Following on from my original blog entry on this topic, my own experiences in the die-casting industry during the mid-1950s are set out here for those who may be interested.
When I left my Secondary Modern School, aged 15, in the summer of 1954, I was surprised when my father, Sidney Ambridge, informed me that I had been offered a job in the toolroom of Lesney Products Ltd. This had been agreed without my prior knowledge but as a reciprocal arrangement between my father and Jack Odell. I had understood that my father had earlier trained Jack to become a toolmaker and I presumed that my father had asked Jack to train me in order to repay the favour. I gathered, however, that my job was on a ‘take it or leave it' basis.
Miroslav Sasek's artistic impression of Lesney's later plant
When I started my employment at Lesney's, I felt that Jack Odell had only agreed to take me on with the greatest reluctance and probably because he couldn't bring himself to say ‘no' to my father when he had devoted time teaching him the necessary toolmaking skills. Whereas Jack had received specific ‘one-to-one' training by my father, in my own case at Lesney's, I had merely been allowed into an environment where I might be able to learn something (though not taught by Jack Odell) by carrying out odd jobs for his toolmakers while I worked in the toolroom. This included use of vertical milling, shaping, horizontal grinding machines and lathework. One of the most interesting machines, essential to engraving the shape and details of a miniature model vehicle into a block of steel, was the pantographic milling machine. There were three such machines in the toolroom but which, unfortunately, I was never given the opportunity to use.
My pay was one shilling and sixpence per hour (7.5 pence) which, coincidentally, was the same as the retail price of any of the "Matchbox" series models available at that particular time. Models, then, recently having come into production during my stay at Lesney's were a miniature Fire Engine, Land-Rover, a Scammell Scarab articulated open truck. Moulds were being prepared for a Foden Petrol Tanker Lorry, a Cement-Mixer Lorry and a very large mould for a Euclid Quarry Tipper Truck (model about 30cms in length). I gather that they made, or had made, a miniature "Matchbox" version of the same Euclid tipper truck. I recall the names of the toolmakers present while I was there, i.e. (the brothers) Donald and Fred Rix, Jim Dawson, Peter Kolthammer and two others that I only ever knew as ‘Fred' and ‘Dave'. I got on very well with all of Lesney's toolmakers.
ERF Foden Petrol Tanker Lorry (Mould-maker: Fred Rix)
Living, as I did, at Totteridge near Barnet, north London, I cycled the 10-miles each way, to and from work at Lesney's factory at 1, Shacklewell Lane, Dalston, east London. This was fine during summer months but dreadful and dangerous in icy conditions. So, in the depth of winter 1954-55 I decided to make the journey by public transport to get to and from work safely. Jack Odell also lived at Totteridge but I never considered approaching him for a lift in his car. He often overtook me on my cycle journeys to and from Dalston. Unfortunately, in regard to the public transport, I found that fares exceeded my earnings, much to my astonishment, which signalled to me that I had no future at Lesney Products Ltd., so after only seven months (Feb. 1955) I handed in my notice.
On the final journey home as I cycled, precariously carrying my toolmaker's cabinet and steering the handlebars with the other hand, darkness had fallen and there was ice on the roads - not an enviable situation. As it happened, Jack Odell overtook me in his black Vauxhall Velox and he cheerily waved to me as he passed by. Unable to respond, I could only watch the rear lights of Jack's car until they disappeared into the distance.