Noel Sims - The Ironstone

I am Noel Sims. I was born on the 1st of December, 1932 at Mill Cottages in Colsterworth, near Mill Farm just off the Stainby Road. My grandparents had a road haulage business in the late nineteenth century in Sparkbrook in Birmingham. When I say a road haulage business, it was horses and drays. They had 10 or 11 drays on the road every day but they had over 14 or 15 horses. Mostly they went to the two railway stations in Birmingham to pick up loads which was mainly beer, delivering it to all the pubs. My father had to go, with some of his brothers, into the Army in the First World War and that split up the family completely. All the horses and drays were sold as there was no-one to look after them. The breweries took them over and my grandfather moved to Leicester where he did the same work.

When my father came out of the Army, his first job was at Wansford building the new bridge over the A1. The A1 was single carriage-way then. Much later when it became dual carriage-way, another bridge was built alongside. Jack Sergeant and George Hall were working on the bridge at the same time, and when it was finished they came to Colsterworth with my father. They all lodged together at 78 High Street with Mrs Scott (later Mrs Ross). She had two daughters and my father married one of them. My grandmother took in lodgers because it was the only way she could get money to bring her two daughters up after my grandfather was killed on the ironstone. When they were married my mother and father moved into Mill Cottages and that was where I was born, and then they went up the Bourne Road next to the Doves above the Post Office, and ended up at 78 High Street. I had a brother, Roy, who was born in 1934 and who died 10 years ago. My grandparents on my mother`s side lived in Wood Cottages by Twyford Woods, where the car park is now.

They were the Scotts and we are related to Ken Scott. After 14 or 15 years we moved to where my grandparents lived at 78 High Street, the first stone house.from the corner. My grandparents bought that house in 1945 or `46 . It cost them a lot of money for that time. I think the price was 275. It was put on the market recently for over 200,000. I am saving up to buy it back again. When I was a boy, I did not go playing football or cricket with the rest of the lads, nor boxing with Mr Merritt. I went about on my bike taking messages - `Can you go and see this bloke?` and `Take this note and make sure he gets it by eight o`clock tonight`- and so on, though I didn`t earn a penny. When my father made a sort of trolley out of an old pram, I used it to go carting rubbish for people up to the pit on Bourne Road. I got threepence or fourpence then, or maybe sixpence if I took two loads. I did it for Jim Modd`s wife and Mary Stedman`s parents and other people in the village. I did it at the week-ends with my brother. I would push and he would have a rope pulling the trolley along. So I was in waste disposal when I was six or seven years old.

I went to Colsterworth School under Mr Harrison and Mrs Harrison who we named Dobo and Snappy. He gave me the cane every Monday morning because he knew I wouldn`t behave myself for the rest of the week if he didn`t. No, he was a good teacher and we got on very well. They were very strict at that time, more than they are today. I only went to Colsterworth School and then when I left I went to work for Gem Coaches, although my mother insisted that I went to college one day a week. This was at Elsom House in Grantham. Cecil Blankley owned Gem Coaches and at first he started on the High Street. He built a garage next to the where the Co-op is now. Then he had a new one built up on the A1 where the Chinese restaurant is. One of his big garages was knocked down and a filling station built on the site, but two of his big garages are still there to this day. I was always fanatical about machines. Even when I was a boy at school, if I could get on a bus for a ride or a lorry it was the highlight of my day. Even today I love riding about.

When I was young my main interest was running up to Gem Coaches to their garage on the A1. I couldn`t get there fast enough, I was so fascinated with lorries and cars. Cis Blankley knew I liked them and he would take me out for a ride if he was going somewhere I could go to. After the war, he used to take me out to Spanhough and old airfields when he was buying old lorries and army vehicles. When he got his first aeroplane, it landed on the airfield up here, and it taxied down the road outside and the policemen stopped the traffic on the A1 . Then he went along the A1 which was still single carriageway and drove into his garage. He built a hovercraft and it was taxed to be driven on the A1. When he drove it into his yard, he then raised it and hovered it into his garage. He took it to Tattershall Lakes, hovered it round the lakes, hovered it out onto the land, lifted up the wheels and drove it down the road, put it on the loader and drove it back. I believe that hovercraft is in the museum at Oxford now. I gave him the engine for the hovercraft, I was doing recovery work even then, over 35 years ago. He wanted some parts from a Hillman Imp engine which was an aluminum engine. He wanted a light-weight one and I`d got one in the yard that had been damaged and the insurance company asked me to dispose of it for scrap. He wanted parts of it but I suggested that he had the complete engine because it was in good order rather than strip it down. I took the engine out and took it across to him and he put it into his hovercraft.

In his day, Cis Blankley was a very very clever man. I spent hours with him as a kid. He always said that he never had a son, only two daughters, but he adopted one and that was me. When I set up business here, I did no end of work for him. He died in 1983. I had lost my mother and father the previous year. I lost the three most important people in my life except for Shirley. I think the world of Mrs Blankley. I remember such happy days working for Cis Blankley. Jack Death used to work there, Jock Mills, Les Cotterill and Shirley`s dad. They used to call me the old boy. My wife, Shirley, was born the 6th of July 1936 at 1 School Lane, Colsterworth. Her mother did not like the house because it had a cellar. So they moved to number 3 (now 78) High Street, almost opposite the War Memorial. She lived there until she was 3 years old, well, two and a half years really because she went to live with her auntie for a while at that age because her Mum was poorly. Her mum was Phyllis Robinson before she was married. Then they went to live at Bridge End. She had 4 brothers though there is 2 brothers left, and a sister. Her dad drove for the Lincolnshire Road Car buses.

Well, I worked for Cis Blankley, driving on a provisional license from 1947 until I went into the Army in 1952. In the Army I passed my PSV test 2 months before I came out because I wanted to go driving. I then came out and worked for Cis Blankley again for another 4 years and then for British Steel. I was going to meet Shirley one day to take her out, and a young chap came to meet me. His name was Billy Robinson, and he asked me if I wanted a job at British Steel. I thought that sounded interesting and they offered me a bit more money so I took the job. Cis wasn`t too pleased at all. In 1959 they bought a 30-ton crane - which I still have today. Shirley and I were married in Colsterworth Church and she says that she was wearing a yellow dress because I liked yellow. There was one bridesmaid, her sister who was in pale blue. We went to the Isle of Wight on honeymoon. I had been stationed on the Isle of Wight in the Army and I thought it was a nice place, so we went there. We went by car to Borden in Hampshire where Eric Weldon went to live. We called in and had a cup of tea with them, left the car there and then went over by boat and the steam train to Shanklin. I am told that the steam train is still running.

When I knew that they were buying this 30-ton crane, I said to Harold Taylor, `You`ll be alright, Harold, a nice new crane for you to drive!` But he hadn`t got a driving license so I went and asked the management. I was paid to go to Cole`s place at Sunderland for training on it for a week. Some months after that I was told they had asked me to join them because they would be wanting someone to drive the crane. It was an enormous crane. The heaviest one they had until that time was one of 24 ton with 8 wheels but the one I drove weighed nearly 40 ton, on 3 axles and a six-wheel drive. The biggest one in the world at that time was a 50 tonner. Sparrows bought that at Bath. Then there was a 100 tonner and it went on from there. The iron ore had been dug for centuries. Even in the fields next to us where we were working, they were digging holes and getting the ore. Up the Stamford Road, they were using the quarries up there to get the hard core for the new A1, the bypass for Colsterworth People, like my father, learned how to blow up rocks and iron ore under water. Then he trained others to do the job. They had boxes with the powder in. But they had to get rid of those because people were pinching it. My father used to have a key and only a certain number of people had one to be allowed to use the main charges to blow the rock so they could dig it up. We had to have pumps at No. 2 pit because of the water.

All holiday times, Easter, Christmas, I used to go up to check the pumps. We had 6-inch diameter pumps to keep the water pumping into the River Witham. There was one case where it got so flooded, they couldn`t get up to No 2 pit and they had to get an 8-inch pump in from Scunthorpe to clear it. Because of his war injuries, my father was made a night watchman later. It was all open-cast mining except for Easton mine. It was underground there with three underground tunnels. I don`t know if they are still there but I understand that the chip factory was going to use them. The factory wanted to use the water from the underground mine because it was very good and clean. One of the tunnels, they pumped the air down. The second tunnel had a big conveyor belt that went round in a circle to carry the iron ore to the top. The third tunnel, a service route, was wide enough to drive the range-rover down to do the maintenance work. We took 96000 cubic yards of overburden off Number Two pit and took it to Easton in three lorries. On two or three occasions one of the lorries tipped up and I went with my crane to pick it up. I told them, and I learnt about this in the Army, they had put steps in the back. I said that they were dangerous and should be taken out. What used to happen, and they were only small steps, they would tip the lorry up and some of the load would stick on to these steps of this lorry and as they tipped it up, the lorry would tip over. This would cost a bit to repair the hydraulic rams sometimes but after they took the steps out of the lorries they had no more of them tip up. It is all about learning things even today.

I love learning. I know a certain person who lives in Grantham who knows the lot. I wish I did. I worked on that crane at British Steel for 17 years and then it went up to Northumberland. I was asked by Frank Jackson who lived up the Stamford Road to go up and show them how to change the jib extensions. However when I got there, they knew how to do it! The men who worked on these mines, I don`t think people realise how skilled they were and how hard they worked. And all these skills have gone. One day they`ll wake up and discover they are needed again. When this crane came on the market, I went up to have a look at it. But there had been an accident with the crane. What had happened, they had put a 60-foot jib in this crane to change the winding gear at this fluorspar mine where it was being used. It was like a coal mine and it had a 250-foot shaft to get to the fluorspar, which they used to mix with iron-stone to make different qualities of steel like stainless steel or bar steel. They`d changed the jib sections and they`d lifted down the wheels from the winding gear off the old one. The new one came along weighing 10 or 11 ton. That could lift 19 ton at 60 foot, the job was quite within its limits.

So they unloaded the new one off the lorry and got it within a foot of the area where they wanted it and got it into position at the top of the mine-shaft. They shouted to the driver `Lift it!` `Lift it!` he revved it up, put the switch in and Bang! The hoist rope broke and dropped 40 - 50 foot down to start with , it smashed as it hit the floor and most of it went 250-foot down this fluorspar mine. It cost over 40,000 worth of damage. This would be 30-odd years ago, about 1976. The reason for it, they had done the changing absolutely right bar for one small thing. When the block gets to the top, before it goes block-on-block , you have a little trip-switch on the drum ready to trip it out so that when you put the switch in, you are not working 60 foot up but it trips out automatically, it won`t rev. What they hadn`t done, was to alter it. It went block-on-block, the two pulleys met, they just revved it up and it went bang. Something had to go and it was the hoist rope. They did everything right except altering that little switch. It was most important when you are changing the jib.

I can tell you how my grandfather, on my mother`s side got killed. They were digging out the overburden to get to the ironstone up the Stainby Road. To take the overburden to the other side of the railway track, they had a broad plank about 14 or 15 inches wide it could have been 20 or 30 foot long. The used to wheel the barrows across that and tip the soil the other end. When the locos used to come along and they would lift up this plank with a shovel and hold it well up so that the loco could go underneath without touching the plank. But this particular day, my grandfather was holding it up and either the chimney or something caught the plank and sent it spinning. It knocked my grandfather under the wheels of the loco and killed him.

Shirley worked for British Steel for 19 years. She was in the Cost Office. When Miss Stuart left she went on the switch-board. The offices were down School Lane where the new houses have been built. The entrance to the offices was on the other side, on the jitty. Mr Biddle lived in Middlefield House. She was rung up every morning from all sorts of people. If anyone wanted to speak to the men at the fitting shop, the welding shop, the machine shop, the blacksmith`s shop, the drawing shop or the joiners` shop, - all the calls had to come through her at the switchboard. George Howitt used to ring up asking to be put through to the dy-essel shop ( the diesel shop). The mines closed when the foreign oil started to come in. We only got 28 or 30% iron per ton of ore. Now the foreign iron ore gave about between 60 to 80%. It was such good quality that a magnet would pick a piece of it up. Anyway, I bought this crane, I used it and it still works to this day. I bought it about 30 years ago from British Steel. When British Steel bought it, it cost just over 30,000 and when I bought it in 1978 I paid 2,500 for it, which at that time you could but a house for that much. I paid cash, I have never borrowed money in my life. It has the speed limit of 12 miles an hour on the road. I bought the bray-loader from British Steel as well. These machines are common today but when it first came to British Steel it was most unusual and very big.

The reason I bought it was that at the time they were closing down, they broke the crank in the engine. They took the engine out and stripped it down and I bought it all in bits. A Leyland 375 engine was in it but I put a 400 in instead. It is a sort of big heavy tractor with a bucket on the front and it was used to shovel up the soft earth, pick it up and load a lorry with it. It was a very usual piece of equipment in its day. The bloke who drove it when it was brand new was Frank Tilley and it was used to tidy up the land after the ironstone had been removed. When the navvies had dug all the earth off as they were getting the iron ore, they piled it up in great heaps. Then the bulldozers would level it out. But what they wanted to do was to put the top soil back. They used graders and scrapers and obviously this bay loader to level it all out. It did the jobs that the men couldn`t do. We had a compressor as well. It was when the ironstone closed, I decided to buy the property that I am in now and set up doing recovery. That was my biggest mistake. I should have emigrated to Australia because the hassle I got from Kesteven District Council, you would never believe it what they did.

They did their utmost to do anything to stop me. They did not want me in the business even though I was recovering lorries and towing them in from all over the country. Even when Cis Blankley`s buses were broken down, I fetched them from up near Liverpool to down beyond Luton. Bert Templeman, Modd`s Transport, and hundreds more people who still call to see me today. Every Christmas we have between 45 and 50 cards from companies that I worked for, although it`s slowing down now because obviously those companies are not in business any more. I think I was treated.

My father was crippled in the First World War fighting for us. He walked with a limp for the rest of his life. My wife`s father was in the tank regiment. I did my National Service. And I know what it was like in Korea. They never mention North and South Korea, that war, it`s all forgotten. One of my friends from Gloucester who I was in the Artillery with, his brother got killed in Korea. In the last war, Jim and Charlie Dove got killed. My mother spent hours with Mrs Dove, who lived next door, after losing her two sons. They had one more son, Maurice Dove. All those people who fought for the country should get more recognition than they do. I was only a young boy in the war, but I remember the Lancasters getting into formation overhead. These men, and I mean this, did something that should be remembered for evermore. The biggest problem was with the Lincolnshire District Council. I had Lincolnshire Police and Leicestershire Police come knocking at my door to do recovery work for them. When I was still working at British Steel, they came then and asked me to lift lorries up that had tipped over because I was driving this crane. I used to ring the management, and Mr Biddle used to say, `Oh no, not again!`

When the ironstone was closing down I was invited to a meeting in Enderby in Leicestershire where I was asked if I would set up in business doing recovery because I had done recovery in the Army and in my last 6 months I was an instructor on cranes showing the men how to lay out the winch ropes and winch lorries out the dyke and so on. I was towing anti-aircraft guns round the South of England. It was at Weybourne where they had these big anti-aircraft guns, 525s. The shells were that big, we had to carry them and put them into the guns in 2 halves, the warhead and the base. The objection to me was that I had come up here and set up my business next to Modd`s Transport and the Compass Cafe. I came out of the village because obviously they didn`t want lorries and that coming through the village in the early hours of the morning. I was being encouraged by Lincolnshire and Leicestershire Police to do this job. I thought it was a good opportunity for me. All the hassle I got! It took me 15 years to get a workshop put up. I had to work outside until then. I was threatened with court proceedings and a tribunal, but eventually I got permission when it was far too late. Nowadays I would get a grant!

My father took me to see the first 5360 built, which was built in the No. 2 Pit. I would be 3 or 4 years old, before I went to school living down at Mill Farm Cottages, and I remember it vividly. He took me across the fields and there was a lot of metal sticking up. It didn`t mean anything to me, not thinking that 30 or 35 years later I should be cutting it up for scrap. It is a shame that these things were cut up for scrap as today the history of this country and these mines show that during the Second World War without the input from these mines, Hitler would have walked over us. Just think of all the guns and shells and bombs that the ore went to make. I am now retired although we did have the crane out into the yard last year when we were loading some radiators. The nearest company now is a friend of mine in Melton Mowbray but the next nearest one in Lincolnshire is Pete Cosby and his son. Those days we have been talking about were maybe not so easy and convenient as today but they were much more interesting. We had to do hard work and we never earned much, not compared to what they earn now. But they were the happiest days of my life, meeting people like George Howitt, Gordon Wright, Len Wright and Denis Watson. I was born in the village, the same as Shirley, and we have always lived here. I love this village and all these people to me are my life.