ALL IN A DAYS WORK
by ZACHARIA CRASHLEY
Crashley worked at the Co-operative Wholesale Society Fellmongery in
Pontefract, Yorkshire, from 1926-1977. It’s been said that the Crashley’s were
the skinyards as the whole family worked there. The Fellmongery is now
closed but Zak’s striking description records the strenuous nature of
this unusual job.
across the road with their trip and pigswill used to send out worse
smells than us but we got blamed for everything. Everyone knew where
skinyards were. It were a terrible hard job, eight hours PT we’d call
it. You’d change your pants and vest at dinnertime, even in winter
they’d be soaked through with sweat. We had miners come to us wouldn’t
stick it. My father had been in pit but he used to say he’d never done
a more exacting job than pulling. He worked at C.W.S. till he was 66. I
worked at side of him and he were 65 afore I could lick him.
It helped if you’d a long back. Pulling would change your shape, mind. I
were six stone twelve when I started and it brought me out. When I went
for me army medical in 1943 the Sergeant couldn’t believe me chest
measurement against me waist, had to run tape round again to make sure.
If you went for a suit at Burton’s you’d to get the chest measure out of
proportion, you couldn’t buy off the peg.
family were all in skinyards. My grandfather Zachariah, me father James,
Uncle Dick, brother James and Jabez, cousin Jack – we all worked
there. You’d be brought up to it to stick it. It were a good wage in
comparison with a miner or railman. We’d be on 38 shillings for a
48-hour week at a time when Jabez was only on 26 for farm work. You
could earn the same as a bank manager.
paid tax, had to take it ourselves to Storr and Hey, accountants in
Baxtergate. When I started at 14 I should have been on 10 shilling but
with me father being a good worker I was put on 18.
year after I started we got the new system. We’d make up the
depilatory in a big tank – 21/2cwt hydrated lime, 110lbs sodium
sulphide and 55 gallons of water. That were enough to paint 400 skins.
They’d be stood for twenty-four hours and pulled next day. We’d have
socks up our arms, then protective gloves on top as the acid was
corrosive. If any got through a hole, even just a thornprick in the
wool, you’d have blood all over you. It were three flights of stairs
and across the yard to the gents for clean water to wash the acid off.
poisoning, everybody was off with that. You’d have a hot linseed
poultice on it and I mean hot. You’d run to front door and back with
the heat when your mum put it on. It did the job though. If you fell in
a soak, there were only a brick width between them when I started, they
were reluctant to let you come home, they’d want you to work that day
the old rock lime system they’d pulled with their bare hands.
Stockholm tar was the only protection. Dad never undid his braces, he
had to pull them over his shoulders without undoing them, he’d got
such holes in his hands.
was the ‘Tom’ man, he were in charge. Not officially like, but
between us. We’d been pulling for three-quarters of an hour, say, he’d
put a skin on the board, get down the left shank and then shout
"Tom!" and we’d all take ten minutes bacca time. No one
dared get another skin after he’d shouted. When he thought time were
up he was off out of boghut and back to it. One minute he were there
with his coat turned up, smoking his Woodbines, and next he were gone,
catching three or four of us without gloves on, so’s he’d get a head
start. He’d some constitution, me Dad, no-one could keep up with him.
He kept a stoup going on stove at home, pig’s trotters, sheep’s
head, everything went into it. He’d take some of the broth in his
bottle to work every day. He’d be in bed by eight o’clock every
were a tough lot of workers, had to be. I remember Dr. Burnett sent down
once to see someone. He said "I don’t know how you do it."
Alfie Barrett was epileptic and sometimes had fits on the beam. Bill
used to step off the beam and catch him in his arms till fit were over.
had a duck hand. I used to wonder how he got hold of big armfuls of
skins but it never bothered him, he were a fantastic worker. Initiation,
we had that. I wouldn’t like to tell you what went off.
Beeston and Newcastle, the bulk of our skins came from those three
markets. We had a wagon go up to Newcastle every day for 7-8,000 skins
and 4-5 tons of fat and offal. The skins from the markets arrived ready
classed and sorted. Local ones came in fresh. You’d class the pelt,
give it a grade, then drop it, get hold of the tail and estimate how
much wool were on it. You weren’t far out with your experience. It
were a skilled job; there were 40 different grades of wool. You booked
it all out and the office worked out what would be paid for it.
was paid on piecework. Prices varied through the year from new season
lambs to sheep in full wool in February. Shearlings would be sevenpence
halfpenny the dozen, by 1st October price’d be tenpence a dozen, 1st
December a shilling a dozen and by 1st February one and twopence
halfpenny. We’d get all types of sheepskins: First Leicester, Second
Leicester, Light Grey Haslock, Welsh (very hairy that), Greybelly,
Whitebelly. We’d got goatskins too and occasionally a couple of
deerskins from the Cheviots mixed among the Newcastle delivery. When you
got the hair off a deerskin it’s fly over into your wool, a right
nuisance, so we’d just dump them. We got sheepskins from all over the
world: Arabias, Nigerias, South Africas, Argentina, Sudanese, that was
pelt only, they’d no wool as it’s a hot country. Often the ones that
had come a distance we’d find weevils eating them when we’d sloughed
them. Foreign skins were mostly stoved and steamed - the wool was more
valuable than the pelt so you didn’t want depilatory on the wool.