Derek spent 51 years working as an engineer’s pattern maker, working for companies in Kingston and Norwich before setting up his own business, with his wife Pat. Customers included well known names such as Colman’s, Crane Fruehauf, Bressingham Steam Museum, Mackintosh Confectionery and Mountfield Lawnmowers.
Examples of their work can be found around the country, on the Albert Memorial and Westminster Bridge in London, St George’s Bridge Norwich, and Ipswich Docks.
H C Hopper, Norbiton, Kingston
I missed the last three months of my schooling due to rheumatic fever, but when I did leave at the age of fourteen I became an apprentice in the pattern shop at H C Hopper, in Norbiton, I started my national service in the RAF in 1951 and returned to H C Hopper in 1953 when I finished. I became an established pattern maker and stayed with the firm until it was taken over and it moved to Norwich in 1958.
It was an interesting job, and I seemed to take to it quite well. We had quite a big foundry, pattern shop, engineering, we did the whole works. I worked on all the woodworking machinery, big sanders, lathes, big disc sanders, circular and band saws, drilling machines and lathes. When they started to doing metal work we also used lathes and metal turning machines. The noisiest machine that we had was the planing machine, which was a big surface planer and a thicknesser all in one.
We used to do a variety of work, for various different companies, including Ford Motor Company and Laurence and Scott’s in Norwich. Laurence and Scott’s did quite a lot of work for the admiralty and we used to do their big plotting tables. Years later we went to see HMS Belfast which is moored in the Thames and we saw one of the big plotting tables and it had the name plate on.
The work that we did for Ford was very very complex, high production work, it involved not only machine work but a lot of handwork as well.
It was a good atmosphere and I didn’t have any particular problems whilst working there.
During this time Pat and I had got married in 1956 and had our first child, and when the firm went bust and got taken over it was moved to Norwich, all of the pattern makers were offered jobs in Norwich and many of the foundry men, including my brother.
When we first moved to Norwich we were based at Mousehold but soon after we moved to Coslany Street, we had a big pattern shop, a big, mainly iron, foundry and a big machine shop. The set up and the work were pretty similar to what we had in Norbiton, still lots of manual work.
The firm went bust in 1965 and about four of us went to work for Laurence and Scott’s.
There could be accidents, but fortunately I was never involved in any; we did have one bad one where one of our pattern makers did catch his fingers in the circular saw, and that was pretty rough.
As pattern makers we never had any contact with the customers, there were about twelve of us working and we did our individual jobs, but if there were big jobs then there would be two or three pattern makers working on the same project.
There was a lot of sawdust flying around, all the machines and sanders had dust extraction, they were not one hundred percent perfect, and so I suppose that we must have inhaled a certain amount of dust.
We did not have any air conditioning and I remember one incident when it was very hot weather. Somebody rigged up a big wooden propeller, talk about health and safety, and attached it on the back of the band saw. If you can imagine the band saw going round and the big propeller, it sounds silly, and I don’t think that it lasted long but I quite enjoyed it anyway.
Over the years the machinery was changing, the biggest change that came in was the introduction of resins. We had some electric tools but a lot of the work still came down to hand work, using tools such as chisels, spoon gouges, for woodworking.
Laurence and Scott’s
I had been used to working in what is called a jobbing foundry, that is to say a foundry which would take anything in which needed casting, but at Laurence and Scott’s they were specialised in just their own work. I was itching to get started on my first job there, but they had such a leisurely outlook there, that it was completely different to what I had been used to.
We had to clock in and you knew that if you had been allowed five hours to complete a job that you were expected to do it in that time, but there seemed to be a lot of talking going on. It wasn’t uncommon to stand and have a chat to someone for half an hour. I wasn’t used to that, I was used to getting on and getting the job done.
I wasn’t very happy working at Laurence and Scott’s it wasn’t really my sort of environment. I had a friend who was a pattern maker and he had set up on his own and I used to go over and help him, and I thought that it would be great if we would work for ourselves.
Having had a chat with my wife we came to the decision to give it a go. On the day I handed my notice in, we learnt that our daughter had passed to go to Wymondham College. We didn’t have much money to start with but we did have a little bit of basic machinery, little band saw, small lathe, a sander, and I worked in the garage for while, so we got by, you could say though that we did go out a bit on a limb.
I did realise that my husband was unhappy working at Laurence and Scott’s and as he said we had some machinery in the garage. At school I had done a commercial course, so I could type, do bookkeeping, and I could also read technical drawings so this enabled me to have an insight in to the business. I could also do the accounts, the book work, and meet with customers.
We started working in the garage, I answered the phone, stoked the boiler, helped wherever I was needed, painting patterns, and moving patterns. One rather funny incident, we had a job come in from A E W Foundries they wanted us to line their large drilling machines with Formica because it meant they could get away without doing a lot of machining on them, because they came out of the moulds very very smooth. But on doing this and having these very large boxes come in to our garage we discovered in the garage that we couldn’t turn them round, so every time we had to work on them one end or the other end we used to have to take them out the garage, up the driveway, turn them round, and back in to the garage again. And a neighbour asking me one day ‘can you tell me what those coffin like things are that you keep coming out of your garage with?’ and I tried desperately to explain that they weren’t coffins.
We worked in the garage for two years whilst looking out for a workshop, then out of the blue we were told that there was a bakery workshop in Costessey, we rented it and were there for 15 years. Funny thing was that before it was a bakery it was actually an engineer’s pattern shop.
Our youngest had just started school so, realising that one man could not work on the bench, do the patterns, make the patterns, answer the phone all by himself, I started work there., and that is how our business went from strength to strength.
I don’t remember advertising at all, customers were coming to us, I have never advertised at all, we never had any problems. The phone was always ringing ‘can you look at this job?’ ‘Can you do this?’ we had so many customers that we used to work for.
We advertised for pattern makers because we were busy but nobody came forth, we were a dying art, a dying breed.
A bit later on we did take on a pattern maker, he became a partner before leaving when he went on on his own.
Working on many varied projects, both locally and nationally. No two jobs were ever the same.
We worked on many interesting projects; we used to do a lot of work for Bressingham Steam Museum.
One interesting job which we had was refurbishing the Albert Memorial in London, opposite the Albert Hall. A gentleman came to see us and he told us that the they had to renew the top part, and that they had some old drawings and that the bars needed to be cast to hold the canopy up. You can’t see it from the outside as it is inside, but they wanted renewing otherwise it would have collapsed. So the bars all came in to our works and we virtually made the entire networking frame to go back up in the Albert Memorial.
It was quite funny, once, we had one chap who had been all over the Midlands looking for someone to make a part of his miniature railway, only to be told to contact Derek. It turned that he was from Diss Foundry just down the road.
We did a lot of work for the boatyards, we worked with Shetland Boats at Stanton; one of the designers there designed a jet engine for a boat, based on the Australian Hamilton jet engine. Anyhow, he came to me with these drawings of what he wanted, and his description of the main casting. It still tickles me what he said ‘Derek’ he said ‘what it if you can imagine, a lump of water, round, goes through this casting and it comes out an oblong shape’, can you imagine, ‘that’s what I want the casting to be’, well I did, it, it’s comical things like that.
We did some work around Norwich which you can still see today, for example on St George’s Bridge on the inner ring road, we made the gratings for the bridge. We also made the patterns for the small brown posts with caps on.
We also did some pattern equipment work for castings on Westminster Bridge in London. We did a little bit of work for Lotus cars. I also designed the logo for Mountfield lawnmowers, the chap had spent a lot on the design and I just carved something out and when he saw it he said ‘just what I want’, so simple.
I haven’t seen one recently but it was on there for a long, long time because every time we went in to a shop and saw the lawnmower we said ‘ooh look, we made that’.
We did a lot for Crane Fruehauf you had the discs on the end of their pipes and clips and they had ‘CF’ on them. And I can remember I went to see my sister in Australia and I was telling nephew about what we actually made and did and he was very interested. He was taking me back to the airport, we got to a roundabout and this Crane Fruehauf lorry went round with all these pipe things on and I’m telling him ‘we made the patterns for those, that’s what I was telling you about ‘and he went and missed the turning for the airport so we had to go round the roundabout again.
We used to do a lot of work for Colman’s, we used to make their model bottles for them. They would design a new bottle shape for their fruit drinks, and I would make it in wood, they would put a little top on it, spray it, put one of their labels on and when you looked at it, it looked just like a bottle of squash. We used to make different designs of these and they would put them on supermarket shelves, get reactions and see by the reaction which they were going to finish up with.
One of the funniest things was that they brought out a small concentrate juice, to squirt over ice cream. They were all pretty simple except the pineapple one, we couldn’t get the pineapple shape right. My wife went to the market, and all the pineapples seemed to have different shapes. I know that we had three attempts at doing it, but I think that we got there in the end.
I had a good friend, Jo Marquart, who used to build racing cars. He was Swiss, a great character and he often used to bring me in when he was designing a part for his car, and say ‘can we do this, can I cast this, can I do that?’ I made lots of equipment for him and I know that he sent one car out to America, for Daytona racing, I think, with a lot of my pattern equipment inside the car.
We did some work for Mackintosh, making the dome top for their chocolate boxes.
We did the castings for their machines, so that you would get a chocolate come out, and it would have a layer of nougat, a layer of toffee and a layer of chocolate and then it would be covered on chocolate It was very intricate work and the casting we made had to have three portals going through to take these particular flavours
On Ipswich docks there are two very large cast iron brackets and you often see them in photographs of the Docks, we made the patterns for those, and I think that you can see them on the even to this day on The Docks.
Sometimes we would have to have a big turnaround, for example, we used to do the castings for the steering columns on fishing boats. To keep some of those boats in port because they had broken cost a lot of money, about eight thousand pounds a day, so that was a big turnaround. We have worked weekends to get the steering columns made, ready to go in to the foundry to be cast, Once they had been cast they could go back and be fitted on the boats.
Apart from patterns for foundries we used to make a lot of pattern equipment for the fibreglass industry, we actually did some quite big stuff, especially when we were based up at Upper Stafford Avenue, New Costessey. We did many interesting jobs, including one job which went in to an opera house in South Africa somewhere and another where we worked with a firm who made luxury cars.
We even had to make some of the fibreglass for the very large pots that go into shopping centres, which take the very big trees. Everything was very varied and I found it very interesting.
Enjoying running the business together
What I really enjoyed was , it was very much a man’s world that I had gone in to, I really enjoyed working with them and got a great deal of respect from the, if you understand what you are talking about then they are happy with you. I enjoyed the varying work, because really no two jobs were the same.
I think that there is a certain self satisfaction in being your own boss, it is not easy at times, things could get a bit stressful but having said that we have thoroughly enjoyed our working life together and we have got no regrets whatsoever.
Pat and Derek Knight talking to WISEArchive on 28th March 2017 in Easton Norfolk.