Balta sound © Copyright Mike Pennington and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
His grandmother, Margaret Clarke had been a single parent in Unst, Shetland. She had kept her son, William born in 1897 rather than have him adopted (as was more common at the time). Her family were a fisher family in Balta Sound. They had decided to go to Liverpool in the 1840s. There are records of a poor herring fishery during the 1830s- see below. The family went back to Shetland on occasion for the fishing. In Liverpool there was a conclave of Scottish families including the Crawfords, Youngs, Clarke and Mackinnons. William left school at the age of 14 and entered a very unstable job market in Liverpool during the war years and into the 1920s. There were no apprenticeships. He went to a private college to learn bookkeeping in the early 1920s but this did not make him any more employable. At one point he had to work for over a year with no pay in an internship situation, which was a struggle for him.
Alan was born in 1931 after his sister in 1929. Alan achieved a scholarship to the fee-paying Wallasey Grammar School. It was while he was still at school that he worked as a paper boy for Arthur Halliwell. His father felt very strongly that it was important for Alan to stay on at school. School was seen was a way to a better standard of living including a job with a pension. Alan did stay on but he felt very isolated as his family did not have the money for extras. He achieved his school certificate and then his higher school certificate. The children got Christmas presents from Liverpool Council. Alan and his sister were given holidays to West Kirby (Wirral Peninsula) and a place in Shropshire near Oswestry.
Albert Docks photograph by Christopher Kern Licensed Creative Commons
His first job after leaving school was a temporary job as a bus conductor in Wallasey. He remembers working on the 181 Bus and earned £8 a week plus overtime. He joined the RAF as his National Service and was stationed at RAF West Drayton. he earned 4 /- a day during his service. He wanted to join the Civil Service after he finished his National Service so he took the Civil Service Exam while still in the RAF. He passed the exam and then applied to join the Customs and Excise as he left. While he was waiting for an appointment he returned to work as a bus conductor. He eventually got his appointment and left his job on the buses 30th December 1951 starting his Civil Service job on 31st December 1951 at Liverpool Docks for Customs and Excise. The offices were all over the docks (probably greater than 100 of them). Each office had about 6 people in each office. Every cargo coming into the dock was checked.
Winch at Albert Dock Liverpool by Christopher Kern- License Creative Commons
Customs and Excise work
When a ship came in it reported itself within 24 hours. Ships agents came to clear the cargo. Casks of rum for example were all individually tested for their alcohol content. An entry was made describing the cargo and Customs and excise checked each entry. The customs duty could be from 0-20% + purchase tax (the forerunner of VAT).
Alcohol was kept in bonded warehouses. The duty was paid when the alcohol left the warehouse. When it was in the warehouse it was under “crown lock”. There were two locks on the door. The distillers had one lock and key and Customs and Excise had the other lock and key.
In those days the cases were loose and there was a lot of pilferage by anyone who might come into contact with the cargo at any stage in its journey. It took hundreds of dockers to offload a ship, maybe even two weeks. The Mersey Docks and Harbour Board had a list of dock labourers who were hired by the various shipping companies. Bananas required specialist storage and accurate arrival times. During the 1950s the first banana boat came from the Caribbean for Geest. It was unfortunately held up by a dockers strike so they had to dump their cargo in the sea. After that they took their cargo to Swansea instead and never went back.
Alan worked for Customs and Excise for the next 40 years. He stayed at Liverpool until 1955, moving to Brora (Chydelish) near Dormoch next. There is a distillery there. He was the only C&E officer there. The man in charge died suddenly so he went up there. He remained an apprentice of C&E for seven years moving from place to place. This included Orkney, Dover, London, Fraserburgh and the Western Isles to gain experience of warehouses, airports, land boundaries, distilleries, breweries, sugar beet, probate, purchase tax (not VAT) and receiver of wrecks. The last job was a really interesting one to do though it could be dangerous too. The job of the Receiver of the Wrecks was to protect any wreck against plunder before it could be offloaded. As the film Whisky Galore retells this could be easier said than done if the wreck was in an isolated spot.
Just before Alan arrived for a Wick posting the Norwegian ship, the Doverfell was wrecked in a bad storm and the whole ship was plundered for tobacco, food, clothing, radios and other personal items the crew had to leave when they abandoned the ship. The Norwegian Government send a letter of complaint to the British Government. The Receiver of Wreck has the right to shoot to kill and can command soldiers to protect a wreck. he had more legal power than the Chief Constable. After a ship was wrecked he would arrive in the area to secure the wreck. He may have to search premises of anyone suspected of being in possession of undeclared cargo from a wreck. if this happened Alan went to the area with the Chief Constable. The latter explained to the householder the legal situation. Alan had a writ of assistance (a legal document). He then went into the house. A writ is a general search warrant to allow Customs and Excise to search any premises for stolen goods. It does not expire.
In 1967 he left for Mombasa, East Africa where his job was to train people in Customs and Excise. He also worked in Uganda, Tanzania, Zanzibar and Botswana. Hsi family came with him to Mombasa. Once they returned to the UK they settled in Elgin. His wife’s family were from Brora. He worked in distillieries around Elgin including Burgie and Glen Moray. Finally he worked with VAT from a High Street Office in Elgin.
Memory contributed by Alan Clarke, Elgin
In the Highlands there was a failure of the Herring fishery over several years running up to 1840. this could explain why Alan’s Grandmother and family moved down to Liverpool to find work.
The seven schools of Wallasey including a picture of Alan’s school
Wallasey buses from 1950s era still operating. Flickr seems to be a rich source of bus images from this era.
Bonded warehouses- an example was Albert Dock warehouses
Liverpool Docks– a slideshow of numerous images of Liverpool docks over the last century. There are many people from the 1950s and 60s including a group of dock workers waiting to be selected for work loading and unloading ships. There is another interesting site about the Waterguard (a division of Customs and Excise). There are numerous pictures of the Customs and Excise buildings over the centuries.
Receiver of Wreck– Here is what this job entails.
Alan enjoys phtotgrapher and was a member of Elgin Camera Club for a number of years.