I came to understand the inevitability of some of the ship repairing companies’ bankruptcy. The number of people assigned to work on the trawler was farcical, most just standing around. There were some chaps who never did anything in the 3 weeks I was working there and I never found out what they were supposed to do. The company, Humber St. Andrews, employed welders, boilermakers, shipwrights, electricians and all manner of people each with a mate and no-one would cross demarcation lines. I saw at first hand the stupidity and the bolshey attitudes that still haunt us and ruined the shipbuilding and ship repairing industry.
I am pleased to say nothing like it ever stained the building industry, whatever its faults. It has been my experience and pleasure to work with and employ, with few exceptions, hardworking people. You cannot grow a company without good people who are dedicated and trustworthy.
For years I recall calculating that on paper I was doing o.k., but we were always hard up. I had the usual trouble with bad payers. I got quite a few jobs erecting cigarette coin machines on newsagents’ forecourts for a character who lived in Hessle. He also asked me to build an extension to his house. He was slow at paying to say the least. He kept saying things were bad and then showing me his recently acquired Jag. Finally I had trouble catching him in. I would ring beforehand, but find him out when I got there. In the end I camped outside his house until he squared me up and then we parted company.
It was around 1960 when I joined forces with Bert Nicholson, who had the successful joinery business and together we formed Nu Style Developments and built 2 spec bungalows designed by Janet’s cousin Irwin Whitton at Lockington. They were a simple but nice design and we built them to a high standard and they sold reasonably quickly. We then bought a site in Leven for another pair of bungalows and although we had appointed an agent and had lots of footfall at weekends, no one seemed interested. It was just a throwaway comment to us by a visiting punter who said they liked the bungalow but did not want to sign up to an insurance plan mortgage. The penny dropped. Our agent was far more interested in selling his insurance package than our bungalows, as we discovered he got an excellent fee up front and an annual payment as long as the mortgage was in place. We sacked him and sold them ourselves.
We also bought land at Hessle for 3 dwellings. Janet and I built our own house there, her Dad dug the footings. We moved in with no carpets and little else, but it was all ours, except the bit we shared with the Provincial Building Society.
In 1962, we bought a small site for 16 at North Ferriby, a very pretty site overlooking the Humber. It was advertised in the Hull Daily Mail and was spotted first by the Janet, who saw it advertised by Dick Emslie, a local estate agent. She hurriedly stuffed the children in the car and came down to Woodlands Drive to tell me. Bert Nicholson and I successfully purchased the land through Nu- Style Developments and got planning permission for the 16 bungalows. Together we built eight bungalows and they sold very quickly.
It was winter of 1963 and my partnership was becoming acrimonious and we dissolved Nu-Style. Parts of the Humber froze over and ice flows were a common sight as the tides came down the river. The building conditions were appalling. Redcliff Drive is right on the shore of the Humber. When people asked if it flooded, I used to quip “only on Fridays (bath night).” I must say I didn’t sleep very well at high tide and until I sold my four bungalows.
For the record, however, it seems remarkable that with all the recent weather changes and flooding (2009/2010/2011/2012/2013) these properties have never flooded.
As mentioned, Bert Nicholson and I went our separate ways and I remember bringing old Mr Clarke, the then Martin’s Bank Manager, to look at my house for collateral. I recall he was very complimentary about my suit. It certainly looked good from the front, it was after all my old wedding suit. What I was anxious for him not to see was the shiny threadbare seat of my pants. I made sure I was always slightly behind him Just in case. He gave me an overdraft facility of £4,000. I took my share of the remaining land at Ferriby. It was enough for four bungalows.
My partner Bert Nicholson had started acting oddly e.g. our companies shared a Nu-Style cheque-book which was kept by him and if I was required to sign it, it was held in his daughter or son in laws hand whilst I signed. I was not sure what his problem was but it occurred to me that he thought I was not being straight with him, which was most annoying, as I showed every receipt and wished very much to have an open and honest relationship.
Up to this period I had been very grateful to him. He had introduced me to Falloons and the Asbestos and Rubber Company now known as ARCO. I had also built one of his workshops. We made a good team. I enjoyed working with him and his wife Mary was a nice lady with no airs and graces and we thought a lot about both of them. Janet and I saw them socially and enjoyed their company. We were also invited to the Nicholson’s 25th wedding anniversary. Indeed we showed our affection by purchasing a delightful and expensive solid silver lighter. We were still pretty hard up, at least on paper, so I do recall the relatively large sum it cost us at the time. It was the only item of solid silver amongst their gifts and we were pleased to demonstrate our affection to them both.
Then things started to change. I suppose looking back there was always a few pointers. When Bert and I had bought the building site in Cliff Top Lane, Hessle from the Hull Trinity House we each decided to build a house for ourselves. Janet and I had to wait a couple of weeks before Bert discussed with Mary as to which plot they wanted. So the partnership was already starting to look a little one-sided.
As it turned out, the bizarre situation was that the very thing he suspected we were doing, Bert was doing to us. He was in fact charging the earth for any of the joinery work he and his men were doing. I knew very well what the cost and percentage of joinery work was to the overall cost in a house or bungalow. Site work/foundations/drains/brickwork/roof tiling/paths/garage/plastering/tiling/fireplaces etc. All these works exceeded by far the joinery input. I did expect his work to be relatively expensive, as everything was done on their part at a relaxed pace but, when I finally split with him, it took 10 years before inflation caught up with his costs. Nevertheless, Janet and I were very hurt that he should even suspect our integrity.
Until then our loose partnership with Bert and his company had been one of gratitude and appreciation. Bert was keen to broaden his opportunities and together we had set up the Nu-Style company with the intention of building good quality housing. A disappointing conclusion to a financially successful venture. It was another lesson in partnerships and relationships. It left a sour taste. As a postscript we met by accident while shopping in Hammonds department store many years later. Somehow those few minutes’ conversation we had seemed to make things better.
The year 1963 was a good year and I was keen to buy building land well in advance of development. I was successful in purchasing a site for eleven dwellings from Mrs Hollaway, the owner of a nursing home close to Heads Lane in Hessle.
It was a beautiful site and I retained Tony Lister to design a suitable scheme. His proposals were quite dramatic and I was unsure his scheme would sell easily. We visited the Midlands to see similar developments. The main problem was the idea that they would be large apartments, but built in blocks. I decided to go ahead but they were never built. There have been many similar schemes successfully built in this area since then; but I got cold feet before it was too late and, when we eventually developed the site, I built large conventional single properties which sold well. I gave him Janet’s Ford Anglia in lieu of a fee.
In 1964, I bought a site for a pair of semis and a single plot in Anlaby Park South. I built the semis straightaway and they sold quickly. Also in 1964, I bought sites from Mr Alma Jordan for three bungalows in Tranby Ride off Tranby Lane and three houses in Woodlands Drive Anlaby. I was starting to make a good living and remember showing my Dad the building society cheque of £7800 for the semis in Anlaby Park Road. He was so pleased and proud and asked if he could show it to my Uncle Goften, Dads brother. Another little gem I am proud of – pleasing my Dad.
Whilst building the Tranby Ride site we used compacted red shale as hardcore, both for the site areas and the drives and paths. Alma Jordan ( very successful builder) rang me and suggested removing the shale from the areas of the houses. He apologised for interfering but said in his experience the shale, if wet, would expand and cause serious damage. I thanked him and took his advice. In turn, I have emulated him whenever a similar situation presents itself. Helping other people makes you feel better.
1964 was also a year when the construction industry became overheated and building materials were at a premium. Brick orders were on 4 months delivery and even then there was little choice. It was quite usual for builders to run out and have to make up with a different type. Although the industry has never taken to concrete bricks they were often the only ones available. We were caught just the once and built a pair of three bedroomed semis at Woodmansey using concrete bricks.
It was still 1964 when we also built the three houses in Woodlands Drive in Anlaby.
By then, I employed both Geoff Hunt my apprentice and Len Griffin, a bricklayer. I also advertised and started a labourer as a hod carrier. The hod carrier assured me he was experienced and I gave him a hod and when loaded with bricks he attempted to carry it up the ladder the wrong way round. The bricks were down before he was and we had another discussion about his experience.
He had been working at the Gas Board. I took him on because I suspected he would be a hard worker and would soon learn, although, he was probably just short of a shilling. And so it turned out. I cannot remember his name but I will never forget his pack-up. It was nearly always a meat and potato pie. It was the size that impressed, about 37 mm thick and 400 mm wide. It was like a large pram wheel.
In 1964, I bought odd plots in Anlaby and Woodmansey and built 6/7. In 1965, I bought enough for 3 at Gilberdyke. Later in 1965 I bought enough for 7 more and the rest regarding Gilberdyke is history.
Since we first arrived in Gilberdyke we have built about 500/600 houses plus shops, flats and factories.
By 1968 we were directly employing about 100 people plus 100 permanent subcontractors, with a wide range of activities in our group of companies engaged in house-building, factory development, engineering, portable accommodation, plant hire, etc. but that’s more for another my job talk.
Age 22 to 53
3RD ROTARY TALK 28TH APRIL 1985/Dec 2014