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Tales from the Toolroom, The Night shift by Peter Slater

On the night shift in the Fitting Department, about seven of the daytime fitters worked on the “Fortnight about system” (A fortnight on the normal day shift, then a fortnight on the night shift).
I being an apprentice at the age of eighteen was automatically put onto the night shift.
I was partnered with another fitter George Isle. For some reason I had never met him as he had been on regular nights (possibly to get the higher night shift rate of pay). I only met George when I returned to the Tool-room in September 1958 from the two years National Service in the R.A.F
We used to correspond with notes and even sent one another Birthday and Christmas cards. George was a good partner and always used to leave me easy work to finish off, some of the chaps had dreadful partners leaving them awkward work not conducive to manage in the early hours.

The fitting department had regular night shift fitters. They were all old timers seeming to be very ancient to a youth of eighteen. I worked next to Alec Monk a really nice and kindly fellow. Alec was a devotee of the “Old Time Music Hall” along with most of the other staff, all of the same era. He knew all of the old songs along with the introductions to the tunes, he often used to break into song with a rich baritone voice, this was soon picked up by the others and a real sing song used to start. I think it is because of hearing the songs I am still very interested in them myself even today.
He told me that those songs had a real meaning of the times the good and the bad, and there was a message for us in all of them.
He once quoted an example which I have used all my life finding it so very true.
There was a very obnoxious character who worked on a lathe in the Turning Department, a real loudmouthed individual, Alec once quoted a music hall song to suit him; “ Bang, Bang Bang on the drum, If your talents be small, Bang the loudest of them all, Bang Bang bang on the Drum “. How true this was of him.
Like all of the others Alec was addicted to taking snuff! His snuff- box was in the form of a coffin with a small wooden spoon in it. He once offered me a pinch and like a fool I accepted it, it nearly took the top of my head off, my eyes streamed for quite a time!
I told my mother about this and she wisely said “ If God had meant man to take snuff he would have put his nose on upside down!
When Alec was offered a pinch of snuff by someone, he always used to pinch his thumb and forefinger on his waistcoat button, this had the effect of making and indentation in his fingers, thus enabling him to get a bigger pinch!
He always used to take a drink on Friday lunchtime at the “Mayfair Inn “ in Albert Street with his old mates, I often used to call in and have a pint with him he always greeted me as “his young apprentice”
Billy Smith was another of the “Old timers” on regular nights. He had worked for Royce in Manchester as an apprentice and moved to Derby when the firm re-located.
He used to fall asleep in his chair at dinner break, and we used to creep up and tie his shoe laces together. On one occasion we painted his shoe heels with the whitewash that we used for marking out rough castings. He could not quite make out why all of the milling and turning operators laughed and shouted at him and his “flashing heels” when he walked by.
Billy used to frequent “Jimmie’s a pub in St James Street and so did my Father who soon knew all about the pranks we all got up to.
In one corner of the fitting department was a fire escape stairway and at the top of the stairs was a fire point complete with a large axe, a red painted bucket filled with sand (and also invariably with Cigarette ends!) a neatly coiled fire hose with a very large brass nozzle.
One night Roy Sanders one of the daytime fitters unscrewed the brass nozzle and found out that by blowing hard it produced a very loud noise similar to a ships foghorn. Roy took advantage of this and one night when all was quite he gave it a blow. This thunderous noise had the night superintendent Horace Crawley racing out of his office, scurrying around to find out what all this was about. Needless to say we all had our heads down working away.
This went on for weeks and we must have been “shopped” because one night he called all the dayshift gang before him in his office and laid down the law. Apparently the Foghorn noise had been heard in the nearby streets, much to the annoyance of the sleeping residents. Sid Leeming on hearing this burst into uncontrollable Laugher. Poor Sid he took all the blame for that. The young fitters on the night shift, and me being the youngest, always ended up doing private jobs or “foreigners” as we called them I always seemed to be mending tyre punctures or other parts of bikes. Mending spectacles and making keys, I once had to replace a broken gear tooth in a clothes mangle wheel, but I think the oddest job of all was to put a new rivet in a truss!

Being the “youngster” it fell to me to make the tea at Dinner break, so one time I drilled a hole in the bottom of Sid Leeming’s tea mug and screwed it firmly to the bench and then filled it up with tea. Poor Sid broke the handle off it trying to pick it up. I thought that I had got away with it, until one morning on the Day Shift I pulled open my tool drawer only to find the pull handle had been filled with Prussian Blue Marking Paste! Now anyone who has worked with this type of greasy marking paste will well know that it is very, very difficult to remove and lingers on the hands and under the fingernails for quite a while. If you are still out there Sid: “Nice One”.
Sometimes on a Friday night dinner time, Friday being pay night, A group of us would roar off on motor bikes along Mansfield Road to an all night “Greasy Spoon” transport café to have breakfast, eggs, sausages bacon chips and all the trimmings washed down with a big mug of strong tea.
This was a real treat for us, but invariably we arrived back late to work and had the riot act read to us!
The tool-room had its own hardening and annealing section and in winter we often used to place tins of soup or baked beans onto the outlet chimney of one of the small furnaces. We had the timing judged to perfection to get the temperature just right for break time, when a can of hot soup with a crusty bread cob made an ideal meal for a cold night.
One night Norman Hutchinson, one of the fitters, placed his usual tin of tomato soup on the outlet pipe but was interrupted, so forgetting to carry out the vital part of the process; to puncture the can lid with two holes!
Needless to say the can exploded with a loud bang, showering the soup all over the red-hot furnace. The soup immediately evaporated, and the smell of Tomato soup drifted down the corridors, soon to reach the nose of Frank Johnson the night superintendent, very much to his annoyance.
He never did catch the culprit involved, but he read out the riot act made it quite clear that the practice had to cease from now on!
Needless to say the smell of Tomato soup lingered in the hardening department and corridors for quite a time afterwards.
We often used to switch the labels on Normans soup onto a can of peas or baked beans and on one occasion a can of pineapple rings, his face was a picture to see, and just could not believe that we had done it. He even took it up with the shopkeeper were he had bought the cans from!
Mostly at dinner time we had an hour break but this was shortened to half an hour just before I left. The regular night-shift men used to catch up on some sleep but Norman Hutchinson, Peter Newbold (from the turning department) Ivor Sellis and myself, formed a group around my bench and would discuss topics and argue about religion, creation of the universe, writings and works of the great authors, poets and philosophers, ghosts and Egyptology all sorts of subjects. This had the effect of others passing by, contributing to the discussion with their opinions.
One night the topic was “Ghosts” and one of the old regular night men Fred Stubbs, told us a story that when he was quite a young man, his grandfather, who was of a good age, was on his death bed. They all took turns to sit around his bed awaiting the moment of his passing. When it was Fred’s turn, he dozed off in front of the fire. Suddenly he was awakened with a loud crack, like a whiplash, and rushed into the bedroom to see his grand father open his eyes, sit up, and say “I’m Ready” and with that he sank back onto his bed, closed his eyes and passed away.
Fred told us that this had made a profound impression on him all of his life.
On night before work our band of four decided to attend a mass spiritualist meeting in the Co-op hall in Albert Street, silver collection at the door.
We all sat at the front notepads at the ready keen observers to record the whole event. The meeting started with a flurry of messages from the stage to assorted groups in the hall, with contact names in a Red Indian theme “White Feather, Red Eagle “ and similar. The groups seemed to make a sense of all of this. Suddenly a woman stood up on the stage and called for silence. A hush ascended on the hall, she paused and announced in a loud voice ;
“There is the presence of four non believers amongst us, and pointed to us, will they leave at once” With all eyes on us we sheepishly arose and left the hall all eyes on us!
Needless to say we had to rush to the nearest inn and have a couple of pints to quench our thirst for knowledge before catching the Trolley Bus to Nightingale Road and our nights work.
I left Rolls Royce in August 1955 for two years National Service in the R.A.F.
I I found throughout my service that the magical phase “ Worked at Rolls-Royce” opened doors to getting a better standard of tasks and work, I think we were rather held in awe! “ The Magic of a Name “ indeed!
After National Service I returned to Rolls Royce, the same bench, the same routine, and even to some work that I had left unfinished! Difficult work at the time I had hoped that someone would finish for me.
I stuck it for a further period, but the time spent abroad in Malta, like many others before and after had unsettled me, and in January 1959 I left Rolls Royce for good and took a position as a Diesel Fuel Injection Engineer in Scunthorpe North Lincolnshire.
If I had my time again would I have done the same? Yes with no hesitation, the skills and experience that I picked up during my training as a toolmaker held me in good stead all of my working life.

P.B Slater
Scunthorpe August 2005

The Tool-Room Staff 1955-1959. Mainly in the Fitting department

Frank Havilland: Foreman of the Fitting Department
Harry Barlow Charge-hand of the Fitting Department
Tommy Haynes. A.E.U Shop Steward.
Sid Leeming.
Peter Slater.
Dennis Kyte
Bernard Calladine
Derrick Keeling.
Albert Foulkes.
Harry Sanders.
Joe Tomlinson (“The Mod” Used to sell anything from Butter to Socks & Shirts)
Walter Clarke (Earl of Harrington Fishing Club Secretary)
Frank Sanders
Arnold Elmore
Harry Savage
Jimmy Teague
Nat Woodward
Kieth Grant
Keith McConnell
George Lear
Jack Singleton.
Ken Phillips.
Bill Barrett.
Doug Buckley.
Peter Wright.
Harold Roberts.
Norman Hutchinson.
Ivor Sellis.
Bill Sauldane. (File-Tang)
George Isle. (My Night Shift Mate)
Don Prosser.
Bernard Perry.
Arthur Holmes. (Old Mother Riley)
Graham Adamson.
Peter Newbold.
Sid Pitt. (Marking Roller and Painting)
Dennis Francis.
Keith Roe.
Jack Lees
Roy Lees. Wally Bates.
Peter Elliott.
Ernie Chadwick. (Ex Navy)
Harry Orme.
Walt Sendall.
Roy Sandars.
Eric Hardy.
Jack Middleton. (Middo)
Harold Roberts.
Frank Johnson. (Black Flash. Superintendent ex Fitter)
Horace Crawley (Night Superintendent.)
Dave Johnson (Night Superintendent)
Charlie Sykes (Turner, was AEU secretary Allenton Branch)
Eric Swanson (Radial Driller)
Jack Hopcroft (Stores)
Alex Monk. (Regular Night Shift)
Bob Haviland (Foreman Franks brother. Regular nights)
Billy Smith (Regular Nights, Old Timer worked for Rolls in Manchester)
Freddy Stubbs. (Regular Nights)
Brummy Smith (driller on Regular Nights)
Jack Lees (Foreman of the Hardening Dept)
Jack Swarbrook (Hardening Dept)
Bob Gamble. (Hardening Dept)
Tommy Smith. (General labourer)
Ernie Jacobs. (Inspection Dept)
Kingsley Chubb. (Inspection Dept)
Harry Kettle (Inspection Dept)

Please If I have omitted anyone let me know. After all it is 50 years ago!

© Andy Savage © www.derbyphotos.co.uk