Millfields Road Cleaning Depot.

It is a large complex set of buildings on Millfields Road Clapton Park in Hackney, (London) the site was tucked between the power station on the bend of the river and Clapton Dog track. I first went there in 1963 to investigate an obvious major leak pouring water through the path/roadway. I quickly decided that the  1 inch  lead water main pipe which fed the laundry and the old coal boiler at the back of the bath house, probably needed to be replaced.  I was a bit taken aback to meet Fred, the site foreman who was a large man with a shaggy white beard streaked with grey and a head of hair that resembled a mad Einstein character.  I explained that the old lead main that I later exposed in five different test trenches had crystallised over the century or more that it had been buried under the central wide path that ran right to the back of the site that backed onto the river Lea – and it would take the best part of a week for me to replace it. Therefore it would be better to close the site down for the week. Fred was not impressed saying, that I clearly had no idea why that would not be possible. He went on to explain that the laundry washed the local Hackney and Homerton hospital sheets on a weekly basis as well as being open for the public to do their washing, I was asked to follow him to the bath house where there were five big six foot roll top baths separated by flimsy wooden patricians – he went on to tell me that from time to time the police would take tramps off of the streets and especially if they were covered with lice, fleas or other vermin he or a member of his staff was expected to bath them and burn their clothes in the boiler. The two isolation houses on his site also had to be kept ready to house individuals and sometime families suspected of have “scarlet fever or diphtheria” which was once rife in the slums of Hackney when the site was built in the late 1800s, but even now in the 1960s, local Doctors instructed individuals to be isolated from the rest of the community. So with a gang of labourers we began digging a new trench beside the old mains pipe the whole length of the site and it was arranged that I would simply cut off the old pipe at the MWB (Metropolitan Water Board) valve on a Sunday afternoon by  wiping a joint between the new soft copper main I had laid and the stub of the old MWB valve. Of course it would mean I would just have to sacrifice my next several weekends worth to overtime to connect into the new main and install all new plumbing to the boiler, baths storage tanks and the rest of the domestic supplies, which I reluctantly let myself be talked into by my boss. The icing on the cake for me was the fact that in those days the council was not that concerned over the value of the old lead pipe and assumed that I had left the old pipe buried. Well somehow a lot of heavy dirty old lead pipe found its way into the boot of my car. The scrap dealers yard in Leabridge Road was happy enough to exchange several crisp pound notes for my cargo and my car springs were not complaining once the load was jettisoned.

(Mike)

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