I have reached the tender age of eighteen now and my next move is to the Test Department.
I couldn’t believe it, I was over the moon.
What a fantastic set of blokes they were.
Gordon Washington, Peter Jackson, Bill Hayward, Alan Price, Don Murphy, Brian Venables, Reg Wootton, Tommy Hicks and last but not least, Albert Cooper who was generally referred to as a labourer but in truth was responsible for the upkeep of the equipment and ruled with an iron fist.
Gordon or Washo as everybody called him, was brilliant, he taught me loads and never lost his cool over my silly questions.
The head of Test was Len Young, another good man who believed in helping young people.
I was in there for about ten months and enjoyed every minute of it.
I was actually using the technical knowledge that I had learned at the college.
The man who ruled over Bays 1 & 2 was Lionel Wilkes, works superintendent.
His office was above the shop floor and that it overlooked his domain.
I was advised quite early in my career that he was a man to be feared.
When I was in the Test department I had to go up the stairs to the office to file my reports.
As I walked along the corridor, he stepped out of his office and said “ hello David, how are you “.
“I’m fine thank you Mr Wilkes“ I said, wondering what to say next.
Panic set in, how does he know my name, what have I done that is so wrong
that he would know of me.
“Gordon Washington speaks very highly of you, I have seen your test reports and they are very good, keep up the good work “, Phew.
Every time he saw me after that he always spoke, a true gentleman to be respected and not feared.
If I am not mistaken he would eventually be the grandfather of a certain Jonathon Wilkes, local entertainer.
One day I was given the task of testing a Liquid Controller in the Mining Gear section and it is etched into my memory.
It consisted of a massive water tight tank and one little half horse power motor to wind the blades up and down.
All that was required was to megger it and flash test at 2Kv, no problem.
Stop right there, Liquid Controllers have to be flash tested at 25Kv.
It was nerve wracking but I did it and I did it on my own with Washo standing about 30 feet away just in case I messed it up.
Back down to earth and over the road to the Westfields site.
Printed circuits, most of the day was spent washing the protective lacquer off the boards with Trichoethylene degreasing agent.
It smelled very strongly and dried out the skin on your hands and the extractor fan didn’t work so it was quite dangerous.
It was by far the worst job I had ever had and I felt so let down after having almost a year in Test.
I honestly didn’t think that I was learning anything at all, just being used as a lackey.
I suppose it was my ego taking a bashing so I went to see Mr Gardner in personnel and told him how I felt.
Oh dear, I wasn’t prepared for the tongue lashing I received, I was an ungrateful wretch and didn’t deserve the opportunities he was giving me.
So I went back to the department and put up with it, after two weeks I was moved upstairs into the stores and then to finish off my sentence I spent time on the flow solder machines.
I was only in there for about 3 months but it seemed longer, I learned absolutely nothing in the time that I spent over there.
My complaining must have had some kind of effect because my next placement was in the Control Gear drawing office.
We don’t call them Co’s in the drawing office, we call them sections, very posh.
The section leader was Albert Leigh, a bit stiff but not a bad chap.
The other draughtsmen were, Neil Barber, Dennis Leach, Brian Edworthy, Eric Bracegirdle, Eric Copeland, Guy Bell and Selwyn Parker.
As I write this I have just heard that Selwyn has passed away, he was a really good chap with a brilliant sense of humour.
Dennis Leach passed away in his fifties, there is a memorial seat just down the road here at West Shore Llandudno, which his wife and family donated in his memory.
David Woollam, a fellow apprentice but 3 years older than me worked in the same office, he had problem which resulted in him having a major operation and needed quite a bit of time off work.
He came back to work but unfortunately the operation wasn’t successful and he passed away in 1965,
At this time I had acquired an infection in one of my fingers and my right hand was swollen to twice its size.
The nurses in the works surgery were absolutely brilliant, which is more than I can say for my own doctor, he wasn’t interested.
Kath Goodwin, the sister in charge, took me to the North Staffs Hospital and they operated on my hand to remove the nasty bits.
Even though I should really been off sick I went in work every day to have my hand dressed in the surgery.
Albert Leigh was very understanding and allowed me to sit there for most of every day for a whole week and I didn’t lose any pay.
All this was just after my father had died so the start of 1966 wasn’t very good.
I was almost twenty now and still attending college.
I had passed my Electrical Fitter’s City & Guilds in 1966 and was studying to get my Technician’s Certificate, we were at the new Burslem College now instead of Longton.
Next departmental move and this is where I struck it lucky.
I was transferred to the Instrumentation & Process Industries Drawing Office which was housed in the old Deuce computer bureau in Bay 5.
The department had been formed at Stafford works and transferred to Kidsgrove in 1966.
Keith Lowden was the Chief draughtsman, Joe Murray Assistant Chief and Alan Gillis section leader.
Keith was a brilliant boss, I never heard a word of complaint about him in the 6 years that I worked for him.
Would you believe that I am still in touch with Keith via e - mail?
Alan Gillis, the section leader was another good man, we worked very well together and between us we learned how to design the layouts for printed circuit boards.
Let me think who else was in the office.
Ken Spencer, Geoff Knowles, Alan Mason, John Summerfield, Raminda Singh, John Drage, Malcolm Ray and Keith Pugh.
A few others came and went, some of them were contract draughtsmen and went off to other places but Alan Mason stayed and went over to ICL.
I am still in touch with Alan too.
The work base we were developing was, coal mines, water boards and anyone who needed control and flow measuring systems.
The Tyne Tunnel, which obviously runs under the river Tyne in the North East was one contract, we were responsible for lighting and air extraction systems.
Coal mines in South Wales and the Midlands were also on our books.
It was the week before my 21st birthday and nobody had offered or spoken to me about a job ready for when I came out of my apprenticeship.
As I walked to the canteen that week I spoke to Gordon Washington who suggested that I speak to Len Young, the Test Department boss to see if there were any vacancies.
So we went in the office to see Len and he offered me a job in Test there and then.
He told me to go straight to personnel and tell them that I was 21 next week and I had been offered a job in the Test Department.
Personnel said that they would arrange that and I would get the official paperwork the next day.
Keith was on holiday and when I went back to the office and tried to tell Joe Murray but he was too busy to see me.
About an hour later Joe came to me and said that he needed a word with me and would I step into Keith’s office.
It would seem that Personnel had phoned the drawing office straight away.
He proceeded to ask me why I was so disillusioned that I wanted to leave and go to work elsewhere.
I said I hadn’t been offered a job and I needed to sort it out, quickly.
He picked up the phone, asked for an outside line and rang Keith at home.
Keith said that he knew it was my birthday and had assumed that I would be staying with them in the drawing office.
Oh what a predicament, one minute I hadn’t got a job and now I had two.
After a great deal of thought I decided to stay in the Drawing office and I stayed there until I was redundant in May 1972.
My new clock number was 74943.
As an apprentice my pay was £11 per week.
So, sitting on the same chair, doing the same job and facing the same drawing board in the same office, my pay shot up to £17 per week as an electrical draughtsman.
Our design engineers were also based in the old bureau with a ceiling high partition separating us.
A big problem was that the antiquated air conditioning units from the days of the Deuce bureau were still operable.
We were out in the open and they were in an enclosed area but the air con blew the same in both rooms.
They were hot, we were cold, they switched on the air con, we got colder so we switched it off, we warmed up they got hot and so it went on.
They worked on A4 size pieces of paper or fag packets as we claimed and we worked on A1 drawing sheets, their paper could be held down with a stapler as a paper weight, we needed 4 weights, one at each corner.
It wasn’t as bad as it sounds and most of the remarks were jocular but some days things got a little fraught.
Of the six engineers 4 of them were from South Wales and 2 of them were Geordies.
Mix in the local accents, a couple Midlands accents, 4 Welsh accents, a Cockney accent, an Irish accent, an Indian accent, a Manchester accent, a Yorkshire accent and a couple of Geordie accents and we were lucky that anybody understood anything at all.
We moved from the Bay 5 office after a few months and went to the wooden office huts, K block I think.
It was almost impossible to work as the floors were very springy and if someone walked past as you were drawing, you had to pause until they had gone by.
It was also the furthest point from the canteen and involved crossing two open spaces which was not good when it was raining.
Cold in winter, hot in summer, doors at both ends slamming all day, the huts were not very good places to work.
One chap named John, who was crazy about horses and particularly show jumping used to have the mickey out of him about it.
He used to walk through quite often and one day he was half way down the room and he tripped but didn’t fall.
Someone called out, “4 faults “ everybody laughed.
He returned a few minutes later and walked very carefully all the way up the aisle, as he reached the door the same person called out “ clear round “.
The place was in uproar and he never walked through again.
In October 1968 I got married and the lads did a really good whip round for me, I had worked in lots of places in the factory and they went to most of them and twisted few wallets.
In January 1969 the powers that be decided that it was time for us to move again and so over the weekend our boards and desks were transported to the top floor of the Northfields block as if by magic.
This was absolute luxury, no more bouncing floor boards and windows which had working roller blinds.
Let me see how many names I can recall from my Northfield days.
Dennis Beecroft, Barry Ward, Colin Bates, John Mitchell, Graham Brown, Graham Wood, Colin Taylor, Tony Booth, Chris Middleton, Geoff Sims, Reg Woodvine, Don Scott, Pete Stevens, Maurice Heathcock, Alan Willett, Alex Ormston, Lou Chatterley, Ken Fox, Roger Machin, Don Boote, Graham Fox, Tony Haynes, John Drage, Fred Johnson, Pete Forrester, Graham Parker, Eric Steele, Ken Myatt, Pete Wilde, Cyril Beech,
When the Apollo Moon missions were taking place in 1968 and 1969, we had a system of telephone ear pieces wired around the desks working off a radio so that we could listen to the news bulletins.
At this time there was a visiting engineer who had a reputation for winding people up.
There was also a section leader who had a reputation for being easily wound up.
The inevitable obviously happened and quite soon.
We returned from lunch one day to find them both rolling around on the floor knocking seven bells out of each other.
The engineer was banned from visiting the office and the section leader was reprimanded.
Then came the bad news, GEC took over the company and things were never the same again.
Our engineers disappeared slowly and we were sent design sketches from the engineers in Manchester and Leicester, we drew them up, sent them back and we never got to see the kit we were working on.
Our work load was reduced to zero, from a thriving office to one where we had nothing to do except play battleships all day long.
On May 12th 1972 after 10 years 4 months and 12 days loyal service I was made redundant.
My pay on leaving was £102 per month a bit different than £2-13-3d per week which I started on.
The end of an era, I’d worked and studied and I’d had some pretty cushy numbers through the years and overall it was pretty good.
I met some terrific people and made some very good mates.
I’d worked with Australians, Russians, South Africans, Indians, Irish, Scottish, Welsh and Sri Lankans.
J. O Trundle was the Works Manager.
Mr Padgett was his second in command.
G.E.T Francis was the Social & Welfare Officer, he was a very well dressed man who resembled a character from an old British film, a proper gentleman.
We had a company dentist on site.
We had our own Fire Department on site.
We had discounted domestic appliance sales.
We had a bus service to and from the factory gates.
The works canteen was quite good, a wide variety of food was always available and at reasonable prices.
Consider this, the old Deuce computer used to calculate the wages for a few thousand people, take all week to do it and it occupied a room possibly 50 feet by 40 feet.
Now the average lap top will probably outrun it a thousand times if not more.
But, we were there at the beginning with KDP10 and KDF9, weren’t we?
We built equipment for steel mills, power stations, whisky distilleries, oil refineries, gold mines, coal mines, ships and factories.
Our customers included, Sizewell, Sellarfield, Hinkley Point, Wylfa, Rugeley, Hunterston, Scottish Hydro Electricity, Appleby Frodingham, Dorman Long, John Summers, Ruston Bucyrus, British Steel, BHP Whyalla and many more.
We turned out quality equipment and we had a really good reputation, now there is nothing left, the end of an era but what an era it was.
I now live about 40 miles from the Wylfa power station and I took great pride in taking my grandson to the visitor centre a couple of years ago.
Imagine being able to say to your grandchild,” I worked on this when I was your age over 40 years ago” and he was actually impressed.
Unfortunately it has now been de-commissioned at the end of its useful working life.
Have a look at this link.
Work your way down the buttons on the right of the home screen.
As the years pass by and I have a look at the Sentinel obituaries, I occasionally spot a familiar name from those days.
I tend to forget that I am now 65 and most of the men who taught me my trade when I was a teenager, are no longer with us.
They taught me well though and I’ve always tried to maintain those high standards throughout my working life.
It has been a pleasure remembering and recording this and also thinking about the men I worked with, good luck to any of you who are still out there.