memories of yeovil

Eastland road dressing yard

Memories of the late John Hughes


John Hughes was interviewed on 28 January 2009. This is a verbatim transcript.



My earliest memories is one of New Town when I must have been a very small baby because we moved into 96 Eastland Road when I was very small and I can remember my mother bathing me in a tin bath, sitting me on the old scrub table and putting on one of those vests with rubber buttons. And we lived in that house until - well, I can't remember what time it was but we lived there and my father used to work in the dressing yard we are going to talk about in Eastland Road. That was a big dressing yard. During the war he worked in the fire service and he always regretted not being a full time fireman after the war and so he got a job in the dressing yard and I used to go down there occasionally to see him you see. See what it was like down there and it was an absolute, well it was a Victorian place and it was the smell and there was water everywhere and lots of noise going on and everything else you see and eventually when I grew up I got a job and I went down there to work for a while.

And I can remember working in there and there was Mr Blake who you got on your people in there and it belonged to a French firm you see and all the skins used to come outside in Eastland Road and be unloaded into the loft, where they were all covered in camphor and the smell used to get right into you. Then after it used to be put into pits and goodness knows what else and the skin [sic, should read hair] used to be taken off it and they used to have these great big knives and scrape the skin [sic, should read hair] off. And then one day I was down there and I used to work in the dye shop with Derek Dowting, Ken Chislett, Don Fry was the dyer - the tanner rather - myself and one other chap I can't recall, and we used to work in the place and I can remember one day going out and Roly Fark who was the foreman of the dressing yard coming out and saying "Oh, my hand" and he had caught his hand in one of these machines, took off al his fingers and he stood there with no fingers and blood running all down his arm.

And I also remember prior to working there going down on a Saturday morning to see my dad because sometimes my dad had to go in on a Saturday morning to fill the pits up with water. And I can remember going in there and looking around and awestruck because I was only very tine and there were these great big bales and I said to my dad "What are those things daddy?" and he said "Cat skins son.", "Pussy cats?" I said, "Yes", he said "from China". And there were huge great bales of these skins as big as that table and they are still doing it now.

And when the skins had been de-furred they used to be passed across to the tannery, and that's where I used to work. It was a dangerous job, but also interesting. You know all the skins had to be turned into leather and we used to wear all these great big aprons and everything else. And there were these great big wooden drums going around and driven by a big belt on the side. You know, like big antiquated Victorian machinery. These huge great drums would go round and that powered by a belt on a pulley thing. You slide the drum and it would grip on the pulley and you had to put some stickture or stuff on to make it go. 'Course, you got fifty gallon of water in there, water 10lb a gallon is quite heavy, so you got to manage and you have to put fifty dozen of these skins into the thing to turn it from skin to leather. And it would turn around and it was really antiquated and you had to guide the belt onto the pulley wheel and you had to ahve a big metal bar so that when the drum came around, they used to go clockwise and you just had to lift it up so that it would drop back 'bang' like that so you could take the big door off, you see, after you lift up all the stuff in there, throw the skins in, put the door on again and set it going. And then you had to go to the side and all the dye would be mixed up in barrels jut like in Victorian times, although it was in the 'sixties. Mix it up in these great big barrels and pour the dye into the top - sorry, the tanin to turn it into leather. Then after a while, you had to do this procedure, stop it again - which was really frightening for a young boy - and take out a piece of the skin, cut it off and put it in a bucket of water and then you had a steam pipe and lift the steam pipe up and put the steam pipe in, turn on the steam, and within seconds that bucket of water were boiling. And you take out the stuff, and if it was like that (sound) you knew it was finished. It was leather then.

Then you would put on the slat door, which is a door with lots of holes in it, to wash the tanin out you see. Then, after you wash it all out, you had to put fat liquor into it to make it soft again. I think it was cod liver oil, great barrels of the stuff. And it was stir it all around and pick it up and it was the same procedure, pour it out the barrels into the things and when they run, after about three to four hours I suppose, the leather was ready to come out0 of the drum. Same procedure ith the belt, and you had to horse it up then you see. Then, when it was finished, you had to hang it up in the drying room and that was a big room with pipes underneath - big steam pipes - and you had togo in there and work along these steam pipes. And there were great big rafters going down with hooks on. And these big steel hooks, you had to hang these wet kins on there and pull them out so that they would dry, And you had to avoid the rate in there as well. There was ginormous great rats running round in the steam room.

And when the leather be taken down, they used to come down from Stirling's glove factory, which was in Goldcroft, and the man who used to come down was Len Salisbury. And Len had just come back from the war, well, some time ago, and he always used to tell us about when he was out there fighting the Japanese and all the rest of it. Anyhow, and then the skins would go and be moved from there up to the top Goldcroft Glove Company into the dye shop.

And I subsequently went into the dye shop to work and that was I worked with Ted White, Wally Sims who had one leg, Freddy More who was a wizened old man always sort of rolling fags and looking around like this, trying to get out of a job - you know what I mean? Jim Churchly who was a little bit wild, and George Robest(?). I'll tell you about this as well, shall I?

And the glove factory was up one end and the dye shop was here. It was so noisy I can remember walking up Eastland Road you could hear those big drums going round in the dye shop and the bearings had gone and it was the same procedure but you were using dye, and the manager of the dye shop was Jim Tomlins, who was a local Salvation Army officer. Now, you could always tell when Jim was in a funny mood because he would come into the dye shop, whistling like this, and he would come in and he might say "Have you done those bronze blues yet, Ted?" "I'm going to do them now" we would say, and he would say "Put them on in then". And you had to put this leather into bronze blue and put it in there, you see, and dye it. And if he came in the next morning and he was in a crabby mood, he would look at it and say "Oh no no, they are much too light. They will have to go back in again." Course, we were crafty. We got used to this, we didn't put them back in, because it entailed a lot of work. We used to drag them round the corner and hide them and he would come in the next day "Ah, that's much better".

And Freddy Moore, who was a crafty little geezer, and it was so cold in there, so cold I left in 1967, so cold in there that when you took the dyed skins out of the drums you had to horse them up, the best leather had to be horsed down - that is, kept flat. Ordinary leather had to be horsed dangled, so it was hanging down. And it was so cold in the dye shop during the winter that the water used to run off and in the morning there were icicles hanging off them that long and they were there all day. And then Freddy Moore would be stood around, rolling up a fag see, and Ted would come in "Fred, come here. Go up the pickle shed" - that's where the pickled skins were, you see - "And go count out fifty dozen." Now, that was a job nobody wanted, because it was just pickled wet skins and it was absolutely freezing in there. So well you had to get your gloves, you had to get your bucket of hot water, had to get your scarf, to go up and count these fifty dozen out. Now, they are all stuck together like that and you had a real hard job to pull them apart - course you couldn't, you were wearing gloves. You count fifty dozen, which is 600 skins. Now if Freddy, and you had to keep putting your feet in buckets of water to keep your bloody feet warm and Freddy, he was very crafty, he'd count too many, two dozen too many you see? And they'd come back and say "Done them Fred." "Got them all?" "Course I have." he said "Alright." Put them in you see and then of course you were too pale, the wrong colour. Because you had to weigh a dozen to get the weight of the amount of dye you had to put them in. He ould come the next day, and Tom said "Much too light. They'll have to go back in." Course, then Tom White would get on to Freddy and give him a rollicking because he knew Freddy was crafty enough to count out two dozen extra so he wouldn't be asked to go up there again. Course, I had to go up and get them then.

To clean your hands, you had to put Chloros on your hands, which is a strong bleach, and you poured that on and after about three hours up with bronze blue or black ones, your hands were literally black and blue because literally you couldn't get it off. You pour this Chloros on and you rub your hands together like this quickly, and you feel your hands getting hotter and hotter and hotter, as it heated up. And then you had to wash it all off. That was as far as the factory was concerned.


A photograph of the late 1950's showing the elevation facing Eastland Road. The rear building of the factory complex is seen at right.