Why Arthur doesn’t like
To Merton Council, Arthur Weston’s scrap yard is just a spot on the map which is hardly likely to fit in with the new look Western-road. It’s a mechanical knacker’s yard filled to the gates with carcasses of smashed motors and heaps of their oily innards. It would, they told him, have to go.
“Arthur Weston and Sons, Scrap Metal Merchant”, along with the gipsies site, the few boarded-up warehouses and sheds that make up the grimiest corner of Fair Green, are to be cleared away. When the bulldozers and builders have gone, rows of new houses and flats will take their place. What they don’t know, at the Planning and Development Department, is that they are razing a small trading empire.
There’s Arthur’s, where for nearly 30 years he’s been carrying on where his father Herbert left off, with picking up wrecked cars and selling the decent remains to anyone who wants to come and rummage around for spare parts.
“Sometimes 24 a week — and that’s a service. Who else gets all the old dumped wrecks off the road and makes use of them? The police have told me I’m doing the public a service,” he says.
And next to him, all around him — too near for the most part, he says — are the gipsies where trading covers anything from broken down gas stoves to the breeding of small herds of assorted dogs.
“See that yard next to mine? A load of them came and squatted with their vans there and never paid one penny rent and the council couldn’t do nothing about it. And there’s me paying a rent I couldn’t divulge to you.”
The gipsies, he observed, are being offered a caravan site built especially for them.
“Me — now whose going to offer me another yard for scrap dealing? I reckon I’ll have to chuck the whole lot in. After all these years! These yards were my father’s life and they’ve been mine. I was working here when I was 10 years of age. And I really mean work. Not work like they mean today. Now its going in a matter of a few weeks. Just like that,” he said.
“I’ve got to May 31 to clear up and get out.”
At 39, small but strong, he looks older with years of pulling engines out of written-off vehicles.
“Its a dirty job but it’s true that where there’s muck there’s money. And what’s wrong with that?” This bother doesn’t just mean finding somewhere else to put the 700-odd old cars he has at his two yards in Western Road.
He also has a yard at Caterham.
“The council there have told me to clear out of that. And Wandsworth council have just told us they are going to pull down our house in Tooting. So I started to think about building a bungalow at Reigate. Of course they’ve turned down the plans for it, haven’t they?”
Arthur Weston isn’t feeling too kindly disposed towards local authorities at present. Apart from the fact that they have authority in the first place, they seem to have some very strange ways of imposing it.
“This yard is divided into two halves. On this side I can strip down motors and do them up. But if I want to sell them I have to pull them over to that side. Don’t ask me why. That’s what I’ve been told I’ve got to do. By laws!”
He pointed to a small lean-to, used for shelter in the rain. “I rent this yard but that thing there costs £150 a year in rates.” Fighting councils, he believes. only costs you more in the end.
He loves his yards and his scrap as much as any actor loves the stage. If it wasn’t for the parting of Arthur and the business three Weston sons would carry on when he is too old.
“My youngest — he’s four — comes here already to help and cleans metal and such like,” he says.
Even so, the big ends and chassis of cars are not what they were and some wrecks are worth nothing to him.
“They don’t make cars like they used to. When my dad was in business they built them solid and there was plenty to make use of. Now? Like paper underneath most of them,” he says.
“Take hearses. When I was younger I used to deal in hearses. Plenty of good solid metal in them. I remember I went to see one in a place at Putney and I was inside lying on the floor looking at all the steel and nobs and suchlike. A bloke came and opened the door and I started moaning. Cor, he didn’t half run.” he said.
“Nowadays,” he went on sadly, “there aren’t many hearses around. And what there are are all gilt and show.”
When he started in the yard, not so much out of choice but because there was no other work about, he regarded the job as manual, not skilful. A case of necessity he thought, never dreaming he would be as dedicated and knowing about metals and their various market values as his father.
He and his brother will go anywhere to pick up anything that promises some future use. And Arthur has an eye for a trend as well as the metal in the chassis. In his yard at the moment is a horsebox, circa 1920.
“Belonged to Lord Derby. I went all the way to his place to get it,” he said.
But mostly it’s wrecks with bonnets or sides smashed in from the impact of crashes.
“I suppose it could turn you up a bit, knowing that people have been killed or injured in them. But you don’t think about it. Just get on with it.
“Even when a car’s been in a really bad smash and its a mess — there’s always some part of it that has a use.” he added.
He will take away a lot of memories when he closes the gates for the last time.
“The worst time was the night when someone set fire to the place. You can imagine how a fire spreads in a place like this. Burnt out, skint I was. Know who did it? If I did they wouldn’t be around today I can tell you.”
When it’s all over he will have to think what he will do next.
“I’ve got a bit. I certainly won’t have to worry about money but a man like me has got to have a job. A pub? Don’t talk stupid! I’d drink the place dry in a week.”
The biggest sadness is that there is no yard now to pass on to his son.
“But then I’ve thought perhaps I’d like something a bit better for my boys. Not, so dirty and not such hard work. Like a proper car showroom. You never go to one of those places without you see the boss in a smart suit do you? Not like me!”