John Webb worked for Walker Brothers (Wigan) Ltd. from 1941 to 1947, and has kindly written down and shared with us some of his memories of working for the company. We will be posting extracts from John’s memoirs over the next few weeks, starting with this week’s post on how his time at the company began. Enjoy!
“My time at Walker Brothers of Wigan began in September 1941, when I signed up to become a drawing office apprentice.
At that time Walker Brothers (Wigan) Ltd. was a private family firm under the control of 4 cousins; Barty, Archie, Dick and Major Walker. Barty covered colliery machinery, Archie rail cars and Dick cranes and wagons, with Major Walker as managing director. He was also chairman of governors at Wigan Mining College. The firm gained provenance in the colliery field, where Walker ‘indestructible’ fans were a feature of most collieries around the Wigan area. Walker Brothers’ fans also ventilated the Severn and Mersey Tunnels.
My father, Ted Webb, worked at ICI and he called on the good offices of the works manager to ask Major Walker, of Walker Brothers, if he would take on his son. An interview was arranged in August 1941 and, after a tour of the works, I was accepted as an apprentice. Major Walker was very understanding – he would not ask a premium since there was a war on – but of course the apprentices would receive no pay. A good conduct bonus of 5/- per week would be paid at the management’s discretion. The first month, on trial, no good conduct money was payable.
I reported to the chief draughtsman at Walker Brothers, Joe Worthington, who was busy in his office with a FLIT gun, killing flies. My first job was in the print room making blueprints. The print room was about 8ft square and contained a machine consisting of a 2ft diameter glass cylinder, which was 5ft long on a pivot. A draughtsman would hand me a drawing and order a thick or thin blue paper (thick printing paper for rough handling in the works, thin to be mailed to the client to minimise postage costs). I would lay the drawing face down on the horizontal glass, with a sheet of printing paper on top of it. The cylinder was then rotated upright and a carbon arc lamp was lowered down the cylinder to transfer the drawing details to the print paper. This turned the paper blue. I then took it to a large slop stone to wash away the printing surface, thereby developing the blueprint. Finally I would take the wringing wet blueprint over to the boiler room to hang it on the pipes to dry, and then return it to the draughtsman.
My second job was in the strong room, which was a bomb proof and fire proof building where the drawings were kept safe. In the strong room there would be a stack of drawings waiting to be filed into numerical order. I saw this as a dead end job and asked to be put in the drawing office. The drawing office was staffed by 20 men, 10 apprentices and 5 tracers. There I had to practise writing in Indian ink in block capitals before being trusted to do a real drawing, which was usually a copy. Silence was paramount in the drawing office and I was told off after a few days for whistling!”