Posted 26-3-16 Working at the Edward Street factory, as told by Rod Horne Hello I am Rod Horne I came upon this site through Facebook and thought this may be of interest. I served an engineering apprenticeship at Auto-Wrappers when they were based at Edwards Street, Norwich. I was there from September 1958 until July 1964. Charlie Maddison was top man with his brother, Reg in a senior foreman or work’s manager type of role. There were 4 foreman as I recall, Jack Robinson who was foreman of the ‘R’ (Roll Wrapper) machine assembly bay; Bert Goodings, foreman of the other bay which assembled a range of machines designed to wrap biscuits, toilet soap, toilet rolls etc. (Bert was my foreman and I remember machine classifications such as ‘RB’ (for round biscuits), ‘WL’ and ‘WWL’ etc. - pretty much anything that wasn’t an ‘R’ ( Roll wrap machine); Ray Sexton, the machine shop foreman. The fourth foreman’s name escapes me but he was responsible for all the odds and sods, labourers, packing crate makers, and possibly the plating shop etc. There was another man in a position of authority, perhaps on a par with Reg Maddison or even greater, but I can’t recall his name at all (possibly Robson??) but I do remember him being a mean spirited person. The workshops at Edwards Street were utilitarian in construction; single storey with concrete floors, glass roofs with brick and asbestos walls. During the severe winter of 1962/63 it was not unusual to arrive at work to find the temperature in the factory to be about 3 C (38 F). The Factory Act of that time said it should be a minimum of 20 C (68 F) within 1 hour of starting work; with AW’s heating system and the extreme cold this was never going to be on. When requests were made to this man to have the heating left on over-night his response was “Tell them to wear more clothes and work harder!” However, there was so much unrest and ill-feeling that eventually this request was agreed to. In addition, wooden duck boards were provided for all the benches, until then we had stood on the cold concrete, During the summer months, the low roofs made it unbearable for the opposite reason! During this period of extremely cold weather, Ken Calinski (one of maybe 4 or 5 Polish men who worked at AW (and probably left over from the war) told us that it had been even colder when he escaped from Poland to avoid the German army and had waded chest-deep across a fast flowing river! Another of the Poles, Joe Lesnik, would occasionally visit his relations in Poland, as did some of the others, Ken never did. He also never spoke about his early life so we wondered what he had experienced before coming to England. Under the foremen were several leading hands; Stan Ablett, who would take the apprentice boys under his wing until they moved to other work; Ken Calinski. Jack Thorn, John Plumstead, (John, I believe, was to become foreman of a development section to be set up later), Jack Nixon who was in charge of the gang making small detail parts, and in the jig and tool shop there was another, Arthur Wilson. There were others but it was a long time ago and my memory is not that good. Arthur Wilson, of jig and tool, was a Communist and the A.E.U. representative (A.E.U, the Association of Engineering Workers). Arthur was always treading on management’s toes and for some reason was given the sack, which gave rise to the first, and perhaps the only strike of the AW work force. This must have been late ’63/’64 as I was one of the strikers so must have finished my training, apprentice boys not being allowed to strike. After a week of striking, Arthur was re-instated. I mentioned the assembly shops and their rough working conditions but these were palatial when compared to the machine shop. This was Ray Sexton’s domain but he worked with what he was given. The toilets were poorly lit, dirty and very smelly. It was my job, as the youngest apprentice in the machine shop, to wash the tea mugs of the machine operators in this filthy hole. To get them ‘clean’ in the half-light was not easy and there were frequent complaints. Also stored in the toilet was a 40-gallon (200L) drum of cutting fluid. This was pumped into a bucket and then diluted before being used on the lathes, milling machines etc. as a coolant. It was often splashed over the floor adding to the ambiance of the place. The machine-shop was a hotchpotch of machines; 5 or 6 center lathes of different sizes, 3 or 4 capstan lathes, a planer, a shaper, several milling machines, a radial drill, a vertical borer. The planer was a machine from yesteryear, probably the 1930s! It rattled and clanked its way at one end of the workshop and was overseen by an old boy of Corporal Jones vintage who constantly smoked a small, soot-blackened, burned pipe. He was also responsible for the case- and oil-hardening of small components. This required him to heat the parts in a small furnace to near white-hot temperatures and, in the case of oil-hardening, plunge them into a tank of oil. This would fill his area with clouds of smoke which would eventually make its way throughout the shop, gathering in clouds under the roof. At times it was like working in a fog, a hot oil-smelling fog. We had our share of characters too. One of the capstan lathe operators was one “Yorkie” Marks, a man who didn’t take life too seriously. On Friday afternoons, just before we left off, all operators were given 30 minutes in which to clear their machines of swarf, and clean and oil all slides and hand-wheels. During the day I had lent my oil can to a lorry driver who for some reason had filled it with petrol. When it was returned, unbeknown to me, it hadn’t been emptied. I had forgotten this. “Yorkie” had filled an adjacent waste bin with swarf from his machine and wiped down the slides etc. He then asked to borrow my oil can and oiled the surfaces. On smelling the petrol he poured the contents (much less than a half a litre) into the same bin as the swarf, which, because there was so much, was like a giant Brillo pad. When his cleaning was done, “Yorkie” lit up a cigarette and threw the match into the waste bin whereupon, with a great whoosh of flame, the petrol ignited. The heat burned off the coolant on the swarf and a great cloud of white smoke rolled up to the ceiling! The oil and petrol covered slides also ignited but the whole thing was over in no time at all leaving us all in stitches and “Yorkie” looking shocked. In the assembly shop was Bob Bull who worked on the ‘R’ machines. These machines had an aluminium hand wheel which went struck with a spanner rung just like a bell. Bob’s father-in-law was a river pilot who would take control of the coasters which plied their trade in the port of Norwich and guide them to their berths. I think this had become part of Bob’s psyche because at the start and end of shifts Bob would ‘ring’ one of the hand wheels calling out “All ashore who’s going ashore.’ This picture below is the Autowrappers Football Club from 1962 The players are back row from left to right 1, Ray Cox (captain & secretary) 2, David Crisp 3, Kenny Clarke, 4, Alan Bunn (Ray’s brother-in-law) 5, Brian Crome and 6, Derek “Timber” Linse Front from the left to right 7, Alwyn Gant, 8, Alan ‘Jimmy’ MacDonald, 9, Barry Moore, 10, Pennington ?? and me .... 11, Rod (Fred) Horne. Editors note: if anyone can help with filling in the ?? for Number 10 it would be appreciated We were contacted by David Crisp to say that he is the number 2 position, and to say the photo was taken at Earlham Park (many thanks Dave ) Photo Ref: AW0206
My understanding of how Autowrappers started .... I was led to believe that the Maddison’s, before Auto-wrappers, worked at Terry’s of York and at the end of the war, when all German patents expired, seized the opportunity to cash in on German wrapping machine technology. I can remember that a lot of the machines I worked on had that 1930s feel but as manufacturing processes improved so did the appearance of the machines, but not greatly. It wasn’t until AW’s designers (Reg Suffolk et al) that the machines began to look more in keeping with the time. Even the ‘R’ machine in 1964, when stripped of its covers, looked like something from the past despite its fantastic wrapping rate. A lot of resources seemed to be channeled towards making the ‘R’ machine, the real money-spinner, more efficient and attractive to manufacturers like Robertson Woodcock (Trebor), Roses, Caleys etc. (do they still exist?). Editors note: yes... but most have been taken over by Kraft or Nestle The assembly methods were also a little antiquated. All the pre-machined components would be assembled, drilled, bolted and doweled, casings and covers made and fitted and lubrication systems installed. This continued until the machine was pretty much complete and running perfectly. The whole thing would then be disassembled and that which needed painting, painted and that which needed plating, plated. When all this was complete the machine would then be reassembled with the attendant problems this caused. It always puzzled me why so much of the machine, concealed behind covers, needed painting. When I left in 1964 the in-machine at AW was known as a flow-wrapper. The product to be wrapped would move along a belt or conveyor and become encase in a tube of paper, the overlapping paper at the bottom would be heat sealed and rotating knives protruding through heated rollers would cut and seal the item to the desired length. Almost everything in the sweet line seems to be wrapped this way now (Mars bars, Bounties, Crunchies, the whole bit). I think AW was one of the leading lights in this type of wrapping machine. I went to Chesterfield to the Trebor works with John Plumstead (he appears frequently in pictures on the AW website) where we set up a flow-wrapper which was wrapping 3 or 4 tubes of sweets in one packet. The last couple of years of my apprenticeship were spent working with John Plumstead and Frank Oakley on biscuit, soap, cigar, and peanut brittle wrapping machines among others. Manufacturers would always supply AW with boxes of sample products to enable the machines to be set up to the actual product; Frank and I had got biscuit wrapping down to a fine art. We had a job making a machine to wrap custard creams ( the small rectangular, dreamy tasting biscuits) and we quickly had the machine working perfectly and ready for dispatch. This meant there were tins and tins of these biscuits unused - almost everybody at AW went home with bags full. I certainly did! I left AW in 1964 to work at Laurence & Scott. They paid more and I was soon to be married but have fond memories of my time at AW. Roderic ( Fred ) Horne