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Thompson’s Lost Plimsole

Part 28

Nellie Cringe worked as a cleaner at the Hallifield branch of Duckworth’s Bank. She had worked there for over twenty years as a trusted employee. Today was the day that she would retire and there would be a small gathering of staff at the end of the day when the Manager, Mr Hilton Scroop, would make a speech and present Nellie with a bouquet of flowers and a few small gifts as a show of gratitude for her years of dedication to the bank. Nellie was a woman of short stature but made up for the lack of height with a surfeit of bulk. A lack of teeth and a lady moustache, plus a pair of tiny eyes in a rotund face, gave her the look of an annoyed walrus. Both of her forearms, when bared, displayed a plethora of faded naval tattoos, such as anchors, twisted ropes and masted sailing ships. Nellie had worked at the bank for longer than the majority of the staff and was happy to engage all and sundry in chatty conversation. So much so, that she knew all of their family histories, their likes and dislikes and so many little titbits of personal information that might prove useful if, of course, you had a mind to rob the bank over the forthcoming bank holiday weekend.

The modelling medium, Plasticine, was created in 1897 by an art teacher called William Harbutt. Being malleable and non-setting, it was an ideal product for making impressions of solid objects such as keys, or more importantly, bank keys. Being a heavy smoker, Nellie always carried a tin of tobacco in her apron pocket. The tobacco, however, had been replaced with plasticine which allowed her to make impressions of all of the master keys whilst carrying out her cleaning duties. Over the previous few months, the Dray twins had created a full set of keys using these impressions, and each day a certain, rotund, cleaning lady, would try them out to ensure that each key fitted its lock perfectly. An insider at the city council surveyors’ department had also supplied the twins with a map of the city centre sewage system.  

Duckworth’s Bank was situated on the high street in Hallifield and was the main clearing bank for all of the smaller branches in neighbouring towns. Not only did this bank contain the largest vault outside London, but it also boasted one of the largest collections of safety deposit boxes in the north of England. A vacant, double-fronted shop opposite the bank had been rented by an associate of the Dray brothers, and to all intents and purposes, gave the impression that it was being renovated prior to occupation. At the rear of this shop was a reasonably sized, enclosed yard with a couple of outbuildings. A gate from this yard led on to an alley, which in turn led to a small side street. This arrangement gave easy access for any late night comings and goings and would hopefully not draw the unwanted attention of any night-time beat bobbies. From an upstairs window in the shop, the general day to day comings and goings of the bank staff could be observed, as could the times of the day and night that the police made their patrols along the high street. Before the war, three of the gang members had been coal miners. Once drafted into the army, their skills were employed digging tunnels under enemy defenses in order to place explosives or set up listening posts. Therefore, to tunnel across an English high street would be a piece of cake for these fellows.

Having acquired an accurate plan of the sewage system meant that they could dig down far enough before tunnelling underneath any obstacles. Starting in a room at the rear of the shop, it had taken these miners two weeks to dig downwards to create an access shaft and then tunnel across the main thoroughfare, before digging another shaft upwards, and underneath a designated point beneath the bank. The accuracy of their intended entry point had been made much easier due to the very detailed floor plan mapped and measured out by Nellie. In order to avoid any prying eyes, all of the spoil from the excavations had been deposited in the outbuilding at the rear of the shop.

The tunnel was a work of art, fully supported with timber robbed from the shop. Floorboards, skirting boards, doors and shop fittings had all been utilised, the tunnel was also fully illuminated with electric lighting along its length. All the men had to do now, was to wait for the bank to close on the Saturday of the bank holiday weekend, before placing the correct amount of gelignite underneath the concrete floor of the manager’s office. Nellie Cringe was the aunt of the Dray twins, and her cut from this robbery would allow her to emigrate to Australia be nearer to her son and his family. Nellie had lost her husband during the war, due to an accidental explosion whilst he was fitting the blasting caps to some dynamite. He had slightly overestimated the amount needed to blow the doors off a bonded warehouse at Liverpool docks.

To be continued…


Published by crispinunderfelt

All round good egg. Humanist and red wine drinker.

5 thoughts on “Thompson’s Lost Plimsole

  1. Hmmm…I suppose she wouldn’t stop even if someone were to say, “Whoa, Nellie!” This is not only an interesting story but educational as well.


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