Tom Hart – Part One – Before Becoming a Docker
Our sixth docker is Tom Hart. He went into docking from whaling because his wife was suffering from miscarriages, so obviously he wanted a job where he could be with her. His father, who moved to Leith from Ireland at the age of 17 had whaled in the past, and had then gone into the merchant navy during WWII. His mother was a Leither although her parents, too, had been Irish. She worked in the fish industry, and as a tram conductress and then in the oil cake mills during the war. Tom remembers his grandmother who lived until about 1946 and tells us of what he knows of his grandfather who was a farrier in the army and whom he believes was run over by the horse gun carriages and died as a result of his injuries in the First World War.
Tom grew up in Bridge Street which is now called Sandport Place, in a second floor tenement, and remained there until he was married. He remembers the shared toilet on the landing and that they had a cold water tap in the house, a range for cooking and a gas ring. He recalls going to the public baths and suggests that many people were good swimmers because, having paid for the privilege, they wanted to get their money’s worth. He also recalls flushing the toilet when visiting others who had an inside toiled just for the novelty describing people with this luxury as “the clean people”.
He was schooled at St Mary’s in Consitution Street and taking part in the annual sports day on the roof as he thinks it was the case that the Catholics were not allowed to use the playing fields on Leith Links. He recalls that if it was a hot day your rubbers stuck to the tarmac! He, too, talks of occasional fish being given to the workers and of collecting fish that fell out from the loading when he was a boy and his wife a girl down the road, stringing them on wire and going round the doors to sell them on.
His secondary schooling was at St Anthony’s in Lochend Road, although his ambition was simply to get through in order to go to sea. He joined the Sea Cadets which meant he got a pass to get into the docks, which made him feel important. At their meetings they were taught the basics of self-preservation at sea by ex-seamen.
His first job was with Bowman’s the butchers in the Old Kirkgate taking the knots out of sausage skins, but when the employer wanted him to bring in sugar his mother had words with her, so his job was short-lived … very much so, as he was asked to leave after only having worked there two and a half days. From there he went to Calder’s the tent makers in Commercial Street painting camouflage colours onto tents for the RAF.
Shortly before the war ended he worked at Crawford’s biscuit factory in Elbe Street until his mother had an argument with his father, sold off the furniture and took him down to London just at the time when others were leaving in droves because of V2’s being dropped! After the war his parents were reconciled and they returned to the same house in Leith.
On his return Tom found employment at MacGregor’s the glassware merchants in Storrie’s Alley doing deliveries with a hand barrow to the pubs in Leith. Once he reached the age of 16, Tom signed on with Salvesen’s in Bernard Street and began whaling. He talks of the Southern Harvester which was built at Haverton Hill in Middlesbrough and of his exploits to Norway, South Georgia and the Dutch West Indies as an engine-room boy and describes how the whalers processed the whales they caught on their long voyages on the factory ship. On his return after the 8 month trip he worked at Polar Foods in Granton until the next whaling season began.
After three seasons of whaling Tom went to the Labour Exchange while waiting for his ship to sail, and was taken for National Service which he did with the Navy where he served as a killick (leading seaman) because of his knowledge of machinery, accumulated during his time working on the whaler cleaning filters, changing the tips on the burners in the stokehold etc.
Having done his time, Tom went back to whaling on Salvesen’s refrigerated ship the Southern Raven. After marrying in 1952 Tom put his name down for the docks, working in cold storage in the meantime. He had a family connection in that his wife’s father had been a docker, and because there was a shortage of dockers in May 1955, Tom was finally taken on as a docker.
But that is for another post as this one is quite long enough for one night!
There are other posts reviewing this book at:
Voices of Leith Dockers – Part One
Voices of Leith Dockers – George Baxter and Bobby Rodger
Voices of Leith Dockers – Tommy Morton
Voices of Leith Dockers – Eddie Trotter
Voices of Leith Dockers – Tom Hart Part Two
Voices of Leith Dockers – Tom Ferguson Part one
Voices of Leith Dockers – Tom Ferguson Part two
Copyright: Ruth Patterson 2010