Tippler’s Memories: My first job in Spalding – part one
Spalding Voice 31/12/2019
John Tippler returns with some of his memories for readers to enjoy.
When I came to leave my first job, a business friend of my boss – seeing that I was still unsure about my longer-term career – chastised me: ‘I knew what I was going to do by the time I was 12’, he said. Maybe he did: I didn’t. In fact, I hardly gave it a thought until the very last moment before I left school.
I had enjoyed school, mostly for the things that were not to do with school work. It had been the period of the second world war, a time of turmoil and – for us schoolboys at the Spalding Grammar School – a time of real excitement. Aircraft constantly overhead on their way to the big raids on Germany; troops stationed in huts all around our playing field, with A-A guns we were allowed to sit on and swivel round; the air raids earlier in the war; the constant presence of the armed forces of many nations in the town; the following of the action at the war-fronts, with the aid of the maps we bought from Woolworth’s; and… oh! so many things that gave spice to life.
In July of 1945, I had finished my school certificate examinations – indifferent results expected – and was drifting along on a pleasant tide consisting of very little earnest work at school, but lots of swimming in the local rivers, helping to organise youth dances, and listening to the stories from friends who had left school a term early and were now in their first jobs. What I didn’t have was any particular ambition. Then, one morning after school assembly, our master asked the class if anyone was interested in architecture. No quick response! What about you? You’re good at art. He was looking at me. Tentatively, I and one other boy indicated an interest.
Well, it was a job; had to think about it sometime, I suppose. In a couple of days, I was fixed up with an interview with Mr F. Bernard Saunders, a local architect working as a one-man practice at that time. Even with the interview scheduled, I didn’t make any serious preparation for it beyond wondering how to dress. It was an easy decision: I had few options.
On the appointed day, I turned up, was interviewed, and now remember nothing of the discussion. On what basis I was accepted, I’ve no idea, but I suspect it was principally that the other candidate had dropped out. I did find out, however, that ‘FBS’ had just been appointed to form the first architect’s department of the Spalding Rural District Council, ready to cope with the big post-war housing drive that the government was directing. As it was to turn out, the two of us were the architect’s department until sometime in 1946, when FBS’s pre-war assistant returned from the army. I reported for work at the beginning of the next week at a small office at a street corner on Broad Street, wearing a new blue jacket that I (or rather, my father) had bought for the purpose. ‘I shouldn’t wear your best jacket for work’, said FBS, ‘It’ll get dirty on the drawing board.’ ‘It isn’t my best jacket,’ I replied indignantly; but the truth was that it was. Otherwise I had only my Sunday suit and my old, now tatty, school blazer.
He suggested that I bring an old jacket for the office, as he did himself, but I didn’t – couldn’t – comply, and the subject was dropped.
I can’t say that FBS was the best teacher in the world. He gave me a little instruction: how to spread a tracing linen, pinning the corners in diagonal sequence to get the linen flat; how to load with Indian ink and use the drawing pen (one of those things resembling a pair of tweezers), and how to keep it constantly clean without bending the sensitive tips; what colours should be used to colour every house plan we sent out: deep vermilions, greens, and browns for sections; washes of pale green, primrose, and carmine for the elevations and surface views.
I loved the carmine, mostly because it was the most expensive colour in the box – five shillings for one hexagonal stick (say about £12 in 2019 money).
Apart from those few things, it was pretty much ‘work it out for yourself’,
He was kindly, and his complaints were mild, and he gave me opportunities for trying my hand at house design. He admired some Roman lettering I did, but remarked that I had made a mess of it when I tried unsuccessfully to fill in the outlines with splodgy Indian ink. I remember only one piece of guidance, when he told me that the beautifully-curving access path that I designed for a house, would cost too much in concrete. Of course, none of my ‘designs’ was ever turned into reality.
During the period we were at the little corner office, the expanding RDC was establishing itself in two large houses in The Crescent in Spalding. We were to move there too, but before we did so one of my tasks was to run backwards and forwards between our office and The Crescent with various plans, most often for the attention of Mr Luker, the sanitary inspector. I learnt a useful lesson the first time I did it. I had tapped on Mr Luker’s door, and getting no reply I ventured in.
I saw a reddening angry face, from which issued what seemed like a cannon-blast of a voice, which propelled me backwards out of the door.
Later, when he had finished dictating a letter, he came out and gave me a forceful lesson in office manners. With time, I learnt a second lesson: that what at first seem the most irascible of people can be the most kindly. Mr Luker was like that.
When the bombs fell on Spalding
For the next two weeks, John Tippler remembers the Second World War.
I was ten when the war began. Young people got the first indication that war was something real when gas masks were distributed in 1938.
They were fitted and issued in temporary places around the town – in our case a classroom at the Council School in Westlode Street.
A neighbour set up a green-coloured gas-detector board on a post in his garden.
For some time the masks just sat on a shelf in their cardboard boxes.
When the war began, we had to carry them around, and most people bought tins or bags to hold them. With the passage of time – and no appearance of gas – we stopped carrying the masks and the detector board never changed colour.
Early in 1939, more planes began to appear in the sky, including the odd Spitfire or Hurricane. In the Council School playground, we adopted allegiances: ‘Spitfires are best!’, ‘No they’re not, Hurricanes are best!’.
Behind the infant school – roughly where the backyard of the present police station is – concrete air raid shelters were built, and there was a brick-built one opposite the school on Westlode Street.
When war came, we were given simple cautions by our teacher, such as what to do if an air raid occurred.
Geoff Dodd was given the task of sticking gummed brown paper strips in a grid on the classroom windows, to reduce the risk of flying glass if a bomb dropped nearby.
Then a trainload of evacuees arrived. All curious, some of us went to see them getting off the train and assembling in a long line in the station yard, and gradually disappearing to assigned lodgings.
For a short time, we had to share schoolrooms with evacuees, who had their own teachers. We had the room in the morning, and they in the afternoon.
We didn’t get time off on those afternoons though; our teacher – Mr Coulson – led us on long country walks to destinations like Burr Lane –where we tried to catch sticklebacks in a ditch – or Jobson’s Bridge – where nearby woods provided scope for hide and seek and trying to evade the teacher.
Eventually, many of the evacuees went back home, and the rest were absorbed into our classes.
Spalding was bombed several times. It was assumed that the large railway yard perhaps gave the appearance of an industrial town or else that bombs were just being unloaded when the intended target had not been found.
The reason didn’t matter –it made no difference to the effect.
The biggest raid, in May of 1941, was the fire-bomb raid on the town centre.
Pennington’s large shop and adjacent buildings were burnt right down.
So was Boots, then on the south-east side of the Hole-in-the-Wall, and Woolworth’s in Bridge Street, along with adjacent Ashwells stationers on one side and Cawthorne’s chip shop on the other.
The Liberal Club in the Crescent was destroyed, and many other premises had lesser damage.
The newly-opened telephone exchange in Gore Lane received fire bombs on its roof, but they were quickly extinguished by engineers and left only scorch marks.
On the same night, explosive bombs were dropped too, one of them killing a man on Welland Road.
From our house in Pinchbeck Street, we watched the flames leaping high in the sky, and I was disgruntled because my father would not allow us to go up town to watch the spectacle.
The fire brigade did its best, but was overwhelmed with the scale of the fires, and couldn’t save the major buildings, which smouldered on for days.
I don’t remember the dates of other raids.
One night we were woken with loud bangs when five bombs were dropped in Mr D’Alcorn’s field, next to the railway and King’s Road footbridge.
Nobody was hurt, but the nearby house lost many windows.
On another occasion, I believe a Sunday afternoon, two twin-engined aeroplanes were heard approaching the town one after the other, while exchanging sporadic machine gun fire.
The front one was a German bomber, the follower a British Beaufighter. As did many others, I stood outside the house and watched. As the planes reached the town, the German began to circle over it with the Beaufighter following.
Gunfire continued with no apparent effect and the fighter could not catch the bomber.
After three or four circles, a stick of four or five bombs was dropped over the east side of the town and the German made off, with the Beaufighter following ineffectively.
Possibly it was in that raid that damage was done in Alexandra Road and Stonegate, where a woman was killed.
I don’t remember in which raid, but a high explosive bomb destroyed the very large and magnificent cage in Ayscoughee, which – from memory – held an artificial ‘mountain’, trees/shrubs, water, several peacocks, pheasants and various other birds and animals.
Air crashes, raids and cherryade
In the second part, John remembers what life was like as a young boy living in Spalding during the Second World War.
I remember four plane crashes around Spalding.
A Wellington bomber crashed and burnt out to the west of Spalding, killing all the crew.
A Hawker Typhoon/Tempest fighter crashed near Beggar’s Bush Lane, the pilot reportedly killed.
A Manchester bomber, forerunner of the Lancaster, crash-landed just south of Wykeham, the crew all escaping.
The most spectacular crash was a B17 Flying Fortress. B17s went out on daytime raids.
They travelled most of the way in flights of three aircraft, and the sky over Spalding was one of the places where they assembled after taking off individually. We often watched them at it.
On one particular day, we were watching, when one of the bombers suddenly dived, then lost a wing. Plane and wing came down separately, spinning slowly all the way.
Then the tail broke away from the fuselage with the tail gunner inside.
The plane hit the ground in fields next to the cross roads of Old Fendyke Road and Fulney Drove near Weston Hills.
The main body and wing were to the west of the crossroads, and the tail to the east.
The crew were all killed, except the tail gunner, who managed to get out and parachute down.
Many of us leapt on bikes and sped off to see the crash – and perhaps get souvenirs (callous youth); but the police were there already and kept us all away.
It seems the plane’s oxygen supply had gone faulty, and the inexperienced pilot had dived to get to a lower level, but pulled out of the dive too sharply for the plane’s structure – hence the wing’s failure.
There were numbers of servicemen stationed around the town. Some of them were in the huts built around the main playing field at the Grammar School early in the war.
Various regiments were stationed there including part of the Parachute Regiment immediately before Arnhem.
We pupils made friends of the soldiers and were indulged with snacks from the cookhouse at break time.
At one time, there were Bofors anti-aircraft guns positioned on the west side of the field, and we were allowed to sit in the control seats and spin the handles that swung the guns around to aim at imaginary aircraft.
During its residency, the Parachute Regiment fixed up a section of a Horsa glider on quite high stands at the Welland Road end of the field, and the troops used to practice jumping out of it, landing with quite a thump as they hit the ground.
With so many servicemen (British and foreign) stationed in the town and district, there was an extra dimension to the town’s social life.
In fact, not all of the new residents were men. Apart from some female members of the services, there was quite a substantial number of Land Army ladies around.
Schoolchildren encountered them most when doing farm work in the holidays, when mutual good-natured teasing was often the order of the day.
Quite a few of the visitors, including the foreigners, made friends with local families, and I would guess that some of those links endured until well after the war.The wider war was a daily talking point at school. In the classrooms, before lessons began, we would gather round battle maps, bought from Woolworth’s, and argue about the progress of whatever major action was going on at the time.
If the air-raid siren went, it was out to the shelters, where lessons couldn’t be continued. We sat on forms and played cards or battleships by the light of candles or torches, and hoped that the warning would last long enough to miss the rest of the lesson.
One special feature of life, was the annual savings week, designed to boost savings, with a big ‘thermometer’ fixed to the front of the Corn Exchange to show the target and the achievement of the town.
An additional objective was to boost morale by giving everyone the chance to make a contribution. Each year there was a different one of the services named as the recipient of the benefit.
So, for instance, when it was the RAF’s turn, we might be aiming to save enough to buy a Spitfire.
There were usually special exhibits, and one year it was a captured Messerschmidt 109 fighter, which was set up in the Cattle Market.
Children could take turns to climb into the pilot’s seat and pretend to fly it.
Along with other school mates, I joined the ambulance cadets (junior section of St John’s Ambulance), which was led by Grammar School master Mr Groves. We learned first aid, and I never could remember in which order to apply the seven bandages for a thigh splint.
But we did other things too. The most exciting was when we learned to crew a fire engine, jumping off the engine at its destination, coupling to the water supply, and rolling out hoses until we fixed the nozzle and began squirting water. That was done in Westlode Street. Another time, we acted as casualties in a mock air raid, an exercise that involved several services.
I had a piece of glass appearing to go through my hand, but actually fixed with putty, and with copious ‘blood’ spread around the wound.
The ‘blood’ was red cherryade colouring from Measures, the soft drinks firm of The Crescent.
VE Day saw rejoicing crowds packing Spalding market place and strolling the town all day and, in the evening, several places in the district had huge bonfires with crowds around them well into the night.
But there was still the war in the far east and another three months until the atom bombs finally put an end to WW2.
Memories of the 1930s railways in Spalding
John Tippler has put some of his memories down on paper for readers to enjoy.
In the 1930s, crossing the King’s Road footbridge, which spanned the 13 tracks of the shunting yard, was a small boy’s delight.
There were usually several shunting engines at work, backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, with great puffs of smoky steam billowing upwards to envelop the bridge as they passed under.
Now and then came the special treat of a faster passenger train arriving at Spalding.
We rushed with excitement towards the spot where a train was about to go under the bridge, so as to be lost in the big warm steam cloud it puffed up.
When we grew a bit bigger (and naughtier) we would try to drop a stone down the engine chimney to see if it would explode. It never did!
At night time, the station and shunting yard were still busy, and the view from the bridge was a wonderland of dozens of red and green signal lights filling the dark – bright oil lights shining at the top of the forest of posts, for stop or go.
Somebody’s regular job was trimming all those wicks and refilling with oil.
In part of the shunting yard, railway horses were still used for shunting.
A horse would be hitched to a wagon and driven into a trot beside the track to get the wagon rolling at a decent speed.
The shunter ran alongside and at the critical moment would reach out with his long pole and detach the towing gear from the wagon, which would roll forward over a chosen set of points and join up with the desired train. Then new points settings were made as required and the process repeated until all waiting wagons were on their new trains.
A large part of the despatched goods traffic was locally grown flowers and produce going off to London and other big markets, and on Tuesdays trainloads of animals arrived for the cattle market at their own special separate platform.
Handy small boys could always get a job helping shoo the moo-ing, squealing, baa-ing animals in the right direction.
The station – always busy – had seven working platforms serving the (three?) railway companies that used it.
Two sets of tracks went off to the north, and four sets to the south, and there was an engine turntable just south of the station.
For those who had to wait, there was a refreshment room and waiting rooms, equipped with very cosy coal fires in the cold season.
W H Smith had a bookstall there – and no shop in town. And at that time you could get a train to London without having to change at Peterborough, the last London train being at 10pm or 10.30pm in the evening.
Over quite a bit of the town, people got to recognise the sound of some of the special trains going through.
At around 3.30am, the mail train stopped here with mail and newspapers on its way north.
About an hour later, the fish train on its way from Grimsby to London, went rattling through non-stop.
During the afternoon, the long important boat train, running daily from Liverpool to Harwich to link those keyports, raced through Spalding and out via the March line.
Winsover road crossing was bigger and busier in those days.
It had four rail tracks guarded by two sets of four gates, collectively known as ‘the curséd eight gates’.
A favourite saying was that if caught in a traffic queue while a train passed, you had time to leave your car, get a quick haircut at ‘slasher Moore’s’ at the top of Glenn Avenue, and be back in your car in time for the traffic to move on. Cyclists and pedestrians didn’t have to wait – they could use the footbridge provided.
Spalding’s largest signal box was sited on the Park Road side of the crossing.
My friend’s father was one of the signalmen in the 1930s, and the two of us sometimes used to visit him in the box – quite against company rules I imagine.
We were kept well away from the long row of control levers, but eagerly listened for the dinging bell that signalled a train due.
At that point, we were sometimes allowed to spin one or both of the big wheels that operated the crossing gates, first to let the train through, then to let the road traffic go again. Such a sense of importance for young boys!
Finally, there was a little publicised service unknowingly provided by the railways.
Near the St John’s Road end of the Green Lane footbridge, was a stable for some of the railway horses. It was not locked.
After cinema closing time, homeward bound courting couples would often make a diversion into there. One can only suppose they were especially fond of horses.
In more ways than one, the 1930s railways were part of the life of the town.
There was always something going on.