A few years ago, when I posted this picture, of a canalside house up for auction in Lydiate, it sparked vivid memories for Kev (formerly of Bickerstaffe Boats). It turns out that he knew the property well when he was a young lad of thirteen.
At that time, Kev was doing a summer job, working for his Uncle Pete, of the coal merchant PS Dawson. He tells the story for us:
We knew the owner of the property as ‘Bunty’. Bunty would order her coal, mainly in bulk, and mainly in the summer, to take advantage of the summer prices. This would usually be a minimum 1 Ton order which is basically 20 bags. This particular summer the price per bag was extremely low, so she ordered 2 Tons (40 bags).
Bunty’s house was located on the opposite side to the towpath on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, and there was no access from the road, other than via a footpath along the canalside. It’s still like that today. As a result, the coal delivery involved parking the coal wagon on the bridge at Southport Road and walking with a 50kg bag of coal roughly 200yds along a footpath to the property to her garden, tipping the bag and repeating 40 times. A true test of stamina.
I came up with the idea of using a wheelbarrow and taking 2 bags at a time. “Genius!” says my Uncle Pete. Now as a spotty 13 year old, to hear the words ‘great idea’ was fab. I remember the day like it was yesterday. Lovely sunny morning, we arrived at the call, unloaded the wheel barrow, put 2 bags in it and set off down the pathway. Bunty was at the gate to greet us and open up the coal bunker, advising us to be mindful of the goat and close the gate behind us each time.
After each pass of my uncle carrying one, and me pushing 2 bags in the wheelbarrow, we would tip the coal into the bunker and lay the empty bags in a neat pile, so as to count the empties at the end of the delivery and show that the customer had the correct amount delivered.
Now the goat took a particular interest in the empty bags, deciding that the top of the pile was quite a nice place to lay down. No problem, I thought, I’ll just make a second pile. So backwards and forwards we went, until the delivery was complete, finally using the wheelbarrow to take the empty pile of bags back to the lorry. I loaded one pile onto the barrow. Now to shift the goat, who was sprawled out across the second pile. I managed to shoo it off and chuck the remaining bags onto the barrow, at which point the goat decided to jump into the barrow on top of the bags.
Now I thought this was quite groovy, as you do when you’re a spotty teenager. I decided I would take the goat for a ride in the barrow, so we set off, back down the towpath, not realising that the 40 empty bags plus the goat basically weighed to much for the barrow. The wheel came off, and the barrow collapsed, toppling the Goat into the canal. Shoot!
Off swam the goat, and try as I might I couldn’t get it to come to me, for me to drag it out. I decided I would throw stones into the water to the other side of it, to see if I could get it to head towards me. Great idea, eh? It seemed to be working, until I managed to ping one straight on its nut. Now to this day I’ve no idea what happened next, as for a split second it rolled onto its side, and sort of played dead. Did I knock it out, did I stun it? At the time I thought I’d killed the goat. I was a second from jumping in to rescue it, when suddenly it sprang back to life. To cut a long story short, it turned out that the goat regularly went for a swim in the canal, to which end Bunty had made a gang plank for it to climb out of the cut. (Unbelieveably, it’s still there in the photograph!)
The last time we heard of the mad goat, it had been given to Bunty’s friends, who had a pub with quite a bit of land, the Scotch Piper. The goat was last seen on the roof of the pub, eating the thatch. The pub is still going, and people still tell the story of the day the goat ate the roof.