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PRESTONPANS 1924 - 1961

by A. M. Smith
Having worked for 8 months at Bankton Colliery in 1924, I was rather fortunate to get the position of an apprentice cooper in the local brewery. In those days it was a family concern with the father, son, nephews and relations all being employed in the various works namely, Fowler's Brewery, Mellis's Soapworks, saltworks, Belfield's pottery and Prestongrange Brick-Works, also the fishing industry. Unemployment was rare in 1920. Coal miners were employed at Prestonlinks Colliery, Bankton Colliery and Prestongrange Colliery.
It was a cold bitter morning when, at the age of 14, I made my way to commence my apprenticeship at 6.15 am as a cooper. Hours of work were from 6.30 am to 9.00 am, one hour for breakfast, starting at 10.00 am to 1.00pm, one hour for dinner, starting at 2.00pm until 5.00pm. Saturday hours were 6.30 am to 9.30 am, one hour for breakfast then from 10.00 am to 12.00 am. Brewing beer started at 10.00 pm and finished the next day at 2.00 pm approximately. The foreman cooper was the timekeeper, and he had a long rope fixed to a bell on the brew house wall: it was his responsibility to note that his time was dead on to start and finish work. Other times of ringing the bell were at 7.00 am, 10.00 am and 5.00 pm when the employees would make their way to the cellar, where they would receive their allowance of one pint of beer each time. Of Course there were many other openings to obtain more beer, such as doing a favour for the head cellarman or bottling hall manager, who would repay you with bottles of strong ale (wee heavies). Apprentices were not allowed any beer whatsoever. Saturday was actually a day of spit and polish, which had to be satisfactory to the brewing inspection; failing it had to be done all over again, and he was a stickler for cleanliness and perfection. Custom officers were allowed one barrel of beer from every brew for employees' consumption. Any employee found under the influence was instantly dismissed, which was very rare. Smoking was forbidden during working hours, unless in the toilet.
My first job on that cold morning was to knock the two hoops of a firkin (1/4 barrel), push the end (lid) in, and knock the hoops out again
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