1st Year Engineering Apprentices

Correctly identified

The School Road Engineering Training School was correctly identified by ex Kearney & Trecker apprentice Michael Brittain on the recent page “Mystery Photos of Brighton and Hove”, which you can find here. It was really well spotted by him after the passage of nearly 40 years, and good to then remember back to the 1970’s when the facility provided practical training for hundreds of local lads, in basic engineering skills.

1964 Industrial Training Act

Poor training had been identified as a cause of Britain’s tame post-war economic performance; this led the Conservative government to implement the 1964 Industrial Training Act.  The act had 3 objectives; to enable training to be better related to economic needs; to improve the quality of industrial training; and to spread the cost of training more fairly.

Brighton Technical College

The facility in School Road was an annexe of Brighton Technical College.  Probably the School Road annexe came about due to the 1964 Industrial Training Act.  I’ve spoken to ex-apprentices who started in the late 1960s, and they recall that everything was brand new when they started; so it seem likely that it came about due to the 1964 legislation.  As a 1st year fully indentured Kearney & Trecker apprentice I started there in September 1970.

1st year apprentices

The 1st year youngsters were mostly apprenticed to local manufacturers; ITT Creed, Allen West, CVA/Kearney & Trecker, Metal Box, Parker Pen, HPC, etc, who sent their lads to Brighton Technical College.  At Kearney & Trecker there were 3 types of apprentice, Craft, Technician and Student.  Craft apprentices spent 3 days each week doing practical work at School Road, while the other 2 days, and 1 evening were spent doing theory at the Preston Road Annexe.  Technician and student apprentices had a slightly different programme, with more time spent on theory!

Facilities and exams

The facilities at School Road were excellent and included, sheet metal, machining, precision fitting, and electrical wiring. The practical training followed a City & Guilds syllabus, as did the theory at Preston Road, with both practical and written exams at the end of the first year.  It appears from my indenture agreement, dated May 1971, that perhaps the Company were hedging their bets, until I had passed the first year exams?  The length of apprenticeship was until the 20th birthday, in my case only 3 ½ years, although for some younger lads it would be more than 4 years.

Rates of pay

Having started at School Road in September 1970, although £sd was the currency, decimal coins were being phased in.  From 1968 the shillings and florins were being replaced by new 5p and 10p coins, gradually others were phased in and the old phased out. I remember that Kearney & Trecker had a ’rounding’ system for pay; a 1st year apprentice received either £4 -14/- or £4 – 4/-, in cash, in a paper envelope.  The Portland Road factory was just along the road, and we would walk along from School Road every Thursday to collect our wages. 

Working conditions

The working conditions for apprentices were superb, with new machines, a spotlessly clean shop floor; health and safety was of paramount importance, as was good housekeeping; everything had its place at the end of the day.  This, and the requirement for meticulous fine detail, rubbed off on me in every way.  A small canteen was provided, where tea and cheese rolls could be purchased, although the proprietor had to withstand mickey taking from the young lads.  We had just learnt to read the precision micrometer, and all agreed that he cut the cheese so thin, and then measured it with the micrometer to ensure it was thin enough to be tasteless. Unions, seemingly, played no part in the life of a 1st year apprentice, although in reality our structured wages were due to the Amalgamated Engineering Union.

Blockbuster movies of 1970/71

After work, a few lads would sometimes go to the ABC Granada cinema, just down on the corner of Portland Road, Catch 22, Shaft, M*A*S*H, and Kelly’s Heroes were all the latest blockbuster movie releases I loved to watch.  With the matinee starting soon after lunch, but no set time for joining the continuous movie reel, it was possible to go in soon after our 5.30pm finish, and stay for the rest of the evening.

Business travel

Thanks to the training I received, I’ve enjoyed steady employment in engineering for the past 40 years.  I’ve also been lucky enough to travel widely on company business. On a recent trip to the Far East, I boarded the Cathy Pacific 747 dreading the long uncomfortable 13-hour flight to Hong Kong.  I scanned through the in-flight movies, none of the new releases took my fancy. I flicked over to the classic library; ah, Get Carter, a 1971 classic.  I ordered a glass of red wine, got myself as comfortable as possible, and pressed the play button! 

Comments about this page

  • The instructor in the photo is Mr Barr.

    By Michael Brittain (12/04/2011)
  • Nice contribution Peter and looking down the list of K & T apprentices was also a nice reminder of the times. In the photos the instructors look like Mr Barr and Mr Woodhouse respectively, also those milling machines look so small compared to the machines we found when we moved to the K & T factory. The story about the School Road canteen made me laugh as I thought the cheese in the rolls was as thin as cigarette paper too. I seem to remember that the man who ran the School Road canteen was called Ron. Peter, I see that the photos are from Gil Percy, if you are still in contact with him; send my regards please.

    By Michael Brittain (12/04/2011)
  • You have a brilliant memory Mick, the faces of the two instructors I remembered, but not the names! Now you have reminded me, I do remember ‘Woodhouse’ but not ‘Barr’. As young lads the machines looked awesome, but by the time we got to the factory, I think it was soon forgotten or not even considered, its only now when I look at the photos I think “were they really that small, more like model making machines”. The truth is somewhere between, they did a job, to teach young lads how to cut metal, but not suitable for the size of components we had at K&T! It reminds me of another story about Brighton Technical College and K&T. Probably I was in the last year, which went past my 20th birthday, and was at Richmond Place. K&T had a big input into the college, because they had so many apprentices there at any one time. Apparently they had complained that the lads were only being taught how to take tiddly cuts, and not being shown the true capability of the machines. Anyway during an evening class, the lecturer set up a large lathe in the Richmond Place workshop, to take a cut 1″ deep at a feedrate so fierce that the swarf came off thick, red hot and quickly filled the workshop with smoke. The lathe screeched and ground to a halt and we had to quickly evacuate the workshop! Of course all the lads nipped round to the pub, I think it was the Freebutt, although it may have had a different name, while the smoke dispersed! Yes still in touch with Gil, speak to him on the phone, he would love to hear from any of his young lads. He actually did such a good job on so many, and had a big influence on us all!

    By Peter Groves (13/04/2011)
  • Thanks for that. As always they never could spell my name right. There’s a few names there that I remember: Mr. Bates, Alan Langridge who was a QA manager last I heard, Peter Jackson and Steve Newnham. Remember the fairy liquid bottles used for Suds, and how they became a weapon in the constant battle of who could do what to whom i.e. take the top off and turn upside down into the overalls’ pocket! And Stevet Newnham who smashed the big glass pen and ink thing on the instructors desk in the electrical training room. Happy days!!! TC

    By Tony Coomber (05/10/2011)
  • The instructor in the white coat I believe is Mr Woodhouse.

    By Michael Brittain (25/11/2012)
  • The School Road Engineering Training School has just been demolished, so it is really good that we have this documented before it is forgotten for good!

    By Mr Peter Groves (03/07/2019)

Add a comment about this page

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *