Activities outside the normal run of village life were always a source of interest and the operation by a team of county workmen when repairing or re-surfacing the village roads was particularly so, the presence and working of the steam roller guaranteed that. When I was a boy the roads were rough surfaced, often quite muddy and in dry weather very dusty. During wet weather it was often necessary to scrape the mud from the road surface to the side gutter to allow a cleaner passage when on foot. Rubber footwear was not then readily obtainable and good leather waterproof boots were necessary.
Many of the older women wore “pattens” to raise their footwear above the mud. “Fattens” were wooden platforms cut to the shape of the sole of the foot, the wood being about half an inch thick, with cross bars of wood on the underpart of the wooden sole platform. These pieces of wood, about two inches high and three quarters of an inch wide, were placed across the heel and sole. A strap of leather or other suitable material across the foot held the “patten” in place.
The repair and re-surfacing of roads called for a certain amount of local labour which was always welcomed, quarrymen to “rip” the stone from the local quarry at Bugford, the stonecracker to provide the size stone required, and the haulage of the material to site of roadwork, by horse transport. While Bugford stone was mainly used, there were other small quarries, many now have been worked out and abandoned.
It may be of interest to record that the stone used in building the Congregational Chapel came from a quarry on West Farm, except the vestry which was built of stone from a Bury Barton quarry.
When stone was “ripped” (dug out) of the quarry, it was transported by horse drawn carts – known as “butts” and being capable of being tipped so that its load could be easily discharged in the “stone depots”. These “depots” were recesses dug out of and into the roadside hedges, large enough to contain sufficient stone for the length of road adjacent and to be repaired or renewed. One large stone depot is at Lapford Cross, and a smaller one can be seen near the iron gated entry to Bury Barton from the Turnpike.
At Lapford Cross depot the steam roller, watercart and the driver’s caravan were often parked, and the driver lived in the caravan while working in the area.
After the delivery of the stone from the quarry to the stone depot it was necessary to reduce the large blocks of stone to a size suitable for the road repair work. Men, known as stone crackers, were employed to break – or crack – the stone to a size necessary to pass through the ring gauge supplied by the county roads surveyor. This reduction in the size of the block’s of stone was necessary to produce material suitable for rolling in and compressing into a good, firm road surface. The stone cracker, to protect his eyes from stone splinters and fragments wore “goggles” made of a fine metal mesh, shaped somewhat like a half egg joined at the centre to rest on the nose, and tied at the back of the head by tapes. A double paned (viz two ended) hammer about three pounds in weight, fitted with a long shaft was used. The shaft or handle is made of a flexible wood to prevent or lessen the impact on the stone breaker’s hands. Stone cracking came very low in the employment scale, was poorly paid, exacting and hard work. Payment was by task or-piece work, and stone crackers often needed to continue working in very bad weather. The “Cracker” usually had to kneel at his work and wore pieces of sacking tied to his knees and knelt on a pad made of old sacks. Many of the men employed were crippled or disabled and unable to obtain better paid or more congenial work.
The cracked stone was thrown through a riddle (sieve) of a mesh size approved by the authority. Small stone and grit thus being separated so that only the larger ‘clean’ material was left, this ‘clean’ material was now heaped to a shape or form that allowed for measurement and assessment of the amount of work done and to be paid for. The chippings going through the sieve were not taken into account when payment was made, but I believe the county used this so called waste in surfacing footpaths. Before the introduction of macadam, the only materials used in road repairs and re—surfacing were stone, mud and water, rolled into an acceptable surface by the steam roller.
Roads were not usually repaired unless the crown or surface were broken up, rutted or potholed, and the roadman generally dealt with potholes as they appeared. When a particular road needed renewal, the first operation by the roadmen was to scarify (break up) the existing road surface. To enable them to do this the steamroller had an apparatus attached to it, consisting of a heavy steel girder frame fitted with a number of sharp hardened steel spikes or tines. These tines were lowered on to the old road surface and as the roller moved forward the tines were forced into and under the road surface, and the weight and movement applied soon broke up the old surface. This scarifying of the surface allowed the new stone and surfacing material to bind in more easily and satisfactorily. The new stone having been spread on the scarified surface, and with application of some mud and water, for binding, the steam roller was brought in to roll to an acceptable surface for the horse drawn traffic of the period.
The men needed to carry out these roadworks were drawn from the county resources, with the local roadmen assisting. George Moore, the Lapford haulier carted the stone from the depots as required. As the steam roller was often needed for several days in the village, the driver used the caravan provided to live and sleep in. A driver would sometimes be accompanied by his wife, but not often, as the caravan was only provided with very basic facilities.
In looking at and recording village life one is conscious of the class structure, not intrusive, but still there. People were well aware of the invisible divisions between the “haves” and the “have nots”. However, each and all were valued in that their contribution to the local success of society was necessary to make a balanced and thriving community.