In spite of his pleasant name, this is not a nice subject I am afraid; Ernie was the owner of the local knacker’s yard. If I told you that it was located in Grub Street, Shotesham, you might think it an appropriate name for such a grubby trade; but if you imagined that it was an unpleasant place you would be wrong. In the spring the ditches and verges along Grub Street were thick with primroses, and in the green meadows old horses peacefully grazed. You knew what fate awaited these beasts, but if they were distressed by their impending doom they showed no sign of it.
There were darker signs if you were prepared to look for them. You could see a Dutch barn in one of Ernie’s fields, only it did not contain straw. It was full of bones. No doubt they were being stored until there were enough to make up a load to send to the bone mill. It seems that this practice has ceased. Ernie Pleasant retired in 1971, but his business is still carries on. Nowadays they advertise their services to vets and stables as a crematorium for dogs and horses; obviously the carcasses are now burnt. Bone meal is still a useful addition to the gardener’s arsenal of fertilisers, but it no longer comes from Grub Street.
Another feature of the street would no longer be tolerated in this age of health and safety legislation. You could always tell when Ernie had been busy because the ditches round the area ran red with blood. Now you know why the primroses grew in such profusion in the ditches of Grub Street! Blood may be a a rich fertiliser, but the authorities were becoming increasingly concerned by pollution in the 1960s. Not only the very visible effluent caused by Ernie Pleasant, but the more invidious types of pollution in the air and water courses were being tackled and outlawed. In the towns all the buildings which now appear so sparkling and bright were, until the late 60s, universally grimy. By the 1970s coal was no longer used in railway engines and power station were increasingly going over to gas, so that once the buildings in the cities were washed down the soot did not reappear. Raw sewage and industrial run-off were prohibited from the rivers and estuaries and, within a relatively brief period, fish returned to the dead waters of the rivers Thames and Tees.
In my youth we were frequent visitors to Shotesham – my mother’s Sunday morning meetings were held in a duck farmer’s house there – but we did not often go via Grub Street. Chapel Lane was a more direct road from our home in Poringland. Another kind of graveyard had existed in the 1950s, in the field at the corner of Chapel Lane and Grub Street. This was where the redundant traction engines from the local farms ended their lives, before they were hauled off to the scrapyard. My father would sometimes wander round the field (his young son tagging along too of course) and he deeply regretted the fact that their rusty cold boilers would never again see steam. He would have loved to have owned one, but without a farm to store one in it was out of the question.