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Home » Memories » 1946-1960 » Willy Machell & My Dad – 1950s

Willy Machell & My Dad – 1950s

Low Mill Undated

Z332 – Low Mil, Undated.

Title Willy Machell & My Dad
Date 1950s
Location Yeadon
Written By Philip Walker
Comment N/A

In my first piece on Willy Machell I mentioned that my dad, Syd Walker, used to do casual work for Willy Machell at his small yard on the end of Saxon Buildings near the Old Dog Mill.
The extent of his work relationship was early fifties to late fifties. My dad had nothing to do with the Low Mill enterprise or the shed attached to the Old Dog boiler house, or the shed down Kirk Lane at the corner of Wackhouse Lane opposite Reg Parker’s coal yard.

After the war when the Avro shut down and everyone was laid off, many Yeadon folk suddenly found themselves out of work.
My dad, my mum, and my Aunt included.
The mills were gradually gearing up for domestic production and the demand for uniform cloth was greatly reduced.
On top of this thousands of troops were being De-mobbed and were returning home and looking for work in their home towns and villages.
My dad was fortunate enough to find work in the mill at this time.

I’m not sure how my dad met Willy Machell, but it would more than likely have been in the Oddfellows or ‘t Rag, as it was known, he also had the odd pint in the Robin Hood on the Green.

The Plan

Willy Machell came up with a plan in the pub one night and asked my dad if he was interested.
The plan was to get a decent wagon on the road and then set about collecting scrap Aluminium from the old airfields and bring it back to Yeadon, to be stockpiled in the yard, then sold on.
I can remember looking over the promenade wall at the side of the dam and seeing aircraft wings and fuselage parts in the yard at John E. Moore Ltd Aluminium Smelters.
It seems that this is what gave Willy the idea,the smelter was already on their doorstep.
Let’s face it there were some 48,000 spitfires made in the war years, that was an awful lot of aluminium just sitting about waiting for an entrepreneur to snap it up and make a fortune.
According to Willy, all my dad had to do was put £50 up front and he could have a half share in the proceeds.

The Snag

Fifty quid was an awful lot of money in those days, it was five or six weeks wages and my dad didn’t have that sort of money to hand.
He never said anything that night to my mum, but next day I remember him sitting at the table having his dinner and talking it over with my mum.
Mum was very supportive and suggested he try asking his older brother for assistance, or include him in the partnership deal.
This he did, but to no avail, his brother did not want to be associated with a Rag and Bone man come Scrap Merchant.

He could have done a lot worse!

What If?

Had they got in to the Aluminium Scrap business at that time it is likely that they could have made money from it , but the opportunity was short lived and the door was firmly shut when the Big boys got into the act.

Willy Machell always found my dad a bit of casual work if he was unemployed between jobs or just needed a bit extra.
My dad was not the only casual worker in the yard, Arthur Milner was a regular, he ran the shed at the corner of Wackhouse Lane where you could take none ferrous metals copper, lead, Zinc and Brass.
Other names that come to mind are Big John Butterworth and Big Taffy.
I don’t know where John Butterworth came from, but he and big Taffy seemed to appear when John Swales started building the top half of Queensway, it is likely that they were navies or labourers for Swales on the road contract.

When the old yard was cleared and the business at Low Mills took off my dad and Willy Machell lost touch.
We moved to Queensway, a 3 bed-roomed maisonette above the shops next to the Co-op.
The last four houses on Manor Square were pulled down, then the Chip Shop and the mill went.

That was the end of my childhood.

Everything I had grown up with and known for 18 years, my world my friends, people who cared about their neighbours.

June 2013

Previous Comments:

My first memories of Willy Machell go back to around 1953. Every Friday afternoon he used to park an old van on Albert Square and sold American Pulp Fiction paperbacks by authors of the calibre of Mickey Spillane (several of whose tough detective stories were filmed in Hollywood in the late fifties) and Hank Jansen. He kept us coming back each week by giving us half price back on the books we returned in ‘new’ condition. One day he said to me –
“Aren’t you Percy Ryder’s lad ?” and “Does your Dad know you read books like this ?…..I think I’ll tell him”
This was said with a smile, and I didn’t worry too much – I knew he wouldn’t risk losing the ninepence I was handing over every Friday.
20 February 2014.

Consolidated by Jack Brayshaw. 22 August 2022.
Last updated: 22 August 2022.

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