Starting Work at 15 in The Jewellery Quarter in 1954

Getting a job or career was so different back in the 1950’s. Here is one person’s account of getting a job at John Goode & Sons back in 1954, and the circumstances surrounding the appointment.

‘I was 15 years old and just left Secondary Modern school with no qualifications apart from the ability to write my own name in both capitals and joined up writing, living in dirty Smethwick near the canal junction on Bridge Street and next to dozens of factories producing everything from bicycles to railway engines.

The manufacturing industry was still recovering from the 1939-45 war, there were ten jobs to every applicant, unlike today, companies were falling over themselves to employ youngsters. I went looking for a job unsure what I wanted to do apart from earn a bit of cash and buy a pair of shoes, the ones I was wearing had holes in them and the cardboard stuffed inside them kept falling apart. I tried cutting a bean tin up and place it between the ground and cardboard, the trouble was walking down the street I sounded like a tap dancing troupe trying to outdo the dray horses.

In the first week of job hunting I visited eleven companies. My first was a steel sheet producer, after walking through a muddy yard, avoiding huge crane hooks swinging with massive chunks of metal hanging from them I was told to go into the gaffers shed, the green one. There were five such sheds, none of which remotely resembled the shade of green, dirty brown or mucky grey perhaps, but no green. After banging on two of them without response, I decided the other three, which were further down the muddy yard, was a shed too far, and anyway my feet were now soaking wet so I retreated back through the swinging hooks and mud.

My next try was a heavy steel works making thick metal stamping and pressings, the noise was ear shattering, ducking under hot steam vents pocking from a wall and yet again having to paddle through ankle deep mud to another shed, void of any colour except rust, I entered the inner confines of the Forman’s office, he sat on a high stool eating a grubby sandwich with grubby hands, he interviewed me between chewing for about five minutes, in that time I heard nothing coming from his mouth apart from when he yelled some expletives to an unfortunate shoddy figure covered in black oil, who must have crawled from a vat of gunge. I shouted over the noise until my throat hurt and left.

Next was yet another steel manufacturing company, getting to this one I had to negotiate a lake of moving white foam oozing from a metal doorway, I tried walking around it, then jumping over it, wrong move, I became stranded in the middle of a swirling lake of white suds, some workmen came paddling through it as if it wasn’t there, it was over their ankles, one of them laughingly shouted, yo watch were yo put yo’er fate, there’s rats in there mate. After getting my feet and legs wet I went back home to dry off.

Another day and more interviews with steel manufacturing companies, this time, when entering a muddy yard I was confronted with a locomotive steaming its way down the yard towards me. The interview was much the same as all the others, shouting at each other, competing against the intolerable noise in the background. It was the sort of noise that you catch in your hands, put gently inside a pocket then release it along the cut tow-path to frighten the birds. I never knew if I was ever offered a job or not, I nodded or shook my head when I though it appropriate.

After all the experiences of steel factory interviews I was taken aback when I was interviewed by Mr John of J, Goode & Sons, gold chain manufacturers. I rang the shiny brass bell on a wonderfully polished oak door; I was then ushered down a plush carpeted corridor, passing oak wall panelling with glass cabinets along the walls displaying silver shields and cups, guided into an interview room that smelled of rich leather and polish, told to wait a while, I gazed around taking in the splendour of a huge mahogany desk with ornate brass ink wells, and chesterfield furniture.

Mr John came in to the room, we shook hands, and he indicated me to sit down on one of these leather chairs, it was so quiet, no steam hammers shaking the foundations, no screeching machinery shocking the nerve system, no hammer drills shaking ones teeth to dust. And my feet were dry.

When Mr John spoke I could hear everything he said, it was as if the walls were whispering his words back to me. That was on a Thursday, I was asked if I wanted the job and when I could start. I said yes please and start tomorrow, Friday. It was suggested I start the following Monday.

So I became a goldsmith chain-maker working with some wonderful craftsmen and women.’

Source: © Former worker at John Goode & Sons


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