Tom Barrett - The Ironstone

I am Tom Barrett and I was born in South Witham in March 1929. I had 2 brothers and a sister. Arthur was my eldest brother and the next one was Charles. I was the third one and my sister's name was Rachael. My father was Waggoner to a farmer in the village and within a few months of my birth we went to live on the farm. I went to school in South Witham. I liked my school days though we didn't have the opportunities to go on to further education in those days.

When I was only 12, I worked part-time for a farmer. One Sunday a gang of us lads were out walking across the fields, like we used to do and one field had been cut for hay and the farmer came along and he said, "How about getting in this hay?" This was on a Sunday and I offered to help him the next day being a holiday from school. "Be in the yard at 7 o'clock in the morning!" which I was and I helped with the hay-making and I kept on that farm until I left school at 14. I used to fetch 16 cows up in a morning and milk them. We had a milking machine and we used to put it on the first 2 cows, move it on to the next 2 and then finish the first 2 by hand. Then the milk was put through the cooler and into the churns. These were taken down to the gate and placed on a rough sort of table to be picked up by a lorry. I would also feed some hens and calves and deliver milk to some people by collecting their cans on the way in and delivering them when I was taking the cows out again. Other people would fetch their milk themselves from the farm.

Sometimes we would take the cows from South Witham right up to the A1 which was about a mile. It took some time to walk cows up there, you couldn't hurry them. These cows were housed in three different sheds and you could bring them in and they would all go into their own stall in the right shed. They all knew where to go. Someone once said to me that that showed intelligence. I did all this before I went to school. As soon as I had left school every day, I used to go and do the same again between 4 and 6 o'clock in the evening. They paid me a little but it was quite a responsible job. I did it until I was 14.

When I left school I went to work on to the limestone quarries at South Witham. We had a small-gauge engine and trams and men used to hand-fill these trams with the limestone, levering all the limestone blocks off the face of the digging and break them up with hammers. They had to load 6 trams per day per man, one of which held about 21/2 tons. That was a day's work! I was working on the engines taking them in and out. I was what was called a road-runner which was connecting the trucks together and to the engine. When I was 16, the driver was off ill so I took over the driving job. I got a bit more pay for this work, but it wasn't very much in those days. When I started it was only about 2 a week. When I took over at 16, I had a young lad of 14 as my mate, doing what I had been doing. The two of us ran the train on this small-gauge railway.

I was actually driving the train when we started the Thisleton mine. Where the limestone had been quarried, down at the bottom, it went under the lane at South Witham to start the mine. The ironstone was way down underneath the limestone. The limestone we had from South Witham was burned with the ironstone at Holwell, near Melton Mowbray. This made the iron ore burn better. When we got to the Colsterworth end, all the limestone we moved was just waste. I worked on the quarry at South Witham for 4 years. Then I went into the Air Force for my 2 years National Service.

I spent most of my time in Singapore and Ceylon as an aircraft fitter. I enjoyed the life in the Air Force very much. I did think of staying on really but I was out overseas and I decided to come home for a while and settle down. When Sheila and I first got married we went to live at Woolsthorpe, next to what was Mr Chadwick's shop, with the Sir Isaac Newton pub on the other side of the shop. Then we moved down to the Crescent on Woolsthorpe Road, and then we bought a property on Bourne Road in 1971. We have been married now almost 52 years. These houses up Colster Way were built in 1985 and we moved here at the end of 1991. We had 2 boys and a girl. My daughter Rachel, Mrs Kerry, works at the school. Her mother-in-law, from Buckminster, is also Rachel Kerry and she does a lot for the church at Buckminster. Rachel has 2 children, a boy and a girl, and Hugh, our second son, has a boy and a girl as well. They both live in the village. Rachel lives on the Woodlands and Hugh lives on Bourne Road.

After leaving the Air Force I went on the railway at Grantham for a while as a fireman on the steam locomotives on the main line. I didn't get on to many of the fast passenger trains; it was mainly goods trains, Peterborough to Retford, that sort of route. This would be in 1949 and just into the 50s a little way. I liked working on the railway. I liked the firing but there was some dispute on the railway and they had a strike and we were all put back as cleaners. I left then and went back on to the quarries at Sewstern for the Stewart and Lloyds Company, and after several years I moved to what was the Appleby-Frodingham Company. It was later British Steel and finished as United Steel. So I spent most of my life on the quarries except for my National Service and the railways. Both for Appleby-Frodingham and Stewart and Lloyds I was driving excavators./p>

At Stewart and Lloyds I was helping to make the calcinate clamps. We used to put coal about a foot deep on the ground of an area about 10 yards wide and then we used to tip the ironstone on to this coal and make it into a clamp. It used to burn the ironstone. Everywhere around the villages was smoke. This burning the ironstone lessened the amount of freightage that had to be transported to Scunthorpe to the steel works. Instead of putting the raw ironstone into the wagons, the calcite was much lighter and this saved on transport costs. I didn't like this job much because there was too much smoke. Some days you could hardly see anything and the road between Colsterworth and Stainby that went towards Buckminster, it was covered in thick fog all the time. You got this fog up there all the year round. Eventually, I got to driving the Marion which we built in 1961. It was called Marion because in was built in Marion, a town in Ohio, U.S.A. and it was shipped across the Atlantic in great crates and came in by railway. It was a brand new machine and it was the biggest in Europe when it came from America. I was on the team helping to build it and eventually got driving it. It weighed over 4,000 tons and the bucket could lift 25 tons, every bucket-full.

We had a tackergraph card in the cab which recorded how long we were working and how many bucketsful we took. The jib was 125 feet long and from the floor to what we called the A-frame was 110 feet. We used to have to go up it every day by steps which were all the way up the jib. I have been up and down there lots of times. Really it was quite easy to drive. It was all electric. There was a cable coming in from the top of the quarry and it carried 2000 volts of electricity. All we did was to sit in a nice seat in the cab. We had 2 very small levers, one for putting the rack arms in and out, and one for lifting the bucket up and down and another catch for emptying the bucket. To make it swing round there were 2 pedals; you just pressed one or the other. There were 4 sets of tracks on it, 2 at each corner and central to the pair on each corner there was a hydraulic ram about 20 inches diameter and that used to keep the machine level as it went along, automatically pumping the hydraulic oil in

We didn't do the ironstone, we did the overburden. Being hard rock, it was blasted first and although it had been blasted it was still a solid face and we just used to pump the bucket up through it and then swing round and tip the spoil to the side and then come round for another load. Our job was to uncover the ironstone for one of the smaller machines to load it into the railway wagons. It was a 100 RB machine in the quarry where we were that loaded the ironstone into the wagons which ran on all these railway spurs. It was continuous work. Millions of tons must have been moved out in all those years that it the mining had been going. We were working with 2 crews and we were working 12-hour shifts, day and night. I did night duty a lot of times which I did not like. It is entirely wrong, not natural; you don't sleep properly in the daytime. It disrupts family life. Fortunately I had a good wife who put up with it. The ironstone workings actually finished in 1973. They had told us about 3 years before that it would be finishing. It was a shock to us because we expected to be there for all our working life. The Marion was bought in 1961 and we began to dismantle it in at the beginning of May, 1972. The last piece went away on the lorry on Christmas Eve. That is how long it took to dismantle it. It was really a blow to us. It went to Weldon in Northamptonshire, and it was rebuilt there. It worked for a few years and then it was scrapped because the works there closed down as well. It was not really old, less than 20 years.

We were told that it cost 800,000 to buy and to transport over in 1961. When the works closed we did get a little redundancy money, not much in those days I'm afraid. Quite a lot of people from the quarry went to work at Vaculugs, the tyre people from Grantham, who took over the area where the maintenance buildings had been, what we called 'the yard'. Some people went to Salversons, the frozen food factory at Easton where the underground mine had been and some found jobs at Grantham. I worked at Vaculug where they repaired and re-treaded tyres, great big earth-moving tyres a lot of them, 8 feet tall. I worked on the tractor and lorry tyres. My job was inspecting the finished product. It was a better job than some got. I was at Vaculug for 20 years. I finished my time there and then I retired. Looking back, I wouldn't have liked to do farming for a living really. I have often thought I might have stayed in the Air Force. I enjoyed being in the Air Force but I had been out East for some time and I wanted to come home. So I came out and worked on the railway, the ironstone and at Vaculug. I have been a working man all my life.