Summer Work at Eskimo Foods in Cleethorpes, 1962

From Rob Humphreys (ABGS 1956-1962)

Coleford 5

Eskimo Frozen Foods in Cleethorpes had been suggested as a source of summer vacation work. Therefore, when Ribena informed me there were no remaining seasonal vacancies, I sent off my job application to Eskimo and was excited when I received a firm job offer. Eskimo would arrange my accommodation (room only) via the YMCA in one of the many guesthouses at the seaside resort. I was to check in on a Saturday and report for work the following Monday morning.

I was lucky to be offered a lift for the 250-mile cross-country journey, arriving early evening on Saturday. I checked in to my guesthouse being pleased with its central location, the only downside was having to share a room with a stranger. Sunday was free to explore the town and locate Eskimo‚Äôs factory. However, my initial positive reaction was to be short lived. On returning to my room late Sunday afternoon, I received a message requesting me to report to the factory immediately and to get in touch with the personnel manageress. There I was told that the YMCA had mixed up accommodation arrangements and that I had to move out but no alternative place was offered. Fortunately, the personnel manageress accepted this was not my fault and offered me temporary accommodation in her own home on a bed settee. She promised to look for suitable accommodation during the following week and asked me to look also. The remainder of Sunday was spent on a rushed relocation.

The next morning I joined a group of about 20 new recruits. We were issued with a boiler suit and cap, told to change then re-assemble on the road outside. We were split into two groups, dayshift and nightshift. I was put on the nightshift and told to leave and return at 6pm. The shifts were 12 hours for 7 days i.e. no days off. The factory’s main operation was the fast preparation and freezing of garden peas, which were harvested in the surrounding areas of Lincolnshire.

My work at Eskimo varied considerably. The first night was spent with others, washing aluminium trays in a large vat of hot water. The trays had come from the Eskimo fish plant at nearby Grimsby and were contaminated with ice and fish slime. Other jobs included operating a manual pallet truck, transporting pallets loaded with trays of peas into the cold store, removing and stacking trays of peas from the end of a conveyor either onto pallets or into steel shelving units to be wheeled into the cold store, operating a hopper control valve to release a measured amount of blanched peas into trays which were then fed onto a conveyor and also steam cleaning the areas around the pea conveyor belts and adjacent duckboards. My work colleagues were a great bunch many from Northern Ireland but none from Wales. Getting used to night working was challenging, as was the irregular breaktimes. At least the canteen provided a 24hr service. Particularly memorable moments were the unexpected crises or calamities e.g. when one poor hopper valve operator could not release peas that had become jammed in the hopper’s neck. We had all been provided with a heavy stick to bash the valve if peas became stuck as evidenced by the many dents in the necks of all six or so hoppers. Peas were being fed by conveyor continuously into the hopper, and due to the jam, the hopper began to overflow. By the time the conveyor was stopped, there was at least a foot depth of peas around the base of the hopper. These were recovered and sent for re-blanching but by the time they arrived back at the hopper, they had begun to discolour and had to be rejected.

At the end of my first week, no suitable accommodation had been found for me. I had been shown two places and I recall the second being a cramped room at the top of a 4-storey building, which I would have had to share with four others. The 5 beds were placed in a fan shape as you entered the room. The word “Sardines” came to mind. Fortunately, I had made friends with two lads from Northern Ireland who said that there was plenty of room at their “place”. This turned out to be a very spartan dormitory style room above a betting shop. It had about six beds with a washbasin facility at each end. The toilet was situated in the downstairs back yard that also contained a washing line. The landlord would change the bed linen weekly. Having no option I had to move in but the consolation was the cost of only £1 10s a week and also having much more freedom with only us three occupants.

I spent the next two weeks with my Irish friends. We all worked nights and after getting some hours sleep until midday, we would spend the afternoon enjoying the town’s many seaside amenities including the odd pub or two. Meals were found in the abundant cafés with the best ever cod (fresh from the trawlers in Grimsby) and chips from a “Chippy” not far from Eskimo’s factory. By the time of my next shift, my boiler suit had dried on the washing line but was stiff enough to stand upright. Sadly, the weather deteriorated and harvesting of peas became intermittent. We were sent home when there were no peas for processing on a number of nights (no work no pay) although I did work on one occasion on steam cleaning which could only be carried out when the plant was at a standstill.

Being faced with the uncertainty of not working and as I had qualified for reimbursement of my travel costs, I decided to leave. I travelled home by train on a Sunday but by the next day, I had started a 4-week stint with Smiths Crisps at Fforest-fach, Swansea. Here again my jobs varied, working in most departments. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the music on the Tannoy, Carol King’s “It might as well rain until September” being played often and seemingly, quite appropriate.

I have often wondered whether any other ABGS boys ever worked for Eskimo Foods. If anyone ever did, perhaps he could also write about his experience.