The Scaffold


Hello and welcome to Sams Canteen.

We were sat in the office the other day at one of our rare quiet moments when we were thinking of what would our readers want to see/hear in a blog. I had just been telling a story from when I was an apprentice that was from back in the 80s when the health and safety was, to say the least, a bit relaxed when I thought that’s it ill share some of these.

Sams canteen is now up and running and we will be open & be posting stories that actually happened though we may have to change the names except mine to protect the not so innocent.

So grab a tea, coffee, and biscuit and enjoy the memories.

Sit back relax and enjoy the story
Sit back relax and enjoy the story

The Scaffold

Back in 1984, the building company I was working for got a contract to add an extension and renovate a local clinic in Grimethorpe. There was quite a bit of work to do and we were there quite a few weeks. This particular day we had a ceiling to overboard and skim in the entrance hall. The previous day Neil and Bri had made a list of materials and kit that was needed to carry out the works. The ceiling was quite high so they decided to get a scaffold rigged up to work from.

How Grimethorpe clinic might have looked in the 80s
How Grimethorpe clinic might have looked in the 80s

Now there are scaffolds that builders use and there are scaffolds that plasterers used back then and they were worlds apart for safety and appearance. The plasterer’s scaffold consisted of a combination of milk crates tied together mixed with bags of plaster piled on top of each other and anything else that could be stacked to the correct height. The battens, on the other hand, came in all manner of shapes and sizes taken from proper builders scaffolds over the years and left outside to soak up the elements when not being used. The problem with this was they got weathered, well and truly, so you had to sort through them and try to get the best ones.

So on the morning of the job, me & Neil went and got the scaffold, and the plaster was being dropped off with Bri & Andy. The scaffold was set with plenty of battens to walk on except one batten that when it was trodden on really bent and creaked. Bri said whatever you do only stand on that with one leg and the other leg taking the weight on the other batten, and make sure that we are both on a separate side of the scaffold. One more thing he said “only 2 at a time on the scaffold”.

The first thing they had to do while we were sorting out the water for mixing was to cut the scrims. The old boards had to have hessian scrims which were a brown wooly material in a roll about 10cm wide, this had to be put on by cutting it to the right length on the wall then applying a run of finish plaster to the joint then running in the length of the scrim. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? well, it was if the plaster didn’t dry out or the length of scrim falls off. There was a tendency if you were having a bad day, just when you put the last scrim on one would start falling off and bring every single one down. that was a “BUGGER” moment.

So all the scrims were cut and me and Andy are mixing the finish with a piece of metal pipe with a bike cog on the end. This was what is called in plastering a posher. There were no mixing drills back then it was all done with the bike cog by hand if you were lucky enough to have one. When you would work with different plasterers they all had different ones. Some were big some were small some were fat and others thin. The size and thickness judged how easily the posher went through the plaster. Plus add to this that some plasterers liked it as thin as paint and some liked it as thick as mud. so it was hard either way.

The buckets were big and heavy, Neil and Bry used to use a spot board and frame to sit the board on (a Ligga).  So the idea was the labourers would mix then tip the finish onto the board but because of the weight restrictions laid down by Bry the bucket would be put on the scaffold then Neil would tip the finish on the board then pass the bucket back to be cleaned and another one then mixed up.

All went well with the first bucket and the scrims went on, with what was left over they started filling in between the scrims. by the time they had cleaned off the spot board we had mixed them another. Same happened again regarding the finish on the scaffold and Neil emptied it.

what it probably looked like when the battens broke
What it probably looked like when the battens broke

We were flying by now with the finish and we had another one mixed in no time so Andy lifted it on to the scaffold while Neil and Bry were skimming at opposite sides of the room. Now as I have said before Andy wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer when it came to thinking and to top things off he wasn’t the thinnest lad on site either (you can see where this is going can’t you). So good old kind hearted Andy decided to get on the scaffold to empty the bucket on the spot board. As he is getting up Bri shouted “Andy stay down there” Andy said “its ok ill be right”, Bry said, “Andy, Neil will get it just leave it”. By this time Andy was up and on the scaffold so he quipped “I’m up now, see told you it was ok”. The scaffold was swaying from side to side like a drunk on a cross sea ferry to Le Harve. Then Andy picked up the bucket and took one step and there was an almighty crack. The batten that Bri said not to stand on went straight through and took Andy and the bucket of finish with it, this was in the middle then all the other battens went down in what seemed like slow motion. All 3 of them ended up on the clinic floor laid in the freshly mixed pink wet finish. Neil was hurt the worst and was in some proper Northern pain. Then Bry asked if they all were ok then turned to Andy and said you, “f****ng stupid idiot”, “what were you thinking”, “Ey, what were you thinking”, and he just kept saying it and saying it. I couldn’t stop laughing even tho it was a nervous laugh. In the end, I had to go outside to the van because Bri and his voice plus how they all ended up on the floor was like a cross between Laural n Hardey and the 3 Stooges.

When everything had calmed down it turns out Neil had broken some ribs and ended up having quite a few weeks off.

But this was the 80s wasn’t it. Neil didn’t break his ribs in the fall. he had been out the night before and ended up in a big brawl in town and while he was on the floor some lads had booted him loads of times causing the damage. he ended up getting some paid time off that he wouldn’t have otherwise had, so every cloud and all that.

Andy had to clean everything up and people did not talk to him much after that and shortly after he left to become a mall cop.

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