Chapter 12.


      There is a great temptation to include too much detail in this chapter because it is a subject with which I am well acquainted! I only wish that my predecessors had left behind a full account of their lives; this would have rendered unnecessary a lot of my own laborious, but enjoyable researches. It is possible, even if unlikely, that some future family historian may find it interesting to learn something at first hand about an unimportant person's existence during the twentieth century. I have, therefore, written a much more detailed autobiography elsewhere and will confine myself here to a summary of that.

      I was born on 22nd February 1917 at 63 Howard Road, Walthamstow. For some purposes this town came under the jurisdiction of Essex County Council. It was also regarded as part of Greater London, and it had its own Urban District Council. It is now part of the Waltham Forest District. My parents were Wilfred John and Lita Elizabeth, dealt with elsewhere in this family history.

      My first school was St.Mary's Infants', which I joined in 1922. By the time I was seven I had passed through all four classes of that small establishment and then went on to Maynard Road boys' school - in Addison Road! In 1928 I passed the scholarship exam for the Sir George Monoux Grammar School in Chingford Road, where I stayed until the end of 1935. In 1933 I passed the General Schools Examination with Matriculation Exemption and then in the summer of 1935 I managed to get through the Higher Schools Certificate Exam, in Chemistry, Physics and Applied Mathematics.

      At the age of ten I had some instruction in piano playing and musical theory from my maternal grandmother, Marion Hebdon, but I found it rather uninteresting at the time. Much of my leisure (and school) time was spent with a neighbour, Reg Jackson, who was six months older than I was. He had a considerable influence on my own choice of interests, and music was not one of them.

      Having decided that I wanted to work in a laboratory I took my first job at the end of 1935 in the Cellulose Lab. of the famous firm of paint manufacturers, Sherwoods of Barking. We had moved to Woodford a few years before and I had acquired a bicycle. This was pressed into service to get me to Barking every day. After three years I decided to try to improve my position and so transferred to another well-known paint firm, Bergers, at Chadwell Heath; again I was concerned with the testing and production of cellulose lacquers and the evaluation of their raw materials.

      A succession of jobs followed. The outbreak of war in 1939 very much narrowed my choice as it was necessary to apply my training to "work of national importance", a somewhat vague definition! In September 1938 I married "the girl next door", Vera Daisy King, and we lived for a short time in a flat in Church Lane, Romford. Changing my job to one at British Cellulose Lacquers Ltd. at Sydenham necessitated moving house to Forest Hill and then to Beckenham.

      In 1940 we returned to Woodford and I got a job at the Micanite & Insulators Co. in Blackhorse Lane, Walthamstow for a couple of years where my days were mainly spent in testing various plastics materials.

      This was followed by three years at the Ford Motor Company at Dagenham, where a departure from my experience in applied organic chemistry took the form of analysing iron and steel castings produced by the Foundry. This was a hectic but humdrum way of spending anything up to 84 hours a week, day and night!

      Immediately after the War in mid-1945 I returned to the oil and colour industry. This time it was printing inks, made by the City firm of A.Gilby and Sons at whose Lewisham factory I formed the sole technical staff under John Hawkey. The firm later moved to Colliers Wood, S.W.19. After a while it became apparent that the long underground journey from Woodford was a considerable bother and I then got a job as sole chemist with the small cellulose lacquer firm of L.G.Wilkinson Ltd. at South Mimms near Barnet. In 1946, as a result of severe incompatibility in our temperaments, I left Vera and the two young children and took a flat on my own in Woodford for four years.

      In 1949 I found it again necessary to survey the job market and was lucky enough to write to a small firm of wood finish manufacturers, Henry Flack Ltd. whose address was Borough High Street, near the Elephant and Castle. But it turned out that their factory was at Elmers End, Beckenham. I had not reckoned on travelling such a distance every day, but certain concessions were made over the hours of work and, having bought a small motorcycle the previous year, I was fairly independent of public transport and all its post-war uncertainties. I was happy to work with Mr. Henry Flack as his technical adviser for the next thirteen years. It cannot be said that Flack's were an ambitious firm, but they had a very long connection in the furniture trade and were also well known as suppliers of French Polish to undertakers. This gradually became superseded by more modern materials. As a result of over-diversification into unprofitable domestic polishes and other products the firm found itself in financial difficulties. By 1961 it had negotiated a take-over by the Bromley paint firm of Bollom and Co. who were mainly interested in the Elmers End site for their own expansion. A number of internal changes followed, not in accordance with any promised improvement in my own status. There were clashes of personality and the atmosphere became less happy than hitherto. It was with some reluctance that I left in mid-1962 to join a neighbouring firm of synthetic adhesive manufacturers, Surridge's Patents Ltd..

      Meanwhile Vera had divorced me in 1957 and I had married my second cousin, Ilene Florence Foreman in April 1958 at Chingford, where she lived with her widowed father. All three of us took a house in Addington Road, West Wickham between Bromley and Croydon.

      Unfortunately the position at Surridge's - where once again I found the directors very amiable and generous - suddenly changed when it was announced that a subsidiary of Lever Brothers was to take over the business. Elmers End, as a production unit, was to be closed and I was offered a comparable job at the main factory in Silvertown, East London. This would have involved a most tedious journey and so I declined, although the new company's chairman told me he thought I had made a wrong decision. This was to be the second take-over in which I had been unfortunate and it was by no means the last!

      The next two years (1964-66) were spent in the laboratories of Samuel Jones & Co.Ltd. the well-known manufacturers of adhesives and coated papers at Camberwell. In 1966 we were told that the firm was to "merge" with the giant paper concern, Wiggins Teape, and we were assured that everything would carry on as before. But a year or two later the large Camberwell factory was closed down and Samuel Jones' production moved to St.Neots in Cambridgeshire. However, in the late spring of 1966 I was offered a job by a man who had worked under me at Gilby's in 1948. He was now chief chemist of a family concern, an important printing-ink maker in Blackfriars, Shuck, Maclean & Co.Ltd.. Mr. Maclean had just bought an ink business in Rustington, West Sussex and my former colleague, Douglas Colborn, was asked to find a General Manager for the works. My very close friend, Syd Moate, a representative with a firm of resin manufacturers, suggested that I might be interested.

      After expressing serious doubts about the advisability of taking on such a responsibility and the upheaval it would cause in our home life, I finally agreed to take up the offer that Doug Colborn had made to me. It is rather interesting that every time I changed my place of employment - with only a very few exceptions ~ I managed to negotiate a higher salary than I had been earning. On this occasion I was offered 50% more than I had been getting!

      The latter half of 1966 was unsettled because of the difficulty in selling the house at West Wickham; it was one of those periods when mortgages were not easy to obtain and buyers were scarce. In November we moved to Barn Close in the hamlet of Toddington about a mile north of Littlehampton town centre, and completion of the house sale took place later.

      I took charge of a staff of 30 and was pleased to note that Colborn and Maclean continued to have every confidence in my ability to run the factory. This was the first time I had had a job that was not actually at the laboratory bench but, apart from the administrative duties, a good deal of technical experience was required. Jim Maclean was about to retire when he sold his business to the large printing-ink firm, Ault and Wiborg. For the most part this made little difference to our work which was usually allowed to continue without much interference. But later a new force arrived on the scene in the shape of the Sun Chemical Corporation of America who proceeded to shut down all the smaller units operated by Ault's and concentrated all production at Shuck Maclean's new factory at Slough. Rustington was to be closed at the end of 1973 and a very lengthy attempt was made to persuade me to take up a technical administrative post at Slough. At the age of 57 there was little hope of my getting a comparable job anywhere - particularly in Sussex- but I did eventually receive two offers, albeit at a much lower salary. There would have been so many disadvantages in going to Slough - the cost of houses, the proximity to the abominable noise emanating from London Airport at Heathrow - and, above all, the personal competition now very evident amongst the staff at the Slough works. In the event, this last point has been quite a prominent feature, with most of the former staff now having left for one reason or another. I therefore decided to join a small firm of printers in Rustington .So ended another take-over!

A few months at Coes at Rustington convinced me that I was a fish out of water. I knew little about the details of printing as such and I was put in charge of an office where my previous experience was quite useless. There was a peculiar lack of co-operation on the part of one or two of the staff and so I looked for an alternative place of work.

      Quite by chance I wrote to the National Printing Ink Co. of Chichester, the only firm of this type within forty or fifty miles. I was delighted to be able to join them, as sole chemist in July 1974. The working conditions suited me and I was treated generously by the directors; I remained working full-time there until my 65th birthday. Since then I worked for two years on two days a week and then reduced this to one day. I have arranged complete retirement to follow my 69th birthday in February 1986, but I have been asked to make myself available after that on a consultative basis. Since I retired from full-time work the firm has taken on three other technical workers because of expansion of its turnover.

      When I started work in 1935 as a lab. assistant at Sherwood's my salary was 22/6 a week. By 1939 I had negotiated increases bringing it up to £3, a fairly good average for those days. In 1961 I was earning, £1100 a year. During all this time inflation had been kept under some control and the cost of living had risen only moderately. I left Samuel Jones in 1966 at a salary of £1400 and while I was at Shuck Maclean's it rose to well over £3000, with generous annual bonuses added to that figure. Inflation then got quite out of hand and the price of everything continued to shoot upwards for the next ten years. If I were still working full-time at N.P.I. my salary would now be in the region of £10,000.

      While at school I had some lessons on the Spanish guitar and joined one or two local amateur dance bands. Later I returned to the piano. During the 1939-45 War I played with many musicians in the Walthamstow area and formed my own 13-piece orchestra which used to play for regular "Old-time" dances at Walthamstow Assembly Hall. Smaller sections would play for less important dances in other venues. This interest waned when we moved to West Wickham and it was not until I had much more spare time in 1982 that I decided to take up music again. I formed the Arun Light Orchestra which now has a dozen players. It specialises in the sort of light music popular between about 1850 and 1950, meeting weekly for practice and giving an occasional informal concert for local charities. Ilene plays the clarinet in this orchestra.

      An interest Ilene and I spent considerable time on was the hobby of brass-rubbing. This engaged us from 1957 to 1966, during which time we amassed a collection of about 200 of our own rubbings, made mostly in the Home Counties but some as far away as Cornwall. This pursuit helped to widen our (or at least my) knowledge of history, which had always bored me. Soon after moving to Littlehampton we both joined the local Gramophone Society. We spent six or seven years helping to rescue it from a rather run-down state and we took on the jobs of Secretary and Treasurer for some years. It is now a much more flourishing body.

      About 1972 we joined the newly-formed Littlehampton Civic Society and I have served on its committee in various capacities ever since - at present as Chairman. This Society is concerned with watching developments of all sorts that affect the town and its inhabitants and it makes its voice heard to the appropriate authorities whenever the need is felt to arise.

      Another of our leisure pursuits has been walking in the countryside and we have been members of the Ramblers' Association for over twenty years. We attended the inaugural meeting of the West Sussex Group in Chichester and I found myself on the steering committee that got the Group started and then on the permanent committee for a few years. Our active participation in the work of the Association has been much reduced in recent years but we are still very interested members.

      Soon after coming to Sussex we joined the local "Archaeological and Natural Science Society", whose membership is now in the region of 150-160. This 60-year old body runs a number of outings to interesting houses and gardens in the summer and arranges a series of monthly lectures every winter. I have been a committee member for the past three years.

      Apart from the more ordinary occupation of growing vegetables for our own consumption (Ilene is in charge of flowers and shrubs) and a certain amount of house maintenance from time to time, another task that absorbed an enormous amount of time and energy was the secretaryship of the Ford Flying Resistance Group, an organisation I helped to form in 1977 to combat the threat of a "business" airport becoming established on a nearby disused wartime airfield. We built up a membership of 200 individuals and got the support of thirteen organisations totalling 8,000 members. We were successful, after a great struggle, in persuading the Department of the Environment that there was no need for such an airport only two miles from Littlehampton when we already had Goodwood and Shoreham only seven and eleven miles away respectively. We had to fight the West Sussex County Council and the Civil Aviation Authority, but had the local District Council on our side. An Examination in Public and a Public Inquiry had to be prepared for and provided with all the evidence and strength of feeling gathered from our membership. In 1984 we disbanded the Group because it was agreed that the threat had now passed.

      The other matter that is waiting to receive our attention is the history of Toddington. We have gathered a good deal of information on this subject and hope to put it into a readable form when this present study is completed.

      My wife, Ilene Florence, was born in Shernhall Street, Walthamstow on 3rd September 1916. Her parents were Herbert and Maud Foreman and they remained there until they were "bombed out" in September 1940. Ilene went to St.Mary's infants' School at the same time as I did and we have a photo showing us both in the first class. She then went to St.Mary's Girls' School, following that with Queen's Road or the South Central School. She worked in Selfridge's in Oxford Street for a while and then in a local shop in Wood Street, Walthamstow. After that she took a job at Halex Ltd., the plastics firm at Highams Park until we were married in 1958. She has written up the material we gathered in our search for information on our joint ancestors, i.e. her mother's and my mother's, and so much more detail about Ilene's own life is to be found there.

      My sister Joyce was born at 63 Howard Road, Walthamstow on 9th February 1920. As mentioned above she suffered from a serious ear trouble as a child which left her hearing slightly affected permanently. She followed me at the Infants' School and then went on the St.Mary's Girls' School in Orford Road. When we moved to Woodford she transferred to Churchfields School which was within walking distance. In 1934 she took a job in the office of a sportsgear manufacturer, The Atlas Co, in Fullers Road, Woodford.

      A very old friend of Lita's was Emily Brown (née Lee) who had been at school with Lita's sister Nell. Emily and her husband William had maintained contact with the Daggetts and Hebdons over the years. They had three sons, of whom the eldest was Sydney William. He was 2 years older than I and so used to visit Jowilta during the mid-30's. He and Joyce became keen members of a Woodford Tennis Club and found they had other interests in common. They married at Woodford Parish Church in 1941. During the war years and a short time afterwards they lived with Joyce's parents in Fairlawn Drive, but Syd was away on active service for much of this time.

      Their daughter Valerie Elizabeth was born in January 1948 and they later moved to a self-contained flat opposite Snaresbrook Pond. Syd and an old friend started up their own business of display consultants in Woodford at which he worked until retiring in 1979. They bought a house at Theydon Bois in the mid 1950's and remained there until 1980. Meanwhile, Valerie had married John Paul Robinson and was bringing up a family in Woodford. Paul is a civil engineer who hails from Nottingham. He had been working in Loughton and Walthamstow and was offered a much better job with Derbyshire County Council which he accepted in 1979. So he and his family moved to Lea near Matlock and they were followed a year or so later by Syd and Joyce who bought a bungalow in the same road. Their wide circle of old friends from Essex and elsewhere provides them with opportunities to visit each other and much of their time is occupied with gardening and, in Syd's case, with his interest in short-wave radio reception.

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Chapter 13

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