I vaguely remember a Fred Wills working about 1958/1961 assembling gearboxes for fans. I was an apprentice draughtsman doing time on the 'shop floor'. I come from Tamworth and Fred used to say he and his family came over to Tamworth outdoor lido (long since gone). One weekend we (a few teenage mates and myself) were having a kick around in the castle grounds and there was Fred and family having a picnic on the grass. Happy days.My late father Fred Wills worked at GEC xpelair until he retired in 1984
I remember being sent for a "block of chocolate" from the shop floor. I hung around for a while thinking they are not going to pull the wool over my eyes. A foreman wanted to know what I was hanging around for and I told him the tale, only to be told " Is it for Nigel, I have it in my drawer". It turned out a "block of chocolate" was the old electrical terminal blocks that were in those days chocolate coloured and shaped like a block of Cadburys, made at the moulded plastics division. !!!Electric Avenue, an aspect of my life which I thought I had forgotten….
I must have been persuaded to sign up to a five year apprenticeship at a school careers do in the early summer of 1960 because I could draw, liked mending things, could do electricity and was likely to attain the minimum criteria for GEC’s Electrical Engineering intake later in September.
And so it was that I joined several dozen other fresh faced hopefuls as we were each allocated our “experience” placements for the next three months.
One of my earliest being a stint in the battery works below the Drawing Office school in Dulverton or was it Bickford Road just across from the main gates manned by the ever present CID Sid.
Black carbon dust, yellow sulphur powder, gooey latex and stigian gloom pervaded and I was set the task of checking freshly moulded battery cases for leaks, quality etc with a kind of high voltage wand which arced across gaps in the case.
Experience gained: Getting very black very quickly. Living with boredom and close encounters with electricity.
Then a few weeks upstairs to learn how to draw, know the difference between First and Third angle projections, trace, line with ink on linen, remove lines with a Corrux razor blade having forgot the difference in projections….Transferred to 2DO or maybe it was 3DO as minion and fetcher of things.
Experience gained: Wrapping draughting tape around razor blade prevents bloodstains on linen drawings. Being sent around the plant stores to obtain a ten thou air gap. Often none in stock but always helpfully redirected.
Additional experience gained: Became usefully adept at drawing dashpots as viewed from various angles.
Next, a stint on the works fire brigade and especially their huge pre-war Dennis engine where a typical day would involve unrolling hoses, rolling them up again, sometimes painting some of them white before rolling them up again. Polishing bell, nozzles, valves, levers, knobs etc.
The best part being the ride around the estate hanging onto the engine and dinging the bell.
Experience gained: Never went to a fire so largely life skills honed in the effective use of Brasso.
Back to the DO where exhausted air gap wheeze now meant being sent instead on equally fruitless journeys which involved walking the length of E shop where the assembly ladies were known to eat apprentices alive or strip them naked before abusing them and sending them down the length of the conveyor belt.
Experience gained: Running very fast, secretly hoping it might happen…
Spending time in the drawing archives high above the offices in the main building. Seeing the remains of the building from the train today still brings a smile.
Experience gained: I love old drawings, plans, maps, stuff…
Being assigned to a group of elderly sparks who each year set up and dismantled the outdoor lights and fittings at Castle Bromwich Hall for the big staff do’s etc. Bonus for me, it was just five minutes bike ride away from home and thus a morning lie-in.
Experience gained: How to stretch a day to infinity whilst still appearing to do something in the sun. Not electrocuting famous guests.
Outside Erection (not what you think it is), but an opportunity to see the new M6 motorway construction from high above somewhere near Stoke on Trent whilst clinging onto a freezing cold steel power line pylon and getting close up and personal with those huge stacked glass insulator assemblies. Living in a Portakabin with may others.
Experience gained: Abject terror, reasonable tolerance of strong smells
The Wire stores was a place where large amounts of wire of all sizes, lengths, colours and thicknesses were kept and where time would stand entirely still for long periods.
My month there was measured by unreeling some wire and rolling it up again sometimes as often as three to four times a day before going home. I would like to say this was exciting but it would be a lie.
Best day was Friday when the lorry for Erith had to be loaded with some wire and the driver would drop us off near Archway roundabout so we could get to Ronny Scotts by ten.
Experience gained: Getting to know wire intimately in all its many and varied aspects.
In between Wednesday afternoons meant a walk to Brooklyn Tech along the cut to do ONC Electrical Engineering and meet other human beings.
Being assigned to Experimental and wiring cab units for diesel railcars using new found skills with wire.
Later being assigned to work with men in white coats with bell jars making new fangled electrical devices that didn’t need much wire. (Germanium transistors with only three short bits of wire sticking out)
That was en route the Magnet Club on the other side of the cut where snookering and darting skills were also learnt.
Experience gained: An insight on an industry which would later put bread on our table
Being assigned to work with men on a gantry high above the roofs of the factory where large storage capacitors were charged up off the grid and on the appointed hour we could all go to the Test house to watch the sparks fly as another vast transformer was proof tested.
Experience gained: Wear sun glasses whilst watching and make certain all hand tools were accounted for before leaving the rig.
Balancing small motors or more often unbalancing them, sweeping floors in the pattern shop, another stint in a wire store, more tracing….
The dawning realisation that I could only stand only so much monotony and perhaps my life wasn’t heading in the right direction after all.
Remembering even to this day, after the night before when a certain Alf Weinstock swung his long knives and that morning seeing grown men, heads down, crying into their drawing boards.
Knowing the game was up and when to move on, though I also know my Dad was devastated when I broke my indentures.
All that said I did learn a lot in and around The Avenue much of which came in handy later but even to this day I have to still have to think about correct projections. Several hundred product designs later and it still isn’t quite dinned in yet.
Later in the summer of ’63 I joined Sutton College of Art before three years at Gosta Green learning to be a designer but not before a memorable stint working at Pontin’s St Mary’s Bay holiday camp.
There was a tale, probably entirely untrue, that CID Sid had his eyes on a chap who wheeled a barrow load of small electric motors out the Main gate each night just as the hoards rushed for a seat on the buses home.
Apparently Sid thought he had him for lifting the motors which turned out not to be the case.
He was pinching barrows instead. I would like to think this was true.
Happy Christmas to all..
I believe my late uncle Joe Sedgley worked for many years for the GEC/Parsopns.I have browsed through the posts on this thread but have found no mention to his name.Anyone have any recollections of him and also what sort of work he was engaged in.