Total Pageviews

Featured post

New Review

Always nice to get a positive review for one of my books and even better when it comes from another 'ex-pat' Burtonian!  Carol post...

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

War in the Warehouse


This month's Derby Telegraph article hit the newsstands today (31.05.17).  It might be a while before it makes it to the Derby Telegraph website, so I thought I would share it with you here.  On reflection, 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes' might have been a better headline ;-)


If you're having trouble reading the print on the image, here's the content:

You may remember, back in March, I said that there was “a sort of low-level guerrilla warfare in place” in the warehouse at Harold Wesley Ltd in Victoria Crescent, Burton?  On reflection, that might have been a bit of an understatement!

Mr. D., the Warehouse Manager, belonged to that school of post-war British managers whose ‘bark was worse than their bite’.  This worked fine in the days of deference but was wearing a bit thin by the early 1970s.  The lads (and it was mostly young men) who were employed to shunt huge reels of paper around the ancient building, were not prepared to be constantly bullied and badgered, particularly as they were earning a pittance and their working conditions left a lot to be desired.  In those days, Wesley’s did not have a trade union or any form of employee representation, which was unusual.  The 1970s recorded the peak of trade union membership.  With no official outlet for their grievances, some of the lads turned to mischief to make their point.

The first time I became properly aware of this, other than noticing the constant grumbling coming from both Mr. D. and the warehouse gang, was when I heard scuffling and suppressed giggling coming from Mr. D’s office.  At the time, I was ensconced in the Works Manager’s office (we were a little short of office space) next door to Mr. D’s office.  I didn’t think much about it until Mr. D. returned and uttered a stream of oaths and obscenities.  Sticking my head into the lion’s den, I discovered that Mr. D’s office had been trashed, with papers strewn everywhere and a bottle of ink liberally sprayed over the walls.  It was pretty obvious who the culprits were, but nobody could be individually identified because, unsurprisingly, no-one had seen anything.  I was quizzed but couldn’t shed any light on the investigation.

As it turned out, this was the least serious skirmish in the battle.  Unbeknown to Wesley’s management, we had our own tame arsonist in the warehouse gang.  This would be a problem in any organisation, but when you’re a paper conversion factory housed in a building with ancient wooden flooring throughout, it represents a particular menace. 

Any fire on the premises occasioned a full station turnout by the fire service and this started to be a regular occurrence.  Firstly it was just minor outbreaks, which could easily be contained, but the severity of the incidents increased, until one occasion when much of the warehouse was alight over more than one floor.  Flames could clearly be seen licking at the windows of the old brewery building as we stood in the street watching the firemen do their work.  The corner of the warehouse that was alight was just a few feet away from the office block, as you can see from the picture.  Only the entrance to the main yard separated the two buildings. 

Later, when the fire had been brought under control, the fire station chief (who was in a particularly bad humour at having been called out to us yet again) stomped around asking everyone what action they had taken on hearing the fire alarm.  He focused his ire on the inhabitants of the office building and, in particular at the office junior and a sort of office junior’s assistant employed in the General Office.  Two very young girls who were rather immature for their age.

“What did you do when the fire alarm sounded?” The fire station chief barked at them.

“We went and stood in the kitchen.”  The office junior offered.  The fire station chief was aghast.  The kitchen was an extension at the back of the office block which was, if anything, nearer the seat of the flames than anywhere else in the building.

“And what did you do in there?” The fire station chief asked, incredulously.

“Well,” the office junior simpered, “we held hands”

I thought he would have apoplexy.


We never did find the arsonist.  The fires did stop, eventually, which probably meant the culprit either got fed up with it, or more likely, left, but the all-pervading lingering smell of smoke in the place was a lasting reminder of his work.