Albert Atter - The IronStone

My name is Albert Atter and I was born in a house near the Chapel on Back Lane on November 1st, 1930. Then when I was five years old we all moved to Woolsthorpe and lived in a council house on the Woolsthorpe Road. We were a family of nine, five sisters and four brothers. A few of them are not around now, but I still have my five sisters. Their names are Betty, Nancy, Margaret, Wendy, Peggy, Cecil, also Ron and Ernie. Cecil was the oldest and was, at one time, in the Coldstream Guards. We had a 3-bedroomed house and three of us boys had one bedroom and the sisters were all in another one. When we got older two of us slept in my Mam and Dad's room because there wasn't the room you see. My Mam was very good coping with all these children although it was hard work; it was so expensive to live.

She had a heart attack at sixty five, and died. Her name was Winifred and she was a Goodliffe before she was married and came from Skillington. We came to Colsterworth School and we walked down to Colsterworth every day in a morning at nine o'clock, home again for dinner, then back again after dinner and then home walking again. I was a good walker; you were hungry by the time you got home. We didn't get school dinners, nothing like that although I think we got a bottle of milk at that time. Miss Ball was the first teacher in the infants, then it was Miss Lowe, Mrs Harrison in the village hall across the road, then it was Mr Godby and Mr Harrison. I got the cane at times but they were all good teachers. When you come to think that nowadays some people can't read or write. I've known kids who can't even do their tables, they can't get above 5 times!

At Colsterworth School you learnt the lot up to 12 times. We got a good education. I used to like singing and acting a bit because there were three of us, Denis Death, who died in an accident in the harvest field, and Ray Selby and me at Christmas-time singing "We Three Kings!" When Denis died we were all rabbiting and he put his arm up and shouted when he saw a rabbit and this bloke fired his gun and hit Denis under the arm. There used to be quite a lot of accidents in the harvest field. Then there was that young lad just off the A1. He got blown up with a hand grenade. He found this grenade and pulled the pin out. I helped carry him. He is buried at Gunby.

I stayed at school until I was 14. You can't imagine what I looked like at 14 going into work. Now they go at 16 and they still look small. To start with I went into a Brewery, Mowbrays in Grantham. I got there the first morning and there were three men waiting for me. They said to me, "Do you drink beer, Albert?" I said, "No". "Well, you're going to now!" they said. And they laid me on these rollers and tipped a pint of beer down my throat. It was awful! It was a sort of initiation ceremony. It put me off beer for a long time. I have never been a beer-drinker, though I used to like a shandy now and then. My father never went in a pub all his life even though he lived opposite the Sir Isaac Newton pub on the Woolsthorpe Road. I used to watch the coopers making the barrels for the beer but generally I was bottling beer using the machines while I was there but after that I went to work in a pot factory on Bridge-end Road, owned by Dickie Dale who, I believe, was Mayor of Grantham at one time. That was very good; there was only two of us working there.

I would think I would be 18 by now and I had to go and do my National Service. I did 18 months in England and Germany. I was in the Sherwood Foresters and this was roughly in 1949. I was in the infantry training in Germany. This was after the War and they didn't like us there then. They were dead against us. I have never been back since but it was unbelievable at that time. We had to go through Hanover to come back home, and it was smashed to the ground. There wasn't a building standing. I would love to go back just to see what it is like. I was stationed in Goslar, right on the Russian border at an old German Air Force camp. It was very tense up there. You had to go right up into the mountains for a fortnight every now and again and there we used to go on patrol.

My Dad always kept a couple of pigs and my Mam sent me a parcel of haslet and pork pies once but I was up in the mountains and by the time I got down again, all the stuff had gone mouldy! We could see the Russians but there was no contact, they never spoke. They were very sharp to people crossing over the border. We came back once and the Corporal said to one of the lads, "I want my gun cleaning". We were sat round this big table in this hotel - they were hiring hotels all the time - and the lad picked the gun up, cowboy style and spun it round, pointed it at his mate and shot him through the head. There was a court marshal, but I have never known from that day to this what happened. He would have been in terrible trouble.

Then I came out and started on the United Steel works until it finished in 1973. I was a driller and a shot-firer. We used to deal with 5lb gelignite pills and we would thread cortex through each one to lower them down into the ground. We had a prong thing to make a hole through the gelignite and push the cortex through. If it were summer-time you got terrible headaches from the fumes. You had to lean back to try to escape them. In hot weather it used to seep out. We used to drill holes right down into the ironstone so we could drop these pills in and blast the ironstone to pieces. Then the 100RB shovel would scoop it up and load it into the wagons. I worked in all the pits and you got used to knowing how far down you had to go. The first one was the North Pit and then I went to the Cringle, Cottesmore, Exton Park, all over. The Marion 5323 stripping shovel came later about 1962 when it was British Steel. It was a marvellous machine. You could get a car in its bucket, it was that big. They did have other big navvies, like the 5360 shovels that were there all through the Wartime. They were in No. 2 Pit. When we were drilling the holes for the explosive, we would drill on a line about a yard away from the edge of the face, put the 5lb pills down, one to each hole and couple them all up with the cortex. Then we would push the plunger and up they would all go together. Sometimes, the pill would stick in the hole and we couldn't get it to go down to the bottom. Then we had to warn everyone nearby to move away, and hold up red flags and turn the machines round to limit any damage such as broken windows. Once we had a new manager, Mr McKenna, and was walking past me. "Where are you going? I've got a red flag!" He said, "I am the Under manager, I can go by if I want to". Just then they exploded the pill that was stuck and there were stones flying through the air! "Oh!" he said, "I see what you mean now."

There was a fellow called Taffy Millard came down from Corby where he was working on the Ironstone and he came to help us out because we were getting a bit behind with the work. He backed the drills right up to the face of the workings. I said, "Taffy, you are doing the wrong thing doing that. You are too near the edge. You'll have trouble"! But he would do it his way. Taffy let all these off and all the blown-up face fell down and filled the 4-foot cutting where the rails were for the trucks, absolutely filled it! Taffy said to George Woods, "Hey up George! Can Albert and Edward Dexter help me clear all this up?" It was teeming it down with rain and George had his trilby hat on and his pipe upside down in his mouth and he said, "You filled it in, now you can fill it out! You get rid on it!" He had to shovel it out or use his hands to chuck it the other side of the 4-foot. "I'll listen to you next time" he said to me. He'd had experience of blasting at the other pit where he came from, but mainly he was on the whitestone, (limestone). There were gangs blasting on the whitestone as well as on the Ironstone workings. The Marion used to tip the whitestone out of the way, it was just rubbish. They would take it from one side of the railway and tip it over the other side. It could be 50 foot down before you got to the ironstone and everything above it had to be shifted out of the way. I think that some were deeper than that. All the soil had to taken off as well, using the graders. They didn't do that in the first 30 years I don't suppose, till later in time because they had got to resoil the land. It was all Alps before they got that job done, and it was covered with blackberries! The job was good when the weather was good! The hours were 7 until half-past 3, I think. The men on the Marion worked 2 shifts.

A great many people worked on the ironstone and after the War there were a lot of Displaced Persons who had got uprooted during the War and couldn't get home, or didn't want to. They were housed up at Buckminster and they were in a gang doing what was called slewing. Bert Darby was in charge of that gang and after the ironstone had been taken off in the wagons, they had to slew the track with iron bars on to the next stretch of working. That was very hard work. They went round different pits doing this work. Alek Zachowicz was a shot-firer but he had to mix diesel with ammonia to make explosive and put it in big polythene bags and put a 5lb pill in with it. The bags would be as tall as a man. This was in the whitestone and these bags were lowered down to the bottom of the drilled hole. Oh! they did stink! I suppose Alek got used to it but if you were only doing it at odd times, it was horrible. George Howitt used to be foreman over us a lot of the time. He was always on the go, like he was in the village. He was going round the pits in the van one day, and he says to me, "Albert, do you drive?" and I said "No". "Well, you're going to have a go now. Get in this van." I got in the van and went round with him. I had never been in one before. We got to Crabtree Corner with me driving and he said, "We'd better stop now, we are going on this other road". Then he changed his mind and we went on down the old road between Woolsthorpe and Skillington. Part of it is still there. I kept going and I got to 70 miles an hour! So I had to stop and give up. Once when we were in North Pit he came to me and Santy Dexter and said, "I have a serious message to give you. Only let 3 shots off at a time". We were near Woolsthorpe houses you see. So that's what we done. Anyway he come tearing up, going mad. "I thought I told you to only let three shots off at a time". "George," we said." They are all there look. We are still letting them off 3 at a time." "Well," he said. "Down at Bridge End there is a young horse that is going mad when you let some off, running round and it won't stop!" The vibrations were travelling on the level of the railway as the fog kept the sound down and they were upsetting this horse.

In Woolsthorpe the people used to reckon that when we were blasting, the ornaments on the mantelpieces used to rattle and sometimes their windows, which were steel- framed, would crack! Mr Bailey - known as Bash'em Bailey behind his back - used to be the boss when I was there. He came up to me one day when I was drilling and he said, "Now then, Albert, are you 'razorbacks' owd boy?" My dad was called that because he never had a shirt, he used to rip them to bits. I said, "Yes, why?" "Well," he said, "They are building some houses in the Crescent. Would you like one?" I had just got married at that time so I said, "Yes please". And that was in the spring of the year and by the autumn I got a letter to say that I had got one. They were council-built but if he wanted a house for one of his men, he got it. He must have been coming to the end of his time when I was there. Then there was Mr Biddle and then Mr Timberlake. There were different bosses for different parts of the works. Biddle was over the pits and someone else would be over the engineering side and so on. When the ironstone finished it was a couple of years afterwards before they finished levelling everything out. Some of the men went to Scunthorpe. Ritchie was on the engineering side and he went to Scunthorpe to work instead of taking redundancy. I went to Salversons and I stopped there a little while but I didn't like the cold. Then I tried it at Coles Cranes that used to be up Dysart Road in Grantham and I was a crane driver. But they were going to finish so I got my job back at Salversons and stopped there for seventeen and a half years. I got used to the cold. The best time of the year up there is this time of year when it is light almost all night long. But we used to get so hot unloading the lorries, we used to go and stand in the Cold Store to cool off and to get rid of the flies!

I met my wife because she lived next door. We lived in number 2 Woolsthorpe Road and the wife lived in number 3. This was before they renumbered all the houses in 1967. We got married in 1957 at the church. Canon Barraclough came back from his holidays to marry us. When he spoke during the service he told of how when he first came, he found 2 boys with catapults firing at the church windows, Me and Bill Dent. He went into the school the next day and told us off! We had the reception in the British Legion hut. Her mother belonged to the Legion. We lived in the Close for a number of years and then we went back into number 3. We had a son and a daughter, Karen and Kevin. And now we have grand children, Jonathan and Carla, and Christopher, Kelly and Julie. Then we have 2 great-grandchildren, Kyle and Bailey. It is nice to have them. The wife suffers from bad arthritis and can't do much these days. They say that they can't do anything for her. I like to go bowling; it is my hobby, though my arthritis makes it a bit hard these days. Jonathan and Carla bowl as well, and they are very good at it.

If I had to do it all over it again, I would not go on the Ironstone. The conditions in winter were terrible; you were in water all the time. When you come to think of all the springs coming through Colsterworth - like that one at the bottom of School Lane. There was water coming through all the time. The Glebe was a pit that was part of the mining excavations and it filled up with water and so they used it as a fishing place. Then all of a sudden the water disappeared, I don't know why, and it was used as a dump and then covered over. You can't see where it was now. I slipped up when I came out of the Army. We had to do 2 years in the Territorials after we came out, going to summer camps and so on. We had to take a fortnight off work but we got paid for it. Anyway the Sergeant came to me and said, "Albert, are you going to sign on for another year? I think you ought because they are going to do away with the half-tracks and they are going on to jeeps and lorries and you have got to learn to drive all of them". But I didn't do it. I should have done it because it would have given me some opportunities. I don't know what I would have done but it would have opened up a lot of possibilities for me. My best times were when I was in Goslar in Germany in the Army. You had to do a month at a time up there and it was like training for war. I liked that.

I'll tell you just one more thing that happened there. We were digging all these trenches and during the big black-outs we had to go in these trenches and these tanks would be coming along and run straight over us. The trenches were just on the edge of the wood and we had to camouflage them. We did them really well, you couldn't see anything of them. Anyway, one of the big knobs with the red band round his hat was coming round to inspect what we had done and this big chap fell in! We laughed and our Sergeant didn't half tell us off. But this big bloke got out and said, "Sergeant Major, how can you tell them lads off when I didn't see it and I fell in!" When did I start bowling? Well I am going back to when I was in my twenties. I was walking down Colsterworth street and someone said, "Albert, do you want a game of bowls?" "No," I said. "Well, we are one short, we want a team of 12 players". So I said, "Go on then". And I have been bowling ever since. Now, through arthritis I have had to give it in a bit. I like bowling and I've got my grandson and granddaughter playing as well. If he keeps it on he will be very good. To start with as far as I know, the bowls green was bought by twelve people. I was always told, whether it is true or not I don't know, the green cost 12, 1 apiece. I have heard that there used to be a pitch up at Millfield House. Mr Bailey used to have a piece of ground in front of the house for bowling. Bill Robinson, who was a big man at United Steel on the engineering side, used to run the club at one time. Before I started when we were kids, we used to climb up on the gate to watch and he used to clear us off. The club used to be in the Grantham League but now they have gone into the Stamford League because they don't require so many players. They are in the Belvoir League as well. We play quite a few matches, home and away. Ken Scott looks after the ground, and Mick Needham, several of them do it. They don't get paid for it, it is all for free. The hut used to be a school. We only used to have a little hut for the woods and the mower. We were offered part of this big school, it was in sections, and we could have it free if we took it down and carted it away. But now we have been trying to raise money because the roof needs replacing. But no-one will give us any money. We have tried all over. You see we can't make a lot of money and the Lottery won't give us any. You have to have so much money before the Lottery will give you some more. The Lottery is supposed to help small clubs. I have always said that someone should go into that a bit more, and take someone like Jonathan and Carla with them and say "This is their future if they want to go bowling. They don't like football or cricket or nothing like that". We wouldn't like to see the club finish though it's going downhill fast. I mean we used to go bowling at Skegness every June. Well we went for a day yesterday. Years ago you couldn't move, there used to between two and three hundred people bowling but now its gone down to about a hundred.