Another trip down memory lane courtesy of NICEIC’s Tony Cable.
This latest tale comes from my final year as an apprentice, where I was employed on a huge site in Croydon that consisted of a 24-story office block and a whole series of smaller blocks. The site was so big that, on occasions, there could be over 100 sparks, apprentices and mates (back then all sparks had an apprentice or a ‘mate’) on site at any one time.
I’d not been on the site for very long when I was asked if I’d like to go into the site office to assist the site
foreman. I readily agreed as I knew that I’d learn loads, and sure enough I did. There was no sparking involved, but I did get to see how a big site is run, which would serve me well later on in life when I was an engineer and foreman.
One task given to me was to compile the timesheets on a Friday (the information was collated from the daily site log) and post them into the office. We all got paid cash on a Wednesday and we would get a Post Office draught sent to us, so I had to make a list of all the notes and change we needed down to the last half penny, which I took to the Post Office early in the morning. Later on that morning the foreman and I would grab two of the larger sparks to act as bodyguards and we’d nip back over to the Post Office to get the cash.
Once back on site I’d lock the office and put the money in the wage packets, but I didn’t seal them until the last one was filled up and we had no cash left, just in case I’d made a mistake and then had to go back and check each one.
“In those days, if anyone was 5 minutes late then they lost 15 minutes, so there was always an argument!”
By tea time in the afternoon all the sparks were lined up for their money, which they had to sign for. This was when the fun started, as there were lots of occasions where sparks would complain that their money was wrong. In those days, if anyone was 5 minutes late then they lost 15 minutes, so there was always an argument!
Another job was to look after the technical drawings. Every floor had a metal skirting system which had to fit around columns. We had these sections pre-made, but if a column was slightly out we had to get specials manufactured off-site at a local metal works, and I had to prepare the drawings to be sent to them.
When I started work one of the subjects we were taught at college was technical drawing and my uncle (who was a master carpenter) made me a drawing board and tee square which I took into work with me. I had to go over all of the drawings and decide on the materials needed, before filling in an order form and sending it to the office, where they ordered it.
Unlike today’s rapid communication world, there was no such thing as email back then – everything was posted – so an order could easily take a couple of weeks. When ordering items you’re essentially doing the job in your mind, so this meant that nothing could be missed – something that taught me an awful lot in later life.