Building Treloar School
George RobinsRecently 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.

Treloar 1956The 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.

The bricklayers were busy taking the walls up to plate level and we were keenly anticipating the job of putting on the roof, but in the mean time we were given a couple of extra tasks. The first was the pavilion for the sports field. This, we were cladding with cedar shingles, which, they told me, had been fire proofed. That seemed very odd, as I had been boiling the kettle for several days on a small fire built from the off cuts. I suppose that they had been surface treated and once chopped up this was no longer effective.

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.

As I said Bill west was moved to a different part of the site so that left four of us to carry on cutting. We worked in pairs but swapped around frequently and as the weather was quite hot we all dot a good tan, or more like lobsters. The rafters were twenty four feet long and proved to be the longest I would ever work on, in fact on the central section they were joined in the middle taking them up to about thirty six feet. Jim had set out and cut the patterns and the next step was to lay the pattern rafter on top of each length of timber and mark the ends and the birds-mouth for cutting. Then the pattern would go to the other pair whilst we cut our rafter then added it to the stack. The college is a big building so the stack grew and grew for quite a few days.

Then the time came to hoist them up ready for fixing. This we did with a “gin wheel”. Just a pulley fixed to the scaffold with a long rope. Most of the time I had the job of tying on the timbers with a “timber hitch”, then helping to haul on the other end of the rope. When the timbers reached the top they were quickly untied by one of the pair at the top and added to the stack there and the end of the rope sent down for the next lift.

I found when we started working on the top scaffold, that my stay in hospital, or rather, the illness that had caused it, had left me a little shaky. But my confidence soon returned and it wasn’t long before I was running around and climbing up to the top scaffold to nail into the ridge board. We complained a bit because we reckoned we should be getting extra money for working at such a height, but someone had worked out that the highest scaffold was at forty eight feet and the extra payment only started at fifty. There was no such thing as a union representation in those days so we just had to accept it. One incident caused a laugh at my expense. I think it was Gordon that encouraged me to try and pull myself up with the rope. Well I put my foot into the loop and gave an almighty heave. Of course it doesn't work, as the top of the body is heavier than the legs and I just inverted and crashed my head on the ground, not a thing to be tried too often.
The roof was finished off by a clock tower in the centre of the main block; this had been prepared in the joinery works at Haslemere. This consisted of a timber framework with seven by seven-inch red pine legs up to where they emerged at roof level. Above this was the actual clock and cupola, all pre assembled at the joinery works and then knocked down into manageable parts. It was just a case of getting them up there and assembling them all together, then the painters gave it all several coats of white paint and the bell and four bronze clock faces were installed. At the time we all thought it sacrilege that the bronze clock faces were also painted (a pale blue) but that was the wishes of the architect. These faces were each fabricated from two rings of about three quarter inch square metal with four-inch numbers between. I suppose they were each about four feet in diameter and, we were told, cost around three hundred and fifty pounds. I don’t know whether that was the price for one or all four but as my wages were then about three pounds a week it still seemed a lot of money.

After the roof was tiled, and that was interesting because we had to board out for swept valleys, (in these the tiles are brought in a sweep from one roof surface on to the other and the tilers. had to reinvent the method of doing it). As I was saying, after the tiles were on, the tower was re scaffolded and the plumber, Bert Hay, had the job of cladding the lower part, from the tiles up to the clock with sheet .lead. This lead was joined with “rolls” and fixed to the vertical boarded faces with “dots”. The rolls are formed a round rounded timber battens at the side of the individual sheets with one sheet wrapped over for a short way and then the other one from brought over this and all dressed down tight. These are normally used at the sides of the sheets on a flat roof and the sheets only actually fixed at the top edge to allow for expansion and contraction from the heat of the sun. In the case of a vertical surface the lead has to be more firmly fixed. To do this, small depressions are cut in the boards behind and the lead dressed back into these. Then it is nailed back with large headed galvanised nails in the depressions and the nails covered over with hot “plumbers metal.” This is low melting point solder, which they use for jointing lead sheet and pipes.

I remember still being at Froyle early in ’56 because we had a very cold spell to the extent that Frensham pond froze over and I went skating. The first day of the freeze I was at Guildford Tech and the trains were very slow coming home. The next morning I was going down to the “arches” to pick up the transport to site (a truck with a canvas tilt), but took longer than usual because my bike wheels kept jamming up with snow. I arrived late and as the lorry didn’t come, assumed that I had missed it. I decided to make my own way there and as no busses were running had to walk most of the way. I did get one or two lifts, one of which was in a sidecar from a chap who was just out for the fun of riding around in the snow.

When I eventually got to the site at Froyle I found it deserted, so had to turn round and come home again. This time I was luckier as the no 17 Bus had managed to get through, so I got back to Bordon and only had to walk from there. I eventually got home and phoned the office and was told that the men had been taken home early the day before because of the snow and the site would remain closed for at least the rest of the week. They apologised that no one had thought to contact me.

We were off for about a week but the bricklayers were off for considerably longer with all the sand and water being frozen solid. I was sometimes jealous of them when they went inside and played cards if it was raining, but they went on to half pay on these occasions and I don’t think they got paid at all if kept away through frost, so we chippies were glad to have some inside jobs to get on with.

George Robins