March 2004


shapeimage_1-2If there was ever one single invention and development that has changed our world, it has to be the car. Do you recall a recent speaker to our luncheons who showed pictures of London a hundred years ago and later versions of the same scene fifty years ago? The difference in traffic was the only change: street layouts were the same, just the internal combustion engine had changed everything else. What we couldn’t appreciate was the change of smell, from horse dung to emitted gases Can you imagine the pong (and the street cleaning necessary) if each car or bus was still a horse-drawn cart or dray? I can clearly remember the smell of ‘fair day’ in the market town I was brought up in, when the farmers from miles around came to town with their cattle and horses.

Can I imagine Bradmore Way with fifty horses drawn up along the road, each with their nosebag at one end and an open sewer at the other? Frankly, no, any more than I can believe that a hill like ours would been developed for housing without the car to assist us home with our shopping. A corespondent who lived here sixty years ago recalls the milk float being drawn up Marlpit Lane by a horse that wandered from side to side, making the climb easier by spiraling up the hill. Don’t give much for his chances of life if he did that now.

So the roads have improved as a result of the car. They are smooth (mostly, where ‘traffic calming’ humps haven’t been installed), the pavements likewise, even if they are mostly unused. There are more roads, too, with the promise of bigger, better and noisier additions to our erstwhile village

Three generations ago, when our grandparents were young, the only way of getting out of one’s home town or village was by train. It worked, but it was expensive for most and was a remarkable day when it took one on the single annual holiday most could manage. Nowadays, a trip to the countryside a hundred miles away is nothing to write home about, while living twenty or thirty miles from work is par for the course. It costs, mind you, I see the average is about £5000 p.a., but the sheer joy of being able to get around makes it all worth while.


shapeimage_2-1To me, as to many of our number, stories of the “olden days” were a time we pestered our mothers to tell us about the Great War, Edwardian memories of large families, the British Empire at its height and so on, but Tony Simpson (who seems to have taken over this edition of the Newsletter, what with the back page as welL.) took us back to a previous lifestyle at our February meeting. To those of us in Probus, it was within most of our own lifetime, but what he told us made see just how much the world has changed over the past sixty years.

Then, just after WWII, Liverpool and Birkenhead were at the centre of huge industry; the Mersey was the main port of what was still one of the great nations on Earth, shipping imports and exports in British boats across the oceans, and into this scene came a young apprentice shipbuilder, eager to put his mark on a great shipbuilding company, Cammell Laird.

A first-year apprentice doesn’t count for a row of beans. He was there to run errands and watch and learn and do what he was told without argument. If there was tea to be made, he made it; if someone needed to be hit, he took the blows, either literally or metaphorically. Night school at the local Poly taught him the theory of Naval Architecture, work in the yard taught him the practicalities. He worked with 20,000 others by hand and muscle. There were no hand-held calculators just as there were no computers in the office. Where were the machines? He was the machine that did it, in longhand and probably in penciL The only computers were those between their ears and they were being trained the hard way.

But Tony got his Diploma and set off to see the rest of the world. Ships remain an abiding love of his life, not just the big liners but the little ships that still carry the trade of nations across the seas. Ships that guide others into and out of ports set on complicated river mouths. Indeed Tony brought along his beautifully hand-made model, perfect in its parts, of a pilot ship he designed for a life on the Hoogly River

Times change, though not the basic ability to be an Engineer, a profession to be more proud of than is usual in England where they are considered to be at the dirty and rather ignorant end of lifestyle. To prove this point, as we know he went on to more modem business and took a hand in aircraft design and testing (see back page). A change, but still proper engineering. A splendid talk, not his first to us and hopefully not his last. More, please, Tony


The AGM. Prepare to help your Club in the coming year. Volunteer It doesn’t hurt and we need your service.

April 1st:

Audrey Butler with her guide dog, to thank us for supporting Guide Dogs for the Blind and to receive our cheque.

May 6th:

Local historian Vivien Lovett with great stories about Croydon’s colourful corners and characters.

Club (and other) News

Firstly, something I should have included last month, but it is still valid: Peter Barker needs volunteer drivers. Two, possibly three gaps will appear in his rota very shortly. It is a job well worth while and a pleasure to perform, taking somewhat disabled ladies to their Club in Landsdowne Road in Purley. For some of them, it is their only proper day out each week They are lovely people, very thankful for our taxi service. Yom car should really he four-door With a decent boot. Once a month, that’s all.

Next: BLANCHARD – Joan Humphrey ‘Judy’. Peacefully at East Surrey Hospital after a short illness on 15th February 2004, aged 96. Dear wife of the late Harold who was the Founder of Probus and Abbeyfield Society, Caterham. Donations to David Gresham House (Abbeyfield) c/o B C Baker & Son, 15/17 High St. Caterham, CR3 5UE. 01883340535.

This notice appeared in the Daily Telegraph earlier this month. I called B C Baker and they put me in touch with a Mrs Dalzell who had been a great friend of the Blanchards. She told me that Judy had been as active a member of Caterham society as had Harold, supporting him in all his undertakings. Mrs Dalzell confirmed an icon of Probus history, that it had been Judy who had told Harold that he was under her feet after he retired and to go and do something usefuL So he gathered his retired mates and they formed the very first Probus Club in the world. We owe her a lot and the Caterham Abbeyfield Society would, I am sure, be grateful for a personal donation of any size in her memory.

One of the shortcomings (many, no doubt) of our Newsletter is the apparent inability of the Editor to follow through with stories started earlier. One in particular shows from notes made at a previous meeting, relating to Bryan Chilton. It has its own magic as a story, so to remind you, Bryan, while wandering through the woods, saw an owl teaching its kids (owlets?) to fly. This so took his interest he never having thought about the subject before – that he walked slowly over the uneven ground while looking up, entirely taken with what he saw, so he missed seeing the exposed tree root in his path. He fell, tearing a tendon in his ankle and no doubt interrupting Mother Owl in her lessons with his cry He’s better now, but had to do without driving his car for a week while recovering Mother Owl refused to be interviewed, saying only that people should mind their own business

People can be so unkind about Croydon, but it’s not all tall buildings and crummy back streets. It has the Old Palace too, once the country palace of the Archbishops of Canterbury. The Whitgift Foundation is running a one-day event to mark the 400th. anniversary of Whitgift’s death on May 15th Ask Ian Scales for further details.

Also local history: “Know your Old Coulsdon” is an illustrated talk by Ken Righton of The Bourne Society, at the Congregational Church in Old Coulsdon, on March 27th. at 7.30 p.m A fiver at the door (for church funds) gains admission to what should be an excellent evening on a fascinating subject.

by Tony Simpson

In January 1955 I was passing the main gate of the Bristol Aeroplane Company at Filton, proudly riding my Douglas Dragonfly motorcycle, a very comfortable machine for that era.

It was not until I was past BAC’s gate that a thought occurred to me. I was, as actors say, ‘resting.’ There might be the chance of interesting employment within this great organisation. I therefore returned to the gate where I parked my machine and engaged the policeman on duty in a discussion about motorcycles in general. During the course of conversation I casually enquired whether he knew of employment prospects for design Engineers. He said there was a lot of work going on in connection with the Britannia ‘whispering giant’ aircraft and various hush-hush Government contracts It appeared that the Engineering Development Laboratory was expanding and needed Design Engineers. I could hardly believe my ears when he said he could give me a pass to this Department. I duly found my way to the Laboratory where I sought out the Chief Engineer, Mr Eric Arbon, who kindly gave me an interview and arranged for me to visit the Design Office and Workshop. The upshot was that he offered me a position, subject to contract and CV vetting. How strange that I was carrying a copy of my CV at that time!

A couple of hours later it was a happy Tony Simpson who buzzed off home to Thornbury, just five miles away. My young wife was equally pleased and that evening we enjoyed a celebration supper. In due course I received confirmation of the appointment and I reported for duty three weeks after my visit. Thus began a fascinating three years This was an exciting time in the Aviation industry, with the Comet disasters initiating a huge investigation into aircraft structural fatigue and with guided missile and supersonic fighter designs in full flow. How would you arrange to project a dead chicken at 200 knots onto an aircraft windscreen and measure the subsequent stresses? How would you arrange to load and test an aircraft fuselage to destruction under pressure without blowing it all up? What happens to an aircraft structure at -30 degrees? Conversely, if an aircraft is built of stainless steel and it glows red hot at Mach I, how do you protect the pilot and measure the stresses involved’ These are examples of the myriad questions which daily confronted us. There was the knowledge that we were tackling problems for the first time; we were working at the leading edge of technology.

We had a first-class workshop with several dozen skilled fitters, always ready to discuss new problems and offer practical advice. I cannot praise them too highly. They were a mine of ideas which they would share. Good teamwork was vital, since many skills and much knowledge were needed for success. One year after my joining BAC I was called into the Chief Engineer’s office and told to gather a team of engineers to design, construct and operate a fatigue test program on a Britannia 300 LR. We started work in January 1956 and had completed 5000 flight cycles by October 1957, another story in itself which I told Probus about. By chance, January 1959 saw me involved in the construction of the first nuclear power station in the UK, and that, too is another story!

Produced and edited monthly by Ian Scales (01737 553704)
for The Coulsdon Probus Club.
Edition No 87.

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