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Another Article from the September - October 2012 Mascot

Former Singer Employee becomes a Centenarian - from John Taylor

My friend, mechanic and co-driver of George (my 10/26), Keith Parkes, mentioned that he had been told about a man who lived opposite his house in Red Lane, Kenilworth, who had worked at Singer as a 15 year-old in ‘the good old days’.

This man is Ernest Haywood, and he will be 100 years young by the time you read this.

I visited Ernie twice in July, first to record his story and then with George, when I lent him a copy of The Singer Story.

I next saw him on our return from Ironbridge, when I took him a MASCOT containing the Brief Singer History and copies of these pictures (thanks to our editor), and he couldn’t thank us enough.  He is an amazing man.   This is Ernie’s story:

“I was born in Caludon Road on 12 September 1912.  My Dad, Arthur, worked at the Singer factory making bicycles.  Following his brother’s lead, he volunteered for call up in the war, and served with the Royal Engineers in Egypt - we didn’t see him for four years.

I went to Stoke School, and we moved to Brighton Street.  Then we moved to Villiers Street, and I went to the Frederick Bird School.

When Dad came home from the war, he went back to his job at Singer in Canterbury St, working on back axles.  I don’t remember much about it as I wasn’t particularly interested at that time.  By then he would have been in his late 20s. He carried on working there until Singer was taken over by Humber (Rootes), when he transferred to Humber Avenue and worked on Humbers and Hillmans until he retired in about 1958.

When I left school I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and my first job was in a boot and shoe shop for 2 months, but I didn’t like it.  Dad wanted me to go into apprenticeship for carpentry, but I wasn’t interested and decided I wanted to work in the car industry and went for a job at Singer.   I saw Mr Jarvis, the Labour Manager at Canterbury St, and was sent to work in the

 stores at Paynes Lane.  I was about 15 years old then.  I didn’t like the job as it was all running about the various factories - Canterbury St, where the chassis were made, the wood-working mill in Read St, the Panel works in Gosford St, and final assembly in Paynes Lane.

I wanted to be doing something, so went to see Mr Jarvis.  His secretary told me I couldn’t see him, but made an appointment for me for 2 days later.  I told Mr Jarvis I didn’t like the stores job, but I now knew about the factories and wanted to do something other than running around. I was put on Assemblies at Paynes Lane.

I remembered Mr Jarvis when they lived in Blithe Rd and had a sweet shop in Bradford St,

next door to the barbers where I got my hair cut. I also remember the Managing Director, William Bullock - when he came around everybody would jump to attention!

My job was to finish off the Singer 8s (Juniors?).  There was one production line - Mr Tooth was the foremen.  I worked with a senior - George Campion, who was a Coventry boxer and a bit of a character - he loved to go to the races.  He would say “You’ll be all right for the day won’t you?”  Then he would make himself sick and go to the nurse for a pass-out so he could go to the races.  When he came back he would say “I do feel ill.”  He was mentioned several times in the Coventry Telegraph regarding his boxing.

The chassis’ came from Canterbury St, wheels were put on and they would come down the floor.  Output was about 100 cars a week.  The bodies were put on by two big chaps, then they came to our section for finishing.  We would put the instruments in the panel, the starter switch, two floor-boards, and cut the slots for the pedals.   One of my jobs was to fit the door handles - I had to drill into the door trim fabric through the centre of a 1” diameter hole in the door - by guesswork.  If I got it off-centre I had to enlarge the hole so the handle shaft would go through, but I never got pulled up about it.  We got 3s 6d between the two of us for this, plus another tuppence for drilling the hole for the spare wheel carrier.  Yes, we were on piece-work!

There were three colours of body lined up along one side of the department - Blue, Maroon and Black.  Each had a Body No plate, and we would book the finished body numbers in for payment.  There were three finishing gangs, and if they were short of money they would book in the body numbers for payment in advance.  Some got caught doing this and there was a big row!

The period between the end of August - Motor Show time - and Christmas, was very busy, working up to 8pm every night.  But during January work would slacken off, and when there was no work Mr Tooth would come along and send us home - “Come back tomorrow.”

I had been working for Singer for about 18 months when one of my mates went to work for Triumph, so I applied for a job there and got one in the machine shop.  I liked this and got on well with the foreman, who put me through all the machines, mainly working on the aluminium crank-cases.  But although Triumph also suffered a down-turn in Motor-Bike sales after Christmas, it was not as bad as at Singer and there was no short time.

Then one day we were all given our cards and my uncle got me a job at BTH - less money - £1 18s 6d,, working ‘til 8pm every night on magnetos in the Service department.  BTH took over the old Singer factory in Raglan St as a drawing office, but were then taken over by GEC, who were themselves taken over by Lucas/Rotax, with whom I finished my time as Chief Quality Engineer.”

The icing on the cake was when Ernie showed me his father’s Gold, Smith’s De-Luxe, ‘Long Service’ watch, the back of which is inscribed:

Rootes Group Long Service  A.H. HAYWOOD 1958  (Over 40 Years)

Thank you Ernie -

         you really are amazing -                                            John.