Working Lives

The Sugar Beet Story – from farm to factory (1944-1993)

Location: Halvergate, Freethorpe, Cantley

Robert started his working life on a mixed farm in Freethorpe with arable crops (including sugar beet) and cattle. He then spent 19 years at Cantley Sugar Beet factory in a variety of roles.

I was born in Halvergate and went to school from age five to 11 at Halvergate and then at Freethorpe until I was 14. My father was a farm worker, the same as I was going to be. There were seven of us children, so mother had a full time job. The first three of my brothers worked on the farm for a time and then went out into various jobs at Yarmouth and Norwich – one worked at Mackintosh’s up Norwich for a time. Nightshift – he thought he was well in the money there. I started work on my birthday 17th April in 1944. I worked on a farm at Freethorpe, sort of generally boys’ jobs. My father worked on the same farm you see at the time, so we just started up, it was the natural thing to do at that time. For my first job I took a horse to the blacksmith, that was the first thing I did but then I just did general work.

Wartime memories

It was a good time to be working on the land because it was the last year of the war when the Americans were doing their daylight raids and when we were out in the fields weeding we could see them form up in hundreds. They just took off from Seething and all the aerodromes round, they just formed up until they got hundreds of them up there and off they went. And in the afternoon you’d see ‘em come back again. They didn’t come back in formation like they went out, they come back in odds and ends and you’d see ‘em shoot flares out sometimes when they had got injured on board. But they made you sort of forget you were at work, quite interesting anyway. Apart from that you didn’t think about the number who had been killed, that didn’t come into it really.

Working on the farm

There was haymaking in the Spring, hedge trimming then you got harvest which when you were a boy all you did was drive the horses to the stack and kept things going with the horses. Had to stay with them lunchtime so they had their feed. And after that when you were boys you didn’t get involved with sugar beet, you just did straw carting and generally looking after the animals and that sort of thing. Normally, apart from harvest, you went home to eat, because you lived near the farm, within five minutes bike ride. You’d go home at lunchtime, you had an hour and a quarter, but that worked out with the farm. We always did go home for lunch.

You just picked it up as you went along. There was perhaps two or three boys together and I can always remember what our foreman used to say, “One boy is as good as a man, two boys is as good as half a boy, three boys is no good at all.” And that was right, you know what it is like. As you got older you’d do the other jobs – when you were 18 you’d start hoeing sugar beet, taking all them sort of things as they come. And then you got more involved with the harvest, well everything else really. You took a bigger part in it.

They used to drill beet pretty thick at one time and you had to single them, chop them and single them, take the weeds out as well, but there weren’t that many weeds, hopefully. Some places were, but most places were fairly clean, but there was rather too many beet, we thought. Then as time went on they drilled single cell beet, they broke the seed up and coated them and you’d single-plant so they’d plant about 10 inches apart, so you just had to pick them so you’d leave them every ten inches. This was much easier but they didn’t pay quite as much for that. But they made a better job of it, it was easier, and they sprayed for weeds as well so you didn’t get the rubbish and that made the job much easier but not quite so well paid. It was all machine, the planting, but when they changed the seed to monogerm they’d planted single seed, you know a belt would drop one seed at a time, whereas the other way they’d put too many seed everywhere.

Harvest time

One of the first jobs during harvest was riding on the binder. That was quite a nice job. Dirty, you’d get plenty of dust, and then when you’d finished the binding, they brought the combines in and I did go on them. Binding is tying the sheaves with the harvest. You’d tie them up in sheaves and people would stand and put them together in shocks so they dried out before you carted them. Then they got the combines in. The first combines we used to bag the corn on top, which weren’t very good. That was very dusty and whichever way you go round a field, one side you’re bound to get covered with dust. At the end of the day you were in a bit of a state. But that weren’t too bad. And another time we’d go round collecting the sacks. You’d drop the sacks of corn as near as you could on each round and you’d collect them on a trailer and take them into the barn. It was very labour intensive but of course they got so they’d done it straight into the trailer – much better.

Sugar beet

It was the same thing again really with the beet harvest. When I first started they were all dug individually. You had a digger and when you started in September the ground was so hard that used to play your hands up. You’d finish up with bandaged wrists. But as the season went on it got easier to dig and of course your wrists got better and you got over it. The digger was just a wooden handle with a v-shaped piece on the bottom, you just had to ram that in the ground beside the beet, lever and pull it up, without breaking too much off the bottom, hopefully. Then you laid them out and you had to go round and chop the tops off. That was the same sort of thing really, pick them up, hold them in one hand and cut the top off with the other and throw them in lumps in the middle. Very labour intensive. Then they improved that, they brought the squeezer, a machine that moved two rows of beet together so that pulled them out of the ground – sort of forced them out – and left them in a row. That took a lot of the hard work out of it and that was much easier. Then you went on and got the harvesters come and all we had to do then was dig the corners up so they could turn round.

Working with horses

When I first started there was about 15 men and 12 horses. They did have one tractor but that’s all they had for years, this one tractor. He liked his horses, the farmer did, so we kept the horses and they went on for several years after other people were nearly all tractors, we still had horses. His idea was to employ more people and you did employ more people with the horses. That worked a treat by employing people but the wages weren’t the highest if you see what I mean. You had a job but you wouldn’t earn so much as some would, so that made a difference that way. It was about £6 pound a week for a long time and that slowly went up a few shilling a year. By the time I left, it think that got up to £9, about £9.60. That don’t sound a lot now, do it? That would be in the 60s and then that was about £6 I should think. By the 70s that had gone up to £9. That was alright when you got piecework jobs, you know, like hoeing sugar beet, or pulling sugar beet, or harvest. You’d earn twice as much then. Hoeing, there was 10 of us in a gang, as a rule and you all worked more or less together and you all drew the same amount out, you all done the same, you kept together really. It worked out alright like that. You done a field – there was 30 acres in a field, and you had your share of the field sort of thing. And sugar beet, taking them up, you were more individual on that, you did your own acre sort of thing. Or your share of the acre, you worked at your own speed, more or less. Perhaps two of you worked together. You’d work it on speed. Did what you could. It really played up your wrists and later on I did suffer from it because I had carpal tunnel but that weren’t until the 90s and when I had both my wrists done about six months apart. They’re alright now, they’ve been alright since, but I’m sure that was what caused it because that really did play your wrists up, digging sugar beet. Hoeing was alright – that made your back ache. Digging got your wrists. I’m sure that was what caused it.

We done all three crops- wheat, barley, oats. And you would have clover for hay one field a year, hay for the horses. You’d got to keep them fed. That was the main thing. They were the only things we grew. Well, apart from just after the war we grew flax. That was only about two years when I was there, they had these fields of flax or linseed as they call it now. But they grew it for the fibre, not for the seed. We used to pull ‘em up, grab the top and pull them up by the root. They took the whole plant. Where they went I don’t know. They used to take them miles away somewhere.

Working hours

When I first started, we did about a 45 hour week I think it was. Which was five eight-hour days and Saturday morning. That slowly come down and we done away with Saturday morning so got to a five day week and a 40-hour week and that stayed while I was there on the farm. I was on the farm until ’74.

We had one foreman who done two farms and he had to cycle from Halvergate to Freethorpe between each. He’d give the chaps the order at Halvergate and then he’d bike to Freethorpe and give us our orders, so we were always later. A quarter to eight when we used to start, we used to start at quarter past seven at Halvergate and quarter to eight at Freethorpe. So we were always behind starting. But of course that weren’t so good when you finished at quarter to six at night. And we had an hour and a quarter for dinner so that spread the day out quite a bit. That was quarter to six when we used to finish sometimes.

Harvest time you’d work till dark. They had a price for the harvest which say, was about three weeks work, say £30 and the quicker you got done the better the price sort of thing. That was somewhere about it, it might have been more that £30, but it was just over three weeks work, they paid, and you hoped to get it done in a fortnight. That might have been a little more than that, but you’d earn quite a bit more anyway, as I say, if you wanted to, because you’d work until half past eight, not much later than that as a rule. That was a good long day. In the morning you couldn’t start very early because of the dew. It was a bit damp to start with so you’d have to wait, you were late starting but late finishing.

Feeding and transporting the cattle

The owner had a lot of cattle and that was our main winter thing. Once you’d finished the sugar beet there weren’t a lot going on apart from the cattle to feed. You’d have cattle come in October in the bullock sheds and then you had to feed them. They used to feed on the sugar beet tops to start with and then they’d have ‘em go on to perhaps wet pulp from the factory and then dry pulp to finish with, in the latter part of the year. That was the main feed, and there’d be some regular straw carting to keep the litter dry, and then after a time you’d have a gang carting them up out, so cattle  kept you busy most of the winter. They were kept in all through the winter until about April. Then March/April you’d sell them off as fat cattle.

They were all Irish cattle. They used to import them from Ireland. We used to drove ‘em. That was another boys’ job. From Reedham Station, down either to the farms where they were going to fatten ‘em or during the summer down on the marshes. We used to go from Reedham, through Wickhampton, to Berney Arms. I don’t know how we used to keep going all day. You were running about for hours at a time. But very often if they were late coming in we’d take ‘em from Reedham to Freethorpe, put them on the meadow behind the school at Freethorpe and come and sort them out in the morning. ‘Cos they were all marked in different groups and you had to sort the marks out so you would take them all into different groups to where they’d belong. They’d ship ‘em over from Ireland to Birkenhead, load ‘em up, poor things they were a bit thirsty when they got over. They used to take them to feed and drink – or should do, and then unload ‘em at Reedham. We used to hold them up – there’d perhaps be 200 and you had to hold them up in the yard while you were unloading. Because the pens only held about 20, you’d have to unload a truck, let them out, then hold them up while you were unloading the rest and there were several trucks. That was quite good at times.

I finished up on the farm feeding the bullocks. That was my winter job. I went in to feed them, which was seven days a week. That weren’t too bad, apart from ‘64, ’63 was it, when we had a bad winter and every morning the pipes would be frozen and our only method of thawing the pipes out was digging the muck up, which had heated, and put it round the end of the tank to thaw it out. But we kept going, but that was hard work to keep ‘em watered. Food weren’t too bad, though it weren’t too good getting that in. But we always had a supply of dry pulp in the barn. The barn would be full of dried pulp so if you did run out you’d got something. I don’t think we ever did … but they kept the tops coming until they were finished. That was from Christmas to March. That was a long winter. You’d see birds round the buildings, you know, woodcock, trying to find stuff by the buildings. You’d never see one of them as a rule, any other time, but that was it, it was a terrible winter.

Leaving the farm to work at Cantley factory

I left the farm because it was sold and another farmer bought it – he was a good farmer, he’s put money in if he thought he’d get profit out. But there was sort of a different rate. You got 10 percent more money if you were sort of qualified. I thought I was qualified, but he said, no. So I said, right, I said I’d leave. As it happened my two neighbours were both foremen at Cantley. One was my brother-in-law and the other his mate. He was the electrical foreman at Cantley. They said there was a job going. I kept saying I was going down, and he said, right I’ll make an appointment and he did, he made an appointment to go and see the chap at Cantley and that was it. So I went down and they said they’d let me know when they wanted to start – that was after he said, no I couldn’t have my 10 percent. And then I got called to Cantley to start. That was October 4th 1974. So I told the farmer that I was leaving. I’d have had my 10 percent then – he was quite willing to pay then but I wouldn’t change my mind then, I went!

Cantley Sugar Factory ©geograph-2803268-by-Hugh-Venables

I’m glad I did, because if you are on a farm – my brother worked on a farm all his life and he got a gold watch when he retired. By going to Cantley you finished up with a pension. Which would make a bit of difference. That have made all the difference to our lifestyle really. You can be comfortable on a pension. I went in the yard gang at Cantley for a fortnight, I didn’t really like it out there. I would really like to be in the factory. That was cleaning up, looking round the site, keeping water levels right and that sort of thing on the reservoirs. You had a big area to look round and anything that wanted doing outside you did. But then there was another job come up in the factory which was the other foreman, he told me that was going. So I applied for that and I got that, which was a better rate anyway.

Cutting mills

I was on flat rate in the yard but then in there I was grade 5 which took you up several pounds a week. And that worked out a treat. That was on the cutting mills. Because the year before they’d had a lot of seeded beet in the crop and the fibre in the seeded beet blocked the cutting mills up, got round the knives and blocked ‘em. So nearly everybody who was on there got off to another job, so there was nobody really wanted this cutting mills job because the year before it had been terrible. But luckily that was fairly good the year that I went on and I trained on there for some time and that was alright, I quite enjoyed it. You had to take the blocks out of the cutting mills were sort of rotary things. The beet come down on top and they sliced the beet up, but every so often you had to change the blocks – there were about 24 blocks round the disk and you had to take them out and put new ones in and then keep them clean. Look at them every so often to see if they were cutting alright, anything blocked and sort of keep them in good order.

You put the knives in the block, there were sort of three sections of knives in each block. Someone had a sharpener there and he sharpened them and put them back into blocks and we’d put the blocks in the mill. You had to sort of turn it round and take one out and put one in. And then it just sliced all the beet which went up to the diffuser to wash the juice out of the slicers. I done about three years on the cutting mill.

There were six machines. So one is stopped and you’re working on that. You had two working each side as a rule and if everything is perfect they run for hours. But if you get a stone in they are supposed to be caught outside but sometimes one come over, sometimes they block up so you get a lot come over. And you’ve got to keep changing knives all the time to get rid of the stones. But anyway that was the system. You had six mills. There was an extra one which you could use in an emergency but that was a horrible thing to use, because you couldn’t control it! Not very good, you had to put rods in and out to alter the flow of beet. But anyway we didn’t use that if we didn’t have to. That was a different type of thing altogether. That was an upright one but these were flat disks.

It was very noisy. That’s another thing I’m suffering from. There used to be when I first went down there, there was a gas pump underneath where we were working. And that made a terrific noise. But then after a year or two they moved them outside and had the gas pumps in a building on their own and there you had to wear ear-muffs – ear protectors – to go into the building. That was better really because they were on their own and you didn’t very often go in there and if you did you took precautions then. I didn’t think about ear protection then. The general noise as well as the gas pump was fairly bad but once you took the gas pump out that was fairly acceptable when they altered the factory quite a bit. The first year I was there they took the cutting mills out and put new ones in, which were quite good. They improved it, they improved the standard and you could turn round easier, you know, you could turn round without any problem. But they were much better mills and they sliced better and they increased the slice – because that was about 200 ton an hour they used to cut to start with and they went up to 250 and that made quite a difference to the throughput and they still kept going up after that. They altered them again after that.

I done three years on there and I thought I’d have a change because you could hurt your back on the mills, pulling these things out and I thought, I’ve had three years and I’ve got away with it up till now, so then there was a job on the  carbs which was where you’d purify the juice sort of thing. So I put in for that and got that one.

Purifying the juice – working on the carbs

The juice goes through the diffuser to wash the juice out and that would come back to the carbs and you’d put milk and lime in to trap the impurities and gas. You sort of had to balance them. And you had a break, they used to call it, the juice had to settle. You had to balance the lime and gas so you kept a break. You’d get some juice in a glass, you’d take it out of the tap and if that didn’t settle in half a minute – that would settle at the bottom and you’d have clear juice up top – if that was alright that would go through the factory, and filter and everything, settle and it would work alright. Otherwise you’d have juice that you couldn’t do anything with. So you had to keep that. It was a quite interesting job that was really. You had other bits to do as well but that was sort of the main part. And you were right in the centre of the thing.

The year I did it they put a new thing we called the threepenny bit, that was the shape of the room in the new place they built in the middle, with all the controls but you had other people controlling as well, controlling different things. The foreman would be there in summer time, and the utilities and different people. You got the beet washers. So everything was there. But that was where you controlled things from. That was alright in there but to start with, before I went on there, it was all outside and wasn’t quite so good. I only stayed on there one year and another job (on the evaporators) come up, so I thought I’d try that one.

Working on the evaporators

Same pay, all grade 5, but what I was thinking, the chaps I worked within the summer, they were all reliefs, or a lot of them were, which was a higher-paid job. That’s what I thought I would like to do. If you train on these other jobs you stand a better chance of getting a relief, because you had to cover the jobs when people had days off, you see. I done a year on the evaporators, which was on the top floor and you were on your own there. You got the white pans – the sugar pans – at the other end of the floor but you were down this end and you had to control the flow of juice through the evaporators which is a marvellous system really because you start off high pressure high temperature and the heat, the steam from the first. there’s four different bodies each side and the steam from the first vessel heats the bottom of the second vessel, so you’ve got four different things all using the same heat. As the pressure goes down the temperature goes down and in the fourth one you’re practically a vacuum, say, boiling at 80 degrees. And as the juice go through that gets thicker and that is thin juice when that come in and thick juice when that go out. Then it has to be filtered before that goes to the white pans – the sugar pans. But I quite like that. A lot of people didn’t like it because if it suddenly shut down – which it did sometimes, something went wrong, you’d finish up with more steam than you wanted, because the boilerhouse couldn’t shut down quick enough and you had to blow it out through the roof. That used to make a horrible noise. And that was how that went. But that was quite good, I didn’t mind that one.

Relief jobs and computerisation

After that, the next year there was some relief jobs come up to I put in and got one of them. Then you had to train on the other jobs then. Boil sugar, do the drying, control the driers and all the other things you had to sort of work round them and learn them all, which was interesting to say the least. I didn’t mind them. Some of the jobs were quite good. But the only snag with me was I knew the factory as it was when I went down there, which was manual, but as they brought in more computerised stuff that beat me. I could do the job manually but I didn’t get on so well when that was more computerised. Like, boiling sugar, you had to sort of judge when the juice was at the right thickness to add a cupful of sugar to seed it to start the sugar growing. Well, that was alright, I could manage that one. That was when I first realised I needed reading glasses, I couldn’t see the sugar grain so I had  to get glasses. But once they computerised, it all worked to time and it never did seem so good. I didn’t like it like that, I’d rather do it myself. But they didn’t want you doing that – they’d rather have the computer doing it. That was what happened throughout the factory really, they sort of ‘improved’ it. But after I left they brought a different computer system in and that worked much better. The thing is, the system they had a lot of the indicators were the Penny Giles indicators, and you’d think they’d be brilliant because they’re the ones who make the black boxes on the aircraft. But they weren’t very good on sugar beet. Not some of the things they had, any rate. Some of them worked alright. Then they put a new system in and that worked much better.

There was a lot of casual workers they done away with all together after computerisation. People who just come in for the campaign. There were less regulars as well, they slowly kept going. You didn’t notice quite so much. But there were a lot of jobs that disappeared altogether, when they brought things in. On the filters they made it so there used to be dozens of people at one time, but then in the finish there weren’t anyone, they used to dump automatically and work themselves, sort of thing. That was alright when everything went alright. If you kept the brake on the carbs that went through alright but if you didn’t that would muck things up. That was the jobs I had, anyway, that’s where I finished up more or less.

Working shifts

Although they changed the shift system and we used to do a three shift system where you would work seven days a week and there weren’t no time off at all then to start with. But then they brought days off in, when you brought the relief in, when you wanted the reliefs to do the job cover, then they went onto a four shift system.

You had three shifts working and one on days off. There was always a shift working, so you didn’t need reliefs as such. You had to sort of fit in other things then. You’d do a three shift of six till two, two till 10, and 10 till six. We used to work late and early shifts on the three shift system, and on the other that used to work round but you didn’t do a week. You didn’t have a week off, you only had three days off. So you were changing all the while. Three days and you’d change. Or threes and fours.

You’d do three shifts: ten days on, then three days off. That worked roughly like that anyway. You’d do the shifts in the 10 days. You’d switch over, you’d go to three, three, four. You’d move round. Then they did a rapid rotating one after that. I never did that, so I don’t know. You hardly knew where you were going. One time, when you were a relief, you used to do a six hour and eight hour changeover which I never did like because that was before when we went onto the four shift system. You had to finish 10 o’clock at night

and back again at six in the morning. That don’t give you much time to get home and sleep. That was only for reliefs. We were the only ones who used to do that I think. It seems so complicated till you start and then you seem to know what you’re doing once you start.

Seasonal work

Work was very seasonal. The campaign would go from, say, September till … that depended, they did get done before Christmas once. Then that got longer and longer because they got less factories and more acreage and heavier crops so that was mostly September to March – February or March. That’s the last day when I finished. It was 28th February that was. Then you’ve got clean-up and get ready for next year. Then most of my time I spent up on the evaps during the summer, evaps and white pans, testing. You had to test the pipe before. You had to pressurise the vessel to see if there were any leaks. If that wanted new tubes put in or whatever. In the summer we used to clean the evaps, put a brush down each tube, several hundred tubes in each one and we would sort of clean them out, and test the vessels and generally check them over. At that time they used to have an inspector come round to check. He’d want to see them under pressure so the insurance covered everything sort of thing. So that was our main summer job apart from sometimes – that was before we went on evaps that was – we done shot blasting for a time. We used to clean the diffusers, repaint them inside really, it was the main job. Peradite over the years would wear off and you would blast it off and recoat. So you’d blast it off one day and then go all night and go back the next night and recoat. But when we first started I didn’t quite know what was going to happen. Because we went … and the foreman was the one I went in with … he said, if you just come in and hold the light, I’ll blast the screens. Because he was cleaning the screens which were covered with dust, which was right at the end of the diffuser.

That’s a big drum and that’s all in different bays. You have to go in and climb over a couple of “weirs”, we used to call them – a thing about three foot high. You had to climb over into the next one and perhaps over the next one. There was only a door on every say, third, bay. Anyway we got in to clean these screens. He was ready and we had hoods on with an independent air supply, so you were alright for air, and he started blasting away and he disappeared and the dust just got thicker and thicker. And there I was holding the lamp in my hand, and that disappeared. I just stood there in the dark and not knowing what was happening. He didn’t tell me quite what was going to happen when we started … anyway he knew the layout of the thing and we started up and down the screens until he was sure he had cleaned them. Then he stopped and after two of three minutes the air cleared and we could see what he’d done. He’d cleaned them but I was glad to see him, there was so much dust. I say when the lamp you are holding disappear that is dusty. But once you got in to do the job properly, which was blasting the peradite off, that was a bit dusty but nothing like that. You could see what you were doing all the while. Two of you go in at a time and two outside keeping the shot going and checking on everything outside. And you’d sit and listen to it. When we first started there was no communications – the only communication, you had a lamp in one hand and a hammer in the other when you were inside. If you wanted more shot or something you hammered, you hit the wall. That was it. But after that we did have little radios, we talked to each other. That altered the job altogether ‘cos you talked to them outside and them inside and you knew exactly what you were doing. That was much better then. That was a good job because they paid well. You did 12 hour nights admittedly but that was good pay, we didn’t mind that.

Lunchtimes and showers

There was a canteen but we mostly took our own lunch. There weren’t no canteen like night times when you were on night work during the off season. There was a canteen during part of the night when the campaign was on. They got quite good meals really. But during the off season some people used to go up regular but we used to take our own. They did put huts up for you to keep your clothes and everything in, and they did improve that a lot. The first year I was there was the first year they had huts at all, you had to just sit up the corner until then (to have your break) which weren’t very good. At the finish we had the relief hut they put up – what I finished in – you got a nice big room you could eat in. You’d got four showers in another room, and everything you wanted really. It was a good place. You needed these showers, especially on shot blasting. We’d finish up black, and the point is you didn’t mind because you knew you’d have a shower before you went home. You’d finish up cleaner than you would normally. But anyway conditions changed quite a bit while I was there. There was showers in the first place but one lot for the whole factory. And they were the ones we used to used when we first started shot blasting but when we finished we were in the relief hut and we had the showers in there. That was all ideal. Some days jobs were dirtier than others, but during the summer on evaps you didn’t really get dirty.

Supply of beet

You run out of beet sometimes if the roads were really bad, but they didn’t very often run out. You were more likely to run out of people to get in to do the shift change. Some came up by boat once. The river was clear but the roads weren’t. You’d perhaps do two shifts before your relief turned up. A double shift did happen during the winter. But they mostly had enough beet in for a couple of days so that didn’t run out. You’d get the roads cleared in that time, but if you had a bad night, or a blizzard or something, you couldn’t get in and so you were stuck. If roads were blocked with snow they soon cleared them so you kept going that way.

Characters I remember

One of the chaps I worked with when I was on the cutting mills came across the river. He lived at Norton or Thurlton or somewhere that way. They had a little boat nearly opposite the factory and they’d come across every day to get there. He usually made it as he was a tough little character. It was a rowing boat, they had to row across. Of course if you had a strong tide that weren’t always very good. It was maybe 50 yards – a decent sized river and it is a bit rough sometimes. I think once or twice they didn’t get over, but not very often. I don’t think my mate on the cutting mills ever missed a shift while I was there, anyway. For three years.

There was quite a few really people I remember. The foreman who I was shot blasting with, he was  good foreman he was. That was Waddy, he went shift super at another factory Afterwards but he was our foreman during the summer and he had a good way of getting people to work. If you had an idea of doing the job different he wouldn’t stop you. Because his theory was that if the people who are doing the job can think of some other way of doing it, that’s most likely a better way of doing it and he’d let you do it. And a lot of things improved like that. He could see if you’re doing a job you can very often see how to do it easier or more efficiently or whatever, and he’d let you do it. He weren’t too strict. He was one of the boys but he was in charge. I like him as a foreman, he really was good. Some of the other foremen weren’t too bad, but he was the best. He was there a few years when I was there but then he moved on. He got a better job.

Most people stayed for a long time. That was the point, when I started there that was looked on as a job for life, you were there till you retired. And once you got on the pension scheme. I was lucky in a way there, because up till then you’d have to work for five years before you went on the pension scheme. But they changed it the year we went, if you were grade 5 you went on after a year. So we were on the pension scheme nearly straight away which made quite a bit of difference really. As I say, that worked a treat for that.

Robert Fransham (1930-2012) talking to WISEArchive on 1 September 2010 in Reedham.

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