Graham "Chippy" Aston

Into the big world: apprenticeship memories, September 1964

On my first day at Fielding & Platt I remember arriving at the Works’ gate and being taken by the gate policeman, Steve Cheeseman, up to the Apprentice Training School. We would have gone up the outside stairs and into the Light Machine Shop, then walked the length of it until we reached the next set of stairs near the lift and so into the training school.

As soon as I walked through the door I met Bert Ravenhill and his greeting was, “Don’t walk over the white lines, they are there for a reason, you walk between them!”. The white lines marked out the gangways and were the safe areas to walk through the different workshops (not that I knew that as I walked through the door that Monday morning in September 1964, but I very soon learnt!).

The dreaded block

As other ex apprentices of the time have said, we ALL had to do the dreaded BLOCK! Chiselling, filing and scraping a cube of mild steel to reduce it in size – the job was not over until you had got it to a level of quality that Bert was happy with.

As the days and weeks went on you would learn about the various machines in the workshop and the different aspects of bench work.

The apprentice school tool store

When you spent a week (I think) in the school’s tool store, you learnt to change the roller towel in the toilets and to polish the brass door handles throughout the training school – not forgetting to polishing the desks in the lecture room as well!

The training we all received at Fielding’s was, as far as I am concerned, second to none and, if you got through that first year in the training school, you were on your way!

Click on the hyperlink to see a photograph of the 1964 apprentice intake of which Graham was part.

If you remember Graham being in the 1964 apprentice intake, or working with him at Fielding’s or on jobs away please share your memories by adding a comment at the bottom of this page.

Comments about this page

  • Hi Chippy, thanks for your wonderfully detailed memories of Steve Cheeseman. Hopefully it will bring back memories for others too and they’ll be able to add more.

    It is a shame about the demise and demolition of Fielding’s. It would be great to see your photo of the demolition and the name plates – would they have been from the 1960s? – and of course any others that you come across!

    I hope these photographs of the Craft School bring back some memories for you though. Cheers, as ever, Ollie

    By Ollie Taylor (20/09/2013)
  • Steve Cheeseman was the Works’ Gate Policeman, in a proper uniform, when I started in 1964. His job was to greet anyone coming to the Works’ gate and find out who they were coming to see, and then take them into the Works, possibly up by the time office, where they would be met by someone else.

    Another of his duties was to stand out by the gates at lunch time and at the end of the day to make sure no one left site before the hooter went! At these times everyone would be lined up right by the gate’s line, ready for the hooter to go, and as soon as it sounded… we were off -  men on bicycles and on foot, it was like the start of a race! This was usually preceded by a lot of banter between Steve and the men waiting to go, I’ll leave that to your imagination!

    Steve eventually became the Heavy Fitting Shop’s “job time card” man in later years. So, for instance, if you needed a card to cover your time while you were waiting, say, for the crane, he would write out that time card and put it in your slot on his desk, and that kind of thing.

    Steve had lost an arm at some time in his life, when I don’t know, but I had been told it was in an accident when he worked over the road from Fielding’s in a laundry, next to where the (New) Pilot Inn was. The last I remember of the old building was that it had been turned into a restaurant. During the 1960’s the building was an ironmongers called, I’m sure, Gilbey Cooles.

    There was another gate policeman on the Office gate at the same time, but unfortunately I can’t remember his name, unless it was Tom Mumford you mention Ollie?

    The photo I’ve uploaded on this page was taken in the apprentice school, 1964/5, most likely by Brian Mince.

    The machine I am operating was an old multispeed drill. The different speeds would be selected through a gearbox and levers. There were different “feed” speeds; that means the rate at which the drill bit would be pushed down into the material being drilled. I think the lever with the black knob on it in front of me was used to engage the automatic “feed”, which would cut out when the rod attatched to the lever reached the “stop”. I am probably using the manual feed for this photo, drilling just an odd piece of metal for the sake of the photo.

    You can also see the “suds” pipe and valve. The “suds” were for cooling the material while it was being drilled. “Suds” were soluble oil, mixed with water, and a smell all of its own!

    Somewhere amongst my large collection of photographs that I have amassed over the years (but sadly not of my time at F&P) is one that I took of the remaining piece of the building where the apprentice school used to be. This was when the site was being demolished, a very sad sight I must say, to make way for the Quays development. I had wanted to get hold of at least one brick from the demolished building to incorporate into a new block built workshop that I was building in our garden, but as we live in Cornwall it wasn’t easy to get there when someone was about on the site and ask them for a few bricks. I have no bricks, but I do have a couple of Fielding name plates that I have fixed to the rafters, so maybe all was not lost!

    What I want to do is find the demolition photo and super impose it onto this photo and then I’ll send that in too.

    In the background of the photo you can see Graham Coughlin in the Tool Stores. We had to take it in turns to man the stores for a week at a time. This was to get used to all the different tools that were being used in the training school and also prepare us for what we would need to know when we went out into the main Works.

    We learnt about the different dies, some that I remember were: Namco and Herbert for the capstan lathes; hand dies which were Whitworth BSW, British Standard Fine BSF, British Standard Pipe BSP and the same types for taps. You would have to give out the correct size drill to go with a tap that someone reqested.

    There were also all the different types of turning tools that were used on both the capstan lathes and the centre lathes, not forgetting tools and cutters for the milling machines too! Chippy Aston

    By Graham Aston (11/09/2013)
  • Thanks for adding this page Chippy – it’s great! – especially how Bert Ravenhill greeted you! You’re the first to mention Steve Cheeseman so it would be good to hear a little more about him and how he policed the gate – was he the only gateman or was Tom Mumford there too?

    It’s a great photo you’ve uploaded, too. Is that in the apprentice school in 1964? It would be good to know more about the machine you’re operating in it – how did it work and what were you making with it?

    By Ollie Taylor (05/07/2013)

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