First weekly wage £2.6s.6d

Vale Works, Vale Road, Portslade in Aug 2012 | Photo by Alan Phillips
Vale Works, Vale Road, Portslade in Aug 2012
Photo by Alan Phillips

Starting work at 15

I began my working life, aged just over 15 years, when I joined MB Metals on Thursday 2nd April 1964, having left school at Easter, as you were then able to do if you were 15 before 1st February. I started work as a probationer in an assembly shop on the 1st floor of the Vale Works, prior to becoming an indentured engineering apprentice on 1st January 1965. I had aspirations of becoming a Tool Maker as they earned around £20 – £21 a week, a very good wage at that time. I signed the indenture papers one evening after work, with both of my parents present and my father was asked to pay the 10s – 0d (50p) stamp duty/registration fee, which he was not expecting.

Weekly wage £2.6s.6d

I imagine I must have been one of the very last people in the country who left school at 15, with no GCE’s, yet was able to become an engineering apprentice and be accepted at Brighton Technical College on their day release ONC course. My first weekly wage packet, for a 44 hour working week, was £2 – 6s – 6d (£2 – 32½p), paid in cash every Thursday. One of the older men in the assembly rooms would greet us all every morning with a very mournful; “Roll on ha’ past five”. Not particularly encouraging for a 15 year old who was excited at the prospect of starting work and earning some money of his own. I am now 63 and say to myself most mornings; “Roll on ha’ past four”.

Joke on a fellow worker

In the September of 1964 I was transferred to a small machine shop on the ground floor of the Vale Road building where the foreman, Jim Saunders, was thought to be involved with the British Communist Party. I remember him as a kind man who drove a Reliant three wheeler. A week or so after he traded it in for a brand new one, a couple of us jacked the new one up (actually we lifted it up!) and put some bricks under the rear axle. It took Jim ages to realise why he didn’t move each time after he had repeatedly made sure he was in gear and carefully let the clutch out, while the two of us laughed hysterically from a suitable hiding place. He must have known who did it, but never mentioned the incident at work afterwards.

Remembering old workmates

A short time after I joined the machine shop the national engineering employee’s working week was reduced to 40 hours. The Vale Road works manager at that time was Reg Phillips (no relation) and his boss was Bill Merritt, who oversaw the Wellington Road factory as well. The only other names I remember from my time in the machine shop are; Kay something, the receptionist/nurse/secretary; Geoff Hazledean (a general machinist who to me was really experienced even though at the time he was just 23 years old); Allan Clarke (another general machinist whose nylon socks I would one day melt with my lighter whilst they were still on his feet); Wally who was a grinding specialist.

Remembering other trainees

The trainees I remember are Julian Nicholas, Peregrine Saul (a rocker who rode a 200cc Triumph Tiger Cub and had a Dalek outlined in studs on the back of his leather jacket) and Colin Pronger from Southwick, with whom I became quite good friends. It transpired that all of our parents already knew each other from their younger days. Sadly, I lost touch with Colin after I left MB Metals but I did hear that he’d joined the police force some time later, and that later still he may have moved to Singapore. In total I served around 15 months in the Vale Road machine shop before transferring for a 6 month stint in the Tool Room at the Wellington Road factory.

Comments about this page

  • I worked for MB Metals in the late ’50s, cannot remember exact date. Was on the 2nd. floor on Vale Road in the inspection section. If I remember correctly we inspected bomb release mechanisms. One name I can remember is Robin Payne

    By Robert Clarke (12/01/2013)
  • For those of you who may have wondered about the comment above; Allan Clarke used to take of his shoes and sit on the work bench at tea-break while he read the newspaper. One of the others (Geoff Hazledean, I think it was) didn’t need to give me much encouragement to crawl along behind the bench and warm Allan’s toes with my lighter. Unfortunately though, his nylon socks began to melt; something no one had bargained for! I recall being dumped head first into a pile of snow for that some time later when he caught me off guard. On another occasion I set light to the newspaper while he was reading it and got chewing gum pressed into my hair for my efforts! The Good Old Days! What would the Health and Safety Dep’t have to say about such behaviour today?

    By Alan Phillips (04/04/2013)
  • I worked in all of MB’s Portslade factories between 1964 and 1968. I also remember Mick Wyre a toolmaker/grinder at Wellington road and Wally the grinder who was nicknamed the weasel. We put stink bombs in his Morris Minor one evening when he was giving a young girl a lift home. This was the worst factory I ever worked at for practical jokers, no one was safe from them!

    By Julian Saul (18/10/2013)
  • Alan – you must be one of the most prolific contributors to My Brighton and Hove, keep it up. However, you can see the value of GCEs as I started at MBM as a trainee in 1961 and was awarded the grand wage of £4.25 and day release, which was extremely valuable as you know.

    By Rodger Olive (18/06/2016)
  • Rodger, nice to hear from you again and please give my regards, once again, to your brother Keith. If he’s down this way sometime perhaps we could meet up? I retired on 1 April this year (April Fool’s Day!), making exactly 52 years since I began work as a probationer on the said £2-6s-6d a week at MB Metals, on 2 Apr 1964. By the time I actually became an apprentice however, in January 1965, I seem to recall being on something around £4 an hour; I cannot properly remember the exact amount now. From memory MB Metals used to be quite a good company to work for – made even better most probably by the people we used to work alongside. I certainly have fond memories from that time.

    By Alan Phillips (19/06/2016)
  • Hi Alan. I guess being on £4 an hour would have made you one of the really rich kids. I am guessing you meant a week. Yes MBM was a good company –  Mike Lanham the MD was a very visible and friendly guy.  As I have posted elsewhere I would actually pay to do the stuff I was doing then.  It was so much fun, not like work at all.   During my time there I did all of the metallurgy and testing of a large number of thermocouples for Nuclear Power stations which were destined for Tokaimura in Japan and Trawsfynydd  in North Wales. You probably remember the clean room in Vale Road and us in our white suits.  Many years later as a sales manager I actually sold a massive data logging system to Traws to monitor the very same TC’s.  Completing the circle I guess.

    By Rodger Olive (21/06/2016)
  • Rodger, you spotted my deliberate mistake! It was intended to be £4.00 per week. For the last 40 something years, as a self-employed person, I was effectively paid on an hourly basis, so suppose the mistake was easy to make. That’s my excuse anyway.

    By Alan Phillips (21/06/2016)

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