David Ford was at Norwich Junior Technical College studying Construction. Here he tells us in his own words what it was like to study at the JTC, as well as some of his memories of the time he spent at the college.
The start of David’s Junior Technical College journey
“Having failed the 11+ exam at Sprowston Junior School, I went to Sprowston Modern Secondary for a year. After the year I passed an examination and interview for Norwich Junior Technical College with Mr Brown, the headmaster. Each year the college took 90 boys aged 12½ to 13½ years, with 60 being city schoolboys and 30 county schoolboys.
The Junior Technical College consisted of rooms (originally workshops) in a building behind what was to become City College. This building was about 40’ by 100’ long. It had a 5’ corridor down the centre with rooms each side. The side nearest the main block were normal classrooms and the rooms the other side of the central corridor had doors leading outside.
The main City College Norwich building was started before the war. All the steel work was started but due to war efforts had to be left. When I started in September 1949 nothing had been done since the steelworks were finished in 1940. I’d been there for a year when work started on the brickwork to complete the building. Remarkably, although the steel had stood there all that time nothing had moved and it was all in good order!”
A first year…….
“The syllabus for the first year was mostly normal school work.
There was also an introduction to trade courses: engineering (which meant a bit of lathe work) and flat metal (I remember making two little set squares). There was more variety on the building side – plumbing, carpentry and bricklaying.
On the engineering side the two teachers were Mr Jones and Mr Kemp. Both were good teachers as well as good tradesmen and were quite strict. Mr Kemp had a wooden leg and of course us boys had to make something of that. We always referred to them as Buck Jones and Hopalong Cassidy (fictional cowboys of that era), but strictly behind their backs!
On the woodwork side we made the usual things: trinket boxes and table lamps. This involved lathe work again. The two masters were Mr Wilkins and Mr Williment. There was also decorating taught but this was on St George’s Street where City College was first started.”
Progressing into building – Year 2
“At the end of the first year you had to decide whether to progress in building or engineering. I chose building.
Half the lessons were normal school work with the other half being a mixture of theory and practical work.
For us boys doing building, it meant doing plumbing work (I hated that) woodwork (didn’t mind it) and bricklaying which I really liked and got on well with.”
Specialising for the future in Year 3
“At the end of Year Two you decided which trade you wanted to specialise in. I obviously chose bricklaying!
In that third year roughly three days were devoted to normal school work. One day was devoted to building theory (such as the history of building, drawing house plans etc.) Another day of the week was practical work, which meant a whole day in the brickwork shop building various set pieces.”
Tales of the brickwork shop
“This was a marvellous insight into what life was really like, albeit in a building against working outside!
This brickwork shop was in fact an old war time centre. I can’t remember too much about the place, only solid brick walls, concrete roof (I guess it made it safe from bombing) and a few high windows.
The lights were a bit like lights over a snooker table. I remember there being about six of them. We boys would sometimes throw a handful of wet mortar which would stick to the underside of the shades.
When it dried it would fall down onto whoever was working underneath!”
An unwise prank on Mr Dashwood!
“One lunchtime I threw some mortar up onto the lamp above Mr Dashwood’s demonstration piece. Of course when it dried out and landed on him he was not best pleased!
I had to laugh when he said “Which stupid boy did that?”
He didn’t say a word, just came over to me and boxed my ear, not gently, but so hard that I saw stars and nearly fell over! Although he was an easy going chap, that taught me and the other boys a lesson that we didn’t forget in a hurry!
The mortar we used was just sand and lime. When the set pieces we built were finished they could be fuelled down. This involved the bricks being cleaned and the mortar being reused.
With the permission of the general foreman on the site of the college building being bricked up, we were taken up onto the scaffolding. We were able to see the bricklayers at work and talk to them about our future careers doing bricklaying.
After the three years at Tech, I got a job as an apprentice bricklayer. But first a bit more about the school and the masters.”
‘Cuckoo Brown’ and other teachers
“For the first year the head was Mr Brown, an easy going chap coming up to retirement. We all knew him as Cuckoo Brown.
One day he said “You think you’re clever calling me Cuckoo Brown but actually you’ve got it wrong. During the war when you couldn’t get sheet metal to use I asked the boys to bring cocoa tins which we flattened out and used for sheet metal work. I then got the name Cocoa Brown.”
After the first year I was there Mr Brown retired. The new head was Mr S.O Husket, he was a different chap altogether! Really strict, a bit frightening to be honest!
Another master was Jack Adams, another really strict chap, I believe he had been a PT instructor in the army.
One school report I got, Mr Knobbs advised that my verbal work was much better than my written work.
Many years later (about 60) I wrote my life story: ‘Life and Times of a Builder’ and much more obviously an autobiography. I mentioned this remark by Mr Knobbs and my daughter (who is a school teacher) who corrected it for me, typed it out and put in my book ‘Nothing’s changed there then‘ Cheeky so and so!”
“For the first three years of my apprenticeship until I was 18, I still attended the Junior Technical College one day a week for practical and theory work. During that time I took intermediate and final City & Guilds and got first class passes in both!
As soon as I was 18, instead of day release it was three evenings a week from 7pm to 9pm. This meant that after an 8/9 hour day I biked the 8 miles to City College from home and back again. My brother also went to evening classes. For a while we had a small car we used. We were both doing the national course which I believe was for three years. After just over a year Pete and I got the chance to buy to adjoining building lots.
Other boys we knew were buying new motorbikes or cars costing around £1200 whereas these two flats were for sale at £200 each. To Peter and I they looked a lot better bet than new motors! I built on mine, sold it for a good profit, bought more land and continued in my life to build 200 odd places over the next 40/50 years.
Hence my book: Life & Times of a Builder”