From the Christmas 1960 edition of 'The Steel Casting'

The Good Old Days.  Recalled by E. Baggott


Early in 1915, with World War I but a few months old, a strapping young man was engaged as a skilled closer in the foundry. Around him, the older hands probably recalled the "good old days", and tried to impress the newcomer with details of the changes that they had seen at F.H.L in past years. Few of them could have thought then that the young man who so quickly became chargehand closer would still be working in the foundry 45 years later, in an age of space satellites and nuclear weapons.


In August. 1960. "Ernie" Baggott retired after 45 years unbroken service with F. H. Lloyd's with memories of a bygone age untarnished by the passing years. In a letter to our Personnel Manager he recalls vividly the works as it was in 1915, a sprawling, converted brickyard covering an area perhaps only 1/20th of the present site. He writes naturally and fluently, with the unmistakable humour of the Black Country, coupled with occasional passages of almost poetical beauty.


"The Old Foundry. I can picture it as yesterday, and can hardly realise that it is nearly 46 years since I first entered it. The old sights, smells and sounds. The smell of bacon cooking on shovels for breakfast, intermingled with the stink of tar smoke and producer gas. The crackle of the carbon lights overhead, the "click clock" of the two old cranes running on the uneven track of the wooden gantry. The shop never seemed to be free from clouds of something, the usual cloud of dust off the roof, the smoke and smell of hay bonds burning in some of the moulds just cast. "Benny the Slagger" coming into the shop to blow his whistle for "Blow up" for casting. The old yell of "Shove in" meant the assembly of about a dozen of us, to try and shove the mould wagons into the stoves, but we very rarely succeeded. It generally finished up with getting some long bars, and barring them in.


Then the ceremonial of casting. After the whistle had blown, the two cranes went to the end of the shop, where the furnaces lay alongside. The first driver would go through a hole in the wall, to get into a crane over the furnace, and to put the ladle into the wagon. We would then bar it under the Chute, leaving a bar under the two back wheels. These were pulled out when the ladle was full, and it ran into the shop. The other driver, the one to pick the metal up, would get on top of the crane, with spanner and oil can, tightening the brake and innumerable nuts that always seemed to be loose, and oiling the bearings. After the crane had picked the metal up, "Lew the Ladleman" would put the lever on and follow it down to the closing floor. It would be met by four men with four long wooden poles to steady the ladle, and one with a chisel bar to trim the nozzle. The foreman would then take charge, a very quiet chap, who could be heard a mile away. When angry he could do a splendid imitation of a Zulu on the warpath. Once when waving his arms, a workman was heard to remark that it was due to his mother having been frightened by a windmill. Now let the battle commence, and the well-known words would flow in a continual stream to the men with the sticks. "Let it come can't yer?" To another, "Shove a bit, where's your eyes", and then after a bit "What the hell are those sticks for, leaning posts?" "Who the B' hell is turning the ladle round". Then to the crane driver, "Have you gone to sleep up there, or are you blind, can't you see me waving a hand for down the shop a bit?" And then those memorial words, when the bloke with the bar dropped it on his foot, and enquired if it had hurt him. "What the b' h'- do you think I am doing, giving an exhibition dance for the benefit of the work people? No wonder they call me "Hoppy", how he survived to reach old age is one of the seven wonders of the world."


He goes on to describe the two old cranes. "You had to look twice to see if the hoist was moving, and three times to see if they was travelling, and then find they was not, they was only trying to. They sometimes got stuck on the joints of the rails, and could not move one way or the other, and would finish up with other crane having to shunt it off. I think they were the first study in "Slow Motion" to be made, and as for this modern method of dancing, "Jiving", those two cranes could do it 45 years ago. First one end would move and slide back, then the other end would have a go. This would result in giving violent wriggles from end to end, and the shop would vibrate to the music. That gantry was in a terrible state, great gaps in the joints of the rails, and the whole lot out of "true". I have often wondered about those girders, huge baulks of timber about 2 feet square and 30 feet long, what huge trees they must have been cut from.


In the middle of the foundry the Closing floor, at the end of the shop the "Sand Hole". The castings were knocked out here, then put on a wagon and shoved into the next bay. The "Compo" from round the casting was put into barrows and returned to mill to be reground. Adjoining were the furnaces. First an "Open Hearth" 5 tons. There was the framework for two, but only one had been built, used to have an average of 3 tons 10 cwts., and about ten heats a week. Alongside the furnace, another one, a 30 cwt., housed in an old building of the brickyard. It was serviced by another museum piece, an overhead crane, worked with hand winches, four men going on top to work them. Next the core shop, still under the old roof, and old brick kiln, for drying the cores, and served by an old swing jib worked by a hand winch. At the back of that the compo mill, an old roller type, but the majority of the facing sand was purchased from outside. This must have been costly, for God help those found wasting it or putting too much round his pattern. A bit further along the Box Yard, served with an electric swing jib, and a fiat-bottomed railway wagon for transport. I would like to mention there were only two Electric Welders, using the old-type electric arc carbon guns to melt bits of scrap, fusing it into blow holes and cracks, and brushing level with a wire brush. No compressed air or oxyacetylene on the ground. As many of the moulding boxes handled by hand as by cranes. The facing sand (black compo) wheeled about the shop in barrows, and a lot of the backing sand too. All moulds and cores to have ashes in, and vented every square inch with a vent wire, all to be black leaded. when dried tarred, and all rammed up by hand.


"Working hours 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. 1 p.m. Saturday. Night shift 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. The Pattern Shop just a wooden shed on stilts, employing about half-a-dozen men. The back of that, another shed, covering a hole in the ground, with a bar across. "The lavatories". Not much time wasted in there. All the heads and runners on the

castings, sawn off by circular saws. or turned off on lathes. The dressing of them, by hammer and chisel. I have yet to see a finer set of working men than those Dressers. As you came in the Top Gates, on the right was an old barn, used for storing patterns, but the majority was spread over the bank, the present site of J Bay. On your left as you came down the drive, was a wooden shed no larger than a garden shed. This was Heath Works time office. In the dip was the Foundry, only a few years old, but still having teething trouble.


The metal was melted under the Tropenas method, and they were very lucky to go a day without losing some metal. Either the Converter would go wrong, or burn through the side of the ladle, or a running nozzle. Not a very healthy place to work in, always full of red fumes from the Converter blowing direct into the shop. A bit lower down the Main Offices, but nothing so grand as the present. Next to it a brick shed, a relic of the brickyard used as a time office for the Old Foundry. Directly opposite, the Test House and next to it, up some wooden steps, the Pattern Shop. Across the bottom of the drive, the Blacksmiths Shop, to the rear of that the Power House, the old original Boiler House of the brickyard, now converted into a Power House, and maintenance shop for the Electricians and Fitters. Still on our left we come to the Machine Shop, and Old Foundry running parallel. The Machine Shop a long shop, but not overstocked with machines if I remember right. There was a Planing Machine, a Drilling Machine, a big Facing Machine, about a couple of Lathes, and several saws, down the bottom was the Annealing Oven. Running alongside the two bays of the Old Foundry the top half of the first bay, the Dressing Shop.


"Well that completes my memory of the good old days, and in spite of the long hours and hard work, I enjoyed them."

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