A TRANSPORT OF DELIGHT
‘Travel with Wild’s for Miles of Smiles’ was the catch phrase that came into my head last week when I noticed that the old garage on Beech Street was being demolished. And about time to, for a long while it has been well-qualified for the title of ugliest building in Barlick. But oh what happy memories it must bring back for many people in the town.
Wild’s coaches carried thousands of people every year on trips to all sorts of pleasurable occasions, theatre trips, seaside resorts and of course, the wonderful ‘Mystery Tours’. Vera and I once chanced one of these and I noticed Dan Smith looking at us a bit quizzically as we climbed on. It wasn’t until we realised we were off for an afternoon at Grange over Sands that we realised why. Dan called it ‘The Elephant’s Graveyard’ and we found out it was definitely not a town jumping with life!
There was another string to Wild’s bow of course, Wild’s Transport. For years they were the biggest haulage company in the town and had long term contracts carrying Anglo containers at the latter end. Some of the drivers had worked for them all their lives and they were a rum bunch of characters. Normally I lay out the names as you know but this week I’m going to draw a veil over them in order to protect the guilty!
In those days I didn’t spend a lot of time in the pub, I’d got that out of my system before I got married but occasionally I’d find myself in the Dog in the company of my mates and at times these would include some of Wild’s drivers and the tale-telling would start. One driver was notorious for having less than perfect eyesight. The story was that he had run over a bobby’s foot while it was on point duty outside the Lord Nelson. If you raised this story it would trigger them off and you knew you were in for a happy hour!
In the days before the motorways one of the drivers used to pass a country house in the middle of the night on his way to London. He had noticed an ornamental Grecian urn set on a small lawn in front of the house and he fancied it for his garden at home. One night, while accompanied by a mate, he coasted down to this house, pulled up and told his mate to wait for him. He jumped out of the cab, over the wall and ran to the urn. When he got on to the small lawn he realised he had made a mistake, it wasn’t a lawn but a small pond covered with weed. His mate said that he seemed to run across the top of the water for a while but then went down full length and emerged looking like the Creature from The Black Lagoon. Undeterred he pressed forward, captured the urn and it finished up in a front garden in Barlick.
Times were hard in those days and it was a regular thing to pop into a potato field and lift a bag of spuds for home. Two of the drivers were doing this one night and weren’t having a lot of luck, they were early in the season and they were very small. One moved up the field a bit and after a minute shouted to his mate that they were bigger where he was. The bedroom window of the farmhouse opened and someone started blazing away at them with a shotgun. They beat a hasty retreat reflecting no doubt on the high price of spuds in that area. Evidently they weren’t the first to try this ploy.
The Anglo containers were only twenty feet long and the drivers used to load them at the back of the flat to lighten the steering of the four wheel AEC wagons that were standard at Wilds. This left a space at the front of the flat and one day in the garage, Billy Wild noticed something on the flat and asked the driver what it was. ‘Donkey shit!’ came the answer. Billy sauced the driver for giving him cheek and moved away but the driver had told him the truth. He had bought a donkey down south and brought it back up the country sheeted up and roped to the headboard!
In those far off days, tales like these were the common currency wherever drivers got together. I think it was a product of the fact that we spent so much time in solitary confinement in our cabs with nothing to do but drive and think. Needless to say, I’ve got a few of my own! Let me tell you just one of them.
I was sat in Jimmy McCall’s on Clyde Street in Glasgow one day waiting for a load with some other drivers when we got word that one of our mates, ‘Gassy’ Gascart, had got killed on Shap. We had a whip round for a wreath and a bloke called Taffy Hughes went out and bought one, he lived near Gassy and could deliver it. As we were viewing the wreath the door opened and in walked Gassy! ‘Hello, whose died?’ he asked. Of course we were stunned, it turned out it was another wagon like Gassy’s that had been in the accident but we were left with the wreath. We tried to get the florist to take it back but he wasn’t having any. In the end we all piled on to Gassy’s wagon and trammed off to the Necropolis. We waited until the first funeral hove in sight and Gassy walked across, stopped the hearse and laid the wreath on the bonnet. ‘Tribute from his mates.’ he said and legged it back to the wagon while the undertaker stood there, blue in the face, shouting ‘It’s a woman and she didn’t want any flowers!’
We had to make our own entertainment in those days and I suppose writing this column for you every week is part of the same tradition.
Two items triggered me off in this week’s paper, one on famous local men and the other on the repairs to the clock on Holy Trinity Church. The exhibitions on famous locals have been done now and so I can’t persuade them to devote some time to one of my heroes, John Albert Pickles, founder of Henry Brown Sons and Pickles which is now incorporated in Gissing and Lonsdale.
What’s this got to do with the clock on Holy Trinity Church? Simple, Johnny Pickles made it and also the clocks for St Joseph’s RC Church and Riley Street Methodist Chapel in Earby.
The picture I’ve found for you this week shows Johnny in his workshop behind 35 Federation Street putting the final touches to the Holy Trinity Clock before it was installed. The clock is his own design but has the same double three-legged gravity escapement as the turret clock at the Houses of Parliament. This mechanism was invented by E B Denison (later Lord Grimthorpe) in 1854 when he was given the task of drawing up a specification for the new clock and found that no clockmaker could guarantee an accuracy of within one minute a week. Eventually Dent’s built the Parliamentary clock to Denison’s design and it was very successful so Johnny followed in his footsteps.
One question that might occur to younger readers is why would the owner of a successful engineering firm have a workshop in his back garden? Surely he’d want to leave work behind at the end of the day? I suppose the answer is that it all depends on how interested you are in your full-time occupation. John Pickles never lost his love for engineering or his curiosity about anything mechanical. He would go home for lunch and spend half an hour in his workshop, and when he came home at night would be out there again as soon as he had finished his tea. He became interested in turret clocks and this explains why he made the church clocks we see today and in the course of his research inspected many of the clocks in the area.
He decided that the clock for Holy Trinity should have an electric self-winding mechanism and this entailed fitting a maintaining gear to keep the clock running whilst the weights were being wound up. The only example he knew was in the Science Museum in South Kensington so one Friday night he told his son Newton to fill the works van with petrol as they were going to London the following day. Newton drove his father down to London and they parked outside the museum in Exhibition Road. (Try doing that today!) Johnny said ‘Wait here, I’ll only be ten minutes’. He went into the museum, took the particulars of the item he was interested in and on climbing back into the van said to Newton, ‘Right, let’s get going. If we look sharp we can get to Bury Market before they close and get some black puddings for tea!’ Happy days………
Horace Thornton of Earby told me an interesting story about when Johnny visited Carleton Church to look at a very old turret clock there. Horace was the verger and he said that when Johnny saw the clock he said that the story that it was made by a farmer could be true as it was a very simple and unusual design. He noticed that there was a free-wheel on the governor mechanism and said that he had never seen this mechanism used on a clock so old and it must be one of the first uses in clock-making.
Newton told me that when they installed the clock in St Joseph’s, Johnny went in one morning to see how the job was going and was just in time to hear some fairly ripe language from his men as they struggled to drill a hole through the wall by hand for the spindle which drove the hands. He stood there with his bowler hat on and shouted ‘Less of the bloody language, don’t you know you’re in church!’
The Riley Street clock was made and installed in 1937. Johnny started his engineering career as an apprentice with Henry Brown in Earby and the clock carries a brass plate on the frame with this inscription; ‘IN MEMORIAM. LAUS DEO. To Henry Brown of this parish, master mechanic 1848-1903 and Elizabeth his wife, 1847-1924. This clock was installed by their family. Made by his apprentice John Pickles and given to his memory in appreciation of a good master and an able craftsman.’ When George Preston bought the redundant chapel in 1960 Johnny took the clock back to Barlick and installed it on the Wellhouse Machine Works, facing Skipton Road. In 1981 Henry Brown Sons and Pickles was taken over by Gissing and Lonsdale and the Wellhouse works was demolished. The clock found a new home in G&L’s offices on Wellhouse Road and was fitted with two extra dials. Up to 1988 it was wound manually but on April 4th 1988 it was converted to electric winding.
Under John Pickles’s direction, Henry Brown Sons and Pickles did some wonderful engineering jobs but it seems fitting that the longest lived examples of Johnny’s craftsmanship are his turret clocks. It’s significant I think that they were made in his spare time because he loved his work and was an enthusiast. I was in a traffic jam the other day with Terry Gissing and commented on the fact that most of the people we were looking at were in cars they couldn’t afford, sitting in traffic they didn’t like, going to jobs that gave them little satisfaction and in many cases, that we could well do without. I don’t suppose they have workshops at the bottom of their gardens! We might have lost something along the way.