Hard work but great times for the coalman
Delivering 15 tons a day
I was a coalman for a time many years ago; I worked for Hall & Co in Davigdor Road. After I had been there for a while there was an opening on one of the coke lorries. There were only two coke drivers on the firm. We were on piece work and had to deliver 15 tons of coke a day. Me and the other lad, who was an ex trolley bus driver from the Brighton Corporation bus garage in Lewes Road, had to go to the depot in Portslade with enough sacks for a 5 ton load. You had to hold the sacks under the scales that automatically weighed out 1 hundredweight of coke. If we were at the depot at the same time we would help each other; if we were on our own we had to do it without help.
Church deliveries were the worst
There were two five ton drops in churches, hotels and the like. When the five ton went down a manhole it was bit easier, but you were forever going into the cellar to trim the coke down or you couldn’t get any more in. Sometimes you had to carry the five ton one at a time down steps and along a narrow tunnel, stooping all the time. Churches were the worst for this. The other five ton was delivered around the houses. I wonder what health and safety would say today about the way we had to work, but it was normal in those days.
A princely wage of £20
The people in the business, years before I was born, had to work even harder than I did. In 1963 we were on top wages in the coal yard, £20 a week which was a grand a year. In the summer I sometimes would go in about four in the morning and bag up a 12 ton coal truck in the railway sidings for extra money before the day’s work. This entailed opening the side of the rail truck shovelling the coal into the scales to exactly 1 hundredweight and then tipping the scales and shooting the coal into a sack. More often than not the coal was ‘Sussex Best’ which had to be broken up with a hammer as the lumps were so big.
Hard work but great days
The tax man was our main enemy, after all that work he stole your money as he still does. But I was as fit as a fiddle. We drank gallons of milk to lay the dust, the firm even supplying milk if there was a really dusty load to be bagged and delivered, coal was especially slack for the blacksmiths. It was a bit annoying in the wet weather. We wore wetbacks to keep us a bit dry. These were leather waistcoats strapped around us. Hard work but great days.
Do you remember the coalman delivering to your house or business. Do you remember how much it cost? If you have any memories you can share, please leave a comment below.