Back in the early seventies whilst working as a newly appointed foreman plumber at the DLO (Direct Labour Organisation) for the London Borough of Hackney a job came in for a roof repair to the Stoke Newington Town Hall. Of course, both I and Bob, my supervisor, had been to see the problem before Bob asked Fred Roast, (a new plumber) to lay some lead flashing between a parapet and a further lead covered flat expanse of roof. Fred was quite unusual in that he brought his teenaged son (also Fred) with him to work as his plumbers mate. They both became known as Fred Senior and Fred Junior. Fred Senior came with about twenty five years experience of self-employment and he really knew his trade.
Within a week, the builders merchants in Matthias Road received our order for a roll of twelve pound sheet lead*. I turned up at the loading bay in our yellow transit van leaving the rear doors open. The plumbing counter staff knew me and when I said I was picking up the sheet lead the counter-hand said he would bring it to the “bay”. Sure enough, he soon appeared with the roll of lead on their fork lift truck. It was quickly deposited in the back of my van and after I had signed the docket, I was soon on my way to Church Street and the splendid Town Hall.
The Town Hall was deceptive in its appearance as it was built in four levels, two above ground, with at third level built over the Town Hall Chamber. The fourth was a very large basement area that held both the canteen as well as any number of rooms dedicated to store the archives and business of the old Borough’s offices.
I pulled into the rear car park area and there was the double sixteen rung ladder propped up against the two storey roof level. I could have got both ‘Freds’ to come and lift the roll of lead out of the van and take onto the roof themselves, but I was curious to see what preparations they had made installing the new flashings. So I hoisted the lead onto my shoulder and making sure it was evenly balanced. I knew it would be heavy but I hadn’t worked out that it would weigh about 200 pounds. I reasoned to myself it would only weigh about as much as three industrial bags of cement, which in my earlier days on building sites I had often been called upon to help unload lorry loads of cement for the brick-layers. In those days I used to carry two bags on one of my shoulders, so one more I thought would not be impossible.
It was indeed very heavy over my right shoulder but walking to the ladder slowly I thought it might be easier when my right hand and arm were firmly attached to each higher rung as I progressed to the roof. As I got there, luckily both the Fred’s had heard the aluminium ladder creaking in protest as I ascended and quickly took the lead from my shoulder as soon as I reached roof level. By that time I must confess I was sweating profusely.
*This was eighteen feet long and eighteen inches wide. The twelve pounds refers to the weight of twelve inches times eighteen inches wide: this is a linier foot. Therefore this roll weighed 216 pounds or just under a hundred kg.