English Electric Co Ltd, Kidsgrove 1962 to 1972
January 1st 2012 was the 50th anniversary of my entrance into the world of engineering so I thought I would put pen to paper and try to explain how it all worked out.
It all started for me back in September 1961, I was just fifteen years old and had been invited for aptitude tests at English Electric Kidsgrove, with a view to obtaining an apprenticeship.
I reported to the personnel department at the appointed time and along with about 15 other boys we were escorted to the wooden huts close to the payroll office.
The tests didn’t seem too hard and took 60 minutes to complete.
We were thanked and sent on our way with the promise that we would be informed of their decision in due course.
I received a letter in mid-December informing me that I had been accepted for an Electrical Fitters Apprenticeship, subject to a 6 month probationary period.
If that was successful I would start the apprenticeship on my sixteenth birthday and it would last for five years until my twenty first birthday.
I left school on 22nd December 1961 and started to work on New Year’s Day 1962, aged just 15 years and 3 months.
New Year’s Day was not bank holiday then.
My clock number was 76567.
So, I went from a school which consisted of a couple of hundred children and a few adult teachers to a sprawling factory which employed in excess of 2000 people.
Frightened, bewildered and bemused all of those things and more.
I once again reported to personnel to find a dozen or so lads also starting their new careers that day.
One of them was Brian Lawton, he was placed in the coil winding section in the basement and we have stayed in touch on and off ever since.
I was so mesmerised that I have never been able to recall any other boys who were there that day, except the boy whose father came with him.
He stayed in my mind because when the boy sniffed, his dad produced a handkerchief so that he could blow his nose, it was hardly encouraging independence was it?
In the letter advising me of the start date, was the instruction to buy a six inch steel ruler, this item was necessary for an apprentice to do his job properly.
Nobody knew why this was needed and I don’t ever recall using it.
Anyway, I was escorted by Mr Percy Gardner, the apprentice’s personnel officer, through the machine shop to 711 section and left there under the command of Bob Stanley who was the Co-boss.
The word Co is an abbreviation of the word Co-operative, meaning a team of people working together with a common aim.
Bob was an excellent boss who had reams of patience with young lads and he probably favoured me a little because he too was a Goldenhill lad like myself.
711 section was a wiring section working mainly on KDP10 equipment.
The other chaps on the Co were, Jack Merritt, Russ Giles, Dave Ford, John Perry, David Stockton, Eddy Gurney and a couple whose names now escape me.
I have seen Jack over the years and even now we correspond occasionally via the internet.
He told me recently that Russ Giles had passed away and that they had still been in touch after all those years.
I last saw Bob Stanley in 1997 when I was attending a job interview in Trent Vale.
My weekly wage was £2-13-3d and I had to hand that over to mum and got a ten bob note for my pocket money, but to be fair she paid for my bus fares and everything else so she probably didn’t make much profit.
The first job was to take over the tea boy job from Eddy, he was chuffed to death because he was actually a trainee wireman not an apprentice.
Off to the toilets at the top of the bay, through the Araldite shop where the heat and smell of the ovens was very dominant.
There were several lads in there all washing mugs and lining the bins with fresh paper.
The first lad to speak to me was Peter Leese who turned out to be a really good mate for the next ten years.
Back to the Co and collect the money and memorise who wanted what, tea or coffee.
The coffee was a really good milky brew and the taste lingered for ages.
The tea ladies were brilliant, they mostly remembered what each tea boy usually ordered so it made it a bit easier for us.
Christine Hooper was the best one and she popped up as a customer years later when I was an insurance agent, she has passed on now, good girl Chris.
The foreman was Bill Owen a very nice chap and in the next bay was 710 section, the foreman was Ken Archer.
Ken’s son, Keith came to work on Bob’s Co in April 1962 as an apprentice and we became good friends.
Starting work on the Monday was fine but on the Tuesday morning I was told to report to Longton Technical College at 9-00 o’clock Wednesday morning.
Luckily Pete Leese was on the same course on the same day so I caught the bus and we met up at the college.
It used to cost one shilling and threepence to go to Longton from Goldenhill and the journey took an hour.
My further education carried on until I was 21.
Next to the Co was an inspection team comprised of Larry Parnes, Bert Brough and Mark Smith, I think Larry was the union man.
Opposite was a test department where Ray Holly worked, another good bloke, he was courting a girl from Goldenhill, he was the landlord of The Cushion pub at Latebrook for many years.
In the September the Apprentices Association organised an initiative test.
This involved two man teams of apprentices trying to carry out specific tasks, starting Friday evening and to be back at work on Monday morning.
I must be said that Keith and I were the youngest ones taking part, we were both just sixteen.
Each person was allowed a maximum of thirty shillings in cash for emergencies.
Specific tasks included things such as obtaining a zoo ticket, a picture of someone wearing a kilt, a signature of someone at a military camp, famous person autograph and different coloured sands.
Off we went down to Red Bull traffic lights and hitched a lift immediately to somewhere about 20 miles away, that was where he lived so we bailed out.
Almost straight away we caught another lift to Towyn in North Wales where Keith’s aunty had a caravan and where we could lay our heads for the night.
Yes, you’ve guessed it, she wasn’t there that weekend.
We caught the bus to Rhyl and headed for the railway station, spoke to the station master, showed him our letter of authority and he allowed us to sleep in an empty carriage which was not due to go out until the early morning.
We ate the sandwiches which Keith’s mum had made for us and settled down to sleep, about seven o clock in the morning there was an enormous crash as the loco coupled up and we fell off the seats.
We piled out onto the platform and made our way off the station.
There used to be a small zoo in Rhyl so we bought a ticket for a few pence, that was one task completed.
There was a little girl there wearing a tartan skirt, or kilt, as we interpreted it, so we took a photo.
Off we went to the Kinmel Bay army camp and obtained the signature of the corporal on the gate.
Starving hungry by now, we sat on the grass verge, lit a fire with twigs and heated a couple cans of soup in a billy can.
Boy did that taste good?
Right we said, what else can we do?
We decided that there wasn’t anything else that was feasible on our list so we went back to Rhyl station and travelled back home by train, we were home by Saturday afternoon, completely shattered.
Oh come on, we were only sixteen and it was the first time away from home for both of us.
Monday morning, everyone meets up in the canteen and we turned our stuff in.
Ever felt silly?
Some of the lads got to the Isle of Wight for the coloured sand and one team got an autograph from Bruce Forsythe on Sunday Night at the London Palladium.
We were the youngest ones taking part so perhaps it’s not the winning it’s the taking part that counts.
Apprentices were required to move around the factory and work in different departments in order to gain as much experience as possible.
The usual stay was six months so in June I was sent off to the Data Processing drawing office.
The chief draughtsman was Larry Crinson and he was off on holiday so nobody knew what to do with me.
There was drawing school in operation at the time, so I spent the next two weeks in there under the rule of Gordon Lambert, good skive that, staff hours, late start and longer lunch.
Back in the DO Monday morning and I was put to work with Jim Longmore, Ted Devon, Trevor Horrobin and Charley Dutton.
I think Stan Ralphs was a boss in there too.
I enjoyed the next six months being mentored by Jim, all the best places to hide, all the people to collect the football pools money from and quite a bit about assembly material lists as well.
Swimming sessions at Newcastle baths on Friday evenings, getting there either on the back of a motor bike or in the sidecar.
Just trying to remember who the draughtsmen were, Ray Holdcroft, Tony Barber, Dave Colley, Brian Morris, Phil Moseley and Graham Brown, they are the only ones who come to mind.
Ray Holdcroft had a twin brother Bob, who worked on the shop floor.
The men who had been apprentices before me, told tales of various initiation ceremonies which used to take place on the shop floor.
For instance go to the stores and ask for a long stand, go to the stores and get me 20 BA holes, yeah, yeah, heard them all before.
So, one bright spark says, “go to the technical library and ask Mrs Stewart to find you the specification for British Standard number 4074”, or some similar number.
Off I trip to the library and ask the very straight laced Scottish lady for spec number BS4074.
A few minutes later she came back and advised me that “I would not be welcome in her library in future and also tell the perverts who had sent me that they too were banned for life”.
Remember that this was 1962 and the lady was very prim and proper, the spec was for the manufacture of condoms, very funny, well good laugh actually.
Back to the shop floor and 703 section, Control Gear Large Assembly.
The Co boss was George Wainwright, little fella, ginger hair, good bloke.
The other chaps who spring to mind are, Dennis Lythgoe, Alan Lythgoe, John Williams, John Cadman, Eric Jordan, Charlie Casewell, George Eardley, Ron Sproston, Mick Day, Sid Barnett, Bill Bailey and foremen, Alan Burrows, Lenny Flint, Alan Brereton and Jim Whitehurst.
If my memory serves me correctly the man who was senior to the foremen was Frank Nyland, commonly known as daddy, don’t ask me why, someone out there may know the answer to that but it certainly wasn’t said to his face.
There was large Flat Back Panel System which hadn’t been bolted to the floor and it had a tendency to sway as it was about 30 feet wide and 8 feet high.
All previous flat backs had been bolted to the floor.
Several people had commented about the lack of stability but they were told to get on with their work.
A test engineer was in the process of testing the circuit breakers, he inserted the handle into the breaker and racked it downwards.
The whole unit came forward onto him knocking him over and pinning him to the factory floor.
Everyone was totally flummoxed and a foreman was shouting for the crane which would have taken at least 4 minutes to travel all the way up the bay.
The ever wonderful gentle giant Charley Casewell, strode up, looked underneath to see where the man was, stepped back and lifted the whole unit up so that they could drag him clear.
What a man Charley was, he was well thought of before, but now he was a super hero.
The only thing that stopped the engineer from being crushed was the fact that the breakers stood about 18 inches proud of the panels which prevented it from falling flat to the floor.
The foreman stood there and told everybody to get back to work, the show is over.
I thought they were going to lynch him.
Further down the bay was a small wiring Co run by Bill Bailey, one of his men was Manny Slater, Manny was the Works Convenor which meant that he was responsible for all union negotiations.
Manny wore a suit under his immaculate white overall and I never saw him do any wiring work, ever, but he was apparently very good at the union business.
At the end of my stay, I worked for a short time in the progress office for 703 section, at the top of the bay, upstairs above the foremen’s office.
It was only for a short time but I got to travel on the works transport to Stafford Works and also St Leonards to pick up urgently required meters, and relays.
It was really good to be taken out in a chauffeur driven mini bus for the day.
About this time the Apprentices Association organised a trip to visit the BBC in Birmingham for a tour of the studios.
Off we went on a hired coach, straight up West Avenue and along the A34 to Newcastle and on to the M6.
We arrived at the studios and had a guided tour of all the technical stuff which was very interesting.
We then sat in complete silence whilst Percy Thrower’s weekly gardening programme was transmitted live to the nation.
He had a folding greenhouse without any glass in it which they used to take down and reassemble each week for the programme as it was required.
It was a good day out and it was also good to get back home and ask people if they had seen the programme and to tell them that we were there when it went out on air.
My next port of call was the part of the Multi Motors Section in Bay 1.
This Co was responsible for small assemblies and the construction of ODL and ODH switches.
Roy Henson was the Co boss and the wiremen were Graham Dudley, Bert Leyland, Dave Stubbs, who was nicknamed Happy because of non- cheerful facial expression and the venerable Joe Knapper.
Roy was a really nice man who looked after his men, he died suddenly a few years later, he was only about 48, I think.
Graham Dudley was a Goldenhill man like me and a good friend.
Bert was ex Royal Navy, good to work with and a good laugh.
Joe Knapper was quietly spoken, unassuming, helpful and the father of the famous Barry Knapper.
Joe helped me lot, showing me how to build the switches which seemed complicated but if you were trained properly, were a pleasure to do.
At the time Shelton Iron & Steel at Etruria was on the point of being commissioned and Roy Henson took me there on site one day to modify some of the switches that were already fitted to the control desks.
That was a really good experience, we saw the first roller table running for the very first time.
Ken Proudlove was the foreman and Maurice Pope was the Progress Chaser, I last saw Maurice in 1997, he had just retired as a prison officer.
Sheet metal progress was next on the list, a small office on the shop floor and also in the front part of the Deuce computer bureau.
Ken Lawton, Tony Stubbs, Ron Phillips, Gordon Hollinshead and Derek Tilstone were my workmates.
Tony and Ken both played rugby so they came to work with various cuts and bruises every Monday morning.
I wonder if anyone out there can remember Ethel who worked in the sheet metal shop office.
Ethel had worked in the machine shops at Radway Green during the war and also in the machine shop at English Electric.
She could swear like trooper and usually did at the drop of a hat.
When I first heard her I used to squirm with embarrassment, I’d never heard a woman swear like that before and the men used to wind her up on purpose.