Thursday, 28 May 2009

Alfred Herbert's Apprenticeship with Joseph Jessop & Co

'Some of my Shopmates and myself when young' - a photo from Alfred Herbert News November - December 1953. Both Alfred Herbert and William Hubbard appear in the photo, Alfred in the back row, second from the left

My old school-fellow (a farmer's son like myself), William Hubbard, afterwards my partner, was apprenticed to a firm of engineers, Joseph Jessop & Sons in Leicester, our native town. One day I went to see him at work. He was running a small lathe and I was spellbound to see the curly chips he was producing. It was intended that I should go to a University with the idea of becoming a parson and with that object I had already struggled through the Oxford Junior and Senior examinations. But Hubbard's achievements on this lathe were too much for me and I persuaded my father to let me follow his example. I wonder what would have happened to me, and to many others, if I had pursued my original intention.

In due course my indentures were signed [1880]. They were of the traditional kind, stipulating that in consideration of a modest premium I was to be instructed into the arts of a turner, fitter and draughtsman. For my part, I promised not to haunt play-houses and taverns, not to waste my master's goods or see them wasted by others; my master's lawful commands gladly to obey; not absent myself from work without permission and in all things to behave as a good and diligent apprentice should. My wages were 5/- a week, rising by half a crown a year; not very high pay by today's standards. I remember the thrill when I got my first five shillings. The was real earned money, quite different stuff from the pocket money my father gave me. With that five shillings I was able to buy five first-rate lunches at Boulter's, a small eating-house nearby. I wish I could get as good meat today!

There were five or six premium apprentices; our only priviliges were that we started work at 7 o'clock instead of 6 in the morning, we had the use of a small room to change and wash, and we spent our last year in the drawing office.

In winter my people lived in Leicester. In the morning I stood in a flat bath, poured a jug of cold water over my head, jumped into my clothes and ran a mile and a half to the shop with bread and butter and a screw of coffeee and sugar in my pocket for breakfast. At 8.30 the whistle blew and there was a wild rush to the steam kettle to fill our coffee tins.

In summer we moved to my father's farm at Whetstone Gorse about seven miles out of Leicester and I started work at 9 o'clock instead of 7, and I often rode my penny-farthing bicycle there and back.

My apprenticeship was one of the happiest times of my life. I was intensely interested in the work and in everything that was going on in the shop, and my shop-mates, without exception, were most kind and friendly. They answered my questions and did their best to teach my some of the rudiments of my trade.

Jessops employed about 150 men. They were engaged mainly in building cranes, hositing and lifting machinery, steam engines, and in general engineering. they turned out really good work, judged by the standards of their time but, by comparison with a modern shop, their equipment and their methods were distinctly primitive.

From Alfred Herbert News November - December 1953

His 'shopmates' remained friends all his life. Here are photos of some them on their annual visits to Alfred Herbert Ltd. These visits began in 1918 and continued until 1953!

Immediately after the First World War, parties of Sir Alfred Herbert's old shopmates - apprentices at Jessop's of Leicester, made an annual visit to his Coventry Works. This meeting was in 1932 and the last one occurred in 1954. 'The Erector' (sitting, middle right) was referred to by Sir Alfred as 'Yankee' who apparently did no work but sat on an upturned packing case chewing tobacco and directing his sweating mates.

Sir Alfred Herbert's old shop-mates from his apprenticeship at James Jessop, Leicester, in the 1880s on an annual visit to Alfred Herbert Ltd on 15th Sept 1937.

Standing: G Smith, Mr Arthur Hollick (son-in-law), TW Jones, Sir Alfred, A Underwood, W Jayes
Sitting: CA Sault, W Bloxham, Mrs Gladys Hollick (daughter), Ian Hollick (grandson), Lady Nina Herbert, W Grundy, J Taylor.

Return to Sir Alfred Herbert Index

1 comment:

  1. Dear Herry Lawford, I'm currently researching Alfred Herbert and his connection to the Museum with reference to my great grand father's photography. Do you have any information pertaining the annual Herbert photography competition? I have some prints with labels for this stuck on verso stating "selected and hung" (1947-51), but have not found any press articles or ephemera relating the these exhibits.