‘AS a young man in the 1950s, I used to clean the Peases Mill boiler out every other Saturday night, and what an awful job it was too!” says John Davison.

Peases Mill was the gargantuan, five storey building that dominated Darlington town centre. It was demolished in 1982, as Memories 465 showed, and now the Sports Direct multi-storey car park occupies its site.

“The boiler was put out at 2pm on a Saturday and by about 8pm, it had cooled down enough for me to crawl in – they put a hose on it, but a number of times I burned my hands or my clothes on ashes that were still glowing,” says John, who was in his late teens in about 1953 when he started the job.

“Inside, the boiler had round, steel sides and I had to go about 25ft back to the economiser. Then I went through a smaller hole into the economiser which back above the boiler, on the first floor, to the chimney, and I had to pull out all of the soot by hand and get it into a wheelbarrow. Then I had to get the barrow up a plank and put the soot in the back of my tipper truck.

“All in all, I would get a full 10 ton tipper load of soot before it was clean.”

He drove the tipper to the old brickworks at Eldon to get rid of the soot, and finished his shift at three or four o’clock on Sunday morning.

“Once a year, the chimney was supposed to be cleaned too,” he says. The 180ft tall chimney was directly behind Darlington library. “As long as I could see daylight at the top, it was ‘clean!’ No one ever checked.”

For this, he got £3, which doesn’t sound like good money today, but John says: “I was on £12 two shillings a week doing 44 hours as an apprentice engineer.” So he was more than doubling his earnings.

“Mind, I was blowing muck out of my nose all week,” he says. The only protective apparatus he had was a silk stocking that he pulled over his face.

“How the hell I have got to 85, I don’t know,” he says. “The plus side was that I also had to clear the grease saturated bobbins.” The yarn produced from the sheep’s wool was wrapped around the bobbins which became impregnated with grease from the wool.

“I kept the bobbins, bagged them up and sold the door-to-door as firewood for 2/6 per bag!”

When you put a match to them, they really burst into flame.

John got the job at the mill because his dad delivered the coal, and kept it up for a couple years until he joined the Army.

“Without doubt, that was the worst job I ever had,” he says.