West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Memories and Recollections





'Building' by Don Lodge, is reproduced from 'All In A Days Work - Wait While I Tell You No.2', edited by Richard Van Riel and published by Yorkshire Arts Circus.  It is reproduced with the permission of Richard Van Riel.

Don Lodge worked in his fathers’ firm until the Second World War in times when the building industry revolved around small family concerns. After the war Don did not wish to revive the business but continued to work as a bricklayer until he retired in 1978. Don’s sharp memory gives a clear picture of the building trade of fifty years ago.

Me dad let me have a months holiday after I left school. Then he said "Have you thought about a job?"


"Would you like to be a bricklayer?"


"You’ll start in the morning then."

That was a Saturday, the first week in September 1927.

The first job I went to was Willow Park Hotel. You learned the trade by watching how the men did it. At first I helped the labourer's and scaffolder's, then I did backing up, that’s bobbing bricks in the cavity on a 14" wall.

"Come on, get this centre in" they’d say to me.

The first proper course I did were a split course. Me dad set me off on that. The first course on top of this concrete floor had to be split to bring it level, you’d cut right round with your brick hammer and split brick in half. Dad didn’t come and say "I’ll split course and then you can trowel", no, he said "Right, you’ll do it - only way to learn."

Of course, I finished up with more rubble than bricks at the end but I did it.

I were apprentice for seven years, out of me time at twenty-one. I started on nine shillings a week and me last year I was on two pounds. In bad weather the men were sent home but there were always jobs for apprentices back at the yard. There’d be a lot of damaged bricks and stonework, we’d nap that up, and make a pile of aggregate for concrete. We’d screen the lime ready for mortar, throwing it through a screen like a big sieve so lime and sand were properly mixed. All the lime craps fell to the bottom, and they were kept for spreading under floors to keep vegetation down. Nothing got thrown away. Old bricks would be cleaned off with a scutch, a two pointed brick hammer, and used again, even bricks from middens. Sometimes we’d make mastic for windows or saw firewood up for the boss, there were plenty of old planks and cross beams about. We’d make big piles of logs for Christmas for me dad and Mr. Brown.

Brown and Lodge builders started in 1919, me dad bought the business from Gundhill’s in Ropergate, they were solicitors as well as builders. The first job Brown and Lodge did was new houses on Willow Park, one of the early council estates in Pontefract. Lots of firms worked on that, a section on the plan was allocated to each contractor. It was all small firms in those days, you’d tender for jobs even for single houses. Builders, joiners, slaters and tilers, plasterers, plumbers electricians – they were all separate firms and they’d all tender separately. There were no big contractors. Barber and Heseltine were the first to employ other trades. People didn’t always take the lowest tender.

"How much is Brown and Lodge?"

"Fifteen pound more."

"Go on then, I’ll have Brown and Lodge."

We’d follow one another on a job. Dad would say "we'll be ready for floor tomorrow" and a joiner would come with a horse and dray with timber on. On a big job the architect would notify other trades, for instance, when we were ready for the pan the joiners would come and do that. They’d measure up two days earlier and then put on the pan, a 4½" by 3" timber wall plate resting on the inside brick wall, ready for the roof. The roof spars would be bird-mouthed onto the pan. It was called a bird-mouth because they fitted with a little notch just like an open beak. As soon as the pan was on the builders could finish the gable ends and chimneys.

We never seemed to be held up following one another. And it didn’t used to take them as long to finish job, it’s a fact. When Brown and Lodge did the Municipal Offices they pulled houses down, cleared the site and had the new Offices built in fifteen months. That included the Terazza floor people and the heating engineers. It was supposed to be done in a twelve month but terrible rain held it up.

We did a lot of repair work; pointing fireplaces, renewing fire-backs, re-slating roofs, drain repairs. (drains were always a bricklayers job then) - nowadays everyone sends for a plumber, I don’t know why. I remember one time I loaded a handcart up with enough bricks, lime, slate and firebricks and set off from Southgate at ten past eight, went up King Street, replaced two fire-backs and was back in the yard at ten past ten. Father said "Where’ve you been? You ought to have been back long since."

We used lime for mortar from Fryston lime quarries. Usually we mixed it on site. You’d have a big heap of sand, break the lime rock up with an hammer to fist size, throw water on top and then cover top with sand, piling it over just like a meat and potato pie. Before you left you’d see steam coming off it with the chemical reaction and when you come next morning it’d be lime, just powdered lime. 

Concrete for footings and floors, that was mixed by hand too. You’d have eight barrows of sharp sand and gravel to two bags of cement, two men to turn it and one to throw water on. For suspended floors it’d be six barrows of sand and gravel, not eight, it’d have to be stronger. Diamond mesh were put in for reinforcing. Before 1900 they’d use anything for reinforcing, I’ve come across metal bedheads! Our firm got a mixer in 1929 when we were working on the extension to Pontefract Workhouse. It was petrol driven, a Lister engine, maybe two horsepower, you’d to keep going with a tin to top up water jacket. That were the only mixer we ever had till me dad packed up.

If I were out on a job and it rained we’d got into the cabin and stop to see if rain weren’t going to pack up that day. Rained off time weren’t paid, soon as you walked off scaffold into cabin your pay ceased. Many a time we’d stick it out to four o’clock or long as we dare, wet through, you’d see rain dripping off your cap. Then someone would say "I’ve had enough, Time to pack up now." There was a stove in the cabin in winter and it’d be lit about half past eleven to warm our bottles and flasks, flasks were coming in by time I started in 1927.

The cabin was also the tool shed. It wasn’t put there for men’s benefit, it was put to keep tolls safe and cement dry. The key’d be left under a stone for first one to open up in morning. I remember one time Tom Connor were left to lock up and he though to himself "They’ll not know where to find key" so he chalked a big arrow and a message KEY UNDER CORNER!. He were a case. If he was telling you about someone working outside who got right filthy, he’d always say "And there he was as black as the ace of hearts!" When he came to retire he sent off to Ireland for his birth certificate and found out he should have retired three years earlier.

In really bad weather you’d be sent home. They’d try and find you inside work if they could but sometimes the whole firm would be on the dole. In the Depression in the thirties we’d get two or three enquiries a day "Owt going? Any chance of a start?" Brown and Lodge were lucky because we did the Municipal Offices at that time. We could employ specialists but all the rest of the workmen had to come from the dole lists for that contract.

The scaffolding was all wooden in those days but you could put it up as quick as you can with tubular today. The labourer's did the poles and they’d have the ledgers, the horizontal poles, ready and then brickies would give a hand on lifting. You’d be walling up and someone would say "Don’t forget, put log-holes on this course." You’d have to leave a brick out of the wall for the log-hole. Then as you took scaffolding on you’d to fill the log-hole with a putlog, a piece of scaffold timber.

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