“I’m sorry – I’ll read that again, or I’m sorry I haven’t a clue” the popular radio programme chaired for years, by Humphry Lyttleton, had been running for decades. I never did find out the rules to the panellists starting off at one station and having to end up at ‘Mornington Crescent’. For years I thought it was just a made up name. So I was surprised some fifty odd years ago, when I was serving as an apprentice plumber to be told to report to a building site in Crowndale Road, Camden. My plumber (Tony Frost) would meet me there. I asked how do I get to the site and was told to go by tube on the Northern Line to Mornington Crescent come out of the station and Crowndale Road was right there, just find the site and ask for the plumber’s hut.
By this time I was about two or three years into my apprenticeship and was quite used to moving from site to site. Most of the jobs I had worked on were big multi million pound construction sites but the Crowndale site was just a small sixteen unit block of flats, with ladder access via the scaffolding to each of the four floor levels. Because it was such a small site I quickly got to know everyone – it was a very relaxed site with conversations in the canteen, between the various tradesmen sometimes stretching from the morning tea break right through and beyond the dinnertime. The site foreman didn’t seem to mind that no work was being done but Tony my governor did. My task was to put up the two four inch LCC cast iron soil stacks, with branches to take the four pans at each level as well as the sinks, baths and basin wastes. Six foot cast iron pipes are heavy and Tony said I could use the old petrol driven hoist on the ground in the centre of the scaffold. I had not used one of these before, but I had seen “The ganger man” (senior labourer) work it. Basically it was just a flat one inch sheet of plywood. It was supported by two iron prongs attached to an iron yolk that raised or lowered the ply platform by pulling hard on the drive rope. This action lifted an arm on the motor which raised the platform or when the platform had been cleared a more gentle pull on the rope would lower the platform until the rope was let go altogether and the brake was automatically applied. It then occurred to me that I could load the platform with my pipes and various junctions and rather than just stand on the ground pulling on the rope until it got to the level needed, and then having to climb the ladders to unload the pipe and fittings – I could stand on the platform, keeping a constant pressure on the rope by gripping it hand over hand it would save all that ladder climbing. Well it was a bit scary and dangerous but there was no such thing as a Health and Safety Act and so I had loaded out each floor in no time at all. Tony didn’t care how I had achieved the task, so long as it was done!