West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Memories and Recollections





Zacharia 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.

Schofields 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.

My 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.

We 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.

The 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.

Blood 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 out.

Under 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.

Dad 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 night.

We 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.

Tommy 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.

Manchester, 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.

Pulling 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.



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