Recycling, Craftsmen and Bonuses

In the 1970s I worked for Hackney Council at the Defoe Road Depot, as a plumber. Once I was paired with George the roofer, and his labourer Tom. We had to strip and renew an ‘up and over’ slate roof with dormer windows, in an end of terrace row of housing, which became Kings Crescent Estate.

George was a first class roofer, but at sixty plus he was finding ladder work challenging. Being slower effected our bonuses. Tom and I were chasing bonuses and thought George would be a hindrance.

Once we were on site we saw several rows above and below the dormer windows with 10”x 20” slates. However in between, were what George termed ‘fancy tear dropped petals’. Both the slate and the windows were in a poor state of repair. We agreed that if I helped strip the slates, they would act as labourers with the heavy lead work.

George carefully started at the roof ridge line and as we got into the body of the roof, we salvaged all the slates we could. They were seventy to a hundred years old and many were beyond saving. By mid-day we reached the petals and George urged caution. All of those that were broken would need re-cutting in the shape of a tear drops, which could only be cut by hand. Tom’s face was a picture of frustration as he saw his bonus going up in smoke. The normal time for re-cutting was ten to fifteen minutes.

Stripping old slate work is hard, dirty work. We’d ordered an ample replacement slates. By afternoon we’d stripped the front and sheeted it with a large tarpaulin. The next day, I left George and Tom to concentrate on the back of the roof stripping old broken slates and replacing them with the saved one we had taken from the front. I concentrated on stripping the dormers of their lead work. That was easy enough except for the secret solder dots on the cheeks of each dormer. They had solid brass screws to hold the lead underneath their soldered ring.

By mid-week we’d made good progress. George and Tom had worked their way up from the eaves slates over the gutter line to the first row of tear drops. George turned up that day wearing an old leather apron. He created a crude bench out of the timber and ply and seated on an old upturned bucket – he began cutting new tear drop slates out of the slates, which were on site.

George was amazing, using his experience with a sharp slate axe, he trimmed those new slates to the same profile as the originals. He only took a few minutes and even when the tear drop was formed the turned his axe over and with stiletto on the reverse of the axe punched two nail holes in just the right position, so the each new slate sat exactly in line with its neighbours.

We weren’t disappointed with that week’s work and were very pleased with the generous bonus we got three weeks later.


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