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A Delivery Boy Remembers

My first job (1952?) was over a Christmas period, working for Morgan's in Lakedale Road. They had the main shop on the right hand side of the road going down, and another one on the opposite side, that sold biscuits etc. I spent a few days in that one, sorting and shifting the biscuit tins and (suffering!) the flirtatious bantering of the women who worked there. I was quite sorry to be transferred across the road to deliver orders, on a very unstable deliveryman's bike. Deliveries down and across the lower roads were OK, but the deliveries that took me up hill on Lakedale and Sladedale Roads were the worst. I had to push the bike all the way up the hills.

My next job was on Saturdays and school holidays, on the bread round with the R.A.C.S; (see photo above) which was situated along Powis Street, nearly opposite Hare Street.
I was quickly given the job of collecting Victoria the horse, a huge beast, from the stables. These were situated, and backed onto, a narrow strip at the top of the railway embankment, on the other side of the track. They were accessed by a long ramp that went up from the cobbled yard of the bakery, via a narrow bridge.
Victoria was always pleased to see me and she plodded quite happily behind me, following me across the bridge and down the ramp. (I had to watch out for the goods steam loco's as they filled the whole cut with soot and steam.) Once in the yard I had to harness her up. I remember the heavy collar that I had to get over her head. To do this job, I had to balance on a box to reach up. Once she was in the shafts I filled her nosebag with chaff from a large trough and put it over her head. I then had to fill the spare one and hang it on a bracket under the wagon.
While I was doing this Alf and his mate would be filling the wagon with all the various types of bread.

Once loaded we set off along Powis Street, with the horse farting all the way! until we reached the bottom of Burrage Road, where we all got off the van and helped the old horse by pushing, whilst at the same time keeping the steel brake shoe ready to slip behind the wheel.

About halfway up Bloomfield Road was a cafe where we always stopped for a bowl of porridge and a cup of tea; this was never paid for; I think Alf had an arrangement with the owner!

Our round took us all along the turnings at the back of Plumstead Common Road, down to the Slade, up Timbercroft Lane and all of the many turnings and loops. On these roads the horse would plod on, while Alf's mate and I would deliver the bread from large willow baskets and then meet the van at the next turning.
There were places where some people always bought out a plate of food for the horse. Alf always carried a bag of goodies, just in case these failed to appear, as there was no way Victoria could be persuaded to proceed without her usual snacks!

The round continued on, doing all the roads down towards Swingate Lane, from Thornhill Avenue and along past Duncroft to Highgrove. We then went down Highmead, looping Edison Grove and Combside, to rejoin the van at the bottom of Highmead. The last part of the round took us into Kent, down Glenmore Road, which in those days was quite a tough council estate.

I remember an occasion that a particularly bad paying house in that road had ordered a birthday cake. These special orders were kept in a small locker in the side of the van. When Alf opened the locker door the cake fell out, upside down, onto the road. We spent a long time extracting road grit from the icing and dressing it up as best we could with an old knife that was carried in the locker. “They won't like this, they'll break their teeth if they hit a piece of grit!” I said to Alf.“Don't worry about it, they never pay their bill anyway!”
They never complained!

Victoria always dropped her manure in the same road, so there was always one or two keen gardeners at the ready, with bucket and shovel, waiting to pounce on the steaming mound.

The money was always collected on Saturdays. I had to add up how much the customers that I delivered to; into a thick red book, this taught me mental arithmetic quicker than any school could. You were soon put in your place should you get it wrong! The housewives knew exactly how much their bill was! Quite unlike supermarket shopping today!

I was about 13 years old when I worked at Morgan's and fifteen when I did the bakers round. I used to get fifteen bob for a Saturday and three quid if I worked all the week in my school holidays. I saved enough to buy my first motor bike a 1933 pure bred racing Norton International. I used to go to school on it once I was sixteen (circa 1955).

I left the bakers round when I started my apprenticeship. Not long after the RACS in their wisdom decided to do away with the horse-drawn vans and went over to diesel vans. The rounds took twice as long to do, as the driver had to keep getting in and out all the time. Whereas, with the horse the bread was hooked out of the back of the van while it was on the move, a kind of tortoise and hare situation. The worst part of it all was, all the horses went for slaughter!

Dave Carpenter

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