‘This blog is posted on the birthday of a beautiful young woman who was the inspiration for me to begin the journey. She inspired to the extent that I had no choice but to embark.

Thank you!’

I was born shortly before the end of World War 2 so the National Health Service was to make its’ appearance when I was approaching four years old; in July 1948.  ‘It appeared at a time when Britain saw health care as crucial to one of the “five giants” that Beveridge declared should be slain during post-war reconstruction. (want, disease, squalor, ignorance, idleness) The cataclysm of war provided an opportunity that might not have been taken in quieter times.’  I know that I had at least a couple of hospital stays while I was living in Hunslet.  I had tonsils removed and I was hospitalised with scarlet fever. I was in hospital for about two weeks for each of these illnesses.  Nowadays, children have tonsils removed and are home usually on the same day.  Scarlet fever is something of an olden days disease being well controlled by antibiotics but I suppose these drugs were still to some extent in their infancy and being from the deprived area of Hunslet and being comparatively young, no chances were taken. Obviously, I do not know if I was in hospital as an NHS patient but I was cared for and my parents did not have the money to pay for expensive medical treatment so there must have been some financial assistance from somewhere.

Some details are missing from my memory but I know my father had a third of his stomach removed when I was a young child so he will have also been comparatively young at the time, certainly less than forty. He used to talk of having had a duodenal ulcer so if that was the reason for what was a big operation, judging by the scar he had, he certainly had a bad time. There was no ‘keyhole’ surgery at that time. I have wondered since whether there might have been some connection with war-time medications, vaccinations and the like that made his stomach vulnerable.

Looking back, I remember many cases of the failure of the pre NHS systems and I only have experience of the people who could not afford to pay for treatment.  I have no idea how people were treated before but there were many situations where elderly, war wounded or mentally ill were solely dependent upon the good will and devotion of neighbours and family members. It must be remembered that in 1948, the Second World War had only been finished three years before but the First World War left many hundreds of thousands terribly injured and they would be in their early fifties at the inception of the NHS. My grandfather was injured on the first day of the Battle of the Somme having been gassed and missing at a prior engagement and diagnosed with iron deficiency in the early stages of the conflict. In 1948 he was fifty-two years old. We would see numerous men of all ages who would be walking the streets shouting at the tops of their voices at nothing in particular and generally behaving in a desperately agitated manner. The term ‘shell shock’ was used to describe the torture those poor souls were still enduring.  Many ex soldiers struggled along with crutches and invalid carriages of all shapes and sizes.  The latter would be propelled by some form of hand or foot controlled pedals, some would be covered to give some protection from the elements.  Along with these, there were numerous, from memory, mainly men, who had legs so bowed with the result of rickets that walking was a real difficulty.

The theatre of war was not the only source of death, injury, illness and misery. Industry was not regulated or monitored even remotely as well as it is today. Engineers and other workers with missing fingers were very common. Miners suffered injuries from falling rocks, moving machinery and perhaps most insidious, coal dust. Breathing difficulties affected a huge proportion of the population of the city of Leeds and its’ industrial Goliath of a suburb, Hunslet. Many would not survive to a reasonable old age due to the inhalation of the many chemicals floating in the atmosphere and the dust pervading the grimy streets. The collieries supplied the coal, for the furnaces that produced steel, glass and the myriad of other items of engineered products issuing from the factory doors.

I think I was in my late teens before I heard the word cancer. The father of a close friend died of the disease but whether through ignorance or simply lack of exposure, at that time there did not seem to be the dread. There were plenty of other things to die of anyway.

We would see many children with problems that we rarely see these days.  Shaven heads as a lice prevention measure, leg irons to keep legs straight, often after polio attacks but mainly with vitamin deficiencies. Badly squinting eyes without the aid of correctional glasses, often, the method of correction would be to cover one eye with a sticking plaster.  I do not know whether it was successful or not. A face covered with stains of Gentian Violet was a stark indicator of the presence of impetigo or even worse, ringworm!

I know we did get some fruit as part of our diet, but there would not be the quality, range or quantity that we see today. The school milk act of 1946 ensured the supply of one-third of a pint free to all school pupils under the age of 18. I remember enjoying the milk even though in warm weather the lack of refrigeration meant the milk was not as refreshing as it might have been when it left the dairy to be deposited in the school playground.

Children would often be infected with very painful boils, particularly on the nape of the neck or other areas of friction. Possible causes were the friction caused by a shirt collar and or poor hygiene.

Many children or adults rarely visited dentists until the NHS allowed for free treatment. it was almost expected that men and women would opt to have all their teeth removed while still comparatively young.  My parents would have been little more than forty years old when they went through the ordeal.  The reason was economics. Even subsidised dental care was expensive if you had no money and time off work was not to be taken lightly in hard times. No thanks, a full set of false teeth would last a very long time and no further dental treatment required until they wore out!

Children would be given tooth braces only to correct the very worst examples of protruding teeth. Certainly no concession to cosmetic improvement. Teeth would be removed to allow for expansion or because they were badly decaying. The anaesthetic used was gas and from memory, it was awful. The patient would be expected to be nauseous and usually sick on the bus home from the clinic.

School inspections were a regular feature when a medical team might descend en masse to investigate the eyesight , oral health or simply general health.  They would also invade to administer vaccinations for the dreaded diseases of the time. I do particularly remember that polio began to feature very prominently in the news. I had a cousin and an uncle who were stricken with it. Fortunately, both escaped without the devastating consequences others suffered, although my uncle who contracted it well before the second world war was unable to join the conflict due to the effects the disease had on him. Being a deep thinker who worried within and took in everything without opening up to my parents, I believed it was only a matter of time before I would be struck down. I am sure that I was not the only one but it was a great relief when the vaccination finally became available. I also worried about the likelihood of contracting lock-jaw. Anti tetanus is now one of those immunities we take more or less for granted.

I was nine years old when my elder sister died. She contracted rheumatic fever and weakened quickly. They tried a new drug on her. This drug is still used today and rheumatic fever is rarely fatal now in the developed world. Antibiotics is generally the simple cure. She was twelve years old when she died and her death had a profound effect on me.  As I have said, I kept things buried within myself and did not talk about things.  I at nine years thought that my elder sister must always be my elder sister. Consequently, I could never get older than she was. For many years after her death I would not have been surprised had she come walking down the street and into the house.




I need to put things into perspective here. The Austin/Morris Mini was introduced to the amazed British public in August 1959.  In general terms it was considered a technological marvel.  It was described as being a two box design, having a steel box for the mechanical bits and another steel box  for the passengers. It was remarkably roomy and supposedly brought motoring within the reach of everyone.

The basic mini had an engine capacity of 850cc (less than a litre) and its’ power output was about 30PS (in todays’ numbers). The car boasted a suspension system that essentially consisted of rubber blocks being sat between the body and the wheels.

The car had sliding windows with plastic locks for security. Door handles on the outside were rudimentary and there were no handles on the inside; the door was opened by pulling on a wire that was screwed onto the door at one end and attached to the sliding lock at the other. The trim on the inside of the door simply slotted against the single skin of the door but one advantage of the car was the bucket sized storage compartment at the bottom of each door and underneath the rear windows.

Looking at the dashboard, there was a single circular instrument housing that was home to the speedometer: the car was capable of about 70 miles an hour with assistance from helpful wind and road inclination. Also within this housing was the fuel gauge and two warning lights, one to tell you the battery was being charged, the other to show there was enough oil pressure to avoid catastrophic engine failure. At this stage there was no engine temperature gauge.

The headlights were activated with a simple rocker switch with a simple ignition switch placed between it and the windscreen wiper switch. There was no choice of wiper speed and there was no steering lock! If you wished to dip the headlights, which were about as powerful as a candle in the wind, the dip switch was a foot operated device attached to the floor. The direction indicator switch was on the steering column and looked very much like a fairy wand with a green plastic cap on the end that flashed when it was activated.

The floor covering was a thin rubber mat sitting directly on the steel floor, seats were very basic without any additional support or head restraints and of course no seat belts. There were no windscreen washers and there was no heater and no reversing lights!

The ultimate reward for the lucky new owner was the likelihood of the car breaking down the first time it was driven in the rain. Although rain is a popular subject for discussion amongst the British population, it obviously did not feature for the design team since the car was not prepared for it.  Rather quickly, a modification that involved attaching a board to the inside of the front grille to deflect the rain followed by the factory fitting of a rubber glove to fit over the ignition system.

So for all this, the price at the time was around £480.00! And with petrol about 22p per gallon, motoring sounds cheap! Yes? NO!

At the time an average worker would be earning around £500.00 per year. So it would take him/her about a year to earn enough to buy a car. Around 40 gallons of petrol could be bought with the weeks wage.  Today the average wage would buy around 90 gallons and the modern car would travel about 50% further than the older equivalent!

The average annual salary today of around £25 000 would buy a Mini John Cooper Works Coupe. This car would take you that further 50% per gallon of fuel, and having about six times as much power would be capable of twice the top speed.  It is filled with all the modern safety devices such as air bags, anti skid devices along with braking and steering systems that do not compare with the 1959 version.  The standard of comfort is also incomparable with proper thick carpets, leather seats that are shaped to the human frame and glass designed to reduce glare. Windows are electrically operated but you do not need to open them to cool down since a sophisticated climate control system is installed. The Hi Fi system is about as good as you can get. I could go on ad infinitum but it is obvious there is a world of difference.  Of course, you could buy a Ford Fiesta with many of the listed features and put about £10 000 in the bank!

Back to work! For some time, I was drafted by the foreman, Roddy, to assist him personally.  He would busy himself in between organising the other mechanics with work requirements and answering the telephone by addressing what he would call snag jobs. The average age of the mechanics in the car department was probably around twenty.  Most of them were still apprentices since apprenticeships lasted five years from the age of 16, so you were ‘out of your time’ on your 21st birthday. The result of this was that there was a lack of in-depth experience so while most tasks were carried out without problem, some developed into ‘snags’. Roddy was a very experience individual who was not afraid to get stuck in.

This helped me to gain experience dealing with complexities under the expert guidance of Roddy.  One such job we were working on was an influential customer who was also an acquaintance of Mr Dapper Geniality which entailed both general manager and customer breathing down our necks while the job was in progress.  The troublesome component was the carburettor and I was mainly involved in passing the required tools (I was beginning to recognise the terminology) to Roddy but I was asking questions about the job as I was doing it. Although he did not say anything at all to me at the time, Mr Dapper Geniality obviously noticed my interest as he made reference to it later to Roddy.  His suggestion was that I should be nurtured in the mysterious workings of the carburettor as a future specialism.  It turned out that Mr Dapper Geniality had himself been a carburettor specialist in the long, distant past.

Another thing that started happening was working on ‘Guvvie’ jobs. I found myself being involved in all sorts of different kinds of jobs for which there were no job cards.  Now job cards were the pieces of paper that were a record of time spent on the job along with parts and consumables the customer was expected to pay for.

I think the definition of a ‘guvvie’ job is one which is ‘tax free’. In other words jobs that the government has no knowledge of! Roddy had numerous friends and acquaintances who had cars that gave trouble at times. Roddy and I, or me under directions from Roddy would repair or service these cars and I would not be given a job card.  If consumables were needed, either Roddy would produce them like magic or I would be given a card belonging to a different vehicle. I think this must have been a lucrative element to the foremans’ job. No-one would question his integrity, especially not me, but he would make his own arrangements for charging the ‘customer’.  I never got a share of the proceeds, of course, and that would furnish him with another layer of secrecy as I could never be accused of being involved in anything.

I was given the instructions at times that if anyone asks whose vehicle it was, I was to refer them to Roddy. He was always prepared!

I was obviously to find later there was something of a culture of ‘Guvvies’ not only here but everywhere in the industry. Many mechanics use the ‘Guvvie’ system as the basic foundation to build a legitimate business.  Many have been very successful!

Sometimes, the work being done was very questionable. Cars suffered very severe rust problems. Yes they did have a ‘proper’ chassis made of comparatively thick steel but they did not have effective rust prevention either on the chassis or the rest of the body.  Water finds its’ way easily into cavities. What with engineering tolerances and sealing materials being relatively primitive compared with modern vehicles, rust was definitely a major issue.  Vehicle testing by the government did not enter the equation until 1960 and then it was for ten-year old cars.  This was reduced to seven-year old cars in 1962 and later reduced to five before finishing at the current level of three years.

There was quite a bit of leeway in the standard required and as long as the vehicle was not falling apart, it passed the test.

Roddy was involved in getting his ‘customers’ through the test. I remember being involved in a repair where there was a hole the size of a football at the junction of the rear wheel arch and the sill. As we tried to find metal suitable for welding, the hole had become bigger and bigger! Finally, having given up the search, Roddy decided to fill the hole with newspaper, cover the paper with a layer of cardboard and paint it with underseal (a bituminous material used for protecting metal from the elements).

Underseal was applied in minimal quantities in some key areas of the vehicle body. Customers who wanted to give their car some protection that might keep rust at bay for more than a couple of years could pay for it to be undersealed at the point of sale, once it had been on the road it was largely a waste of time.  As explained above, the underseal was a bitumen based rubberised material that could be applied by brush. The youngest apprentices were chosen for the task as they were less likely to turn down the ten shilling (50p) ‘reward’ that was paid for each car completed. Ten shillings was just about a days’ pay so I for one could not afford to turn it down. Two days pay for one days work seemed fair enough to me! There was a big but though! It was a very dirty job. laid on your back trying to get a brush full of slippery rubber paint into all the nooks and crevices on those cars was difficult to say the least and impossible in many places. Fortunately, the work was unlikely to be inspected, especially by the new owner. So, much was missed!

Getting cleaned up afterwards was a nightmare. Rubber, silicon or neoprene gloves were a thing of the future. It would be up your sleeves, in your hair all over your face and some of it would set quite hard before you had a chance of removing it.  To remove it you had the choice of washing in paraffin or petrol before the final scrub with the sandy soap skin remover. Without referring to the fire risk, smoking was allowed anywhere in the workshop, Imagine the response from the Health and Safety Executive nowadays.

The ten shillings extra pay was referred to as ‘muck money’. It could just as easily be called danger money! Ironically, it was just about a waste of time. It was applied in such a haphazard manner that water crept under it and it peeled off in big lumps eventually leaving rotten metal further exposed to the elements!

Old Habits

I often wonder about life in the rows of terrace houses that housed the workers of Hunslets’ factories. At the time, many if not most would be employed as highly skilled engineers in the myriad of factories. Even if not among the ranks of skilled machine operators, they were likely to be involved in the uncomfortable and arduous if not down right dangerous support industries such as forges, glass producers, collieries or railways and the like.

Hunslet is at one end of the worlds oldest commercial railway: Middleton Railway. Coal was brought from Middleton colliery to be offloaded at the Hunslet Coal Staiths and distributed from there. There was a link to the massive goods yards at Balm Road and Stourton where my father worked for a time.  Stourton now houses a massive container base.  The railway is operated now by a dedicated group of volunteers and gives a fascinating if not awe-inspiring view into the past industrial glories of the nations past.

There were row upon row of back to back, or in the case of our house, backless, homes. The majority of these by far would open their front doors directly onto a stone flagged footpath outside and a cobbled road. Our street must have been pre-Roman since we had not been furnished with the cobbles! They would face directly onto their neighbours on the opposite side of the street and on washing day, tradition says Monday, the street would be crisscrossed with washing lines strung from side to side. The line would be supported by wooden props in the middle of the road. The occasions, extremely rare, that a vehicle came along the street would be a precursor to many groans and steely looks from the vexed housewives who would venture into the street to hold the washing up, sometimes with the help of the prop so the offending vehicle could pass through. I am sure the rent collectors or whoever else could afford road vehicles would have wished they had parked further away and walked.

I was too young at the time to recognise some of the anomalies of life in the streets. Most residents would keep them and their families as clean and tidy as was possible given the constrictions of poor utilities.  However, one thing has, for want of a better description ‘gnawed’ at me for many years. To put this in context of the times, remember this was the nineteen forties and fifties men came home expecting food to be available and after food was time to rest until the pubs would welcome them.  It was the habit of the ‘housewife’ in very many cases to throw food that was left on the plates, or excess food (not that there would be much of either) onto the cobbled street.  For many years, I thought it was a love of the wildlife that prompted this behaviour. Now I think back and remember the general squalor of the place.  There would be flocks of feral pigeons strutting all over the place taking as much food as was possible to eat without causing flight difficulties.  They of course left behind their ‘calling cards’.  But, and I rush to say, I never to my knowledge saw one, there must have been a population of rats that was fed better and were more healthy than many of their human landlords.  The opportunities for rats and other rodents to choose a well supplied existence must have been just about endless.  Beginning with the dark cellars which allowed access from house to house through all sorts of nooks and crannies, roof spaces which were elevated versions of the cellars and less likely to be disturbed by human visitors and ending with outside toilets with open access to the sewer system.


Baths involved either the indignity of sitting in a galvanised tub in front of the fire. In the romanticised view shown on many current day television shows, the water would be brimming to overflow and topped off with another six inches of bubbles.  All the hot water available had to be heated in a kettle and,or pan on the range or the two ring gas burner so if you wanted a bath ‘today’, reality was three or four inches of tepid water and I have yet to know anyone who managed to get any kind of lather with carbolic soap.  Carbolic soap was the generic, utilitarian red block that would shatter toes if dropped.  It was used for everything from washing the floor, the people who walked on the floor and the clothes the people wore. Wash houses and baths were available for public use but not at the end of every street.

Washing in my house involved the use of a barrel-shaped, galvanised tub and a washing board, both of these items would later find imaginative use as musical instruments in the days of skiffle groups.  The clothes would be dropped into the tub and agitated with a poss, a kind of upturned sieve attached to the end of a stick which would be plunged up and down in the tub.  The washing would be lifted from the boiling water with a stick that was called a dolly and dropped into the sink for rinsing.  White clothes would be rinsed with a chemical additive that would add a blue hue, the originator of ‘the blue whitener’. The washing would be rung out, no spin drier available of course, and hung on the washing line in the street. Of course, teamwork was sometimes required for larger items such as blankets and sheets, so neighbours would be called upon to hold and twist the other end to wring the item as dry as possible! Finally, crossed fingers for no rain and the forlorn hope of no smoky fires.

Of course there were some items that needed ironing.  No electric, the iron was a lump of iron or steel that was shaped roughly the same as a modern high-tech electric one but there the similarity ends.  They did a good job, as long as it was not too hot when it was gingerly lifted off the source of external heat which could be the side of the range or the top of the gas ring.  The user had to lift the iron with a handle that was welded to the base and had no insulation to protect the hands so ironing involved using a thick cloth to wrap around the handle.  If steam was required, splashing the material with water was the only option no plastic water sprays in those days!  We still have two or three of these irons around the house, they make good door stops!

At this point I think it is time to mention the chemical works at the bottom of our street.  My most vivid recollection was to walk from the front door of my home and immediately start coughing.  There was no way to mitigate the cough, the aggravation at the back of my throat was all-powerful. Hunslet was a smoky place at the best of times, but I came to recognise that if the wispy, dark brown-yellow coloured smoke was issuing from the chemical plant, I would cough.  I would later understand that this was a by-product of the plants’ production of sulphuric acid.    Although Sulphuric acid has numerous industrial uses and was the basis for many batteries, it is a very hazardous material.  It is extremely corrosive and must be handled with care.  The HASAWA (Health and Safety ay Work Act) had not yet come into being and obviously manufacturers and employers did what they needed to do to make a profit.  That was about it! The acrid output from the many flues and chimneys was acceptable as long as people did not drop dead.  The acid was carried about on public roads in glass carbouys seated in a straw bed inside a metal cage.  If the vehicle was involved in an accident, there was a good chance of leakage. There was talk of one accident where the driver of one of these vehicles was soaked in concentrated sulphuric acid and suffered an agonising death.

At some time during the nineteen sixties, a large car dealer took over part of the Laporte site and began to park vehicles on it. Most of the vehicles were new cars awaiting sale or delivery.  After a time, it became apparent that fallout from the adjoining factory was causing major problems to the paintwork.  New cars needing paint jobs! Later, after production ceased at the plant, cars were still experiencing issues as tyres were being badly damaged by the acid content of the ground they were parked on. We were breathing in this fallout! Incidentally, it appears that the nearest the Nazi bombers came to hitting a target near my home, before I was born but while my family were resident, was a hit at the edge of the Laporte plant. I am unaware of any casualties but Hitler might have,  with better technology, inadvertently saved many Hunslet residents from lung problems!



The beginnings.

Many people can explain the moment that was the spark of energy which set them along a certain path. Perhaps there is some specific genealogical trait that forged a track that left no alternative route. There are those particularly in the more artistic circles who can point to their upbringing in the dressing rooms at theatres or wandered with parents around galleries.

I found out only recently, after my retirement that my paternal great grandfather had been an engine tester in the epicentre of what was the machine shop of the British Empire. Hunslet, a suburb of Leeds,produced engines and locomotives that would be exported worldwide to be the motive force for the industrialisation and communication lines in India, Africa and most of the developing world in the mid 19th century.

My maternal grandfather was a sewing machine mechanic in the late Victorian era when textile production employed many thousands of workers in Leeds. As many as ten thousand employees at Montague Burtons;just one of dozens of garment manufacturers, some huge, some small operating in the city. I did know my grandfather and knew he was a sewing machine mechanic but the thought of following his footsteps never occurred to me. I was only eight years old when he died. Perhaps as well as most of these factories started to disappear as cheaper methods of manufacture evolved in the far east.

In all honesty, I think I stumbled into the motor industry as I did into many of my ‘projects’ while I was day dreaming. My schooldays consisted of one foggy day after another. The fog was nothing to do with the weather. It is the best description I can offer of what was going on in my mind at any given time. I find so many things interesting and in many cases so fascinating that it is impossible to push them to one side while I concentrate on the so called matter in hand.

The result, I think, is that I have developed an ability to remember pieces of information that is irrelevant to most and can engender incredulity from friends and family who wonder where such information came from!

So I had a good education, many would consider it an excellent education but I did not make the most of it. School was a social occasion for me. I would look into space and transport myself to wherever the foggy path allowed me to go without falling into something unpleasant. My teachers often referred to me as lazy. I was shocked recently to read my report from my grammar school teachers. In my defence, I don’t think I was lazy. My brain was always well occupied just not with the subject matter the teachers were occupied with.

Consequently, I left school at sixteen years old with no qualifications at all. Eleven years of looking into space rewarded with the only piece of paper available to me; a list of marks alongside subject titles. No marks indicated were high enough to give me a certificate.

I am not blaming anyone for all this. And I rush to protest that it was not time wasted. Later, much of what had drifted into the fog did eventually materialise into something that was very useful indeed.

I am sure many of my teachers would have been happy to know that I remembered information and principles that they had left me with. I thank most of them very sincerely for their efforts, although there were some who almost succeeded in breaking my inner spirit.

No, when I left school I really had no idea what I was going to do for a career or even a job. Tomorrow would be very interesting indeed but I was not scared at all. I still had my dreams but they switched track much too quickly. Was I going into a bank, results pushed that to one side thankfully. Into printing another now failed but at the time very successful Leeds industry? They showed no interest in me at all. The motor industry then? A motor mechanic with a grammar school education? Might as well!