February 2002


By Anthony Simpson

shapeimage_1I will begin with a brief autobiographical note to fix my time scale. On the basis of my Higher School Certificate results in 1946 I was offered and I accepted a place at Liverpool University School of Naval Architecture. Shortly before beginning the course I was advised that my place had been reallocated to a returning serviceman under the Ex-serviceman’s Rehabilitation Scheme. As a result I took the hard route of a five year Shipbuilding Apprenticeship with Cammell Laird, Birkenhead, which included three nights a week at night school. The experience left an indelible impression on me and had a profound effect upon my working life. Perhaps it was all to the good that I was pitched head first into the ‘real world’. There is no doubt that, if at the end of five years one did not know a great deal about ship design and construction, it was one’s own fault.

All the work was done manually. In the Design Office the tools of the trade were the Amsler Integrator, the Stanley Planimeter and the Fuller Cylindrical Calculator. The preliminary moulded lines were prepared using flexible battens and lead weights, the offsets being sent to the Mould loft for full-sized fairing. The routine calculations took weeks and these included displacement sheets, GZ curves, powering, launching, hogging, sagging strength and mid-section modulus.

First year drawing office apprentices had the job of delivering the heavy manila working prints to the various yard departments. This meant an early introduction to platers, blacksmiths, joiners, plumbers, mould loft, frame bending squads, boiler shop, engine shop, shipwrights, riggers, the dry docks, building berths and fitting out basin.

It was an opportunity to learn at first hand about the many and various aspects of the shipyard including the men who worked there. It was prudent to develop a leather behind because we were kicked all around the yard. Apprentice baiting was a popular sport.

A spell in the mould loft left one struggling to stand upright at the end of the day, because all fairing and mould preparation was literally ‘on the floor’ which meant being bent double most of the time.

I remember once brightly suggesting to my section leader that a machine could be devised for producing the shell expansion plan – all six feet of it. The reply was short and to the point: “You are the machine, get on with it”. Little did I realise that my suggestion would become reality within thirty years.

Ships were built piecemeal, virtually by hand. The Coles steam cranes which used to go puffing and wheezing around the yard on rails had a maximum SWL of 5 tons. The berth cranes at a maximum outreach coped with little more. Only the fitting out crane was large enough for engines and boilers.

The complete ship was built in the open, from centre girder and flat plate keel, through frames and beams which were horned and plumbed, to longitudinals, stringers, bulkheads, decks, casings and shell. This was carried out mainly by riveting, the squads being paid a fixed price for each job. It was a hard life, worked in all weathers. Any notion of safety procedures was rudimentary, the philosophy being ‘God help you, because no one else will’. There were no guards on machines, the men wore boots and extremely old clothes, some virtually in rags. Safety helmets were not thought of – although the ‘gaffers’ (yard foremen) wore bowler hats which could mean survival, since rivets had a habit of falling when they were around.

During this period other countries had modernised their yards, with the result that by the mid-fifties the UK faced stiff competition. From being the world’s greatest shipbuilding nation, we had by the 1980s slid to the very bottom of the league.

Contemporary Naval Architects have the advantage of CAD, CAM, virtual reality and computers which individually do the work of hundreds. Production now benefits from CNC machines, laser alignment techniques, automatic precision welding and burning and hover pads for moving large structures.

The difference in human terms is that whereas during my apprenticeship the yard had a workforce of 20,000, the equivalent production is now achieved with 2,000.

It is good news that the Engineering Council is doing its utmost to encourage young engineers and to improve the status and image of professional engineers.

Today’s Naval Architects face a very diversified industry with a vast array of disciplines and skills to master. Paradoxically, today’s world offers methods and techniques enabling design and production of vessels and structures far more sophisticated than those of 50 years ago, but it is a tougher and more demanding world.

Vic Jordan reports that the following matches with Reigate and Caterham Probus Clubs have been arranged for the forthcoming season, revised at Caterham’s request, as they have changed the day of their Probus meetings.

Wednesday, March 20th:

At Reigate Heath

Tuesday, June 25th:

At Coulsdon

Thursday, August 22nd:

At Reigate Heath

Wednesday, October 9th:

At Coulsdon

We urgently need more golfing members prepared to play for us. If Vic doesn’t know of your talents on the links, please contact him either at our meeting or on 020 8642 2635.

shapeimage_2Coulsdon Probus moved into the 21st century last month, joining a select band of Probus Clubs with their own Internet sites. Jim Mulveywas responsible for this advance and told us all about it at our January meeting, displaying our pages as well as others across the world.

Not everywhere in the world, though. Probus appears to be an organisation that appeals mostly to the English-speaking parts, or perhaps the Anglo-Saxon bits of it, to include the Netherlands and Germany where Clubs are counted in their hundreds, as they are in the USA. Canada and the Australasian countries have thousands each, even more than here in the UK, all delighted to welcome us aboard the Internet and share their fellowship with us. Jim had hardly got us on board before he was receiving e-mails of welcome.

What is the advantage to us? We learn that we are an average-sized Club, do average things and so fit in with the rest. We can exchange ideas on how to make our meetings more interesting (is this possible?), but also we may expect to hear from Probeans visiting England who might like to come and meet us in the flesh, thus overcoming the only disadvantage of Probus: the lack of a central organisation to put Clubs in touch with one another.

Jim will be updating our site on a regular monthly basis, and if you are travelling to the utmost parts of the globe, see if he can put you in touch with a local Club.

We shall hear from the Orpheus Trust about their work with disabled children, whose latent artistic talents are trained to professional standards in their Care Centre in Godstone.

March 7th:
The AGM. We have had a number of new members this last year and many others with longer service, all of whom would make new blood for the Committee. Our Club doesn’t run on automatic; it needs infusions of new blood on a regular basis, so if you have ideas and would like to put your name forward for election, start thinking and tell half-a-sec Ian Scales or any current Officer.

Stan Rogers will be hoping to hear that you will be going to visit Redhill & Reigate Probus Club on Thursday 14th. February at Redhill Methodist Church, 10.30 a.m. – 1 p.m. Indoor games, an opportunity to show them we are better at scrabble, table tennis and carpet bowls. Details from Stan on 01737-552791.

Put April 25th. in your diaries too: Will Stan be able to organise a visit to a brewery satisfactorily? Shepherd Neame in Faversham will prove his worth… But let him know in time and pay him up front. Coach provided, which will ease consciences when the drink has been taken. Nice place, Faversham, delightful town, ancient buildings to explore, plenty of places to eat.

The Name’s the Game
Around this time of the year we learn what the current crop of little blighters are being named, or at least which twenty-or-so forenames are most used by readers of the Daily Telegraph. The Times produces a similar list, probably totally different and posher, but these days with an Australian slant to it).

Who are all these children being named after their great-grandparents at the very least? My mother was one of twelve Victorian siblings (Father’s family, he was one of four, is not statistically valid) who were named Kate, Harold, Annie, Thomas, Eleanor, William, Emily, Ethel, Gerald, Dorothy, Norah and Eileen. That’s the right order, too, taught me by Mother when I marvelled at how many uncles and aunts I had. Each night they were prayed for, she told me, starting “God bless dear Father, Mother, Kitty, Harold, etc…” and ending with Lizzy, Alice and Smuts, who were the two maids and the cat.

Of the four boys listed above, three of their names appear in the current top of the pops; only Gerald is missing. Ignoring the eight girls’ middle names (a pity – several are listed), only two are in the top ten and they the most unlikely in my opinion: Emily and Eleanor.

We have two Ians in this Probus Club. In my childhood, in a school of some 350 boys I was the only one so named and in the surrounding town of some 5,000 I knew of only one other and he was a short-term visitor. These days my name is frequently called out by irate mothers across the supermarkets of the country. At first I used to twitch round when I heard it, but now it is ignored. “Ian” came into favour some twenty years ago or so; is it still popular?

Of the 52 members of our Club listed in September last year, there are 35 different forenames, only two of them appearing three times — Harry and George, and for all I know “Harry” is shared between Henry and Harold. So of all the possible names in the book, one in ten of our members bear the most popular names for Kings of England and a total of sixteen bear these and other English kings’ names.

None of us, though born in the days of Empire and therefore with plenty to choose from, bears the name of the place we were conceived, as appears to be a growing trend these days. Many of us bear the name of the town where our ancestors lived and of course their trades are reflected in our surnames too (Scales: from Old Norwegian Skoeli, a shepherd. So watch it, you Saxons, you’re dealing with a man who has Norse blood in him. Looting sheep and pillaging a speciality. Who? Me?)

Another trend in naming – absent from our Club – is being called after heroes at the moment of birth. Yes, the three Georges were all born under George V but were more probably family names. Malcolm: was Sir Malcolm Campbell doing doughty things in motor cars in 1929? Vic, did we have a moment of triumph in 1924, possibly against a remote tribe, maybe in Afghanistan, or somewhere?

Produced and edited monthly by Ian Scales (01737 553704)
for The Coulsdon Probus Club.
Edition No 62.

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