My varied life – Bevin Boy, herring fishing, agriculture and reed cutting (1940-2019)

Location : Norfolk

Bernard had a varied career based around the Stalham, Hickling area. He was a Bevin Boy, worked in the fishing industry out of Great Yarmouth, cut reed and sedge and did many other jobs.

Early days in farming

I started work at 14 in 1940 and I worked at the nurseries, or greenhouses – whichever you like to call it. My hours them days were 48 hours and they were for 14s. a week. I stuck that for quite a while, and I thought to myself, ‘There isn’t a lot of profit in this.’ So I decided to have a move.

Then I went and see a bloke who’d got some thrashing tackle. I went there as what they call a chaff sacker. They sack the chaff what come off the corn and chuck the calder out. I started at what they recognised as a man’s job. And instead of getting 14s. a week for 48 hours, I was getting 12s. a day!

I was about 16 then I should think. So I was getting man’s money at 16. A farm labourer’s wage them days was 12s. a day. Which weren’t very big, was it? I stuck that for quite a time, more or less till I got called up. I had an odd few jobs.

When you went thrashing, you had a steam engine, a drum that you put the corn through to thrash the corn out, and a pitcher. And you used to throw the corn off the stack onto the shutter and it used to be fed into the drum and thrashed out and corn used to come out at one end and the chaff and the straw used to come out of the other. And the chaff was all bagged up in whatever measures they were. Like oats, which was about 12 stone, I think, barley was 14 stone, wheat 16 stone, different weights.

The straw went out the other end and there used to be people on there, stacking that up to quite a height, to make straw stacks and that sort of thing which you used to see about here them days. You’d see no end about on the farms. They used to use them for bedding down cattle and that sort of thing, in the yard; and they used to come out as farm manure and that used to be spread on the land.

The corn used to go to the corn merchants. They’d make barley into beer, I suppose, wheat into bread and that sort of thing. A lot of the oats were ground up to feed the cattle. That was all worked through in them days.

The Bevin Boy

War broke out when I was still at school. When I was 18, I got called up to the coal mines as a Bevin boy, away up in County Durham.

I started in the Easington Colliery and Dean and Chapter in Ferryhill, and then I went to what they call Bowburn Colliery and I finished my time off there.

One of the old sayings was, when you got in the cage with the miners, they used to say, ‘A year ago that happened.’

And you’d say ‘what‘re you on about?’ when they said it.

‘A year ago today the bottom fell out of the cage!’

But I detested the job really. I couldn’t do with it. But you had no choice; you had to do it.

You never used to cut the coal. You could have got to that stage if you wanted. But mostly our jobs were pushing the tubs from the coalface down to the wire ropes. You’d attach the wagons to these chains, to these endless wire ropes. And that would take them to the one junction and you’d probably get an endless wire rope going that way, and you take them off this one, put them onto the other one, and away they went to the cage to go to the top of the pit to be emptied. But that was mostly what we did. Or you carted the timber props up to the coalface. That used to depend what you wanted to do, really. You had a bit of a choice of job. You’d just change the wagons onto another line really, if you were on that bit.

I think I’d have about a ten-hour shift in them days. I know that Christmas we were in there.

That was what you were never used to… I’d been used to the open air but then you’d get shut down a mine. I mean we used to have to go into a mine that’s like this, all round and whitewashed out. But when you go through the air-locked doors, you’d have to crouch down.

Bad light. Sometimes you’d have a paraffin lamp in your hand, or a battery lamp that fixed to the top of your hat. Very dusty. Cos some of the miners used to get stone lungs, didn’t they? I was glad to get out of that.

I should think I was there the best part of two year. I got out of there, because I kept complaining about ill-health. And then I come home.

I was home about a fortnight and I was called in the army. The war in Europe was just about finished. The Japan war was still on. I was only in there about three months and I come out of that. I got discharged.

I didn’t go out of the country. They just come one day and said, ‘You got discharged out of the coalmines, didn’t you?’

I said, ‘Yeah.’

‘Are you still suffering with the same problem?’

I said, ‘Yeah.’

And the next thing I knew they’d discharged me out of the Army. I was quite happy. Because the war was just about to finish then, anyway.

It wasn’t so much leaving Norfolk. That was just the job, really. I remember when we went down the first mine, we were sort of learning the trade. They shew you how to do it, yoking the pit ponies, how to put the saddle and that on. Of course, I already knew all that from Norfolk horses. I suppose that was interesting to do, but that weren’t a job you’d pick.

I always thought miners were worth a lot more money than they got for all they went through. But it is quite a few years ago.

We used to live in Nissen huts. We had a big canteen at the base of it; we used to go in there to have a meal. The food weren’t bad. I always remember one day we were in these Nissen huts and I had some Bonner mints, you know what they are? A little sort of square thing, and they were identical to a Beech Nut chewing gum. But they was to make you go…

One of the lads said to me, ‘Christ, you’ve got some Beech Nut chewing gum.’

I said, ‘Yeah.’

‘Go on, don’t be tight,’ he said. ‘Gimme a bit.’

‘You can have two if you like.’

So he took two – that really made him go. I don’t know if he ever realised. I didn’t tell him.

Then I went into the building trade for a time. Then I got fed up with that. We used to go up all over, church roofs and flour mills, house repairs and that sort of thing. I just got fed up with it. I wanted to see life. You know, you went there, the same old thing every day, nothing different.

That’s when I decided to go to sea, herring catching.


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Bevin boys. Durham coal field. 1944. Bernard on right. (Badge
of recognition awarded 2008)

Herring and mackerel catching – feeling like Rothschild

When I shipped up, I didn’t know what sort of sailor I was going to make. I’d never really been to sea before. But luckily enough I was never seasick. That was one big bonus. Because on the little drifters, that was quite different from being on the big boats. They was so short and sharp. Very bouncy.

The first voyage I done, we went from Yarmouth up to Lerwick. We spent about twelve weeks out of Lerwick. Every hundred pounds you earned you got another 10s. Sort of a bonus, I suppose. If you earned £100 you got 10s. on top of your fiver; if you got £200 you got a pound. But we had twelve weeks down there. That wasn’t a brilliant voyage, but it was a paying voyage.

We were herring catching down there. And then we came home and we done the home coast – out Yarmouth. And we used to get a bit of rough weather out there.

We have seen a few storms at sea. The old skipper used to say, in them days, if one went they all went. It was immaterial what the weather was. And plenty of times you’d get out there and they’d say, ‘We can’t shoot tonight.’ That’d take the middles out of the nets. So we might as well have stopped ashore really. If you’ve got big seas and you had your nets in the water, the lint bit in the middle of your net would bust all the middle out. So you’d lost more than what you gained if you were fishing. But then again, that was what life was all about then. If one fisherman went out, one skipper went, another went and so on. Because it would look bad on him if he stayed in the harbour.

You possibly could come in every day, if you’d got the herring to come in with.  The only time you kept out was if you didn’t have no herring to come in with. Then if you didn’t have the herring you wouldn’t have no money, would you? That’s all the ifs and buts about it. As I say, that was a hard life, but I enjoyed it. That never done me any harm. I’m still kicking about, aren’t I!

I think one of the best voyages we had, I think that was out of Yarmouth, and I got my weekly wage home. And I had my 10s. on every £100 we earnt. They had what they call the sharing-up. You used to get so much, if you had a good voyage. I picked up £125, in big old white fivers. I thought I was Rothschild ‘cause that was a lot of money in the 1950s. You could have bought a car in them days with about £100. But we used to have a few bevvies, you know … I was in my late 20s I suppose.

Yeah, £125 was a big pick-up really. But I think we finished that voyage and went home until about Christmas, and probably go Christmas say, if you went down to Newlyn, and about April you’d reach up to Lynn and March, then you’d ship up again.

If you went on a mackerel voyage, you’d work Newlyn for the big mackerel. They were big mackerel, very big mackerel. The skipper I was with, he knew them waters very well. And he used to say, ‘Ahh you know boys, if there ‘int none here, I’ll tell you where there is some. We’ll shoot in the trail of the big boats.” ‘Cause he always said mackerel were scavengers, and if you shot in a line of big boats, they threw all this waste over, you’d get mackerel. And nine times out of ten he was right.

When we was down there the odd time or two, I’d seen the Queen Mary go across. Didn’t that look suffin’. Like a floating town…That was a sight to see. That was probably in the day when we see it but at night that was lit up like a floating town.

And then, as I say, I done that for about four year or something like that.

When I started as was what they called a yonker. That’s what they call a starting hand. And what you done then was tie the strops on and chuck all the pots over, to hold the net up. [Actually buffs]. You used to tie the strops on the main rope. They were bits of rope, a bit thinner. And your main rope used to be very thick – what all your nets were on – and you used to tie this onto the net to keep it up. ‘Cause the net used to go down like that, so the herring could swim through.

Then you’d work your way up. I finished up as fireman down in the engine room.  And I was on the winches. The winch was quite good. But you still had to your haul and land your herring. You used to be on what they call the capstan, the winch, and you used to put a rope round the pulley and get them up onshore and that. You had to help with that.

You went out from Yarmouth, the fireman would take the boat out and the driver would bring it in.

That was a good life. I enjoyed it. Hard, but good.

We won the Prunier Trophy. That was quite good, quite exciting, really. We got the biggest shot of herring. That was 300 cran shimmer, which a lot of people will understand.

A cran of herring is about 3½ hundredweight or, depending on the size of the herring, 800–1000 herring. So that was quite a good weight, wasn’t it? So we had this 300 cran shimmer. We hauled 250¼ cran, which won us the Prunier Trophy.

We give another 60 nets away to one of the other boats in the same firm; they hauled them and got 60 cran out on’em and we then had to haul ‘em. That was a problem. We started at 10 o’clock at night and finished at 11 o’clock the next morning. But on top of that, when you’re hauling the nets, the herring go under where you stand, or in the lockers at the side, and you have to what you call clean your nets on your way into Yarmouth, when you’re steaming in. You’ve still got that job to do after you’ve finished hauling. That was quite a long shift. But still, when you’re young, you don’t take notice of time, do you?

No way could you catch 300 cran of fish these days. I think the biggest problem was, when we were fishing, like drift-netting, your nets are hung straight down and all the fish used to go through and you caught the big ones. But in the end they started what they call trawling. On a trawl net you get what they call the bottom end and that’s tied up so everything that go into that net keep in. Nothing can get out till they release it. And they just cleared everything on the seabed. The old skippers years ago, with the old drift netting, they would say ‘that’s a breeding ground’. And you’d never fish a breeding ground. But when they trawled they went through everything, cleared everything up.

The trawlers started disappearing I should think about ’53, ’54. Round about that time. ‘Cos that’s when the bottom fell out on it. The old drifters gradually died out.

We used to get a taxi from Potter Heigham on a Sunday morning into Yarmouth, being youngsters as we were out on a Saturday night having a few bevvies. Funnily enough, the day we won the Prunier Trophy, me and my mate, we missed the taxi on the Sunday morning. When we got there they’d all gone! We had been warned more’an once or twice, the old boys used to say, ‘Don’t know about Sunday mornings, keep hanging about here for you…’ Anyway they went.

And when we got there ours was the only boat laid in the harbour waiting to go. ‘Come on lads, get you in. Where’re you bin? Go and get changed.’ The other people had gone.

And funnily enough we couldn’t get out as far as we wanted to go that night. So where we shot, that’s where we got the Prunier Trophy. Well, that is all luck, in’it. We’d say to the old boys, ‘Well, you went away too early, you went past ‘em.’

But it was a bit of luck, because the bloke who used to hire the taxi, we were walking the road in Potter Heigham thinking how we were going to get there, he come along, this owner who found the taxis, and he say, ‘What ‘a’ you missed the taxi?’

We say, ‘Yeah, he went without us this morning.’

He say, ‘Well, I’ll tell you what I’ll do, I’ll run you through for 10 bob each.’ 10s. that was. So we give him 10s. each and he ran us through to Yarmouth. So we made it. And by doing that I think they dropped the nets in just the right place!

The trophy was put on the back mast and that stopped there forever. The actual presentation, that was transferred every year. You kept that to say you’d won it. That’s amazing, you see, there’d be all them drifters and there’d be something on a drifter, you could tell which one it was by it. One would probably have the mizzen leaning a little bit forward or a little bit back. That’s amazing how you got to know ’em really. You’d pick’em out just like that.

I could read every point on the compass when I went to sea. That was like tellin’ the time on a clock. I had a book there, I tried to learn them again, but I couldn’t pick them up any more. You had to know them if you had to be on watch in the wheelhouse at the beginning and the skipper said ‘pull it so-and-so’, you had to know where to go on the compass, didn’t you?

Before I went down the engine room, I used to take watches in the wheelhouse. Like if you were steaming up to Shields or anywhere like that, you’d take turns on watch. When you were steaming off, if you were going any distance, you’d take a watch.

The sail at the back was what they called the mizzen. And you used to set that at an angle if you was steaming that helped to steer the boat. The one at the front, that’s not a sail, that’s just a mast, it’s just a big pole sort of thing. You’d have ropes running from that which you’d land the herring on. You used to pull that straight up and you had a rope come from there, and an arm coming this way an’ all, see. You had an arm swinging on here, and on this arm you’d hang your hooks. Because the cran basket was round like that – with two handles on there.

You’d put these hooks in there, right at the bottom of the boat. And you’d stand beside the capstan, wheel ‘em up deck high so they could pull them onto the quay. When they’d tipped ’em they’d pull the baskets (called swills) back down to you.

The arm what come off the main one could move backwards and forwards. You had the main one up there and the other one down here. Like a big ‘U’ that went round the mast, the rope round the back. That’s what I used to do, that was my job, the hauling out of the herring. I got quite good at it, if I say it myself.

There was getting quite a few boats at it. That was a yearly thing and that had been going several years.

Yeah, that’s all stopped now. When we used to go up to Shields – I should say ‘up north’ – we used to land in the morning, and we used to go ashore and have a few bevvies dinner time before we finished. Actually I’ve been to sea a few times and didn’t know I’d been there. Next thing, there’s someone yelling, ‘Shoot ho, shoot ho!’ – that means shoot the nets.

In that forward hold there, there was four sleeping bunks in there. And I’ve been in there – and I know this sound tall, but that’s true, when you’ve been steaming in a rough sea, and that come down like that, I’ve actually left my bunk and caught up with it. No, you’d never hit the roof, you’d go up with it.

That was a good life. I enjoyed it. Funnily enough, I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but up Yarmouth they’ve got what they call the Lydia Eva. That’s a trawler or drifter that they’ve done up as a museum. I went up there one day with a mate of mine and he said, ‘Shall we have a look on there?’

‘Yeah, if you like.’

So we went and had a look on there and was telling me all about the bits and pieces. When we came off, this woman say to me, ‘Did you enjoy it?’

I said, ‘Yeah, that was alright.’

She say, ‘Anything you’d like to know about it?’

I say, ‘Well, I don’t want to sound big-headed, but I might be able to tell you a thing or two about that.’

She said, ‘What do you mean?’

I said, ‘I had a year or two on these.’

She said, ‘You’re just the people we’re looking for. There aren’t many of you left kicking about.’ Which is true.

I did go back and see ’em and they started to ask questions, but I said to them, ‘Hang on a minute, that’s 50 year ago since I was on one of these.’ You had to pick yourself out again after all them years.

I saw myself on the video in the Time and Tide Museum, Great Yarmouth. My uncle was a skipper way before my time, you see. He had an old skipper’s almanac and I had it here and I thought, ‘that’s no good to me really,’ so I asked them if they would like it up there. They took it and that was how we had a look round. We did go back after that. That’s quite interesting up there. All the old Yarmouth really. Very interesting.

I gave up when the herring industry died out. The over-fishing. There were no herrings and the boats gradually went, you know.

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Crew on Wyedale after winning the Prunier Trophy 1951. (Bernard in middle wearing an
‘oilie frock’ next to skipper.)

 Reed cutting

We used to go reed cutting, any time about Christmas time till end of March, early May, when that started to colt – that’s when that started growing, we called it colt. Then you don’t cut it anymore because if you cut the tops off the colt you get a shorter reed. So once that colt start a-coming, you don’t cut it because you spoil your reed beds really. They start to come end March, early April.

In them days we used to use a scythe, done it all by hand. They do it with a machine nowadays. We used to have a scythe and you used to dress the reed out at the bottom. You used to have what they call a dresser – that was a bit of wood about an inch long.  It used to have three six-inch nails through that. You used to dress all the bottom rubbish out of the reed. And used to cut it what they call a fathom, because a fathom of water is six foot, isn’t it? A fathom of reed was five shoves. And if you stood five shoves together, we used to bond them around the bottom so as to measure six foot. A long hundred of reed, what they call a long hundred, was 600 shoves. We used to cut about anything about 120 bunches a day. Which was hard work them days with the scythe.

What you done, you’d mowed it, perhaps a lot of times you were in the water you’d what they called double swaith it. You mow it back that way; when you got as far as you wanted to go, you’d turn round and come back the other way, then used to set it up so that didn’t drop into the water. Whereas if you mowed it straight down, that would have probably laid in the water and you’d have got it all wet, wouldn’t you? When you double swaithed it, you’d bring it round, it would lay in the reed like that, and when you came back again the other way you’d cut back into it and that used to sort of stand up at an angle.

I know me and my mate were looking round one day before we started reed cutting and we were trying to get across the deek (or dyke). I got across, I was in just above my ankles, and I say to him, ‘You can get across there.’ And he come across in the same place and went right in up to here! And he say to me, ‘Yar got some bloody high ankles.’ We were wearing three-quarter boots.

And another snag was, when you were cutting round the Broads – you remember the old coypu rats? They were big old rats. They used to live on roots and you’d be walking across the reed bed and you’d drop in up to here where they’d burrowed down. But they done away with them. Caught them all up and done away with them.

That’s all experience, you know. Actually, when we used to cut this reed we would cut it for so much a fathom and after a time I thought to myself, ‘I don’t know, why do I cut reeds for other people like this?’

So I went round, me and my mate, and said, ‘Do you want to sell your reed standing, as it is, stood in the river?’ I’d give them so much a fathom of standing reed. Every fathom you cut, you’d pay this bloke whatever price you’d fixed. So what we done, we done that and we started to sell it to the thatchers ourselves. Which you made a bit more money out of.

And we were cutting round Meadow Deek one year, at Hickling. And a boat pulled up and a bloke come across and he said, ‘What do you do with your reed?’

So I say, ‘Well, obviously, sell it.’

He say, ‘Would you like to sell me some?’

I say, ‘Yes, where do you come from?’


‘You come down here for reed for Devon?’

They used to come and buy their reed and take it back to Devon. They used to come down on a Friday night, get there about half-past six, seven o’clock Saturday morning. My missus used to give ‘em some tea and toast, and we’d go down to this place where the reed was, where we’d stacked it up. They’d load up about 11 o’clock on a Saturday morning and they’d go straight back to Devon with the reed.

It was all for thatching. I don’t know what price reed is now. I know years ago it was about a pound a bundle. That was a lot of money then. They reckon a bundle of reed should do about a square foot on a house if you are thatching it.

Somebody was telling me a few weeks ago they are importing a quite a lot of reed now. Some people say that’s better, I suppose. Just depend, don’t it?

I remember when I first started cutting reed, we used to cut for a bloke at Horsey, on the marshes around Horsey Mere. On the marshes, that used to be what they called ‘needle reed’, right thin reed, and there used to be tracks through it where we used to walk through out and in. And if you didn’t know the tracks, it was so tall you couldn’t see o’er the top on it. So you had to know the tracks to find your way out of it. That was beautiful reed but that all went to nothing in the end.

I think reed cutting is coming back to life a bit according to what I read in the papers and that. A lot of youngsters trying to take it up.

You didn’t have gloves. You couldn’t tie the reed with gloves on. When I first started reed cutting, you tied with bond. What I mean by bond, you cut the single wale, which was more pliable, and you made a bond of that, twisted it up on your arm, made your own bond. But nowadays they tie with string. Which they did before I finished, which is nothing near as smart.

That was hard work. I could guarantee I would lose a stone reed cutting. I never bothered if I put a bit of weight on before reed cutting because I knew I’d lose it. That gave you a good appetite.

But that was nice, wintertime out there. You’d see all the little ol’ birds and that sort of thing. I used to think to myself, little ol’ birds out there, they took all that frost and that sort of thing and they survived it. That’s amazing really, in’t it. That was a good life. I enjoyed the marsh work.

That took you up to end of March, early April. I have known us to skate across the broad to work. We used to spend anything up to six or seven weeks on Hickling Broad skating. And we used to be there nights with Tilley lamps, us boys, playing ice hockey.

No nets, just a couple of old coats… We used to spend weeks on there. And one year there was a bloke, he had a motorbike and sidecar and he went on the ice with it. I reckon that ice was about two foot that that year. That was good sport on Hickling Broad.

Actually I learnt to swim in Hickling Broad. I wouldn’t swim in it now, that’s not fit to swim in. But in them days the broad was quite good, clear water. Today that’s all weeded, and in the early days you never had so many motorboats on there, did you? The water was always clear.

I can remember when I was a boy they used to dredge the broad and get all the ol’ weed out of the channels and that. They used to stack it up on the edge. I don’t know if they used to plough it into the land. I don’t know what they did with it. I don’t think they clean them now. I’ve never seen it, anyway. I suppose, really, that’s like a lot of things. When you’ve got the broad right on hand, you don’t make use of it like you would normally, do you? You just take it for granted.

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Reed cutting, ca. 1956

Seasonal jobs – hoeing sugar beet, pea vining, combining and carting sugar beet to Cantley

I think in them days all marsh work was gone by the board. I think we used to go hoein’ sugar beet after that – in the field hoeing and thinnin’ on ’em out. And then you probably come to your pea vining, where we used to do the pea vining for Birds Eye.

As I say, when we started off with the peas they used to have four viners at Ingham and I and a bloke from Norwich used to find the labour for them. Anybody you found you’d get a percentage of their wages, which was a good thing. Always sort of follow the money about! They were there for a couple of years and then they changed them and put these two big stations in at Filby and Upton. That’s when I took up lorry driving and used to cart the peas in there.

It was the pea vining at Ingham, where they threshed the peas out of the pods. The big machines used to be set up on blocks, and they had an elevator going up one end and inside the viners was a big sieve. I think there used to be about six in the round. I suppose they were eight or ten foot long. And as they squashed these peas, so the peas come out of the pods. They were turned round in the viners and used to come out through all these holes and run down an apron so you’d always got the peas out of the pods, and the silage used to come out the other end, which was the pea waste, and the farmers used to take that and use it for fodder, to feed cattle on.

As I say, that was quite a good job. A bit of money to it.

You used to take the combine through the harvest.

But as I say, when they done away with them, that was when I took up lorry driving. I used to drive a lorry and cart the peas in up there. That was at the moment when the pods went pop, sort of thing!

And then we come onto the harvest. I used to drive the combine harvester for a contractor who lived at Stalham, all through the harvest. And after that it was carting sugar beet into Cantley. I used to do two loads a day on my own, which was about 18-20 tons, perhaps. I used to fill that lorry twice a day on my own, piece work, for three and seven pence ha’penny a ton to fill ‘em and cart them into Cantley! What about that?

And when I think of these footballers today who get burnt out: we used to put the load in on a Saturday morning, take it to Cantley, come out and play football in the afternoon!

Well, that was all hand-filled with a fork. You never had no machines to put ‘em on in them days. You just had to get on with it. When you dropped down the sides of the lorry and looked down, you had a big old hole to fill. You got used to it really. As I say, that was all hard work.

I did have one year in Cantley factory, loading sugar onto railway trucks. They used to allow you four people for the truck. The bags of sugar used to come off the conveyor belt and they were 200 weight bags. When you first started, the sugar used to get onto your shirt, you think, ‘don’t want to do much about this’. But anyway, after you get used to it that come so easy you can’t believe it. What we used to do, when there were four of you, two used to sit out and two of you used to load the truck. ‘Cause you got so used to getting ‘em and just throwing them right, you could do that: load a truck, sit out a truck. But before you got used to it that was pretty hard work, 200 weight bags of sugar.

You wouldn’t be allowed to lift that weight today, would you? You’re sort of tied down now as to what you are allowed to lift. There was no health and safety in them days, were there?

I think you’ve got to use a bit of common sense and watch what you’re doing. You know, there weren’t so much machinery about in them days, and yet so powerful. When I used to drive a combine, you went into a field and you done 20 acres in a day, that was a good day’s combining. Nowadays a 20 acre field they do in a couple of hours. They’re out afore they’re hardly in, aren’t they? Great ol’ machines they’ve got today.

You could do it with a collar and tie on today!

Settling down at the Council

When I finished lorry driving and working at Cantley, I took up a job with the Council.  I done the last 20 years at the Council. Smallburgh Rural District, it was then. They had their offices at Stalham. Then they all amalgamated and that went to North Norfolk District Council.

I was sort of driving a dust-cart, cesspit tankers and all that sort of thing. Whatever was going you done, sort of thing. If I had a day off, they’d be short of road sweeper drivers and you’d do that, whatever would come along. I stayed with them. That’s because I got married and settled down.

I think probably a lot of the seasonal jobs were going out then. A lot of the jobs we used to do were done by machinery. Some years, if you were looking for a job, we used to go dressing these banks on a farm. You wouldn’t do that on an hourly rate, you’d do it so much a chain. So you were still doing piecework and earned a bit of extra money. When you were on piecework, the harder you worked the more money you got. That was what is was all about. The majority of these jobs are gone. They cut the banks from tractors now. In those days they used to do it with a scythe or a hand-hook.

A lot of these farms about here, they used to carry about 12 men – 10 or 12 men. Now there’s only two. So that’s where the jobs have gone, isn’t it? When you think all this machinery that come and do ‘em fast, and it work out cheaper, don’t it? That’s just a change of life. You’ve got to try to change with the times, haven’t you? Which I do anyway. I try and keep up with the times as things happen.

I continued with the Council until I was 63½. I got a nice handy redundancy! Right on the button!

I’ve had a good life, a lovely life, really. I had a good wife and everything. Unfortunately that didn’t work out – it did as regards the marriage, but not in health. I took the redundancy and she said, ‘I’ll work another year,’ and I said ‘fair enough,’ and just before that year was up she got cancer.

I went about and did a bit of gardening and that sort of thing.

But we had 49 years of good life, so… As I say, that’s happening to somebody every day so you’ve just got to get on with it.

I can’t complain about my life. I am now 86 and I’m quite mobile and healthy. So hard work don’t kill anybody!

Bernard Sheppard (b. 1926) talking to WISEArchive on 2nd September 2012 at Sutton, Norfolk.

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