Anecdote Index





.....A Day in the Life of a Saturday Boy.....

(28) by Dave Groom

It's said that everybody knows where they were when England won the World Cup in 1966. Well I know exactly where I was, 'washing up in the kitchen of J.Lyons teashop SB in Western Road, Brighton', ringing on the lift bell to the teashop floor upstairs to get the latest score from my school friends who got the information from customers with portable radios, or Fred the newspaper salesman who had his stall in the shop entrance. What excitement in the kitchen when Geoff Hurst scored at the end, and England had won it!!!!

I first went to work for Lyons as a Saturday boy, when I was 16, and then, during my summer holidays from school worked full time at the same shop. From then on I worked every holiday period at Christmas, Easter and Summer, and this pattern continued as I went through the 6th form at School, and then on to university. During this time, I moved shops, working at SH in Old Steine Brighton, and occasionally at SA and SZ as a relief. Brighton had 4 teashops in those days, and they were not much more than a few hundred yards apart!

I then took a year out during my university time, and became an assistant manager, working at C7 Croydon and D8 Sutton, with odd spells at Westminster (can't remember the shop number). Finally, during my last 2 years at university, I gained a roving role, going round shops in Southern England relieving the manageress' holiday periods. As far as I can recall, I worked in Southampton, Guildford, Kingston, Richmond, Eastbourne, Worthing and, of course, Brighton, and even in my last days at university, I was still relieving the manager's holidays in the shop in Oxford.

Well that's my Lyons history. However, I thought readers might like my recollections of a typical day in the life of a junior porter. First, though, a bit of shop geography. SB shop was arranged over 4 floors. The kitchen and boiler room were in the basement with respect to the front of the shop in Western Road, but were at ground level at the back of the shop in Stone Street.

The ground floor had the front shop, at the front in Western Road (surprise, surprise) and a narrow self-service counter, with stairs leading down to the kitchen, whilst the first floor had another counter, but a much larger floor area spreading out over the top of the shop next door. Finally, at the top of the shop were the staff changing rooms and the roof.

Whilst I worked there, I recall three permanent manageresses. There was Miss Plummer (Peggy), an elderly lady, with a terrific figure, quite prim and polite, but heard to say, when questioned about her spinster status, that 'I've had my moments you know'. Then there was Mrs Gander who was second in command to Miss Plummer, and whose catch phrase, was always 'come along you boys'. Finally, there was Miss Batchelor, who was not a lot older than me, and who all the boys fancied like mad. We were all devastated when she got married and became Linda Carne.

Then there was the area manager Gordon Jack, who appeared from time to time and went into cloistered discussions with the manageresses and carried out spot inspections of the premises. We always knew when Mr Jack was in town, because he usually went to one of the other shops first, and we were tipped off as to when he was likely to arrive! Finally, there was the mysterious Mr Webber at Cadby Hall, who was spoken of in hushed tones by the manageress but, like Captain Mainwaring's wife, was never seen. However, he occasionally rang the shop for Mr Jack, and when asked who wanted him, the answer was always 'my name is Webber, get him to call me when he arrives'.

And then there were the staff - too many to recall them all. Rose and Joyce ran the kitchen, assisted by a girl called Jeannette, who did the washing up. Tommy (Mrs Tomlinson) looked after the till, usually downstairs. Then there was Lou on grill, Violet on steam upstairs, Chris and Francis who worked downstairs. Also, Mary, who was a permanent feature of the front shop. There are several others whose faces I can recall perfectly, but not their names, so apologies if I have left them out.

Finally, there were the younger members of staff. Funny, I can recall many of the girls who worked there, but virtually none of the boys. Liz Harris was always in trouble for some reason or other, but stayed working there for a number of years, on and off. Then there was Vivienne Banda who worked the front shop and floor, and there was great excitement among the boys, when an exotic Spanish girl named Maria, appeared on the front shop - she had the longest black eye lashes I had ever seen! Finally, there was Janet a small dark haired thin girl, who mostly worked upstairs, but managed to come down to the kitchen to see the boys as often as she could. Sadly, the only boys I recall were Steve Jones and Ron Leaver both of whom were at the same school as me. All the rest are a blur of names and faces.

I guess the one other person I should mention was the visiting engineer, Bill Hammond, whose job was to service the plant in the shop and keep it working. I might be wrong, but I seem to recall Bill having a bit of a soft spot for Miss Plummer! She could certainly wrap him round her little finger.

And so to a typical day in the life of a junior porter. Shift patterns at SB consisted of one of three options:

a)           7.00 am - 12.00

b)           7.00 am - 3.00 pm

c)           10.30 am - 7.00 pm.

A porter's duties didn't vary too much depending on the shift, although obviously the early shifts were about opening the shop, whilst the later were about closing.

Early morning my job depended on which task I was allocated to, the manageress had a book showing the allocation of staff to specific duties. If kitchen duties, then the washing machine had to be started up, the wire racks put in place, and all remaining china and cutlery from the previous day sent upstairs in the rickety wooden lifts. Sometimes the boiler would be out, and, because it was fuelled with anthracite this meant a dirty job to be done, clearing out the ashes, lighting up and nursing it into life. Also, the anthracite was delivered down a chute in Stone Street, into the coal cellar, under the building at the rear, and had to be brought up in buckets and taken along the length of the kitchen to the boiler house which was underneath the front of the shop in Western Road. The anthracite was stored in large galvanised bins, and during the course of the day was poured into the boiler through a hopper on top. Another early job was filling the water softener, which was located in the boiler room, with salt.

If I was upstairs on the ground floor counter, then it could be the steam, the grill or just clearing tables. I often had the job of lighting up the steam and bain marie on the grill, and taking cakes from the front shop to the counter for the bar. If Mrs Gander was feeling particularly inclined, then the chore of the day could be filling the sugar jars or worse still, the salt and pepper pots. Mostly, on early morning duties the shop was fairly quiet, and so duties were doubled up. I often looked after the steam, and at the same time cleared tables. Sometimes I was allocated to looking after the front shop, and later in my time with Lyons, I worked the till, particularly early morning when no cashier was available. Breakfast was often taken on the job, in between serving customers. I particularly liked the poached eggs done in the round poachers above the grill.

Lunch came at round 10.30, or if I was lucky at 11.15 (I had never heard of lunch at 10.30!!). Usually, this was taken in the staff area on the first floor, in the area over the shop next door. From memory, the staff menus were pretty monotonous: Steak pie, braised steak or fish and chips. In fact, I don't remember the customer's menu being much better!

Over the lunch period from 11.15 till about 2.30 or 3.00 pm (tea), both counters were usually open, and on Saturdays in particular, were generally very busy. Table clearing duties were usually the most tedious - the metal trays we used were very heavy, particularly when piled high with china. Trays were filled, then taken to one of the lifts where they were sent to the kitchen for clearing and washing. Counter work was regarded as further up the pecking order by the student workers, but had the disadvantage of being hot and sticky in the summer. The steam wasn't too bad, but could become pressured as the demand for tea and coffee increased. In slightly slack times, it was necessary to milk the cups, using a milk ladle and the milk measure which ensured the same amount of milk was put into each of four cups. With 16 cups to a tray, this meant four ladles to be measured out. The advantage of this was that the milk covered the tea stain rings from previous users, where they had been badly washed in the kitchen. Tea was measured into the pots from a drawer using a brass measure and around 3 or 4 pots would be on the go at any one time. During busy times there was constant demand on the kitchen for cups, coffee, milk and even tea.

The first floor counter usually closed after the lunch period, at around 3.00 pm, when staff usually went to tea. My job in the closed area of the first floor depended on which role I had. If on the floor, tables had to be cleared, wiped clean, sugar pots filled, and chairs stacked. Finally, the floor was swept in readiness for the cleaners.

On the counter, on the steam, all tea pots had to be cleaned with teepol, and the coffee and hot milk reservoirs cleaned out at the end of the day. Tea cups were got up from the kitchen in readiness for the following day. On the bar, all remaining cakes or fruit pies were sent down stairs to the other counter for the afternoon period. On the grill, the bain marie was drained out and all containers and surfaces cleaned. On the downstairs counter pretty much the same routine occurred throughout the rest of the day, leading to shop closure at 6.00 pm.

Kitchen duties throughout the day didn't vary much, only the pace at which china and cutlery had to be washed. Trays were unloaded from the lifts, placed on the washing machine and the china placed in the appropriate racks (plates or cups), with cutlery in its own wire tray. Cups were individually given a wash on the cup brush machine, but this regularly failed to remove tea rings. Cups were also supposed to be checked for lip stick, but plenty found their way upstairs anyway. I have to say that my experiences in Lyons kitchen, speed drying cutlery etc. has served me well throughout my life!

Waste materials went into the rubbish bins, but food waste went into the pig bin. I seem to remember the 'pig man' came every day to take away the waste. In the general haste of a busy day, there was often a mad rush to get the trays from the lift to the washing machine, and as a result plenty of china hit the floor rather than the machine - it's a good job the cost didn't come out of our wages.

At the end of the day, when all the china was clean, and had been sent upstairs the machine was turned off, the filters cleaned and the runners at the back washed down, all ready for inspection by the manageress before we were allowed to go home.

And there you have it. All this for about £1-5/- a day, or about £8 per week for full time work. Looking back now, from the job I currently do, which is demanding of my time and requires extensive travelling on the congested roads of the UK, I recall with some fondness an age when work and life was simple, a time when I enjoyed the thrill of receiving a wage packet with actual cash in it, and buying the latest records at Boots across the road. Also memories of the people, many probably long gone now, and the time of my youth, also long gone, but brought back fleetingly as I write this piece.


© Dave Groom 2005