YOUTH WITHOUT A CLUE
1930 - 1932
During my last term at school, before reaching my
sixteenth birthday in November, I visited my fathers eldest
sister, Auntie Min, for the first time at Chelmsford. Her son
Harold, my cousin, a serving policeman, acted as my escort by
taking me on the back of his motorbike to see other relatives at
Luton. He also took me to Felixstowe, where a seaplane was
practising for the International Schneider Trophy. The experience
gained from this aircraft proved invaluable when Reginald
Mitchell commenced designed the famous Spitfire fighter. I also
saw the R101 airship on its fatal maiden flight from Bedford to
India. It crashed in France, tragically killing most of its crew
and passengers. No further interest was taken by Britain to
develop airships for public air travel. Riding on the back of
Harolds bike was a most frightening experience and I vowed
I would never be a pillion passenger again. This has remained
true to this day.
On returning home, it was arranged that I be measured for a dark blue suit at SJ Watts in time to have ready for my new job. My father impressed on me to always wear a clean white collar and polished shoes if I was to progress in business. On this first visit with my father to his firm, I was surprised to hear him called Joe as we passed through various departments on our way to the tailors. His name was Frederic Charles. This visit gave me an insight into the wide range of domestic products that the major Manchester warehouses dealt in. I took a day off from school for this visit, it was the only occasion that I missed attending school.
I do not ever remember the headmaster or any member of his staff pressing me to stay on at school. I can say with every confidence that I was not of academic material.
My elder sister, at this time, was a qualified tracer at Metropolitan Vickers, Trafford Park Industrial Trading Estate. I recall on one occasion, she spoke about her work as being secret and that she had been tracing a predictor. No one knew at that time the purpose of this equipment and nor did I realise that I would be manning it at the start of the war.
I received a letter from JN Phillips to report to the despatch managers office on the first Monday morning of the new year, 1931. My suit was ready to wear and I felt proud I had a job to go to and would have 9 shillings to take home.
This was the time when Woolworth was known as the Threepenny and Sixpenny Store and new houses could be bought for under £500.
On the first day of work, I joined other Manchester commuters on Urmston Station, wearing my new suit. While travelling on the steam train to Manchester Central Station, my thoughts were on what would be the impact of the job and would I measure up to it?
It was a typical Manchester damp mid-winters day, although not raining, most commuters were carrying umbrellas. I made my way along Moseley Street from Central Station, passing the well known Midland Hotel, and finally reaching Market Street, which adjoined Piccadilly Centre. This was the main shopping area, and the bright shop windows cheered me up a little. I had been passing dark stone buildings covered with grime and I felt my enthusiasm for the job was on the wane.
JN Phillips was reached in a matter of minutes from Market Street and when reporting to the office at the main entrance I was directed to the basement. With my letter I entered the despatch managers office and noticed that he was wearing a stiff white collar and had polished shoes. He greeted me with You are Alan Rayment I suppose, welcome to your new job, I shall give you every help. All new employees start in the cellar and work their way up. My name is Mr Mason.
My stay in the cellar lasted three months, which consisted of collecting parcels arriving by chutes from the upper departments and making up consignments against despatch notes. My apprenticeship in the despatch department having been satisfactory, I was rewarded with promotion to the soft furnishing department. During my stay in the cellar, I came to appreciate the main career structure - sales manager, departmental buyer, area sales representative and the departmental representative - commercial traveller.
My role in soft furnishings was basically sweeping the floor, assisting with stock taking and generally being a dogsbody to the sales staff. Now there is a fundamental requirement that when dealing with colour fabrics we should be able to recognise colours. I was colour blind! I knew there would be no future for me in this department, particularly as the buyer, who was treated like God by his staff, had to reprimand me for causing dust to be brushed into the air onto his fabrics. I was getting nowhere fast! I felt that I had let my father down in his expectations. I now realised I would have to move quickly before my colour blindness could cause an embarrassment, resulting in the sack.
I designed a standard letter, it started thus - I wish to apply for any suitable vacancy you may have at ----. This letter I sent to a Mr Crabtree of the Port of Manchester Insurance, Deansgate. Within a week I received a reply asking me to attend an interview. This I attended, and was accepted after the interview with the head of the office, Mr Crabtree. I cannot remember how I came to obtain his name, neither do I remember my father holding an inquest as to what went wrong at JN Phillips.
During the dinner times, I went to a cafe called Vines, where I had cheap meals, mainly soup and crusty bread. I was also able to visit some of the famous Manchester buildings such as; The Rylands Library, The Manchester Town Hall, The Free Trade Hall, where the famous Halle Orchestra played. I also visited the cathedral, where I was confirmed by the Rev Dean, Dr Hewlitt Johnson. Nearby was Chetham Blue Coat School, where the pupils could be seen wearing their blue cassocks. However, for me, the pride of place were the Manchester stately double-decker trams, which charged on the fixed rails to and fro on all the main roads in and out of the city. At night, their brightly lit decks created a fairyland atmosphere amongst many drab roads.
I became a scout on joining the 2nd Urmston Scout Troop, attached to the Parish Church of St Clements. This was now my third church denomination, so now I had made the Trinity. Each month, the scouts would hold their church parade, complete with drums and trumpets, followed by the guides. Many of the scouts and guides attended regularly morning and evening services as well as sunday school. There was a youth social club held at St Clements Church School. This is where I learned to dance, as well as many more of our gang, Ella Bennett, Sam Irwin, Ann and Else Firth and many more.
Living close to Braddon Avenue was Mr Firth, who was a church sidesman and Mr McCann, who was the vicars warden. Rev. Thomas Bache, the vicar, had been curate to Rev. Harwood Cooke, who died sitting in his chair in the vicarage at the age of 98, in 1928. The 2nd Urmston Scouts were very active under their scoutmaster, Les Naylor. One of his specialisations was creating teams in timber bridge building for display at group camps and at Scouts jamborees. Camping and rambles were always being arranged to places like Derbyshire. My friend Sam, also a scout, suggested a camping holiday in Wales, with the two of us taking our camping gear with us. This venture was planned for early Spring. I was now an employee of the Port of Manchester.
© 1998 Alan Rayment
Last revised: February 28, 1998.