1. My First Home – A Brewery

Chapter One

Where’er you may roam,
There’s no place like home.

I am a Yorkshireman, and what a fine thing that is. I was born in the town and port of Goole, in the West Riding of Yorkshire. My mother, Enid Heppenstall, was thirty years old at the time of my birth, and I of course was zero years old. The year was 1928, and the event took place in the early hours of 1st October. The country was in the doldrums, unemployment was rife, and my father, Harry Turner (b. 1895, d. 1964), was lucky to have a position by which he could provide my mother and me with a reasonably comfortable way of life. He was by trade a ship’s draughtsman, and in the first dozen years of his career had become chief draughtsman, with a staff of seven or eight ordinary draughtsmen, in a small shipyard in Hook, which is a very small village some two miles up the River Ouse from Goole. By the time I arrived in his household, however, he was manager of a small brewery in Goole. Let me explain how this came about.

Some two years before my arrival, father had moved to a new position (still Chief, I believe) at a larger shipbuilding yard in Goole. The general downturn in trade, however, had meant that their order book for new ships became empty, and the draughting office was closed. Poor father was out in the street! Good fortune and a touch of nepotism came to his rescue. An uncle of my mother, my great uncle Harry Heppenstall, owned a brewery and several public houses in Goole. The brewery manager there in 1928, Rex Berry, had just secured a post in his real trade as architect for the Council in Huddersfield, another and much larger town in the West Riding of Yorkshire. So Rex, with his wife Bertie and their two children, Dennis and Michael, packed their belongings and moved away to live in a fine stone house in Huddersfield. They were good friends of my father and mother, and we regarded Dennis and Michael as cousins. Our two families often visited each other, had picnics together, went on trips to the seaside and abroad together, and remained on good terms until well after World War II, when the Berry family migrated to Rhodesia. After that, we never saw them again.

When Rex left the position of brewery manager vacant, fortuitously, as I have said, my father took over from him: and no doubt he quickly learned all the skills of brewing in the best possible way … by doing it. Two huge metal vats in a cold, dank cellar had to be filled with newly brewed beer, two or three times a week, to supply the pubs which were beholden to the brewery for the ale that they needed. In the early days we owned about seven pubs in and around Goole. The largest and best was the Station Hotel, in the centre of town, which I passed every day during the war (WWII) as I went to and fro the Grammar School. Others had nice names like The Grapes, Brewers Arms, The Don and Sotheron Arms, the last named being in Hook and run then by my Granny Heppenstall.

Father would get up very early on brewing days, to set the various mechanisms and operations in action. Water was pumped from a big tank set up over the rooftops at the far right-end of the yard (imagine a square cobbled yard, with the brewing buildings set on three of its sides, and the big Brewery House taking up the fourth side, overlooking the front street). The water tank was supplied with good clear water from our very own artesian well, sunk perhaps a hundred feet below the yard. I always felt quite proud of the fact that we had a well on the property. No other kid at school had one!

All I remember of the brewing process is that malted barley was crushed and mixed as ‘grist’. Water was heated in flat tanks under the roof, and the grist was added to it, to make mash tun. This was then heated to about 150 degrees Fahrenheit. The resulting solution was then strained to yield the wort, and the sediment, known as brewers grains, was sold to farmers as fodder.

The next stage was to run the wort into a boiling copper. Hops were fed into the copper, and sugar was added to help produce a light beer. This mixture was heated, to sterilise the wort, and the spent hops were another by-product, which could be used to make fertiliser. The beer was then run into the big vats in the cellar to the left of the yard, and left to cool, after which yeast was added to the liquid. After about six days the yeast would change all the malt sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Finings were then added (usually isinglass, which comes from the bladders of freshwater fish, such as sturgeon) to help clear the beer of any remaining floating ‘foreign’ matter. I must confess that I learned many of these details much later in my life—but this is how it all happened, with my father on the bridge, as it were. And I remember watching the processes happen. The smells were lovely; nothing is more delicious than the odours of malt and hops mashing, and they were at their strongest on brewing days, of course.

Whether the resulting beer was good to drink depended on the quality of the ingredients used, and the judgements that the brewer (my father) had made at each stage. I should add that on at least one occasion, to my certain knowledge, the beer quality also depended on the size and taste of a rat that had met an untimely (possibly happy) end by falling into a vat in the cellar.

So Dad had to learn quickly all this chemical manufacturing process, on the spot—up in our rooftops—and learn it well, if our Brewery trade were not to fall off rapidly.

For some twelve years, until the Brewery ceased operations in the early years of World War II, I was present on all of the brewing days. I shall bear with me, all my life, memories of the strong, sweet fragrance of boiling malt and hops carried in the clouds of steam which would spread around the Brewery yard. Memories of my childhood flood back whenever I happen to be passing other breweries. Until quite recently there was one in my present home town in New Zealand, and for a long while I passed it twice daily. A whiff of malt and hops in Hamilton would take me back instantly to my childhood home in far distant Yorkshire.

Other strong memories of the Brewery yard centre upon the big barrel store—one which had to house over a hundred large and small, wooden-staved barrels (and not a few families of rats, too). It was situated in the right-corner of the square, under the Water tank; and I was quite old before I dared to creep into it, and explore its mysterious, frightening dark spaces. One had only to step some ten feet inside, and its darkness began to close in around you. Once my friends and I lost a little fear of it, the barrel store made a very fine place to use for games such as hide and seek, or cowboys and Indians. But it was always rather eerie, crouching behind a smelly barrel in the pitch dark, hoping someone would come along and find you, quickly.

Much later, during the war when brewing operations had ceased, I was able to use the abandoned barrels to make into rabbit and guinea pig hutches. All I had to do was to saw a barrel in half, cover the open ends with wire-netting and small doors, and Bingo! — I had two hutches. I made many of these, because for years I kept dozens of rabbits; part of my War effort was to supply our family with rabbit meat! I loved my rabbits, too. I had all kinds, Dutch, Angora, English, and occasionally one of the more exotic kinds. Of course, they had lots of babies (contributing to my growing knowledge of sexual behaviour, as well as to the meat supply), and if a baby was well-marked I would rear it carefully and take it to the local shows to set it up for judging. I am sure I got a few prizes, but never best-in-show; I would have remembered a super-event like that. I do remember failing to get a prize once, and afterwards getting into argument with the Judge about it! At the ripe age of eleven or twelve I was then told the facts of life in the show ring, very firmly. I haven’t argued with a judge since—keeping my disagreements to myself.

Making and repairing barrels with wooden staves was quite a skilled job; men who did it served their time as apprentices, and were called coopers. Nevertheless, I dare say my father turned his hand to it when occasion demanded. He was very capable with his hands, and a job like that wouldn’t faze him.

There were many other tasks that father had to do, of course, as well as supervising the brewing operations. He had one or two paid workmen to help him, a couple of dray horses to keep well quartered, and all the book-keeping to look after. Keeping in contact with the seven or eight inns which the Brewery served would involve much invoicing and letter-writing and chasing up of bills. Telephones in those days were still rather scarce, and the Brewery didn’t have one. I can remember the day when one was installed in our house—we had moved into the big house by then, so it must have been as late as 1941 or so. We were all quite excited about that event, and crowded around in the hall to try it out. I forget the cost per minute of a call, but I well remember father’s parsimony. He kept a tight reign on the family’s usage of the instrument.

Finally, in Father’s list of brewery tasks (in fact there were others, such as rent collecting, but I must stop somewhere), he had to look after and promote the small Wine and Spirits shop, which was situated to the left of the arched entrance to the yard.

I doubt if he got paid much for doing all this work, but he was able to move his family of four into a very small, rent-free, three-roomed flat over the Wine and Spirits Shop. It was reached by climbing a narrow internal flight of lino-covered stairs, from the same entrance as used for the shop. I must have crawled up those stairs many times, and clambered unsteadily down them, before I could properly walk up them. I don’t recall ever falling down.

At the top, and to the left, was a bedroom in which all four of us slept. My parents in a double bed by the window, and sister Barbara and me in a double bed by the inside wall. To give you some idea of the size of the room, the space between the beds was just enough for us to get out of bed and dress. I can remember my mother sometimes doing breathing and other exercises on the carpet which lay in that gap. Her efforts to keep fit and less fat (she wore corsets, but as father unkindly said, they only shifted the bulges from one place to another) were spasmodic; but I did watch them from time to time over the years we shared that room.

Moving straight forward from the top of the stairs, one entered a tiny kitchen, which had small-paned windows overlooking the cobbled brewery yard. When I say ‘cobbles’ I really mean cobbles (in N.Z. the word means ‘paving stones’). The yard was covered in large round stones, like big cannon-balls, and the hooves of the two dray-horses which we kept for transporting beer barrels would ring upon them, as they pulled their drays in and out the yard.

The kitchen was smaller than the bedroom; but it had a sink by the window, a small coal fireplace at the far left-end, a chest of drawers in one corner, father’s writing desk on one wall, and a kitchen table in the centre. I was told that when I was brought back from the nursing home, the bottom drawer of the chest of drawers served for a while as my resting place. And the sink was the place where I was washed. Indeed, I can remember one time, when I would be six or seven I suppose, when I was standing naked in the sink being washed down, and a young Aunt Margaret (she would be eighteen or nineteen) was present at this ceremony. I can recall feeling something like embarassment—was it the first stirrings of an awareness of sexual differences? Who knows, but I remember it still! Incidentally, that same Aunt Margaret is still alive, and since 1942 has been the Landlady (with her husband Ralph Heppenstall as Landlord until he died in the late 1980s) of a small, independent country pub, the Sotheron Arms in Hook. Sixty years at the Bar! I wonder if she remembers that bath-time session of mine. I must ask her, the next time I visit Yorkshire.

The kitchen was my living space, my eating space, my talk-with-parents area, my sit-by-the-fire-and-be-hugged place, for the first twelve years of my life. I can remember many isolated happenings in it—one example is of my mother and father having a serious row, a pitched battle. Mother began to throw pots and plates from one end of the table to the other. I don’t think she hit him, but some of the plates broke on the far wall over the desk! My sister was in tears, but I bore the spectacle more stoically. Our parents did have rows like this on occasion, but they didn’t often resort to use of projectiles; hurling abuse was usually sufficient. I was always on my mother’s side, during these arguments; father was an extremely obdurate man, and would never ever give way or change any view he had formed. Mother’s infuriation at this was palpable; I certainly felt it, and sympathised with her. I am sure it was by watching father that I came to know that there are always two or more sound sides to an argument. I wonder how he missed this, when a young lad like me picked it up so early! Maybe my future successes as a mediator grew out of that knowledge. My view didn’t have to be the right one, I learned. In fact, if push comes to shove, and using some form of averaging, I am inclined to say that anyone who is arguing any matter which is not mathematical has a fifty percent chance of propounding the wrong view; or at best, one that can be improved upon by looking at the matter from a different direction.

Nicer memories of the kitchen were: sitting on mother’s knee by the fire, before bed—she probably read to me; playing games on the table (table tennis was a favourite, and mother would often shriek with laughter when the ball went in the wrong direction or skidded off a corner to be unplayable); and of course, there were the Christmas days—for Christmas mornings our parents would deck out a small tree, stand it on the table, and during the night of Christmas Eve they would surround the tree with presents. We would get up at 5.30 a.m., and start to open them. I don’t suppose mother and father would mind, so long as we closed the door and were quiet; for that would leave them alone in the bedroom for several hours—a rare treat.

The third and last room in our flat was a small lounge, which was entered through a door on the right, at the top of the stairs. It was situated over the Brewery archway—the one through which the drays passed with their loads of beer barrels. It was comfortably carpeted, had the usual lounge suite, and a coal fire on the wall opposite to the door. There was also a piano in there, on which I began my musical life. My mother had a very good soprano voice, and she used to sing the ballads and pop songs of the day, accompanying herself on this piano. I must have watched her doing this many times over the years. My memories include numerous occasions of standing by her and, when older, joining in the songs with my childish voice. Her skills on the piano did not match those of her lovely voice—her timing was particularly bad, and I always seemed to know that—but that didn’t matter to us, in our enjoyment of the songs.

As a girl Mother had had singing lessons, and began to sing in local amateur operettas; she would certainly have gained solo parts, with her powerful voice. But at the age of eighteen or nineteen (just after World War I) she was hit by the dreadful disease of alopecia—which name I now see from my dictionary came from a 14th century Latin word meaning ‘mange in foxes’! Nowadays, it means quite simply baldness. It is hard to imagine the effect on a beautiful eighteen-year old girl, one with a mass of long and curly red hair and good prospects for a husband and a future career as a teacher and singer, who suddenly, over a very short period, suffered complete and permanent loss of all her hair. She had started her College training, to become a teacher, but that plan was abandoned straight away.

She and father had then been courting for a while, and she often told me how grateful she was to my father for still wanting to marry her, despite her sudden affliction. For the rest of her life she had to wear the best kind of wig that they could afford—and they didn’t come cheap. She never lost the fear of embarrassment, should it fly off in a high wind. She would wear close-fitting hats to help avoid such a disaster (indeed, I don’t think it ever happened to her, but the fear of ‘shame’ was always there). It was definitely a genetic problem, for her Uncle Harry Heppenstall (the one who owned the Brewery) suffered it at least partially. He was, as they say, as bald as a coot. But he didn’t bother about it—men don’t have to, do they? — and I think he would polish his tome, so that it shone boldly when he strode out in the sunshine; he certainly encouraged his eyebrows and moustache to grow vigorously, and he followed the Edwardian practise of waxing them, and twirling their ends into tight points.

I have digressed from my description of our flat. I had, in fact, said about all I can say of the three rooms. We were last discussing our lounge, weren’t we? I remember many happy times in there too, which included my sporadic efforts to learn the piano. I had a year’s lessons when I was about eight, but as is usual practice for young boys and girls, I came to value my outdoor practices, such as roller-skating on the street, or wandering afar with friends along the river banks, rather more than my desire to develop a musical skill. I did not take up the piano again until I was about fourteen, when I borrowed a book of Clementi’s Sonatas from my Granny Turner and worked my way quickly through them. That took place in the lounge, of course, and it set me off on a life-time of delight in playing the piano. More of that later.

One other vivid memory of our lounge was how, in every school holiday, both my friends and Barbara’s friends would come up there, and we would play board games; in particular, we loved to play Monopoly, and play it we did, endlessly. How I enjoyed owning the Stations, and the cheaper housing sets—the magenta, blue, purple and brown ones on the sides flanking the gaol-cell. I gradually learned that the best way to win was to get those sets early, when you could still afford to build hotels upon them; then you would reap big rewards quickly. You might even knock one or two players out of the game—splendid. Then at some point, when you were sufficiently rich, you could cash most of that property in, and grab some of the dearer sets, such as Strand (red) or Piccadilly (yellow) and build on those. If you chose your moment to do this wisely, you could probably clean out a couple of other players, who thought they had just dodged your earlier property with a sigh of relief, only to find themselves now on one of the red or yellow sets—bliss. You learned that it was best not to try to win with the Queen Street (green) set, or the very classy dark blue Mayfair set—you could certainly gain big profits from them, but you usually lost out to the other players before that happened. How many other people in this world have learned their business skills by experimenting on the Monopoly Board?

So that has set out for you many details of our tiny three-roomed flat, which perched above the Brewery yard. I have given you some of my memories of life there, and introduced you to some of the people that played a major role in my early life.

There is one thing that I haven’t told you. You must have been wondering where the lavatory was. Of course, that is a vital place for all of us, rich or poor. Well, to get there one had to go down the narrow flight of stairs, with slippers flapping on the cold lino, out of the door, then turn and pass through the great pair of double doors that filled the Brewery archway every night. Finally, after stepping a dozen or so yards along the archway and to the outside-rear of the shop, one discovered a cold, dank, dark toilet, entered through a flimsy wooden door. I don’t recall whether it had a window (perhaps there were only a few holes in a boarded opening), but I do remember, and that very clearly, how cold it could be, sitting in there during the winter months. I also remember that, especially during the war years, there were no such niceties as soft toilet paper in there—we all made do with squares from torn-up Daily Expresses or Goole Times’. Perhaps the squares helped me to learn to read newspapers!

By the way, the lavatory was just next to the ‘coal-hole’—a concreted compartment in which the coal-man would from time to time dump a sack or two of coal for our fires and cooking. When I was older, I often had to venture out to fill the coal skip (bucket) and carry it up those lino-covered stairs to feed our grates. One thing that children learned to do then, merely as part of their daily lives, was to fetch and carry coal, to chop sticks, and to light fires in grates (not always a simple task). They might also have to clean out the trays which were set under the gratings to collect the ash and slag from the burnt coal. Nowadays only silly people who think that pot-belly fires in the middle of their rooms are trendy—a fashion item, for heaven’s sake—will submit themselves to such toils and indignities.

You will have noted that our living quarters were really quite meagre. Very few people would nowadays accept them as being ‘reasonably comfortable’. I had no other choice but to live in them, however, and I enjoyed my life in the Brewery immensely. I shall no doubt dredge up more memories of my life there, and will recount them in subsequent chapters, but this is an appropriate point at which to close my first chapter.

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