Memories from S.A.B.U. . . . . Skelton & Brotton Urbanites

( I am indebted to Betty and Marie Bolton, formerly of Green Road, Skelton, for these reminiscences )

The day a dead whale washed up on Skinningrove beach immediately posed problems for Fred Stringer, Chief Engineer for Skelton & Brotton Urban District Council. It soon began to smell (the whale, that is, not the Council) and disposal was sure to prove a major undertaking.
Fred had noticed that the beast was a few yards from the ‘dividing line’ between his and nearby Loftus District Council’s land. Aiming to shift the responsibility and the whale in one action, Fred decided that a discreet tow across the beach would solve the problem – so Mick ‘no-signals’ Buck was summoned. Unfortunately, as chain and tackle were being attached, their activities were observed by Bill Ransome, Chief Engineer to Loftus UDC and all hell (at a local level) broke loose. Fred had to dispose of the whale after all, and relationships among the two local authorities were a bit strained thereafter, neither Council being famed for its sense of humour.
How different things were in those heady days – sadly cut down in 1974 with the re-organisation of local boundaries and the creation of that monument to incompetence, Cleveland County Council. Since then we have enjoyed (!) Langbaurgh Council – difficult to pronounce, let alone spell – and now the much-criticised Redcar & Cleveland Council . . . many changes, most of them expensive, few bringing benefits to residents.
So were things really better in those days? Certainly the streets were cleaner (each road sweeper took pride in his section of highway – Dicky Dowey, etc.) and even in the severest winter, Skelton Green Bank would be hand-cut free of snow, and the pavements eventually received attention. Now? Machines, overheads, labour costs, time-and-motion, etc. have all contributed to less service – a really tremendous reflection of local government in the 21st century.
Skelton & Brotton UDC was only as good as its staff and councillors. You could get things done by speaking to the person concerned in his/her office, or on the street – no need then for fancy planning applications. Richard Young was a new addition to staff, having transferred over from the big city (Middlesbrough), and he collapsed in hysterics when someone brought in plans for a garage extension, skillfully sketched on a rolled-out fag packet!
Time-keeping was a matter of honour to many – Geoff Posthill manfully struggled in from Runswick Bay, in all weathers, and was never less than 10 minutes early for work. His dedication was somewhat offset by Lily Ridsdale, who lived directly across the street from the Council Offices, yet rarely succeeded in crossing the 30 yards before 9.05am.
Joe Newton (car owner) travelled from Saltburn, and one day staff expressed amazement that he had arrived on time, despite the top end of Marske Lane being ice-bound. “Oh”, explained Joe, “I just cut through past the Hall.” Close examination confirmed that his route past ‘the Hall’ was, in fact, the ultra-private road leading through Skelton Castle grounds and out onto the Guisborough Road at Parson’s Bank. Of course, Lily was late that day as well.
Betty Bolton worked in ‘Payroll and Accounts’ where the yearly audit had to balance to the penny, and days would be spent/wasted by staff looking for miniscule amounts. Fortunately, the quill pens had given way to more sophisticated biros.
George Skipper was the Rating Officer, while his wife, Rhoda, ran ‘Skippers’ (the Wharton Arms) with a benign, yet disciplined eye.
Many of the local councillors were ‘characters’ – I am sure we all remember Harry Ingleby (Labour), Mr Morris (Conservative – I never learned his first name, even when he was Chairman of the local Cricket Club) and others. Reg Simon (Lingdale, Conservative surprisingly) smoked Woodbine fags but was never known to hand them round and could smoke one well down past the recognised ‘butt’ stage, then pinch it out and re-light it later in the day.
Sexism didn’t exist in Skelton & Brotton UDC as long as women never asked for silly pay rises, or even parity with their male counterparts, although, fortunately, that policy did change in later years as the ladies assumed more responsibilities.
(Away from the Council, for a moment, Marie Bolton is probably our leading local expert on the location, condition, and subsequent demise of the ‘gent’s urinals’ which were located at the ‘Skelton Triangle’ (which includes the ‘haunted house’) at the top of Coniston Road, and the unit across the road from the junction at Saltburn Lane).
Were they really ‘the good old days’ though? In the 1950’s, a craftsman’s weekly wage was 6.50, whilst a labourer aspired to a mere 5.10. No bonus payments and no overtime (unless there were snow-clearing duties required). Understandably, many of the ‘troops’ had other jobs – ‘Rattler’ Morgan was a part-time bus driver, while Lou Griffiths, Mr Lettin and Dennis Pearson all rushed off to different jobs when their council work was done.
As a rough guide, the Management and Office Support employed about 17 people over three Departments (Engineers, Clerks, Public Health) while there were about 40 ‘workers’ (with only one Foreman, Ken Forbes). Among the latter job descriptions were one ‘Rat Catcher’, one (only) Plumber, yet three Cemetery Sextons and six Grave Diggers/Gardeners. The conclusion may be that, if overrun and bitten by rats, and dying, there were plenty of staff available to give you a good send-off!
Most of the above were recalled by Betty Bolton, but twin-sister Marie chipped in with a classic tale, unassociated with the Council. She recalled the fearsome Miss Johnson (Skelton Infants School) supervising ‘Maypole Dancing’ on the Cross Green, while playing the harmonica (mouth-organ is not a phrase to be used in conjunction with Miss J). Having personally suffered vicariously at the hands (large, strong, chapped) of the aforesaid Miss Johnson, who’d have made Anne Widdicombe look effeminate, I have great difficulty grasping this image – it appears more ‘X-Files’ material than Skelton & Brotton . . .

Neil Harrison

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