About Bolton


Topics + People

Townships + Places



Terms + Disclaimer

The Checkers

by Bill Nelson

It was 1957 and. I was working at Dobson and Barlows, we had just finished the Christmas and New Years holidays and we were back at work. First week of the New Year, and we were made redundant, with no redundancy pay in those days. Just two weeks wages, so me and my mate went straight to the pub across the road. The next day we went to sign on the dole (£3-10s) which didn't go very far in those days. It was just enough to keep your head above water. About three weeks later I was coming out of the dole when I met Benny Lever.

'Has't geton a job? he said.
'No', I replied.
'Dos't want one? he asked.
'Yes, I replied.

He told me to get in his wagon, which he drove for the railways, delivering around Bolton. He took me to the office at the goods yard. 'This lad wants a job' he said to the boss in tne office.' So Ernie Heape (the boss) took my name and address and the took me on deck and introduce me to the foreman. He told me that I started on the following morning at 5.30,the middle of the night to me. My life in the Railway had started.

Wages in them days for a porter was £7-10s (£7-50p) per week.

We worked 40 hours a week, 5.30am - 2.30pm and 4 hours on Saturday morning, finishing a 9.30am. I used to come out of work and go to Bridgeman Street baths for a hot bath. The job consisted of working on the deck, the deck was a long concrete floor, divided on one side with what is called Corners. These corners represent different areas of the town, such as Deane Road, Derby Street, Bradshawgate, Deansgate, Horwich, Farnworth, Moses Gate and many others. On the other side was what was called the 'wagon side', this was were they would bring the goods wagons into the sheds. It was our job to empty these wagons.

What happened was like there was a gang of four men, one caller and three trackers who had a truck each. The caller would get into the wagon and start getting the parcels out. You would put them in your truck and he would tell you which corner to take it to. Anyway, the job was soon picked up and you got to know the town.

Regards any funny stories, We had a cage, and it was called the Vulnerable cage, and we had to put valuables in this cage, and the checker, Martindale, he had to book all the valuables in, and give the driver what he had to take. Now the odd time things were damaged, like bottles of Whiskey or Wine, these had to be taken to the cage for inspection and entered into the damage book. What we used to do was, we had a billycan, and we stood the cartons on their ends so that the Whiskey or Wine would run out into the can. Many a time this was full, and Martindale would leave it outside his office on a box, and every time you went passed you could have a drink, some of the men were blind drunk sometimes.

The railways had an equal opportunities policy, a porter could be a man or a woman and both got the same wage, so a lot of women worked on the deck. There was a young checker and his job was to check the manifest when you got a wagon full of spirits etc, He'd stand at the side of the wagon and say there were 50 cartons of Whiskey or watches and tick them off. He was a bit of a cheeky lad with the women, he must have gone to far one day, four or five of them must have got him in a van stripped him, they shut and locked the van door and left him in. When the vans were empty the were shunted down to Burnden Park, the shunters eventually heard the lad in the van and let him out, He had to run all up Bradshawgate back to the shed to get his clothes back.

To earn extra money I had to work overtime in the cotton yard. This consisted of getting bales out of wagons and getting them into the warehouse. Sometimes working in the warehouse itself trucking. The warehouse was divided into six different parts, for different varieties of cotton, depending on where they came from. The bales where 5 cwts in weight and wrapped in sacking some all ragged at the end. To have a good run, they would be pulled back onto the truck so that the blade of the truck was on the bottom band. Sometimes the loose sacking would wrap round the wheels which would stop the truck, and you would go over the top, which could be frightening.

After about three months on the deck, I was in two minds whether to pack it in. Anyway, one day the chief foreman came and asked me if I would like a job on the transits, the hours are 8am till 5pm early turn and 11.30am till 9.30pm late turn, a £1 more and plenty of overtime. This job consisted of two men, one a driver and the other a checker. We got vans from Bury, Waterfoot, Rawtenstall, Bacup, Manchester etc. They came into the shed, and with' a wagon and a trailer one of these vans would be emptied. Then you would go round the yard and distribute the load to the vans that went all over the country. A full setting in the shed consisted of 56 vans, all going to different towns all over the country. They were all numbered starting from no l to London and ending at no 7 to Perth. The others would be used as duplicate vans. Every now and then you would get a book, a gazette, which had every town in England were things were sent from Bolton. Gradually you began to know places, like little towns you'd never even heard of.

In 1958, they still had horses on the railway, some on rounds in town, and two that worked in the yard. One was called Margaret and the other was called Tommy, one time it tried to get into the canteen cookhouse. The last two horses were retired to somewhere in the Midlands south of Birmingham.

Every other week you had to go on late turn, nobody liked it, especially in the Winter, for the wagons had to be sheeted, which with them being tar sheets made the job very hard especially if a blizzard was blowing. All the checkers used to sit in a cabin at the bottom of the yard, 'and wait for drivers coming in, with loads picked up for dispatching. The checkers had to go to the drivers and unload at the required destination van. Some drivers would load up to make the job easy, others wouldn't. I got caught on the first week on lates. I got about 6 tons, 100 consignment notes and about 600 cartons, and the driver had put them in anyway, so I found that this driver had to be avoided. After about 12 months the foreman came to me and said 'sign this Billy, its for you to be made up to checker. It was another 17 years before I got another promotion.

One of the drivers Stan Eckersley was in the Salvation Army, and played a big drum in the Halliwell corp. He didn't know any of the popular tunes but he knew all the hymns. Another had the habit of getting into trouble, he used to pick up at Taylor's of Horwich, cotton goods, towels, blankets etc. He loaded up one day, then decided he would go home for his tea, by doing this he would probably get a bit of overtime in. Anyway, he backed his wagon up the back street where he lived, and when he got back to the depot, the foreman said to him "Been home for your tea", "no" was the reply. "Well how come you've got a street lamp on the back of you trailer" said the foreman. It seems somebody had seen him knock it down and phoned up. Then there was Alex Jackson who went to Bury brewery with a wagon which had a high cab, one day he went into the wrong bay, he jumped of the wagon straight into a beer vat and he said it was the best day he had ever had. An old horse carter used to thump his unit as if it were a horse and call it names (Samuel mechanical horse), he also worked on the steam tractors going to the docks from Bolton.

When we were on late turn we could get overtime, coming on at 7.00am, and going up to Halliwell where we would unload peas. These were in sack and there would be about 200 sacks about six tons. Now at one time there was a shortage of drivers in Bolton and a surplus in Manchester. About half a dozen of these driver came over and they used to treat us as though we were yokels. They would not drive our units because they had no doors, so they said they would get ones with doors, and they did. Eventually we got fed up of them, and we decided to put an end to there antics. So one day we tied all the off side doors and wedged all the windows on there cabs, because they used to line the cabs up in the middle of the shed. After dinner we all trooped out of the cookhouse back to the shed, and the drivers jumped in, so all the checkers grabbed the doors and tied them up, but before hand stink bombs had been put in the cabs, the Manchester drivers were alright after that they had been cured.

Part of the deck was called Transit corner, me and my mate were working there when somebody shouted' 'fire', the cotton above us was on fire. The foreman in the cotton room started to throw the bales down and the Fire Brigade started to hose it down, but me and my mate who were underneath got wet through. The other side of Orlando Bridge was what we called Gantry, there was a big crane there called Goliath which was used for lifting girders, containers etc. The checker on the Gantry was called Albert, and every June holidays the Territorial's would come with their guns etc, and have them loaded onto the wagons ready for their fortnights camp. This 'particular June the officer in charge was a bit stroppy with Albert, every thing had to be done by Army procedure. But Albert thought I'm not in the army and your not telling me my job, so they were all loaded up, all labelled to Wales, except the Terry's were going to Carlisle that year.

In 1960 the railway had a contract with Woolworth's, to move paint, this was made at Bury and came in on twelve ton trailers. This had to be distributed all around the shed to different vans. Now in some parts of the shed there were still railway lines, which had to be gone over and they were very bumpy, some of the paint fell off, all over the floor, so Bolton yard became known as the Yard of Many Colours.

Discipline on the railways was a funny thing really, you could be late or fight even be the worst for the drink but they would not sack you, the only thing you did get sacked for really was thieving. For the other offences you had to go before the boss with a union representative. You would usually get suspended for two to three days.

In the 1960's the sundries deck as it was called had finished and many of the women were made redundant, around this time it became known as National Carriers. Bolton was one of the main depots. In 1975 I was made up into working foreman over the Irish section, which dealt with Southern Ireland, there was five in this section. Gradually the transit part finished and was made into a warehouse, here I was made into Warehouse foreman. In 1982 I had done 25 years and was presented with a carriage clock, at this time there was only 16 left compared with 3OO in the beginning. At the end of 1984 Bolton depot was closed down and it all went to Manchester, this was the time that I more or less retired through ill health. I had some happy years and some good mates from all over, and I don't every regret walking out of the dole and meeting Benny Lever.