Stanley Rowe Mercer
1909 – 1974
The following originally appeared in a limited edition print version distributed among family members. I have prepared these web pages so my grandfather’s words can be seen by a larger audience.
Twenty-five years after my Grandfather started writing these notes to my brother and myself, and 18 years after his death, I will attempt to re-record his memoirs as a family history – and as a tribute to a man who died too early for me to know very well – yet I think of him often.
He recorded these notes in pencil in a gray British Rail Notebook. The pencil he used was still between the pages where he made his final entry.
Stanley Rowe Mercer, you were a wonderful Grandfather to me. I hope this does you justice.
David McClelland, Editor, December 20, 1992
Notes on entries: I am not attempting to correct grammar - I want this to be as close to the feel and intention of what Stan wrote as possible. I have, however, corrected spelling where needed. In some cases, Stan added his own notes to clarify certain passages. These are noted by asterisk with the addition following.
November 8, 1967
by Stanley Rowe Mercer
To Dear David and John
I am writing my memoirs not because
I have been a hero sometime in my life, or have achieved some outstanding
success which I want to put into print.
It is something I have always wanted to do. I am not a writer, I have not got a very good memory for dates. I have been a working man all my life, and suppose I shall always be unless fortune is kind to me and I win the pools.
I shall try to make this book as interesting as possible. I am 58 years old, to you, David and John, I am probably an old man. I have 7 years to go before I retire as a railwayman.
I shall bring my work into this book because it is a great part of my life, and feel it will interest you.
I shall be frank, but hope I do not offend anyone. If I do they must take it for what it is worth.
I hope dear David and John that you can learn a little of life from what I have written, that will help you a bit as you both grow up.
My earliest memory was at the age of 6 years old. I have two brothers Eric and Harold, and a sister Ida. My father was 52 and a very sick man.
We lived in a very small cottage at Saughall near Chester. It was a summer day one Sunday, myself and several of my playmates were playing in the cobbled yard. My father was watching us through the bedroom window, and then this terrible thing happened.
My father fell from the bedroom window head first amongst us. I was not old enough to really understand what this terrible accident meant to my mother and brothers and sister and our future life.
I shall never forget the people crowding round and carrying my father with his head covered in blood into our house.
My father died from this accident. He was buried in the village church graveyard (the church where he gave so much of his life).
While not knowing my father very much I cannot write a lot about him. But over the years that followed, I learned from people in the village what a clever and brilliant gentleman my father was. He was a painter by trade and had his
own business. He was a great pianist, and played the village church organ. He was good at all sports, and was Captain of the village football team.
One little story I heard about him and a Irishman who used to frequent the
village. My father challenged him and beat him at any sport the Irishman cared
to play him at. “Now,” said my father, ” I have beaten you at all these sports, now I shall fight you.” This he did and laid the Irishman out.
I have not yet mentioned my dear mother. This I shall do in the next chapter.
When my father died my brother Harold was 5. I was 6, my sister Ida was 8 and my brother Eric was 10.
My father’s business was taken over by another painter in the village (whose name I will not mention) and my mother, who was a dear simple soul, was robbed of any money out of his business and was left without any money to bring up four children.
In those days the working classes were no more than slaves for the people of money. Unions and the Labour Party was never heard of (thank God things have altered).
It was mentioned from time to time that the four children of the late Mr. Rowe Mercer be put into a home. This did not happen because we had a mother who was prepared to do anything to keep the children with her.
Although I was very young, I shall never forget the years that followed, and how our very dear mother slaved to keep our heads above water.
My mother was caretaker of the village school which helped us a bit and which us four children attended. She got a very poor wage for this and to try to make ends meet she used to go out washing for other people at 1/6 per day. There was no washing machine and things like that in those days, it was scrub, scrub, scrub, with a brush.
My mother used to get up very early in a morning, go to school at 7 a.m, come back to get us off to school for 9.00, go out washing all day until teatime and try and be back to give us a bit of tea when we got home from school at 4 p.m.
We used to go home for our dinner and get it ourselves, usually bread and dripping or bread and jam which was the main diet in those days, school dinners were never heard of.
My mother then used to go back to school at about 5.30 until 9 p.m to clean it and during the winter months stoke a terrible boiler fire that used to heat the school.
This went on for a number of years. How my mother used to keep going I shall never know. I think it was for the love of her children that she did this. She was only a fragile little woman but her stamina was endless. God bless her.
(This is actually before chapter 2 in Stan’s book, but appears to be a later addition he made to keep things in order – DM)
One of my outstanding memories of poverty was the giving of bread to the poor by the church. Loaves of bread were taken to the church and put in the porch. Each week, I, along with other poor families, used to go and collect two loaves.
This still stands out in my memory, and went a long way to causing me to dislike and even hate those rich people who was dedicated to keep us so poor.
I have also vivid recollections of whole families being wiped out through that terrible disease called consumption, or T.B. Thank God today these people can be cured. I must say that while we were poor there were other families in the village who was the same as us.
(There is a blank line, followed by the following, again appearing to be written at a later date, the handwriting resembling that later in the book – DM)
The village of Saughall near Chester was like all other villages in those days, in complete darkness at night. The only noise was the village lads up to their tricks and I was one of them.
I should mention here that my brother Eric had got a little job, looking after some dog kennels of one of the rich people of the village, a Colonel Rigby.
He came home one day with a lovely labrador puppy which he told us was the wreckling of a litter of puppies and was going to be destroyed, out of pity the Colonel gave it to him.
This dog grew up to be a very faithful and beautiful animal and was a constant companion of my mother on her trips to the school on dark winter nights. It lived to be about 12 years old, although it only lived on scraps from our table.
I have faint recollections at about the time of the Great War 1914-1918. The reason being, they had converted the village hall into a hospital for wounded soldiers, and they used to walk about the village in their blue and white hospital clothes.
Later I shall try to tell you the life of a village lad and the tricks we used to get up to.
Sunday was a special day in our lives.
As poor as we were, our mother always managed to put on something special. A
nice hot Sunday lunch with a little joint of meat. Tea consisted of potato cakes,
which my mother was very good at making.
My father and mother were church going people and so it was the proper thing for
me to attend Sunday school and be a member of the church choir. Although I say it myself I had a good voice and played a big part as a boy singer in the church
We used to wear a black cassock (*1) and a white surplice (*2).
My mother used to make sure I attended church regular. Being a choir boy was not all religion, far from it.
Our vicar was a old man with a long beard, who must have been 90 years of age then. We used to attend choir practice each Thursday, but this didn’t stop us having fun at the expense for the vicar, such as putting some string across the footpath of the church for the vicar to trip over and then placing a holly bush for him to fall into.
During the church service, in between hymns, we used to be eating toffees, and when the vicar suddenly announced a hymn, to get rid of these partly eaten toffees, we used to stick them underneath the choir pews where we sat, and over a period of time this used to make them into a terrible mess.
Many a time the vicar has conducted his service with about ten or twelve hymn books in his church robes, which had large pockets, and we used to place them gently in while he was reading the lesson. He never seemed to find this out. Perhaps he was too old to notice all the weight he was carrying about.
My school days were happy days. While not a brilliant scholar, I was clever enough to pull through. I don’t think a day went without me getting two of the best on each hand for playing some kind of trick on my school mates, although some of my school chums were worse than me, and was constantly getting the cane.
- *1. Black Cassock. A very long black garment with about 20 buttons down the centre. This used to reach down to your shoes.
- *2. White Surplice. This was always kept a pure white, it reached down to your hips and had very wide sleeves. It always gave you a feeling that you were really taking part in something of importance.
Up to the age of 14 most of my life was taken up by sport, of which I was very keen. My favourite sport was football.
Again I must give myself a bit of praise and say I was above average at this game and at the age of 14 played for the senior side consisting of grown men.
At the age of 14, I was picked to play for Cheshire School Boys, which in those days was something to be proud of. Perhaps with a bit more luck I could have been
a professional footballer. This never happened, I was only a poor village lad. You had to have someone to push you in those days.
Perhaps it was best this way, because as I will write later in this book, when I attained the age of 20 this was the turning point in my life.
One of the annual events in village life was Harvest Thanksgiving service. On this day the choir in their robes
used to walk through the village singing hymns into the church, which was decorated for the occasion.
On one of these occasions I rushed into church to get my cassock and surplice for the parade and in my hurry, forgot to put on my cassock.
It was rather funny that no one but my mother, who used to occupy a seat near the aisle where we walked up, noticed this. I can remember the glance of my mother as I walked past her. The look was very serious and I was really in the dog house.
In the next chapter I shall try to relate my life between the age of 14-20 when I brought my first wage packet home.
I had now left school (thank goodness) and wondered to myself what I was going to do to help my mother with a little money.
At about this time it came to pass that the old vicar of 90 years or more had passed away and his place was taken by a young vicar whose name was the Rev. Marsden.
He took a sincere liking to me. This, my mother told me, was because I was very much like a dear friend he had lost at sea. The Rev Marsden was, before he came to our village, I found out was a Naval Chaplain.
After leaving school I used to help the vicar at his large house in the village. Cleaning his car (which was the only one in those days in the village) looking after his hens and garden.
He was very kind to me, and the maid used to give me tea and cakes in the kitchen. I was never allowed to go into any other part of the house.
I had now reached the age of 15 and this was the start in life I was waiting for. I got a job on the Railway at the Village Station as a Boy Porter.
To get a job of any kind in those days was an achievement, but to get a job on the Railways, which they said was a job for life, was something you dreamed of.
The Railway required two characters, one from the vicar, and one from the School Master. While I never did see what the vicar and School Master said about me in those two letters, the Village Station Master did tell me that what they had said was a credit to me.
I shall in my next chapter tell you of my life between the age of 15 and 20 years.
In those days I should tell you that nearly everybody and everything went by rail. Buses and cars were only just beginning to play their part in our lives. And even a village station was a very busy place.
I reported to the Station Master (a Mr. Barlow) one Monday morning. My Mother had bought me a new pair of shoes for the occasion (in those days it was a common sight to walk about with your toe ends out and your shirt hanging out).
Mr. Barlow looked me over. “You look a smart lad,” he said.
The village Station Master played a big part in the life of the village and was a very important man. He took me into his Station Masters office, which was all spick and span.
“Sit down,” he said, “I want to talk to you.”
“You have not got a father to keep you in hand have you?”
“No Sir,” I said.
“Well I shall do that. I have been having a talk to your mother.”
And during the years that followed he certainly kept his word.
I was now growing up and the next few years were very interesting. My job as a boy porter at the Village station at Saughall covered all sorts of duties.
Other staff employed was a signalman, who as you probably know, worked in the signalbox to control the running of trains. Also employed was a clerk who did all the clerical work.
The signalman, a Mr. Hallows, was a jolly fellow who was always getting me into hot water with the Station Master. I always remember this gentleman was always reading Blood and Thunder books. He was a big strong fellow, but he had a wonderful sense of humour.
Even though I was working and earning 11/6 per week, I was still very interested in sport and spent all my spare time with my pals playing football or cricket.
It was about this time when the second tragedy in the life of our family happened.
We were playing cricket, myself, my brother Harold, and the lads of the village. Harold was wicket keeper.
The lad who was batting, a chum of mine who’s name it would not be right to mention. He swung his bat round striking my brother on the head. Harold fell to the ground. I ran across from where I was fielding.
He lay there motionless. I along with my pals were stunned. We had not seen anything like this happen before.
He was taken to our little house further up the village. I cannot recollect how he was taken there. My dear mother was grief stricken.
He lay unconscious for three days down stairs on the sofa. He peacefully passed away without a word from his lips.
As young as I was, 15 years old, this affected me very much. He was a dear brother to me.
When he was buried the whole village turned out (he was buried with our dear father in the village churchyard).
Our poor mother. Why should these things happen to such a good and simple human being, who had worked so hard to bring us up, and just when the tide was turning a little and we were not so poor.
This second tragedy in our family life affected my mother more than I can explain in print. For a long time she was a heartbroken, grief stricken woman.
My brother Harold’s clothes was hung behind the bedroom door for such a long time. Our mother would not let us move them.
She even used to put an apple or orange in his jacket pocket. “He is still here,” she used to say, “he will come get them.”
I was now the youngest child and a great affection grew between my mother and myself.
I have not up to now written anything about my brother Eric and sister Ida who were now growing up, Eric being about 18 and Ida 14. I shall try in this chapter to tell you of our family life together, of my mother, brother and sister until I reached the age of 20. I shall not mention my job on the railway in this period. I hope to write a chapter about this later.
My sister Ida was a very attractive young lady. She was also a very good singer and quite often she would sing the solo part in various events which used to take place. My sister and myself had a great affection for each other. I regret to say that I couldn’t say the same about my brother Eric. He made my mother’s life hell.
He took to drinking at a very early age. We used to dread him coming home from the pub.
While in fairness to him, I could never remember him striking my mother, it was the things he used to say, not only to my mother, but to Ida and myself. Many a time I have come home to find my mother crying. She used to say “What have I done to deserve this? Why is he like this? Whatever will happen to him?”
My brother Eric also had a good side of his make-up. When he was not drunk he could be very likeable. He was also very generous as you will read later.
There seemed to be two groups of lads of the village. The older ones of my brother Eric’s age and the younger ones of my age. There has always been rivalry between us and plenty of fights took place and the younger gang didn’t always lose.
One very interesting battle took place one day. A wall used to divide one group from another. We picked up grass sods* to throw at each other. (*Grass sods – containing grass and the roots, also quite a lot of earth and bits of stones, etc, which used to cling to it). It was a case of putting your head over the wall and seeing if the other gang could hit you with this nasty grass sod.
This day my brother Eric put his head above the wall and Wham! what a shot, I got him full in the face. This turned out to be quite a rather serious matter. His face was cut and a lot of the earth had gone into his eyes.
I was in trouble. I thought it’s a cert our Eric would kill me when he was better, but he took it all in good part.
The saying “blood is thicker than water” in my opinion is very true. Quite a number of times, if I was getting the worst of a fight, our Eric would come in and finish off. He was really tough.
Another trick we used to play, where two houses with doors near to each other, we used to tie them together with string and knock on both doors and hide around the corner and watch the performance when they are both trying to open the door at the same time.
My Christmas present from my mother was always a big rubber ball which she used to buy for me because I was so mad about football. I soon wore out a pair of shoes.
I also was taking quite an interest in girls now and dancing in the village hall. I used to get on very well with the young ladies. One young lady of the village was very keen on me and would follow me all over. I couldn’t say I felt the same about her. She was a really good dancer and the boys of the village was all keen to dance with her, but they had to ask me first.
My brother Eric was still continuing his beer drinking habits, and some of his pals were as bad as him. I remember one day in the house there was a large jar of pickled onions. One of his pals bet him a penny he couldn’t eat the full jar of onions. This he did and for another penny he drank the vinegar and wasn’t even sick.
I must be fair to my brother and say he also had his funny side. He had some very good points.
My sister Ida was now about 18 years old. (The following is crossed out – “was a very attractive girl” – DM)
The next village to ours was a place called Sealand. This place had a big aerodrome.
In those days there was no such thing as a parachute and if the aeroplane went wrong it was a case of the pilot jumping out and falling to his death, or staying in the plane hoping he would stand a better chance of survival. These planes were crashing quite regular and it stands out in my memory of seeing a human being suddenly leave the plane and crash to his death. We always used to go to these crashed planes and get parts for souvenirs.
I always remember a serious outbreak of foot and mouth disease. There were a lot of farms in the village and all the cattle in every farm was destroyed through this terrible disease. They used to dig a big hole then shoot the cattle. This included cows, sheep, pigs or any other animal on the farm. I cannot remember if this applied to domestic animals such as a cat and dog. Then they would burn them. I remember the smoke and stench from these animals blowing across the village. This lasted for about two weeks.
As I said in my previous chapter, my sister Ida was a very attractive girl. To her sorrow, and my mother’s as you will hear, she fell in love with an airman from the aerodrome at Sealand. This young boy came from London. He was a likeable chap but like all Cockneys was very bombastic.
My mother told me Ida was having a baby and she would be getting married. I cannot remember when or where she got married.
I remember one winter morning, it must have been around 4 am, when my mother got me up. You had better go and fetch the nurse. My sister had a little girl, she named her Joyce. Her husband, his name was Bernard, was not there. He had gone home to see his mother in London. My sister Ida told me she thought he had another woman in London.
He returned after the event and I could see he didn’t show very much interest in his baby daughter.
He used to live at the aerodrome camp at Sealand, and my sister, along with my mother, brother and myself lived in our one up one down little house. How we did it I don’t know.
One Sunday morning Ida’s husband (Bernard) was at home with us. For some reason he struck my sister Ida. This was too much for our Eric to see his sister hit. A terrific fight took place in our cobbled yard between my brother Eric and Ida’s husband Bernard. It took four grown men to get our Eric off Bernard. In time he would have killed him.
This taught this Cockney fellow a lesson he never forgot. We might be country yokels, but we could certainly stand up for ourselves. Eric and Bernard after that seemed to get on very well together.
Bernard, my brother-in-law, kept having trips to London, to see his mother he used to say, but even I could notice that things weren’t as they should be between him and my sister.
Life still carried on in the village of Saughall. My brother Eric still drinking heavily, and was constantly getting into fights. My mother was still working very hard. My brother Eric would occasionally go up to the school at night to stoke the boiler fire up.
It was about this time that my sister expected her second child, a daughter who she named Daphne. It was me again who was got up by my mother in the early hours to fetch the District Nurse.
We saw less and less of her husband Bernard, who had now left the local aerodrome and was stationed in the London area. The outcome of this was he had another woman in London and had no further interest in my sister or her children. This was very bad on my mother and sister and the whole family. I remember my sister applying for a poor woman’s divorce. This cost £5, which in those days was a fortune. We scraped it together somehow.
My sister was now left with two young children to bring up. Our dear mother never grumbled. She carried on doing the best to keep us all together.
I must say here that the nice side of our brother Eric was the way he used to look after the two children.
He would very often bring some new clothes for them from Chester or take them out for the day. The youngest child, Daphne, used to worship him and many a time when he was drunk, she could get him to see sense.
I think at this time that our Eric had a fairly sound job (painting).
I was now approaching the age of 20 years and in the next chapter I shall tell you of the event which happened which changed my life, of which I thank God.
I was just 20 years old and working and enjoying my life as a boy porter at Saughall Station. Mr. Barlow the Station Master sent for me. “Sit down Stanley,” he said.
His face was a little stern. “Whatever was he going to say to me,” I thought.
“You are 20 years old now Stanley aren’t you?” I said, “Yes sir, I am.”
He opened a drawer and placed in front of him a letter. “You are now above the age for a lad porter, which means you will have to leave this Station.”
I was spellbound by his remark. Surely this will mean the sack for me.
“Don’t look so worried,” he said, “it’s not as bad as that.” I waited while he read the letter to himself.
“They are offering you a job as a carriage cleaner at Sheffield,” he said, “at £2 a week.” “You must understand that if you don’t accept it you will lose your job on the railway.”
“Sheffield,” I said, “where is that?”
“It’s a long way and you will have to go into lodging and you will have to take care of yourself. Sheffield is a large city.”
I had never been so far away in my life before. The farest I had been was a Sunday School trip to New Brighton.
I walked home after my time of duty was finished. I could not believe what Mr. Barlow the Station Master had said to me was true.
I sat down to my tea. “Mother,” I said, “I’ve got to leave home. They want to send me to Sheffield to work.”
My dear mothers face. “They want to what?” she said.
I didn’t know how to tell her properly, but at last she realised it was true what I was saying.
“I shan’t let you go, we will manage somehow.” But at the bottom of my own heart I knew I must accept this, although I never said this to my mother.
Although I was now 20, I was still the baby of the family and was my mother’s boy. She shed many silent tears over this going away.
My brother Eric didn’t seem to take much interest in this, although he might have done inwardly. My sister Ida, who was always a very dear sister to me, was upset about this, but knew like myself I must take this new venture in my life.
I informed Mr. Barlow, the Station Master, that I would go to Sheffield to this new job offered to me.
“Sit down Stanley, I have a little bit of advice to give you,” he said. “You are leaving home for the first time. You are going amongst people you have never seen before. You are going to work in a city which is one of the worst in the country for crime.”
I should mention that Sheffield at that time was noted for its gangs who used to attack people with razors even if you was walking along a street and had nothing at all to do with anyone else. They were known as “Razor Gangs”.
“My advice to you Stanley is this. Look after yourself. Don’t get mixed up with these people. Always keep yourself clean. ‘Soap and water is very cheap.’ Always use your manners, and be prepared to take advice, and don’t forget to write home regular to your mother.”
“Thankyou sir,” I said, “I shall remember what you said to me.”
I had just about a week to go before the great day arrived and I made my way into a new part of the world.
My dear mother was still very upset about it, but had now accepted the fact that I shall have to leave her for the first time in my life.
My sister Ida and myself went to Chester to buy the various clothes I needed to leave home with, including two large cases to put my luggage in.
The day of my departure was a Monday morning, the train left Saughall station at 8:40 am.
My mother was up and about very early as usual, also my sister. I felt a very important person, so much trouble was being taken by my mother and sister to see me on my way safe and sound.
My brother Eric left early doors for work, all he said was “Cheerio.”
It was getting near train time and was about a mile walk to the station. “Don’t come with me to the station Mam,” I said, “I will be alright.” My mother put her arm around me tears running down her face, “No I won’t come to the station,” she said.
I walked down the village, my sister carried one case, I carried the other. My mother saw us out of sight waving a white handkerchief, which I knew was wet with tears.
I took it all very well and did not let my feelings get the better of me.
Ida and me stood on the platform waiting for the train to arrive. The station where I had served 5 years as a lad porter.
The Station Master shook my hand. “Don’t forget what I told you,” he said. I found the train and was on my way to a new life.
I waved goodbye to me dear sister, who by now had let her tears get top side of her.
The train journey was about 4 hours. I took a real interest in my journey. The people who was in the train with me seemed to tell I was a bit lost, but was very kind.
It was about 12:30 p.m. when the train pulled into Sheffield Victoria Station. Crowds of people getting on and off the train. I got out and stood on the platform. I had never seen so many people or railway staff. I felt like getting the next train back home, I was so scared.
I plucked up courage to speak to a porter. “Would you please tell me where the Station Masters office is, please?”
“Tha’ wants to be on number three platform,” he said. “Thal’ have to see Chief Clerk first. You have to make an appointment to see the Station Master.”
I made my way to number three platform. I knocked on a door which said Chief Clerk. “Come in,” a voice said.
I opened the door, about 6 people stared at me as if I was an alien from space. “Could I see the Chief Clerk please?” I said. “He’s gone to lunch. You will have to wait outside.”
I stood on number three platform for about 45 minutes, then I was called into the office.
The Chief Clerk occupied a smaller office at the far end of the General Office. “Go and knock at that door,” a voice said, “the Chief Clerk is now back from lunch.” I knocked at the door and was invited in.
The Chief Clerk (or Assistant Station Master as they were known) was seated at his desk. I don’t know why, but I took an instant dislike to him.
“Who are you,” he said, “and where have you come from?”
I informed him I came from Saughall near Chester and had to report to Sheffield today for a job as a carriage cleaner.
He waded through some papers on his desk. “I don’t know anything about you coming here,” he said.
“What is going to happen to me now?” I thought, “I shall probably be sent back home.”
He picked up the phone and spoke to someone a long way off. I could tell by the conversation that he had not been informed about me. He put the phone down.”It is now 2 pm, ” he said, “go and find some lodging and come back and work until 5 pm.”
“Could you tell me where I could find some accommodation?”
“That’s your job to do that. Ask some of the lads on the platform if they know of anywhere.”
I walked onto the platform carrying my two cases. I thought of home and my family I had left, but still I had to go through with it.
I approached a gentleman in uniform. I told him my story and that I wanted to find lodging. He was very kind to me.
“I think one of our chaps takes in lodgers,” he said, “I’ll take you to him.”
I was introduced to a gentleman called E. Lowe, who was a carriage cleaner like myself.
“Well,” he said, “I can’t take you home until 5 p.m. when I have finished work. I think the wife will be able to put you up.”
It was then 3 p.m. I hung around until 5 p.m. when Mr. Lowe was finished work. I called again into the office to inform them I would not be back today for work, as I was not going to find my lodging until 5 pm.
“Alright,” said the Chief Clerk, “start work at 8 am in the morning.”
E. Lowe met me at 5 p.m. prompt and persisted in carrying both my cases. I had my first ride on a Sheffield Tram. We arrived at Hanover Street where Mr. Lowe lived. It was a 1-1/2 tram journey.
I was introduced to his wife. “Can you put him up?” Ernest said, also explaining where I had come from and that I should be working at the station with him.
After a bit of thought, Mrs. Lowe said, “Yes I will. You know it will be 25/- per week.” This I agreed to and a very happy association followed.
My first day as a carriage cleaner at Sheffield. I was taken to the station by my new found friend, E. Lowe. Mrs. Lowe packed us up something to eat. Cocoa and cheese sandwiches with a piece of parkin.
Cocoa and parkin seemed to be my regular diet packed up by Mrs. Lowe for a long time. I didn’t like to tell her I wasn’t so keen on cocoa or I would like a change from parkin.
We arrived at the station at about 7:55 where I met my new workmaster.
About six of these chaps were about my age, and after a time we formed a real friendship. We used to go out together to dances and social events attached to the railway at that time. We decided to form a dance band of our own, a drummer, a pianist, violinist, and myself on the banjo. We used to play at Saturday night hops, sixpence a time. The only fault with my banjo was the strap kept breaking.
I was settling down nicely in Sheffield and had found some real good pals. I used to write home quite regular, and also I used to receive letters from a certain young lady from Saughall.
I liked Yorkshire people very much, always so friendly and helpful. I think one of their faults, if it is a fault, was they always seemed to know more than anyone else. Their opinion was always right and if you differed they looked at you as if you were mental. I still find this fault with a lot of Yorkshire people.
Although a “foreigner” to Sheffield, as they called anyone who had come to live on their sacred soil, I could always stand my ground and being this way inclined helped me a lot. You had to stick up to those Sheffielders.
Although I was now turned 20 years of age, I still had never drunk beer or smoked. I was very fit and took a great interest in sport.
In a large city like Sheffield sport played a big part in your leisure hours, and if you were good at sports there was always room for you.
I was approached by the secretary of the sports section and asked if I was interested in football. I said I played a little.
After about a fortnight I was informed I was first reserve for the second team. I nearly told him what to do with it. First reserve for the second team.
I was informed by E. Lowe that you had to be good to get in the Railway football team.
I did turn up as requested as first reserve for the second team, and was picked to play because they were one short. The position I played was outside left. A gentleman came to me after the match (I didn’t know who he was). “I see you’ve played the game before Lad,” he said.
“Yes, I have played a little bit before.”
“Keep it up Lad, you never know you might get into the first team someday.”
I did get into the first team in a very short time and played for them for a number of years. We had some great games of football. They were a grand set of lads. We had a trainer who was very strict.
We played in a works league where competition was very keen. You had to be able to stand being knocked about and kicked. My weight in those days was only about 10 stone. I was still a non-smoker and drinker.
I was settling down very well in Yorkshire. I made some very good friends amongst people of my own age. I was very friendly with quite a lot of young ladies but never took them serious. I was still receiving letters to my digs in Hanover Street from a certain young lady from Saughall, who was still very keen on me.
I used to go home quite regular to see my dear mother who was now accepting my new job in life, but she always shed a tear when I returned back to Sheffield.
It was at about this time I received a rather sad letter from my mother regarding my brother Eric. She informed me he had been going out with a young woman who was now expecting a baby. Would I come over and talk to him about it? He was not going to marry her.
This to me was a shocking thing. I wrote back to my mother to tell her I would be coming home to see if I could help.
Much to my surprise, our Eric was very cooperative. He took me to a place called Connah’s Quay to meet her. This young lady could really tell a good tale, much to my regret I fell for it, and as young as I was, I was going to do my upmost to get our Eric to marry her.
I got him to agree to do this, and even on the day of the wedding it would not have taken him long to back out of it.
A baby was born which was dead at birth.
The very sad thing of this affair was that, during an argument between Eric and his wife, she informed him it was not his child. This upset both him and my mother very much.
He threw her out of the house and has never seen her since. I felt partly responsible for this, if only I had kept out of it. I always felt if our Eric had met the right kind of girl and had children he would have been a very different man, because he loved children.
After this he still carried on with his old ways of getting drunk regular and upsetting my mother. I felt sorry for my brother Eric, I was so sorry this had happened to him.
Anyway, life had to go on, and I carried on my job as a carriage cleaner in Sheffield.
I think I should mention here a bit about the Sheffield football teams, Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United, and why I turned out to be a keen United supporter.
The first match I saw in Sheffield was a first division match between Sheffield Wednesday and Bolton. This was a great thrill for me, although I had read about these great sides in the first division, I had never seen them play. Sheffield Wednesday had a great side in those days and won the first division.
The greatest impression formed on me was the crowd of about 40,000. I had never seen anything like it. I was on the popular side of the ground known as the spion kop (why I don’t know). On this side of the ground you were really among fanatics and I was amazed at the action and talk, I am afraid it did not form a good impression on me. I decided I would go and see the football team at the other side of the city, Sheffield United. I cannot give you a real reason, but I became a United supporter from then on. The atmosphere at Sheffield United’s ground was so different from Sheffield Wednesday’s. The supporters seemed to be so friendly and seemed to talk more sense.
I followed Sheffield United everywhere and was one of their most loyal supporters, as I am to this day. Although for years, as I do now, I lived quite near to Sheffield Wednesday’s ground, I could never change my views.
I had now really settled down in Sheffield and, although I was a country lad at heart, I became very attached to the Yorkshire people who were wonderful to me. My pals at work, Mr. and Mrs. Lowe who took to me as if I was one of their own children. I don’t know how to put it into print, but to me the Yorkshire people was so different from the people of Cheshire. Perhaps it was because I had been brought up amongst two distinct classes. The rich and the poor.
Although I liked to go home to Chester, I was getting a feeling I should not like to go back to live there (but I would not tell my mother this).
I was not getting much money on the railway, but, being a non-smoker and non-drinker, I could manage to carry on, but was unable to save any.
I was still enjoying my football and was quite successful as a footballer for the Railway. They used to allow me time off work to play.
I used to go to quite a lot of dances and had quite a lot of girl friends, which I never took serious.
Next door to where I lived in Hanover Street was four daughters who was relatives to my landlady, Mrs. Lowe. I always remember they called them Gladys, Nellie, Jenny and Gerty. They also had a brother Jack, we became good pals and used to go out a lot together.
We certainly liked the girls and we were always making dates with the young ladies.
(Stan had two chapters numbered 20 – DM)
In this chapter I want to relate the most wonderful thing that happened to me in my whole life.
I met my very dear wife, who I loved so dearly, and do to this day. She has given me so many years of happiness and we have stuck together through thick and thin. I cannot thank her enough for all the wonderful time we have shared. I must not let my feelings get the better of me, so I should tell you how I met her, and the years that followed.
As I have said, I lodged with Mr. and Mrs. Lowe, and from time to time she was visited by three young persons who lived quite near in Brookhill. Although they were not relatives to Mr. and Mrs. Lowe, they were relatives to a dear old lady who was living with Mrs. Lowe by the name of Mrs. Davy.
The names of these three young persons were Pam, Iris and Ruby Pearce. Pam being about my age and Iris and Ruby a bit younger.
“And then it happened.” Pam and I fell in love.
At this time, if my memory is correct, Pam was courting a young man who had gone to America, and I was still receiving letters from a young lady at Chester, and going dancing and meeting quite a lot of young ladies.
Although Pam and I were going out together, neither Mr. and Mrs. Lowe or Pam”s family knew about this. I think I should relate how they found out. I remember this quite well.
Mrs. Lowe took a great interest in me and always tried to keep me on the straight and narrow path and always asked me where I had been. On this particular day I had been on the 6 – 2 turn, it was late afternoon and I was sat dozing in the chair, and she had a visit from Mrs. Pearce, Pam”s mother, who used to visit her quite often. I was supposed to be asleep, but could hear the following conversation which took place between them.
Mrs. Lowe “I think Stanley is going out with a young lady.”
Mrs. Pearce “Who is she?”
Mrs. Lowe “I don’t know but she lives somewhere near you because he goes up the street to meet her.”
Mrs. Pearce “That’s funny, what nights does he meet her?”
Mrs. Lowe “Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.”
Mrs. Pearce “What time does he go out to meet her?”
Mrs. Lowe “About 7 pm.”
Mrs. Pearce “That’s funny, because Pam goes out about that time on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.”
Mrs. Lowe “Do you think he’s going out with Pam?”
Mrs. Pearce “I don’t know, but it all seems to fit doesn’t it?”
Although they both thought I was asleep, I had heard all this. I couldn’t stand it any longer, I just burst out laughing. They had found out, I gave in and admitted we were going out together.
It was quite a while before I met the young lady’s family. We used to kiss goodnight on their doorstep in Brookhill.
Pam and me continued our courtship. We were very much in love. They were wonderful days. There was no such thing as television in those days. Very few people had a wireless set.
We spent most of our time together in nice walks in Weston and Endcliffe Parks, and perhaps pictures on a Saturday night.
I had still not met the young lady’s family. Our goodbyes were on the doorstep.
Pam used to suffer quite a lot with bad throats, and if through them she could not meet me, she used to send a letter with her younger sister, Ruby. It was through Pam having these bad throats that I was at last invited to her home at Brookhill.
I met her father for the first time. He was very strict with his children and would not stand for any nonsense. I liked him very much, and I think he took a liking to me.
They were a large and happy family, and while not rich, they seemed to have a good carry on. Besides Pam’s two sisters, Ruby and Iris, there were Rosy, Lily, and three brothers, Joe, Tom and Jack.
Pam was the clever one of the family regards education, and I had a feeling at the back of my mind that she should court someone better off than a poor railwayman. I think her family thought the same, but I must says in all sincerity that they never shown it to me. I got on very well with them.
Joe, the eldest son, had a very good job and a car, which in those days was something. Pam used to do all his book keeping for him. She was very clever, and I don’t think Joe could do without her help as you will hear later.
Pam and me carried on our courting, but now I was allowed to go into her home, and even sit in the front room (with the lights on). She was continually poorly with the throat, and many times we did our courting with Pam in bed poorly.
But the main thing was that we were still very much in love. And although I still felt I was not earning enough money to be able to give her what she was entitled to. This feeling I had was never mentioned between us. Perhaps I was wrong in feeling this way.
Mr. and Mrs. Lowe seemed to be pleased I had settled down to courting a nice young lady.
It was about this time when I was sent for, to report to the Station Master’s Office.
“You have to report to Connah’s Quay* next Monday as a Senior Porter.” (*Connah’s Quay – A small town in North Wales about 6 miles from Saughall where I lived my life until I was 20)
This hit me straight between the eyes.
The Station Master thought this was doing me a good turn, sending me back to where I came from. I couldn’t tell him I was in love with a girl from Sheffield and didn’t want to leave. They would probably have given me my cards. I had to accept this whether I liked it or not. I could get over to Sheffield every other week to see Pam.
This was a very upsetting time for Pam and me, but my dear mother was overjoyed.
Would our love for each other stand this test of being apart? I think Pam’s family thought this courtship would finish (perhaps they hoped it would). I don’t know that.
I kept coming over once a fortnight, arrive Sheffield about tea-time and go back 8:30 Monday morning.
I had told my mother that I was in love with Pam and I was going to marry her because she was the only girl for me. I invited Pam over to meet my family who took a great liking to her.
I felt ashamed of our poor little house at Saughall, and wondered what Pam thought about it. Don’t get me wrong, I was not ashamed of my family. They were poor but honest and clean and I could see that Pam liked all my family, who was still living in one up and one down cottage.
This certain young lady in the village was still very keen on getting me and with me now living with my mother again she was paying regular visits. I was not in the least bit interested in anyone, only the girl I loved in Sheffield.
Although Pam and me were living miles apart, both Pam’s family and mine could see that we were going to see it through and felt that the only thing we could do was get married to be together always.
The Great Day was arranged. My sister Ida had arranged rooms for us in the village. Pam was to come back with me as my wife in the village of Saughall.
We hadn’t much money but managed to get furniture to make our rooms comfortable. We paid for it weekly. How I don’t know. I was earning £2-1-9 per week. Pam’s family was a great help to us.
The wedding day arrived. I was to travel, along with my brother Eric who was best man, on Friday, for the wedding on Saturday at St. George’s Church, Sheffield.
I was so happy to think that at last I am going to marry the girl I love. I stayed at Mrs. Lowe’s where I used to lodge. I wore a black jacket and striped trousers, which was the dress in those days. I was really nervous.
My brother Eric didn’t make things any easier for me. He decided about 45 minutes before the wedding he would have a hair cut at the barbers, causing me to be a little late at the church.
As I stood along with my brother Eric waiting for my Bride to walk up the aisle with her father, he suddenly said he couldn’t find the ring. This was a joke on his part but frightened me to death.
It was a beautiful wedding, and my bride looked so lovely, as in my opinion all brides do.
We had the reception in Pam’s house in Brookhill. She got some lovely presents from her friends. I don’t think I got any.
We were now man and wife and were now together for life. (we were so happy).
The wedding was on Saturday and we had to leave Sheffield on Monday for Saughall. I had to go to work at Connah’s Quay.
My sister had prepared our room at a house in the village where we were to sleep, and live with my mother.
We did not stay long at this place, we got rooms at Long Lane, higher up the village, one up one down and use of the kitchen. I had a cycle and used to go to work on it to Connah’s Quay, which was a distance of approximately nine miles.
We had regular visits from Pam’s family from Sheffield, especially her brother Joe because she used to do all his clerical work.
The wife’s mother loved Saughall and the country. She used to like walking around the fields picking blackberries.
Pam and me were very happy together, but I always felt she missed her family quite a lot (although she never said so). Country life was so different from town.
We still had quite regular visits from Pam’s family from Sheffield, mostly Joe and his wife Muriel. They had a car, which was something in those days. They always brought us something. We were not too well off. My wage at this time was £1-19-6 one week and £2-1-9 the other, but we managed. I didn’t drink or smoke.
The house we lived in, one up and one down and use of the kitchen, was in Long Lane, Saughall, and was a very lovely part of the village. No street lights and very quiet.
It was to become a very special house for us because Pam was expecting a happy event.
The baby was to be the first Grandchild in Pam’s family, although not in mine, as I have already told you my sister had two children.
As the important day got near, Pam’s mother came to stop with us. She was so good to us (a wonderful lady).
I always remember it was a Saturday morning at about 11 am when the District Nurse came for the big occasion.
The baby was not born until Sunday afternoon at 3 pm. Pam’s mother was in the bedroom with the Doctor and nurse. I was walking about in a trance. I kept creeping up the stairs from time to time, and then I heard the cry of our baby. I was so happy. I was now a father.
But Pam had a very difficult time. When I went to see her and the baby she looked so lovely and contented. The baby was a girl. We had both wanted a girl.
Pam’s mother stayed with us until Pam was well enough to take charge. We had quite a few visitors from Sheffield to see our new baby.
It was about this time that the Railway offered me a Railway house at Connah’s Quay so I should be nearer my work. It was nice to think that we were going into our own house.
This Railway house (if you could call it one), I feel I should describe it, because in my opinion it was terrible, and while it was our own, I felt it was not very nice to take your wife and baby to. Pam accepted it without a complaint.
This house was at the side of the railway line (main Chester Holyhead line), it was all on it’s own. The back opened into derelict land down to the River Dee.
It consisted of one large living room. It took twenty-five rolls of paper, this will give you some idea of its size. A pokey kitchen, paraffin lamps, and the water tap was outside. It was the only house on this side of the railway. Each time we wanted to take our baby and pram out we had to go over a level crossing and get the gate keeper to open it for us, which he didn’t seem to like much.
I think I should tell you here that our lovely little daughter was christened at the village church at Saughall where I had lived most of my young life. She was named June Margaret Rose. We were so proud of her.
I still felt it was not fair for Pam and our baby to live in such a house and she had quite regular visits back to her family at Sheffield for quite long periods. I did not object to this. What else could I do.
I think we lived in this house about ten months when a very fortunate thing happened for us both. I found out that there was a railwayman and his wife in Sheffield who were from Connah’s Quay and they wanted to get back again to this district.
I contacted this gentleman, a Mr. Evans, and an exchange was arranged with the railway about our jobs, and the landlord regarding our house,
This exchange turned out very well indeed. He lived at 70 Beechwood Road, Hillsborough, Sheffield.
I know Pam was very happy about this, so was I for her sake, although I was leaving my mother and family again.
Pam’s family was also very pleased especially her brother Joe regarding her clerical work.
I remember quite well the day of the removal. Pam and baby June went by car with Joe and Muriel. I went in the furniture van. What a journey. It was winter and I was frozen, sat on the furniture in the back of the van.
We now made our home at 70 Beechwood Road, and I again worked on the railway at Sheffield, a Goods Porter at Bridgehouses. My wage was poor, but I did get it every week.
This is where I first became really involved in Trade Unions. The Goods Depot at Bridgehouses was a very large place and employed a large staff. Porters, checkers, crane drivers, lorry drivers, etc. I was soon approached to be asked if I was a member of the union. I joined and have been a member ever since. I will tell you more about unions later.
Pam and me were very happy in our little house at Beechwood Road.
Baby June was growing up into a lovely child.
We were still rather poor, but the wife’s family helped us a lot.
This was Stan’s final entry.
I completed the transcription on July 25th, 1993.
Finally checked for accuracy and spelling on December 31, 1993, DM.
Stan died before he could complete his writings, so his memoirs never brought us up to date with Stan and Pam’s life.
Here I will attempt to add some colour to the later years and the images will let you put faces to some of the names.
FROM THE NEWSPAPERS….
From the Sheffield Star, May 1963.
NOW TRAIN BLAZE HERO WILL BE REWARDED
SHEFFIELD railway guard, 53-year-old Stanley Mercer, sprang into action when he smelled burning on his early morning passenger train.
Desperately he searched through every coach until he came to the leading brake van next to the engine – where he found a fire in the roof.
Slamming on the emergency brake, he fought the flames with buckets of water carried from the engine until the danger was over. A British Railways spokesman said: “Mr. Mercer’s prompt action prevented the fire spreading, with possibly more serious consequences.”
And now Mr. Mercer, a passenger guard at Sheffield Victoria Station, is to get his reward.
On Thursday he will be presented with a cash gift and a letter of commendation by Mr. S.C. Webb, traffic manager at Sheffield.
The fire broke out on the 8.17 a.m. from Sheffield Victoria to York on January 28. Mr. Mercer smelled the burning as the train was running between Hickleton Main and Moorthorpe.
After putting the fire out, he made a further detailed examination of the brake van at Moorthorpe and then kept a sharp lookout for the remainder of the journey to York – where the train arrived only six minutes late.
BLAZE TRAIN GUARD HERO GETS THANK-YOU CHEQUE
RAILWAY guard Stanley Mercer, wearing his familiar buttonhole of primroses, sat back in the Station Master’s Office at Sheffield Victoria Station today and recalled the drama of the 8.17 when smoke billowed along the corridors of the packed train as he fought a fire.
Mr. Mercer, aged 53, of Binsted Road, Sheffield, a guard for 18 years, was highly commended by Traffic Manager Mr. S.C. Webb for his prompt action in tackling the blaze in a brake van on a Sheffield-York train in January.
“If you had not acted so quickly, the whole train could have been on fire,” said Mr. Webb.
The draught rushing along the corridors of a moving train could have resulted in the fire spreading and a panic of the passengers.
Mr. Webb, watched by the station master, Mr. P. Williamson, and Mr. Mercer’s colleagues, presented a letter of commendation and a cheque to Mr. Mercer.
Mr. Mercer had noticed a smell of burning when the train was between Hickleton Main and Moorthorpe. He examined every coach until he discovered fire in the roof of the leading brake van.
He applied the emergency brake and when the train halted extinguished the fire with buckets of water obtained from the engine.
“Nobody knew there was a fire, although smoke was billowing along the corridors,” said Mr. Mercer today.
“It was a cold, wintry day and everyone had the doors and windows shut.”
A railwayman for 38 years, Mr. Mercer is a keen gardener. He’s able to boast that he has never worn a buttonhole that he has not grown himself.
After his retirement from British Rail at age 60, Stan took a part-time job preparing cars for customer delivery at a local Volkswagen dealership, J. Gilder’s and Co. Ltd. in Sheffield, England.
From the Sheffield Star, Thursday September 5, 1974.
Tragedy struck on the day Stan, 65, retired from work.
By a staff reporter
STANLEY MERCER’S working life ended in tragedy.
After a celebration drink with workmates on his last day at J.Gilder’s and Co. Ltd., 65-year-old Stan, of Deer Park Road, Walkley, (actually Stannington-DM) Sheffield, collapsed and fractured his skull.
He was taken to Sheffield’s Royal Hospital where he was critically ill until his death on July 30, a Sheffield inquest heard.
During his stay in hospital his injury was aggravated when he fell from a chair, after having physiotherapy treatment, and broke his nose.
“But the fall in hospital did not speed up his death in any way,” said Dr. Rodney Gunn, surgical registrar at the Royal Hospital.
“Mr. Mercer, who was being fed through a nasal tube died after inhaling vomit.”
South Yorkshire Coroner, Dr. Herbert H. Pilling, who recorded a verdict of accidental death, said no-one at Mr. Mercer’s workplace was responsible for his fall and the hospital staff did not appear to have been negligent in any way.
But he did recommend that patients should be more closely guarded when they are sitting out of bed.
Most of the newspaper clippings and photographs here were found in a small suitcase Pansy brought with her from England. A small sticker on the top says, “My dear Stan’s memories.” It contains photographs of people long forgotten, Stan’s old tobacco pipes and personal papers.
My dear Grandmother, Pansy Mercer, passed away September 24, 1995, after a short illness.
I found it especially hard at the time as I was working away from home and wasn’t able to see her in her last few days. I especially regret never sitting down with her and capturing some of her memories on videotape. We have some video of Pansy at family events and I have an audiotape of a story she told me of her war-time memories that aired on CBC Radio.
From the leaflet given out at
Pansy’s Memorial Service.
In loving memory of
Pansy (Pam) Mercer
May 19, 1911 – September 24, 1995
Pansy (Pam) Mercer
Pam was heartbroken in 1974 when she lost her beloved husband, Stan, after an accident. She was not to know then that she was to live another twenty-one years after his death, six of these in Canada.
Pam was dedicated to her family and to her work. She was employed by the Great Universal Stores in Great Britain for over thirty years; finally as an Accounts Inspector. She retired at age sixty-five, but never lost her mathematical gift for figures. She had the ability to calculate columns of figures in her head faster than any calculator. Even to her last days, this ability never left her. She was very loved and respected throughout her working life, with many friends, and she loved every minute of it.
In 1989, Pam left England for Canada to join her daughter June, son-in-law Dave and grandsons David and John. This was a very bold step to take at seventy-nine years of age, but she found good friends here and it became her home.
Pam’s request to us when she left England was that, on her death, her ashes be laid to rest with her husband Stan, in the cemetery of the Christ Church in Stannington, near Sheffield. To grant this wish is the least we can do. She will join Stan on November 8th, 1995.
Rest in peace Pam. We love you.
Pam kept a little book at her bedside, The Friendship Book of Francis Gay. Her bookmark was at this poem.
At the end of the tunnel
There’s always the light,
There’s always the dawning
After the night,
Always the solace
After the pain,
Ever the sunshine
After the rain;
Look up at the rainbow
Arched up at the sky,
A symbol of promise
When things go awry.
– Dorothy M. Loughran
MEMOIRS OF A RAILWAYMAN by STANLEY ROWE MERCER, edited by DAVID McCLELLAND. Copyright ©2016 by David McClelland. All rights reserved.
No part of Memoirs of a Railwayman may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsover without prior written permission.
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