Mr Raymond Holmes was born in 1926 and grew up in Carlton. His father was a master at Carlton Training School, trained as engineer worked at Allen before the war. Raymond learned to drive in the Army in 1944, and after the war worked as a Lorry Driver for the Marston Valley Brick Company for 36 years.
“Then I got to hear about this Marston Valley (brickworks). Well, I got on the train at St. John’s Station and they wanted drivers to get the bricks out (distribution). I had this test and got the job. The money was good money. £9 a week before tax.
How big was the fleet of lorries at Marston Valley brickworks?
Big. About 300 lorries. Most of ‘em were small ones, four wheel ones, that carried 2,500 bricks. “Bedfords”, made by Vauxhalls. There were so many of them that they didn’t change them for about two years, then they’d have another fresh lot. You could always tell, ’cause the managers had new cars. “You buy our lorries instead of their lorries and we’ll give you a new car.” The transport manager was a very strict man. We never had a union. They (the drivers) kept trying to start one but it was like a red rag to a bull to him. He was an old devil.
He had a big Riley car he used to go out in every day. If he saw you stopped in a layby on your own, he’d toot you (and wave) but if there was two or three of you, he’d say, what are you stopped for? “Have a wee, sir” and he’d go round the wheels to see if you’d done it!
These lorries had a water-filler cap on the front and he’d feel it to see how long you’d been there. If it was cold, he’d know you’d been there a long time. When you’d got back, he’d tell you and at the end of the week, a half hour had been stopped.
How did the hours work?
There was two shifts. The first started at 6 o’clock but I always started at 7 (am). The brick company employed a coach firm called Horseshoe Coaches, from Kempston. Quite a lot of coaches; a bit rough and ready, you know. These were workmen’s buses. You had to buy a ticket. They took you to work and picked you up again at night and took you home. Different stops on the way… You were allowed to work eleven hours on transport, including dinner, and finished work at half-past-6 (pm).
Mostly the lorries were loaded at night ’cause they had a big night shift. But sometimes, if you’d put your lorry in the garage the night before, ’cause it had a defect, it didn’t come out till late, you had to load it, take it out, unload it and come back again. It was only 2,500 bricks on a four-wheeler. On an eight-wheeler, it was 7,500 bricks. One was nearly 10,000, with a machine on board.
You worked your way up. Four-wheeled Bedford petrol lorries 2,500 bricks. Then there were 4 wheeled diesel lorries, AECs – 3,250 bricks. After that you went on to 8-wheelers – 7,250 or 6,500 depending. That was the limit in those days. With big lorries you only did one trip a day; with little ones you’d do two trips a day. They used to do London and places like that. Big lorries did the furthest places.
What’s the furthest place you’ve been to?
Well, I never did get to Scotland. Towards the end, they had these articulated lorries, carrying 11,000 bricks. I used to get into Wales, quite a bit and down on the south-west Devon coast, Paignton and Torquay. Two days that took in those days. Bournemouth. Didn’t used to go up north very much.
Suppose you got Southampton, which is 115 miles from Ridgmont. In those days the big lorries were only allowed to go 20 miles per hour, that was as fast as they were allowed to go. It said on the back. You’d get there and get unloaded and come back to Basingstoke, which is about 30 miles from Southampton and your time would be up. You’d stop there for the night and then run into Ridgmont the next day about 11am. You load up, have your dinner and go out again to Southampton or Portsmouth. So you were away three days at a time. You got 10s.6d “night out” money in those days. You’d stay in transport cafes. The last one I had was £10, cause prices had gone up. What we used to do, if possible, was go down, get me bricks off, come back to perhaps Northampton or Bicester, leave your lorry there for the night, get a lift home, go down the yard in the morning, get a driver going that way, and you’d get your night out money in your hand. As long as the lorry was booked off on my log sheet to Northampton, they couldn’t touch me, cause when I’ve finished, I’ve clocked off. Then it’s my time…”