The final exam for “The Ordinary Certificate”
took place in 1949. While I did well in a lot of the subjects, I failed the English Language exam. This was a mandatory subject and the consequence of not passing was that I failed and was not granted a certificate. (Ironically Harry was granted a certificate at the age of 15 without passing this exam. He obviously was much smarter than me and had higher marks). The Education Board changed the rules in 1950 and issued certificates based on the subjects passed in the exam.
Mother wanted me to have a trade and set her sights on me following Harry and Tommy’s example by being apprenticed at Richardson Westgarth in Hartlepool. Harry who had by now graduated from Durham University had returned to RW in the capacity as an engineer in the turbine design department. We filled in the necessary application forms and got an interview with the personnel department. For whatever reason, they turned me down. I believe they had a quota of applicants from the neighbouring pit villages, preferring to hire locally in the town.
Harry was surprised by this rejection as the company always considered close relatives of their current workers first. In my case both Harry and Tommy had worked in the factory, Harry had been the top apprentice earning a prestigious award and had returned after university which pleased the technical director.
He went and saw the general foreman, Mr. Fred Smithson, and asked why normal procedure had not been followed. Fred was from the old school of foremen, he was the person in charge, he organised the work and was responsible for the people working on the factory floor. He was a powerful man whom everyone respected, especially the managers and directors of the company. He was tall and imposing, he was always formally dressed in a formal suit, white starched collar and bowler hat. He did not trust the judgement of the personnel department, preferring to interview himself or take recommendations from his workers. Fred who had got to know Harry, told him to bring me to his office on the shop floor 7:30 next Monday morning dressed for work.
We arrived at the requisite time on Monday morning, from memory the 22 Aug 1949, we had to wait for about 15 minutes and I had a very short interview with Fred, he must have liked me as he did not send me home. He called for one of his foremen and told him to take me to work with Bobby Anderson. This was the steam turbine manufacturing part of the factory. The shop floor had two main bays, side by side, each as long as two football fields. One bay was used for assembly and the other had gigantic lathes, milling, gear cutting and boring machines. There were several overhead cranes in each bay capable of lifting about 300 tons. The size was overwhelming.
This was the start of my career. I served a five year apprenticeship as a fitter, working my way through the various fitting and machine shops learning a trade. Like many other apprentices I went to night school after work (three nights per week) and obtained a Higher National Certificate in Mechanical Engineering. I had progressed from the shop floor to the drawing office as a junior draughtsman. Following in the footsteps of my brothers Harry and Billy, I took the next step and obtained a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Durham University (in my case I took this at Sunderland Technical College).
After graduation, I returned to Richardson Westgarth as a technical engineer in the steam turbine department. I left Trimdon in 1959 and moved to Seaton Carew after getting married to Ann Hutchinson (from Fishburn). Ann had attended Wellfield, completed a nursing diploma in Newcastle, midwifery in Nottingham and was working at Sedgefield General Hospital as a staff nurse.
With recession hitting the industry, we left Hartlepool in 1963 and moved to Rugby to work for English Electric where I worked in the large steam turbine division. Four years later, the large engineering companies were merging making jobs uncertain. We decided to emigrate to Canada and I joined a large engineering consulting company. I stayed with this company for the next 27 years retiring as a Divisional Manager and power plant specialist.
With thanks to John Robinson for researching, writing and providing this article
Added 16th April 2015