Mr. Bennett was principally a geography teacher though I was lucky to get him as a form master for my 1st and 2nd years. I remember that he used to keep a size 13 slipper in his desk drawer, with which he dispensed justice and kept good order. He was an avid rugby fan and I once met him on a tube train after a Wales v England match, by which time I was in the Merchant Navy, and we had a quick chat.
In the ‘Pupils – R.I.P.’ page there’s a paragraph on Tony Scuse who lived six doors away from me, on Green Lane. I knew him and his family well. We used to have a sort of club in his father’s garage where all the local ‘Herberts’ used to congregate. Most had either gone to, or were at Mayfield. Apart from Tony and myself there was Peter Huddlestone, who was a couple of years older than me. Following his National Service he became an Aeronautical Engineer and the last I heard he was living and working in Switzerland. Jimmy Bedford, same age as me, who went on to work at Billingsgate fish market. John Hill, he was about the same age as Tony, and his younger brother Peter Hill. Tony went in the army and on his return he joined the Fire Service. The tales he used to tell! He eventually married and moved to the opposite side of the road from his mother’s house, in Green Lane
I went to Mayfield from South Park Junior School, much to the displeasure of my mother who thought that I should go to a Grammar School. We lived in Charlbury Gardens so it was only a short walk to the back gate of the school. I don’t remember much about the first two years. In the third year my form master was Mr. Bradley who ‘press ganged’ me into running the school library. He gave me a love of reading that I still have to this day. I must have done ok though. As we were about to enter the fourth year, Mr. Hicks told us that the top 20 or 22 boys were going to be taught to a standard that would enable us to take the GCE exams, something that hadn’t been done by a secondary school before. But those who took part had to stay on an extra year. The classes were forms 4E & 5E.
The form master, for the 4E year was Mr. Bradley and for the 5E, Mr. Ivey. There were two groups in the class, one that leaned towards engineering and the other which leaned towards accountancy and office work. I already had a career in mind and went towards engineering. We took maths, English, technical drawing, metallurgy, geography and metalwork. Of course we had the usual games periods, to relax. Under Mr. Aston and Mr. Frankland, I think not! It was blood, sweat and tears. If Mr. Bradley gave me a love of English, Mr. Ivey gave me a love of maths. So much so I hardly learnt any more, maths except for calculus since I left. The Technical Drawing, metallurgy and metalwork were taken by Mr. Saunders, who was a strict disciplinarian and lacked of a sense of humour.
After 18 months hard slog, Mr. Hicks thought of another ‘jolly jape’ when he decided that we should sit the Royal Society of Arts Examinations, as a sort of trial run for the GCSE’s. The period following the exams left us academically at a dead end so, every day for three months if the weather was nice, we used to play cricket. We must have played every class in the school. We had to be at school to satisfy the then Rules and Regulations. I would have much preferred to have been given our mark and then let out. When I could have gone cycle training as I was heavily into bike racing at the time. I remember one day just before we drew stumps Mr. Frankland grabbed a bat, and shouted to me to bowl him a ball. Now I was pretty useless at the game, but enjoyed it as most schoolboys do, and expected him to smash it out of the park. I gave him a ball on a good length but with loads of spin and took his middle stump out. There were shouts of luck, and he replaced the stump. ‘Come on’ he said ‘give me another one’. He looked quite annoyed. So I did and removed it yet again Whereupon I turned and sprinted for the changing rooms pursued by a red faced teacher waving a cricket bat.
Life after Mayfield
I left Mayfield in 1955 with 5 GCSEs and 5 RSAs. I started work as an apprentice Marine Engineer with the shipping company Royal Mail Lines Ltd at their works in Canning Town, a frantic eight mile bike ride from Ilford. I received a good heavy engineering apprenticeship and enjoyed every minute of it. I was deferred from the National Service call-up because I was an apprentice and as luck would have it, a week before I finished my time, Her Majesty dropped me a line saying that I wouldn’t be required, which meant that I didn’t have to join the Merchant Navy. It was a shot in the arm as I was out to all hours every night, pubbing and clubbing.
When the Superintendant Engineer called me into his office and said he had just the ship for me, I knew it to be a real old ‘rust bucket’, so I declined, and he promptly sacked me. I thought that was a bit harsh, but didn’t realise at the time that he was doing me a big favour as it released me into the world and made me stand on my own two feet.
The following week saw me ‘on the stones’ lining up in the docks for casual labour as a marine fitter, being picked up on a weekly basis by any of the ship repair gangs that operated on the Thames. I stuck this through the winter and after a short holiday, followed with a job as a bouncer in a nightclub in Jersey, I went back to work at the Royal Mail Lines Ltd. I started on a Monday, had Wednesday off, and went on spec to a shipping company next to Tower Bridge and asked to see the Superintendent Engineer. He welcomed me with open arms as they were desperate for engineers. He put me through the MN medical, arranged for me to see the BOT Surveyor, from whom I obtained an engineering grading based on my apprenticeship experience, then round to the Shipping Office to register, all within a day. When I asked him when I should hand my notice in, he replied ‘Immediately’. I joined my first ship, as a junior engineer, in Cardiff on the Friday and sailed on the Saturday.
That was in 1961 and for the next seven years I pretty much went where the fancy took me. The last four years I was sailing as Second Engineer. In 1964 I moved to Glasgow and married in 1965. Our son was born in 1966, in fact I was watching one of the World Cup matches on television, when I got the call to go to the Maternity Hospital. I left the Merchant Navy at New Year 1968, had a period of leave, then went to work for Rolls Royce Aero Engine Division working on the Dart Turboprop Engine. In 1971 my wife and I, plus our now two children, moved from Glasgow down to the Ayrshire coast to the town of Stevenston. After a winter of driving 70 miles a day to RR, across Fenwick Moor, I got a job nearer home.
It was a great job and very interesting, working for The Nuclear Power Group as a Mechanical Inspector during the building of the Hunterston Nuclear Power Station. My main job there was to oversee the building of all the reactor fuel and control rod systems and the extensive H & V, which went simply everywhere. During this time I resumed sea fishing and game shooting, which I am rather fond of.
But in 1974, as is the way with a young family, lack of finances reared it’s head. I managed to get a job with GEC Mechanical Handling, as Resident Engineer, Scotland. This involved setting up a site in Scott Lithgow’s, recruiting a labour force and installing 15 lifts and 10 Replenishment At Sea Arrays (for ship to ship storing) as well as a huge 54 ton winch, on 2 RFA ships and a spy ship for the MOD. It kept me quite busy but GEC had me working on dams on the Foyers Power Station, as well as the installation and commissioning of the CO2 gas plants at Hartlepool and Heysham Power Stations.
After four years at GEC I began to realize that ‘the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence’. I had a look around the jobs front, and that was when I found Shell UK. 1977 saw the opening up of the Brent Field and I landed a job as on the operations team of the first platform to come on stream, The Brent Bravo. Three times the money and about 10% of the responsibility, working one week on and one week off. It was Heaven. I only wish that I had found Shell twenty years earlier, but then I wouldn’t have had the experience they required. Financially it enabled me to maintain a high standard of living, to educate the kids and send them to university, and to develop my shooting hobbies. About five years before I left Shell I bought a 28ft motor/sailing boat and had thirteen years of pure pleasure, sailing all round the islands of the West Coast of Scotland.
I worked at all the engineering jobs on a platform. Production, maintenance, drilling, and well servicing, covering all the Shell platforms in the North Sea. Finally, for the last five years before I retired, Shell put me in charge of all work, under the Installation Manager, out on the Cormorant Alpha platform. With the power of even overruling him if I thought he was going to do something dangerous. In 1996 Shell made me an offer that I couldn’t refuse, a pension, a golden handshake and retirement at 56, four years early.
I found it very difficult the early years of retirement and ended up doing all sorts of things, mainly to relieve the boredom. But what I really missed was the ‘creak’ of about 200 blokes passing through my office every day, and the banter. I sailed and shot hard until the body started to disobey the 21 year old mind. In the first year I remembered relating a tale, from when I was at sea, to another engineer to wile away a cold night shift. He remarked that it was so extraordinary I should write book about it. So I did but no one will publish it. The boat was sold and I had to give up the grouse shooting, walking fifteen miles over a grouse moor is more than a little knackering. Looking back I really don’t know how I found the time to work! Now I do a little, but regular, competition clay pigeon shooting and have to be satisfied with being the secretary of The Ayrshire Gun Club and keeping them in order. My long suffering wife and I are planning another cruise to warmer climes, as we have just lost our dog.
My father, Jim Webster, was a pupil at Mayfield School who left in 1955. It is with much sadness that I write to tell of his untimely death on Sunday 7th August 2011 whilst shooting with friends. He often spoke fondly of the Mayfield Memories website, that he had regained contact with some people he hadn’t seen for over fifty years and was very excited that he had recently met up with one of his old school pals who was in Scotland watching his grand-daughter train for the British kayak team. Looking at the site tonight I learned that he once worked as a bouncer in Jersey – something he kept very quiet. I hope this finds the way to the people who knew him.
– Jim Webster, jnr