by Andrew Foote
We transferred to the new building pretty much immediately, then once the hole in the wall had been bricked up, some of the boys made a start of preparing the walls and ceiling to take a coat of whitewash.
Callum was in charge of looking at the fireplaces in the new building.
The first one needed an amount of work before it was usable, but the furnace one was alright but in this instance, we found something else as it had been modified to incorporate a back-boiler and convection-fed hot water tank.
This fed wash basins and a crude but effective shower.
Ronny told us that British Waterways were going to pay the electricity bill until the end of the quarter and then he would get it disconnected, install an isolator so we could feed power from our generator into the new building.
This left me time to further investigate Myton.
"Here you go. I've found something."
Pip, Tiny and I had been trawling through records held in Birmingham Municipal Museum.
"Myton Bolts and Rivets Limited.
Company first registered on the 14th August 1879.
Trading address; 28 – 32 Bishops Wharf, Birmingham.
It goes on to say that said company was owned by Messrs Michael and Thomas Myton who manufactured and traded in securing's and fixings for industry with note to boat building and repair.
They gained a reputation for high quality goods and business flourished when in 1899 they incorporated a wet dock to berth their own cargo vessel to enable ease of transport of their products.
In 1914 and the outbreak of WWI, production was given over to the manufacture of light armaments and worked closely with the Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA).
This association lasted until the cessation of hostilities in 1918 when Myton resumed their normal production, but then found the need to diversify entering in to an arrangement with the Ruston Steam Locomotive Company, to whom they manufactured and supplied specialised and high precision components.
Myton ran a string of boats and transported their products to Ruston's factories in both Doncaster and Wolverton in Buckinghamshire, both of these towns being well served by the canals of the time and business boomed, but then WWII reared its ugly head.
Myton again entered in to a partnership with BSA, but continued supplying Ruston until the end of the war, at which point, BSA entered in to an agreement and that branch (which incidentally was run from Aston in Birmingham, not Digbeth) was transferred to their ownership for £10.000.)
Myton prospered until the death of Michael, at which point the business shut almost overnight and their business premises sold.
Thomas Myton took retirement, moved to Worcestershire dying aged 91 of natural causes.
Neither of the Myton brothers married.
Michael left his considerable fortune to his brother who, upon his own demise, bequeathed it to good causes, notably the plight of homeless and vulnerable children."
The silence around the table was deafening, all of us completely lost for words, so I excused myself and asked if the transcript could be copied.
This done, we walked back to the squat in silence, humbled I think does it for me.
That night as we cuddled up together, Callum posed the inevitable question.
"What happens now?
So these wonderful guys had a conscience and we're looking at how they made their money but……"
"I reckon it's obvious. We have to get their kit back up and running."
"Why? None of us knows how to drive it and anyway, it's so fucking old, it would never cut it in modern industry so where's the point Ed?"
"Because we're obligated, that's why!
You found next door, maybe by chance, but then I came along.
There are now what, twenty of us here?
We are living in the building and right underneath the gear that made those two brothers a pile of dosh and when they died, they left it to charity and more, they left it to us as homeless kids.
Sorry, but whether or not you think I'm strange, this has to mean something Callum."
"I still can't see it.
I've had to fight for everything, I've taken unbelievable risks...... especially with my health, to get anything close to a life.
Those blokes never did me any favours."
"Yes they did! You're living safely under their roof!"
"Yes okay…… Ronny's roof now but don't you see?
The Myton brothers have long since departed this world, so someone else has to own it.
It could've been bought by someone, who not realising its history or significance, tore the place down, disposed of the machinery for its scrap value and waited until the time was right to redevelop the site, but that didn't happen…… Ronny bought it, and as we're here now, the wheel's come a full circle."
"Maybe I can get that part, but getting all that kit back up and operational?
Why? Where's the point?
You know as well as I do that if the opportunity occurs and the time is right for Ronny to cash in on his investment, we'll all be down the road pretty bloody sharpish.
A waste of time Ed."
"But what if we could make it profitable. Make it so it was worth his while hanging on to it?"
Modern stuff is all computer controlled, fully automatic. This stuff belongs in a museum……"
"Yeah! That's my point!
Have you ever been to the Black Country Living Museum?"
"Yeah. It's in Walsall, but that's like a complete village with shops, a pub, wharfs and shit, not an old workshop in Digbeth?"
"But it's places like this that supplied their need for stuff.
I saw it in the archives, something about Netherton and the Dudley Number Two Canal which is where that place is and how it was a staging post for storage and onward transportation of their products which links this place to it."
"Yes but that doesn't mean that people would be interested in some scruffy old workshop in central Brum?"
"Makes me interested in it?
It's a part of the legacy of the West Midlands powerhouse, the nineteenth century, the industrial revolution and what made England a force to be reckoned with all over the world.
Fuck it Callum?
I'm not going to walk away from this without a fight."
"Alright. So we'll spruce the place up a bit.
If nothing else it'll give the boys something to occupy their minds rather than pilfering stuff."
Ronny had already given us the thumbs-up to do what we wanted, so priority number one was to get the old Bollinder up and running.
I didn't think it would be too difficult as we'd managed to do the deed with the first one, even though we hadn't got a clue what we were doing.
I also thought that all assuming we met with success, we'd clean it up and do a definitive job by polishing all the copper and brass pipework, repaint it in her old livery and whitewash the engine room. My idea was that if we managed to get the old machinery upstairs running and good enough to exhibit, the motor that powered them, an antique in its own right, should also be made to look the business but first the task of cleaning years of grime and neglect from our new toys.
I asked Pip if he'd drive me across town so I could buy a laptop and mobile Wi-Fi. A printer I had back at home but whether it would be compatible with whatever operating system came with the new computer, I had yet to discover, but that could wait.
We toured most of the tech outlets I knew until I settled on a system that would take the knocks. Not the cheapest, but there was one added bonus – they would throw in a digital camera for good measure.
Next was a visit to Office World to buy printer paper, ring binders, pens and a chalk board, we had to be organised and do things according to a plan rather than haphazardly going at it bull at a gate.
Before we went back, we stopped off at a motor factors and bought twenty-five litres of Genkleen, a concentrated and powerful degreaser, massive rolls of paper wipes, a box of industrial protective gloves and face masks.
My bank account had taken a serious hit so this venture better work, but I countered my apprehension by telling myself that if nothing else, it might just keep us occupied.
Back at Bishops Wharf, the lads had been busy sweeping up the layers of crap in the workshop.
They'd used an old watering can to damp the floor then working together, swept the area before loading it into buckets, lowering them out of an open window and chucking their contents into the canal.
Not good practice but what the hell!
The task that lay ahead was daunting as at every turn, more problems were unearthed such as all the electrics in that part of the building had to be ripped out and replaced. The stairs were bloody lethal, and even though I'm no engineer and not familiar with health and safety regulations, all the drives to the machinery would have to be guarded, the floor treated with non-slip paint, reinstate the fire escape and install smoke alarms and whatever else.
This was going to take rather more than the five grand I had in my account…… considerably more, but then one evening and Storytime over, a group of us were sitting around one of the fires when Mitch stuck his ore in.
"Grants. Can't you get grants for this sort of thing?"
"Possibly, but we don't own the place and even if we did, we're still kids so nobody would take us seriously."
"Okay but Ronny's no kid, he owns the joint, so he applies!"
"He's not interested.
We have his okay to do what we want but he doesn't want to get involved."
"No damage done by asking him? The lads are having a great time cleaning the place up. None of them have been arrested in weeks and why? Because they have something else to do, something that keeps them together and out of trouble."
"Alright. I'll talk to him, but don't run away with the idea that he'll work a minor miracle here."
"Still not interested Ed, but there's nothing to stop you from going ahead if that's what you want to do?"
"But you own the building and everything inside, not us so how could we?"
First off, it's not up for sale.
I had hoped that after the redevelopment at Brindley Place and Gas Street Basin, the same thing might be done around here but instead, they built massive office buildings that almost devoured the Farmer's Bridge lock flight. The entire area is a tip, drunks, druggies and vagrants took it over so no one goes there out of choice so I'm lumbered with property that's almost worthless, but what if I sold you a lease or rented it to you?"
"We could never afford it and still it would leave us with the problem of restoring the machinery, the safety stuff and electrics?"
"A quid a week rent so that's like five pence a week each, you get the kit – all set out legally and away you go.
Approach the English Heritage people, the Black Country Museum and see what they come up with.
If as you say, you've unearthed Myton's original workshop, I reckon the museum would be falling over themselves to help you.
They found out where the Aston factory was and went to see if they could buy it but it had already been levelled and what you have to remember, that was an addition to their operation, not the original.
They managed to find some of the old kit but it was damaged beyond restoration so the interest is there…… all you have to do is sell the idea to them, set out your stall and trust to luck."
"Do you honestly think it's a goer then?"
"Nothing's certain in life Ed, but if you follow a dream, who knows what'll happen.
One other thing I'd like you to ponder.
I had always been plagued by young homeless kids, begging for food, stealing my cutlery and the like, but then Callum came along and slowly things began to change.
He'd come along but he'd offer payment – I'd refuse, but then I'm a softy, plus he seemed like a genuine boy.
Then you arrived on the scene.
A nice, polite and well educated kid, totally out of step with street-life but with character and a determination to see things through to conclusion.
You and Callum were destined to meet in my opinion.
You are complete opposites yet the same if that makes any sense.
You're right together, kindred spirits and then? Oh my God? Along comes Pip!
Between the three of you, it's difficult for me to see how you could fail.
You, for example, see potential in things which others don't. That old generator being a very good example.
Okay, so Callum noticed it, tried to get it to run although he didn't have a clue what it did or indeed, what it was there for, but his strength is his ability to carry the other boys along on a tide of enthusiasm, meaning you have a group who are happy to work alongside each other.
The other thing for you to take into consideration is, he's the one who kept you from going crazy.
You're not, and never will be suited to street life, so just be thankful you took refuge where you did, found a lad who hasn't got a bad or malicious bone in his body to take care of you.
Sure, he loves you, but that wasn't something that happened immediately. Most people who live rough and had found themselves a place to bed down each night, tend not to like others muscling in on their space. The love thing happened over time and you owe him a debt of thanks.
Pip has the guile and tenacity to find ways around problems, sometimes not what you might call legal and above board I grant you, but then sometimes the end justifies the means. He's the fixer, the procurement man, the scammer and he's bloody good at it!
I'm making a meal of all of this but the bottom line?
You have a good little team around you. If any of my tenants realise you're here then no one has said anything, and that's because you all behave yourselves, keep your heads down and so on.
If you come up with the goods regarding that old workshop, then I won't be surprised, but before you go talking to the Black Country Museum, make inroads into the clearing up and degreasing the machinery so if they visit, they'll understand your enthusiasm and determination to move ahead."
"Grub up people.
Ronny overdid things with the roast lamb dinners so I towed them back for us.
Dig in before they spoil."
Bubba, still working at the café seemed bullish and in a good mood.
I quizzed him over dinner.
"Ahh well you see. Ronny wants to slow down so he promoted me to deputy manager. He works the early shift like six in the morning 'til midday then leaves me to carry on 'til seven in the evening when the night girls arrive.
The other thing? He gave me a hike in pay so now I earn more than the living wage – he even opened a bank account for me, I mean bloody-hell Ed? Bubba Samuels with a bleedin' bank account. Next thing you'll know is, I'll be respectable!"
"Good for you pal. You look the business in those chef's whites for sure but respectable?
Yeah okay. Why not."
"That's all about health and hygiene – gotta learn about all that shit as well but like I said, I like what I do so no worries right?"
"Go for it!
I can see it now. 'Ronny's Place.' A five star Michelin restaurant!"
"Well okay? Maybe not but this lamb is to die for."
"Thank you. All my own work right down to the sauce which I reckon is a bit special."
Plates cleared and with nothing left over to chuck away and the washing-up done, we settled in for story-time but with the kids taking turns to read out loud.
They were learning fast.
Following that and before we all bedded down for the night, Callum divided the lads into work parties with one group concentrating on cleaning up the Bollinder, another working on the machinery with the rest cleaning the years of grime off the windows and preparing the walls for painting.
No one was forced into helping, so if they wanted to go out into town then fine, but it would appear that Ronny was right as everyone nodded their willingness to pitch in.
By ten in the evening, tiredness overtook so, Mitch went through and killed the generator leaving only the glow from the two fireplaces to illuminate the place.
The harsh winter weather was slowly giving way to milder conditions. Spring was just around the corner, and somehow that fact alone lifted my spirits.
I cuddled tight in to Callum, kissed the nape of his neck then whispered into his ear.
"I love you."
"And I love you too but please don't jump me tonight 'cos I'm beat!"
"Another time perhaps?"
"Deffo another time.
Sleep tight Ed. Everything is going to be fine."
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