Author Topic: John Brown's Shipyard "in with the bricks"  (Read 27212 times)

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Online Lynda Bradford

John Brown's Shipyard "in with the bricks"
« on: Dec 01, 2013, 03:59 PM »
John Brown’s – “in with the bricks”

My father worked in John Brown’s Shipyard in Clydebank from 1926 when he joined the workforce at the age of 15 until he was made redundant in 1970.  Throughout my life a term I frequently heard was that he was “in with the bricks” a reference to the length of time he worked in the yard and that he had become part of the fabric of the shipyard. 

On the week of my Dad’s birthday I thought it fitting to pay tribute to his working life in John Brown’s where he was involved in the building of many ships including the three Cunard Queens. Maybe other forum members have relatives who worked in John Brown’s and would like to contribute to the memory of the John Brown’s workforce who were “in with the bricks”. 

I have written this in relation to different periods of his working life such as apprentice, journeyman, foreman, managing foreman.

Part 1:  John Brown’s apprentice electrician

On 10 November 1926 my father accepted the terms for a five-year apprenticeship to be trained as an electrician with Messrs. John Brown & Co. Ltd. 

The terms included a pay of 2 ½ old pennies per hour for a 54 hour week in the first year of his apprenticeship, rising to 5 ½ old pennies per hour in year five.

Apprentices were not allowed to be members of Trade Unions (except for the purpose of benefit) and could not ask any trade union representative to intervene on matters between him and employers. 

An apprentice could not leave the employment without written permission from the employer, Messrs. John Brown & Co. Ltd. The company was providing training and wanted to ensure that the apprentice would not leave and go to another employer who would reap the benefits of the training given by John Brown’s.   

The terms and condition also stated that in times of depression the apprentice could be suspended, which is significant given the effect that the great depression would have on the town of Clydebank.  I always thought that my Dad continued working through the depression years but I may be wrong. 

Like many people, I wish my Dad were still alive today so that I could ask more questions about his working life.  Especially to learn what ships he worked on and details of working conditions in John Brown’s.  The SS Avelona and the SS Avila were built around that time and as the Avila was launched in September 1926 it is possible that as an apprentice he could have assisted the electricians onboard these ship. 

I know that my Dad attended night school at Clydebank Technical College to obtain qualifications between 1926 and 1930.  But it was not until the second year at college, when he had been accepted as an apprentice electrician that the subjects studied were relevant to electrical engineering.  At a time when the age for leaving school was 14 it is likely that he was an office boy until he started his apprenticeship and that is the reason the first year certificate is for bookkeeping and shorthand. 

In today’s hi tech world students would attend college armed with computer equipment to take notes and perhaps lecturer notes are available online.  However in 1926 it was very different.  My father would go to the local newspaper printing office and ask for the end of roll paper so that he could cut this up to use for taking notes in class. 

I remember him telling me that the lecture was scheduled to start at 6 pm.  However the lecturer would be in class at 5 pm to start writing the notes on the three blackboards.  If you arrived in time for the lecture at 6 pm it was likely that the lecturer had used the space on the three blackboards, so he would erase the first set of notes to continue his note writing.  Students soon became aware of this and ensured that they were in class at 5 pm so that they had a full set of notes. 

Hope you have enjoyed reading a little about the apprentice years and will follow the next part of the story. 

These are the certificates that my father gained during his five years’ apprenticeship at John Brown’s. 

« Last Edit: Dec 03, 2018, 11:37 AM by Lynda Bradford »
I was proud to be involved with planning QE2's 50 year conference in September 2017 in Clydebank
www.qe2event.com

Offline June Ingram

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Re: John Brown's Shipyard "in with the bricks"
« Reply #1 on: Dec 01, 2013, 04:15 PM »
Hi Lynda - Thank you so much for starting to post information about your Father's apprenticeship and his career at John Brown's.  It is awesome that he was at John Brown's for the building of QM, QE, and QE2.  It is fitting that you started your posting in the week of your Father's birthday.  I shall look forward to hearing more, and again, thank you for this wonderful information. 
QE2 - the ship for all of time, a ship of timeless beauty !

Online Lynda Bradford

Re: John Brown's Shipyard "in with the bricks"
« Reply #2 on: Dec 01, 2013, 06:54 PM »
I had mentioned that within the terms and conditions that my father had agreed to in 1926 John Brown apprentices were not allowed to be members of trade unions. 

I found this interesting article about the Apprentices' Strike of 1937 when Clydeside apprentices protested about their low rate of pay, particularly on their fifth year when they could be doing the same work as a skilled man. 

The article mentions that a letter was sent to the striking apprentices' parents stating:
"Dear Madam, Your son John ceased work last week. We would like to draw your attention to the fact that unless he returns his action may endanger his future career" They also stated that the boys indentures made it unlawful for them to strike."

Have a look at the article which makes for some interesting reading:

see here
« Last Edit: Dec 01, 2013, 06:56 PM by Lynda Bradford »
I was proud to be involved with planning QE2's 50 year conference in September 2017 in Clydebank
www.qe2event.com

Offline Rod

Re: John Brown's Shipyard "in with the bricks"
« Reply #3 on: Dec 01, 2013, 07:07 PM »
Lynda, thank you for posting that.
I was not an apprentice on the Clyde, but with the Cunard Steamship Company. In fact myself, ShipPro and another gentleman from Bermuda named John Scott were Cunard SteamShips last ever Apprentices.
It appears from what you wrote that the indentures were fairly standard. For the final 6 months of my training I got the massive amount of I think it was 252 pounds! That was in 1974.
Please note that Cunard did pay my college!
Yes, parents were heavily involved and if you left the program, they were "fined".
I still have my papers, with the wax seals and everything.

Offline Alan Snelson

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Re: John Brown's Shipyard "in with the bricks"
« Reply #4 on: Dec 01, 2013, 08:28 PM »
Very interesting reading Lynda, looking forward to the next instalment. I too served an apprenticeship starting in 1971 and my starting wage was all of £6 per week.
Don't just be part of her past, be part of her history!

Offline June Ingram

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Re: John Brown's Shipyard "in with the bricks"
« Reply #5 on: Dec 02, 2013, 04:21 PM »
I am definitely looking forward to hearing more information from all. 
QE2 - the ship for all of time, a ship of timeless beauty !

Online Lynda Bradford

Re: John Brown's Shipyard "in with the bricks"
« Reply #6 on: Dec 03, 2013, 10:06 AM »
Thanks June for your encouragement.

Rod and Alan, I can see from what you have said that apprentices still had a low wage in your time and good to know that you still have all your papers Rod.  I am certainly pleased to still have all my father's certificates that have survived the past 80+ years

I had always thought that the term journeyman in relation to the shipyard trades, was a further part of the training where the newly qualified apprentice was given new experience of maybe working in different areas of his trade.  Any other information from members who have been involved in the trades and worked as a journeyman would be good, so as to add to my knowledge and understanding. 

Anyway here is part 2 of my story...

Part 2: Journeyman Electrician

In December 1930 there was a feeling of optimism in Clydebank as work began on the new Cunard ship number 534.  The slipway was prepared the keel laid and work began on hoisting the steel girders into place to form the skeleton of the ship.

The start of work on the new ship would have been a positive sign, for shipyard workers and especially my Dad, who had entered the fifth and final year of his apprenticeship in November 1930.

In 1931 the pace of the work ensured the new ship was ahead of schedule by December of that year and the town of Clydebank was looking forward to the launch in 1932. 

My Dad completed his apprentice training on 10 November 1931 and should have been commencing the next stage of his training, as a Journeyman.  However, one month later on 10 December work was halted on the 534 and John Brown’s workforce were “laid off”.   

Whether my father would have been “laid off” along with the thousands of other John Brown workforce, I am not sure.  I had always been led to believe that he worked through the recession and as he was an electrician it could be that work was available in the workshops.  At present I have not found the relevant records at the Glasgow University archives to verify this but I will keep looking. 

What I do know is that my Dad had continued to study at Clydebank Technical School and by 1931, when the workforce had been laid off he had started his studies for a Ordinary National Certificate in Electrical Engineering.  The Clydebank Technical School ran the “continuation classes” in affiliation with The Royal Technical College Glasgow. 

It is difficult to compare this Ordinary National Certificate with today’s qualification where students are educated at school for a longer period of time.  In my father’s time young people from a working class background were expected to leave school when they were 14 years of age, so that they could work and bring earnings into the house. 

I do not know if all apprentices, at that time, would have had the opportunity to participate in further education to gain a National Certificate but I am proud, that my Dad had studied part time, to achieve certificates of merit with many subjects given first class awards.

He was awarded A National Certificate in Electrical Engineer in 1936. The subjects studied were:
First Year:  Mathematics, Mechanics, Engineering Drawing
Second Year:  Mathematics, Electricity and Magnitism, Motive Power
Third Year:  Engineering Drawing, Electrical Technology, Electrical Measurements and Testing

To be continued…….
I was proud to be involved with planning QE2's 50 year conference in September 2017 in Clydebank
www.qe2event.com

Offline June Ingram

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Re: John Brown's Shipyard "in with the bricks"
« Reply #7 on: Dec 03, 2013, 06:18 PM »
Hi Lynda - Thank you so much for the next installment about your Father's career.  It is very, very interesting and it is also very obvious that your Father was a very smart and dedicated young man.  You indeed must be very proud of him.  It is wonderful too that you have his certificates.  Do you have any pictures ?  Please continue with more !  June
QE2 - the ship for all of time, a ship of timeless beauty !

Online cunardqueen

Re: John Brown's Shipyard "in with the bricks"
« Reply #8 on: Dec 03, 2013, 09:04 PM »
Indeed Lynda its all very interesting ! and to have such personal knowledge is so valuable. Thanks for sharing this with us. 
From the moment you first glimpsed the Queen,
 you just knew you were in for a very special time ahead.!

Online Lynda Bradford

Re: John Brown's Shipyard "in with the bricks"
« Reply #9 on: Dec 03, 2013, 09:27 PM »
June you asked for a photo, well here is a photo of my Dad taken in the 1930’s when he toured Scotland on his bike.  It would be around the time that he would have been a journeyman electrician in John Brown's. 

As a young man my dad wanted a “push bike” (bike).  I can remember him telling me that he had saved from his wages so that he could buy a bike to tour a bit of Scotland.  Clydebank is only about 13 miles from the Trossachs area of Scotland so it is possible that he would have toured this area at week-ends or during the Clydebank Fair (when the Shipyards closed so that the workers could have a holiday).
« Last Edit: Dec 03, 2013, 09:29 PM by Lynda Bradford »
I was proud to be involved with planning QE2's 50 year conference in September 2017 in Clydebank
www.qe2event.com

Offline Rod

Re: John Brown's Shipyard "in with the bricks"
« Reply #10 on: Dec 03, 2013, 09:46 PM »
So few people realize that some of the most beautiful places in the world are less than an hour away from Glasgow!

Offline Bruce Nicholls

Re: John Brown's Shipyard "in with the bricks"
« Reply #11 on: Dec 04, 2013, 08:43 AM »
So few people realize that some of the most beautiful places in the world are less than an hour away from Glasgow!

Been, seen & agree.

Offline June Ingram

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Re: John Brown's Shipyard "in with the bricks"
« Reply #12 on: Dec 04, 2013, 02:12 PM »
Lynda, thank you for posting that.
I was not an apprentice on the Clyde, but with the Cunard Steamship Company. In fact myself, ShipPro and another gentleman from Bermuda named John Scott were Cunard SteamShips last ever Apprentices.
It appears from what you wrote that the indentures were fairly standard. For the final 6 months of my training I got the massive amount of I think it was 252 pounds! That was in 1974.
Please note that Cunard did pay my college!
Yes, parents were heavily involved and if you left the program, they were "fined".
I still have my papers, with the wax seals and everything.

Hi Rod and ShipPro - Perhaps you could tell us something about being a Cunard Apprentice.
QE2 - the ship for all of time, a ship of timeless beauty !

Offline June Ingram

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Re: John Brown's Shipyard "in with the bricks"
« Reply #13 on: Dec 04, 2013, 02:22 PM »
Hi Lynda - Thank you so much for the continuing biography of your Dad's career at John Brown's.  It is most interesting and impressive with his dedication and perseverance during the recession time.  It will be interesting to know if he did continue to work in the shops during the recession.  Gaining the Ordinary National Certificate is a wonderful accomplishment especially having been carried out during the trying financial climate.  Thanks, too, for the photo.  Please post more if you have been as you continue the narrative.  He was a handsome man and looks ready to tour with his bicycle.  It is always great to have a picture of a person as one reads about them.  Please continue and again, thanks for doing this.  June
QE2 - the ship for all of time, a ship of timeless beauty !

Offline Rod

Re: John Brown's Shipyard "in with the bricks"
« Reply #14 on: Dec 04, 2013, 02:46 PM »
June will start a new thread soon.....do not want to hijack this one!

Online Lynda Bradford

Re: John Brown's Shipyard "in with the bricks"
« Reply #15 on: Dec 09, 2013, 10:31 AM »
Thanks June, I hope to find more information on whether he worked during the recession years.  The Glasgow Archive records are closed for viewing for 75 years but the 1931 to 1934 records should be open for viewing so I will have a look the next time I visit.

.....The start of the 1930’s was not a good time for the John Brown’s workforce. Men who thought the 534 would keep them in work for many years found themselves “on the brew” (a term widely used in Scotland for those unemployed.  It is thought to be a colloquialism of receiving benefits from the unemployment bureau). 

John Brown’s employed some men to do safety and security checks but apart from that there was no work at the yard, so men were forced to queue at the local employment exchange in the hope that there may be work available in other industries in Clydebank or the surrounding area.  This was a time when if men heard that work was available, even on a casual basis they would turn up at the workplace and stand in line in the hope that they would be employed. 
It was difficult times and it was not until 1933/1934 with the John Brown’s shipyard gaining orders for the Port Wyndham, the convoy sloops Halcyon and Skipjack and destroyers Fortune and Foxhound that there was the start of a return to work.  But it was not until April 1934 when the workforce was piped into the yard for the resumption of work on the 534 that the John Brown’s workforce felt they could look forward to better times. 

I hope you can see the images in this photo taken from the Weekly Illustrated Queen Mary Special that shows the 300 men that were "piped" back to work on 3 April 1934 and another photo of the workforce filing through those famous John Brown gates and back to work. 

Just a little note on the John Brown’s gates.  When I was growing up in Clydebank I remember the sound of the works horn being sounded at the end of a shift and men would pour out from behind these gates and fill the surrounding streets.  At lunch time there were plenty of places to buy food and in the evening there would be lines of buses and trams waiting to take the men home. On payday, there would be men, who made there way to the pub for a well-earned pint of beer.  In Clydebank in those days there was a pub on every corner where many drowned their sorrows.

There would have been a good feel factor about the resumption of work not just for John Brown’s staff but for staff in supporting industries around the country.  There was also talk about a sister ship for the Queen Mary and indications that the contract would go to John Brown’s. 

By 1939 my Dad had worked in John Brown’s for 13 years, had worked on two of Cunard line’s great ships, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth.  He had survived the depression years and seen the building of a variety of ships within the yard. 

Records show that he was still a Journeyman Electrician in 1939 when he married and true to form, for someone who was “in with the bricks” my Mum and Dad moved into a John Brown’s house in Glasgow Road, Clydebank. 

Foreman electrician ……to be continued

« Last Edit: Jan 07, 2014, 09:41 AM by Lynda Bradford »
I was proud to be involved with planning QE2's 50 year conference in September 2017 in Clydebank
www.qe2event.com

Offline June Ingram

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Re: John Brown's Shipyard "in with the bricks"
« Reply #16 on: Dec 09, 2013, 06:09 PM »
Hi Lynda - Thank you so very much for the next installment describing your Dad's career.  It is very interesting and informative and so exciting to read of your Dad's work on QM and QE, and I will be looking forward to hearing about QE2 in due course.  It must have been such a relief for the workforce to be called back in to resume work.  The Weekly Illustrated Queen Mary Special is so great to have.  Thank you again !  June
QE2 - the ship for all of time, a ship of timeless beauty !

Online Isabelle Prondzynski

Re: John Brown's Shipyard "in with the bricks"
« Reply #17 on: Dec 09, 2013, 09:18 PM »
I too am enjoying your father's story. History always makes more sense when looking at it from the point of view of the individual who lived through those days.

Your father must have been a good-looking, reliable and hard-working young man, who did not let difficult economic circumstances daunt him.

Online Lynda Bradford

Re: John Brown's Shipyard "in with the bricks"
« Reply #18 on: Dec 13, 2013, 09:22 AM »
Foreman electrician

I have used statutory birth and marriage records to trace my father’s progress through his career and although this does not give exact details of when he would have been promoted, I do know from these records that he was a Foreman Electrician before 1950. 

As a child I remember that my dad was involved with setting up the lights for the Dalmuir Park (a small town next to Clydebank) Illuminations, but never questioned the reason for his involvement.  I recently read this explanation about the history of this annual event in the West Dunbartonshire Council web page.

“The Dalmuir Park Illuminations began as part of the victory celebrations after winning WW2, with model ships built by John Brown & Co. being displayed in the pond, Thereafter, this became an annual event which continued to draw crowds.
The illuminations were a joint effort by John Brown & Co, Singer Manufacturing Co and the Council.”

My dad’s team must have had the responsibility for setting up the lights for the John Brown’s displays, which is why I was aware of his involvement.  I just wonder what happened to the model ships that were used for the displays!  It would be good to know if they survived. 

I have a recollection that the illuminations at the park were stopped in the 1960’s in favour of having Christmas lights in the town.  It is good to know, that the Dalmuir Park lights event, has recently been revived for all to enjoy once more. But with no John Brown’s staff to maintain the lights!  I wonder if they still have model ships?

I was given this photo (see below), of my Dad in John Brown’s.  However, up until recently I did not know the date of when the photo was taken.  The only clues I had was the fact that my father (second from the left) was wearing a work jacket and not a boiler suit, which could suggest that he was a foreman, so this would date the photo late 1940’s.  The ships in the background were my only other means of identifying the year the photo was taken.  But  I knew I would need to find a similar photo showing these ships in more detail so that they could be identified and get a link to the year.   However I think I now have the link as there is a photo on the back of Ian Johnston’s book “Building ships for a nation” which was taken in John Brown’s in 1948 with the Caronia, Imperio and Media in the fitting out basin.   I contacted Ian to ask if he thought these ships were the same ones in my photo and he thought these two photos were taken at the same time. 

Isn’t it fantastic when you find the links that you were looking for and can add a bit more to your family history.

To be continued ……
« Last Edit: Jan 07, 2014, 09:48 AM by Lynda Bradford »
I was proud to be involved with planning QE2's 50 year conference in September 2017 in Clydebank
www.qe2event.com

Offline June Ingram

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Re: John Brown's Shipyard "in with the bricks"
« Reply #19 on: Dec 13, 2013, 05:56 PM »
Hi Lynda -

Thank you so much for posting the next installment of your Dad's career at John Brown's.  It is fascinating to follow his rise through the company and exciting that you are finding out new information. 

The picture is great and he looks to be focused and dedicated.

It was very interesting to learn of the Dalmuir Park Illuminations and the reason for their being.  My question, too, as I was reading was what has become of the ship models ?  Can you imagine the scene with lights and all of the ship models ?  It must have been spectacular !  Do you know if your Dad designed the display ?  I am glad to hear that the tradition of the Dalmuir Park lights has been brought back. 

I am so looking forward to the next chapter along with more pictures !

June



QE2 - the ship for all of time, a ship of timeless beauty !

 

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