Hard Work in the 1970s

Bob died some years ago and was a formidable builder. He and I gravitated together. We teamed up on small construction projects, with the occasional larger job. Once we were in The George, just off of Lea Bridge Road, Hackney. Bob told me he’d landed a big job in a furniture factory. This was good for me as it wasn’t too far from my house.

The factory had suffered a small fire in a storage area. Wood was stored before being turned into wardrobes, chests-of-drawers and similar items. The fire had got into the roof space and badly charred the roof joists and bracings. It was decided to start the job the following weekend. We bought wood and piled it onto our estate cars We left work very promptly meeting up at the timber yard. Bob’s car was soon laden down with wood. He also brought crawl boards and two ladders for roof work.  I had sheet ply tied down on my roof rack along with felt underlay. My car was jammed thick with tools buckets and vast amounts of assorted screws and nails.

We stopped off at The George meeting Barney. He was the general manager of the factory. Barney opened to big iron gates and gave us the padlock key. The part of the factory we were interested in was a low one story building attached at one end to the main factory with a gable end at the other. Half the roof was in a dire condition. I could see that many of the slates were heat damaged. The slates we couldn’t save we slung to the ground. Those that were salvageable I stacked into piles of twelve. I carried the piles, one handed, down the ladder, balanced on my head.We work steadily through until late evening getting filthy dirty. Before we finished for the night Bob dragged out three enormous tarpaulins from the back seat of his car. We agreed to be there at eight Saturday morning.

The ridge beam was the most damaged; followed by a number of rafters the purlins were not so damaged. A long day of carpentry followed the most difficult was to replace the heavy ridge beam. Rafters were notched in without much trouble and we even managed to sheet out the plywood base boards. After a long exhausting day, we had a few pints that night.

We planned a seven a.m. start on the Sunday but Bob was late. I started nailing down the felt underlay with galvanised clout nails and had just finished when Bob turned up. He’d been to see a mate in the roofing/restoration trade who supplied us with reclaimed slates. We worked well, and by mid-morning we’d carefully measured out and battened the slate ribs. Again by measuring the length of the roof, we calculated the number of “under eves slates” to lay longwise. This minimised the overhang at the gable end. We knocked up the zinc soakers that waterproofed to wall end slates And so upward and onward we progressed until the roof was covered. At the ridge, it was quite simple form a zinc ridge plate with cleats under to top slate attached to the uppermost batons.

The work looked first rate and all that was left was to replace the gutter soffit board. An O.G. cast aluminium gutter as well as a plastic rain water stack down to the ground.
During the following week I skipped off work early, to butter in the end slates with a sand and cement mixture, thus creating a fully weather tight roof structure.

£300 doesn’t sound a lot these days, but it paid for a family holiday at a self-catering house in Kent.

My youngest son also believes in a work ethic, so long as it keeps you in front of poverty.


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