Memoirs of Ron Bromley

10 The top cont'd

This little episode at the works prompted me to look into progress and the planning of the works. I had already selected one of the three new boys appointed to be in charge and was waiting for him to come up with some preliminary proposals. A little detailed probing lead to the conclusion that this man was not up to the job, little (if any) progress or research had been done and enquiries among friends in the Consulting world drew me to the conclusion that to get a man capable of doing the job we would have to pay a salary in excess of my Deputy's and perhaps even mine. So no "in-house" unfortunately. I managed to get the firm I wanted, John Taylor and Son, who had a very good reputation and a very good senior partner, John Calvert. I had had a bit of a run-in with him before I knew him when on an Institution meeting we were inspecting a works which Taylors had just completed. We had a guide who was wearing a badge but you could not read it as it had turned round in the wind. I commented to him saying the walls of the drying beds looked a bit high. He made some sort of reply to which I retorted, "All adds to the cost and also the consultant's fees". I got no reply but at tea I was on his table, his badge turned and I read "John Calvert principal John Taylor and Son". Once he was appointed I apologised for my remark and we got on very well, as I did with his assistant Mr Haywood. I can't remember his christian name though we had both him and his wife at our home for meals.

Taylors recommended something I felt sure I could not get away with: moving to a new site, much easier to plan and work on. The Council agreed, which meant a delay in acquiring the site. It meant demolishing a farm accommodation bridge across the main London to Portsmouth railway line, and the building of a new bridge. Negotiations with British Rail were a nightmare. Every different part had its own boss and I could never get them to agree. The railway surveyor was the man with whom we carried out the main negotiations. However, if he did eventually agree something it was circumscribed by "You must however get the agreement of engineering", or the traffic controller, or signals, or whatever.

I was getting very frustrated when a new solicitor at British Rail took over. I got him to agree to convene a meeting of all concerned at Waterloo station. Calvert and I arrived early and when the others arrived I was introducing railway man to railway man. Both running the same show but had never met. We got possession of the line for one day, Christmas Day, in order to demolish the old bridge. This was agreed as there would be no trains running on that day. We were assembled ready to start when it was called off because one signalman did not turn up for work to put the signals in one box at "red", though there were no trains running on that day. I wonder what would have happened if trains had been running.

I was given Christmas Day a year on for the next possession. I kicked up a fuss and wrote to all and sundry and eventually got Easter, a delay we just had to deal with, but very frustrating. Bad enough having to build the new bridge with trains running a normal service. I think we obtained a night possession. Once that was done the work went on apace. I cannot remember the name of the contractor but the whole works were carried out well and on time. History was made here as the commemorative plaque was the only one erected that had my name on it.

Looking ahead it was a good job that it was done in time as completion date was getting very near to the reorganisation of the local authority and we were to lose sewage disposal once we were amalgamated with Esher. Thames Water would be taking over. There was a certain date, something like November 17th 1973 after which we had to assume and act as if the new authority thought fit. I can't recall the exact arrangements. Calvert wanted to feed in the New Work a bit at a time. My reaction was to say "Have you no confidence that the scheme will work?" This bridled him a bit, but we agreed a date for complete switch-over. On that day I went to Council and got them to agree to transfer the old works out of the sewage account into its general fund. This meant that the land would be ours whereas Thames Water had to bear the loan costs of the new land and the new works. Thames Water appealed against our action and a hearing was arranged. The Clerk and the Treasurer went rather behind my back thinking they could manage without me. When I asked when are we going to see the barrister I was told it had all been done. I blew my top and as a result Jenkins (Clerk's dept) said would I like to come to the hearing up in London.

I went. The financial side was quickly dealt with in our favour but it transpired that from the sewage side Thames Water had a strong case. Franks (our barrister) had to stall all the afternoon session to get the hearing carried over to the next day. After lunch I returned to Walton and had about two hours to prepare a summary of evidence to present the next day. Franks had no time to study it as he was delayed and consequently put me straight in the witness box and after confirming my name and position handed me over to the opposition and I was subject to interrogation for about two hours. When giving his judgement the Inspector (not the right word) made a statement, which he was not called upon to do, that he was strongly influenced in his judgement by the evidence of Mr Bromley the Engineer and Planning Officer. The last value on the land that I can remember was £11 million, a nice bonus if I had been working for a private firm.

During this time things were going well at home. Nigel passed his 11 plus well enough to remain at Kingston Grammar (they always had the pick of the bunch). Clive did well at Rydens until the sixth form and then he had one if not two lady teachers that he could not get on with and his work fell off and he wanted to drop German (one of the lady's subjects). When I saw the new headmaster he said there was nothing amiss and Clive would do well at A-levels. He passed in one subject. I think you had to be a genius to get any more than one or two at that time at the school. Lena mixed well with the ladies and was always popular. I loved the way her friends and others were always discussing her dress, she was always smartly dressed and in the fashion. Being her trade, she knew where to go and what to buy. She found a "nearly new" dress shop in Claygate which always had a lot of German makes which were very good, very expensive and Lena's favourite. The ladies of Esher, Cobham and Claygate would not be seen in a ball gown more than three or four times as all their aquaintances would have seen it. Lena could talk "trade" to the two girls running the shop and could do a good deal with them. On one occasion, at Rotary, one of the girls said to Lena "That's a nice dress, I haven't seen that in Marks". "You won't" replied Lena, "it's a ...." quoting one of the best German makes which I cannot remember. Later her husband had the cheek to say to me that he could not understand how I could afford such clothes. For all they knew Lena could have had a private income. One year she accompanied the Mayoress on her social rounds in the Mayor's limousine. She enjoyed the year very much.

After all the new works, town hall, town centre, sewage works and swimming pool, things should have got less hectic but events did not turn out that way. For some reason never fully explained we were subject to flooding. Sudden flooding with no warning given. Edna and Roy were staying over the weekend and I was kept busy as we had a blockage in a surface water (SW) which ran through Rydens School playing field and along the back gardens of the bungalows off Rydens Road. It was touch and go with water diverting to flow through some of the bungalows. Access in the gardens was difficult with the sewer having sheds over it in places. We finally located and cleared the blockage and I came home very wet - it rained all the time - to see Edna and Roy off back home. I had hardly seen them all day. I went to bed very tired but got up early the next day Monday and drive down through Hersham to see how things were. I got no further than the Barley Mow Inn. The River Mole in flood had some resistance at Albany Bridge at the bottom on Lammas Lane and broke its banks and flooded over a good deal of Hersham, going though the two railway arches and on to north Walton not quite meeting up with the River Thames. From there on to Field Common and then West and East Molesey where it caused no end of damage.

Almost from first light depot staff had been giving assistance where required, many households had to evacuate their homes and many were stranded at first floor.

The first thing I did was to set up a control centre to co-ordinate all our efforts and to call on other firms etc to help us. The Clerk of the Council was away but his deputy Peter Cross did a grand job in looking after the domestic side such a getting the use of church and village halls to accommodate those we had to rescue. The main centre was the Playhouse and the WRVS under the control of a very efficient school teacher from Sunbury set up a field kitchen from which was fed hundreds of homeless persons with hot meals. Also I remember getting the bakers from Safeway out of bed to bake so that we could take bread and other food stuff to people stranded in their own homes. There was a big contingent from Field Common in the Playhouse who found it very convenient getting a breakfast and then the men going about their normal work of tarmacing drives etc and the women selling from door to door. With someone to look after the children they liked the life so much we had at the end to tell them to go home we were closing the centre.

Large firms, statutory authorities all co-operated and carried out flood prevention and restoration to an agreed plan so that no efforts were wasted. The Water Company lent us two boats and Mr Eric Lavender of Lavender and Son (gravel extractors) lent his very large tractor which was most useful in getting to places other vehicles could not reach. The water in Molesey Road was in full force and we were waiting for a suitable vehicle to rescue a family close by. Two policemen under pressure from a family volunteered to take a boat to collect them. The man in charge at HQ did not like the idea but gave way as it was the police. When they did not return we sent out a search party to look for them and found them. One had his arms round a lamp post and the other was holding his legs. Just one more rescue operation. The reason was the rush of water under Hersham station railway arch.

Meanwhile life at the Playhouse went on. The Health Dept. had called in the army - I think to deal with hazardous waste - and they were billetted in the Playhouse away from the civilians. In the night one soldier used to sleeping in the nude got up to go to the toilet. There he met a lady from Field Common who screamed blue murder and accused the soldier of molesting her. The efficient lady in charge dealt with the matter and concluded her report to the Council with the following "On tackling the man he replied 'F... her, I wouldn't touch her with a b....y barge pole'". End of story.

As things quietened down, I began to look over a wider field. The Thames was very high but fortunately had not burst its banks, but I feared for the inhabitants of the island which although accessed from the Sunbury side was actually in our area. I took a senior engineer, Bernard Harber, with me and got as far as the bridge to the island which was submerged to about two feet. As we were looking a commuter from London approached. He said he lived at the extreme eastern tip of the island and he thought everthing was OK as his pregnant wife had phoned him earlier in the day and she was unperturbed. He invited us to accompany him. As the water was too deep for me, only having Wellington boots, Bernard went with him as he was in chest-high waders. He was gone for some considerable time and I became quite anxious about his safety, but my voice when calling for him just reflected over a vast expanse of water. When he did appear he was in a most excitable state and his record of what had happened was dominated by talk of a three-legged leopard he had seen. It was obvious that his companion, who I later discovered was an ex-naval man, had plied Bernard with a few gins, but when he got a little more lucid I learned that his story was true. The next-door neighbour was running an animal rescue centre, quite unknown to the authorities, and as the gardens were flooded the animals were being sheltered in the two houses, and indeed one was a leopard which had lost a leg. The two families remained safe and eventually the waters receded.

There were many meetings and enquiries following the floods and the Thames Conservancy came in for a great deal of criticism, and as a result carried out a great deal of improvements to the River Mole, some of which I considered a bit over the top. At one Council meeting we almost had a riot, as most of the flooding was fouled with sewage as the sewers became flooded and the public blamed the inadequacy of the sewers. At one point the Chairman had water poured over him by a member of the public in the gallery. He left his little bottle behind and we had the remaining contents analysed so I was able to assure the Chairman that it was just tap water.

The flood however did have a beneficial effect. I had prepared a plan of improvements which I had suggested as an 18-year programme. I suggested a long period as it is often said "there are no votes in sewage". It had been accepted by the Council, many members thinking it was too far distant to affect their chances at the polls. The flooding however had got them worried and I was told to reduce the period to five years.

I was anxious not to "farm out" too much as I wanted to keep enough to keep my own team with plenty of work (enough to keep them interested). I concluded that it could be achieved by dividing the drainage works 50-50 (Weybridge sewage works had already gone to John Tayor). This was agreed and the two teams worked happily side by side sharing experiences etc. Organisation-wise we must have got something right. Thames Conservancy was also working hard in the area and I can not remember one complaint regarding traffic hold-ups, congestion, rubbish, etc.

My first years at Walton had been ones of great activity and excitement. I experienced more in this period than many Borough Engineers enjoyed in a lifetime, and I was looking forward to a period with less activity and time for contemplation. This was not to be. Central Government had reorganised London Government and now turned its attention to the rest of the country.

This sort of thing was quite common, for central government to call for a review of the workings of local government. The last one had been in 1933 when Walton was joined with Weybridge and Esher had taken over Molesey and Cobham. On this occasion with the knowledge of what had happened in Greater London central government published a massive document in 3 volumes setting out its ideas of what should happen.

Fortunately the first question was quickly dealt with: was local goverment to remain two-tier or just become one level. Discussion on this would have been endless; just imagine the old boys at County Hall comfortable sitting in their canteens (or messes), too far distant from any electorate to be bothered by them. No, County Hall will remain.

The second tier was to receive many changes. Among them:

  1. All districts to be of a size to be able to afford modern techniques to facilitate efficient operation. The size suggested was a minimum of 100,000. This would mean a good number of amalgamations.
  2. Each unit would be of the same status. This meant that such terms as Urban or Rural District would disappear. Each unit would be a district.
  3. Some responsibilities would be handed over to the counties and some would be dealt with by a new body to deal with a particular subject. Someone had the bright idea of bringing all water matters under one head. This it was thought would make it much more efficient, something like cradle to grave. Starting with the gathering of supplies - river, boreholes, etc; storage; purification; followed by distribution to houses and factories; collecting of soiled water sewerage; purification and disposal to rivers etc. Almost a closed circuit, although this was not mentioned.

©2004 Ron Bromley