When the concrete had been mixed, men shovelled it into wheelbarrows which were then wheeled off along lines of planks to the foundation trenches. Two lines of planks, with full barrows moving along one and empty ones returning along the other. Wide wooden barrows, white from the layers of dried on mortar, handles polished by perpet­ual use, wooden wheels hooped with iron. The builders' labourers with their sleeves rolled up, trousers tied with string below the knee, wearing waistcoats, knotted scarves, and flat tweed caps, followed each other up and down the planks.

At the trenches other men, more skilled, tamped down the concrete with baulks of wood to pack it tightly into the trenches, forcing the trapped air to the surface so that the concrete would be solid, and then placed a long spirit level on top. Only when the bubble in the level lay exactly in the centre was the top of the concrete level and they could move to the next section. These were the bricklayers, kings of the building trade. They never mixed concrete, or wheeled a barrow, or carried a brick. Those were the labourers' jobs. Bricklayers were craftsmen who had served apprenticeships. They got threepence or fourpence an hour more than the labourers and expected everyone to recognise it.

Three days after the first foundations were poured came the lorries with thousands of bricks. They had been piled into the lorries by hand and were taken out in the same way. A man inside the lorry threw them over the side to another man on the ground, who caught them and threw them to a third. The third man stacked them in a neat pile. Flying bricks, caught time after time, without a miss. The men's hands were so hard and calloused that even the sharp brick edges did not cut them. By the pile was a foreman with a clipboard who counted and checked to make sure that the full number of bricks of each sort was delivered. There were Flettons, in one pile, pink and smooth, and in the others, deep red facing bricks and white/yellow Gautts.

When the lorries were emptied the men sat down for a break. They brewed tea in a can over a wood fire, dropping the tea leaves into the water as it boiled, and took out thick sandwiches, or a loaf of bread and a piece of cheese.

 

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