Working Lives

Inside industry (1932-1985)

Location: London, Norwich, Gamlingay

Henry learned the engineering trade on the job and dedicated his working life to the study of the workplace. He implemented many innovations and improved work conditions for efficiency and for the workers in various industrial settings.

Studying the workplace

I first started work in 1932, on a farm owned by my brother-in-law. I was soon fed up with this and I took myself to London to see if the streets were paved with gold. I found they weren’t, but I found a job very quickly because I had one or two friends. I settled in Leytonstone at 16, where I had a job before the war with Woods engineering company on the Finsbury Park Road, Hackney.

In those days I was introduced to therbligs, a measurement of work named after Gilbreth – an American who instituted work study and ergonomics. This entailed the use of a stopwatch that would record the momentum and the ability to do the job in hand. You studied this person and you rated them from 80 to 120. Very seldom would you use 120 because this would be exceptional. The point being you had various stages of work that you can break down into sections and study them, and then add them all add up and find just out how good the worker was. You would study the ergonomics that would enable you to decide whether she was correctly seated or whether the work was placed to her in a workable fashion.

I continued doing this work ‘til September 6th 1939, when I swore allegiance to His Majesty and went to war. I was in the service four and a half years, three of them spent at sea under the auspices of the Royal Navy, and served mostly on warships, flat tops we called them, which were aircraft carriers. I was sunk twice. Once in the channel on August 8th 1940 at 1300 hours, and again in mid Atlantic on another one of His Majesty ships. I was wounded and invalided from the service in April 1944. I still hold a war pension.

After being invalided out of the service, I returned to the engineering company where I was taught further work studies. I was a member of the Institute of Industrial Engineers. This meant that I was able to measure everything, from the time it took to blink your eyes, to whether you picked up a pen. You then studied the workplace, to ensure that everything was at the best possible position and the operator was the best.

Innovating at the workplace

I did many innovations and had control of the bonus that they could gain if they attained the appropriate performance. If they reached 80 percent of the target, they would get a bonus and if they reached 100 percent, they would get a higher bonus. This didn’t happen often, but occasionally you got a girl or workman that did. I studied anything from a BSA multi-drill machine that made mouthpieces for trumpets, to packing chocolates.

I worked 11 years at one particular place in Norwich. I instituted many alterations, some that were obvious and some that were hidden, and I changed the complete circumference of the work study. In other words, if it took two minutes to put a sweet in a box I would say, ‘Sorry, it’s not good enough, you must attain one minute. I will therefore make adjustments to your workplace so it’s easier.’

I would introduce engines, motors and various types of things that would make things easier and help the work study engineer to put in a rate that would be attainable, so they could earn a bonus. I had quite a bit of responsibility, at one place I had 2000 employees working at benches and they all came under me for their bonus and also for their work rate. I was quite popular.

Now and again, one would come up against, particularly females, who loved me or hated me. One occasion I remember the girl gave me a little whip, saying ‘This is what you want to drive your people!’ This happened but not often. Just occasionally, she couldn’t make the grade and earn the bonus that most of her workmates did. I had a quiet chat with her foreman and her and said if she felt she couldn’t make the rating, I could get her on another job. She said she didn’t want to do that because she liked working with the girls on the belt, and she could put up with them having a go at her because she was holding up other sections of the line. The foreman suggested that she go on a packing job at the end of the line and she said yes she’d do this. She was quite happy again because she could earn a little more money.

As far as I’m aware, people don’t do what I did anymore, the computer has taken over. In my younger days, there were no computers. I have a slide rule that I used all through my life. I never went on and never had a computer. I had one or two adding machines and I always use my old slide rule, that was accurate.

Occasionally, the unions would come in, if people didn’t like the way they were being measured. I would always get my slide rule out and 90 percent of the union representatives didn’t know one end of a slide rule from the other, so I could confuse them which I did to my advantage!

I must say, that throughout my working life, until I retired I had a busy, pleasant interesting job. I met a lot of the people, they knew a lot of people, and they knew me. I can’t honestly say that I enjoyed any more than any other. The first job I had I was paid £250 a year. At the last job I was up to £2800. I was middle management then, so I had made progress…

I had a very interesting insight into people. I still think, rightly or wrongly, at my age my diction is good, I can converse on most subjects and I worked in various stages and from chocolates to aircraft. I was thankful that I had the first working life in engineering on lathes and multispin drills and what have you, because it gave me foresight into what makes people tick. Very often I would say to my good lady, ‘It takes you exactly so long to walk to the shop and back providing you do a 26-inch step.’


At the age of 60 having pursued this career including production control, I was then approached by the Norwich pensions office. In 1945 I was classified as being on the disabled register at Norwich. So, I had a letter from them saying that under a new rule by the government, people of the age of 60 could retire on a blown-up pension. Instead of it being 30 something, it was up to 40 something.

At that time, I was working in Gamlingay, Cambridge, for a print and packing station for aircraft and various other things. I was travelling from my residence to Gamlingay every Monday morning early and coming home for the weekend. Which my wife enjoyed. So, I went to the managing director and he’d had a letter too.  He didn’t want me to leave but said he was leaving it all up to me. I’d done quite a bit of work for him, but you had to look at it logically as I didn’t have to travel at all. After due consultation with my wife, that has to be obeyed, she agreed that I should retire at 60.

Then funnily enough, after having hospital treatment for this, that and the other, I suddenly increased activity. I had nothing much to do apart from gardening and growing flowers which I was very interested in, and I had a greenhouse, so I was well employed.

I had three wonderful daughters; I have three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. And they keep me going and, they look after me. They’re all coming to celebrate my 95th!

Henry (b. 1925) talking to WISEArchive on 25th June 2013 in Loddon.

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