A few weeks ago we met Leonard Brown and his family, who recognised Leonard’s brother Stanley in one of the photos in our Visitor Centre.
Stanley Brown worked at Underfall Yard for about 20 years from shortly after the end of the Second World War until the mid-1960s as an engineer, which Leonard says “was the making of him”. Leonard shared with us some lovely stories about Stanley of which he said, with a twinkle in his eye: “most are true”. In the photo Stanley can be seen working on the lathe in the foreground and it was wonderful to spend time with his family and find out so much about him.
Stanley came from a family of 5 brothers and 5 sisters, of which Leonard is the last remaining sibling. The family grew up in Langton Street near Redcliffe Church. The terraced house no longer exists but when the Brown family lived there it had three bedrooms: all the girls in one, all the boys in another with mum and dad in the middle room. Leonard shared some memories from his childhood including one of his sister who used “a lot of powder and paint”. It was something Leonard and Stanley’s father disapproved of and she’d be sent upstairs to take it off. If she came back down with makeup still on he would scrub her face in the sink.
Living so close to the New Cut, Leonard described how the boys in the local area would climb over the top of the Banana Bridge until the tragic fall and death of one of their friends. He remembers that his body was washed down the river and had to be recovered up towards Cumberland Basin. He also recalled the busy trade along the New Cut: “We used to watch the tugs towing the barges up the Cut. We used to shout at them and they would throw lumps of coal at us!”
Apparently Stanley was a little bit of a naughty chap, deliberately disrupting his sisters’ piano lessons, which would earn him “a kick up the backside”. Leonard shared how “our Stanley” would be impatient when he had to wait his turn to shave so he would pick his sisters up and remove them to the kitchen. But his mother didn’t allow anyone to go to bed on a quarrel: you had to make up before you went to bed.
Leonard remembers Stanley completing his apprenticeship at the Foundry where their father worked. Often late out of bed, Stanley would run to work to make sure he got there on time. After completing his apprenticeship he remained at the Foundry for his follow-on employment, which was known as being an “improver”. He was sacked after that because the Foundry would have to pay him a ‘man’s wages’. He was out of work for 2 years. He then worked in maintenance at the Bristol Homeopathic Hospital. One of their brothers then got him a job at Sampson’s working in the field of engineering. The same brother got him his job at Underfall Yard, which Leonard says Stanley enjoyed very much.
Stanley told Leonard that when the divers had to go into Cumberland Basin to repair the lock gate chains there were ways of making some extra money from it. The diver had to go down to find the chains. If they wanted to be paid a bit of overtime the diver would take longer to find them!
Stanley also shared with Leonard his own ways of making extra money. Gas heaters were used to stop the hydraulic pipes from freezing in the winter. Stanley had to go around at night time to make sure they were lit. If he did the work on a Sunday he was paid double time so he was keen on doing the work at the weekend. Stanley also used to go out on the ships doing repairs. When you worked on deck it was normal pay, below deck it was time and a quarter, in the bilges it was double.
The man in charge of the yard when Stanley was working here was Mr Smith and the charge hand was Mr Owen. They were both out at the same time once so for two days Stanley was put in charge of Underfall Yard. Leonard says he very much enjoyed being in charge.
We were delighted to take Leonard into the Machinery Workshops to visit, for the first time, his brother’s old workplace.