St Cuthbert's Milk
"Amongst my many happy
memories of my childhood there was my time as a milk
boy with St Cuthbert’s
Quinn was my milkman and he was about 30 years old. He was a friendly chap
but he had had a problem in the past with his front teeth. They were
missing and I never really found out in what circumstances he lost the
teeth. I guess there was a fight in some pub and he had not gotten around
to sorting them. Anyway they gave him a rather curious grin and I liked
him for it. I was his 14 year old milk boy
and I worked for him for two or three years about 1960."
in Edinburgh was Fountainbridge, Dundee Street heading out to Yeaman Place
and Watson Crescent. I worked for about
one hour in the morning on schooldays,
but, of course, on Saturday I worked longer hours because I had no school
these days we had a horse to pull the milk cart and the stables were in
Grove Street where I lived. The dairy was
one block away in Gardiner's Crescent. Jimmy
and all the other men would have to come along for their horses at half
past five in the morning.
was expected to meet Jimmy where Grove Street
meets Fountainbridge at about a quarter to
seven. Often I would sleep in and Jimmy
would rush along Grove Street, knock on my door and then run away knowing
that I would get up and follow along the street."
to know the customers well. This was at
the time when Sean Connery had just begun his career as a movie-star.
His parents lived in Dundee Street and and I remember taking
their milk to the door knowing full well that they would not be staying
there much longer now their son had made such a success.
The tenement flats that
Sean Connery's parents and our customers lived in were dark closes,
three or four stories high. Often the lighting in the stair was poor or
non-existent and you had to grope your way up
and down using your memory to guide you."
about half past seven we reached a newsagent shop in Dundee Street where
Jimmy was treated to a cup of tea. I carried on delivering milk. Jimmy
would only stop for about five-minutes, drink his tea and have a
The Milk Carts
horses knew the route to go - there was no need to jump up on the cart or
take hold of the reins and guide the horse to the next stopping place. All
that was required was to release the brake, tell the horse to gee-up and
off he would go.
The brake was a wheeled affair,
set quite high up on the milk cart but I could reach it, just.
There wasn't much problem with traffic up
and down the street, which was
just as well because we zig-zagged our way along Fountainbridge and Dundee
Street, the horse going from left to right as it went. There was no
problem finding a parking space either!"
Bottles and Crates
procedure for delivering milk was that I would load a milk crate with
whatever number of bottles of milk were required for that stair. A milk
crate had a large handle on it and it held 12 bottles maximum in two rows
of six. There would be a mixture of pints and half pints with the
occasional special milk."
I would rush up the stair - we
never walked anywhere - deposit the milk at the door of each flat and
pick-up the tokens that they left out for us. I had to find these tokens
in the dark stair and leave the appropriate number of pints or half pints
On most days the number of tokens
was the same. I always knew that two pints
went to Mrs Jones and a pint and a half to Mrs Williams and that the old
lady on the ground floor only got 1/2 pint.
Occasionally we were surprised by
finding no tokens and just empty bottles lying
at the door. Sometimes in the dark, I did
not find the tokens and would have to knock on the door.
Wakening up your customers was not a nice
thing to do but they were usually very friendly to me and did not seem to
tokens were in two colours - there were red ones and black ones and these
were used to increase and reduce the price of the milk. It seems odd
looking back on that now but the price of milk did come down in the summer
by a half pence a pint or sometimes a penny a pint.
would sell these tokens in their shops and customers would buy a whole
week or two weeks' worth of tokens. So,
each time there was a price change so there would be a colour change. Not
every customer was aware of this and they would leave out red tokens when
they should have left out a black token.
This meant that I had to knock on
their door at an early hour and request the extra money. Of course once
they knew that the prices had gone up they put out either the appropriate
colour token or would add 1/2 p or a penny to the token."
I well remember one case where
the price of the milk had come down by a penny - a larger amount - and
this lady who had two daughters but no man in the house was still putting
out the higher valued black tokens. She must have got quite a supply of
them because after two or three weeks she discovered that she had been
overpaying for milk all the time.
I suppose it was my fault - I
should have knocked on the lady's door and told her that milk had come
down in price but I hadn't. She was amazingly angry at Jimmy and
me for not telling her of this and I was
surprised even then at how such a small amount of money could upset her so
I know now that she was
desperately poor and paying over a shilling a week extra was a real
problem for her."
Reaching Murdoch Terrace
had planned for us to reach the end of Murdoch Terrace before he would let
me go off to school. My reward for completing Murdoch Terrace was two
cigarettes. He knew that this would put me behind in my attempts to get
He suspected, and he was right,
that two cigarettes was a sufficient bribe to persuade me to stay on a
little longer and run to school, rather than
Over the weeks and months,
however, Jimmy became more and more ambitious and we became faster and
faster at doing the deliveries. He began to realise that we were
completing Murdoch Terrace earlier and earlier and I was getting two
cigarettes without really a problem.
He then extended the area that we
would deliver to further and further along
Dundee Street. This led to some difficulties between me and Jimmy because
I wanted my two cigarettes and off to school and he wanted me to deliver
more of the round.
Eventually I had to complain to
Jimmy's boss about the difficulties I was having in getting off to school.
I never mentioned the cigarettes that I was getting as a bribe.
Anyway Jimmy was a bit upset.
He felt I had been disloyal, but at least from there on I got off
to school at the right time and Jimmy did continue to give me the
remember delivering milk in a really awful weather conditions.
There was one day when the snow was six
inches deep and the snow lay thick and clean and untouched.
I slipped carrying a couple
bottles of milk and went my length in the snow. I wasn't hurt and I tried
my best not to break the milk bottles as I went down by just sliding them
into the snow so that did not strike the cobbles underneath.
Once I had picked my self up and
dusted off the snow from me, I tried to find the milk bottles. The street
was on a slope and the angle which I'd dropped the milk bottles projected
them forward under the snow. They had slid under the surface a long way. I
searched, Jimmy searched, and we just could not find them and had to give
The next day the weather had
improved slightly and the snow had gone into slush. I tried again to find
these two bottles of milk and sure enough there they were lying in the
gutter nestling one against the other. So I cleaned the bottles and
delivered them knowing that they had been in a
nice cold fridge overnight and they were still fresh!
Jimmy was pleased."
union had negotiated an agreement with St Cuthbert's Co-operative Society
which allowed for breakages of milk bottles. The deal was that the men
would be credited with 2 pints of milk in cash, provided they came back
with evidence of the broken glass.
This was one of the reasons why
Jimmy was so annoyed at losing these two bottles of milk in this snow
because he had no evidence to bring back to prove that he had lost the
milk bottles. Of course, Jimmy and I tried our best not to break any milk
he did the end of each round was take two empty milk bottles and add to
them a very slight quantity of milk which he took out of a full bottle of
milk. The milk top on the full bottle of milk would be carefully removed
and a very small quantity of milk poured into the empty bottle. The milk
top would be replaced to make it impossible for anyone to notice that he
had tampered with it.
The small quantity of milk in the
empty bottle would be swilled around to coat the inside of the bottle. The
small quantity of milk would then be transferred into the other empty
bottle and the process repeated. Jimmy would then produce a heavy iron
weight which was just the right size to be dropped inside the milk
bottles. With a quick shake the bottom of the milk bottle would fall out,
usually in a nice clean circle of glass. The two broken bottles of milk
would be held on to and presented back at the dairy.
Jimmy took great pride in his
skill at manufacturing this evidence of broken milk bottles.
When I think about it now,
I wonder why the company bothered to collect the evidence when they must
have known full well that all the milkmen were breaking bottles to concoct
the evidence. A much more satisfactory solution would have been simply to
give them a breakage allowance of two pints every day.
Saturdays, there was no school to go to,
so I was able to work for the full shift with
Jimmy. This was welcome news to Jimmy
because Saturdays were double delivery days so that he could have Sunday's
The milk cart would be groaning
with the weight of milk. The horse struggled at times getting up Murdoch
Terrace. So what we did then was park the horse at the bottom of the hill
and stagger up the street carrying all our milk with us.
In my left hand I would have my
crate of 12 pints and Jimmy would have the same
in his right hand, and we would carry between us
a large rectangular crate of milk which contained 24
pints. Thus laden, we would go up one
side of the street delivering the milk and down the other. Sometimes we
would have to push two or even three of these crates up the street because
of the volume of milk to be delivered.
Christmas and New Year
Christmas and New Year, Jimmy would be treated to a drink by many of his
customers. I would be on holiday from
school so was able to help out all day. My
job was primarily to ensure that the milk got delivered because as the
morning advanced, Jimmy would get drunker and drunker and spend longer and
longer in the houses socialising with his customers.
He would go about his business
singing at the top of his voice. At the end of the delivery I was
entrusted with the reins to guide the horse back to the dairy.
There would be more car traffic
around by this time so you had to be careful that the horse did not get
frightened. However, our horse was very well behaved and was well able to
wander back to the depot under his own steam. Jimmy
did like to whip up the horse into a trot now and again and that was
Stuart Wilson, Stirling,
Stirlingshire, Scotland: May 5,