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Preston dock crane driver Richard Taylor

Posted on - 17th October, 2009 - 1:33pm | Author - | Posted in - History, Opinion, People

Richard TaylorAfter the posting of photos and videos of Preston Docks on the web, I wanted to speak to someone who had worked there during its heyday – and one man appeared in many of the photos, Richard Taylor.

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Dick Taylor, as he likes to be known, is 82-years-old and lives in the Ingol area of Preston. He’s in good health and spent his whole life working on the cranes. He greets me with a smile and a very firm handshake. We take a seat at this kitchen table, and it’s no nonsense, he wants to know what I want to know about his life on the docks.

He started working on the docks as a 16-year-old, but going straight from school into work didn’t scare him. He was brought up on Waterloo Road, Ashton and went to Ashton Methodist School. Working on the docks was in his family. He said:

I wasn’t scared. It was a new thing, I’d been at school and then straight into it at 16. My father, Hugh Taylor, worked 40 odd years on a Tug boat on the docks, my uncles and brothers also worked on the docks.

Taylor found that driving cranes was an interesting and rewarding job, but it was tough work and the hours were long.

We drove lots of different types of cranes, electric ones, hydraulic. It was great work but long hours. During the war when I was 17-18 I would do 12-13 hours shifts. Once I worked seven weeks without a day off. In the winter there was no heating, just stuck up in the crane all day in the cold. I could see the bombs dropping on Liverpool from my crane. Preston was a smaller port so we didn’t get bombed.

At night we weren’t allowed to have any lights on during the war. Used to have light men who would guide the cranes so we knew where to pick up from.

The docks could be a very dangerous place to work and this was highlighted when during the war an oil tanker called the Lisetta blew up in the docks. Taylor recalls the incident, he wasn’t there, but many of his colleagues were:

Somehow a spark happened and the explosion opened the deck up, propeller went flying onto the roof of one of the warehouses. It was a huge explosion. The captain died, he was trapped in his cabin.

Richard Taylor, second from right, with colleagues

Richard Taylor, second from right, with colleagues on Preston Dock

It wasn’t all danger and hard work, the dock workers used to get up to some pranks during their shifts. Taylor smiles as I ask him whether they played any tricks and with a chuckle he recalls:

Social life on the docks. It was good, always a laugh. We used to go greasing and lift people up in a bucket and put them out over the water. We were all young lads and we liked a laugh, but we did get told off sometimes.

Preston Docks were very different during that time to how they are now, before the Odeon, Morrisons and show-homes it was a hub of activity as Taylor describes:

It was self-contained as we had everything there, the locomotives, joiners, mechanics and workshops. We had everything. It’s a shame it’s not like that now as it used to be a major point of interest, people used to come to walk round and see what was happening.

The docks had plenty of firms, at one time we had nearly 1,000 dockers working there during its heyday. We had a fast turnaround. It was the only job I ever had and I enjoyed working there, but the manufacturing has all gone and it’s a shame we don’t make anything anymore. It’s all going.

Sadness crosses Taylor’s face as I ask about the docks closing down and his final years there before retirement. He recalls his last day:

The docks closed in 1982. I took early retirement in 1978. It was struggling when I finished and they were really piling the work on us, and laying off a lot of staff. Maggie Thatcher tried to freeze our pensions. We were all civil servants you see. I remember my last day, it was sad going round to say goodbye to everyone – especially as a lot of people had already left.

I thank Taylor for his time and make my way to the door, as I do he tells me that it’s amazing how quickly times moves – as he points out. In less than 100 years the docks in Preston opened and closed. For a short time it was a busy, bustling and historic dock but now it’s a marina. Although as Taylor chuckles “They want to make it a marina, but I can’t imagine anyone wanting to keep their expensive yacht there!”.

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