I was eighteen, and I had been sacked from my job with a local roofing firm for disobeying orders. Hard up and at a loose end, I sought work at the office of a different roofing company. It was Friday afternoon and I was told to start the following Monday.
While I was in the town centre, I decided to have a roam around. An old pub, the Gladstone Arms, was due to be demolished, and I went for a look inside. I’d actually had a pint in the Gladstone before it closed, when I called in with my friend, Chris. He ordered the beers while I hid in the shadows, keeping my clearly under-age face out of view. I only had the one, but it added to the list of bars I have had a drink in that are no longer here. All I remember of the interior is that the bar was quite dark.
The Gladstone stood in a small area that housed a cluster of pubs back in the day when this town was a thriving port with operating shipyards. This hoard of hostelries stood outside the shipyard gates, and among its number were The Ship, The Slip, The Westoe, The Blagdon Arms, The Fox & Hounds, The Queen’s Head and The Gladstone Arms. Apart from the Gladstone, the only other pub in that list I ever took a drink in was the Fox & Hounds.
At lunchtime and at the end of the working day, shipyard workers would teem through the gates in search of refreshment in those pubs. As shipbuilding on the river declined, the pubs vanished one-by-one, until they were all gone.
But I digress. Back at The Gladstone, I went inside the stripped out shell for a spoach about.
Alow me to digress again.
The word spoach must be a local term, as it doesn’t appear in the dictionary, but everyone round here uses it. Spoaching means looking for stuff. The strict order, no spoaching, is given to older children in the run up to Christmas, when presents have been hidden in wardrobes and under beds.
My spoaching didn’t turn up anything useful. The downstairs windows were boarded up, so it was dark in the bar, but I found some pieces of candle that a previous visitor had left behind. The upper floor had been stripped bare, and the bar was vandalized and cleared of all fixtures and fittings, apart from the solid wooden bar itself (which was probably worth a lot of money, and quite possibly chopped up or burnt). That only left the cellar. Looking back now, I wonder where I found the courage to go down into a dark cellar alone with only a candle, but I did it. There wasn’t much down there, but in one corner there were crates of bottles stacked up. On seeing these, my eyes turned to pound signs, and my ears heard the sound of a till opening: kerching!
My interest was in three crates that contained empty Newcastle Brown Ale bottles. I knew from my bottle retrieving expeditions at the Red House in Cowpen (see my post Small Time Charlies for that story) that the rate for returned brown ale empties was 7p per bottle. I was looking at 84p in a crate – easily enough for twenty cigarettes (tabs), which cost about 30p at the time (obviously, I smoked then). I took a crate up into the bar and I wiped the bottles down. The recently opened Presto supermarket was just across the street, so that’s where I headed with Crate Expectations.
In those days there was a long counter away from the checkouts, from where cigarettes and alcohol were sold. I marched in and brazenly laid my crate on the counter. The assistant took it without question and in exchange she handed me £1.44, considerably more than I had been expecting. The assistant could see that I was surprised by the amount, so she explained that on top of the 7p per bottle, there was a charge of 60p on the crate. I told her that my dad had thrown a party at the weekend, and that I had two more crates at home. “Bring them in,” she said. I dashed back to the cellar.
Four pounds thirty-two pence was a tidy sum back then. I bought twenty cigarettes, four cans of McEwan’s Tartan Ale (not the best), and some typical sweets from the era (Aztec, Spangles, Dainty Chews, Football Chums Lem-fizz etc), and I had enough left to tide me over for the first few days of my new job.
The question is, had I committed a theft? My reasoning was that left in the cellar, the crates and bottles would have been destroyed when the pub was demolished. My action ensured they were returned to the brewery for re-use, and I claimed a sort of reward, or finder’s fee. I would expect the manufacturing costs of producing thirty-six bottles and three plastic crates to be more than I earned on my end of the deal.
At least that’s what I told old Jiminy on my shoulder.
Thanks to Bob Simmons for sending me the photo. For more old Blyth pics visit his site: