Joe McHenry remembers the night school at Liverpool Exchange station

Resource Type: Audio | Posted on 20th February 2012 by Liam Physick

Joe McHenry explains how, at night school, he was given the Blue Book of railway rules and regulations. Once, however, the Blue Book got him into trouble: a man phoned and asked to transfer some returned empty crates, which were, according to the rules, charged at a higher rate than new empty crates, and when Joe insisted on the higher rate the customer got angry and complained to the superintendant, Joseph Cotton (not the actor), who gave Joe a dressing down, which surprised Joe as he had thought there was no discretion on the policy. Joe also talks more about his work on the switchboards: he would work from 10 o’clock until six and would film bills of lading for lorries weighed on the weighbridge. One day, he managed to get out of the office when he received a call from the depot on the Dock Road, explaining that their film had run out and there was no one to change it, so Joe had to do the job: he was only too happy to get out of the office!

Interviewee: Joe McHenry

Interviewee Gender: Male

Date of Interview: 1st December 2011

Interview Transcript

Jodie: What did youse, what was it they studied in the night school?

Joe: Well, it was, they had different, you’d have to call them tomes, because they were huge things, they were, but the basic ones, I think it was called the Blue Book, which was all the rules and regulations regarding the transfer of, of freight etc., what, what was allowed, what the tariffs would be . . . in fact I got into, the only time I got into any kind of difficulty in the fording office was when a chap rang and said he wanted to transfer some empty crates, and when I asked him if they were new empty crates or returned empty crates – there is a difference, the difference being that, if, if you send crates of bananas out, and then you want those the crates that the bananas were in to come back again, that’s returned empties, right, and you get a better rate on returned empties because you’ve used the regular ones and it’s a, sort of, you know . . .

Jodie: Oh, yeah.

Joe: . . . so you get a, you get a reduced rate, brand new crates going out for the first time was charged at a higher rate, so when I explained this to the potential user of the railways he got very irate and said he didn’t, he’s never paid the higher rate, and I explained to him it was in the Blue Book and . . . and, of course, he, he spoke to the . . . I think he was called the superintendant – the superintendant? So I got a bit of a, you know, telling off over that, but, as I pointed out to him at the time, there was no, no one said there was discretion . . .

Jodie: Yeah.

Joe: . . . if they’d have said there was discretion, that’s one thing, but to put in a book and then you go to night school to learn it all, there doesn’t seem to be much point! (laughs)

Jodie: Yeah.

Joe: Now, I think his name was Cotton, actually, you know the actor, Joseph Cotton, no, you wouldn’t remember, but there was an actor called Joseph Cotton, and I think the superintendant’s name was Joseph Cotton, I am going back a few years here . . .

Jodie: Yeah.

Joe: . . . so, remembering might (sic) be quite what it should be.

Jodie: Oh, right. So, it was just for, for learning work. Did you get paid for that when you went to the night school, was that, was that part of your job or was that just . . . ?

Joe: Oh, well . . . no, that was just in the evening and, like, like you’d go today, you wouldn’t be paid for going to night school, would you?

Jodie: No, no. Is it, but, so that was your choice to go to that . . .

Joe: Oh, yes, well if you . . .

Jodie: . . . you learnt more about your job?

Joe: . . . if you wanted to progress, you had to, you had to pass different exams. But it wouldn’t, as I say, it had only about, the night school, I mean, it sound grand, but there was only about five or six of us there, young lads like myself, but the, the railway were running it, it was the British Transport Commission in those days, they used to own everything, including the Adelphi and . . . So, I went to, when I was on the, the, the shift from 10 til six, I had to go to Edge Hill goods station and work in the office there. They had an office by a weighbridge, and when the lorries came in, and went out, they were weighed of course, and they had to have bills of lading and different documentation, and I used to film them, there was machine there, and they used to have, one of those stamps that rotated a, a number, each time, as each time you used it it went up, so if I started at 500 it would go 501, 502 etc., and I used to have to stamp these invoices, bills of lading, and then photocopy, well, it’s not, it wasn’t photocopying as such, it was actually filming them on a special machine, and that’s all I did, all day, and then one day in the summer, someone rang up and said that the depot down on the Docks on the Dock Road, the, the film had run out, and they had no one who could change it, so, they said to me, “Can you change it?”, and I said, “Well, yes, I can”, so they gave me some bus tickets, and sent me off with the film, and I, and off I went down to, to the Dock Road, I went to walk along the Dock Road cos there . . .

Jodie: Yeah.

Joe: . . . but it was a nice summer’s day, and to a 16 year old, 17 year old, it was a pleasant thing to do . . .

Jodie: Yeah, definitely, getting out of the office!

Joe: . . . and it wasn’t work! (both laugh) You know . . . so by the time I go, got back it was time to go home. But all if it’s gone, I’m afraid, down . . . there’s been a lot of . . . demolition, rebuilding, Tunnel Road itself has changed considerably.

Tagged under: railway workers, tunnel road, demolition, regeneration plans, docks, switchboards, liverpool exchange station, adelphi hotel, telephonists, dock road

Categorised under: Work & Industry

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