I started at Messenger’s in 1961, aged 15, almost 16 – I went to Country Engineering straight from school and worked there for about 10 months on small lathe doing rough turning – done my head-in, so I left. I wanted to learn a trade and went to Messenger’s who offered me a 5-year apprenticeship – it was a general apprenticeship which would have allowed me to learn the trade for any particular skill. I went around each department including machine shop, fitting, wood shop fabrication, welding, pattern making. I also went around the foundry when they were in the process of casting, which for a young lad looked exciting; therefore, I decided to go into the foundry and I served my time there.
By the time I started at Messenger’s, the building of large greenhouse and conservatories was dying out and they were essentially becoming an engineering firm. Messenger’s did subcontract work, including casting boilers, baffle plates and other parts for the Beeston Boiler Company. They also made doors for Coltman’s boilers who were based in Great Central Road. Messenger’s also made all the castings for the first circular knitting machine for a Mr. Cory, an American, I think. In the 1960s. Messengers were also making end frames knitting machines, along with other parts for Cotton’s. They also made metal cutting guillotines and bending machinery for F. J. Edwards and were still making the odd one into the early 1970s.
Parts such as flue shutters were cast on what is known as plate mouldings, which were made on machines – typically in batches, say twenty tops then twenty bottoms, fitted together, then they were cast – this was semi-skilled job. The hot water pipe connectors were still being cast when I was there, no pipes were cast. This pipes connector casting was undertaken by the plate moulders. They had top and a bottom box, both filled with sand with the pattern in it, which would be removed and the two boxes jointed together.
During my time at Messenger’s they also made pavement gutters, box guttering, manhole s and drain covers regularly, particularly the open lattice grating that went on top. They were about nine inches wide and made in three foot lengths. I remember seeing fire hydrant patterns, which were stored in the old pattern sheds, but none were made during my time.
At one time when we were short of work I remember going out with the maintenance crew to install pipe joints at both the old school in Shakespeare Street, which at the time was occupied by the College and the Town Hall.
In the 1960s, there were about 5 foundries in Loughborough, including Messenger’s, Jones, Morris, Star Foundry and Taylors. Messenger’s attracted the best skilled workers. When I started, there were about 12 or 14 skilled foundry men along with several core makers. The most skilled job was probably that of the pattern makers and one of them, a Mick Bonser, lives just around the corner from me. There were about four pattern makers
Near the end of my time there they asked me to start a little aluminium foundry in the old boiler house and I used to work all on my own, making parts for the pattern makers out of aluminium.
Tommy Wesson, my foreman, lived in one of the two houses at the front of the site and Walter Cunningham, who was the boiler man, lived in the house next door. The pattern sheds, where the old patterns were stored ran down the side with the car park behind. Near the two houses were the showers, with the maintenance shed by the side. The offices were in the building towards the front of the site with a front door.
When I first started at Messenger’s they were using green sand moulding, which appealed to the artist in me and took more skill to make a good moulding. Green sand moulding used a mixture of things including horse manure, dead black sand, red sand, green sand and other items so that it would hold its shape, once the pattern had been removed. The mould had to be baked overnight in an oven in the foundry. The moulds were placed on trays on bogies which ran on a track. The next morning, they were taken out and the patterns removed and were then ready for casting, later in the day. Later green sand moulding was replaced by CO2 moulding. This used silica sand together with other material to help bond it. Once the mould had been made using the pattern, a number of holes around it and a CO2 gun was inserted and the mould hardened without the need for overnight baking. This took all the skill out of mould making. The CO2 moulds were mainly used for casting parts for circular knitting machines for Stibbe
Boilers were made adjacent to the furnace as the iron needed to be at its hottest to cast a successful boiler. A boiler has to be made upside down to what was normal for a mould – most of casting is in the top and what was normally the top of the moulding had very little in it, only a couple of inches; whilst the top of the boiler was much thicker. This placed pressure on the seal on the two halves of the mould. There was a risk of leaks when casting, they would plug any holes using botts – a lump of clay on a disk on the end of a stick. I never cast a boiler – two old chaps used to do it.
I cast thousands of baffle plates, boiler doors, flue shutters and heating pipes connections – round flanges with two holes one for the pipes and connected using rubber seal – like an ‘O’ seal and they were bolted together.
The foundry comprised of two rooms with the fettling shed at the end, closest to the offices. The cupola (furnace) was at the other of the foundry to the fettling shed. It was adjacent to the railway line where the coke, scrap iron, pig iron and limestone. When I first started it was all still being delivered by train and dropped off adjacent to the cupola. The cupola, which was about 4ft. or 5ft. diameter, was dropped every night. At the end of the shift the two doors at the bottom which were held together by a pin were knocked open and everything raked out. Casting was done every day Monday through Friday. I started work at 07:30 in the morning and the first job was to prepare as many mouldings as you could. At around 14:30 you would be told when you would receive your iron that day. When I first started, once you had finished casting you could go and take a shower and go home, as there was nothing that could be done until the castings had cooled overnight. We used to get a pint of milk a day but this stooped not long after I started.
The hardest was part getting the bottom of the cupola the correct shape, so as the iron would flow out into the bogey, which was also ganister lined. There was a lift. which was used to raise all the materials, the pig iron, coke, scrap iron and limestone into the top loading cupola. The material was placed into a bucket on the ground, raised up by a crane and once on the top it caught on bar, which tipped it, dropping the material into the cupola. It would take two people most of the day, starting at 07:30, to prepare the cupola for lighting. The furnace man was on site at 06:00 every morning to rectify and problems with the lining and to carefully prepare the bottom, making a coke bed forming a funnel shaped tunnel where the molten iron would flow. One the base was formed the rest of the material was simply placed on top haphazardly. The furnace was lit using paper and when the side door was closed, blowers were then attached and turned on.
When it was time, the furnace was tapped using a pre-heated five- or six-foot-long pole with a point at the end. The tapping hole was about the size of an old two-shilling piece and packed hard with sand. The furnace man would repeatedly tap the packed sand and once you could see a bright glow, the rod would be removed from the tapping hole and the molten iron would flow down the shoot into the bogey. Once the bogey was full the hole would be re-stopped using a clay bolt on a pole with a handle on it and on occasions it took several attempts before the flow was stopped. There was a crane but it only worked in one half of the shop, where the larger pieces were cast. In the other half the smaller pieces were cast and the bogey, with cast-iron wheels, would have to be pulled along the gangway by two people to the moulds. This was a hazardous job, because over time the gangways, which were made of concrete, became very rough because numerous spillages removed pieces of concrete, which because of the roughness caused more spillages.
A good moulder would know how much iron was required for a mould. I remember when they did cast a boiler, and because of the volume of iron required, the slightest hole in the mould would result in leakages. To ensure that there was no trapped air in the boiler castings they would use warmed steel rods to gently tap down through the risers. Once the boiler casting had been fettled it was then pressure tested.
When the firm had their two weeks’ holiday in August, the cupola was given an overhaul, with all the firebricks being replaced. On top of the firebricks the furnace-man was lined with ganister, a mixture of clay and grit.
Next to the foundry was the boiler room and beyond that was the machine shop, then the fabrication shop. The last building was essentially used for storage, although during my time there they did use for make a steel hulled boat. On the other side of the railway line was pattern making shed and beyond that the wood drying sheds.
The pay at Messenger’s was very good. There were four of us, Nick Kinnersley, Rob Cooper, Graham Tuckwood from Shepshed and myself. We were the four youngest moulders in Loughborough and we used to come out of work in the afternoon and there would be a van parked in Cumberland Road, with a foreman from one of the other foundries, who would try to poach us. We all knew one another from union meetings which were held in the old “Brit” (Britannia Inn, which was in Pinfold Gate). On one occasion I was approached by Frank Stubbley, the foundry foreman at John Jones who wanted a price for a job. He told me to put my bike in the back of the van and he took down to their site. The job involved making a mould for a ring for a curricular knitting machine and he wanted to know how long it would take. He would supply me a labourer and all the sand I required. When I responded that it would take me a day, he couldn’t believe it, because it was currently taking his best team (Eric and Ernie) 2½ days to make the mould. I asked if they were used to CO2 moulding, he responded that they were still getting used it but they were his most experienced moulders. I decided to leave Messenger’s and go to work for John Jones. One the first day, having finished making the mould about quarter to three in the afternoon, I went to Frank and asked him if he had the iron as I’d finished the ring mould. He hadn’t because he didn’t believe that I could make the mould in a day and as it was piecework I was down as day’s wages and I wasn’t very happy, although Frank promised to sort it. We duly cast the following day and for the rest of the week I was casting one day. On Tuesday of the second week, I was approached by a chap in a suit and tie, who complained that I was earning too much money because they were paying me the same for one day as they were paying the others for 2½ days work. He complained that I was costing the firm too much money and the other moulders were complaining that I was earning too much. Even though I argued that they were making as much profit in a day from me as in 2½ days from the others, he was determined to do something about it, so the following Monday I went back to Messenger’s. I went and saw Tommy Wesson and explained the situation and he took me back on immediately.
Mr Derek Burder was large portly chap, a real gentleman. I remember the first time I met him. I was a union official at the age of about 21, and there was some sort of dispute. I went over to the office block to talk to one for the secretaries and he said to me, come into my office and I said “Yes, Mr. Burder”. He replied saying “I’ll call you Terry if you call me Derek. How can we argue and sort things out, if I’m calling you Bryans and you’re calling me Burder. That’s an aggressive start to any conversation”. Out of respect I called him Mr. Derek and we go on well. He lived in one of the large houses on Burton Walks. During my time he was the only Burder still working there. A Frank Tailby was second in command at the time, he was another nice person.
I was on piece work the whole time; if there was no work then you just received your basic pay. When I started in 1961, I was earning £2 15s. 9d. and had to 6s. 9d. for my stamp out of that. For piecework you were paid on a per mould basis, which meant that you could make good money.
Towards the end of my time there, foundry work was running down, I believe that Morris’s had already transferred to the Eurobar, using cast-iron extrusion.
I left Messenger’s in 1973 in one of the first round of redundancies. I could see the writing on the wall and I knew that I could get a job at Brush, so I volunteered. I received a redundancy package of £75 and started at Brush the following week. There I worked my way up to become a coil manufacturer; these went into large DAX Turbogenerators. When Brush purchased Skoda Electrics, along with several others I went to the Czech Republic to teach them how to manufacturer them Brush’s specification. I didn’t speak any Czech and they didn’t speak any English but we managed. I remained at Brush for the next 36 years, before retiring in 2009.