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A. T. Roberts, Mechanical Engineering

A Memory of Bushey

I was astonished to see today in Google (Streetview) the name 'A.T. Roberts' on the fascia of a company building close to Bushey Station. I was a 16-year-old apprentice there in 1941, with Mr A T Roberts as my boss and teacher. At that time the building was simply three (it might have been two) small cottages knocked into one. It was full of overhead-belt-driven machinery, including two lathes, two drills, milling machine, shaping machine, mechanical saw, emery wheel and sandstone wheel. The 'back garden' area was the corrugated-iron roofed smithy's shop; the floor was trampled-down earth, excepting for the concrete foundation block for the anvil. Also in this area was the very long mower-cylinder sharpener; this accommodated anything from the cylinder of a small domestic lawn mower to the that of the of tractor-pulled mowing machines. I was trained to use these and to be 'striker' and fire-lighter for the blacksmith ('Joe'), having the fire ready for his arrival each morning. I also used all of the other machinery. A small cubby-hole of a room was the 'office', where there was a phone and a high desk. A delightful, flat-capped elderly man did all the office work and in spare moments would stand in his doorway, puffing at his hand-rolled cigarette and smiling round at anyone who caught his eye. Mr Roberts, always in his brown and well-handled trilby hat, did as much work as the Foreman and we four apprentices. For me, beyond the daily making of small parts, the single outstanding achievement was to make, from a (roughly) 4-inch diameter length of mild steel, a ball-and-socket car-to-caravan towing link. But, eventually tired of having constantly ingrained-grease-black hands and having to spend about thirty minutes each evening before a meal scrubbing them until the black was no more, I begged to be released from the 7-year apprenticeship. I tried being an office boy at Scammell's Lorries, a shop assistant at Ryman's, Watford and, by the time I was called up for RAF service, one of the two darkroom boys at Kodak, Harrow, processing all those rolls of snapshot film you took to Boots the Chemist.

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