Mel’s Blackpool heaven and hell..and back

Blackpool Manchester Square pumping station under construction (above and below) and the Queenstown high rise flats at Layton - all in 1963

Blackpool Manchester Square pumping station under construction (above and below) and the Queenstown high rise flats at Layton - all in 1963

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MEL Cooper says he found heaven, hell and heaven again during his years as a labourer in Blackpool.

Now 71, Mel, of Langdon Way, Bispham, contacted Memory Lane after reading Gordon White’s recent recollections about the construction of the pumping station at Manchester Square in 1963.

Blackpool Manchester Square pumping station under construction 1963. The excavator in position.

Blackpool Manchester Square pumping station under construction 1963. The excavator in position.

Gordon was site engineer for the project and Mel says: “I thought I’d give you a labourer’s eye view of the contract.”

He recalls: “The worst winter for decades was followed by the most glorious summer and I spent the early part of 1963 working on St Catherine’s Catholic School on Garstang Road, on the edge of Grange Park.

“I was a drainer and asphalter there, all outdoor work, I ended up with a Mediterranean tan and thoroughly enjoyed the job.

“Well, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end so I started looking around for another job. I soon got to know about the pumping station contract on the prom where Harbour and General were seeking staff and required jack hammer crews to dig out the main chamber.

One of the tower blocks under construction at Queenstown, Layton in 1963.

One of the tower blocks under construction at Queenstown, Layton in 1963.

“I had had more than a little experience in the use of clay tools, those noisy little spade-shaped implements worked by compressed air, and bearing that in mind I got signed on straight away.”

But as Mel reveals: “In comparison to my last employment the job on the pumping station was just like going from heaven right down into hell in one fell swoop. We started work at the piercing shriek of a whistle, descended into the slimy clay pit of a chamber leaving the bright summer sunshine behind and slogged non-stop punching out great billets of clay. The diesel compressor and the clay tools were going hell for leather all through the shift. We loaded the billets of clay into a massive iron bucket attached to a crane hawser and when it was full it was hauled up to the surface where the contents were dumped into an awaiting wagon.”

Mel says: “The noise down in the pit was so overbearing that when your shift was finished it was still hammering in your ears, even when you laid your head down to sleep.”

There was a cosmopolitan group of labourers down there, English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and, according to Mel, “we were all there united in purgatory!”.

He adds: “On Saturdays we worked until noon and when the banshee of a whistle called us, Tipperary Jim and I would drag ourselves out of that steaming pit. We’d strip off our clay-caked overalls and wellies and move across the road to the Manchester Hotel for the pint of shandy we’d been promising ourselves all morning.

“One particularly hard week in the middle of that glorious summer I was working alongside Tipperary Jim down in that noisy pit and the clay seemed as heavy as lead. Come Friday we were well ready for the scream of the end of shift whistle so we dropped our clay tools like they were hot rocks and scrambled up the ladder as if the devil was after us.

“But as Jim and I sat on the bench dragging our gear off, I decided then that I’d had enough of that stinking pit. I told Jim that there were better things in life and I was about to find them. I set off across the beach on that sun-drenched evening and followed the tide line until I came opposite Talbot Square, where I crossed the sand once more and went for a pint in the Criterion on Topping Street.

“I met some of the lads in there and they talked about the job on the Queenstown development that Turners of Preston were involved with. I’d done some work for Mills Scaffolders on the site earlier in the year so I had a trip down there the following day and secured a job working on the twin hoists that supplied the trades with their materials.”

As Mel concludes with a sigh of satisfaction: “At that point I was back in heaven again!”