A step back in time

I was reading the December edition of HPM and as an 83-year-old still working plumber/gasfitter I was interested in the mention of the ‘youngster’ Alan Marshall.

I too had to work on hard floors and there was no knee protection, safety helmets, ear defenders, or safety glasses available in my early days. Luckily my knees etc suffered no ill effects despite the abuse that they had to endure.

My only problems have been non-work related such as having to have a triple heart bypass and a Pacemaker fitted in 2013.

I started work as an apprentice gasfitter just after the gas industry had been nationalised and I was lucky enough to be able to work with qualified gasfitters and qualified plumbers for which I had to pay to be in the Plumbing Trades Union and the Gasfitters Union. I served a four-year apprenticeship during which I got my Intermediate and Final City & Guilds Certificates. I then did an extra year in order to gain my 1st Class Certificate because that enabled me to claim a higher wage.

In those early days, we had to learn to wipe plumbing joints by using a pot and ladle which could hurt if you weren’t handy enough with the moleskin wiping cloth. Joints on gas pipes were made by using a blow torch which consisted of a brass container filled with methylated spirit.

The meths soaked up through the wick and you lit the top part with a match. Clipped to the body of the blow torch was a small tube which was shaped like a question mark, to which you attached a length of small bore rubber tube (similar to what you would use on a modern ‘u tube’ pressure gauge), you would then blow through this tube which then blew across the burning wick and produce a neat blue flame with which to make your joint.

Imagine doing this when you were installing 1” copper or lead pipe work. I still have my original meths torch and my two McSeivert petrol blowlamps which came along in later years, but obviously I don’t use them now.

In those days, we also had to work with sheet lead and were expected to do all the glazing on new housing sites.

I became self-employed in February 1960 during which time I have employed and trained 11 young apprentices.

I could waffle on all day about my experiences during all my working years, but I’ve bored you enough already.

Jack Cox, Jack Cox & Sons, Plumbing & Heating Contractors, Warrington

Editor’s comment: You haven’t bored us Jack, it is a fascinating insight into how life was in the past and your obvious dedication to your profession.