Building the Factories

Excerpts from a recording by Roy Garlick.Recording made by Mr Roy Garlick, Chairman of Garlicks Limited the building contractors of Coventry on the 17th July, 1968. Mr Garlick begins by describing his early experiences in building industry in Coventry.

The building that I went to do was the one opposite the Standard Cinema which was the building on the corner of the – Fletchamstead Highway and – Tile Hill Lane. It was for the Standard Motor Company and it was built – originally as a as a spare parts repair depot and showroom – and – at that time the – steel work was of – the building itself was two hundred and fifty foot wide and it had one centre column and one on either side – and – it had simply two spans and the trusses were hung from the centre beam on either side so that the valley was situated – halfway between the two main beams and this design was used on a number of factories which I did – prior and during the war – which were for the same architect and for the Standard Motor Company. – The roof construction – was wood purlings – timber boards and – and asbestos tiles on lath. These asbestos tiles gave a tremendous a lot of trouble and when felt was introduced – these roofs were all stripped off and they were felted – the gutters were ashfelt, – the – walls were brick and they were in cement and sand and I think it was round about that time when cement and sand was being used for factory building – to the exclusion of lime which had previously been the – principal material that we’ve used particularly on housing but but – and housing – used lime long after industrial – builders were using cement and sand. The floors were concrete – I can’t remember – I think we also at that time started to use the first reinforcement as we know – sheet reinforcement today, it was actually in rolls at that time – it was delivered in rolls of – I think they were sixty feet, I think they were sixty feet rolls. – It was some years later before they introduced the – sheet which – has now almost exclusively – – replaced the roll fabric, yes I feel convinced that floors then were reinforced and they were finished off with an inch and a half of grananetic – otherwise the – the roofs that I mentioned were equally – they were at 45 degree-roofs with glazing in two areas on each side which made – a completely modern type of building it was the first really modern building that that – I had ever been connected with and I think it was one of the most modern buildings in the country because – immediately after this building and only a small distance from it, a little nearer the railway in Fletchamstead Highway, I was – the firm was instructed to do the first Shadow Factory in Coventry – and this factory was for the Standard Motor Company and it was for the same architect and the construction was similar, the only difference being in the main that it was on a fairly  considerable slope and that we had a basement to half the building whereas the – the what was ground floor level at the front was first floor level at the back because – of the fall in the ground – but the, this was a steel frame building – and there was a large concrete retaining wall with a with a foot – which was – introduced between the earth that remained and the basement area – this – wall, the shuttering was – completely – of wood, the only metal that was used – was bolts, all struts and everything at that time was still – wood and it was and it was boards and not plywood of course, – The floor was – main beams I think at twenty two foot centres with intermediate steelwork I think at centres of seven foot four and then we had sea board hollow beams which rested on a nedger? plate on the intermediate steel and on which – was granalettic – which of course was also on the – solid floor over the – filled in area or the solid area of the of the site. – We worked-seven days a week – on the building – we worked by artificial light as it was – in the winter months that – the latter part of the building was done – the first building was again two hundred and fifty foot wide and I think that it was – somewhere between five and six hundred feet long with a basement of approximately half the length but not quite the full width the whole way. – In the basement was all the services such as-transformers, sub-stations, boiler house,-maintenance areas and such like. – This – as I say the this was artificially lit to allow us to work in the in the dark and it was the that had been artificially lit in this area to enable work to continue after dark. – Its – I remember that this first job was executed at that, time in four months – I went back and did an extension about twelve months afterwards to this factory, – which was rather larger – and it had connecting corridors to-the – existing shop – and that took me six months but the – at this time I was achieving building at a far faster rate than I I’ve ever achieved in my life since. Though there wasn’t a lot of mechanical – aid – the amount of labour, the hours that you could work and the output of the men enabled work to be produced at an incredible speed, and – the longer time’s gone on the longer it takes to do a building. – I consider that though we have – such a lot of first- class plant these days – it would probably take three times as long to produce the same job. (mm) – – After this – building I went to – Tile Hill at the corner of Torrington Avenue and, I think it was  Cromwell Lane, and did a building of approximately the same size. This was being built for Fisher and Ludlow but it was under – Standard were the Company planning and therefore as far as I was concerned it was under the same architect and under the same control. – This – building was built – immediately after the First Shadow Factory – I finished the Technical College in 1935, I think that I did the first the first – job for the Standard Motor Company and that was finished in June and I started on the – first Shadow Factory in June which would be June 1936 and that was finished to all intents and purposes by the end of the year. I then moved to this factory for Fisher and Ludlow at the corner of Torrington Avenue in Tile Hill and that took me about six months to – complete – I then came back and took the second half or rather larger portion of the Shadow Factory on and that I think would take me to about the end of 1937. There was then a lapse as far as I was concerned of a short while – when I didn’t undertake another of this type of factory. – When doing the – factory at Tile Hill a mechanical plant was very much more in evidence. The first dumpers – were hired – by me to – do that work we had a  number of diggers of our own at that time but we were hiring more – for the excavation – and it was at the end of that job when we bought a number of dumpers of our own they were Muir Hill – dumpers of two yard capacity. – Some of the dumpers which we hired from Cowin – for the Tile Hill factory were – two and a half and I think the largest was three cubic yards. – The – I think that – most of the pumping on the job there may have been a  mechanical pump though I can’t remember it I think they were all hand operated – of the ordinary – hog – mut? hog type – we were still using – skips and rails – for the concreting the concrete mixers hadn’t changed – in – type – apart from the plant being – less of a prototype the types hadn’t changed to any large degree. – Then there was a – a slight – spasm when I hadn’t got any major job on -, and then war was imminent and I went to start on the Banner Lane factory – for-both the same architect and for the Standard Motor Company – and the design was to be the same again – I took over the site in June at Banner Lane and it was all – fields and hedges and – the crops were growing in the fields. The first – requirement – was to – put in the people to clear the hedges and the trees and this was done – to a large past by steam – tractors the type of tractor that you use for – driving the fairs and that kind of thing and they used their winches for pulling out the – trees and the hedges and – – that was the type of that was used for that. – Then we had a sloping site and at the top back corner there was – when the levels were – studied, it was decided to excavate to about a depth to floor level of fourteen feet and that the lowest diagonal corner the make up would be about ten feet – the rest of the – spoil from the – there was more much more dig than there was fill and of course in any case – you get a lot more out of trenches for drains and – trenches for walls, there was a tremendous amount of underground shelters along the – perimeter of each of the main machine shops which made a lot of excavation – and if that other excavation was put – to the side between the – factory and – Broad Lane, that’s right Broad Lane – there was also – it had its own sewage plant – on the job because there was no sewers in that area at that time, the storm water off all these roofs and the tremendous amount of road area – needed some large drains to take care of it apart from the fact that the test houses at the back were to use a water test for one of the tests and they were going to use a tremendous amount of water which had to be allowed for and these – were concrete pipes the main outflow were 42” diameter concrete pipes. Unfortunately they weren’t either reinforced at all or they weren’t adequately reinforced – and the mount of fill that had t o be put on top on top of them crushed them so that they became somewhat eliptical – and I think they were the first spun concrete pipes that I had ever seen and I think that it was at that time that they were first introduced – and that is why that – some of the things that happened to those pipes were subsequently wouldn’t you wouldn’t expect to happen, they were more or less prototype. – The excavation was – was quite – the latest thing that there was there – I previously hadn’t seen – it done – and though it must have been done in a smaller way I think this was the first major – contract that was done by caterpillar scrapers – caterpillar tractors and scrapers that’s where I’d gone wrong that’s why I couldn’t – and there were fourteen of these massive machines – brought to Banner Lane. The reason that – we sub-let this excavation everything in connection with Banner Lane as previously with the Shadow Factories had to be done in this greater – at as great a speed as possible and we let this excavation out to one of the specialist excavation firms and they had just bought this American plant and – it was introduced into this country on this – job and the speed with which this work was able to be carried out by this new equipment compared with anything that we had previously had for coping with excavation was absolutely incredible – it was worked day and night – and the – excavation was – shifted in a very quick time. – One of the other machines that was used on that job – was I think – its first inception and that was the continuous bucking? digger for trench work. – We had two on that job and – I’d never seen that type of equipment either before. The rest of the drains were dug by a Rushton Busirus? type of machine – with – back actor? equipment and other smaller excavation jobs were done – with the – ordinary shovel on the – a Rushton Busirus – digger. – We still were using the wood roof – we’d started with – whether – I can’t be quite sure whether we started to put asbestos tiles on the roof and then we had an opportunity to change to felt – just after the war started I’m not quite sure. They certainly ended up by being felt roofs this was the first time that I d had anything to do with felt roofs they were still ashfelt gutters-but it was the first time that I had seen felt roof being particularly used on – in such a major way – and – almost immediately we’d done it all the glass in the roofs had to be taken out and replaced by plywood boards and they were quite a novelty at that time. Unfortunately they weren’t proper resin bond – boards as we know them today and they didn’t stand up too well to the weather and all through the war until we could put glass back in the roofs again – they caused a lot of trouble and nearly all the other factories where that I’d put glass in I had t o go and take the glass out of those and introduce – bombs as well – and of course all the roofs had to be camouflage painted and some of the camouflage paints did a lot more damage than others they did damage to both ashfelt roofs and to the felt roofs – and t o the ashfelt gutters. – Some of the colours that we used were very destructive, others didn’t seem to make a lot of difference -The site at Banner Lane was eighty eight acres and we built on – on it – a factory – which consisted of a large office block two hundred and fifty feet wide by I think a hundred and forty, I’m not absolutely certain of the figure but I think that was what it was – two storey – to two sides and the front, with the centre section – one storey – which was still offices – office area. Behind that came an unloading bay of forty four foot wide then the – then there were a number of bays of four forty four foot wide fifty feet span – and I think the measurement the distance from the coverquay? to the back of the main shops was just over six hundred feet – it was multiples of forty four feet or twenty two which was a half bay to the to the . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . – Because I think it started with a half bay and finished with a half bay so it would still be forty four. – Then there were three of these main shops and one shop of the same length but half the width. Behind that was a service road – there was a road parting each of the main shops and on the two outsides as well – down the sides of the road were all the lavatory blocks and service blocks – small Foremen’s offices and the normal outbuildings, – consistent with – machine shops, Behind were the main service buildings, there was a garage – there were surgeries there were sub stations – maintenance – buildings and such like. Behind – that was another road and then were the main test houses – were situated. Behind that was another service road. On the back right hand side was the main boiler house – which was the deepest excavation job I’ve ever undertaken, as the boilers were very high but to enable the ash to be drawn off – from the boilers there was this very deep basement also that they needed the depth because the lorries came in and tipped pulverised – coal onto a grid- and, it fed down the hoppers below the – floor level and then were – returned to top elevator hoppers by conveyors and therefore you had a – a very deep excavation for these Babcock and Wilcock boilers. – The same plant – if it was done today would probably be oil and not coal.

(This is the end of Mr Garlick’s tape but there follows a summary of the information he gave us later.  Continuing the story of the construction of the Banner Lane factory Mr Garlick said that the numbers of his own men working on the factory amounted to eight hundred to one thousand. There were also three hundred and fifty to four hundred men in the employ of subcontractors. The factory took about twelve months to complete. The speed at which production was begun can be judged by the facts that the floors were being laid before the roofs were in place and that machines were being laid out in the roof part of one shop before the rest of the shop was finished. The work was done on a contract from the Air Ministry with T J Meakin as the architect. The electricity sub station built for the factory handled more power than was needed at the time for the whole of Rugby. Garlick then discussed problems of war labour and materials. At the beginning of the war since work on housing had stopped and the only other building being done was shelters, labour was plentiful. Mr Garlick could remember many men on the site in the mornings looking for work. Materials were delivered direct to the site in a fleet of lorries. Since Banner Lane was a priority job, materials were not difficult to come by. A representative of the suppliers actually on the site would phone through to his office for what was required and it would often be on the site next day. One great influence on building at the time was the release of flettens bricks, normally used in house building for industrial use).