My Introduction to Engineering – Chapter 2

Chapter two begins in July 1968 when my father accepted a Head of Department for a Craft and Technology post at Leeds Central High School. So we moved from Sleaford to Cookridge north of Leeds.

Shortly after settling into our new home my father said “It’s time for you to look for a job.”

So, I entered the employment building in Leeds with trepidation. At the interview I was asked what I was interested in doing and for some reason I suggested the Forestry Commission would be nice, but when they said you would have to leave home and go to college with little pay, with the only other funds coming from my parents, I declined.

I then thought I’d like to be a Customs Officer but they don’t recruit until you’re 21 years old I was told.

Not being able to think quickly due to nerves I couldn’t avoid the subject of engineering being raised. So, I heard the immortal words “What about an engineering apprenticeship as all your qualifications point in that direction.”

I left that with them and after a few days I was offered a placement at Greenwood & Batley, known as Greenbats of Leeds who made Locomotives, or George Mann’s who made Printing Machinery.

Talking to my father he recommended George Mann’s as the better option because it had its own training school on David Street, just off Water Lane, which was quite central and printing machinery was bit more up-market to heavy plate work.

By now Leeds Engineering was closed for its August two weeks annual holidays so I was told to report to the training school on the 19th August, my first day of adult working life.

On arrival we were introduced to the staff. At this point I would like to refer you to Andrew Kibler’s account of the school as he attended a few years after me.

A member of staff I remember was a Mr. Aspinall who was quite young and had a pleasant way of teaching. He later introduced a few of us to Ten Pin Bowling at the Merrion Centre in Leeds. We joined a league and we called ourselves the “Wise Owls” after the pub in Ireland Wood. I always remember the 12 hour non-stop bowling evenings from 7pm to 7am the next morning.

The first job we were given was a 100mm (4”) x 450mm (18”) long square block of steel  and a hack saw. We were then instructed to cut a piece off to make a vee block.

It took two days and a handful of blisters. What was most frustrating was we were working on benches on a mezzanine above the machine shop and looking down we saw the staff cutting the blocks on a Horizontal Band Saw.

Having cut our blocks we were handed a file (2nd cut) to file square all six sides of the block and finally draw file to improve the finish. That took the rest of the week to complete.

The second week a Mr. Skinner, who was the Works Manager, came to the class room in the building for me to sign my apprentice indentures along with my father. Maybe the vee block was the first test.

I was told that due to my qualifications I would be placed on the 1st Year Technicians course, connected to Kitson College, and if I did well I may be able to go on the ONC course. It took about a month before I realised I was on a combined Craft Course PT1 & 2. We contacted Mr Skinner and he apologised but said the T1 course was full but if I did well I would be placed on T2 for the second year which wiped out the ONC.

Back to the vee block, we were instructed to blue and mark off our blocks for cutting the vees and the slots to take the clamp carrier which we would be making at a later date.

It was at this point that we all learnt how inflammable blue cleaning fluid was.

One of the apprentices excused himself to the toilets which were outside in the yard and the next minute the staff were dashing out to put the lad’s overalls out as he had struck a match for a quick cigarette. He had severe burns to both hands but luckily the staff acted promptly.

Another event at the school involved myself. That winter we had a lot of snow and at lunch time we went onto David Street for a game of football. At this time we were being instructed on the forge located in the yard to make a chisel from hexagon bar.

Having lit the forge in the morning we returned after our lunch break with wet and frozen feet. Whipping my shoes and socks off I sat on the large anvil to warm and dry them close to the fire. Has anyone ever had chilblains? If not I wouldn’t recommend them. I had to be taken home by my father and I was off work for the rest of the week with feet like balloons and it was painful.

I must add that during my first year at the training school I made friends with a lot of lads and we all grew up by the experience.

It was now time for the 1969 summer break and I was waiting for my exam results before starting my 2nd year on the shop floor. I couldn’t wait but it didn’t start well.

But that’s my next chapter….

Malcolm Murray – March 2021

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