Business in the 1930s

A number of surviving documents indicate how timber imports were arranged. London agents issued schedules of prices for timber that would be available at supply ports in the coming months. When needing more stock, Nicks & Co sent in an offer to buy so many standards of a range of specific sizes, a standard being 165 cubic feet, and the agent usually sent back a counter offer quoting slightly different quantities to suit better what he had available. Once both parties were satisfied, the agent sent a formal contract recording the names of the seller and buyer, the place and date of shipment and the agreed quantities and prices for all of the sizes ordered. Some contracts included the cost of freight and insurance while for others the buyer arranged the shipment separately. In either case, transport was arranged in accordance with a standard form of charter party appropriate to ports in the Bristol Channel, although it was common for specific clauses to be amended to suit each particular shipment. Before the ship departed, a bill of lading was prepared specifying the quantities that had been loaded – which could differ from what was ordered depending on practicalities at the time. When the ship was discharged, the numbers of each size received were checked by a tally man, and then a clerk had to enter the information into a ledger and calculate the total quantity for comparison with the bill of lading. As the dimensions were in feet and inches and the quantities shipped were in standards, the calculations were tedious and prone to error (45).

During the 1930s, Nicks & Co continued to import timber from the Baltic and Scandanavian countries with some shipments from Archangel, Canada and the United States. In 1933, the firm stopped using G T Beard’s lighters to bring the timber from Sharpness to Gloucester, and changed over to Mousell Chadborn & Co instead. Most of their timber was sent away by rail, but lorries were coming into use and some wood was still carried up country in canal boats (46). One of the railway sidings in Nicks’s yard became known as Hellfire Pass because it sloped down towards the canal and wagons sometimes got out of control. If the man on the brake missed his footing, the wagon could continue on its own, rushing down to join the line alongside the canal and crashing through any planks across the line being used in discharging a lighter. It was also known for a free-running wagon to hit an obstacle and tip into the canal (47). A more serious accident occurred in May 1932 when four boys employed by Nicks & Co were playing hide-and-seek in the timber yard after having their mid-day meal. One boy climbed the back of a stack of timber, and as he was coming down the front by means of the projecting arms, he lost his balance and fell 10ft to the ground. He was taken to the Infirmary but did not regain consciousness and died the same evening due to laceration of the brain. An inquest jury returned a verdict of accidental death. As the accident did not occur during hours of duty, Nicks & Co did not consider they were formally responsible, but they did make a contribution towards the boy’s funeral expenses (48).