A 1950s Apprentice in Rugby. Life in Town

Hillmorton Road, 2018.
Image courtesy of Benjamin Earl

After realising that I needed help from the apprentice welfare office, I was worried. I had in my mind that by failing to be self-supporting my whole future again threatened to fall apart. Therefore it was a surprise and a massive relief to be met with sympathy and ‘why on earth didn’t I ask before’ and that of course somewhere could be found. It turned out that all reputable digs were exclusively on a BTH register and not advertised.

Settling down

They sent me round to meet a Mrs Baldwin at Hillmorton Road to be assessed as a suitable inmate. A straight-backed stern little lady looked me up and down at the door with a sniff and shoe inspection before asking me in. A spacious hall and galleried staircase led up to separate rooms for me and four others. Downstairs we had our own spacious and comfortable lounge with bay window. All meals were provided, and even a packed lunch! I could even put the Enfield in the drive.

I could at last settle down and make the most of my remaining time in Rugby. Mrs Baldwin had a caring motherly disposition, quite reserved at the start, but she later divulged that her GP husband had died not long before, and she had decided to fill the house with lodgers instead of patients to avoid loneliness. I learnt to be a handyman whilst there, painting bathrooms and fixing things around the house. In return, I used to escape from the factory to spend sunny lunch times sunbathing in her back garden.

Plenty of pubs!

One particular hazard with living in town was the proximity and proliferation of pubs. One student friend played the piano rather well, and managed to boost his funds by bashing out popular tunes in some of them of an evening. He used to give me a lift on his BSA 250 to each venue where I would help to clear his backlog of donated pints that stacked up on the piano. Staying in the saddle after was often a serious challenge.

After one particularly liquid evening holding up the piano another friend, not a drinking lad but persuaded into joining us for an evening, had overdone things a bit so I thought I’d help him home. After a few minutes, his stomach rebelling, he had to be dragged into the yard of a pub en route until over the worst. I sat him on a smart orange and blue striped bench in his new toggled duffle coat,  not noticing the wet paint sign. He later needed steering all the way back over the bridge past Hillmorton Road railway station to the door of his digs. I learnt later that he woke up next morning flat out in bed still wearing the coat, but with no idea how he’d got home, and much aggrieved to be chucked out for redecorating the counterpane in coloured stripes.

Qualifications, and work

I actually managed a spell as barman at The Dun Cow at Dunchurch for a while to boost the coffers. In those days the job was much simpler because in most pubs there was usually just mild and bitter on tap and that satisfied most customers. Steely determination became vital in resisting persistent “have a half lad” offers.

Those boozy sessions were actually pretty infrequent and made a break from the considerable amount of college homework that had to be tackled after each day release. By the time it came for my move to Leicester I think all of our group had acquired an Ordinary National Certificate, with HNC the eventual target in mechanical or electrical engineering.

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