Sunday, 19 March 2017

Growing up in Eltham in the 1950s ......... stories by Eddy Newport no 19..... the apprenticeship

Another in the series by Eddy Newport taken from his book, History of a War Baby.

Oliver Pell Control was a small company that specialised in the manufacture of solenoids (electromagnets) and electrical motors and everything it made was made on the premises. It had three assembly shops,

Machine shop, tool room, coil winding shop, ovens, finishing shop, jobbing shop, drawing office, planning dept and a time and motion study department. In fact everything a factory needed to function independently from the outside world. It was ideal to find out how a manufacturing company works.  I got the job and in fact, I was their first apprentice and very soon another seven were recruited.

I gave my notice to the White Line Laundry and left. Having gained some experience of how a motor car engine works, so it was not a waste of time. I said goodbye to Charlie who I think was glad to see the back of me and off I went to pastures new.
Oliver Pell was in Cambridge Row off Burrage Road Plumstead it was a five storey building and had been in operation for over sixty years. The original company was the Varley Magnet Company and that was its trademark. Mr Varley sold out to Mr Oliver and Mr Pell.  Mr Pell died and Mr Oliver gave up the running of the firm to Mr Oliver Junior who was the big boss when I joined the company.

He was to us mere mortals very posh and spoke with an upper crust accent. He had had a public school education and a very “I’m the boss and don’t you forget it” attitude about him. Everybody was dead scared of him and he walked around as if he owned the place. Of course, he did. He had his directors, who did all his bidding and jumping up and down when he said jump.

The company’s main products were solenoids, these were made by winding a measured number of turns of insulated copper wire around an iron core and when electricity was run through the coil it caused the iron to become a magnet and moved a centre core. Solenoids were used as switches and to move levers and many other uses in industry. Other products were small electric motors that were used in the Morphy Richards hair dryer. One of their biggest sellers was a solenoid sold to the SU Carburettor Company and was used in partially all motor cars made in the UK.

We apprentices were to spend a period of time in all the departments. It was written in my indentures that I was serving an apprenticeship in Mechanical / Electro Engineering; that was until I reached the age of twenty-one.

My first position was in an assembly shop that assembled the solenoids and tested them. Our foreman was Mr Charlie Bunstead he had an assistant David (I have forgotten his surname).  In his younger days, Charlie was a Millwall goalkeeper and was famed for his skills.

However, the people who worked there were mainly women with one or two men. My job was to assist in any way I could and I was given cleaning and packing jobs to do. The first job was to help a guy wound a very large coil and at each layer of copper wire it had to be lacquered and layers of paper between the windings. It took about three days to finish one coil and was about three feet in diameter then it was taken off to the ovens for baking to seal the lacquer.

I met a young man about my own age who was to become a very firm friend, his name was Tim Leonard he had started at the same time as me and his ambition was to become a toolmaker. He was to spend most of his time in the tool room. The tool makers in OPC would make the forming, shaping and punching tools used in the machine shops. Most of the tools were to go into the powerful presses that made the parts that ultimately became the solenoids. Also, they made assembly jigs to help in putting parts together. Theirs was a very skilled job as you had to know how to operate lathes, milling machines, grinding machines, drilling machines, shaping machines and how to heat treat metal. All this was done to very high degree of accuracy.

Tim and I would cycle home together as he lived in Eltham Road Eltham.

I was given one day off to go to college, which happened to be the Woolwich Poly in the Wellington Street building. I was put onto the Second Year Ordinary National Certificate in Electrical Engineering.  I struggled with that course, and I failed the exam and was asked to see the principal, who advised me to take the City of Guilds Exam in Machine Shop Engineering.  This I did, it was in the annex school in Plumstead. I carried on with this course until my apprenticeship finished. to be cont...

© Eddy Newport 2017

Pictures; from the collection of Eddy Newport

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