A GOVAN CHILDHOOD – The 1930s
Move to Linthouse - Skipness Drive - Layout of the new dwelling - Communal chores - A new environment - The coup - Play Groups - River traffic & industry - Shipyards - Ships and Work's Horns - Public transport - Glasgow Corporation Transport - The Trams - Transport Staff - Starting up early petrol engines - Street & back court hawkers - The fish man - The milk man - Rag & bone man - Other hawkers - Midgie rakers
THE MOVE TO LINTHOUSE
Skipness Drive was George Drive up to 1930, indeed my parents and older people usually referred to it by the old name. When Govan became part of Glasgow in 1912 there were a number of streets with the same names in both, and being the smaller entity the Govan ones were changed. Some changes were made immediately while others were delayed until around 1930. When greater Linthouse was being laid out for building in the late 1890s, the original plan was for George Drive to run east to west parallel with the then Renfrew Road between Drive Road and Moss Road, and at the beginning tenement blocks were built at each end. The intention to build more might have lapsed because of depressed conditions of the economy.
When a continuous line of tenements was built up on the east side of Burghead Drive running north - south, it effectively cut George Drive in two. This led to the two halves being changed in the 1900s to George Drive East and George Drive West. Then a large electricity sub-station was built in Holmfauldhead Drive, partly across the two halves, making the division final. In the 1930 street renaming, George Drive East became Skipness Drive and George Drive West became Peninver Drive. This was found by looking at the Post Office maps in the Glasgow Room of the Mitchell Library, which go back in almost annual stages to early in the nineteenth century.
With newer tenement buildings constructed around 1900 than those in the rest of Govan, Linthouse was regarded as an upmarket area, with the tenement facades in the 1930s showing a less weatherworn aspect than those to the east. But even in this later age only a tiny percentage of tenement houses had a bathroom, needing a fire-place back boiler that provided a limited amount of running hot water. Nearly all the land on which these houses were built was owned by Alexander Stevens Shipbuilders Ltd., and the rents would have been paid to its financial services company.
Some older tenements in Govan had a basement apartment below ground level with access from the back-court down a flight of steps. While familiar with them, I never saw one used as a dwelling. Any I knew of were empty and part-boarded up, and were a haunt of dogs and cats, and sometimes of derelict human flotsam that had gained access and had to be ejected by the constabulary. Children spoke of them with awe, regarding them as places where ghosts and evil men lurked. Anyone who went 'doon the dunny' to play (presumably dunny is derived from dungeon) were regarded as being extremely brave, or reckless and liable to be the object of chastisement by their parents. There were no dunnys in Linthouse.
Rather timid by nature as a child, I was haunted by a feeling that Govan was a rough and threatening place. To have to walk through central Govan in evenings by myself at the age of six would have filled me full of apprehension of unidentifiable dangers, so the move to the `Garden of Eden', as it was known to Govanites, was a relief. The front section of closes here were tiled to dado (shoulder) height and staircase walls were painted dark brown to the same level. Above that level walls and ceilings were whitewashed. Tiling a wall to shoulder height was the most effective way of preventing them developing a scruffy appearance caused by ageing and the passage of people, of innumerable shoulders and arms brushing along them, to say nothing of the effects of children's games for which a painted wall in a close would need to be redecorated occasionally. For evidence of this, note the scuffing on the outside walls of buildings along busy pavements of street scenes in 19th century photographs.
In particular look at the earliest ones and note how, in densely populated areas even plain stone coursing along walls and passageways has a scuffed, dirty and greasy look from shoulder height down. This is particularly seen where pavements and closes were narrow. Closes in old tenements dating from before properly paved roads became general had mud scrapers set low down in the wall within the entrance (below lower). These were simply a thin iron bar with a roughly sharpened straight edge (not curved as depicted), fixed horizontally across the centre of a deep hole cut in the stone at close entrances, to be used for scraping mud off the soles of shoes when entering. Elsewhere they were fixed free standing, set in the ground in back courts for example, only the long since disused rusted remnants of which were left by the 1930s, and they were a detested hazard that were liable to trip people up (upper).
LAYOUT OF THE NEW DWELLING
Direction of ascent of the stairs at number 12 was the same as number 7 Howat Street, anticlockwise when looking up the staircase from the ground floor, with the usual three houses on each landing. But where number 7 was open plan, in number 12 the two flights of stairs between each floor were close together. The middle house of the three in each landing was similar in layout to the one we had left at Howat Street, an 'all to the front' two apartment with an exclusive outside toilet on the half landing. Our new re-let house was on the top flat, in the position known as `three up on the right' as you went up the stairs, with the layout of the house opposite being a mirror image. It was again a two apartment room and kitchen but with a larger `L' shaped lobby.
An advantage here was an inside toilet, the door to which was the first one on the right behind the main door of the flat. Through this door there was a small narrow third room about 10ft x 5ft with the walls clad in vertical varnished dovetailed strips of wood to shoulder height, one wall of which was lined with coat hooks where outdoor clothes could be hung. It may have been the original intention of the building architects to be a bathroom but it became known to us as 'the cloak room' and was a good place to store domestic cleaning equipment. At the rear there was a partition reaching to a height of 6 feet, with a second door having a pane of frosted glass in the top half. Beyond the door was a small toilet cubicle with the standard high chain-pull cistern, wooden toilet seat, a shelf, and a window to the outside which overlooked the back court, the lower panes of which were frosted.
The move to Linthouse meant that Dad was farther away from his work so he acquired a bicycle. At first, keeping it in the house caused a problem because the only place it could be parked was in the cloakroom, but it interfered with access to the outdoor clothes hanging there, and people brushing past when going to the toilet sometimes caught the handlebar which caused it to fall. After a time panelling was showing signs of scoring, so he installed a pulley which allowed him to hoist the bike to above head height. In 1940 a cousin of Mum's in Dundee had a racing bike. When the war began he was called up for army service so he offered it to Dad at a very good price. Dad went to Dundee by bus to collect it and rode it back to Glasgow. Having recently learned to ride I was agitating for a bike of my own, and having another bike to cope with he installed another pulley for it.
Walking through the cloakroom with the bikes hanging overhead was initially rather intimidating, but the fact that it was possible helps to illustrate how much higher the ceilings of old tenements houses were than those of modern housing. If this had not been possible the cycles would have had to be parked in the washhouse in the back court, and although under lock and key, kept there they would still have been at risk from night time prowlers.
The term `through and through' may have been a local expression applied to a two or more apartment house with windows to front and rear. The usual apartments and kitchen fittings portrayed in the sketch above were laid out as follows. Entering from the lobby, the second door on the right led into the kitchen that overlooked the rear area of the block with a double casement window in the centre. Range and mantelpiece in the middle of the left hand wall was of the same design and layout as the one in the Howat Street house, but in Skipness Drive with fireplace and oven positions reversed. Sink and its cupboard were the same, but they too were laid out on the opposite hand, with the crane water tap on the left side of the window bay. Shelving here for cooking pots and large bowls were high up in the wall facing the fireplace, and the coal bunker was in the larger lobby with the dresser by itself in the kitchen. Most of the family furnishings moved with us, some of which was as previously described with a few additions.
A minor disadvantage of living in a top flat tenement soon became apparent where the single mains water pipe supplied four kitchens stacked one above the other. At this height the water pressure was barely adequate, but if anyone in the houses below ran their taps the pressure at the third floor could dwindle to nothing! When this happened and Mum needed water, she used to tap the pipe with a heavy piece of cutlery to let the neighbours below know about it!
There was the usual four-bar pulley in the kitchen (photo and description in part 1). Every old tenement house had a pulley in either kitchen or, if it was long enough, the lobby. There were the usual back-to-back bed recesses in both apartments, but in the one in the bedroom here my parents had installed a conventional double bed, head in foot out. The recess in the kitchen was curtained off and had a chest of drawers with the rest of the space used to store large seldom needed items.
The kitchen cupboard here was in the corner between the range and outside wall, the upper shelves of which were used as a larder and the middle ones held crockery, while at floor level bulkier items like potato and vegetable storage boxes etc. were squeezed in. Apart from the advantage of the house having an inside toilet, a great benefit was derived from the bunker being in the lobby, so that if all internal doors were kept shut during a delivery of coal, it confined the spread of dust there.
I had progressed to a single bed placed against the right hand wall of the room between the low fireplace and bay window. Did I actually sleep in a cot until the age of six in the previous house? -there's no recollection of there being anything else. Alignment of the building at 12 Skipness Drive was such that the wider central oriel room window faced slightly west of south, and because it was on the top floor it had a view of a good expanse of sky. In that situation, my bed position near the window provided a first look at the night sky when there was time and inclination to study it. Without knowing what I was seeing but aware of the first stirrings of interest, three stars of roughly similar magnitude, and evenly spaced in line close together were observed. Much later they were identified as Orion's Belt.
My bed was placed against the door of the room press, a name that was then applied to these tall shallow fitted cupboards, which was inconvenient as it did not have castors or even glider-domes. It had to be pulled out on the infrequent occasions when access to the cupboard was required, which eventually caused wear to the new wax-cloth floor covering in that area. The high-level view from the kitchen and three windows of the oriel was dominated by the roofs and, for most of the winter, the many smoking chimneys of the surrounding buildings.
The fireplace in the room was the same as in the bedroom of the previous house, a broad low coal-burning grate with an adjustable cast-iron ornamented hood, a tiled or cast iron simulated-tile surround, and a mantelpiece of dark varnished wood rising to waist height. There was also the usual fender. This fire was used only during the very coldest spells, and after the first winter the capacity of the grate was thought to be too great so, as an economy measure, two shaped firebricks were purchased and installed in the nest corners. I never saw gaslight in this house because, although it was gas only when he took over the tenancy, Dad had electricity put in before the move. However, a memorable feature of this house for me was centred round the fire, as it was the last apartment I slept in that had a coal fire. While it was seldom used it is impressions of lying in bed close to it, and drowsily watching the flickering light of the flames on the ceiling before dropping off to sleep that are memorable.
Being near the centre of a side of the block, number twelve had an open staircase, small landings, close-together double flights of stairs and a half-landing between each main landing seen in the plan sketch above. There was a window on the half-landing with large centre panes of plain glass and long narrow decorative stained glass border panes with a marbled surface on the inside overlooking the back court. The single half-landing toilets were used only by tenants of the middle houses. Keeping staircase windows and stairs clean was the responsibility of tenants, who had to take a turn every third week to sweep and wash their double flights. A local by-law that sweeping was supposed to have been done daily was ignored as unnecessary. Most closes and some stairs and landings had the edging at floor level embellished with lines drawn in pipe-clay, usually just three-inch broad marks with this chalk like substance.
Pipe clay was bought in cake form and beaten down to a powder then mixed with water to a thin consistency and applied with a brush, but the border was often done by simply rubbing the end of the cake along the wet surface after it was washed. Some ground floor housewives with artistic talent and others who thought they had it, embellished their borders with over-elaborate designs of whorls and/or blocks, usually where their efforts were likely to be seen by passers-by and not just neighbours.
Washing the floors in houses and the stairs was always done on hands and knees by women with scrubbing brush, a rag for drying, a bar of washing soap and a bucket of warm water. Bear in mind that any utensil mentioned on these pages like the bucket or basin, which today is made of plastic, would then have been of galvanised sheet metal. A white enamelled bucket like the one seen on the left in the photo on page 4 part 1 was reserved for indoor use. An enduring memory is of my mother and other women doing this house and stairs work, kneeling on a pad of sacking or a rolled up piece of old carpet or the doormat to protect their knees, work which could cause the affliction then known as `housemaids' knee'. Mops were available but the bucket with the depression with holes for wringing a mop hadn't yet appeared. A mop couldn't be used as it was impossible to wring it out when trying to dry a surface.
The impression now is of degrading, laborious and time consuming work. There were always women in need who were prepared to do other people's stairs for payment, and they were the ones who might suffer from housemaid's knees, who sometimes became notorious for paying for their messages with small change from the earnings, the coins of which were caked with pipe clay from being handled by their contaminated fingers. Semi-literate stair washers advised prospective customers that they 'took in stairs'. As well as mangling sheets and blankets some women offered to do washings and ironing in their own homes for payment.
As the name suggests, pipe clay was the material used to make cheap pipes for smoking, an essential requirement of an earlier age so that low paid working-class people, nearly always men, could afford to smoke. I've no recollection of having seen a woman smoking a cigarette or a pipe at any time during this period, but the very odd one or two who were reputed to do so were usually older. A good pipe of wood could cost pounds, the making of which was a skilled profession using rare and expensive wood. While the clay pipe was fragile it cost only a few pence, but the stems were easily broken so that older men were sometimes seen using one with only an inch or two of it left.
In the form used for stairs and closes, pipe clay was sold in small shops as cakes about the shape and size, but perhaps twice the thickness, of a 2oz. bar of chocolate, I remember being sent to buy it for Mum, when each cake was individually wrapped in newspaper, probably by the hardware shop owner who acquired them in bulk. It was usually too hard to crumble by hand, so it had to be broken up very carefully in a box with a hammer, or covered over with newspaper because, like breaking coal, fragments were scattered around with each blow. The resultant powder was added to the water in the bucket with some bleach added. Then the stairs were washed with a hand-scrubbing brush, and any lying water was mopped up with the cloth. When the surface dried it had a faint dusty white appearance.
When pipe clay was added to the water, if overdone it was sometimes resented by house proud women, because after it dried the white powder on the surface was carried into houses on the soles of shoes, so that visitors had to wipe their feet or the remove their shoes on the doormat before stepping inside. When borders were applied, it was done with enough pipe-clay, or whitewash, added to make a separate mixture of about the consistency of today's cheaper quality emulsion paint. In an effort to find a more durable treatment white oil based paint was tried, but even with it occasional touching up was required. There was also the risk of someone accidentally stepping on it before it dried, and unaware, walked it into their house.
When the turn came round every third week, the chore of `doing the stairs' was undertaken as part of the other weekly Friday ritual of cleaning the house. This included beating carpets and sweeping, washing and polishing floors, work which often extended into late evening. 'Mansion' floor polish was used with pride and not a little danger on linoleum, which tended to make the surface slippy. Other important tasks were cleaning the fireplace and flue, black-leading the grate, and 'doing' the brasses. Most houses had some brass in the form of ornaments, such as candlestick holders, a letter rack, companion set, fender and coal scuttle, and even some sections of gas piping, particularly the lighting supply pipe at the `swan's neck', etc. All main doors had the array of brass fittings described near the start of this history, and cleaning them using 'Brasso' polish was sore on the hands. Today these items are made from materials of the fit-and-forget variety which needs no attention, or if they become disfigured or get broken they are cheap enough to be replaced. Today anyone would scorn such work as needless drudgery.
A NEW ENVIRONMENT
My parents lived in this house from the winter of 1936 to the summer of 1945. Much of the following writing is concerned with Linthouse and the surrounding area, and readers with an interest in topography can find their way round by looking at the frontispiece map in page 1 part 1. However, anyone in possession of an old large-scale street-and-transport plan of 1960 or earlier vintage, produced for Glasgow Corporation Transport Department would find it ideal. Construction of the Clyde Tunnel, and later redevelopments Greater Govan altered this locality after that time. Other excellent large-scale maps of the districts being described will be found in the Glasgow Room at the Mitchell Library.
Most street frontages of the Linthouse tenements away from the main road had a railed off section along the front between closes. In Skipness Drive it took the form of a rough concrete-aggregate plinth standing about six to eight inches above pavement level, which projected out into the pavement for five feet or so. The plinth was bordered round the three outer sides by decorative cast-iron railings rising to adult waist height with a harmless flat-spiked capping of the same material. Elsewhere, in Hutton Drive for example, the fenced-off area with the railing embedded in an edging of stone capping sections, was of earth and beaten-down grass frequented by dogs and cats. An occasional plant, stunted bush, or shrub showed briefly in summer where in the past a tenant living low down had tried in vain to indulge in cultivation. During WWII, non-essential railings almost everywhere were removed in an all embracing drive to collect as much metal as possible, reputedly for the war effort. Later accounts of this operation suggested that most of the material recovered was quite unsuitable for any purpose other than railings and it had to be recycled.
The close entrance to Number 12 was a little to the right of the alignment along the west side of Kennedar Drive. Linthouse Church of Scotland with small twin towers seen in this sketch drawn from ground level by Chris Fletcher, still stands at the north end of the Kennedar Drive/Hutton Drive block. It was diagonally across the street from us, so that from the elevation of our room window we had a near eye level view of the bell rocking backwards and forwards when it was rung in the belfry in the west tower. At that time there was a railed-in grassy area in Kennedar Drive on the west side of the church (long since built on), in which the church officer's wife from her house in Hutton Drive next to the church hall hung out her washing.
At the eastern end of our street Elder Park was an ideal children's play area. It had large, level grassy areas for ball and other games, a swing park and paddling pond, putting and bowling greens and tennis courts. There was a model yachting pond with a clubhouse for sailing-club members to keep their boats in, and a permanent resident because he was unable to fly, a swan with one leg called Jock. The putting green was a favourite with me when I grew old enough to use it, but tennis courts and bowling greens were just becoming accessible to me age-and-inclination-wise when we moved away to Pollok. The park and its amenities in the 1930s are described in detail in part 5 of this book. Nearer hand there were the back courts to play in and their dykes to climb.
The dykes and closes themselves provided a variety of concealments suitable for children's hiding games. Nearby, there was a football ground, the Maxwell Park known as the Maxy Park, in the middle of the then un-built-on section of Holmfauldhead Drive (Humflheid in localeese) between Skipness Drive and St. Kenneth Drive. A small section of it including the goal posts at the nearer end was visible from our room window. Junior and amateur teams played there, with the players changing in the British Legion pavilion in Holmfauld Road which everyone referred to as `Ferry Road'. This ornate single-storey timber building (below) owned by the Legion was situated on the east side set back behind a low wall a third of the way down. It had one large hall which was ideal for dances and wedding parties and side rooms for smaller functions. On the side fronting the road there was a covered veranda reached by two or three steps behind a stone wall topped with railings.
Having been inside the building on one occasion, the lovely smell of the wood is recalled. In 1939 it was set on fire and burned down during the night. That event provided another vivid memory in being awakened by my parents and told to 'Come and look at this!' Viewed from our kitchen window from the opposite side of the block, the fire itself was out of sight, but it was still spectacular with the plume of smoke illuminated by the flames rising up beyond the roof opposite. It was a preview of something we were to see rather a lot of in cinema newsreels within a few years under wartime conditions.
After the fire and before the charred remains were removed, with my pals I used to rake through the ashes looking for anything of value. Each time we did this the burnt smell clung to us and gave the game away, initially without being aware of it until reaching home. Mum noticed it immediately and went on at length, demanding that for safety sake we should keep away from the site. The photo above has a glimpse on the right behind the tram of the remains of the hall, and on the left one of two air raid shelters built during the war, a second of which can be seen through the windows of the tram.
An area of allotments lying at a lower level than the road behind the British Legion building covered the section of land where the south portals of the Clyde tunnels now lie. They took up the southern quarter of the long strip of land between Govan Road and the river, Holmfauld Road in the west and Fairfield Shipyard's boundary fence and the tenement in Cressy Street in the east. Part of it was bounded on Govan Road and Holmfauld Road by the dark, high clap-board planking fence having a saw tooth top seen below. Access was by the door seen in the fence in Govan Road opposite Clachan Drive beyond which plot holders descended a short flight of stairs.
|1960s with trolley bus wires after the trams were withdrawn.|
All that stretch of land to the river and much of the rest of the land of Linthouse belonged to Alexander Stephens. Lying lower down than the rest of the strip, the central section beyond the plots was the original ground level. This area was used by the shipyard as a coup for disposing of their rubbish, and, being unfenced and unguarded, the area was treated as an unofficial adventure playground by the children of the district.
The coup was a great place to explore. Part of the enjoyment of playing there was because every concerned parent absolutely forbade their children from going near it. It was full of hazards that today, if it was permitted to exist at all under modern environmental regulations, would have to be securely fenced off. The dangers present were broken glass, lengths of nail-studded and splintered wood, pools of permanent oil-contaminated standing water that were ideal for building rafts, smouldering material, supposedly empty red lead and other paint tins, and oily cotton waste, the oil of which was of a particularly enduring type. Getting it on hands, clothing, or shoes, it was impossible to remove and could be a giveaway when you went home. Newly-tipped rubbish often contained partly burned material, from the supposedly extinguished embers from which fires could be conjured up with the oily waste and wood splinters.
The coup entrance was opposite the main entrance to Stephen's yard mid-way down Holmfauld Road, and the rubbish was brought out in horse-drawn single-axle wooden carts with large iron-shod wooden wheels of a very common general purpose design that was used all over the West of Scotland. They carried out the same function as the tail-end tipping lorries of today, but the capacity was only a fraction of the loads of modern road vehicles. These carts were built very solidly with slightly outward flaring sides and front about four feet high from a load bed positioned centrally above the axle. When preparing to unload into the tipping area the horse was made to back up to the edge, the harness was released from the animal then the tailgate fixings. The cart was then allowed to tip up controlled by a rope held by the carter fixed to the forward end of one of the shafts seen in Chris Fletcher's sketch below.
Manoeuvring the cart might appear to be a simple operation but it had its perils. Particularly when reversing or backing-up as it was called in those horse-powered days, over the uneven, elevated surface of the already infilled part of the site. With a docile horse it was comparatively easy, but a lively or fidgety one made it a risky business and the carter needed good control. In particular a young horse that was aware of the drop behind might display much agitation when required to back up, with mincing steps and much head shaking and swinging it from side to side as it tried to see round past the blinkers to check for danger.
The carter was probably supposed to burn as much as possible before dumping it. But like most work of this kind, if it was unsupervised it was done in a careless way, which left more than enough material to create an interest for us. In the tipping area the ground was about ten feet lower than the surrounding land which was gradually being filled in over the years. The tipping face advanced only a little during the few years I frequented the place, as the volume of dumped material wasn't great, and only about half of this area had been filled in since it began to be used for this purpose, probably when the yard was established after the middle of the 19th century. It was most likely the original level of the land on the river's flood plain which had poor drainage, so there was always standing water of up to six inches in depth over much of it. That was sufficient to float a raft without the danger of anyone suffering anything more serious than a soaking and getting covered in the oil contaminated mud if they fell in.
The man had to persuade the horse to stop and stand perfectly still at exactly the right spot, without going too far and allowing the cart to go over the edge taking the animal with it. There may have been a wheel brake but there is no recollection of seeing one. After tipping the load the carter hauled on the shaft rope to pull the cart down level and replaced the harness. A well-remembered sight is of a carter swinging on the rope with one foot up on the wheel tread for leverage to get the shafts down. My paternal great-grandfather Alexander McFarlane was a carter, and worked with horses all his life. Indeed during the time he lived in Govan he is reputed to have worked on the horse trams in the tram depot that was close to the subway station entrance on the left in the Greenhaugh Street photo seen below.
Beyond the coup northwards away from the tip which ran down part of the way to the river, the land consisted of a series of low grassy hillocks known as `the sunny dumps'. They were at a higher level than the coup which effectively preventing any drainage from it. The hillocks had been built up along the river banks on both sides from dredgings when work was going on to deepen the river in the 18th and 19th centuries. This area was ideal for games like cops and robbers, hide-and-seek, cowboys and Indians, or plain simple 'sodgers'. These and other games were supplemented by acting out our fantasies generated by the current adventure films being shown in the local cinemas, the Vogue, Lyceum, Plaza, or, the smallest of the four, the Elder in Wanlock Street.
When acting out our fantasies, many were the arguments on the pond in the 'dumps about who could be Clark Gable or Errol Flynn on board the pirate ship we fondly imagined our rough lash-up of a raft to be. The there was Leo Gorcey in the Dead End Kids, or George Raft and James Cagney as gangsters as we stealthily crept around the sunny dumps trying to catch members of the 'other side' unawares. Another cinema hero was Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan, but most popular were cowboy films of Tom Mix, Gene Autry, William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy, and the mysterious Lone Ranger whose name was never revealed. A series of films which provided ideal role models for us was based on what were called 'G' Men, and featured stars like Cagney, Raft and Pat O'Brien as special American law enforcement officers or the hoodlums they were trying to catch. G Men were, I think, Government Agents of the 1930s and '40s who appeared as characters in the American movies of that era.
Like children everywhere, in Linthouse they played in groups that formed spontaneously in the streets where they lived. The members of the one I associated with were mainly from the west end of Skipness Drive and the nearer ends of the three adjacent streets. Rivalry occasionally broke out which sometimes developed into hostility between groups from adjoining areas. But this was almost always confined to shouting insults at each other, with plenty of boasting between members of what they, the group, could do in a fight with any other. Competition between them for possession of the coup for a play area could on occasion become fierce, and occasionally one group would chase off another. With the single exception of the large number which formed a group from the dead-end street called Linthouse Buildings known as `The Linties', there was no special pecking order between them.
Linthouse Buildings had been built before the 1880s by the Stevens shipyard company to house their workforce, and it lay within the area of land occupied by them. It was a single long tenement building the closes of which went up to number 42 running towards the river from Govan Road almost opposite Burghead Drive. Its residents had the reputation of being rather a rough lot, and their street was regarded as deepest enemy territory by all children in the rest of Linthouse. They were talked about with awe by the members of our group and, according to those who actually knew them they were unbeaten in any so-called fight they were involved in. So-called because I never actually saw them or any other group for that matter, actually fighting. It was all hearsay and imagination! That tenement was gradually demolished in the '60s and '70s.
It was a favourite subject with us, as no doubt it still is with most children in a similar environment anywhere, but it must be stressed that it was almost always confined to talk. The only exception I know of was a battle that drew blood between two boys who were members of our own group. The odd thing about this set-to was that the two involved were a little older than me, and searching my memory about them now, both were decent, sensible and popular, but the cause of the quarrel is obscure. Any encounter between rival groups (I use that term in preference to gang) was stone-throwing or chasing each other, usually ending with a few youngsters suffering nothing more serious than a fright.
The Lintie's reputation for toughness was put to the test on two occasions. The first happened on a day I was invited by Dad to go for a stroll. He was a member of and an activist in the political Independent Labour Party. After walking with him into Govan Road, he said he had to visit a customer who lived in Linthouse Buildings in connection with The New Leader, the ILP weekly newspaper he delivered. As an impressionable seven or eight year old, I was worried by this and thought that surely he must know it was a dangerous place, and that if we went in there we might not get back out again! He must have noticed the look of apprehension on my face. No doubt he was fully aware of the reputation it had among local youngsters; he laughed and then said `Come on, you'll be safe with me'. Although aware of his amusement I wasn't so sure. But he must have recognised what was going through my mind because he took a few seconds to reassure me so that I was able to go with him, not initially with any confidence.
As we walked down the street and nothing happened, passing through groups of playing urchins, lounging youths and gossiping women whose territory this was, who regarded us only with curiosity, my peace of mind slowly returned. By the time we reached the close he was visiting the feeling of panic had almost gone, and far from being a den of cut throats or ravening wolves, it proved to be an ordinary street inhabited by friendly people, who were amused but not surprised when Dad told the people in the house we visited about my fear of entering their street. On the way back, as we past another group a voice exclaimed 'Haw, there's Geordie Rountree, whit are you dae'n here!' It was a friendly class mate from school.
The other encounter at a later date had a similar ominous beginning but ended in farce. Five or six of us were in the coup when a large crowd of Linties, better described as a mob that seemed like the Mongol horde of historical legend without the horses, as depicted in a then recent film about Kubla, or Khubilai Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan, came down ferry road and into the coup towards us. Because of the dead-end nature of the area, the only way out other than by the ferries, was by the ferry road itself, so we were panic stricken, believing we were trapped and would be 'in for it'. In a tight knot we left the coup and moved on to the road, then crossed to the pavement on the west side, all the while trying to make ourselves look inconspicuous and unconcerned, as we slunk along by the yard's platers' shed wall towards Govan Road. At the same time we kept an eye on the others with furtive glances, hoping they would ignore us.
They were boys much like ourselves, though to us they appeared menacing, and for a while they kept pace with us, keeping to the other side of the road and making no move to cross over. They outnumbered us by about four to one, and in the way they eyed us they seemed to be out for trouble - or fun, we fervently hoped. But they were obviously planning something. Presently an older boy among them, evidently their leader, began directing others of his group to cross over and pick out singly individuals from our group and take them back across to their group. This continued as we walked outwardly brave but inwardly quaking towards the relative safety of the main road.
We sensed that it would be unwise to start running too soon because that might provoke a chase, and there wasn't enough distance between them and us to be sure of out-distancing them. If that happened we were certain to be overwhelmed by their numbers. As we neared Govan Road there were only two of us left, so the instant we judged it safe the pair of us took to our heels and ran as if the devil was after us across Govan Road, along Holmfauldhead Drive and into the safety of our own street. We paused here in a state of panic to discuss what to do about the situation, wondering in our juvenile fantasy world if we should we ask someone to send for the polis, or go round the mothers of those 'captured' and tell them what had happened, and get them to organise a rescue party?
We hung about near the corner for a few minutes of indecision while slowly calming down, then decided, before doing anything to have a look back round the corner to see what was happening. On doing so we were amazed and relieved to see all our chums who we half expected never to see again, strolling towards us with smug expressions on their faces. My fellow survivor and I were relieved and agog to find out what had happened to them, but after the fright we had endured their story was too tame for us to accept. All were dismissive of the event; passing it off lightly by saying they knew nearly all the Linties from school. Indeed, when I thought about it later, a few of them were known to me as pupils at St Constantine's, who were probably amused and enjoying our panic stricken demeanour.
That adventure must have occurred after WWII began. Two air raid shelters, brick built and with a flat reinforced concrete roof like most of these buildings visible in the photo of the tram on page 8, had been put up in Holmfauld Road, spaced out beyond where the Legion hall had been and set back at the rear edge of the pavement. Our friends had been taken into one of these and made to obey orders like stand up, and sit down, and run round in a circle, and a number of other tame (to us now) demands, in effect playing with them while their 'captors' switched on and off the light for effect before letting them go. It was a great let-down to the two of us who had escaped, and almost made both of us wish that we had been taken as well.
It seems odd now that these shelters had lighting installed, but they were solidly built structures with an entrance at each end at opposite corners and seats. The entrance passageway turned at the rear and led into the main area, which was normally pitch-black inside. But they were probably built there for a special purpose, perhaps away from the yard, to accommodate members of Stephen's workforce. They were the only ones in our area with lights, and may have been built outside the yard by contractors because of a lack of space inside it.
The fence at the end of the plots which separated them from the coup was of dense wire mesh that, while it wasn't barbed, seemed impervious. But it could nevertheless be penetrated by enterprising youngsters who were able to slip underneath it unobserved if it was done at the right time and in the right area concealed among long grass at the boundary with no plot holders nearby. The bravest of the group would venture in and crawl away through the dense border of summer greenery and disappear from sight, then return clutching a few of potatoes to bake on a wood fire. This method of cooking was new to me as has already been mentioned, because Mum found that when trying to use the gas oven in the fireplace at home, it was too difficult to judge the cooking times. The only time I took part in this coup potato roasting operation proved to be very successful, and despite being sceptical about it initially, the spuds were delicious.
The track of the tram terminus in Holmfauld Road seen in page 8 ran down quite a distance from Govan Road to accommodate the many vehicles that assembled there waiting for the shipyard workers at stopping time. Each vehicle had a time table to run to, and it had three crossovers between the tracks to enable them to shunt about and depart in their correct order. But something that intrigued me was that on both lines, where they terminated there were signs of where a vehicle had gone beyond the rail ends and the wheel flanges had cut grooves in the granite cobblestones for a few feet. A burning curiosity developed to know how this had happened, and for years I kept an intermittent lookout in an effort actually to see it being done.
Wheel flange grooves were a phenomenon seen at other termini but I was fated never to witness it actually occur. It would have occurred during the night, perhaps when the permanent way maintenance squads were working with their specially adapted rail vehicle and trailer which, in the gloomy street lighting of the period, during a shunt had been propelled too far. Or perhaps in winter a fall of snow overnight had made it difficult for the first driver of the day to judge his position. It might have been harder for an ordinary tram to have managed to do this except by coasting, because it would have run out from under the overhead cables carrying the electricity supply, suffered a loss of power and been stranded.
RIVER TRAFFIC AND INDUSTRY
Although the river was farther away from us in Linthouse it was more accessible than from Howat Street, and it continued as a source of interest for me. The regular traffic of all types of ships and boats passing up and down could be observed from the riverbank path next to the ferry berths, which once or twice a year was flooded during the spring and autumn tides. This activity was supplemented by frequent movements back and forth of the two ferries, plus the constant shipbuilding work and occasional launches from the three yards in sight. Despite being well past the peak of maximum activity of previous decades, the late 1930s still saw plenty of movement even with a world depression affecting most western countries, but as the threat of war loomed, work soon began to increase. Set down in this section are some recollections of the more interesting sights.
At the foot of Holmfauld Road, the section of riverbank path of compacted gravel upriver from the two terminals led nowhere, but it was quite substantial. After two or three hundred yards it ended at the boundary fence of Fairfield's shipyard. From reading historical accounts of river development, among them JF Riddell's book CLYDE NAVIGATION (1979), it seems that it may have been the site of the last remaining stretch of original tow path used in the days before steam propulsion came into general use. This would be before 1820, when horses were used to haul the small sailing ships of the time up or down river during periods of contrary or insufficient wind, and before the steam tug was developed for towing. Because of the prevailing westerly wind, direction of tow would have been mostly downriver, but the question is, how did they cope with the difficulties this practice would involve?
The above sketch is of the towpath on the south bank of horse-towing operations in the early 1800s. In conditions of dead calm how were the complications handled when two ships being pulled in opposite directions by horse teams met. The only practical method would be for teams to work on both sides of the river going in opposite directions. Or there could have been a convoy system in force, with a succession of boats being taken down-river then another lot being brought up according to tide and weather conditions. And how did they cope with a rising wind affecting the behaviour of the ships, depending on size of course and perhaps not yet under control, being blown away over towards the opposite bank taking the horse(s) with it, unless there was a quick release connection on the tow rope? But of course ships then were small, and except in calm conditions the tow would only need to be in one direction - into wind, at any time. But as the size of ships increased, so must the problems of towing from the riverbank until steam powered tugs came into use.
In the 1930s the path was bounded on the side away from the river by the sunny dumps and the coup, and was separated from the river by a barrier of tall spiked iron railings. The river-banks below the railings, in common with most other reaches of the river above Renfrew away from docks, shipyards and quays, sloped down at an angle of about 45 degrees, is laid with large roughly squared off stones with the smooth faces set flush. This gives the least resistance to the wash produced by ships and waves generated by stormy weather that would otherwise cause erosion. One of the sights keenly anticipated by young ship watchers was a high tide with a strong wind and a tug passing at full speed, so that the wash would come right up over the path. But this was likely to happen only during a spring tide, when the path itself might be under water and the ferry service suspended. This was observed on one occasion. From the material dumped there by early dredging operations, the term 'sunny dumps' mentioned earlier was probably originally 'sanny' or sandy.
Tugs were the most often seen vessels on the river. There were around half-a-dozen owned by two or three towage companies, one of which was Steel & Bennie. All ships above a certain size needed the assistance of at least one tug, up to the biggest liners that came up beyond the Clydebank reach, which might require three or four. Movement of ships above a certain size was regulated by tidal ebb and flow. Large vessels coming up had to begin their journey about midway during a rising tide, and any departing would set off just before high water in case they should touch bottom and be grounded, hence the term 'catching the tide'. If that happened on an ebb tide, the ship would remain there for a few hours until the water returned to the previous level and lifted it off, and it was vital to avoid this because of the risk of damage to the hull. It follows that while bigger ships tended to pass in procession, the smaller boats moved about at any state of the tide.
A big ship passing at high tide was awesome. A high water level and narrowness of the river made them really dominate the scene as they went slowly past. Liners on the North American services of the Anchor Line, the Cameronia and Transylvania and Donaldson Line's Athenia, at that time were the biggest of a number that ran a regular service from the upper reaches of the river across the Atlantic to New York and Boston and ports on the St Lawrence River in Canada. The Anchor Line's terminal was at Yorkhill Quay, and the Donaldson Line was at Queens Dock where the Exhibition Centre stands today. When anything of that size went past, whether passenger liner or cargo ship, everybody within sight with time to do so would pause to watch, and at night the sight was even more spectacular as they were lit up like giant elongated mobile Christmas trees. For me scenes like these were repeated when during National Service a year in Egypt was spent on the west bank of the Suez Canal.
Today there is so little activity on the river that even a rowing boat can make people pause to look. In the past the bustle of more or less continuous ordinary river traffic would not merit a glance, much like the attention airline traffic of the present receives from most of the population. My fascination with ships was closely linked to a growing desire to travel and see the world. Cargo vessels went off to and returned from exotic places like Africa, India, China, Canada, America, etc., places I longed to visit. That longing was partially fulfilled by the year in Egypt. While many were lost during the war, some of the ships seen in the 1930s were still passing through the canal in the years 1949/50, a surprising number of which had port of registration GLASGOW on the stern.
Merklands Quay on the north bank opposite the coup, with the cattle lairage behind was in full view from Linthouse. From Govan Road, that is, and it frequently had the ships of medium size used to transport cattle from Ireland berthed there. But one thing that constantly frustrated me was to see this arrival or departure actually taking place. I used to envy people who lived in the other side of our block with an unrestricted if somewhat distant, view of all movements on the river, fondly imagining that many were like me - keen ship-watchers with plenty of time indulge in it. My permanent bad luck meant that I would turn the corner at Holmfauldhead Drive and Govan Road and see a new arrival moored there, or a ship that had been 'tied up' there had gone. On these occasions, resolving that in future I would be more vigilant had no success.
Another feature was watching a dredger at work, with its buckets on an endless chain belt clanking round the boom set at an angle which could be altered, allowing it to be lowered to the depth required for the reach (section of river) being worked on. The top of the boom was at an elevation above superstructure height so that buckets, having scooped up their load of silt carried it up and over the top. In going over at the start of the return journey the contents spilled out onto a chute angled to carry it to one side, where a hopper barge would be moored alongside to receive it. When full, the barges carried their loads downriver to the outer firth beyond Bute and Cumbrae, to be deposited through bottom-opening doors off Garroch Head. Barges were nameless, seemingly identified simply by a number on the side such as Hopper No. 11, or Hopper No. 12. The original dumping ground was at the mouth of Loch Long, but as the amount of material increased it began to pollute the nearby shores, the 'ground' was moved to a deep trench to the south of the Isle of Bute. With the new millennium, the European Union brought in new measures to ban the dumping, and now it has to be treated to make fertiliser or disposed of in landfill.
During holiday seasons regular services and pleasure steamers passed by daily on the run down to Dunoon, Rothesay and other destinations then returned later in the day. Lovely little ships like Eagle III (Eagle the Third) on the 11 a.m. departure from the Broomielaw to the Kyles of Bute, calling at Dunoon and Rothesay. And there were Queen Mary II and the turbine steamer King Edward. While they were beautiful ships, initially there seemed to be something odd about them. They were different in some way from other steamers that took me a while to resolve. They moved almost silently, with no rhythmic beat of paddles churning up white foam. My initial reaction in perceiving this was faintly hostile, in that here was a steamer with no visible means of propulsion like other steamers, what made it go? Then realisation came that no ships other than the old steamers had paddle wheels.
At the end of her working life, until 2009 Queen Mary II was moored on the River Thames in London having been converted for use as an upmarket restaurant. In the occasional views of that river which appear on tv, QMII with its black hull and white superstructure was sometimes glimpsed. The main attributes of any boat was its lines and speed, and the performance of each steamer was studied closely by most people who used them regularly or frequented the Firth. Eventually, when it became known to me that turbine propelled steamers were faster, it was recognised that the spectacular visual attraction of beating paddle wheels did not indicate a fast boat. In 2009 QMII was sold to a hotel conglomerate in La Rochelle in France to be used again as a restaurant. That arrangement failed and the ship is currently moored at Tilbury dock on the Thames. A movement is afoot to raise funds to return her to the Clyde and have her refurbished and moored at the Transport Museum.
|Former Clyde Turbine Steamer Queen Mary II in the Thames 2007|
At the time being written about marine propulsion was in middle of the process of change from steam to diesel, but older ships then were still coal-fired to produce the steam power. Most of them had the old style tall thin smoke stacks which, when under way, put out plumes of condensate and black smoke that added the thrill of anticipation to ship-watching in the same way as it did to train-watching with steam locomotives. Under favourable weather conditions, when it was calm with little or no wind, ships gave advance warning of their approach while still out of sight upriver past Govan, or down beyond Shieldhall. If there was a lot of smoke it might mean a tug or tugs in attendance, and this of course, indicated the possibility of a really big one, but we were seldom on the spot for this. Generally we heard about it later or saw it from a distance. When writing `we' I really mean me, for few of my pals showed anything other than minimal interest in river activity, other than when a large vessel was passing.
The smell from the river was unmistakable. While processed sewage was still being disposed of into it from the two plants downstream at Shieldhall and Dalmuir, and while it didn't quite smell like what you would expect, although by no means fragrant it had a certain, almost attractive, salty methane/sulphurous tang of its very own. It was an aroma which quickly became associated with the interesting sights likely to be encountered by its banks. It was similar to the smell from gas works in that when the not quite rotten egg-like pong was first encountered, it caused wrinkled noses and exclamations of disgust. But soon, some indefinable element in it made one begin to sniff in earnest, to draw in and `enjoy' it (if that is the correct word to use in this context) as much as possible before passing out of its range. Another quite different smell with the same effect was encountered at this time in the Corporation Transport Department's subway.
When the horse-tram service was being established in the 1880s, Cluthas were the almost legendary boats which, for seven years from 1887, operated a passenger service between the city centre and Govan. Reading about them in later years, it seemed likely that they would have been disposed of decades before my time. But Clyde Navigation Trust had a number of hulks which were used during maintenance work on the river, and it appears that two of them were in fact old Cluthas, one of which was still used as late as the 1930s.
Cranes of different types dominated the skyline at many places along the riverside as a working requirement for docks, quays (pronounced keys), and shipyards which were collectively referred to simply as 'yards'. Docks and quays then had what today would be regarded as cranes of conventional design, with a counterweighted jib which stood up at an angle from a central pivot where the cab was located. But Clydeside yards used hammerhead cranes with horizontal jibs that rotated near their centre on top of a vertical support. They were of the same design as the Titan and Goliath cranes at John Brown's at Clydebank, Yarrows at Scotstoun, and Finnieston. These heavy-lift cranes were manufactured by the Sir William Arroll company. Fairfield's Govan basin had one for installing engines and other heavy equipment in ships that was dismantled in 2006. The cab was at one end of the jib while on the opposite end beyond the central pivot, the carriage carrying the lifting gear could travel along most of its own half on rails when positioning a load. The fixed cranes with long reach jibs in use today at shipyards are of heavier build to suit construction loads.
The original method of ship construction using rivets was changing to welding during this time, but the din made by riveters was the most prominent feature of this or any industry working with steel plates and it was still heard. Boilers for steam engines, whether for ships, rail or other uses, were constructed using curved steel plates with the ends riveted together. The work was done in what was called `boiler shops', a name synonymous with deafening noise, the din being increased for the workers by the confines of the building they were working in. In days before ear defenders became available and are now mandatory, deafness afflicted all men who worked in these places. A complaint sometimes directed at noisy children by adults was 'Yer makin' mair noise than a biler shoap'. My own mother occasionally directed that expression at me.
Another saying heard occasionally at that time seems to have come from a bible story It was employed in describing an event or a quarrel in which someone created a din by shouting loudly in pain or anger, as when a child had fallen and been badly hurt. In re-telling the event later it was said that they 'bawled like the bull of Bashem!'. Later reading seems to indicate that what was meant was the `Bull of Bashan'. Bashan is mentioned in a story in the bible as being a town in pre or early biblical times in south-eastern Turkey.
In the open air of the yards there was some relief from noise for those in the vicinity of riveters' hammers, except for the riveters and their mates themselves, in that the racket was dissipated somewhat. But it travelled farther afield and was very noticeable over a wide area. The sound itself has been compared with that of a machine gun, but having experienced both I would say a riveters' hammer was marginally the more penetrating and least tolerable. Living as we did within earshot of four yards, although the nearest riveters would have been working at least five hundred yards away, during working hours the noise they created was an ever present feature of life. In addition there were the frequent loud clangs and the clatter of steel plates, beams and brackets being moved about. Evening and weekend silence was to be savoured, with drowsy warm summer Saturday afternoons the most peaceful of all.
|Queen Mary passing Dalmuir 1936|
A longing to re-live fond memories of the past is common with older people, even noises which were regarded as annoying at the time before the last of them pass on. Because of the possibility (more like certainty) that it may trigger other memories of a more sentimental nature if a working mobile display could be set up to be taken round old shipbuilding areas? Experiments could be conducted with a steel plate of manageable size, a compressor, a riveter's pneumatic hammer, a supply of rivets, a means to heat them and drills to bore the holes. If it could be arranged, it would surely bring expressions of wide-eyed amazement to the faces of many older people within earshot, with the comment `Ah huvnae heard a racket like that for mair than seventy years'. However, at best that would be only a pale impression of the noise produced in the past by dozens of riveter's guns being used along much of the riverside. In one of his programs in the early 2000s, in one of his tv programs Fred Dibnah reproduced the riveting scene, but viewers only experienced a view of the action with the sound much reduced.
Ship construction was a source of interest generated by watching activity in the two nearest yards into which it was possible to see from the riverside vantage points, Alexander Stephen's in Linthouse and Barclay Curle's at Whiteinch. The eastern-most slipway of the former was so close to Holmfauld Road next to the ferries, and lay at such an angle to the river that the bow of any medium-size ship under construction complete with scaffolding overhung the pavement. Walking under it on the way to the ferry could be slightly intimidating. A similar situation was found on the north bank in Ferryden Street at Barclay Curle's yard. Part of this fascination was seeing in close-up, and hearing close to, riveters busily engaged in assembling the hulls, which grew up from a skeleton of frames, ribs and stringers. Next, the hull plates were riveted in position and work progressed to the application of the first coat of paint, red lead, indicating that launch date was coming close. When the final coat was applied the launch might be within a week or so. Then one day it was gone and within a few weeks the skeleton of the next one was rising up in its place.
|Queen Mary passing Bowling Harbour 1936|
Launches seemed to take place apparently without ceremony because we seldom heard about them in advance. Boats built in the nearest yards at this time on the slips nearest the road were of only a few thousand tons, and being fairly insignificant they attracted little or no publicity. It was the bigger ships, especially passenger liners like the Queen Mary, seen above passing Dalmuir and Bowling Harbour, and Queen Elizabeth, the large naval vessels, battleships, aircraft carriers and cruisers, which received most attention from the media. While there is no recollection of witnessing a launch during this time, I feel strongly that with a grandfather so interested in such things and knowing I was too, he probably did take me along. Although it must be remembered that until he retired at the age of 65 in 1938, he worked on weekdays, and launches almost invariably took place during the week. Thinking about that last point, the Queen Elizabeth was launched after I returned from Mearnskirk at the beginning of February 1937, but there is no recollection of being aware of the event.
To the east of us in Linthouse, because of the lay of the land activity in Fairfield's yard was less easily observed. G & J Ingles and D & W Henderson, whose yards were at the mouth of the River Kelvin opposite Water Row, were too far away. On the east side of the coup, behind Fairfield's fence there was a high embankment built up from material removed when the fitting out basin was excavated. It was covered with trees and bushes, with more ground between it and the basin. Even from the north bank ferry terminal at Whiteinch, little could be seen because the fencing bordering Meadowside Quay obscured the view. The only opportunity afforded, and that briefly, was during a ferry crossing. John Brown's and Fairfield's usually built the largest ships, and it was a permanent source of annoyance that I couldn't watch the construction work going on in the latter yard without taking a trip on the ferry. Although it was free it wasn't always convenient, and some ferrymen were intolerant of unaccompanied adolescent travellers who might be intent on mischief, or who might lark around and be in danger of falling into the river.
Another sound that was part of the river environs was ships' sirens. These ranged from the higher pitched whistles of tugs and smaller boats, to the deep blare of bigger vessels and occasional rising hoots of the smaller naval vessels such as destroyers, although the latter were seldom seen until the war began. Just how wide-ranging that sound could be is illustrated by the fact that when we moved to Pollok in 1945 about four miles from the river, with industry shut down, when weather conditions were right we could still hear ships horns signals bringing in the New Year.
SHIPS AND WORK'S HORNS
Another sound of great significance was works horns, a phenomenon people of later generations might find incredible. In the days before the personal transport of car ownership became common most people lived near their work or were just a short tram trip away. An obvious way of alerting them to the fact that starting time was near was for a horn to be sounded, or a whistle that sounded like a ship's siren that was loud enough to be heard over a wide area. They were blown two or three times at intervals, the usual sequence being a half-minute-long blow at fifteen and five minutes before starting time. At two minutes to, the final blast began and was continuous until a few seconds after starting time. A 48-hour working week was the norm, with starting/stopping times something like 8 to 12 am and 12.40 to 5.30 pm. To spread the burden on public transport the times were staggered slightly between companies. While home from school at lunch (know then as dinner) time, a horn might sound. Mum would say `That's the (quarter-to-one start time) "bummer", you'd better get a move on or you'll be late' (for the 1.15pm start of school afternoon lessons).
At starting and stopping times surrounding streets were thronged with crowds of men dressed in oil stained caps and boiler suits or overalls and wearing stout working boots, streaming towards or away from their workplace. At starting time, when the two-minute horn sounded, those outwith a certain radius, at a distance learned through experience, took to their heels in an attempt to get into the gatehouse and stamp their timecards before it stopped, as starting time was strictly observed. Men clocking in after the whistle stopped were `quartered', that is they lost fifteen minutes wages, and anyone later than fifteen minutes was half-houred. This was a practice considered necessary in order to maintain discipline in companies employing a large number of men. Horns were sounded at stopping times also.
At finishing times (below) Govan Road between Elderpark and Elder Streets, and Holmfauld Road, were a mass of dark-clad men surging in waves on to the queues of trams, while those living locally were hurrying through the streets. There were no works washing or changing facilities then, and other reminiscences tell of toilet arrangements that were very primitive to the extent of being almost non-existent. Men engaged in dirty work went home as they left their work stations, so that other travellers had to be careful to check the seats on public transport after work stopped. The possibility was real of coming into contact with oil, grease or paint, if a worker sat down beside you, or it had been previously deposited it on a seat.
Although confined to mornings, mid-day and late afternoons, works horns were a major contributor to the general din in our industrialised area. The sound was produced by steam from shipyards' boiler houses. For most women with a husband or son rushing in for a meal the sounds were an excellent way of being made aware of the time. It saved them from the distraction of clock-watching. In addition, not everyone had a wireless from which time checks could be listened for. Few people had a watch and cheap clocks could be undependable, especially if the daily wind-up of the mechanism had been forgotten. Company horns had to sound quite different too, so that the workers knew which was which, and of course everyone else got to know them. Another good reason for them was that it avoided disputes between workers and management about whose time was the correct time.
|Fairfield Shipyard 1910s|
Familiar sounds of those times, from the clip-clop of horses hooves and rattle of cart wheels over cobbles, whine, screech and clatter of trams, the general din of industry, their horns and ships' sirens and street vendor's calls, while some are a relief to be freed from, all are but a memory. Even the sound of church bells is rare today, and as nearly all churches had one, Sunday mornings and afternoons of the thirties were briefly enlivened by them ringing out at different times. A glance at a map of the period will show almost a dozen churches to the west of Govan Cross, three of which were in Linthouse and the bells of most of them were within earshot.
Normally my father didn't come home for the three-quarter hour dinner break, preferring to take a 'piece' (sandwich) for lunch and have his dinner in early evening. 'Dinner' in working-class homes always referred to the mid-day meal. When he did come from his work a mile or so away, the sequence in our house and numerous others around this time might have gone something like this. Stephen's horn would sound at ten to twelve and mother put the potatoes on to boil. After fifteen minutes had elapsed Fairfield's horn was heard, and mum would know they were ready to be salted and Dad would be leaving work on his bike. After a further ten or fifteen minutes a third blow from another yard indicated that the potatoes might be ready for pouring, and he would be in the street or coming up the stairs.
As he finished eating, yet another blast, in this case the 'ten minutes to start' warning of the first in the earlier sequence of blows, told him he had another five minutes before he needed to leave on the return journey. He was an engineer-fitter and worked irregular overtime at the Govan Shafting Co. in Helen Street, and the early evening visit home for his tea was a hectic operation with a shorter break of half-an-hour which, with ten minutes travelling each way, left little time for eating.
When living in Skipness Drive he usually carried his bike up the stairs to the top half-landing and left it under the landing window where it was fairly safe. At first he had left it in the back court under the wash-house window in full view of the kitchen window, although from rather high up, an action that would be regarded as the height of folly in the present day, until one day it disappeared. The three of us rushed downstairs to look for it, but it transpired that it had been taken by a boy not much older than me, who had no thought of stealing it; he only wanted to try riding it up and down the street, but of course it was much too big for him. The bike was quickly recovered with some harsh words said, and it was never again left in the back-court.
Extra door keys could not be acquired then as easily and cheaply as they are today. The only keys for the two locks would be in the charge of the woman of the house. The single main door key was a large instrument to carry around until Yale locks became available cost wise later in the '30s. A way of indicating they were in the close and that their arrival was imminent, some men would whistle a brief tune of a few notes to alert anyone in the house, the open staircases allowing the sound to penetrate. Dad used a four note tune for this which I, too, soon adopted. It was handy to be able to signal from the bottom of the stairs that you were on your way up, so that the door was open for you instead of having to knock and wait.
Obviously neighbours used different tunes, and once or twice I must have caused a neighbour's husband's dinner to be cold, as I caught myself absentmindedly whistling their tune as I went up the stairs. Passing a lower landing door lying ajar I realised what had happened, and crept past silently, listening for the mutters of complaint from below as the woman inadvertently fooled into thinking it was her husband, realised what had happened and grumbled. The echoing acoustics on tenement staircases were ideal for whistling, and reckoning I was pretty good, did it all the time with favourite tunes.
Every flight of stairs had a banister of decorative cast iron uprights topped with a broad handrail of varnished wood conveniently shaped for gripping, which was ideal for sliding down. Some handrails had a gap of about six inches where it made the 180 degree turn at each landing, as ours had, allowing banister-sliders to slide all the way from top to bottom. Other banisters had a gap which was too small to permit sliding, other than the open mid-sections between landings. Some handrails had brass studs, peaked but with the tops rounded off, installed to deter banister sliding, although these were confined to the lowest flight. Growing up meant that I could no longer do it; it was too painful, later realising it was because I had reached the age of puberty!
Travelling on public transport from within Govan to the city centre or to Renfrew was always by tram. The only bus service along Govan Road was Western SMT's red buses that ran to Renfrew and beyond. The shade of red used was one which, because of defective colour vision, I found impossible to identify. Many years were to pass before it was realised that the 'red' buses people talked about were those of the Western SMT Company, because the shade was wine red. There were no bus terminal stations as such, and convenient streets or roads in the city of sufficient width were used. The Western company's terminus in the city for the service passing our way was at that time in North Drive alongside St Enoch Station opposite the entrance to the St Enoch Hotel, which was narrow and had an inconvenient steep slope. This is clearly recalled because at holiday time and bound for the Firth of Clyde, when the service was busy with no-one getting off before the city boundary at Merryflatts beyond Moss Road, to make sure of getting on, my parents travelled to the terminus and joined a long queue there.
That terminus endured until the road traffic increase after the war caused it to be moved to Clyde Street. During the latter period, some SMT services from north of the river to destinations to the south used Clyde Street as their terminus, while those proceeding to destinations to the north used Carlton Place on the south side. Before the M8 was built, the A8 had a low bridge between Langbank and Finlaystone, with its Z bend where the road passed under the railway. This meant that single deckers had to be used on services that went beyond Bishopton. The old bridge can still be seen on the alignment of the old A8 road beside the new bridge built for the dual carriageway.
GLASGOW CORPORATION TRANSPORT
To protect the Corporation Transport Department's revenue from fares, an unusual regulation affecting public transport was introduced in 1930, which was applied within Glasgow's city boundary. Only Corporation trams and buses were permitted to carry passengers on journeys that began and ended within the city, and as the boundary was at the Southern General Hospital, we could not use Western SMT buses on journeys to and from the city. That apparent restriction was in fact no restriction at all, as their frequency of service was much less than the trams and their fares were higher. The latter fact meant that when travelling to Renfrew regularly to visit an aunt during a year near the end of the decade being written about, we always used them. When we did go farther west by bus it was in the happy atmosphere of holiday time travelling to Gourock to take the ferry to Kilcreggan when heading for South Ailey Farm above Cove, and a few years later to Lochgoilhead. But events of early 1940 is told in the second book of reminiscences entitled IN PEACE AND WAR (IPAW).
The older tramcars had broad coloured bands painted all round the front and sides outside between the upper and lower deck windows. Vehicles with the same colour bands were assigned as far as possible to individual services provided by a particular depot, a rule that was consistently followed given that there were over thirty services city wide. Bear in mind that about 95% of travellers then used public transport or walked. When travelling west waiting for a westbound 'car at the stop at Govan Cross goods station at the corner of Greenhaugh Street for example, known as Morrice's Corner because of the large newsagent and tobacconist's shop of that name there, it was possible to see for a half-mile eastwards.
Standing at the tram stop, if you looked out to the east along that straight stretch of Govan Road a 'car could be seen turning the corner half-a-mile away at the dry docks. In daytime its colour, blue yellow or green, was visible, so that intending passengers knew well in advance if it was the one they were waiting for. The advantage of the link between service and colour was best appreciated in the town centre, where at peak times vehicles ran virtually nose to tail. In a slow procession, trying to determine the destinations of cars lined up in Argyle Street, Sauchiehall Street, Hope Street, or Renfield Street was often difficult, because they were so close together the destination screens were hidden by proximity, so the coloured bands were a good but not fully dependable guide.
Previously referred to on page 21 in part 2 but expanded a little here, of the crowd walking on the pavement in the 1949 photo above taken from the rear of another westbound tram, the younger ones will be mainly pupils heading home from St Gerard's Secondary School in Southcroft Street after 4pm about three streets beyond the VP Wine sign. In the early 1940s I would have been one of them. Note the Govan Cross Goods Station sign standing up in front of the light patch of wall of The Plaza cinema with the station weigh-bridge office behind it. The tracks going off to the right past Morrice's shop were used by Fairfield's goods train.
When service numbers were introduced in 1938 they were displayed on the nearside front of the vehicle's top deck, it rendered service colour-coding unnecessary although the colours continued to be applied to the older trams until the end. The service numbers were white on black on a large board mounted in a bracket at the top of the upper deck near-side hex panel window at both ends as seen in previous photos of trams.
Two services operated through Linthouse. The one by blue cars, which became the Number 4 service, went as far as Sandyford where the M8 now passes between Renfrew and Paisley, showing Renfrew South on the destination screen. Green was the colour of a service later numbered 27, which turned in Renfrew Road at Hillington Road. For travellers going to Linthouse and beyond from Govan Cross there was the complication of the yellow car service, the Number 7. It turned up Golspie Street and went on to Craigton, the terminus of which was then in Craigton Road at the Cleansing Department's destructor plant where an Asda supermarket stands today. It was extended to Bellahouston over the new wider bridge built in the early 1930s to accommodate the tram tracks that crossed over the railway line into Jura Street in time for the Empire Exhibition in 1938.
When travelling from Govan Cross to Linthouse it might be that there was no problem in boarding the correct car, blue or green. But this was a mistake made occasionally by the inattentive and people who were unfamiliar with the district. Westbound travellers sometimes boarded a 'car at the Cross or points east without paying proper attention to or were unaware of the necessity of checking the colour or what was shown on the front destination screen, most often at night or in fog when these indicators were least visible. When they found themselves being carried up Golspie Street they had to scramble off, walk back to Govan Road and wait for a number 4 or a 27 and pay a fare again. A service extended during our time was the original green Number 12. It first ran from Mount Florida, threading its way along Allison Street, through Pollokshields to terminate in Admiral Street at Paisley Road Toll. At the start of the war it was extended to run to Linthouse, at peak times only, to serve shipyard and other workers. Instruction given by residents of Linthouse to visitors travelling for the first time from the city was, `Take a blue or a green car, but don't take a yellow car!'
On working days 'cars on special peak hour services from other depots as well as Govan came from around the city to turn at or pass through Linthouse. Five or six vehicles bringing workers to Alexander Steven's yard turned here in the early mornings. In late afternoons empty vehicles were stationed in Holmfauld Road and a similar number proceeded on to Shieldhall to take workers home. The Shieldhall cars turned into Bogmoor Road, where a long terminus of track was laid in 1937 to accommodate them. Before that year they used to turn at a cross-over in Renfrew Road near its junction with Shieldhall Road which caused congestion. Large numbers from the SCWS factories, the nearby KGV Dock ship workers and the shipyards, were in the thousands, so at busy times a procession of vehicles trundled out and back along Govan Road.
Width standards of the time meant that the layout of seats on the older trams was lop-sided, but only on the lower deck. The top deck had, as on present-day buses, conventional double seats down each side. The lower decks of trams had three-person longitudinal seats at both ends on each side, on which passengers sat with their backs to the window. Between these end seats, on one side there was a row of four double seats, while on the other there was the same number of single seats for which there was much competition. All the double and single seats were set transversely with passengers facing forward. As turning loops were not provided, vehicles could not be turned at termini, so there was an arrangement which allowed seat backs to be reversed by pulling the backs over by a chromed open-loop handle on each top corner on the side nearest the passage. At busy times ten standing passengers were allowed only on the lower deck, for whom grab-rails with dangling straps were fixed to the roof from front to rear on both decks as a steadying aid when the vehicle was moving. The newer streamlined Coronation & Cunarder vehicles had double transverse seating on both decks.
It might be considered by people who have never travelled on a tramcar or were too young to recall the experience, that the details described here are unnecessary when they can be seen in the Museum of Transport. But how many would be aware of the necessity for the conductor to reverse all the transverse seatbacks on both decks at each terminus, or having to lean out of the end top deck middle window and haul on the cord which hung down there, to pull over the electric current collector on the roof to allow it to proceed in the opposite direction? It is likely that the same people might think the saying `off his trolley', suggests that someone who does something stupid has fallen off a wheeled barrow of the type used to move patients around in hospitals. Whereas it's quite likely to come from the analogy of a derailed tram losing power by running out from under the wire that picked up power via the trolley on its roof. Up to the early 1930s Glasgow trams originally had pole current collectors which occasionally lost contact with the wire. When that happened the pole was free to swing around and cause damage to buildings. After that time bow collectors were used on all vehicles to the end in 1961.
Transport Department employees uniforms were dark green with red piping down the outer sides of both trouser legs and the skirts of conductresses, and workers were known as `the green staff'. Seasonal wear was a winter coat, or medium and light weight summer jackets, and uniforms had to be pressed and kept clean and tidy, with buttons and shoes polished, cap badge gleaming and collar and tie worn. From my time on the buses, 1960 to '74, I have retained among keep-sakes a pair of uniform trousers from my time on the buses which could be donated to the transport museum? Crews of driver and conductor worked under a strict regime, and inspectors prowled around constantly looking for infringements of rules and regulations. Such things as not wearing the uniform cap or smoking on duty, or more seriously, running late or early from the timetable, showing the wrong destination on the screen or route or service number, or infringements in ticket issuing. Routes were divided into numbered 'stages' at half mile intervals, and a ticket allowed you to travel to a numbered stage ahead. If a conductor was detected allowing anyone to travel beyond the stage they had paid for, they were reprimanded.
In my time as a bus driver, when an inspector found an infringement he had to confront the guilty party and obtain from them their name and badge number. During the time of the trams it was standard practice for inspectors to report infringements observed from a distance without needing face-to-face corroboration. If a tram driver for example was spotted fleetingly driving past not wearing a hat or smoking, he could be reported. That seemingly oppressively strict system could have been the reason why the transport department was so well run and highly regarded by the public up to WWII.
As the tramway system contracted in the 1950s and buses were being introduced in their place, because the latter were not confined by rails to a set route in the same way as the 'cars, a flying squad of two inspectors of the more efficient and aggressive type was formed. They drove around in a small green van looking for malingering crews, and their skulking, spying, and hard-nosed behaviour earned them the title 'The Gestapo'. The author has tales of this and other aspects of life on the buses during the 1960s set down that will be found as an attachment on the Welcome page of this website. I left the Transport Department just before it lost its original identity to become Strathclyde Transport during urban transport reorganisation. It is now a subsidised privately owned company that changes livery, company name, and owners occasionally which confuses passengers.
Having to reverse direction at each terminus, the staggered entrances at the ends of the trams were open to the elements. In summer, conditions were ideal for drivers for anyone young and fit, with the then relatively traffic free roads and no steering demanding constant attention. According to those who worked on them, the open platform of the original vehicles gave a fresh air feel when driving in the suburbs on warm sunny days. The sliding door between the driving compartments at the leading end lower deck passenger saloon, which was normally kept closed, could be left open to allow a through draught. A temporary barrier in the form of a spar `T' piece of dark varnished wood with another crosspiece at mid height was fixed across the opening to keep intruders out of the driving compartment.
Winters must have been hell for them having to stand constantly with an icy blast coming through the doorless entrance and whipping round the cab. Such exposure during a winter freeze-up caused them to dress up to resemble early versions of the Michelin Man. Very occasionally older drivers would have a seat, simply a round piece of dark polished wood set on a metal rod which plugged into a hole in the cab floor at the driving position. They must have had an infirmity, perhaps due to ageing and long service, to qualify for it. But a less comfortable perch could hardly be imagined, on which a driver would be more likely to fall off than nod off.
Access to the upper decks of trams was by curved steps from both platforms which took passengers up to cubicles with a sliding door. At the leading end, to prevent a through draught when the vehicle was moving, the door was kept closed, and five adults could sit there and be in a little closed off saloon on their own. The destination screen box on the outside at the ends was accessed through a 'droplight' window, which was opened by the same system as the windows on the then current railway carriages, a simple arrangement which did not use counterweights. A heavy leather strap was fixed to the lower edge of the moveable section of the window frame to hang down inside the seating compartment. While the bottom of the window normally rested in a seating in the frame, to open it, it was lifted by the strap and lowered down a slot within the bulkhead. Railway carriage windows could be set at a variety of heights by a strap with a series of holes punched in it, which pressed over a stud fixed to the inside door facing. It's not recalled now if trams had that facility.
Instead of a horn there was a bell to warn of the vehicle's approach that was operated by the driver stamping on a plunger in the floor. It may not be obvious to the museum spectator that trams have a form of gate-operated cowcatcher. It was a slatted wooden platform carried underneath the cabs with hinges set back from the ends. In the raised position the catcher was held just above the road surface, and when a gate at the front struck an object, it swung up and allowed the obstruction to pass underneath. In doing so it released the catcher, the leading chiselled edge of which dropped onto the cobbles and scooped the object up. Anyone knocked down and run over would not perhaps be unharmed, but they would have a considerably better chance of surviving.
Employees on the trams approaching retiral age who found the strain of driving too much weren't discharged. If they were still reasonably fit easier jobs were found for them within the Department, such as point-changer at one of the busy intersections at peak-times, saving drivers of the older vehicles from having to stop and step down on to the road to do the switching with the iron lever carried in each cab. The newest Cunarder and Coronation vehicles had a driver-controlled onboard device for this. Another job was going round all junctions and cleaning dirt out of the chamber below the moving blade of the point, which was done with a flat rod having a sharp-edged bent-over section at the tip for scooping out the muck, and a flat brush with long stiff wire bristles. The gentleman (for so he seemed) who did this in our area in the thirties, was a very smart tall thin individual of military bearing, with white hair and walrus moustache.
Conductors had a simple form of ticket dispenser, a punch, and an extremely heavy even when empty cash bag to cope with. Tickets were in pre-printed thick bundles of 50 that were stapled together and set along a small wooden tray mounted in a row over the cash bag and held in place by coil spring clips. The bundles, of four different colours representing various values from halfpenny, penny, three-halfpence) to 2d (tuppence), were of thin cheap type card or heavy coarse paper, oblong shaped and numbered sequentially with the numbers along the top. Anyone taking a journey costing more than tuppence received two or more tickets to its value. Other numbered compartments along both long edges corresponded to the stage numbers along the route. When purchasing from a conductor, the request was for a ha'penny-one, or a penny-one etc., and a ticket or tickets of the requested value was plucked off the top and a hole punched at the stage number to which the holder was entitled to travel. As the bottom of the bundle was approached, to free them from the staple the few remaining tickets had to be plucked out with a jerk from under the spring. In doing so, as the padding of the bundle decreased it caused a well remembered and surprisingly loud snapping sound on the wood. Each ticket had in its centre the legend, The Glasgow Numerical Ticket Company & CPB Co. Ltd., Finnieston Street, Anderston.
The ticket punch was worn over the breast suspended by a strap which passed over the right shoulder and under the other arm. It was a flat six-inch square of shiny metal about an inch thick with raised GCT letters on an inset area at the front. On top, to the right of centre it had a narrow peaked extension, with a slot between it and the main part of the unit into which tickets were inserted. Below was a thumb operated lever which, with a ticket in the slot and the stage number aligned, when it was thrust sharply down it punched a hole, causing a bell to ding with a gentle high-pitched tone. A waggish member of the green staff used to tell the apocryphal story of a rather simple fellow newly recruited as a conductor, who wondered if the department employed people to add up the numbered punches to check against ticket money he paid in! The sound of that bell encountered today would bring a tear to the eye of many older people, including me, but it could become monotonous if the car was busy. Along with the rumble and the swaying movement of the vehicle, they are among sensations redolent of the age.
The cash bag, worn with the strap over the other shoulder, was deep front to rear and had a rounded bottom. It had a flap across the centre inside to keep silver and copper coins separate, and an upward extension of the rear panel came down in front covering the cash compartments. It was held in place by a short punched strap with a hole that pressed over a stud. Memory of the bag centres on the material it was made from. So thick and heavy was the leather that lying on the ground it could almost have been stood on round the edges by an adult without distorting. Empty, it was quite heavy, but after a busy shift it must have been back breaking to carry. As a child I had a toy conductor's set, consisting of hat, cash bag with strap, rack of tickets, badge, punch formed from sheet tin with strap, and a bell which rang in a most realistic way, all very similar to the Corporation's.
Destination screens on trams and buses were different, although both used the same style of roller blinds with the names of terminuses covered by the depot where it was based. On older trams the container was in the form of a box with two screens giving a double over-and-under display, the lower one indicating a place passed en-route, to which the prefix via was later added. Located on the ledge above the driver's windscreen at each end, the box was only accessible from the top deck compartment's end opening window, for changing by the conductor whose responsibility it was. The screens were scrolled independently by a crank handle on vertical shafts, one at each end of the top of the box. If, like us, you happened to live near a tram terminus it was a familiar sight to see, as Linthouse bound cars approached the turning point, conductors with long service leaning nonchalantly half out the window in order to see the screen (and read it upside down), while expertly twirling both handles. This of course had to be done at both ends of the vehicle, and it caused a succession of places, familiar and unknown to a juvenile, to flash past so fast that only an occasional name could be picked out.
During this decade the Corporation Transport Department had an unusual addition to its bus fleet. It acquired an AEC Reliant double-decker which, until recent times, was the only vehicle with a double back axle it possessed. As this was before Ibrox bus garage was opened in Helen Street in the early 1940s, the Reliant was based at Larkfield Garage at Eglinton Toll, which was then the only bus garage on the south side of the city. Never fortunate enough to have a ride on it, I saw it occasionally in Langlands Road when on my way to or from school, on either the number 4 or 4A services. It had large bar resembling a pram handle that curved up in front of the open radiator seen at Botanic Gardens in Great Western Road in the photo below.
Most bus destination screens on double or single deck vehicles were dual aspect with the service number above, and these were set within the body at the front. The crank for changing it projected down from within the bodywork on the front nearside, just within the open 'half-cab' compartment above the engine and quite high up, so that the driver, whose job it was, to stand on a step provided low down at the side of the radiator to reach it. Vehicles produced after the war had internally accessed screens. Trams used to have on their platforms (I'm not sure now about buses) a little red box, about 4" square and 8" high, fixed to a wire frame inside the saloon window on the platform. It had a locked lid which sloped steeply, with a slot for coins. At the front of the boxes there was a notice inviting you to `PLEASE PLACE UNCOLLECTED FARES IN THIS BOX' (second photo below).
STARTING UP EARLY PETROL ENGINES
A device long since done away with from vehicles with internal combustion engines is the external starting handle with double cranks. Before electric starters were developed, all vehicles needed one to start the engine. Later, even with a starter motor fitted, which in the early days could be undependable, for a time vehicles still came from the manufacturers with handles that were fixed in the 'start' position to begin with, then for convenience they were made removable which endured until the 1950s. The handle had a steel pin fixed permanently at the 'business end' that passed through it a little way back from the point. It was pushed in and turned until the pin engaged in slots at the forward end of the crankshaft, so that it could turn the engine over. The slots in the crank shaft had an open curve on one side so that when the engine started the curve forced the dogs out of contact, which prevented the handle from turning out of control and injuring the operator. Today most vehicles have transversely fitted engines so that fitting a starting handle would be impossible.
The hard work of these times started here; the bigger the engine the greater the effort needed to turn it. By the 1930s car starting handles were removable and were carried in the boot. On lorries the handle was secured with the outer, hand operating section held to one side with a leather strap. Up to the 1940s, however, they were still a permanent fixture sticking out at the front, but originally were usually positioned behind the bumpers of cars. On commercial vehicles and buses the handles projected out in front in line with the crankshaft, through an opening in the radiator. See the photos between pages 6 and 13 in Stewart Little's book GLASOW BUSES (1990).
As late as the 1940s and 50s it was still a regular occurrence to see vehicles having their engines started with the crank handle. The ones on heavy commercial and public service vehicle were spring loaded, to keep the pins on the business end out of contact with the slots on the forward end of the crankshaft when the engine was running. When starting up a petrol engine, with the ignition switched on the handle was pushed in and turned against the compression of a piston in a cylinder, then allowed to return to compress the other way to do the same with another cylinder. Using the momentum gained by the 'reverse' compression, it was turned harder once more, vigorously in the clockwise direction. The return swing this time was usually enough to enable a full turn of the engine to take place and, hopefully, it would start up.
The risk of kick-back meant that extreme care had to be taken during this operation, as a broken arm or worse was an occupational hazard. When turning the engine over, the danger lay in the fact that as the first piston reached TDC (top dead centre), while working against the compression as it builds up, the momentum is reduced. If it reaches TDC and is slow enough, when the ignition sparks, known as pre-ignition, it could cause the engine to turn the other way, which it could do - violently. Occasionally stories were told of this causing serious injuries such as broken arms and even men being killed by large engines, as the bigger the engine the greater the effort needed to turn it and the greater the force of the kick-back.
Cold starting the largest vehicles sometimes involved two strong men, and the effort required for the first start of the day in winter in sub-zero temperatures conjures up the vision of a special breed of he-men. My first car, a Standard 8 (like the one below but it was black) which I shared with a friend, was acquired for £25 in 1954, had a starting handle that needed occasional use. During military service I saw the following demonstrated with a 3-ton truck. If the starter motor develops a fault and stops working, another way to start an engine in an emergency is to jack-up one driving wheel, switch on the ignition, put the engine in a medium gear and turn the wheel by hand.
The Standard Flying 8 in the photo below has Renfrewshire registration KHS 226. The black Flying 8 had a 1939 Glasgow registration number CGE 864. Note the tiny standard flag, the union jack, at the front of the bonnet above the radiator grill, & the hole at the bottom for the starting handle.
The primitive ignition systems of these early years had elements of hit and miss. The ignition key for early electric starter motors had only two positions, off and on. When electric starter's were developed, as they were operated by a pushbutton on the dash-board separate from the ignition switch, drivers were prone to forgetting to switch on the ignition while keeping their finger on the starter button which drained the battery. Even after a tiny ignition warning light was introduced it could still happen with the unobservant in bright sunny weather, something that affected all drivers. Later the power supply to the starter motor was incorporated in the three position ignition switch as it is today which avoided that problem. From the off position the first click switched on the ignition then the second sent power to the starter. The latest development with this has done away with the starter key altogether.
Before trafficators were introduced, to indicate you were turning right you held your arm out the window. Travelling behind a small car I saw a driver signal that he was turning left by holding his right arm out with the upper part horizontal, forearm vertical, and finger of the hand pointing over the car roof! The first electrical 'turn' indicators were yellow ten inch long 'fingers' that when switched on, flicked out from the top of a door pillar to the left or right. A subsequent development was that the finger was illuminated, but the flashing type did not appear until the mid 1950s, first briefly with the flashing finger, then as separate lights each side front and rear. Other electrical equipment operated by individual switches for lights and wipers was laid out on the dashboard.
STREET AND BACK COURT HAWKERS
A young person today transported back in time to the streets of the period being written about, and looking around to see what the greatest differences are between them and those of today, might be amazed not so much by the lack of traffic during the day, private vehicles mainly, but also commercials other than horses and carts, and the absence of parked vehicles. Other than the occasional horse drawn ice-cream cart, all side streets away from upmarket residential districts were quite empty during evenings and at weekends. Even during week-days, when there would be the normal occasional passing commercial traffic and a fair number of hawkers doing their rounds, there were few other vehicles. Hawkers used hand barrows or horses and carts, such as the sellers of coal, briquettes, fish, fruit and vegetables, and milk and buttermilk by different vendors, who were the most common. Also there was the crockery seller and the cheap clothing flea-market type seller/buyer known as the rag and bone man. Less often seen were the scrap iron collector, who would take away any metallic scrap, paying a pittance for it.
Not seeing the candy rock lorry after the move to Linthouse was a great disappointment, as I had grown a bit and could have coped with the scramble. Most side streets were originally surfaced with cobbles, but by the 1920s almost all of them had been re-laid with a smooth asphalt surface. There was a certain amount of passing traffic in Skipness Drive we didn't have in Howat Street, mainly because cart drivers preferred the rumble-free ride away from the cobbles of the main road. They used it as a through route to and from south and east of Govan, for vehicles to make their way from the docks or ferrys to the Craigton Road and Helen Street areas. This traffic still mostly consisted of horses and carts, but the proportion of motor vehicles was growing. Nevertheless, streets then were almost perfect playgrounds for children particularly after working hours, although ball games made tenement house windows vulnerable.
With their horse drawn vehicles or handcarts, or carrying their wares in baskets, perhaps even 'humphed' (a local word meaning to carry) on shoulder or back, hawkers provided interesting, or irritating if it wasn't the one you wanted, diversions in a regularly changing daytime scene in streets and back courts. Most frequent of these were coal merchants; their four-wheeled horse-drawn carts had a three-foot high tailboard above which metal flags on rods displayed grades and prices. Examples of this might be Best House Coal 1/l0d (one shilling-and-ten pence per cwt. bag), or Nuts, coal graded to a small size convenient for shovelling straight on to the fire, 2/- (two shillings = 10p) per bag. The side edges of this type of cart were really just three-inch high thick metal clad ledges, on which the outer edges of the outermost row of bags of coal normally rested, causing them to lean inwards which helped stabilise the load. The photo below is of a Cowlairs Co-op Society coalman on the north side of the city, with the cart rear wheel chocked to stop it moving for this time exposure photo. The bags of coal here are not placed as described propped up on the edge of the cart because there's only a single layer of them, but the second photo below does have them in the cart edge.
The second print shows a fully loaded cart in Springburn railway goods yard with two horses to cope with the hills of the streets on the north side of the city. One or two merchants displayed signs which indicated that a consignment came from a named mine or pit with a reputation for high quality coal at a correspondingly dearer price. These names are hazy now, but there is an impression that one or two might have been in Fife. One that does come to mind is the Lady Victoria pit at Newtongrange, Midlothian which is currently a mining museum. The tailboard of the cart was lettered on the rear face, sometimes quite colourfully, with scrolled and perspective lettering displaying the merchant's name and depot address in large letters. Our local coalman in Linthouse was portrayed thus - Daniel Morrison and Sons, Coal Merchants, Shieldhall Goods Station - and in smaller letters - Home Address: 1 Skipness Drive, Linthouse, and their Govan exchange telephone number. The merchant's name was also applied along the narrow outer edges of the load bed.
Thinking now about the carrying capacity of these carts is interesting. The general dimensions of the loading platform were, at a guess, roughly about fifteen feet long by six feet wide. It had two sprung axles with spoked steel-tyred wooden wheels. The leading axle was attached to a truck which pivoted at the centre to enable it to steer, to which were attached the shafts between which the horse was harnessed so that the cart should follow the horse whichever way it turned. Over the horse's neck and fitting snugly on its shoulders there was a large padded heavy collar. The collar was sometimes decorated at the top with a small metal finial extension or a pair of curved finials, which stuck up to form a V, a few of which had an additional embellishment in the form of other tracery rising to a point between the finials. Inset at the top of the finial there was a small hole with what looked like a ruby, or a piece of coloured glass, fixed in such a way as to pivot and flick back and forward as the animal walked along nodding its head, causing the stone to swing back and forth through the hole so that it sparkled in sunlight.
The collar was the means by which horses were able to cope with the weight of a loaded cart by spreading the strain evenly over a large area of their shoulders. The shafts themselves were supported by a chain which passed over the horse's back, to lie on a form of saddle which had a groove to confine it. The reins, leather strapping which ran back from the bit in the horses mouth to the driver, were supported along the shafts to keep its legs from becoming entangled if the driver was distracted while on the move.
Layout of the load would be something like four bags across by eight along the length, which is 4 x 8 = 32 bags, each of one hundredweight (cwt = roughly 50kg). In addition, when fully loaded most carts would have another part layer on top with about half that number of bags, and there are vague recollections of seeing one or two with a third small layer. Even a roughly estimated total of between forty and fifty bags, which is 2¼ tons, seems rather a lot for one horse to manage, even although they were always one of the heavy types, usually Clydesdales, to manage. But the topography of Govan and the surrounding area was mainly flat and level, so this may account for the heavy loads seen here. Carts operating in hilly districts probably had to start work with lesser loads or a pair of horses to be able to cope with the hills. The nearest slopes steep enough to cause difficulty in Greater Govan were at the top of Craigton Road and Moss Road where they cross the railway line, but handling a load like that on the level did not give these powerful animals any difficulty.
Oats for horses was contained in a round nosebag which was carried slung under the rear of the cart, where it swung gently to and fro as the cart rolled along. Feeding and watering was done at a fire hydrant, and the carter carried a water-mains key in the cart toolbox to turn on the hydrant tap. The name burlap, sacking of heavy dense canvas, comes to mind and this might have been the material of the feed-bag, which had a wooden base and was suspended by a double loop of rope over its head. One loop passed behind its ears while the other was in front, so that the bag was held with the head enclosed almost up to its eyes, making it snuffle and sneeze constantly as it ate because the oats were usually dusty.
Before there was regular treatment of roads with salt and grit, winter brought big problems for horses and carters. If a horse slipped on ice and fell, an occasional occurrence at that time of lower average winter temperatures, the first thing the carter had to do was unhitch the cart and have it pulled clear, then sacking was tied over the horse's hooves. If any kind of grit could be obtained, sand or a shovel full of earth from a garden, or even sawdust, this was spread around. Then the horse was encouraged to try to stand up which produced painful and traumatic scenes.
If the temperature was very low the ice would be hard, and sometimes the struggle would go on for quite a long time, with the horse continually slipping and sliding and suffering repeated falls if conditions were particularly bad. In one observed incident the animal was lifted with a sling round its belly by some kind of mechanical means and set on its legs, probably with a hand-wound crane mounted on a light motor truck that had to be summoned for the task. Very occasionally a horse would break a leg in a fall and in that event it was the end of the horse. It was killed on the spot, how I'm not sure, but disposal with a humane gun would be the most likely method. One animal lay in Drive Road covered by a tarpaulin after an occurrence of this nature, awaiting the arrival of the knacker's cart to take the carcass away. There were lugs on horseshoes, one at the front and one at the rear on each wing gave a better grip in the slots between cobbles on main road surfaces in icy conditions than on the smooth surface of the asphalt on side streets.
A coal cart would normally be accompanied by two men, but sometimes there were three or four or more. They must have been a strong, stout-hearted lot to survive travelling on the open cart in an icy downpour and freezing wind, and getting covered in coal dust, then having to carry hundredweight bags on their backs up three or four storeys of a tenement. A lumpy bag (actually a sack but never in my experienced called that) weighing a hundredweight on your back would be an intolerably painful experience. Regular workers had a very distinctive kind of padded cuirass of thick leather studded round the edges with small steel rivets strapped on their backs. In the centre, to stop the bag slipping, it was braced with narrow horizontal strips of thin steel held in place with brass rivets, and the protection was deep enough to cover the wearer from neck to below the small of the back.
Individuals without this protection sometimes used an empty bag as a substitute, and they had to be watched carefully when a householder was taking delivery of more than one bag. It wasn't unknown for an inattentive housewife to be unaware that her deliver was a bag short; when a padding sack was slipped onto the empties pile to be counted in front of her as the final total of full ones. The man in charge kept his takings in a bag slung round his neck, to hang down in the same manner as tram/bus conductors. Our regular coal man Danny Morrison himself had an identical transport department type bag of that very heavy leather.
Regular coal carriers handled the full bags with deceptive ease when lifting them from the side of the cart to stand upright high up on their back near the neck. Others less practised would struggle laboriously to climb flights of stairs bent almost double, clutching the lip of the bag with their forearms braced against their forehead and the bag trailing down to their backside. Sometimes this caused a spill on the stairs so that the woman taking delivery would have to be down `at the toot' as my Mother would say (from the French tout suit meaning quickly) with a brush and shovel, as every bit was precious, as well as to clean up before the neighbours saw the mess.
Of three methods of tipping coal into bunkers, two were used by the strongest men. In the first, the bag was turned and carried across the shoulders with one hand gripping the bottom and, as they were never tied shut, the other holding the neck firmly closed until it was in the correct position over the bunker. Then it was a simple action to lean over and release the neck allowing the contents to shoot straight in. But this was disliked intensely by householders because it produced the greatest amount of dust. The second method was to drop the bag straight in and wrestle it empty. But the favourite and the most skilful way was to throw the bag off the shoulder, so that its mid-point landed on the edge of the folded down bunker front with the mouth inside. This would put half the contents in, and a deft movement of the hand could catch the bottom to throw it over and empty it. But if the catch was missed some of the contents might end up on the floor.
Wear on the edges of the folded down bunker front over time caused a slot to develop when the flap was in the 'up' position which gradually widened over the years. Eventually, a stage was reached when in its normal raised position young children found it a convenient place to `post' toys and small household items. In my case it was cutlery. Mum used to talk about the time she could not understand why she was so short of these items, and the mystery was only solved when, as consumption of coal progressed they were revealed at the bottom of the bunker. I had been putting them through the slot just before the last delivery of coal.
Imagine what it must have been like having to trudge about all day, carrying heavy bags of coal from which gritty dust and/or dampness worked its way down your neck as the cuirass didn't provide protection from that discomfort. All carriers wore a cloth cap, usually reversed with the peak down the back of the head to give added protection, and steel-tipped boots or clogs with their trouser legs tied with string below the knee as a guard against rising dust in dry weather.
When on the move the driver was on the front offside, reins in hand and whip carried standing vertical in a socket alongside him with its top jiggling about with the motion. He was seated on an empty bag at first with them piling up as the load diminished, one leg dangling and the other resting on the cross-tree between the shafts. A second man occupied the opposite corner while others spread themselves out over the load. Their sales technique was to walk along the centre of the street with the horse clip-clopping slowly behind, and bawl their distinctive cries through cupped hands, going through one close in each side of a tenement block into the back-court and calling again, constantly scanning windows for possible customers. Sometimes inconsiderate fellows would bawl while passing through the close, and if you happened to be on the stairs just then you were deafened. A practice used by some in an attempt to enhance volume when calling was to place a blackened hand horizontal with fingertips on the ear and palm flat against a cheek.
It should be emphasised that coalmen and other vendors were not in constant attendance. They had rounds and calling days, usually weekly, so that if a housewife needed any of their wares she had to stay at home and be alert. This was even more important if she wanted to buy from a particular coalman. If she happened to be preoccupied and missed him, if her stock had been allowed to go too low it could mean no fire in the house until his next visit. It was vital to listen for his call and keep a sharp lookout, and here another annoying problem was occasionally encountered. Top flat dwellers found that certain men who were lazy could, if the man in charge's attention was elsewhere, be deaf and blind to calls and signals requesting a delivery from anyone living there. Of course their favoured customers lived low down. Some merchants gave regular customers a coloured card with their initials on it, for them to display on the sash of a window's upper casement, which saved householders from being tied to their window watching and listening for them. But men of experience checked to make sure there was someone at home before carrying a bag up three stairs!
Coal men sold coal briquettes too, but there were a few individuals who specialised in them. A local man, Sandy was his name as I was reminded some years ago on reading reminiscence stories by another Govanite, Jenny Chaplin, latterly of Rothesay, of life in Govan at roughly the same period. Sandy had certain characteristics which made him an extremely comical figure. He was of very short stature, probably only about five feet tall, with the worst example of bowed legs I ever saw in any individual, which gave him an ape-like lurching side-to-side gait. He must surely have had rickets as a child. When he stood erect with feet together his knees must have been about eighteen inches apart, and his face was always so black with coal dust that his eyes and teeth flashed like beacons. He gave the impression that he never washed, because I never saw him any other way. Summer and winter he wore a bunnet constantly and a coat and scarf, all of which were thoroughly impregnated with coal dust.
The age had nearly ended when every male wore a hat or cloth cap, and Sandy wore his cap in a quite distinctive manner. While the upper part of caps worn by men were normally kept fixed to the skip by a press stud, in the fading fashion of the time Sandy wore his with it open, with the skip pulled down over his eyes and a little to one side, which gave him a very period look, Victorian or Edwardian. His barrow had a broad single axle and large spoked wheels, with a flat platform having a low vertical board edging extending round three of the sides, and the usual pair of parking legs at the shafts. The platform end at the shafts was open for handling the briquettes, which were normally purchased in half-dozen lots. They were carried up to customers' houses by a boy assistant, on a short length of wood with spacers below allowing the fingers to slip under the ends to pick it up when loaded.
All hawkers needed a way of bringing their presence to the attention of householders. Some had a musical instrument like a trumpet, a cornet, or a bugle, while others used a hand-bell, a whistle of the rattling pea type, or a rickety. One man came round with a horse and cart selling cheap crockery from crates stuffed with straw. He would cry out and rattle two plates together in a most effective way, so that I used to wonder how many he broke. Others simply called out. Coalmen in particular always possessed remarkable stentorian shouts. Sandy, our briquette man, was equally distinctive, calling, if I can put it down as it sounded – 'Coalbrikates' (rhyming with dates and the stress on the second last syllable), and the price: 'Penny each or ten pence a dozen', frequently adding, without bothering too much about the truth of the statement, 'Big scarcity!'. That mental picture of Sandy, laden with nostalgia, is another clear memory of the period.
THE FISH MAN
Vennard was the fish-monger, his horse and cart were a smaller, lighter version of that of the coal man. As well as the usual filleted haddock and whiting in season, he sold Loch Fyne herring, Fynnan haddock, Arbroath smokies and kippers. Apart from the usual white fish, what puzzled me for a long time was something called line-caught haddock. Having fished on Loch Goil in the 1940s and 50s, I began to understand that net-caught fish were generally bruised in the crush when caught in a trawl net, but line-caught fish was always in better condition and fetched higher prices. The fish man carried his wares in and sold it from flat wooden boxes swimming with melting lumps of ice spread out over the bed of the cart as they came from the fish market. Purchases were weighed on a Salter dial-scale suspended from a tall gallows-shaped bracket clamped to the side of the cart, the large shallow loose fitting metal pan of which sat in a cradle slung beneath the dial, making it easy to slide the fish off onto newspaper for wrapping.
THE MILK MAN
Prior to the middle of the 20th century, before being treated by pasteurisation, homogenisation and the introduction of refrigerators to working class homes, in warm weather milk could turn sour within 24 hours. Before being bottled the tanks at the creamery had to be agitated to disperse the cream so that it would be evenly distributed to each bottle, and after it settled, bottled milk always had a visible 'cream line' because after the filling the cream settled at the top. This was something purchasers were always on the lookout for, that the bottles they bought had a good layer of cream. One supplier had a mark on their bottles that 'guaranteed' a standard amount of cream, and their slogan was 'cream line milk'.
Our milk man Johnnie Owens came round twice a day on a horse and cart of quite distinctive design. It was a short two-wheeled vehicle with panelled high sides and front. At the top of the front, in the centre there were a pair of short thin metal rods which matched the finials on the horse's collar, about a foot apart projecting upwards between which passed the reins, to confine them when the driver put them down to attend to customers. The large churns around three feet tall (above) for bulk transportation between farm and dairy were round, with a variety of girths from tall and narrow to short and squat, but most had a conical section shoulder near the top, and a further straight extension into which a mushroom shaped tight fitting lid was placed. Others were cone shaped from base to lid. These body designs were evolved to reduce spillages when the full churns were being moved. Customers with small requirements brought jugs for their purchases.
Milk was carried in the churns that sat on a raised platform in the body of the cart above and forward of the axle. At the rear there was a low narrow partly enclosed platform stretching the full width of the cart, on which the driver and his young assistant stood to drive and sell from. A picture of that cart that remaining with me is of it approaching along the street with the horse at a smart trot, and only the upper parts of those on the platform visible. The platform itself skimmed along only a few inches above the road surface. The milk was dipped from the churns with metal half-pint and pint measures shaped like the bean or soup can of today. A long handle had been fixed as an extension to the can sides, with the other end bent over in a tight `U' to be placed over the lip of the churn to hang down inside. Before milk arrived in bottles and now in plastic cartons, most households had a milk can of a standard shape holding a quart. The ordinary cans were miniatures of the full size churn, with a wire handle forming a high carrying loop from one side of the neck to the other. Customers needing little brought out a half-pint jug.
The milk deliverers were out as early as 4am, and to save them from having to rise early most customers hung an empty can on their landing door handle the evening before. Youthful assistants looked after the daily orders either by going up the closes carrying a large well filled can and pouring a measured amount ordered previously into each one, or collected the cans to take down to be filled. Milk sold in glass bottles was then a fairly recent innovation which soon became general. The first bottles had wide necks and were sealed with round waxed cardboard stoppers, which pressed into a recess just within the neck after it was filled.
School milk, free to all pupils, was supplied in third-of-a-pint capacity bottles of the same shape, the stoppers of which had a partly punched hole in the centre that was pushed in to insert a straw. The pushing in had to be done with a degree of care, more care than would have been present among any generation of school children, because the whole stopper sometimes popped in causing a splash of cream to shoot out, covering many an adjacent jacket, short trousers or gymslip, not just those of the pusher. As there were no fridges in working class homes there was no way to make perishable food like milk, fish and meat stay fresh in warm weather, so these items had to be acquired daily. Potatoes and vegetables lasted longer a box low down in a cool dark cupboard. Chicken was a rare treat.
Two hawkers pushed handcarts and they are remembered in particular. One who I think worked for Ross's Dairies sold sour milk, or buttermilk, as it was called. It was known as the 'soor mulk cairt'. My mother sometimes bought it for Dad, as it was supposed to be good for anyone with chronic indigestion, although it's possible he actually liked it. It was dispensed from a low, narrow distinctively shaped, part enclosed olive green push-barrow with a spar supported roof and sharply curved side edges rather like those on buses. Quite small and narrow it had shelved compartments inside, and was mounted on a single axle with large diameter spoked wheels and a pair of 'parking' legs. Buttermilk was packaged in dark green square waxed-card half-pint cartons, similar to today's plasticised milk cartons. Soor mulk is apparently still with us as flavoured yoghurt.
RAG AND BONE MAN
The sound of a trumpet or cornet signalled the arrival of the rag and bone man, a title which puzzled me for a long time because he was never known to collect any bones, one of which can be seen in Pollokshaws Road in the photo below. In retrospect it was probably a worthwhile function of his before this time and the name persisted. At one time bone was a more valuable commodity than it is now, and the collecting of bones from butchers' shops only ended years later. Anyone over a certain age who doubts this need only cast their mind well back to the last time they were walking in the street, and caught a whiff of a bad smell as a lorry with low sides and an open top passed by. That was the bone lorry. Bone was ground down and made into fertiliser to be used by farmers and gardeners before manufactured products became widely available. It could also be melted down to make rather smelly glue. When the rag man arrived in the street, a few brassy notes from his instrument was the signal for every child to disappear up their close, to pester their mothers for discarded clothing to exchange for a balloon on a stick or a celluloid windmill.
Itinerant women callers did the rounds knocking on doors usually accompanied by an older child. selling a variety of items, which might be crochet work like table dollies, or sewing, knitting and packets of darning needles, hairclips and hairnets, bobbins of thread, buttons and hanks and balls of wool. Along with the rag-man with his horse and cart there was the rag-wife. She went round the doors collecting cast off clothing and other fabrics, and carried her gatherings wrapped in a blanket or sheet with the corners tied, which she 'humphed' on her back like the coalman, but with the four ends knotted diametrically two-&-two and part enclosing her. The adolescent was left in the close to guard the bundle against interference to save the woman from having to carry it up the stairs, and she is a sight so reminiscent of that age.
Rag-women probably picked from what they collected to wear themselves, or to sell on for recycling as it is known today, and the ones I remember appeared to be past middle-age and were invariably stout. It was no uncommon sight to see one bent double, trudging along the road late in the day with her bundle, which could reach massive proportions, hanging from her neck by one of the loops and balanced on her backside, with the similarly laden teenager struggling along behind.
Other vendors visited the back-courts accompanied by a youngster to sell items by calling up to the windows, and the child would be sent up the stairs with anything ordered by people calling down. Still others had factory rejected or 'mended' cast-off clothing picked up from rag-stores, and candles, matches, Murray's Diaries or Old Moore's Almanac's. Murray's Diary was a small booklet of time-tables, about the size of the once popular Wee Red Book for football enthusiasts, which gave the times of all train and out-of-town bus services. That book was a very popular and necessary item for anyone who travelled much in that age when few had their own transport, when there were few phones and much ignorance of how to use them. There was always a current Murray's in our house, and somehow it was used regularly, mostly in summer.
Most hawkers were male who came round with many different items of the very cheapest kind used in the home which needed to be replaced occasionally, such as sweeping, carpet and scrubbing brushes, mop heads and poles, washing cloths and bars of coarse (washing) soap, clothes ropes, buckets that were made of un-galvanised iron that rusted away, pipe-clay, floor polish and dusters. A word used then that's never heard now is 'pail' for bucket. A point stressed elsewhere has to be made again. It is that virtually all the utensils mentioned are still available today made from that ubiquitous material plastic in various forms.
Some callers had firelighters and bunches of sticks (there's an 'untidy' bunch sitting on the coal in the coal bunker in the photo below), or kirbygrips, hairnets and veils. These latter items are generally unknown today, but may still be available for older women. All women wore their hair at least to neck or shoulder length, some of whom kept the longer locks tidily confined inside a hairnet. Among men, only tramps and oddities let their hair grow long and they were often a target for scorn in the street. At that time only a very few women of the 'arty' class kept their hair short and wore trousers that are now known as slacks or pants. This was considered to be very daring, and if they smoked as well they were regarded as being 'fast'.
Beggars were common going round the doors soliciting spare coppers (pennies), of which there was little to spare. There were men and women back court singers, one of whom had the bearing of someone in poor health who, with his singing, generated an uneasy feeling that overwhelmed me. When he appeared accompanied by children who may or may not have been his, I had to go off out of earshot. I was avoiding his presence for a reason that only now, examining it more closely I am able to identify as it comes to mind for the first time in over seventy-five years. It was simply a desire to help without having the means. All hawkers, beggars and entertainers were subjected to the inevitable indignity of scrambling about on the ground for coppers thrown down to them, although sometimes it was wrapped in a twist of paper.
The common name for domestic middens was 'the midgy', and among the lowest elements of the population, at the stage before being consigned to the poorhouse and lower even than beggars, were the 'midgy rakers'. These poor souls both young and old were often the most physically disabled to be encountered. They were subjected to much scornful abuse on their rounds of back-courts and were regarded with revulsion by everybody. They were invariably either mentally impaired, or crippled in some way, such as having only one arm or leg, or a withered limb or a deformed spine in the form of a hump, or one of many other physical deformities like dwarfism or obesity. One character had such a frightful squint and wide-eyed stare that children, and some women, were terrified of him. When he appeared in a backcourt heading for the midden among groups of playing children they all ran off.
Some years ago an Antiques Road Show tv programme in Glasgow was being shown. A scruffy individual was presented before the camera to be interviewed about an item. The interviewer, a usual upper class man, asked the tramp where he got it. The man replied in the usual local rapid staccato type speech, 'Ah fun' I(t)' in a midgie'. The interviewer hesitated for a few seconds, obviously failing to understand, and it took a number of other questions before he learned that it had been found in a domestic midden. What it was has been forgotten but it was worth a few pounds. It's the memory of the expression of distaste on the interviewer's face that remains.
Most visitor of this kind came round in an irregular rotation, from one or two who passed through frequently to the occasional or once-only figure. They carried a sack or bag and were, of course, looking for anything of value, scrap metal or returnable bottles, and some more than likely wouldn't turn up their noses at discarded food raked out from among the ash. Because of today's domestic rubbish containers, their like are never encountered now. But is it because people do not need to do this, or because modern methods of rubbish disposal in high and low rise buildings render access to it difficult? There are possibly some folk in the lower levels of the present day society who would liken this activity to prospecting for gold, and would welcome an opportunity to indulge in it.
Another caller, one of the few who provided a useful service who usually kept to the street rather than the back-court, was the knife sharpener. He appeared occasionally with his unique equipment in the form of a single wheeled work-bench. The grinder who frequented our district had an open spar timber structure about 4 feet x 4 feet x 1 foot wide. Inside there was a single spoked cart-type wheel, the means of moving the bench about. With it lowered off the wheel onto a side, the drive for the shaft of the grinding wheel was provided by a foot-operated treadle working through a push-rod to a crank on the large wheel shaft. On the same shaft there was a large pulley round which a belt passed, which drove a smaller pulley at the higher speed needed for the grinding wheel on another shaft. The grinder parked his barrow/bench at each close or shop such as butchers and provision merchants with the grinding wheel uppermost. He then went round the doors asking for knives and scissors to sharpen then worked away busily on the treadle sending showers of sparks from the grindstone.
A curious pedlar we saw only occasionally in summer was one of the seldom encountered foreigners, the 'onion Johnny', or in the east coast form my grandparents knew them by, 'ingin Johnnys' (above), from France. They probably avoided working-class areas because of the necessity if they had to go round tenement doors, of leaving their wares unguarded in the street or back court. I certainly remember seeing them in the thirties, and they may have returned after we moved to Pollok at the end of the war. Perhaps they sold mainly to retailers such as greengrocers, although they were seen occasionally during the summers calling at villas and terraced houses. Those I saw were middle-aged, short, wiry and tanned dark brown, of odd bucolic appearance, complete with beret, a kind of waistcoat, smock, neck-cloth and gaiters. They apparently came from Brittany, a region of France so renowned for the quality of its onions that for many years I looked for in supermarkets.
The onion sellers travelled about on peculiar bikes of obvious foreign design, festooned with pleated strings of onions, which hung in groups all round from handlebars, crossbar and panniers. Both mudguards had stiff netting strung over them fixed tautly to the wheel axle to keep the onions from getting caught up in the spokes. Just how they operated and acquired replacement stock remained a mystery to me until recently. I used to imagine them selling all their stock in a morning, and having to cycle all the way back to that impossibly remote, foreign place for a fresh supply later in the day. But an elderly knowledgeable friend indicated they had only to go as far as Fife, where they rented a store.