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|Tales from the Toolroom by Peter Slater|
|After leaving Derby Central School in August 1949 I applied for a job at the Rolls Royce Derby factory in Nightingale Road..
After being accepted as being suitable (my father had worked for the company for 20 years and it seemed to me at the time that this was a major factor in getting a job!) I was told I was to start work in The Sectioning Department at Nightingale Road.
This department produced all the sectioned engines and ancillary parts for display, exhibition and instructional use, but this department was soon moved from Nightingale Road down to Slack Lane.
I must have showed some promise, because one morning soon after the move I was called into the office and the department supervisor Fred Pitt told me that “ next Monday morning I was to report to a Mr Frank Haviland in the fitting department Number 6 Shop The Toolroom”.
It seemed to me my future was planned!
The Tool-room was a large three storey building situated opposite the main works entrance, and the fitting, turning, grinding, milling and heat-treatment sections, all on the top floor. The second floor was given to general administration and Drawing Offices, the ground floor was housed a general garage, and all the heavy machinery.
A large lift for machinery and a smaller lift for personnel provided service to the floors. I never used the small lift all the time I worked there and only on my last day in January 1959 did I get a ride on the large lift to enable to take my tool boxes down!
On the Monday morning I presented myself to Frank Haviland, who introduced me to the charge-hand, Harry Barlow. I got the usual “pep talk” telling me that he knew my father (w ho at that time was the charge-hand in the cylinder head department, production of The Merlin and Griffon engines, although very reduced was still taking place) and any misdemeanour on my part he would be informed!
Not yet being eighteen I was told on reaching that age I would be placed on the Night Shift on fortnights about, which meant “ two weeks on and two weeks off “ working. Night work meant extra money which suited me, but it was to open up to me a twilight world which some times took on a surreal aspect, a complete different way of life, but all of this in a later chapter.
I was placed in the care of an experienced fitter Ken Phillips. Ken was a character a "Wheeler Dealer Mr Fixit". Having no tools at all I was fair game to all and sundry who had surplus items of tools to unload.
Ken firmly dealt with them all, but later I was to find out that it was his own supply of surplus tools he wanted to unload on me.
I was introduced later to the Shop Steward of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, who asked to see my union card. It was the bad old days of the “closed shop system “ no card no job. The men complained bitterly about paying the subscription out of their wages, but that was it!
Tommy Haynes the Shop Steward told me that he had a good stock of “Dead Mans Tools “ for sale. It was a custom when anybody died to sell off their tools, giving apprentices first pick thus enabling them to get a set of tools together an a fraction of their new cost.
Some of the tools that I obtained from this scheme I still use to this day, marked with the previous owners initials. Some of the old hands would not touch them at any price, “bad luck those tools!” they used to say.
I was quickly to find out what a bunch of pranksters I had been thrown amongst. One my second day I was sent to the tool-stores and ask for Jack Hopcroft for a long stand!, and that’s just what I got "just wait a moment" I kept getting told until after about 15 minutes I was spotted by Harry Barlow and sent back to my bench very red behind the ears!
Needless to say I got sent to get "A bucket of sparks" but didn’t get caught out again!
On the next vice to me was quite a character a real legend in the fitting-shop, Bill Barrett.
Bill was one of the old school, a very skilled fitter, he taught me to use a file and scraper and all sorts of short and handy tips on marking out plate gauges, the first work that a raw apprentice was trusted with.
Now Bill liked his beer, and at every opportunity frequented a public-house on the Spot in Derby "The Green Dragon" along with his best mate Bob Gamble, who worked in the Hardening Department in the Tool-room, and Big Les who I believe was a bricklayer by trade.
Bill never could get in on time, Monday mornings being the worst after the weekends drinking.
His first action on arriving was to send me to the Tea-urn, which comprised of a large lagged cylinder with a steam coil in it, fed from the heating system. Once there I had to fill his white enamel (rather stained and chipped) mashing can, the lid serving as a cup, fill it with hot water and return it to him, where he proceeded to reach in his overcoat pocket and produce an egg! This was put into the mashing can and when deemed ready for eating was placed in a large hexagon nut used as an egg cup; the top being neatly sliced off with his steel foot ruler! Invariably this egg was not cooked and the raw yolk ran down the nut and onto the bench. This did not seem to bother Bill at all, he just mopped the runny yolk up with a slice of bread taken out of a piece of crumpled newspaper also produced from his overcoat pocket! By this time I had to run down again to the tea-urn and make his tea which was made by putting the hot water on the old dried out tea-leaves from his last, heaven knows how many brews! Needless to say it was just coloured water!
My mother when she made up my lunch sandwiches (snap we used to call it ) used to include "A Twist" Now this was a measure of tea and sugar in a small twist of newspaper sufficient for a brew, milk we carried in a small bottle. My mother hearing about Bill’s brew always used to include an extra "twist, for Mr Barrett"
I never did tell him this, and many times he said that I made a very good brew, the best "cuppa Tea" ever.
Shortly after this Bill used to break wind very loudly, and all the fitters used to scatter, shouting "The Green Dragon Strikes Again"! It took quite a time with much waving of blueprints to get things back to normal!
Foolishly I took up the invitation to go out with him, Bob Gamble and Big Les one Friday night on "The Round"
This was a regular pastime on Friday nights Friday being payday. This entailed on this evening meeting at the Melbourne Arms at the top of Siddals Road and then having a pint, or more, in all of the public houses on the way down Siddals Road, Station Road and along London Road a quick pint in The Telegraph and then back onto the Green Dragon on The Spot.
Mr friend Reg, who was a fitter at the Locomotive Works joined me in the venture, needless to say we never made the full round! Bill was welcomed in all of the “ Pubs “ often bursting into song when called on to sing, and looking back it was a real education, we went into some real “ dives “ and met some really odd characters.
When I arrived at work on Monday morning, I found that my bench was decorated with empty beer bottles, beer mats and an Offilers Brewery sign. “ Havo “ the foreman looked over his glasses and shook his head. I found that it was standard practice to catch the “new boys” I took it all in good part, although the ribbing went on for days!
The tales about Bill are legend; on one occasion Bill was asked by his wife to bring back a rabbit for dinner. This was purchased, but somewhere between the lunchtime drinking, and the way home the rabbit got mislaid! It was found in due cause a week later, Bill had stuffed it in his overcoat pocket, hung the overcoat in the wardrobe and promptly forgotten it!
After a Saturday lunchtime’s drinking at The Green Dragon the Trio often went to the cinema to sleep it off. On this occasion, Bill had bought a large carrier bag of fresh mussels from the Fish Market, and in the Gaumont Cinema going up the stairs from the foyer, the carrier bag , already well soaked, burst scattering the contents all over the carpet! What a Trio.
It was a tradition when any of the lads left to do National Service to throw a party, we all being deferred until twenty-one, . Mine was held in the back room at the Cheshire Cheese on the Spot. I laid on ham and cheese rolls in plenty and paid for the first pint. Bill was of course invited and I can remember him to this day reciting his many monologues, and his versions of "The Good Ship Venus" and "The Road To Mandalay" brought the house down.
"In the Street of A Thousand Flat Ales, under The Sign of The Swinging Cat" What memories.
I was moved around the fitting shop until I got my own bench. My neighbour was Bill Sauldane, who was of small stature wore a flat cap and immaculate white coat. His nickname was "File Tang" Bill being of Indian nationality. His main work was to make plate gauges for the jet turbine blades, “banana gauges” we used to call them. I once had to help him out and found the gauges difficult to get right and awkward to make. Bill once had his own tool-room in Spain and could speak Spanish fluently, he was very well educated and well read. I once remember going to see him, after he had been ill, to his house in Nottingham and I can remember it being full of books. Knowing that I had an interest in Ancient Egypt he gave me a book I still have it and treasure it to this day.
Bill was a gentle person and I can only ever remember him riled once. He had a habit of making up jokes, reading them out to me, then writing them down on paper and passing them around the benches. When they arrived at Doug Buckley’s bench, Doug would read them laugh and put them onto a clip in his tool-box, look at Bill and tap the side of his nose. This went on for weeks and used to enrage Bill. One day he could stand it no longer, walked over and challenged Buckley, who of course would not tell him just why he would not pass the jokes on around the workshop. This exchange went on for some time until Buckley eventually did call him over. He said that he had a contract with the match manufactures to supply the jokes for them to print on the backs of their matchbox’s, for this they paid him a very handsome retainer.
This infuriated Bill who demanded a share of the proceeds (which of course did not exist).
I just could not make Bill understand this was a set up, and tensions ran high for quite some time.
I still remember one of the silly jokes: "What did the Indian Farmer say to his best hen……
Him- A- Layer!"
Harold Roberts was on the bench behind me, he came from Chester. I always remember Harold telling me that in the War they made the hair-lines on gun sights from spiders webs.
© Andy Savage © www.derbyphotos.co.uk