My working life in Hemel Hempstead

Memories of Hemel Hempstead from 1939

By Irene Hall

Marlowes Central Parade in the 1950s
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies, TVAP Oxford Series LXXXII

My parents moved to Hemel from Margate in Kent in 1939 when the war started. We lived on the sea front, and enemy shells, which were meant for the docks at Dover, sometimes came out of range and landed in Margate, so hence the move to the country.

House on a hill

There were six in the family. I have two brothers and one sister. My father worked for a company whose head office was located in Watford, so I think on one of his visits to Head Office, he decided to look at surrounding areas, with a view to moving until the war ended. I well remember my mother almost crying when we were all driving up to Adeyfield hill to our new house. She had specifically told him not to get a house on a hill as she had one baby in a pram and three young children. Our new house was in Mountfield Road, at the very top of the hill. His answer was it was either that or one in Hillfield Road, which was just as bad!  

Adams and Adams

As the years went by and the children started schools, my parents stayed on in Hemel rather than interrupt our schooling, and so it was that in 1951 I was at work at a local solicitors, Messes A. J. Adams and Adams, situated in Marlowes on the corner of Albion Hill. It was a big red building with a large clock on the front; it stood almost opposite King Henry VIII public house. I was employed to work mainly in litigation, but sometimes on conveyancing, a reasonably well paid job for the time, but like all young people, I was looking to earn more money. It was then that I heard the magic words, LONDON RATES.  

The Commission for New Towns opened an office two doors away from where I worked, in a little parade of former shops, and it was from the girls there that I heard of the businesses which were moving to the Industrial Estate.  

Addressograph-Multigraph

In the local paper, the Hemel Hempstead Gazette, I read of a Company called Addressograph-Multigraph Ltd who was moving from Colindale, so I decided to pay them a call, having in mind applying for a position of PA to the Sales Director.  

There were only two people on the premises when I called, namely the ex-Royal Artillery Sergeant on the gatehouse and the Personnel Manager. He explained to me that the office block would be opening later, but would I consider working for him, as the main priority was to get the ‘works’ up and running. This entailed bringing those from the firm in Colindale and housing them and also recruiting others from London who wished to relocate to the New Town. This seemed a lot more interesting than typing wills and deeds, so I agreed to start at a much-inflated salary to my previous job. The LONDON RATES had come up trumps.  

Housing for Londoners only

I was given a very nice office separate from the Personnel Manager and on the first day looking round, I thought I’d made a good move. I remember thinking I would miss the huge coal fire, which was in the solicitors and was so welcoming to come into of a winter’s morning, being lit by the cleaning lady before we arrived at work.  

I was always called Miss Adams and the Personnel Manager was Mr Maycock, and thus we remained on this formal name basis all the years I worked there. He and I worked as a team, there being no one else to delegate work to, and we soon had a continuous stream of would-be employees to be interviewed. The local people who applied for work were unfortunately not eligible for a house, so there were some extremely frustrated and disappointed people coming and going and not understanding why they could not be housed as their need was just as great as the Londoners’! But rules were rules and only the locals who didn’t need housing were interviewed.  

Granting their greatest wish

Firstly the employees from London came and returned by special coaches, and as the houses became available they were taken to view them by Mrs Penny from the Commission for New Towns. They usually came back to work after viewing, as pleased as Punch as so many were living with in-laws in one room. The prospect of a home and garden was a dream come true. I got so much pleasure from speaking to them afterwards, especially since I’d had a hand in it all. It was like the Personnel Manager and I had wonderful powers to be able to grant their greatest wish, i.e. to be employed and given a brand new house.

I’m sorry to say that there were no people of ethnic backgrounds employed at the Colindale factory, and this was also the case at Hemel Hempstead. Nobody of different colour or creed was even allowed past the main gate to apply for an interview. They were told the jobs were filled. Something I am happy to say, we wouldn’t get away with in this day and age.  

The machine shop’s distinctive smell

Gradually the works became up and running and because so many of the staff were from the original Colindale factory, it was all very friendly with help and advice in abundance. I think the full complement of works staff was about 500 to start with, and my job also involved interacting with all the various Foremen of the different ‘Shops’ as they were called. I gradually picked up the engineering terms and became accustomed to the distinctive smell of the Machine Shop, with the Capstan and Milling machines, the Drilling Shop, the Platers and Enamellers (where you turned a blind eye to the odd bit of car-part which was smuggled in for plating) and the mind-numbing thud of the huge Henry and Wright press which pressed out the little oblong sheets of metal which were used to stamp impressions of addresses on. You could not hear yourself talk when near this huge press.

 

Family atmosphere

The Fitting Shop worked to extremely fine limits - to within one thousand of a inch, so the men who worked here were very highly skilled indeed and commanded the highest rates of pay in the works: all of 2s/11d per hour. The whole factory worked piecework; so the more you did, more was earned. Sometimes when the Factory Inspector called unannounced as he usually did, I knew without being told, that I had to do a circuit of the Machine Shop to warn all the Foremen to make sure the guards were on all the machines. So many of the workforce kept the guards off because they could work at a faster pace.  

A phrase I often heard was that the workers felt like they were a family, as the company looked after them so well. When they moved to their new houses, many had not enough money to buy the essentials, let alone furniture, so the company would just lend them the money they needed – no security, just trust – and it was deducted from their wages each week interest free.  

Christmas drinks

When Christmas came, apparently it had been a tradition in Colindale for the men to bring a few beers into the works on Christmas Eve. The Management were very flexible on this, and the men were allowed to leave an hour earlier than normal. The rules were not abused by the men, presumably because the number of employees in London was far smaller than that in Hemel, but the first Xmas Eve this was allowed in Hemel the drink began flowing in the morning instead of the afternoon, so the word got back to the Personnel Manager that men were asleep under their benches worse for drink, so we had to shut the works at lunch-time and give them all the afternoon off. Thereafter all drink was banned on the premises.  

Filling in for the Sister

Next to my office was the Surgery. A fully trained Sister was employed. She wore a blue uniform and a starched cap and it was a beautifully equipped place. She and I became very friendly. On the occasions when she was ill, guess who had to fill in for her! I would hear people walk past my office and know that I had to go in there and do what I could, unskilled as I was. It was factory regulation that the Surgery had to have someone in attendance at all times. Gradually through the years, I was taught by Sister how to fold back the eye-lid with the help of a small wooden spatula so a magnet could be held up to attract the small pieces of metal swarf which had become lodged under the lid and were extremely dangerous and painful if left. I remember having to dress boils, leg ulcers and administer cough and cold mixtures and even lay them down in the rest room with terrible migraines. Once, I had got a man’s eye-lid turned back and was just about to pick up the magnet when he said ‘I’m going Nurse’, I thought, where to? When all of a sudden he flung out his arms and legs knocking the trolley flying, and promptly had a fit. I think I took it all in my stride!  

Naming the road

Whilst at Addressagraph-Multigraph, the Commission for New Towns asked if we would like to name the road outside, and this task was given to me. I named it Cleveland Road after the location of one of their subsidiary companies in America, at Cleveland, Ohio. It is just off Maylands Avenue.  

I was very happy working with the Personnel Manager and as the office in the front section of the building was gradually staffed, I had the opportunity to become PA to the Company Director, Mr Carruthers, but by then I was happy staying on the Works side – just as well, because a short while after that, the Personnel Manager had a heart attack and was told he had to take 6-8 weeks rest. Thereafter, I ran the office myself with the help of a young office girl. There were so many things which were just committed to memory - rates of pay, terms and conditions, rules and regulations which normally the Personnel Manager dealt with plus the correspondence. The Engineering Manager popped in once a morning to deal with any complicated correspondence, but we got through it, and I look back now with much affection for the old company.

I attend the Retired Club once a month, but the numbers are gradually dwindling, I think it should be renamed the Departure Lounge- Aah! Happy days ……. 

This page was added on 21/07/2010.

Comments about this page

  • My dad Arthur Fry worked at addressograph multigraph in Hemel Hempstead for about 4yrs from 1962 until he died in 1966. He worked at briggs in Dagenham for 25yrs before moving to Hemel. He was well liked by the personnel manager and was a friend of Mary who worked on the switchboard, I worked there too, on the switchboard and post room for about 2yrs.

    By Brenda Ingle (02/05/2020)
  • As a teenager I started working for A & M in Willesden, London, on the bench in the Addressograph re-build department, I had a bench situated between Bill Kay & Lenny Leach. A Tottenham supporter & an Arsenal supporter, they boasted every day which team were the best, needless to say today I don’t like football. The company at Willesden moved to Acton Park & I transferred with them & at this time was given my own department refurbishing photocopiers. This was a much larger site & included many other departments of the company, including customer service engineers, machine operator training school etc. The company reorganised & our rebuild department was moved into a warehouse site in Ebberns road Apsley. Nr Kings Langley & Hemel Hempstead. This site was closed down & I again got a transfer into the main factory of A & M in Maylands Avenue as charge hand on their sub assembly line. This is where I met my wife who worked with Christine Day & for Ted Leadbetter. Managers Ron Stevenson a tallish chap & Teddy Downs a short bloke who had a habit of rocking up onto his toes when speaking to you. I had poor dress sense in those days & at one time was wearing lime green trousers with a bright orange verging on red jumper. After working at 4 different sites & 15 years later I was finally made redundant.

    By Peter Elston (21/04/2020)
  • I worked at Adressograph between 1970 – 1979 as a secretary to the Administrative Manager, Mr Dennis Hollamby. Remembering such characters as Richard Foskett, Mr Stockwell, Mr Campbell, Chief Accountant, Ken Impey, Office Services Manager, Ann Dunbar, Richard Foskett’s secretary. I remember Reg Moorcraft, Doug Hearn, Payrolls dept with its old comptometers which I found fascinating. The old customer cardex filing system under Richard Foskett’s domain. Walking from the offices to the Personnel Department the other end of the factory. Th old Adler typewriters, the duplicating dept, using a verityper. The Golden Mile for the executives, the social club and much more. Good memories.

    By Avril Barrington (05/04/2020)
  • My Mum and Dad moved to Hemel with Addressograph in the Mid 50’s – Jean and Danny Fenton. They originally settled in Haleswood Road and then moved to Leverstock Green. Dad was a Capstan Setter/Operator for a few years and then moved to Rotax in the Early 60’s. 

    By Peter Fenton (10/12/2014)
  • I worked at Addressograph Multigraph between 1968 and 1974.  I am so pleased to have found this page as I have been searching for references to the factory and office for some time.

    I worked in Machine Order Control and Price Control.  In the former I had one staff called Adele and my boss was a Geoff Turner who lived at Adeyfield. Jim Queen, and a Mr Sells also worked there.  Doug Hearn was the Marketing Manager.

    In Price Control there was a Mr Moorcraft in charge, who left to work for a firm called Choake (caravans) at Leighton Buzzard. Also a chap called Sidney who had lost part of a finger in the war.  He lived at Abbots Langley I believe.

    Frank an old boy, was the Despatch Foreman in the factory. Very helpful.  I forget the names of the two people on the copier production line I used to liaise with.

    We had 45 minutes lunch hour.  I lived in Boxmoor with my parents and too far to go for lunch.   I remember the canteen.

    Decimilisation came in at the time and Geoff had to go off and be taught it and then pass what he knew down to me and the others. There was not much in it.

    I liaised between the 14 sales branches and the photocopier assembly line which was my province. We sold a Total copy system comprising 1250 and 1850 litho printing machine, 2000 and 2100 photocopier.  There were also addressing and verytyping machines sold separately.

    I was an active member of the Maylands Players in Adeyfield and Mr Stockwell the Company Secretary at Addressograph Multigraph was also in it as a principal member. I used to do supporting roles and ferry people around in my older brothers Austin Big 7 to and from rehearsals. We used a junior school in Adeyfield.

    There was an active social calander on the section and we went to places in Chipperfield, Harpendon and other places for evening dinners.

    Have may fond memories of A&M.

    A&M also took over Admel, a drawing office firm in Luton. Most of them were sacked but 20 were brought over to Maylands Avenue.  A hatchet team came over from Cleveland Ohio and pulled them in one by one and made them redundant. Nasty. They thought they had escaped the axe you see by coming over to Maylands Avenue.

    Six months after I left in 1974 some 400 people were made redundant and the factory closed. The whole site becoming an European Distribution centre.  Ted Heath Prime Minister taking us into the Common Market caused this to happen.

    I lost touch with Geoff Turner (lived in Adeyfield) and all the others. 

    One last thing about the production line.  The switchboard were always putting out calls for and I quote:

    Will Mr Twaddle please go to the nearest external telephone.

    Mr Twaddle being a progress chaser in the factory and always running about here and there. Not a young person. But he got his leg pulled over the announcements!!

    If anybody knows the people I am talking about, or just wants to chat about the old days at A&M do please come back on this listing or contact me
    Thank you.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    By Brian George (25/10/2014)
  • My Grandparents moved from Neasden to Hemel with the Addressograph, John & Doris Lawrence, they moved into a lovely house that I remember visiting as a child.

    By Nicola Lawrence (29/09/2014)
  • My father Colin George Wood worked there as an Accountant/consultant. He would have been in his 20’s then. He is eighty now but still has fond memories. Does any one remember him. He went on to work at John Dickensons where my Grandad William Wood was the security officer.

    By Anna Greening(Nee) Wood (16/03/2013)
  • My dad Bill Assell worked for Addressograph for many years as a Capstan operator – if that is the right term? I can remember that one year after the “Christmas tipple” at work he fell off his bike and landed in a neighbours garden 😉 I used to go to the Christmas party that was held for employees’ children.

    By Carole Gonzalez (05/02/2013)
  • My Dad worked for A & M ( or Add Mult as it was known affectionately) for most of his working life. The exceptions being, National Service and being made redundant when manufacturing ceased in the mid 80s. Now I was always told by him that the factory was in Oxgate lane, which is situated in as I understand to be in Cricklewood and not Colindale.

    By John Lee (18/11/2010)

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