Memories of Hunts laundry boss

I WAS very sad to hear of the passing on of Ben O Neill (The Hunts Post, March 18). Both I and my father Bob King knew him quite well. My father was steward and committee member at the Montagu Club for many years and met him there. Sadly my father passed

I WAS very sad to hear of the passing on of Ben O'Neill (The Hunts Post, March 18).

Both I and my father Bob King knew him quite well. My father was steward and committee member at the Montagu Club for many years and met him there. Sadly my father passed away some years ago himself.

I first met him when I applied for a job at the Huntingdon Model Laundry as a van driver. In fact I actually worked there on two separate occasions, but my first job there was not long after I had passed my driving test in my late teens. Mr O'Neill took me on and I soon learned the weekly laundry rounds the drivers had to undertake.

The job entailed delivering and collecting laundry parcels, in many cases door-to-door, to homes in the towns and villages around Huntingdon. It was a very interesting job, and one met many, many people from all walks of life, from the landed gentry (as one might say at the time) to the most humble dwellings you can imagine.

For instance the then Lady de Ramsey was one of my regular calls at Abbots Ripton, as was our then MP Sir David Renton, although of course one rarely saw them in person and dealt with their staff.

There were also bulk deliveries of hampers of laundry to local factories and RAF and USAF air bases.

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Mr O'Neill was a hard taskmaster and would stand no nonsense from his staff but, on the other hand, if you had any problems, he was always willing to listen and help out if he could.

There were quite a lot of people working at the laundry and I made many friends there among them and the customers, who would very often provide welcome cups of tea when we called on them.

I remember vividly the terrible winter of 1962-63, when the snow was very deep on the ground and the snow-drifts were quite frightening. There was none of the modern problem of everything grinding to a halt. The job had to be done and we carried on and never missed a call - even if we had to leave the van and walk through the snow.

I remember one particularly bad day, with heavy snow falling. I was very late finishing my round and, when I arrived back at the laundry, Mr O'Neill met me in the yard and wanted to know why I was so late.

On another day that winter I spent several hours with my vehicle stuck deep in a snowdrift. I could not get out because the snow covered the doors and I was lucky to be spotted and pulled out by a passing lorry driver. Very lucky indeed, because the white van was very difficult to see when almost buried in the snow. But I managed to keep the engine running and blowing the hooter to try to attract attention, successfully, thank goodness.

There was no staying at home because of the snow in those days: everyone got to work - and school - somehow, and woe betide you if you were late in the morning.

I left the laundry to take up a better paid job, but some years later I had lost my job as a result of the company closing down, and saw jobs advertised at the laundry in the late 1960s or early 1970s. I applied, once again was accepted, and worked there again for several years.

My wife, Yvonne, also worked there for a short time before she went to college, but before I met her. We have now been married 39 years, and even now I still talk about my memories of working for Mr O'Neill.

The laundry did not change much over the years: the drivers arrived for work in the mornings, sorted out the parcels for the day's deliveries and loaded them on the van for delivery. One then started off on the rounds.

Amazingly, some customers would leave their back doors unlocked and the money for the laundry on the table inside if they were out at work themselves. We would collect this and leave any change, but we would not dream of getting up to any mischief by stealing from them or anything. It was just "not the done thing" - you were trusted and you respected that trust. In fact it never used to occur to me that I could have taken anything at all, had I wanted to. One just did not think that way. Sadly, nowadays, I don't think people would be so trusting.

We also used to carry around quite large sums of money, but without any fear of being robbed: you just did not think about it then.

My family knew Mr O'Neill quite well, but only in the sense of working for him: we rarely met him socially. By an odd coincidence our eldest daughter Dawn followed my father to become a committee member of the Montagu Club for some time.


Coldhams South


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