Contributions

Interviews

By Pam Schweitzer

Pam Schweitzer interviewing Eileen O’Sullivan, Lil Murrell and Joan Pearce 12thAugust 2003

PS:      It's Tuesday 12th August 2003, and I'm sitting here trying to keep cool with Lil, Joan and Eileen. And we're going to talk about some memories of the places where they grew up for our new show. So who'd like to start? Let's have Eileen!

EO:     I was born in Bermondsey.

PS:      Tell us a bit about the place you were born.

EO:     My mother and father both lived in Bermondsey all their lives, and I was also born in Bermondsey. My father worked on the river, and his father also.

PS:      What did he work as, Eileen?

EO:     He was a lighterman, and then later he became a docker. Because, you know, lightermen worked very stressful hours -they worked with the tide, and if it's an early tide, they had to be out with the tide. I never used to see him for a couple of days. And then later on I think he'd had enough of that type ofthing, getting up and not coming home, so he was a docker, and that was more-or­less on a regular basis.

PS:      Yes, some dockers were on a regular basis weren't they, because the view you get is that they were all casual, but there were some who were guaranteed work, were they?

EO :    Yes. I can remember that, for a time, he was casual. And if there was work in the morning, and they would go down and queue up, and there would be a ganger, which my grandfather was. He'd have his own boats, and he'd pick out how many men in the group he wanted to work on the ship. Well that's what happened, and it was the strongest, or the men they knew, friends got picked. And they were the ones who got the day's work, or half a day's work sometimes.

PS:      So your father had done all the lighterage apprenticeship and everything?

EO:     Yes, yes.

PS:      And had his father done that before him, or was he more on the docking side?

EO:     No, he had his own boats. I say he had them -he managed them. Mostly, in those days, it was Holland butter, dairy produce, cheese ... And I should imagine he must have had a contract. When the boats came over, he arranged where they were going to be unloaded, and also for the men to work.

PS:      Really? Did they bring those huge old complete cheeses over?

EO:     Oh yes. And they used to have a hook. I mean, they had cranes of course, but they had to unload them by hand, and they'd have a hook. 

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