West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Letters Page



Having read the April 2006 edition of The Digest, which brought back many memories of over fifty years ago, I would like to make a few observations.

I knew the drivers in Mrs Briggs’ photograph; they are Arthur Atkinson, Arthur Briggs, Albert Fox, Reg and Fred. They are the people wearing British Railway hats. I worked with them during the early 1950’s when I was a clerk in the goods section of Monkhill Station.

Arthur was indeed a jolly chap. He was very discerning as well. He looked after Muscroft’s very diligently and guarded that part of his run as his special port of call. He often came back from Muscrofts even more jollier than he set out. I think maybe a payment in kind might have been received!

I worked in a converted railway carriage near the warehouse. The latter was managed by George Wright who was the foreman. He was also the Mayor of Pontefract if my memory serves me right. He had two able deputies in Harry Baxter and a man called Joe whose second name escapes me. We used to book the Scammel’s out when loaded up. The ‘cob’ Mrs Briggs refers to was a three-wheeled goods vehicle called a Scammel, which indeed could turn on a sixpence. My immediate boss was called John Carr.

Arthur once came into the office and announced he had just accomplished one hundred shaves with one Gillette razor blade and was about to inform Gillette and claim a record. We were mostly unbelieving and even more so when he announced some days later that the razor had broken in two due to usage, but that he had carried on using half a blade to extend his ‘record’. He was indeed a character!

Fred was the passenger goods deliveryman so we didn’t see much of him. I do remember an interesting incident, which occurred when I was transferred to Tanshelf after my National Service. He called on me one day and enquired which union I belonged to. I answered the TSSA (Transport and Salaried Staff Association). He laughed and said I could do much better in the NUR. Convinced, I duly switched. No immediate rises were forthcoming, but within a week of joining I was informed by Fred that I was on strike. Having just arrived at Tanshelf and being on my own apart from two porters, I refused to go on strike (I was aged twenty, just out of the army and full of myself). Fred told me I would be sent to ‘Coventry’. "That’s OK" I replied, "I’m here on my own anyway".

Just a note here about Tanshelf. I worked there from 1954 to 1956. If it is the Peter Cookson I think it is, then we were at King’s together. I left in 1950 and was in 5A; I believe Peter was in 5R. Peter’s knowledge is very impressive and my memory is dimming, but the siding shown on his photograph on page 14 is where wagons were shunted for me to do the coal shipping. This meant going round the coal wagons and taking invoices from the Prince of Wales to attach to the wagon sides (they were held by very strong spring clips). I then had to make individual invoices out for each of the wagon’s destinations.

Further along the other side of the siding, under the shadow almost of the Queens Hotel, was a coal company called Hobman’s. It was supervised by one Betty Hobman, a relation of Peter Hobman who we went to school with (slightly older than us). If their wagons were in too long I had to charge them demurrage. This was a fee we charged for not emptying the wagons quickly enough.

Back to my ‘goods days’. There was a job called ‘The Townsman’ that nobody wanted as it meant calling on customers to discuss recompense for damage done by our deliveries (by the aforementioned Scammel’s). The damage was mostly effected in transit, as items were ‘transferred’ from wagon to wagon. Sometimes they were damaged in our warehouse. Funnily enough the goods damaged in our warehouse had a curious habit of turning out to be whisky! Even funnier was that a jug was always handy when it happened. Even more curious was the fact that these particular cartons were always damaged on one corner. Life is strange isn’t it? One of my colleagues was a school leaver called Roy Creamer. Roy’s particular claim to fame was that in the King’s sports swimming gala, he was able to swim under water for four lengths. However, when it came to being ‘The Townsman’ he didn’t want to know, so John Carr gave me the job. I was seventeen and naïve. The instructions were simple:

If the goods were properly packed to the required standard I had to see the invoice and make a note of the price, arrange collection of the damaged goods by our goods drivers and arrange payment through Mr. Carr.

If the goods were not properly packed then the customer was to be informed that they were carried at the owner’s risk and no payment would be forthcoming.

That sounds simple enough in theory but very different in practice. The job had its compensations. Visits were made to Woolworth’s, where under the offices of ‘Lol’ I always got a cup of tea, and a few allsort’s were always available. A nice chat and no aggro. Then there was Vaux Bros, they were always chatty and friendly even though they had quite a number of claims. The dreaded visits were to private customers, especially in Tanshelf, and worst of all a visit to see Eric England of England Ironmongers and China sellers. This was magnificent store that sold practically everything – a veritable Aladdin’s cave. There was something of everything to break, and we often did. Eric to my recollection was a tall, very fierce man with what appeared, to a young seventeen-year-old, to be a glass eye, which had an unswerving gaze – right down to your innards.

On this particular day, Mr. Carr said "Go and see Eric England, I am sure he is claiming for a china teapot that we have paid out for already. See the invoice and bring the teapot back with you. If he won’t let you have it, take this hammer and smash it".

I duly took the hammer and crept up to town. There was no Woolworth’s to lighten the journey and I had a hammer in my pocket, which grew heavier with each stride. To add to my misery it was raining. I arrived in town and went to England’s, praying he would be out – but there he was. When he saw me he immediately fixed me with his eye and muttered something like "****** railways". I approached him. "It’s about your claim for a broken china teapot" I stuttered.

"Oh" he said, his demeanour slightly mollified. "Have you come to pay it?"

"No", I said, repeating like a parrot "I’ve come to see the invoice and take the teapot back with me, and if you won’t give it to me, I have to hit it with this hammer."

A deathly silence ensued. I stood there trembling and waited for him to throw me downstairs.

"Take it", he said, "but if I am not paid early then there will be trouble and it will be me that has the hammer next time".

Picking up the teapot I scuttled downstairs and sped off to the office. Returned goods were stored before being sent to York for auction. John Carr took one look at the teapot and said "Thank goodness you didn’t smash it, it only has a little chip out of the spout, it’ll be ideal for my tea". And so the celebrated teapot became Mr. Carr’s personal brew up companion. I can see him now drinking his tea, china chipped teapot in front of him, hot pot-bellied stove next to him, surrounded by the excellence of the décor of a converted railway passenger carriage.

Mr. J.C. Smith.

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