Friday, 20 July 2012

Chelsea Sugar Refinery and James K. Baxter, Cleaner

When James K. Baxter was dismissed from his job at the Chelsea Sugar Refinery, it's well known that he wrote a rather 'unrefined' poem to express his disgruntlement:

"I had the job of hosing down
The hoick and sludge and grit
For the sweet grains of sugar dust
That had been lost in it.

For all the sugar in the land
Goes through that dismal dump
And all the drains run through the works
Into a filthy sump".

Despite this unsugared description, a copy of 'The Ballad of the Stonegut Sugarworks' is lodged in the Chelsea Sugar Archives (at Birkenhead Library), sandwiched between a 1962 plan of the 'Disposition of Buildings' and a 1976 letter from the Refinery Manger to the Managing Director about managing absenteeism. A positioning which is at once random, and oddly relevant - though I couldn’t locate that impressive sounding ‘sump’ on the plan (see below).

Ref: 1962 Plan CSR-B94127, Chelsea Sugar Archives
As to the letter, it reads as follows:

"However, we do not consider that payment for sick leave not taken is justified if for no other reason [than] that it constitutes a bonus for good health. It is claimed that payment for sick time not used does result in a reduction of absenteeism and may well induce employees to stay longer with the Company as it forms an additional bonus not paid at present".

Regrettably the poem is not a handcrafted calligraphy on vellum, but a botched bit of photocopying. And there is no commentary other than "seen this" scribbled on the top. Perhaps only a graphologist could say how scandalized the writer was, or wasn't.

What we do have is Baxter's staff card, itself a model of poetic succinctness, which mirrors the short term of his employment (see below).
Ref: Baxter Staff Card, Chelsea Sugar Archives

Author: Paul Croxson

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