The fifty five rung ladder

I told last month of my dad’s idea of demolishing the very large but redundant brick built chimney, left over from the days when the windmill was once driven by steam. His idea being to chop it down like a tree, by hacking away its foundations and letting it fall in to the field where we kept pigs, poultry and was our rick yard.

This wonderful little field which was glebe ground eventually being sold ; along with many many other picturesque Southam fields by the Rev.R.T. Murray . It being dug up ,and is now where the swimming pool stands. Having chopped away a rather large hole at the chimneys base, he rather surprisingly, decided it was perhaps not such a good idea after all. I say rather surprisingly, because my dad was the sort of man that no matter what the circumstances were, his decision once made, was never allowed to be questioned.. Although I thought the world of him , my article will shortly show how odd some of his thoughts were. After my mum, her dad and to an almost insignificant extent myself; said it may not fall where he thought it would, it was decided to demolish it from the top down. At that, a problem immediately arose on where to get a ladder long enough to do the job.

My worry being that as he had removed so many bricks from the base, a ladder propped up to the top with a man’s weight on it, might be sufficient to push it over. Surprisingly, he thought the idea was a possibility, so some of the bricks he had hammered away, were replaced, to give the structure stability. Just in case our concern we had should happen, when he was up the ladder.

However finding a long enough ladder was not that easy to overcome. Unfortunately, all the ladders that the Bird family had, who were there prior to us, had been sold at their passing, when the house and buildings contents were sold. After some asking around, my Uncle, Mr. Cyril Duckett, who ran the Convent farm, said that theirs was a long ladder at the Convent, for use when access was required to get on its roof. As dad supplied bread to the Convent, the Mother Superior was known to him, or rather she was known to dad, so when Uncle Cyril asked her if we could borrow it, she un- hesitatingly said yes. Now I had no idea just how long this ladder was, other than recalling it was very very long. However, I am well aware that when you are around 10 years old things always look bigger than they really are, so prior to writing this story I had a chat with a man who I felt sure would know, namely Mr. Cyril Goodwin. Prior to talking with him, I had been told by Mr. Brian Goodwin, that they still had a very long ladder that had been made by his dad Mr. John Goodwin and his brother Mr. Cyril for use at Vivian House on Market Hill, when the two Miss Tolley’s lived there.

This I had been shown and to me, now an OAP, it was an enormous example of their woodworking skills. What I call pole ladders, that is single span, were always sized not by length but how many rungs they had. Mr.Cyril said that the one they still have was a 45 rung. Please believe me when I say that made a ladder of quite enormous length, when asked how that compared to the Convent ladder he said that one was a 55 rung. During our conversation Mr.Cyril said how difficult it was to raise in to position such a long piece of woodwork. When doing so at Vivian House, they dropped ropes from the attic window, and together with men on the ground hoisted it in to position.

I mention this, as later in my article, I will recall the problems we encountered. After being given permission to have the loan of the Convent ladder the next problem that arose was how we moved it from Daventry Road, to the Mill in Welsh Road. By nature my dad was a very easy going man, had on a number of occasions acted as a bearer for Mr.Cyril Watson, who as well as conducting his builders business from his home and yard on the corner of Coventry Street and Welsh Road, better know by us Southam folk as Watson’s Corner, was also one of the local undertakers. So after dad chatted with him about the manoeuvre, he suggested using his builders truck to transport it. For those that are not familiar with such a means of transport, this was a two wheeled cart with handles and a cross bar. Similar trucks at the time, were used for the delivery of bread, as by Mr. George Amos the co op baker, a small man with a big heart, and one whos pleasant nature made life in those days in Southam, so gratifying. He I should point out was father to Mr. John Goodwin‘s wife.

A similar but open version of this hand cart was used by the local road sweeper Mr. Hearn and other versions for specific work. These hand carts were, like those that used them, being used to hard graft. So it was that on a given day, my dad together with his two brothers, my Uncle’s Len and Ralph Griffin arrived at the Convent ready for the big move. Little did they know then the mayhem that they were about to cause with the Oxford to Coventry traffic, that pre bypass days went through the town, much of which was very long articulated transporters carrying car bodies from the Pressed Steel plant in Oxford to a number of car manufacturing plant in Coventry. At this point I need to give an account of the layout of Wood Street and Coventry Street as of the late 1940’s early 1950’s. Wood Street at that time had a number of occupied houses within it. Today looking up the road from the Catholic Church Father’s presbytery and what was then The Crow pub on the corner of Daventry Street, towards the Post Office corner; the left hand side of the road was very much as of now. The shop on the left hand side and on the Corner of High Street and Wood Street opposite the Post Officer, now wines and spirits, was grocer Mr.Blewett‘s shop. He by the way coming to Southam as the Co Op manager, and thus may well be one of those in the attached photograph.

However, the right hand side, of Wood Street has since those days been wiped of the face of old Southam. What was once the pub called the Castle Inn but then known as Hammerfest and occupied by Mr.Saxton, was demolished to make the now Wood Street car park. Public toilets now being in Mr.Saxton’s living room. By the by; the 1086 map odd Southam shows a wood by the side of Wouldway, so I can but guess at some point that section of the old road was re-named to Wood Street. Next to Mr.Saxton’s Hammerfest were three cottages , the end one being adjacent to the post office. They again demolished for a car park.Mr.Saxton’s neighbour coming up the road was home to the Marlow family, next to them were Mr.and Mrs.Bloomfield; he affectionately know as the Duke of Wellington, and next to them and the Post Office was the Southam family’s home.

Mrs Southam Carry, in fact now being my step mother. Immediately in front of you on the opposite side of the road to the Post Office, where now is the police station car park, stood the old Co Op. This was quite an ornate and to me any way a beautiful looking building. It having a clock built in to it’s roof although the clock had, like the Co Op customers, was no longer given tick. I think if my feeble memory recalls correctly that it was a locally made clock by clockey Coles; T.C.Coles , who’s clock making business was on Market Hill. Stepping out of the Co Op door down two steps, brought you immediately on to a narrow cobbled foot path, the road at that point being also very narrow. I would guess the footpath would have been way into the present road system.

It really was quite a narrow road, and also very busy one, not with private cars, they being rather few, but with commercial vehicles. That sets the scene for the ladders route to the mill. With my dad pushing Mr.Watson’s truck and with uncle Len heading the procession with Uncle Ralph acting as rear guard they set of up Wood Street. After a bit of huffing and puffing they came to Post Office corner, trying to manoeuvre the ladder which was rather heavy albeit being on the truck was difficult enough any way. When it came to turning the corner a number of attempts were made to try and get it round the bend (my pun); this resulting in the traffic coming to a stop, whilst their aim was adjusted by various backwards and forwards shunts.

Then disaster struck. With the front end of the ladder trying to take out the Co Op window, the back end made contact with Mr.Blewett’s Wood Street wall and became hard stuck against it. So they could go neither forward or back, the ladder by then acting as a security barrier would , thus traffic up or down Wood Street (before it became one way) was stopped as was vehicles travelling up and down Coventry Street.They decided the only way to overcome the ladder jam, was to unload it from the truck,,get one end as low as possible and keep the other as high as was physically possible. After further huffing and puffing, and being on the receiving end of various comments from lorry drivers, and many Southam folk out shopping, some funny others less so, they managed to extricate it from ladder trap called Post Office corner. After as dad said ‘we took a blow to get our wind back’, it was loaded back on to the truck and taken down Wood Street, where they turned it in to Daventry Street and continued their now momentous journey of a the ladders life time, rounding what Southam folk still called Archer’s corner, the Archer family being Chemists there for generations (Chemists and Lloyds Bank corner ) without too much difficulty. They trundled up Coventry Street, and with a little difficulty got it round Mr.Watson’s corner and on to the home straight.

On arrival at the mill, after mum had made them tea it was decided that was enough excitement for one day, so the erection of the ladder up to the chimney was put off until such times as enough men could be mustered to get it in to position on the chimney top. I was around on the day it was raised in to position, and recall that a number of dads friends were called upon to help. One of them who is still with us, is dad’s old friend Mr.Ted Hudson. Mr.Cyril Goodwin has as previously mentioned, told me of the difficulties they encountered when erecting a little shorter ladder with guide ropes from Vivian House attic window on to their ladder.We had no way of hauling up the ladder from the top of the chimney. there being no windows to work from. After much should we try this or that, ropes were attached to both sides of the ladder top, with two men on each rope to keep the top steady.

A rope was fixed to the top rung, and two more men were on the end of that, to control the fall when the ladder went over top dead centre. At the base of the ladder, this was chocked to keep it in a fixed position during the pushing up exercise. With three men under the ladder pushing it up rung by rung, the lift started.With what I can to this day only describe as supreme strength, they got it up higher and higher, and eventually got it to the vertical position, when the control became the responsibility of the men on ropes. When I thought all was well, the top started to wobble and no matter how hard the rope men worked, to try to stabilise it, what I during my apprenticeship learnt of moments, leavers and triangle of forces, became too much for them. It was obvious that it was going to miss the top of the chimney any way, and with an almighty crash it toppled over. God must have been looking down and laughing at their antics, and decided to give them a second chance. Expecting the ladder to be smashed to fire wood, it landed on top of the field’s hedge, which was quite high and also thick.

On inspection no damage could be seen, so not being one to be beaten by a lump of wood, a further attempt after a short tea break was made. Fortunately every one had learnt a little from the first lift, and the second attempt was a limited success. Contact with the top was made, and after a bit of extra pulling on one rope, it was centralised and thus made safe. Brick by brick, with one hand holding on for grim death and the other wielding a heavy lump hammer, the wonderful old chimney was no more.

Thus ends the story of a ladder and a chimney I must say before my final word, that the photographs used in accompanying my articles come from my brother Alan Griffin‘s collection of Southam in Old Photographs. Next month; the drive that followed steam. A Ruston Hornsby hot end oil engine. What a wonderful machine that was. Should any glitches be obvious in my ramblings, please be aware that I am at present running in survival mode. Best wishes and kind regards to all I hope until next time.

This article has been kindly written by Bill Griffin

> Return to articles

Previous Articles Published before 2010
Article Name Author
> Twentieth Century Defences in Warwickshire Nimrod
> Warwickshire Murders District Advertisers
> Clerical activities Mary Rock
> The bake house oven Bill Griff
> Warwickshire county links Mary Rock
> Hot Oil, the drive that followed steam Bill Griff
> How can I get a quality tenant in the shortest possible time Jordans Rentals
> The fifty five rung ladder Bill Griff
> The poor are always with us Mary Rock
> Ensure the garden can cope with the heat of summer Farnborough Garden Centre
> It can be very pleasant to walk along the towpath Mary Rock
> With muscle power and a big hammer Bill Griffin
> July, a time to relax and enjoy your garden. Farnborough Garden Centre
> Most peoples daily transport was the bicycle Bill Griffin
> Not a Liberty Mary Rock
> May: the garden approaching its most exciting period Farnborough Garden Centre
> Farms in Southam in the 1900's Irene Cardali
> A few facts about Southam’s past Mary Rock
> April is one of the most exciting months for gardeners Farnborough Garden Centre
> Remembering the Warneford Irene Cardall
> Notable events in our vacinity during the last war Bill Griff
> Where is Southam or the Country Heading? Peter Crosby
> Christmas seems top fly past so quickly District Advertisers
> Christmas has changed little since the pre-war days Bill Griff
> Midwinter in the garden: January Farnborough Garden Centre
> Going to the post Irene Cardall

PC Doctor operates on a NO FIX - NO FEE basis

Since being established in 1995 PC Doctor has provided a huge range of computer services to home users and businesses alike.

If your computer is broken or laptop is running slow we can help.

Visit PC Doctor in Southam for LOW COST COMPUTER REPAIRS

place text adverts
Free for items under £250

Free Ads are placed subject to space and availability are not guaranteed entry into the publication. £5 Boxed Ads are available for guaranteed entry and for items over the value £250.


advertise with us
seen by 22,000 local homes

would you like to hear more?


District Advertisers
Get in touch with us today

prefer to send us an email?

This website was designed by Starre Design & Print - Visit our Online Portfolios [Website Design - Graphics Design].
All adverts and artwork displayed have been created by District Advertisers © 1994-2018, are not to be reproduced, copied, duplicated or used in any other publication without prior permission of Starre (SW) Ltd.