Norwich veteran of the quarrying industry retires after 50 years’ service

Bill Barnham was aged just 15 years and two months when he got his first job as a quarry clerk. It was the summer of 1962 and the US and the Soviet Union were threatening world war three.

At that time, Mr Barnham was living in Walsingham in north Norfolk, where he was born. But when he started work at Hempton, near Fakenham, he cycled seven miles there and back to get there.

Last Friday he was still in the same industry, working as a weighbridge clerk at Costessey quarry, just outside Norwich, where sand and gravel are extracted to be used for roads, homes and schools.

Bosses praised him as the link between customers coming to the quarry to buy sand and gravel and the men working in the quarry extracting it.

Not many people work all their careers in the same industry, and there will probably be even fewer in the future, so it's quite an achievement bearing in mind the physically hard environment.

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Quarries are dangerous places, often using large numbers of vehicles, explosives and handling large amounts of heavy materials.

Although much has been done to improve health and safety standards, the quarrying industry still has an accident rate above the average for manufacturing industries and can still be a dangerous trade to work in.

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The 65-year-old said: 'In this business we all agree that you either take to the business and stick with it, or you have had enough of it quite quickly.

'You have to be hard-working and have a sense of humour. Most quarries are in quite isolated spots and a bit out of the way, which puts some people off.'

In the 30 minutes or so I spent talking to him in the quarry office I noticed the constant noise from lorries outside and the less than great air quality. But he said the noise would be worse working in a restaurant or kitchen, and dismissed the conditions.

He could have stayed on at the quarry and worked until he was 75, but he said he had done his share.

'I have been working since I was 15. I'm fit and well at the moment so it's the best time to give up,' he said.

It was through an advert in our sister paper, the Eastern Daily Press, that he came to work in the industry.

'I cannot remember why I applied for the job of a quarry clerk. It most likely was the location. I was living in Walsingham. In those days you did not have your own transport, but I had a bicycle and I could cycle the seven miles.'

He remained a quarry clerk for four years, and remembers watching the World Cup final between England and West Germany in 1966 on black and white television.

Later in the decade, he was employed as a general office worker and worked near North Elmham, before spending two years based at Lenwade.

For more than three decades, he worked in the quarrying industry at Guardian Road, Norwich.

For part of that time, the office was susceptible to subsidence and was starting to slip towards the main ring road before he left to start work at Costessey quarry in 2003.

During his time at Guardian Road in Norwich he was a purchase ledger supervisor, a sales ledger supervisor, office manager and then credit control clerk. He was a weighbridge clerk at Costessey quarry.

He added: 'The business has changed a lot in the 50 years, but people still talk with fond memories of the old machinery. But it was really just older versions of what you see out in the quarry now. The new equipment saves time, and the lorry drivers used to be thinner then, as they had more work to do.'

The main difference over the years has been the increased emphasis placed on health and safety at work, he said.

From the time he arrived at work until he left, he had to wear high-visibility protective clothing.

Work permitting, he had time to play football for Fakenham and Holt in the Anglian Combination league in the 1960s and 1970s, and cricket, and in his 40s he took up long distance running, completing the London Marathon on three occasions. He said: 'In recent times I have enjoyed walking and cycling, cinema and going out for a good meal with my wife.

'Retirement will give me more time to spend with my family.'

He has been a Norwich City supporter since about 1957.

Born in Walsingham, he attended the local primary school and then Alderman Peel school at Wells.

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