I was born in Oldfield Road, Chapelfields in 1942. Many of the men who lived in our road worked at the Standard as it was only a short walk across Hearsall Common to the Canley factory.
During the late 1940s, 50s and 60s, the Standard was known for the high wages that were paid mainly due to the trades unions who constantly fought for greater rewards and improved conditions for workers. You could usually tell if someone worked at the Standard: there was often a new Vanguard or Standard 10 parked in the road outside! The shop stewards and union convenors were all powerful in those days.
The father of my best friend as a boy, whom I met when I was four and who lived just three doors away, worked in the publicity department and arranged a visit to the Canley and Banner Lane works for us as young boys. I remember seeing many of my neighbours working in various parts of the two factories.
His name was Tom Lawson and I found his name on your site. His son David started work at the Standard when he left school in 1957 and worked there until the factory finally closed in the early 1980s. His name is David Lawson and we met up again last year after nearly 30 years and still get together for a drink quite often. We often went to Standard club in Tile Hill Lane in the 1960s, played snooker there and went to the Saturday evening dance and bingo sessions. I couldn’t find his name on your lists, strangely. (He is on now Alan, ask him to get in touch too – ED) The club is still open, we went there a few weeks ago.
I started work in 1958 as an apprentice with Alfred Herbert and stayed there until 1968 when the business started to fail and large parts were facing closure. We were taught how to use machines and I did a lot of grinding. Time keeping and discipline were very strict and you had to clock in and out. You were expected to work bell to bell. You couldn’t leave before time unless you had a ‘pass out’. Having been married earlier that year with the usual expenses, I needed a job and that was when I applied for a job at the Standard and was offered one in the machine shop that produced crankshafts. These were fitted into the four and six cylinder engines which powered the Herald Triumph, 1300, Spitfire, Vitesse, GT6, TR4 and Triumph 2000 models that were being built at that time.
I remember my first day very well. I was dreading starting a new job, but I was pleasantly surprised when the men in the gang that I was put on making the four cylinder cranks were all very friendly and helpful. It wasn’t always like that in those days. The machine shop was so different to what I had been used to. Conveyors ran throughout the shop carrying dozens of racks of 8 crankshafts in various stages of completion. I was given the ‘topping and tailing’ grinding operations to start with, simple operations so different to the precision work that I had been trained to do. At break time I was offered a cup of tea and no one could have been kinder.
The chargehand’s name was Tommy Meek, a big softly spoken man, who, when he saw my tool box, told me that all I needed here (at the Standard) was a cup for my tea and a pencil to sign my payslip on a Thursday. Apart from decent wages, there was overtime available which boosted your weekly take home pay considerably. Finishing time was 4.00pm and that is when I expected to go home. At about 2.00 in the afternoon, the man on the machine next to me came over and said that when I had finished the next rack of 8 cranks, I had got ‘my day in’ and not to do any more. I was amazed, but it was true and everybody stopped work and many just disappeared. The same man then told me that about 3.30pm, I would see everyone putting their coats on and leaving to go home. I was amazed, having been used to strictly controlled leaving times and thought that this was some sort of joke on a new boy. But it wasn’t, and sure enough by 3.30 almost everyone had gone. When I questioned it the next day, I was told that they let the ‘tracks’ go home when the day’s production target had been reached so now everyone did it.
The second week, I was asked if I wanted to work an hour’s overtime each night Monday to Thursday. I naturally said I did, so I was told to do an extra two racks of cranks and then go home, which could usually be achieved well before the 4 o’clock finishing time. One man stayed behind each evening and clocked everyone out 5 o’clock and you were paid an hour’s overtime. This went on for well over a year with the finishing times getting steadily earlier until some were seen leaving ad early as 2 o’clock. There was a story going around that a manager had seen an employee he knew in Coventry city centre early one afternoon and when his clock card was checked, he had been clocked out at 5.00pm!
It is difficult to believe that the management was unaware of what was going on, but the practice of leaving early ceased soon after. I think the management felt that it had gone too far! However in our shop, the required number of quality precision crankshafts were produced each day, a credit to those who worked in conditions that probably would not be tolerated today. The work was hard, repetitive and many men carried out exactly the same operations day after day, week after week, year after year. The main thing that made it tolerable being the fat wage packet paid every week. For the first time in my life, I had to work on the nightshift. I remember the first night very well. I walked into the shop, it was the same place but all the men were different as most worked a permanent nightshift. But they had the same welcoming attitude that made a very long night bearable. Fortunately I didn’t have to work nights that often.
Part two to follow.
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