Apprentice training

When we turned sixteen, we were all elated to be offered apprenticeships at the Wilton site. At the medical, a few of us went to the toilet while we waited. Shortly after, a young nurse came into the waiting room with a tray of glass jars. “The doctor will need a urine sample,” she announced. We were horrified we couldn’t perform. The nurse got sick of waiting, gave us all a big glass of water and made us run around the building!

Wilton Works ICI Plant

Wilton was a newer plant than Billingham and was thought to be less polluted. It was also much closer to home. Malla Fixter and I landed apprenticeships as plumbers, Patto in carpentry and Shagger as a boilermaker.  The group of us rode to work on our bikes together along the Trunk Road each day whatever the weather conditions, rain hail or snow.

Apprentice Training School Wilton ICI, 1957

When Malla and I attended the first day at the College we were surprised to find lads from the Tech. and High Schools in the same class.                                                                                                    All new apprentices had to complete six months in the Training School where we had to work through a series of set models, irrespective of the trade each of us was assigned to. This was designed to give us all an insight into the skills and limitations of the various trades that we may have to work with on-site. The models usually had tolerances of a few thou1, and involved the use of lathes, milling machines, shapers and welding plants. The school was run by an ex-naval officer, Commander Tyzack, in true military style.

The Everly Brothers – ‘Wake Up Little Suzie’  1957
What are we gonna tell your mama?
What are we gonna tell your pa?
What we gonna tell our friends when they say Ooh-la-laâ?

One day, Shagger Sherris and Bobby Evans, another North Ormesby lad, had a disagreement that ended in a fist fight in the machine workshop. They were hauled up to the office. The rest of us apprentices were sure they would get the sack. After what seemed like an age, both lads emerged from the office, each with a hacksaw, a file, a micrometre and a cylindrical piece of mild steel 50mm in diameter. They were instructed to make a one-inch cube with a tolerance of plus or minus 5 thou from the steel bar using the three tools alone.

The pair worked on the same bench for days with the files and hacksaws then took their finished cubes along with a micrometre to the head instructor. He promptly threw both cubes in the bin!

‘Don’t you want to check them sir?” said Bobby, handing him the micrometre.

“No,” he replied. “Not necessary!”

Connie Francis – ‘Who’s Sorry Now?’  1958
Right to the end, just like a friend
I tried to warn you somehow
You had your way, now you must pay
I’m glad that you’re sorry now

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  1. One thousand of an inch