I was born in April 1930 and was brought up in Shepshed. Initially I went to the Church of England School there but having passed my scholarship, I went to Loughborough College School even though my parents couldn’t really afford it. I had five years there, during the Second World War, travelling backwards and forwards everyday by school bus. About 100 or 150 yards along Frederick Street, from its junction with Ashby Road was an iron gate on the right hand side. If you went through, there were the school huts. These temporary buildings housed a number of classrooms where we were taught. We also shared the facilities in Loughborough College which was where Sainsbury’s is now; assemblies were held in the Frederick Street Church.
I took and passed the London School Certificate Examination, but being aware of the fact that my parents were not well off I decided to leave, instead of continuing my education. My father wrote a letter to the school headmaster, Mr. (Alfred T) Eggington, who the pupils both feared and revered. If you wanted to see the headmaster you had to queue up after assembly. I remember him reading the letter, he was not very pleased because I think he had me down as one his hopefuls. Initially he made out that he wouldn’t help me obtain employment; however, not very long afterwards he called for me and I went down to his study. There he informed me that if I really wanted to leave, then there was an opportunity at Messenger & Co. If I wished I could go for an interview, and if both of us were happy, he prepared to let me leave. At the time I didn’t know anything about Messenger’s, so Mr. Eggington explained to me what they did.
I then went down to the Cumberland Road site and was interviewed by Mr. Kenneth Burder. He explained the work to me and that I would be working in the drawing office on 10s. per week. They took me on and I started on my 16th birthday. They were a very old fashioned family concern and in retrospect I’m surprised that I stayed with them as long as I did. I was working for a Mr. A. T. Walsh, who lived in (No 11) Burton Street; he was approaching retirement age and was prominent in one of the non-conformist churches in Loughborough. Whilst he was a little strict he was never hard on me. We shared an office looking out over the Cumberland Road playing fields.
My job was to go out to a customer’s site and then come back and draw up the drawings, whether conservatories, greenhouses or heating system. During my time there, they were still producing both the sectional Quorn and the smaller Loughborough boiler. Quorn boilers were sent to site as separate sections and we would send a fitter and his mate to site build the boiler using nipples to connect the sections together.
Someone, I believe Mr. Kenneth Burder, had over-ordered the 5th edition (c.1925) of the catalogue, either adding one or two zeros to the end with no one spotting the error. Even into the 1950s whenever Messenger’s received a letter from a potential customer, Mr. Burder, the Managing Director would come into the office and ask Mr. Walsh to send out a catalogue. I was quite happy there, as they never really interfered with me. I remember a lot of them were stored upstairs above the offices.
I continued working there until it was my time to do my 2-years National Service, which was delayed slightly as I was in my apprenticeship. I finally joined-up in October 25th 1949 and was assigned to the Army Medical Core spending my whole time, after initial training, at the Army Head Injuries Unit in Oxford.
After I was demobbed, I returned to Messenger’s and I will never forget the morning I started back. I cycled to work, left my bike in the narrow alleyway, walked down the long passage with the offices on either side and I thought to myself, 2 years had passed by and not a thing had changed. I half expected that my pencil was still in the same place. I was first in the office and I stood looking out of the office windows and I saw Mr. Walsh arrive on his push bike. He came in and I don’t remember whether he shook my hand, or said hello, but he soon pointed me to my stool. I seriously considered turning round and walking out. I couldn’t believe that I had returned to what, after the hectic two years in the Army, appeared to be a boring humdrum life that I’d left before joining the Army. However, I took the view that here was a job for me and it was at that point I decided I wanted to start training. Messenger’s were not a go-ahead firm and there was no-one on their staff or in the works that went to any form of further education. I realised that I had no real qualifications apart from my school examinations and I decided that I wanted a day a week further education. I decided to approach Mr. Walsh, who interpreted it as meaning that it was going cost the firm money and that they might not be very keen He passed me onto Mr. Burder; I can’t remember whether I spoke to Mr. Kenneth Burder or his son Mr. Derek Burder, but they agreed to let me go on day release. I went to Loughborough College in Ashby Road and went through the whole course and passed the National Certificate in engineering exam. I then realised that although Messenger’s called themselves heating engineers, they didn’t really do any advanced heating engineering. I then went to night classes in Nottingham, taking heating engineering courses and took the exam for Membership of the Institution of Heating and Ventilating Engineers, which I passed. At some point I decided that there was no future for me at Messenger’s.
To my recollection there was only one family living in the two houses at the entrance to Messenger’s site – Harry Smith, he had a daughter and a son. He always used to walk around with his hands in his pockets and I had the feeling that both Kenneth and Derek Burder were almost afraid of him. He’d been with the Company, such a long time; he knew every nook and cranny. There just the two of us in the drawing office working on the horticultural and heating side. When Mr. Walsh retired, I took over and my brother-in-law, Fred Burton, who lived at Shepshed, joined the firm. When I left he took over from me. Beside the horticultural and heating departments there was an engineering department. They were building machinery for F. J. Edwards, of London and George Gutteridge ran that part of the office. He had a side-line running a tobacconist on the Ashby Road (No 31) and used to spend his lunch-times and evening running the shop. Depending upon the schedule F. J. Edwards would send two, sometimes three empty lorries every week, to collect the machines.
Walter Facer was the timekeeper; he lived in Chestnut Street off Ashby Road. There were about nine or ten people working in the offices; as you looked down the long corridor towards the showroom, the first office on the left was the general office. This was occupied by John Cunningham junior (his father also John Cunningham worked for Messenger’s); Amanda Davies; Mrs. Willet, a secretary, who lived in Hastings Street; Eddie Ferber, who ran a dance band in the town and I can remember him coming in late all the time. He was not very communicative and appeared to think more of his dance band that he did of job. The next office on the left was occupied by my boss, Mr. Walsh, George Gutteridge, myself and later by my brother-in-law, Fred Burton. The last office on the left hand side was the cashier’s office occupied by Len Haywood and his cousin Tom Haywood. The first office on the right hand side was what I term the interview office; it was where I was interviewed. The next office was that of Mr. Derek Burder, the Managing Director and Mr. Hope, who lived in Quorn and undertook general office work, including quotes for Loughborough boilers. The third office was shared by Mr. Face who undertook similar work to Mr. Hope and Martin Avery Jones (a cousin of Kenneth and Derek Burder). The fourth office was that of Mr. Kenneth Burder’s Derek Burder’s son. Further down the corridor were the men’s and ladies’ toilets.
Adjoining the offices was the showroom; on one side were one or two small greenhouses or perhaps a shed. One greenhouse was a sectional type, whereby additional sections could be added to create the length required. On the other side of the room were a couple of boilers, one a Quorn boiler and at the far end a Loughborough boiler. At the end of the showroom was a single door (now blocked up) that lead into the pattern making shop.
There was a company car; I think it may have been an Austin 8. George Gutteridge taught me how to drive in the previous company car. When I could drive, they let me take the company car out to site. Mr. Kenneth Burder had a large Vauxhall Victor, which he used to let me drive. One day he asked me to take it down to the garage in Ashby Square, well when I was parking the car I accidently put my foot on the clutch instead of the break and I ran into the parked car in front. Of course everyone looked around to see what happened, fortunately there was no damage. If my brother-in-law or I had a need of a car at the weekend, we used to wait on a Friday night until everyone had gone and then borrow the car; returning it early on Monday morning before anyone arrived. The bosses knew what we were doing and they we were OK with it.
Every year Messenger’s used to book a stand at the Chelsea Flower Show and it was all organised by a George Gutteridge, who ran the London Office. He was the uncle of George Gutteridge, who worked in the office in Loughborough. George Gutteridge senior would never be on the stand during the show, although he always insisted on being there when the Queen went around. He would disappear afterwards. Messenger’s used to send me down to work on the stand as the salesman. I rather enjoyed it; you met a lot of interesting people and I used to lodge with Mrs. Pratt at No. 8, Holmbush Road, Putney. The stand wasn’t that large because of the expense; there were generally a couple of their smaller greenhouses, a Loughborough boiler and plenty of their general advertising material, which we handed out.
I can remember visiting a property in Leicester where the gardener was completely re-arranging the garden; at the time Messenger’s company car was a Hillman Husky (it replaced the Morris Minor), one where you could lay the back down. Whilst I was there the gardener was digging up a lot of dahlias and offered them to me, almost insisting that I take them. Well he loaded up the back of the car until it was full. At the time we were living in Oakley Road, Shepshed and we planted the tubers in the front garden. They gave a fantastic show and It was the talk of the neighbourhood and it common for people on the Sunday afternoon walk to stop and admire the dahlias.
On another occasion I remember visiting a customer in Dore, near Sheffield. It was in the early 1950s. and one of my first jobs that I was allowed to undertake alone. It was a very large property and the customer wanted a smallish replacement greenhouse, about 15ft. by 8ft. alongside a path. He and his wife was a very charming couple, they even offered me lunch.
I remember replacing the roof of Camellia House at Woburn Abbey. Harry Smith and I went down there to complete the survey and the only way of ensuring that the complicated curved roof could be made satisfactorily was to clear the workshop floor, which involved moving all the joiners’ benches to one side, drawing the plan of the roof in chalk on the floor and then using it as a template to build the roof.
I got married in 1955 and in 1958, went to live at Long Whatton. I left Messenger’s in 1961 and took a job with Harlow’s as they wanted someone to draw foundations, for their chicken sheds and horse boxes, etc. It wasn’t long before I left Harlow’s and got a job as an apprentice or trainee heating engineer at Young, Austen and Young of De Montfort Street, Leicester.
In 1966 I was then approached by Bill Boyer, who was the manager of the plumbing department at William Moss, Queen’s Road, Loughborough. He had been given permission to create a joint heating and plumbing department and wanted me to run the heating section. I decided to take the job and eventually took-over from Bill Boyer when he decided to leave. Moss’s built an office block on Bishop Meadow Road, where I had an office. The firm was taken over and in 1986 the decision was made to close the Loughborough office. Luckily, I was warned that it was likely to happen and I was able to find myself another job with Young, Austen and Young in Nottingham. In 1987 I went to run the heating and plumbing department at J.H. Fryer’s, a building company in Derby. I was there for three years when they went bust; I then spent the following 5 years working as a technician in the Estates Department at Loughborough University, from where I retired.