Recently George Robins sent The Froyle Archive part of an article he wrote a couple of years ago. The extracts below describe his work at Treloar School, Upper Froyle. “In 1955 I was an apprentice carpenter with Chapman Lowry & Puttick working on the new Treloars School at Upper Froyle.....I have described the job in my very rough draft that I started a couple of years ago and attach an extract which may be of interest.”
We have just taken the pieces that apply to his work in Froyle and added explanatory notes and photographs to this fascinating tale of a young man's experience starting work in the 1950s.
We begin in August 1953.
The site at Froyle was the Lord Mayor Treloar’s college for crippled boys. At the time I started. they were doing some renovations in the big house and preparing the foundations for the new college buildings. I was put to work with an electrician, in what was called “Froyle House,” a large white Georgian building just up the road, which was being converted into offices for the administration of the college. The main task for me was to take up floorboards for the “sparks,” then, when he’d got his wires in place, to fix the boards back down again, leaving gaps where the joint boxes were. These gaps were filled with short sections of board to form “traps,” which were later screwed down, to leave access to the joint boxes.
On the second Thursday I received my first pay packet. This was for the first week, as we worked what was known as “a week in hand”. The craftsman’s hourly rate at this time was three shillings and six pence and as a fifteen year old, I received a quarter of this rate, tenpence farthing, (just under 5p.), and for forty nine hours I received the princely sum of two pounds and four pence, after stoppages. This was to be increased each year, until, at the end of five years I should be fully qualified and on full rate.
After a couple of weeks at Froyle House, I was moved over the road to Froyle Manor. This was an older house and was also being converted for the use of the college. The ground floor was being made into living quarters for the Bursar. He was a very military type of gentleman, who we were told was in charge of all the college’s finances. The upper two floors were to be accommodation for the nurses, who looked after the boys.
It was good to be working with some carpenters, as I was completely “green”, knowing nothing about woodwork and having to start, as it were, from the very bottom. The chippies I was put with, were Tony Newman and Pete Moorey. Both were very patient with me, and my ignorance, at least I don’t remember either of them actually hitting me. Throughout my time I always found a marked reluctance from the chippies to pass on knowledge. That is, with a few exceptions. Mostly it was a case of “keep quiet and watch”. However, I think these two treated me pretty well. Perhaps I was still too scared to open my mouth too much.Tony took me to one side one day and took me right through the procedures of sharpening chisels and plane irons with the oil stone and also how to mark up and cut square across a piece of wood. This got me off to a good start to be of more use to them. A few weeks later Bill the general said I was to learn to sharpen saws, so Tony once more took me off into a quiet corner and went right through the process from start to finish. Then bill sent me into the old green houses to practice. Now the site had a “tea boy”. He was a German ex prisoner of war who had stayed behind after the war, and he kept a raging fire going in the mess hut. The wood was from old beams and joists, from a building, that had been demolished to make room for the new college buildings. To cut up the wood he had a pile of old saws and because the timbers were full of nails, the saws were always being blunted. I was set to work sharpening and for several weeks tried to keep up.
At first, the saws got pretty rough but it is one of those jobs which just requires lots of practice and that’s what I had and in the end they all came up like new.
Right next door to where we were working, was a hop kiln and the hop harvest was in full flow. From the upper windows of the house we could look straight into the kiln. The hops were brought in from the surrounding gardens in great big baskets by horse drawn carts, and then they were hoisted up by rope and tipped out onto a steel mesh floor to be dried. At the foot of the building there were coke fires, from which the hot air rose through the hops, which were spread out on this mesh floor above. At intervals, sulphur was thrown onto the fires so the fumes would kill off any bugs. The hops were raked back and forth until ready, then shoveled down through a hole into long sacks, called “pockets”, to be carted away and used in the brewing of beer. The pockets reached right across from one side of the cart to the other and were stacked sky high to be taken away for storage. As they came out of a door at first floor level there was no lifting involved, something the building trade hadn't got round to yet, as we seemed to be always shifting things by hand.
The winter of 1953/54 was pretty cold but we kept working as most of the jobs were inside at that time. I well remember one day though, when the brickies had come to a halt, with the water supply to the mixer frozen. A large lorry load of bricks had arrived and all hands were turned out to unload them. I was included in this, which was my introduction to throwing, and catching bricks three at a time. We worked in pairs, one on the back of the lorry; throwing and one on the steadily growing stack, catching. By the end my hands were so sore and my back was aching. At that time Darkie blew up for tea, so it was into the mess hut for a ten-minute break. When the whistle went again we found another lorry load waiting, but Bill sent us chippies back inside, as I said before “I didn’t really want to be a carpenter” but by that time I think there were some things I wanted even less.
Around this time I found one of the hazards of life as a chippie. I was putting in some slatted shelves in an airing cupboard and had to cut out a notch to go behind a pipe. Holding the wood down with my left hand I was cutting the notch with a chisel held in the right. Now lesson one is to always keep your hands behind the cutting edge, but I had missed “lesson one” and the inevitable happened. Yes, the chisel slipped out and ran along the piece of wood only to be stopped by the little hand at the other end. My hand! Down to Bill’s office where a dressing was applied, then I was bundled into his car and taken into Alton, to the hospital. Four stitches later, I was taken back to the site and told to sit in the hut for the rest of the afternoon. They must have felt some sympathy for me as I was allowed to ride home with Bill Fox in the cab of the lorry. I had been given a medical certificate by the hospital and this got me four days off work, but not to be recommended.
George spent the next year or so at technical college while working in Haslemere. It was not until 1955 that his story returns to Froyle.
I went back to Froyle early in the year to find that the main building was coming on leaps and bounds, with much of it up to first floor level. Just after I got back there they had the foundation stone laying ceremony. The stone was actually laid on a special piece of wall in the middle of the quadrangle, then later in the day, after the V.I.Ps had gone, it was taken up and re-laid in the wall of the tower. That is the way things are done. I seem to remember that the stone was laid by the then Lord Mayor of London, as the college was named after ……….. Treloar, who was a former Lord Mayor and it was very much supported financially by the Guilds of the City of London.
After a spell of work and in hospital with a seriously infected shoulder, George was once more back at work in Froyle.
It was another couple of weeks before I could go back to work and when I did I found that they had started cutting the roof timbers. We worked for weeks on a large pile of timber as everything was cut by hand and then stacked ready to go up when the brickies had got to the top. The gang consisted of Jim Kemp, Gordon Cooper and myself and later my old mate Bert Booth and Jim West joined us. Jim was really a general foreman but the firm hadn't a place for him in that capacity so he had to fill in as a chippy for a few weeks and was a bit touchy about it. One morning he took me aside and asked me what I knew about roofing. I started to reply that Jim Kemp had shown me how to set out the rafters, when he exploded with a stream of rhetoric about the youngsters thinking they knew it all and made it quite clear that he wouldn’t be helping me at all. Luckily Jim Kemp heard every word and I think he must have spoken to the General as Westy was moved off the roofing and given work elsewhere. I think this also prompted the others to share their knowledge more and I got a very good grounding in setting out and cutting roofs. Also, we were doing the same thing at the Tech, but were learning to do it by means of geometry whereas, on site we used the steel roofing square. This gave a chance for many debates, in both places, as to the relative merits of the different systems. I was still the only one in our class at the Tech to be working on site and most of the time was the only one to understand what it was all about. We had a pretty good relationship with our instructors and I found that I could help them, and the other lads, as much as they could help me. By learning both methods it certainly made things a lot clearer and I always thought of roofing as my speciality from then on.