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The Dark Side

Wages in 1961 for my 2nd year were 2 shillings and 3 pence per hour (around 45 cents). After tax and other deductions I brought home £2 17 shillings, and 6 pence (about $10.50). We worked 44 hours over 5 1/2 days. The last hour on Friday was used for sharpening and tool clean up. Saturday morning was mostly for “Government” jobs and the making of shop aids. Each year at the Woodworking Show at Earls Court we would be given a cute little knick knack of some kind by a trade rep. which would become the pattern for shop built Xmas presents for all the employees, including the owners, and their family members. One year it was a small teak jewelery box; another year a puzzle in the shape of the Eiffel Tower. These gifts were normally a mass production thing that would be broken down into small components so each individual did a specific task and then a joint effort to assemble, finish and wrap to go under the company Xmas tree. Of course it was all done on Saturday mornings!

The pay scale, and hours of work were a small part of the overall apprentice agreement. At that time the trade apprenticeships were organized by trade guilds and overseen by the Government.

My apprenticeship was made available by the London Federation of Master Builders and consisted of a 5 year term to be completed on my 21st. birthday. During those 5 years, I had to attend technical college 1 day a week which I got paid for. I also had to attend 1 evening a week in my own time. If I missed the evening, I lost the pay for the 1 day. Miss 2 consecutive weeks without a really good reason and you could be thrown out of your apprenticeship. The 1 day was a long one. Starting at 9:00am and finishing at 9:00pm with 2 one hour meal breaks. We took building science, building math, technical drawing, building construction and social studies, as well as a 4 hour practical session in the well-equipped workshop. All practical work was hand tools. The math and social studies, which included English, were the evening class and mostly concentrated on estimating, bills of quantities and general correspondence of a technical nature. We were examined every semester and annually. At the, halfway mark we set the Craft exam for the City and Guilds Examination board and if successfully then went on to achieve a full C&G trade certificate with the final exam that was sat at completion of apprenticeship. This would then hopefully lead to further study to become a “Borough Surveyor” (City Engineer) or a General Foreman. Or we could just carry on being a “Chippy.” Continued