Oral History: Ron Allen
Okay Ron could you say your name and spell it for the tape?
Yeah, name is Ron Allen, spelt A-L-L-E-N, I’m 74 years old and I worked at Vickers for 35 years, from 1950-1985.
Could you tell me a bit about your family life?
I was born 1935, lived all through the war, the blitz survived all that, my father used to work for British Insulated Calenders Cable until he retired in 65’ I think it was, no no no, 55’. I started work at Vickers in 1950 and was there until 1985, latter part as a fitter.
What did your dad do at Calenders?
He worked on the machines making cables and in the war he worked on the machines which made the PLUTO, which was the pipeline under the ocean for the DDAY landings supplying the fuel, but he never told us that because he was sworn to secrecy and we never knew that until, probably the early sixties, they swore to secrecy and they kept it, that was it.
Did he work for Calenders all his life?
No in his early life he used to work in the nursery trade, growing all sorts of plants, he would then take them up, he was born in 1888, so he was, it was the days of the horse and cart, he would then transport the plants up to Covent Garden where everything went each day, that was his job, horse and cart, he then after that he worked in the local laundry, which used to advertise that the laundry was dried in the orchards of Kent and mainly he would go up to big houses on Blackheath, Chistlehurst and that and collect the laundry, bring it back when it was laundered then he would deliver it again, then after that when all that ended, he ended up working in Calendars. I think they were the only basic jobs he had whether he had any other ones I don’t know, that’s all I know of.
So he was quite old when he had you then?
Yeah I was born in 35’ and he was born in 1888, so he would be 47 when I was born, so I had old parents my mum was old as well, so they had old ideas, they never had the modern ideas that the normal parents used to have, put it that way, but you can’t choose your parents, got to make the best of it, no they were wonderful parents, but old fashioned ideas.
How were they different from your friends parents?
In the war you were restricted as to where you could go because we lived in a village sort of thing, away from the towns you didn’t travel far, where other people would go to the pictures regular, morning pictures, cubs and scouts we couldn’t do that because they wouldn’t let you travel through the war, it was too dangerous, you just didn’t travel because of the danger not knowing where you were when there was an air raid on, they used to keep you at home, basically that was it. School time we used to have to walk to school with our gas masks they used to send you home to get it, one of the most tragic things that happened was err, a lot of the class were being evacuated away, they went down into Crayford to get all their stuff for evacuation and a bomb dropped and killed lots of them. That was in Crayford. I wasn’t evacuated, I lived at home all through the war.
In WW2 what happened there sorry?
What when they got killed? They were being supplied with extra clothes for the evacuation and err it was down in Crayford, and the bomb dropped and killed quite a lot of them in air raid they couldn’t get to the shelters in time and several of my class were killed, it was very tragic it was.
Were they people you knew then?
Your mum and dad were they from Crayford?
No they lived in Dartford, Wilmington actually, Wilmington, which is a village near Dartford and erm, that’s where they both came from. My dad was born, he’d lived in the same house, I think he lived there 72 years he went in there when he was 4 and died when he 76, so he lived in the same house, and we bought it, he bought as a sit in tenant and we then moved in when we got married and then we sold that and moved here.
So Dartfords where you grew up?
So what was Dartford like?
The actual town it was good, now its, everything closed down, a lot of the, well one big street is derelict, Lowfield Street, because it’s going to developed as a new Tesco’s store and of course now all the depression it’s all been on hold, so that is the end of that, but no living as we did in like a village it was quite nice in the war, but you were isolated you only had the two buses that’s all, nobody had cars, we used to ride bikes to school, no four-by-fours in those days [laughs].
Was it a community where you knew a lot of people?
You knew everybody, yeah, there were basically only two roads where I lived and you knew everybody and everybody knew everybody else. It was a community not like it is now you don’t know your neighbours now, that’s the way things have changed, in the paper this week after all our power cuts they said it brought back the camaraderie of the war, where people were helping each other out when it was all electric you couldn’t even boil a kettle, so your neighbours got a gas stove so they boiled a kettle for you this is the power cuts.
So about 9-10 the war started and you at school? [wrong age, born 1935]
I started school in 1940.
I used to walk across the heath to the school everyday and back again and then eventually we used to catch the bus about a mile and a half walk then went on the bus. Then after that went to the secondary which was down in Dartford so we got another bus then or we used a bike, so that was the West Central School in Dartford which was a secondary school, left there in 1950 and that’s when I started work.
Was it Central School?
It was a secondary modern school as it was, that’s when they changed the title that they were known as the Central School when we moved in there, but then it changed over to secondary modern school, now I suppose you call them a comprehensive, rather than a grammar school, the grammar schools along the road here.
So what was it like there then?
Good we enjoyed it, but because of the restrictions after the war we never went swimming, we never had any of the perks. If you did woodwork or metal work you could only use little tiny bits of stuff because the material wasn’t there, erm and we had shortages all the time and rationing during the war. So we didn’t know what sweets were in the war and fruit you never saw a banana or an orange.
You said ‘we’ did you have any siblings then?
No I was the only one.
One was enough [both laugh]
So what was your mum like then?
Lovely yeah, but she never went to work, women in those days didn’t, but in the war when they first the army camp there, all the women used to take in the laundry and erm and they used go down and collect the gatehouse and we would take it down there with them when it was done and sometimes they would ask you in the camp and if they did that, you were somebody, somebody special, you’d been in the camp, so erm yeah, happy days.
So what was the camp, was this during WW2?
it started off with little bell tents, no water, no electricity and outside the pub was a tap where steam engines used to pull up and fill their boilers so in those days soldiers used to queue up to wash and shave under a cold water tap until the mains were put on and then they built the huts and they were the Royal Artillery down there and they had 8 huge guns in there, but also they had [xxxx bother?] guns on trailers which they would bring up and park outside the house and you didn’t, they were there in an air raid until they started shooting at the planes and it would then sort of frighten the life out of you because they were so close.
They’d park them up by a house?
Yeah on the green in front of the houses yeah we had a big heath and between us and the road there was about 30 foot of grass so they’d park them on there, quite frightening. We lived all down the war in the shelters, we slept down the shelters every night because when the warning went and you went down the shelter the all clear went when you got back into bed again you’d have another raid so in the end we just slept in the shelters all the time.
In your own shelters or?
Yeah each one had a shelter, on a spare bit of ground out the back of the houses you dug a whole put the shelter in and covered it with soil. Made bunk beds and we slept down there every night in the war.
So can you describe a bit more about growing up in the war round Dartford?
As children we didn’t realise the danger of the war and we hardly ever went to the pictures or anything like that very rare, there was no entertainment only what we made ourselves and we would play over the Heath, you would go over there and play all day. Basically you made your own entertainment and basically it was an adventure and that’s how we treated it we were 9 months late starting school because of the war, should have started earlier and we were delayed to start school. And then we used to have lessons down the shelters at school, which were big shelters dug in the playground and we used to sit down and have the lessons and this quite common all round the south east of London.
You mentioned the film Hope and Glory, what did you think about that film?
It was brilliant because it depicted our childhood as children during the war, everything in it was true and the man who made it obviously knew his stuff and he’d researched it and it was made and was really as authentic as it could possibly get, even to the delight of the children when the school was blown up [laughs]. If you haven’t seen the film watch it.
Was Dartford hit badly?
There was several, there was a lot people killed in Dartford at different roads and this sort of thing, but one example I give you we went to the pictures one Saturday afternoon with mum and dad, we couldn’t sit together. I sat with my dad, my mum sat somewhere else and if there was an air raid a notice would go up on the screen ‘people wishing to leave do so now’ if you wanted to stay you could stay, so dad said we better go out because mum will go out and she didn’t, we stood outside and she came out and the film ended, and said, “it was a good film wasn’t it” we said “we’ve been standing out for an hour we didn’t see the end of it” because she didn’t come out. [laughs] As it was in the war we had a happy childhood, not knowing the danger.
So did you play with other kids?
Yeah, yeah and there was no fear of going out, not like there is now. We were just over the Heath at that’s it.
This Heath, what is it called?
Dartford Heath. And it was left years ago by Lord Tredegar for the enjoyment – he owned it – but it was left for the enjoyment of the public never to be built on and the only thing that’s been built on there is the camp in the war which is now gone, but the big roads go through it the A2 diversion and that’s the only thing that’s built there.
[Short break for tea]
So the army camp, that was on the heath was it?
That was on the heath yeah, originally they came down in bell tents with no water they had to queue up outside the pub with a cold water tap used for filling the boilers of steam engines and they would wash and change there because they no water laid on but later they were built a lot of huts and they had proper amenities then and that was there all the war with these eight big guns and mobile guns.
So as kids did you interact with the soldiers there?
Erm, our parents used to do the washing for them and we used to occasionally go in the camp to take the washing back and that was about all we saw, then some of the soldiers would come up and one of them in particular used buy us an ice cream because his children were in Scotland and err and he couldn’t buy them one so he bought us an ice cream and one of the big days we had was when the king come down there the King and Queen and we lined outside the perimeter of the army camp and saw the King and Queen there when they visited. That was the highlight then right towards the end of the war Montgomery – they painted it all up because Montgomery came and a few weeks later they started demolishing it and that is the story of the camp and one of the huts was used as the local social club after the war. it was bought cheaply and they made a social hut of it and the last hut remaining was a teddy bear factory for a few years and then eventually that closed and it was all flattened and gone back to heath land and the only thing different was in the early, about 1970 they put the new A2 diversion road through the middle of the heath and that was it.
And what was the pond?
It was called the Donkey Pond and err very often during the war they would train the despatch riders from the camp and if they stalled the engine they would have to get off and push it out through all the muddy water, which wasn’t very popular but it made entertainment for us children.
You’d go down and watch them?
Yeah and when there was the bombs dropped on the heath you’d get a bomb crater and we’d go over on our bikes this was mainly after the war and ride round them. You know that was our entertainment.
How big were the craters?
Depending on the type of ground which was mainly sandy, depending on the size of the bomb but erm we worried people sick who were building the road because we were talking to the chap on the bulldozer and said, “have you found any unexploded bombs or shells” and when we told he said “ I wish you hadn’t spoke to me”.
So you wasn’t evacuated or anything?
Was that usual for round here?
Yeah it were mainly people in the towns evacuated not so much people living in the country but a lot of parents didn’t want their children evacuated they had a choice whether you went or whether you didn’t and a lot of them said no and I’m glad in a way we did stay. You took your chance. Air raids lasted all night, we slept in the shelters all night and we felt safe and that was it, but being young we never knew the danger that was all around us from the falling shrapnel which we used to go and collect and hoarded it. It all got thrown away in the end.
Was it not quite dangerous that shrapnel?
It could be if you were out and it landed on you. I mean when they fired at the planes the shells used to break and that was it, but we never worried we just collected it. Who got the most shrapnel it was really jagged stuff, sometimes you’d get a piece that was still really hot after it had landed but we never realised the danger.
Did you get incendiary bombs there as well?
Yeah. We used to have an old chap who used to go round the shelters and one morning he came round and said “any of you want to see a bomb, theres one over the heath”, so we went over there and we saw the fin sticking out of the ground, it turned out to be not a bomb but an incendiary bomb which hadn’t gone off, I mean they didn’t explode they caught light and it didn’t and eventually they cordoned it all off and the chap from the camp came up picked it up and walked away with it. It was quite an anti-climax and the old fella that told us that would never go down to the shelters and he lived to be 95 I think.
He never went to the shelters?
No he never went to the shelters no he said “if they’re gonna kill me then kill me on the land I’m not going down there” and eventually he lived on his own and he fell down the stairs carrying his washing up and he died just after that, but Hitler never killed him.
The stairs got him. You mentioned a thing for the radar, what was that?
Towards the end of the war. They were strips of aluminium foil, black on one side about half an inch wide and they would drop them to confuse the enemy with the radar. So that they lost their bearings, but we used to collect this off the trees, just for something to do.
So would it hang off the trees?
So it was almost like a glitter.
Yeah. Of course the most vivid memory is the first night of the doodlebugs when nobody knew what they were. They had lights on which obviously we know now as the jet but my father and the next door neighbour said why are the guns firing on them if they got lights they could be our own planes and nobody knew what they were until the next morning one flew over in daylight and we saw what they were and they were terrifying and eer that was the V1’s the dodddlebubs but the rockets were far more dangerous because you couldn’t hear them coming.
A doodlebug you’d hear it early on?
Yeah they’ve got a very distinctive note as in the Glen Miller story when one flies over there and the bands stop playing and that was a bit of authentic film of the doodlebug. That was the nearest you can get to reality. And if the engine stopped before it got to you you worried if it carried on someone else had to worry and when the engine stopped they just dropped like a stone and that was it. But all round in Kent they had barrage- balloons which stopped a lot of them reaching London because they hit the wires and it brought them down in the countryside so that saved a lot of lives in London.
So were there a lot where you were?
Yeah, they used to have one in the camp and they used to let that one up and we used to see it. Fill it up with gas and up it would go and it was all floppy when it was on the ground but the higher it went the less pressure, the balloon filled out. As children it was entertainment we didn’t realise the danger. Only had one neighbour who was killed in the war and that’s the only one we know of he as a soldier and he got killed apart everybody else survived I don’t think anybody else locally was actually killed or injured by any bombs even though we had some of the incendiaries fell quite near obviously trying to bomb the camp and the engineering works all round.
Yeah so did they not hit the engineering works?
Vickers had one hit I think and Calendars where me dad worked they had several bombing direct hits down there, but they were mainly after Woolwich Arsenal, that was the main target round here. The Thames was the main guide to their navigation you see, so they could follow the river, that’s why everything was blacked out you daren’t have a chink of light showing in the evening and you had air raid wardens if they saw a chink of light they would come and tell you to close the curtains and everything was literally black there were no lights anywhere.
Do you have any memories of the daylight bombings. The first air raid. September 1940.
I don’t remember that I think it was mainly in London. They just discontinued a lot of the daylight raids because the guns could see them, at night they couldn’t see them. They had search lights and you could see them then, but they mostly come at night. You could hear the planes coming they had a special drown to them then you’d see all the flashes of the bombs in London. We were lucky round this way. Really lucky.
What after school, when did you leave and how old were you?
I was 15 when I left school and err. I didn’t know really what to do. Someone said there was a job in the printing at Barrows at Dartford but that fell through so my uncle said I’ve worked in Vickers since 1900, he said so see if there’s a job down there, which I did do, I down there, Started in 1950, as an office boy, then you started your apprenticeship when you were 16. Five year apprenticeship, then I stayed there until 1985.
What was the apprenticeship like?
You started off by making a set of your own tools erm made scrapers, wrenchs, spanners, V-blocks, anything you would need for your future career like, and that 6 months you spent in there making the tools which a lot of them were used right the way through my career.
Did all the apprentices make the same tools?
Mainly but unless you went in the foundry and then you made different tools because a founder, making all the moulds for the castings, they used different types of tools, so they came out of the apprenticeship after six months they went in the foundry and they stayed there, whereas when you did an apprenticeship you went to various departments and learnt different trades. We were not classed as fitters and turners, but machine shop mechanics and it was an un-indentured apprenticeship. If you were indentured they couldn’t sack you and you couldn’t leave, but an un indentured apprenticeship gave them the option of, if you were no good they could sack you, or you could leave.
Did they have indentured apprenticeships before?
Yeah years ago, but not at the time I started.
Would you have preferred an indentured apprenticeship?
So what were the main tools that you made that used most?
That would be scrapers, screw drivers, different wrenches for reamers and taps, V-blocks and various measuring instruments, callipers and dividers and that sort of thing. They were mage in there.
Callipers are they like…
Yeah you know for measuring, they had inside ones for measuring the inside of a bore and the outside ones for measuring outside.
I think I understand
The different wrenchs you made were. The first job you got when you went in there was to put a head on a, assemble a hammer, put the head and the shaft together. They would then give a big 12 inch file which you had to soften and then you’d have to file the teeth off it and highly polish it, then you would forge the end flat and harden it and temper it and leave it highly polished as a scraper for scraping flat surfaces. You would then make another scraper with a half-round file which was a horrible job to do because you used to have to file the teeth off a file after you’d softened it and eventually you ended up making a reamer wrench with a three quarter piece of material you had to file the squares on one end, perfectly square, perfectly parallel, then you would turn the handles, then you would drill the holes in them and the final job was to drill the V in them to take the reamer and if you mucked it up at the end you had start all over again, so it, you know, a demoralising thing, you made sure you got it right in the first place, but it taught you how to file flat and square, normal can’t file flat, but you had to learn.
Whats the reamer?
A reamer is for, you would drill a hole slightly smaller than you needed it and the reamer you put it in and that took it out to the perfect size. You know what a tap is a tap is for making threads in holes, they were the wrenches you did for that. And you made various clamps as well and V-blocks so you learnt all the basics of how to use a lathe, a milling machine, grinding machine and the rest of it. How to heat treat metal was all done in the six months we were in the apprentice shop.
So that was the first six months, so what happens after that?
You then went round the various departments, six months or perhaps a year or perhaps eighteen months depending on what the job was and at the end of that time you then made your choice as to what you wanted to do and then you ended up in that department. I ended up fitting, assembling the machines.
What made you think you’d like to do that?
I just fancied it. [laughs]. I mean I’d done machining and I just fancied, fancied something different. I made the parts in the different machines I’d been on, I’d made the parts of the machines and I thought I’d like to see how they were assembled, I stayed on that job that until I’d retired or made redundant.
When you were, is it called a shop boy?
So is that how they would decide if you could do the apprenticeship.
You had to do an exam. You had to pass an exam. General knowledge and maths and that sort of thing and while you were an apprentice you had to do one day a week at college and one or two evenings as well, night school and you end up taking an exam. You sat for your national certificate and after two years weren’t brainy enough to do the national certificate you went to the City and Guilds, which I did. In the end I had a first class degree in the engineering, but City and Guilds which was more practical rather than theory.
So the national is more theory.
The national was all algebra and all that and I couldn’t understand algebra. And if you got that after three years you went for your higher national and they were the real brainy ones, but the other ones ended using their hands and not their brains.
So if you were City and Guilds you were more likely to do…
Yeah okay. I’ve got you, so where did you go to college to do these?
Dartford technical school in Datrford then we used to go to the West central school at night school. The teachers there – from night school – were people from industry one of them used to work in Vickers from the office part and he took us for maths in the evening. Technical drawing and that.
Were Vickers connected to that school then, would they even fund it a bit or?
I don’t know how the funding went, we never paid anything, you just had to do it that was part of it. If you didn’t do it then they took a dim view of that. You had to do your theory. And while we were in the apprentice shop on the Friday afternoon you had to go in the classroom with a book and just a pencil no instruments, you used to have to draw up everything by freehand what you’d been doing for the previous week, what tools you’d been making, how you made them and how you write up all the method and at the end of the apprenticeship that book would be marked as to your ability.
What did you think of that?
It was alright. When you done that you went out and spent the last hour of the week cleaning the machines down ready for Monday morning, a nice clean workshop. That was the idea they taught you to do things properly, if you didn’t that was you for the high jump.
If you added the night classes, the day in the college and the work you did as an apprentice, how many hours a week were you doing.
I think I was lucky, I think I started when it was a 40 hour week, previously they’d been working a 48 or 44 hours, but I think we were there 40. Then you do one day at college and night school was usually 2 hours. They did it one or two nights a week depending on what subjects you did and how it fitted in with your lecturers.
So what was it like at Dartford Technical College?
It was alright, we used to enjoy it. And you’d meet boys there from other factories, you’d be in age groups, you’d all be 17 or 18 or whatever it was, but you’d be in that class and went through the college with the same boys but they were all from different factories doing the same sort of thing.
You mentioned before about pupil and…
Ordinary apprentices and pupil apprentices, but they were usually the sons of the bosses that did three months in each department, they were knew they going to get a good job so they didn’t take a lot of interest and they did take any interest in us at all. We were the common ones. They were the snobs basically.
Was that always the case?
It was always the case in Vickers yeah.
So was there a strong sense of class?
Yeah with those, them and us.
So was that…
The us were alright but them wasn’t [laughs] enough said.
Okay. So did you do national service at all?
I didn’t have to do national service. Most of them did, but I used to suffer badly from, I had a bit asthma and high fever and they made me grade 3 and that was deffered until I finished my apprenticeship and at that time they said they wouldn’t take grade 3 people so I didn’t have to go, which I was pleased at the time. So I stayed working there where others ahd to leave for two years, a lot of them came back others didn’t, they went to different factories different jobs, but they never came back, but they had to leave their job open for them and it was there if they came back if they wanted it.
Would apprentices that you knew go off to their national service and sometimes come back.
Did they discuss what it was like?
Yeah some of them did, but a lot of them didn’t discuss it at all it was over and that was it. Some enjoyed it and some didn’t. but most came back to the factory, but went to other places and you never saw them again.
So the people that came back, it was mixed.
Yeah some people were just keen on resuming where they left off, but because we had a good training you could do several jobs, so you could either go back on the machines or a choice of what you wanted to do, but once you’d made your choice you usually stuck with that job, if you went with the machines you stayed, if you went fitting you stayed on fitting. That was how it was all done, but at that time there was three thousand people working in the factory and I think there was always 60-80 apprentices going at all different ages across the factory and there was usually about 30 in apprentice school for 6 months, depending on your age, you wouldn’t all go in together you’d go in on your 16th birthday and then you stayed there for 6 months and then you went to the various departments and learnt all the other skills you had to learn.
So what was it like being the office boy?
It was strange after being at school. Main job was I was in the tool drawing office where all the tools were designed and used to have to go round the factory picking various drawings for alteration and all this sort of thing, doing menial office tasks like stamping up all the cards, just a general run around which gave you a good grounding on where everything was in the factory and you got to know lots of people through it so it was always handy because you knew a lot of those people when you went out in the factory.
What was your experience with some of the older men that worked there the older engineers?
They were alright they would always show you mainly they were good and erm if you wanted to know anything you would just and they would show you erm the practical jokes went on but you ignored those, like going to the stores for a long weight or a rubber hammer and the rest of it [both laugh], unless you work in a factory you don’t know about these things.
Were the practical jokes were they mostly geared around getting stuff from the stores?
Mainly yeah that was one of the things and the other thing they’d say if you wanted a particular drawing, they’d mister so and so’s got that, but when you’d go and ask him you’ll have to shout because he’s stone deaf which he wasn’t so you went up to this man and you’d shouted in his ear and of course you got a ticking off. It broke the day off sort of thing.
Did you do a similar thing to apprentices later?
Different things happened, yeah [smiles]. When you’d made all your tools in the apprentice shop you used to lay them on a wooden tray in the top of your draw and they would say if any visitors were coming round, I want to see your tools in your draw and in the meantime someone would then have poured oil through the crack in the bench and sawdust so that when you opened the draw the tools would be smothered in oil and sawdust.
Who were the visitors who come?
Some might be customers, some might be visitors from other factories. Interested in apprentices and the various things that went on and the management were always proud to show what they were doing with the apprentices, because it was a big thing in those days not now theres no such thing as apprentice.
So was Vickers recognised as a good apprentice school then?
Yeah it was, because they made such varied range of products and you could do everything from the patteren to making the finished article under one roof sort of thing it was classed as a very good grounding for lots of trades. Someone went from, as moulders and various other trades.
Do you think that the apprenticeship, did people appreciate the quality of it would that perhaps lead to their relationship with the company, did you recoqnise that as something you…
You were proud to be a Vickers apprentice, yeah, various other firms, J&E Halls had their own apprenitice scheme, but they would sometimes bring their own apprentices to our school and because they thought it was a good grounding.
What they might pay Vickers to…
Yeah, we used have some in there Burroughs and Welcomes in Dartford which just had a lot of maintenance men but they would send the trainees, apprentices in there to learn the basics. Because if you got a good Millwright he’s got to know how to use different machines, which they used to bring them in to learn that.
You mentioned, what was it the other company that came in there?
What J&E Halls?
Yeah what did they make?
They made refrigeration equipment for boats, they were the first ones to do it and they used to primarily make lifts and escalators for big shops and you used to see them in all the big shops J&E Hall escalators. They pioneered lots of different, the forst tinned food was done down there, they made some of the first steam lorry’s. but they were mostly the main refrigeration engineers for the shipping industry, which led to the imporatation of all the meat from New Zealand, because apart from salting it they, you couldn’t bring it over fresh, but when they bought refrigeration that is one of the main inventions of J&E Halls.
That’s quite an impressive one
So where were they?
They were down in Dartford itself in the centre of town, they were, J&E Halls was to Dartford what Vickers was to Crayford. Then you had Frasier and Chalmers at Erith, they made all the stuff for power stations and turbines, that’s what they used to make over there, Segers in Dartford was a big founders, they used to do all the foundry’s, Beadles in Dartford used to build coach bodies onto the chassis, they would build coaches and buses for anybody, but now its all gone.
So what was Vickers to Crayford then?
It was the main employer, I mean when you think 3,000, when they used to come out there used to be a row of trolley buses waiting to collect the people at night, to take them all and the locals used to say never sit by the side of a Vickers man because used to stink of oil. The cutting, what we used to call ‘mystic oil’, the cutting oil on the machines, you did but you never noticed it, they did (laughs).
Mystic what was it?
They say oil and water don’t mix, but this particular oil and water did mix and it looked like milk but it was used for cooling the tools when you were cutting metal, it would come out of a pump, you’d pump it and it would keep the tools cool, if you didn’t do that the tools would get red hot and they wouldn’t cut, but nowadays you’ve got modern tungsten tools that doesn’t apply to because the tools are completely different to what they used to be.
So, those tools you made, they did last you through to the…
Yeah they last forever, because they were made and they done properly and they did they served you well.
How many times did it take you to make them, were there ones you found particularly hard to make?
Well yeah you knew if you didn’t get it right in they’d scrap and you’d have start again so you just did it right in the first place, the odd one or two didn’t, but I was lucky, I managed to do it right in the first place, but it was most demoralising if you get to the end of a tool and then it was scraped and you had to start it all over again and until you did that you used to have to stay there until you did your full set of tools.
So how long did it take, how long would you invest in making one tool?
Well depending on the size of it and complexity of making it, how many operations there were on it how long it took. Some were quite simple some were easy and some took a long while, but you did have to use all different types of machines so you learnt the basics of how to use the machines.
To make the tools, so would you use a lathe to make tools?
A lathe, a milling machine, erm drills, boring machines, grinding machines, surface grinding machine, that was the basics you learnt. They had every type of machine in there that you use in your later apprenticeship, then you would go round the shops and you would spend different times on different machines and you would learn and then you’d move on, normally after six months but sometimes it was eighteen months. I had eighteen months on lathes on turning, which I liked, that was alright.
You enjoyed it on there?
What was it about you liked?
You just took to some jobs and others you didn’t and err, it was good, but you’d have a good grounding, because the men had been doing it for years and they, and anything you wanted to know they would tell you.
So, you would go to a shop, not necessarily an apprentice school and you’d work on a lathe and there would be other men there.
That’s right yeah, I used to turn all the long shafts for all the different stitching machines we made and they were all different, and you’d make all sorts of thing for other departments as well. You know the turning, then you go on; I did eighteen months turning, six month fitting, six months surface grinding, err, I think six month milling, then I was in the inspection department, then I ended up in the fitting and carries on there until we were made redundant. But it was always a good place to work, you enjoyed it, you never heard people moaning too much about it, the conditions were quite good and, the wages, you never got, they never gave you a rise it was only what the unions fought to give you a rise, but of course when you were apprentices you weren’t allowed to take part in any disputes, if there was a dispute you had to carry on working, you weren’t allowed to take part in that.
Did you join while you were in the apprenticeship.
Yeah you were sworn in and it was all done officially. The main part of being in the union was if anything did go wrong you’d got somebody to fight your case. If you had an accident the unions could fight your case for you, you weren’t on your own, it was a, in those you more or less had to join a union, especially when you finished your apprenticeship, but being an apprentice you did have a choice, whether you joined or not, but a lot of choose to join as apprentices because you had that little bit of backing behind if you had an accident, you’ve got someone then to fight your case.
And this was the AEU?
So what was the swearing in procedure can you describe that?
You just went to the union meeting and, you were introduced and I think you had swear an oath of allegiance to the union or something and erm you shook hands with the committee, they gave you a card and that was it. You paid your weekly subscriptions and that was it, but that was the main thing in those days it was more or less a closed shop, you either join the AEU or if you were unskilled you joined the Transport and General Workers Union, which some of the unskilled people did, so that you were always represented, they used to have meetings with the management to fight for rises and that sort of thing and conditions.
How shop steward system work, was there a committee or…?
They were elected by the departments, and then certain men, there was a works committee and they had meetings with the management, they’d meet on their own and then they’d meet the management and sort out any difficulties, which they usually did without any trouble.
Was there strikes you can remember?
Very rarely, very rarely, there was the odd walkout over something, but it was usually resolved within a day or something like that, and err it was quite a pleasant atmosphere between the unions and the firm, they both got on very well together, there was no need for any animosity if you could sort things out you know without trouble, there was very few national in those times, if there were the apprentices weren’t allowed to take part so…
They discussed at the reminiscence the apprentices walking out, do you remember that?
I don’t remember that, I honestly don’t remember it, it could have been a case when I was on holiday or something like that, but I didn’t remember that.
Its very unusual?
Well yeah it was, I mean I just don’t remember it at all, it may have happened, it did if they said, but I must have been away at the time on holiday. I think we used to get two weeks holiday in those days, no month (laughs).
Two weeks for the whole year?
Yeah my father only used to have a one week holiday. Used to go to Hastings on the coach one day and two days later we’d go to Eastbourne and that was it, that was our holiday, because in the war you never had a holiday, you couldn’t afford to travel, you weren’t allowed to travel so you just had to make the best of what you had, you had the pictures and that was about the only entertainment there was.
Could you remember your dad ever talking about work?
He never used to say a lot about it because of the war work and they weren’t, like we all had to sign the secre…in Vickers we signed the official Secrets Act that’s the first that they got you to do when you went in there, if they were making anything not only government work, but any other work because it was like different patents and that you weren’t aloowed to discuss the work with other people, that was just a general thing., but the official secrets act was the government thing, because they did government work they had to sign it and that was it.
So was that something you were conscious of, would you not discuss outside Vickers like in a pub things you made or…
No you wouldn’t no, especially if it was government work, because I mean we used to do some parts in there that were prototypes for different things, we never really knew what they were for we just used to make the parts and they would go to some other factory to be assembled so you didn’t know what you were doing half the times you just made them to the drawings and that was it.
So you might make a bit of a missle or a bomb or a gun or something?
Could do yeah. Some of the work was secret in there where nobody was allowed to go to, which was the government where they used to development things and you weren’t allowed to go in those departments because of that, it was secret stuff.
So that bit you never went into?
No. people that worked there were the only ones in there, and different departments that was.
Would you go into other shops, I mean as an apprentice you went into a lot of shops.
Oh yeah, there was a saying if you had a piece of paper in your hand you could walk anywhere, but I don’t if that was true or not, that was saying that used to go. (laughs)
Did you ever think about the things you were making or did you just think, I’ve just got to make it…
Very few things that we made in there were to do with armaments after the war, mainly that had stopped, we used to do some things, but 99% of what I did was commercial work so that was it. I mean they made such a vast array of products in there, but err, you just get used, when you’re on a machine you get a job for anything, parts for all sorts of things, you never knew what they were for, but you just did the job as it came and you’d do it to the drawing and that was it.
So the drawing would come from the draughtsmen or whatever and you’d then make that bit that they’ve given you?
Do part of the operation on it you might mill a part then it goes somewhere else to have some holes drilled it was all done in different operations and on the back of the drawing was what you called a sequence of operation and that would be planned by the office as to where that went and there was a card followed the job and it would go basic casting perhaps then it would go to milling that might have something on it to be turned or browned until it got finished and it was put into the stores and then it was used, err the people used to assemble it in the particular department it was for, we used to make everything in there, it was all done under, in one factory, nothing was sub-contracted outside, so it made it easier to do the same process in one factory.
How you doing do you want to pause it?
Yeah do you want a little bit of lunch?
Bit of lunch? Is it alright if we carry on later?
So after your apprenticeship you went in the fitting shop?
The last year of my apprenticeship I spent in the fitting shop and carried on there, when we were apprentices we used to do the basic machines, and the men would then finish off the machines, they would put what we used to call the wire parts in, but when you finish your apprenticeship you then carry on building the whole of the machine from start to finish, assemble it, get it working, test, ready for the final inspection.
So you get a drawing and you do the whole thing.
Yeah you assemble it, you get a kit of parts and you assemble them and you always worked, on everything you did in there you worked on a bonus system, you used to have what they called a rate fixer, he would estimate the time it would take you to do a job and if you did it quicker than that then you earned bonus, so it paid for them to get it done quicker, because the bonus rate was lower they got it cheaper, but you earned more money doing it because the bonus rate was that much less than your average earnings, so each week you had different wages because of when the bonus cards used to be signed and completed, it sounds complicated, but…
So even if you had completed a machine pretty quickly the card might not have been signed out.
That’s it until it was actually inspected and finalised, you would get weeks, where you had money was down a bit then a good week, but it averaged it out over a period of time, but they always wanted us to go on a shop bonus, but we said we would never do that because the people working earned the money for the ones that didn’t work hard, so on a bonus system if you worked hard you had the benefit yourself, you worked for yourself which is the only way to do it, shop bonuses are good for the lazy ones because they lived off the back of the industrious ones.
Was it obvious who was slightly more lazy?
Well yeah, you never two people work the same speed, but when you were doing ordinary work it was easier to estimate the time, but when you built a machine things didn’t always go according to plan so you could get extra time for that if there was anything that went wrong to put it right, the final assembly you used to get a slightly longer time to get the machines to run right.
Was it because people were more skilled, they were better at making the machines, or they just didn’t want to work as hard?
Yeah some didn’t work, but some were lazy, but others, you just got stuck in because you knew the more you did the more money was going to be in your pocket and that was all you went there for your wages and erm and paid to work, but you didn’t pay to work for other people, other lazy ones in the shop, so that’s why you kept on your own individual bonuses and err it was difficult but you learnt to do it, and the more you got the knack of doing things and because you were doing them over and over again you get quicker and more efficient and therefore you used to doing the work it was repetitive, but you know it was, there again, it was still interesting because you could see the finished product, get a box with three hundred bits in and then it goes out as a finished machine it was, you know you felt satisfaction.
Was there machines you made that you found more satisfying?
No they were all about the same, they all did the same job basically, but they were different sizes and different types, but the basic principle was the same, the stapling machines and that was it and towards the end we did do some machines for gluing and not stapleing them because it was quicker and the machine we developed was for gluing with hot glue if it was cold glue the pipes used to have to be washed out every night and start from fresh, because they were set, but when it was hot melt everything was heated so you switched it on, it melted and you could go straight away, they reckon it was quicker than doing it with staples and then shrink wrap came in, people didn’t want cardboard boxes so they didn’t want card boxes so they didn’t want stapling machines for the boxes so it dropped, so the orders dropped right down.
So when you became a fitter you made the stapling machine?
So was it as an apprentice that you did work on all the other machines, you know the machines you showed me there (referring to a picture of various machines made byVickers)?
Oh yeah we did those, but we used to specialise in one particular type, there was quite a few different types, but each individual – we could all do eachothers machines, but you basically made one particular type, because it was better for you better for them you got to know what you were doing, you got to know the knack of doing it and that was the easy way out really. Then they would go for inspection, they would try with different samples of old paper and books and card and test the machines and when they taested them they would do two samples, it would be one big bit of card say, it would be stapled and it would be cut in half, half of went with the machine to prove it worked and half was retained by the inspection department so they proved it worked when it left the factory, so if there were any argument, if they said the machine was no good when we got it, they could prove by the samples we’d done that it was alright, it saves a lot of arguments.
Would there be arguments then?
Occasionally you get a machine that people say it doesn’t do this and it doesn’t do that, well when you show them the samples, they can say well look it does because we’ve done it, so they were always kept for a certain amount of time.
With some of the designs you got how many times would you be doing a prototype or did you not do that many?
Not many no, once you got the basic design, they were done for a specific job, but the ones I used to build, we changed the design in 1963, the capacity of the machine was roughly the same machine, but it went from five-eighths of an inch capacity to an inch, so it gacve a bigger range of doing the books.
This was stapling books?
Yeah, but the other side of it was boxes, there were two separate, they were both stapling machines but one was for the box trade and one was for the book trade.
How many people worked in that shop then?
In the assembly department?
Err about 40 or 50 I would think, then it gradually went down as the orders went down and there was only about 5 or 6 of us doing them in the end, that’s how the orders gradually went down because the progress in other ways of doing the job menat people didn’t want stapling machines, now most books are glued rather than stapled.
From the start was there a strong sense of health and safety?
There was then, but nothing like there is now, I should hate to work there now, because the things we used to do everything you can’t do now, like if drilled and tapped a hole you’d blow it out with a compressed air gun, evidently you’re not allowed to do that now, so how you clear out the holes I don’t know, but this what I’ve been told since, since about 1985 lots of rules have changed with health and safety, I think they have to wear gloves now, leather gloves and they have to wear goggles, which we didn’t have to do. We put goggles on if you were on the grinding machine, yeah, that was common-sense, but health and safety now they say is a nightmare (laughs).
Was there a kit you had to wear?
You mainly wore what they call warehouse coats rather than overalls, we didn’t used to wear boiler suits on the fitting, on the machines you used to wear a boiler suit, because that covered you all over with splashes from the oil and all that, but when you’re fitting we just used to wear smocks or warehouse coats as they call them and that’s all we used to wear just to keep you clean, but you didn’t have lots of muck flying around it was only from filling and that sort of thing.
Did you have sports and stuff there?
They had a sports club yeah. I never used to go in for it much, in 1977 the jubilee year the people who played bowls decided to get more people to play bowls they asked people if they wanted to join a section and they had what they call a jubilee league and we used to make teams up on a Monday night and teams up on a Thursday night, play little leagues and at the end of the season the winners of the Monday and the Thursday leagues would play each other for a trophy, that was until, well it only lasted until 85’ when we were made redundant and that was the end of that, but the sports club is now still thriving because Vickers sold it off and it had to be sold as a going concern and it’s now a private sports club and you have to pay to be a member, whereas years ago you didn’t, because you were a member of the factory and that belonged to Dartford, Vickers and Crayford Vickers known VDC Athletic and it was a big sports club in the area at the time. But part of it was sold off for housing, but the VCD football team is still going in name only and they do quite well in the local leagues evidently, but the actual Vickers part of it is none existent these days because there’s no Vickers.
So was there competition between shops or rivalries?
Departmental yeah, more so just after the war when there was more people there, in then days you had enough people working in each department to get a football team or a cricket team, but when we wnet into the new factory there was only about 625 people that went in there, because it had contracted over the years, erm in the workforce and when we packed I think there was about 300 of us there in the end.
Can you describe what it was like when redundancy started?
Lots of rumours going around, nothing was confirmed erm because normally when the big boss from London office came down you got notice a week before and everything was cleaned up and tidied up, but they came down on their own with no prior announcement and we thought something was going on, there were lots of rumours, everything was denied until suddenly they called us in one day and said you’re all made redundant from so and so and that was how suddenly it came about, that was the end.
Building up to the new factory being built in the seventies were people getting the sack then as well?
No because we mainly had a lot of work, but because the factory was old, needed a lot of maintenance Vickers wanted to shut, but the unions, the council and the MP’s got together talked to Vickers and eventually it was decided to build a new factory and it was opened in 75’ and then it was quite prosperous for a number of years and then the orders started going down slightly, but then the Vickers furniture people wanted to move in and then we just had to move out that was all there was to it and the job I did was transferred to a job in Bedford, doing the assembling of all the machines.
What was that like then?
It was quite nice, we enjoyed it going up there and staying up there all the week, travelling around as advisers to the assembly people and the machine shops where they used to make all the aprts in different factories, go up on the Monday come home on the Friday and that went on for seven months then they did it on their own after that, but I do believe its all finished now, the factory up there, I haven’t had any contact with anybody lately, but I think its all finished.
So what were some of the people you worked with. Did you become quite good friends with some of them?
Some of them yeah, but depending where they lived mainly, erm, if they lived local you used to bump into them, but there are so few of us left now, a lot people don’t like asking, because if they ask, oh he’s dead, he’s dead. That is why there were only few turned up down there (reminiscence session), but there were one or two I did meet that because I didn’t have their phone number and that I couldn’t tell them about it, one or two heard about it afterwards, but it was too late then.
Is this the reminiscence?
Yeah, plus the fact its an awkward place to get on public transport.
Well we were thinking we could have it at the Crayford Library, but thought it might be too small.
Yeah its one of those things you don’t know I mean see that Don Jefferies, I didn’t even know he still existed till he was there, and err one or two others I hadn’t seen for years, but theres one or two I still do see that would have gone I’ve they’d known about it and I couldn’t contact them because I didn’t have phone numbers, so it was a shame really. Lets hope something good comes out of it all
While you were at Vickers would you go for drinks with people that were there or?
Occasionally, but not very often, you all had your own lives to live and that was it, but everybody got on with everybody else, everybody knew everybody else and because in the new factory we were all under one roof you seemed to meet more people there than you did in the other factory which was such a huge area
So in the new factory you met more
And what was the feelings toward the new factory being built then?
Everybody was pleased, they were pleased to have a job to carry on in your job and it was much easier, good, better conditions to work in because everything was new and clean and tidy, whereas the old factory, alright they used to keep it clean, but it was an old building and everything was so spread out.
Some of those characters you were talking about, the guy with no teeth, what they call him?
Joe the labourer, he did have one tooth, he used to call it his onion stabber and if he got a pickled onion on it, it would last the week he used to say. But there were all sorts of characters in there. I’ll tell you one incident we had at a local antiques and collectors fair there was a chap there selling tokens where in the old days you worked for a firm part of your wages was paid to you in tokens which you could only spend in the factory shop, have you heard of that?
Right, this man at the local grammar school was selling these tokens and I noticed among the tokens were some for Vickers, Crayford and I questioned him about them and he said well yes he said there is a local factory down the road where these come from and I said are they exactly the same tokens as they used to get in the mines and the cotton mills and he said oh yes, used for the same reason, so I said are they fairly rare at the moment and he said yes they are, I said well would you like one or two more, well yes, and by this time there was a crowd of people round us, I said well I’ll tell you what when I go to work on Monday I’ll bring you about thousand of them, how about that, will that do you? So he says; what do you mean, he said, because previously he’d told me the ones with the MG on was because they sued to make cars in Vickers, the MG cars, so I told him that those tokens weren’t tokens they were tokens used to put in the stores if you got a tool out, so they knew what the tool was and I said the MG on them was for the machine-gun department because they made Wolsey Cars, I said is there anything else you’d like to know and he wished the floor had swallowed me up because he didn’t and I’ve never seen him since, so in other words don’t believe everything anybody tells you. He was quite embarrassed, never seen him since
Was he selling these in the market then?
Yeah it was a collectors fair, antiques and collectors fair and some he’d got there were proper tokens, but the ones he got in there, he got some brass ones and silver ones, now over the years they suddenly changed all our numbers, so to save wasting the cheques they palted them and put your new number on them, so the number in the silver was your new number not your old number and he got some of each and he didn’t even know why that was done, but as I say there was an embarrassed crowd round him and he wished the floor had swa…so don’t believe everything everybody tells you.
What was the relationship with management there then?
It was alright yeah. Occasionally things would go wrong, one particular case, they had a new a machine I was demonstrating in front of a lot of managers and it involved putting the boards and coming in glued and the manager walked round to me and he said the boards are not coming out very fast I said no the reason they’re not coming out very fast is because I’m not putting them in very fast, but my trade is a fitter not a boxmaker, oh point taken he said and walked away. These are the funny things that happen when you work in a factory. You had a labourer start there one day he came in on the Monday, on the lunch hour we heard someone sawing up wood and he decided he’d saw up the duck-boards on the floor what the men stood on by the machines to take them away for firewood, so they stopped and they kidded to go on for local, Vickers sports day and they got him training round the great big green that was in the middle of the factory and they used to time him with a stop-watch and knock a second off each time and said to him Albert I think you better do some long distance running so they sent him in the lunch hour up to Crayford church and back and people knew he’d done it because they used to see up there when they were coming back to lunch and the whole of the factory used to stand at dinner time look out the windows and when the bell rang they all used to rush off and clock on, but when he eventually ran up at the sports club they had the biggest up there to watch him and actually ran and came about 10 minutes after everybody else, but he did, his name was Albert.
So you’d say the managers at Crayford, Vickers, you’re impression of them was alright was it?
Yeah, people used to get on with them and if there was some little dispute the unions used to get in, they’d talk it over and nine times out of ten it was settled there and then, if you didn’t agree with the time you got for doing the job you used to be able to appeal to a man in the office, if he didn’t agree with you then it went up to the senior management and you met with them and they settled it and usually you ended up with a good compromise with the time on the job so you could earn your bonus on it, but that didn’t happen very often.
With your bonus, how much were you making, in a good week.
Oh I can’t remember the wages now, I mean, I married in 1960 I was earning 15 pounds a week. When I started in 1950 as office boy I earned 27 and six pence, and when I was an apprentice the following May it went up to one pound ten and ten pence, which was one pound, nearly 60p, one sixty, that was a week, and I used to give me mum and pound and have the 60p myself and that is it, but everything was cheaper, its all in relation to eachother.
The fifteen pound though, how would you say that compared to other firms?
It was about average then, or a little bit better perhaps, but luckily you see when you live local you didn’t have to pay out expenses for travelling, so that was an extra bit in your pocket, plus the fact the time erm no travelling time either.
Would you do work outside?
What another job? No never used to, no. sometimes we used to work overtime, you could do a Saturday morning and sometimes three nights a week, for two hours, if you were exceptionally busy and you overtime. Very rarely we used to have to work on a Sunday, but sometimes if anything was urgent perhaps you did or they had a lot of work, but basically it was forty hours a week.
But you wouldn’t do any private jobs for people?
Was it a forty hour week?
Yeah, 7 until 5
Could you describe a normal working day?
Well we all had to clock on, you weren’t allowed a tea break, but you used to have an unofficial ten minutes, you could sit down and have a cup of tea, but it was still all unofficial like, but everybody did it, so it was just a standard sort of thing. You did that morning and in the afternoon, and then you were allowed ten minutes at the end of the day to clear up, wash your hands and get ready to go home, apart from that that was a standard day.
What happened on your lunch break?
Well you could do what you, some people stayed, went out in the town, some people took sandwiches, some people went home if they lived close, I used to come, most of the time anyway, so it was handy.
Could you describe a little bit about the closure?
It was done in stages, on the fitting side we had a certain amount of machines to do and when we finished those we left, but the majority of them, machinists went altogether I think but then there was just skeleton few stayed behind to finish the machines, a few on the armaments stayed a bit longer, but it was the end of er 85’ it all shut down and that was the end and the whole of lot, the scrap people moved in, the machines were taken out, some were sold, most of it was scrapped and when they started doing it they even started taking some of the machines out when the chaps had been working on them and that’s how quick it was all done in the end. We were just allowed to take our own personal tools home and that was it, the end.
So how do you feel about that then at that time?
Well we were all upset, because nobody likes losing their job, erm but I was lucky I had the seven months, then after that I was out of work for six weeks, got another job reconditioning printing machines for four and a half years and then the last seven and a half years I worked at the Royal Naval College. I was made redundant three times in the end, from the other job as well, then the Royal Naval College shut, so I had three lots of redundancy
So what was the job for four and a half years?
Reconditioning huge printing machines. They were brought in second hand from Japan, stripped down, reconditioned and sold as a reconditioned machine, xxxxx printing presses.
So how did you come about that job?
I saw an advert for it and went down there and err, but it was a family firm and the conditions were lousy, because if you weren’t a member of the family, you were nobody, we got all the rotten jobs, then after four and a half years he called four of us in the office after tea break in the afternoon on the Friday and said this is it, we said this is what? He said you’re all being made redundant as from now, take three months notice and that’s it, so we walked out, went back on the Monday and picked our tools up and that was the end of that.
What was that firm, what were they called?
Kenmart, there still going now in Orpington I think, but it was a terrible place to work, when it was cold in the winter, we were told to wear an extra coat, the snow was blowing in the roof , through the windows.
So how many people worked there?
About twenty I think it was, horrible place. Nough said about that. Laughs
Yeah fair enough. And then to the Royal Arsenal?
The Naval College
The Naval College, sorry yeah.
Somebody I knew, I was out of work for nearly nine months, then somebody I knew who used to work there said there was a job going, do you fancy it? I said I fancy anything and I went up there and got the job there, so from no travelling time I used to have to travel 11miles each way each day.
Yeah to Greenwich and back
Oh because its in Greenwich yeah
Which was hard, but I did it and that was it, so I was there seven and a half years, then that shut down, so that was the end of that.
So what did you do there then?
I was a health physics monitor. They had a nuclear reactor in there. Not a lot of people know that, but it was, they used to train the officers on the nuclear submarines and they had this small reactor and used to be a monitor for monitoring everything around the place, it was basically an office job, but I did it and that was it.
When you say monitor, what…?
Going round with instruments measuring for radioactivity, because it was a small reactor, the rules governing reactors was the same there as it would have been at a power station in Sellafield, so all the rules had to be obeyed, you used to have to smear things to make sure there was no leak, which there never was because it was such a small one, but the rules that was it, completely different job, but it was a job, beggers can’t be choosers as they say, no I enjoyed it, it was alright, met a lot of nice people.
Do you want to wrap up?
Yeah I think so theres not a lot else to say, I think we exhausted it in the end.
Alright then, so theres nothing else?
No I don’t think so, not that I can think of.
One thing I was going to ask you is…do you want to wrap it up, have you had enough?
Yeah I’ve had enough yeah
Alright let’s do that then.
Sorry you were talking about automation?
Well when automation came in the idea was if there were two men doing the same job, one man could have the morning off and one man could work in the afternoons alternately, they’d work less hours, but still do the same amount of work, but in the reality what happened they sacked one and kept the other one on, so that’s when automation came in the workforce went there was no need for men, this was one of the things that led to the decline in employment for skilled men they weren’t needed anymore, you had one man to set it up and it worked to a computer, so you pushed the button and it worked.
So he would show the computer how it would work
Yeah, they put the tape in and then the machine would do it automatically, which is how things have gone now, so you didn’t need the man skill to do it, once it had been set up that was it, anybody could push the button and that is basically what happened in engineering.
So engineers now wouldn’t use a lathe say?
Only for small jobs and specialist engineers, but on mass production it’s all done on automatic machines and they turn them out much quicker, more efficiently and more accurate, like in the car trade when they’d make cars, there not assembled by hand anymore robots assemble them, so you don’t get what you used to call a Friday afternoon car, where people couldn’t care less and the bits would go on and they wanted to go home, because Friday afternoon is what’s called POETS day; Push Off Early because Tomorrows Saturday. (Laughs)
What was in the reminiscence you were talking about people throwing their tools in river, that was tools they didn’t do right wasn’t it.
Oh yeah they just scrap them, they’d go in the scrap box, if you didn’t do them right, but it used to break your heart when you’d get to the end of it and the last little bit went wrong and they used to just put it in the vice and say, now go and start again, that was heart breaking that was, but that was all part of it, it learnt you to do it right in the first place. Happy days, but they’ve all gone.
And do you remember any of the women that were working at Vickers?
No not really because there were only a few and they were near retiring age when I went in there, women in the offices, but not in the actual factory, they all retired and that was the end, they never employed any more then, but in the early fifties and sixties they were the remnants of those who were employed in the war, on armaments.
But they wouldn’t be in the union?
No I don’t think they were in the union, I can’t remember about that
And were there any people with disabilities there?
One or two, but not many, because I think by law factories had to employ a certain proportion. If they wanted the job they would train them to do a specific job, so as to give them employment, but mainly the disabled people were employed by Remploy, which was set up just after the war to employ disabled people. But you did find if anybody did have an accident in the factory and they were able work afterwards, they would probably find them another job to do just to give them employment, there one or two like that I think. I think one chap lost an eye in an accident and they still employed him on a different job, on a job that he could do, I think that’s how they got over that.
I didn’t ask you, your pension was it with Vickers, did you have a private pension with Vickers or,
Yeah the engineering companies were one of the last to give the actual workers a pension scheme, but we did in the end have a pension scheme with Vickers erm, its now paid out by Rolls Royce because they it, a tie up with Rolls Royce, so they now pay our pension. Which all helps, not a lot.
So you finished working in nineteen ninety…?
Nine, at the College yeah I actually had one more year to go, but I couldn’t find anything after that so I managed on my last year before I was 65. My wife packed up she, about the same time.
What did your wife do?
She worked for the metropolitan police, digging the traffic tickets, parking tickets, not a popular person (laughs)
So how’s retirement?
Good (laughs), yeah, how did you find time to go work, that’s the normal answer. No we’re lucky, we can afford to do it so we do it, we’ve saved up all our lives and now we’ve got the benefit of it, everything was hard at the time but we just looked after our money and that was it.
So what do you like doing in retirement
Travelling and gardening. We have two or three holidays if we can. We’ve had two holidays this year, got another one coming up, we like to go coach trips usually, but that’s all gone wrong with Sherings. Go walking a lot if we can, go in the car and go walking somewhere.
In Kent yeah, sometimes in London, but there is a new little book out; Walks in London, my wifes ordered one
Right I better stop the tape now
Yeah stop the tape, you’re going to sleep now I can see that (laughs)
No I’m not going to sleep I just don’t if people are going to be interested in fifty years, they might be (both laugh)
I shouldn’t think so, they’re in poverty sitting in doors can’t do nothing (laughs)
Okay so whats the date today? The 30th June
30th July 2009 thank you Ron (laughs) and this was in Ron’s home in…
Dartford thank you Ron. Oh I’m Will Atkinson.