I was born on 26th October 1920, a Tuesday, at Wanstead Nursing Home, East London. My father Herbert "Bert" and mother Amy Grace, lived at Stanley Road, Leytonstone, although soon after my birth , we moved to 14, Selby Road, Leytonstone, where we remained until I was 12 years old. I had a sister, Doris, one year older than myself, and Laurence, one year younger. I suppose you would say that , we were respectable but poor, although not as poor as some. Dad was works manager of a local engineering company, with a wage, at that time, of 2 pounds 15 shillings (2.75). The average working man's was 1 pound 10 shillings (1.50) for a standard working week of 50 hours. Mum was a dressmaker before she married. Dad came from a Yorkshire family (Selby and Hull, although their ancestors, came from the village of Rawden, near Guiseley) and Mother came from Lincolnshire.

He was by today's standards, a very strict father, although, in later life I think I gained great benefit from his guidance and example. Dad ruled and we all obeyed, very Victorian. All meals were at certain times, with everybody seated at table. You did not speak, unless spoken to (talk was for elders, not children) You ate your meal, and cleaned your plate (food was hard earned, and not to be wasted) I have had an unfinished meal served up at the next mealtime.

Laurance on the left

While still at school, we were expected to pull our weight in the home, doing jobs to earn a 'Saturday Penny' which you received after your jobs were finished at lunch time on Saturday. A quick dash to the sweet shop on the other side of the road, clutching your penny, would buy a lot of sweets (4 ozs. for a Farthing - 4 to a penny -960 to a 1). The usual jobs in the home, were boot polishing, resoling and steel re-studding, cutlery cleaning, garden digging, and turning the mangle for mother on Monday Washday But the worst job was straightening bent nails for Dad to reuse. (many times I have acquired blood blisters on the fingers). Dad did a lot of spare time carpentry to earn extra money (his father was a cabinet-maker at the Guild Hall in London) He acquired a supply of bacon boxes and reused the timber. The nails had to be straightened and reused, thousands of them!

The class at Cann Hall School

When I was five years old, mother walked me half a mile to Junior school for my first day. She only ever took me once, in future, I had to get myself there. The school was Cann Hall road school, an L.C.C. (London County Council) with juniors 5 to 7 years and seniors 8 to 14. Before leaving juniors, you were expected to be able to write (joined up) know your times table up to 12 times, write a short essay, and read from any school book. In the seniors, (boys only) we were taught written and mental mathematics (no calculators), algebra, geometry, history, geography, art (sketching and painting) Shakespeare, etc. and religious sessions. In the sixth form we were taught Pitmans shorthand and typing. School times were 9 -12 and 2 - 4.30. Not having any playing fields, on Friday afternoons from 3.0pm, we were marched to Wanstead Flats, part of Epping Forest, for football or cricket, depending on time of year. All the teachers (male) wore black gowns and mortar-board hats, and were addressed as Sir.

They kept strict discipline, no unauthorised talking or inattention in class, or we were kept in class after lessons. Boys kept in, from all different classes, were put in one classroom and a duty teacher would set the tasks, usually 100 lines. For misdemeanours, you were marched to the Head masters study and stood in the corridor in line until dealt with, which could be an hour later, I think part of the punishment was the standing waiting, for the other pupils to see, everybody knew why you were there. The punishment was usually, so many strokes of the cane, from one to six. I only had one 'six-hander' its something you never forget. Very severe cases were dealt with on the seat of the pants. Truancy was almost unheard of, the school-board man would call home to see the parents, this brought shame on the family, in front of the neighbours, which was very important.


When I was seven, Dad acquired a secondhand junior bike (nothing was ever new, even for birthdays - no spare money) and after repainting and fitting wooden blocks to enable me to reach the pedals I obtained my first transport for the next eight years. After school, I went everywhere on that bike, it was nothing for a gang of us to go off on Saturdays, nobody knew where we were, and finish up miles from home. One day when I was ten years old, we were in Wanstead Park (4 miles) playing next to the River Roding. I was straddled a floating log, when one of the boys pushed me into the middle of the river. Obviously, the log revolved and shot me into the water. Not being able to swim, there were no lessons given in those days - I was drowning. Fortunately a young man dived in and saved my life. He did not stay, so I never who he was, but I shall always be grateful. I went into some bushes, stripped off, and my mates each took a piece of clothing and ran around trying to dry them off they thought it was great fun. I did not tell my parents, I would have got a 'ticking off' for playing near a river.

While in the seniors, I was picked for the athletics squad, to run for the school in the Inter-Schools annual games. My forte was 100yards sprint and 440yards relay (4th. Position) We had to practice on Wanstead Flats before school, nothing ever interfered with lessons. We held the sports days at the Essex County Cricket Ground, where up to ten schools competed. Our school did very well, and I was in the squad for two years. When I was ten years, Dad lost his sight. He was always short sighted, but this meant that he could not carry on in engineering. So we had a period when he was out of work. I became his eyes. We traveled everywhere together, I had to read everything for him. He still tried to carry on with his carpentry work, although all measuring and tricky items were left to me. I learnt how to use my hands, Handle the tools, including sharpening chisels on an oil stone.

Over the rest of my life, the knowledge I learnt as a boy, has proved to be invaluable. Dad took on all sorts of work, we made a timber veranda, 25ft long and delivered and erected it in Buckinghamshire. Also, a two bedroom bungalow, built in sections and had to pass it over the garden wall at Selby Road, to load it on the lorry for delivery to Epping. We then spent a week erecting it.

At twelve years old, we moved to South Hornchurch, near Romford. I had two more years at school, which was Bush Elms, Hornchurch. This school came under Essex County Council and was mixed. The standards and discipline were much lower, I came top of the class in my first exam, whereas in London, I usually came about tenth, I was immediately put up a class. I am afraid I did not settle in there very well everything was very slack even the mixed teachers.

Chestnut Glen Hornchurch

Dad had bought a house in Chestnut Glen, South Hornchurch very near to Hornchurch Aerodrome, I remember laying in the long grass looking up at the Gloucester Gladiators (bi-planes) coming into land, we could see the pilots in the open cockpits. Dad paid 325 for our end of terrace house (the inner ones were 300) and we immediately set about building a lean-to garage ( which became our workshop during the war). Being new, we had to develop the garden, so I helped Dad to build footpaths, a fishpond with a fountain, and tool shed. Not happy with that, he goes and rents an allotment, which I also have to help him dig.

After a couple of years, Dad regained partial sight in one eye, and was able to get a job at the London Association for the Blind in Victoria, SW1. His job was as fitter for the knitting machines. The LAB was a company with charity status which employed blind and partial sighted girls on industrial knitting machines making woolen ladies garments. These were of high quality and were sold mostly to the fashion market and nobility ( The Queen Mother was their patron). They held fashion parades in various parts of the country. They needed a transportable catwalk, so Dad made this for them , and in my school breaks, I would go with him to various hotels and country houses and erect the catwalk. The company also had a blind men's company at Peckham making basket-ware etc.

At fourteen years, I left school and Dad got a job for me in Peckham, London. There was no question of further education, we had to start earning a living. I worked at a printers as a compositor The hours were 8.0 till 6.0 and 8.0 till 12.0 on Saturdays for 15 shillings and 6 pence per week (75p) As Dad and I had to be in work by 8.0am We were up at 5.0am, a 3 mile walk to Romford station catch the steam train to Liverpool Street, where Dad would catch the Underground to Victoria and I would drop off at Monument Station, walk over London Bridge to the station and catch the Southern Electric to Peckham Rye station and so to work.

Like the pose ?

After doing this for eighteen months, I decided to cycle to work to save the fares, this was 32 miles each way. This worked OK until late one wet evening coming home a van skidded into the side of me knocking me to the ground. My bike was a write off, and a passer-by advised me to see a doctor who had a surgery a few doors away. On examination he declared there were no bones broken, so I proceeded to go home by train. The jolting of the train did not help my shoulder, which was swelling badly, and when Dad saw me. he took me straight to Oldchurch Hospital, Romford. After an x-ray, I was told that my clavicle was broken, and I remained in the hospital for seven days. I never did go back to Peckham.

While at home for the next few weeks, I heard that I could start an apprenticeship locally, I had found out that the newspapers were paying the colossal sum of 15 a week for compositors, if they had served a seven year apprenticeship. So I joined a company Pirie, Appleton , of Chadwell Heath, ( part of the Portway Group), and was duly indentured for seven years. I attended the London School of Printing, one day per week

Looking back to my days as a compositor, it is interesting to realise how much techniques have changed in the printing industry. As a compositor, in 1934, we had to set the printed page with words made up of individual letters or ' type'. These were cast in lead with the impression of each letter cast on the end. This type was then placed in a 'composing stick' to form words. When the stick was full the type was transferred to a tray, called a 'galley' The type was kept in trays set on a frame, the upper tray, or ' case' contained capital letters, and the lower trays carried the 'lower case' letters. This is the origin of the terms 'upper case' and 'lower case' These terms are still used in the computer world. The type was placed in a frame on a steel slab (referred to as a 'stone') and after planishing to insure all the letters were of equal height, were locked in with wooden wedges (known as quoins), ready for the letterpress printing press. The points system used for the sizes of the 'fonts' of type, go back to the early days of print. The very early terminology for 12point was 'pica' and for 6pt was 'nonpareil I.e. the smallest size For newsprint, where speed was everything, (newspapers are printed overnight) the individual letters were too time consuming, so a machine was devised to cast whole lines of type in one piece called a 'slug'. The machine was the Linotype. An operator would type the words on a keyboard, which released moulds of the letters, which would then automatically cast the slugs, ready for the compositor to divide up into pages. Letterpress is now almost extinct, it is now being done by computer. The only letterpress printing today is done by specialist firms for very high class work, and expensive books etc. This is usually combined with the use of specialist handmade papers made from cotton and pure wood fibres, dried slowly on a mould. When the sheets are removed, the feathered edge is sometimes left which is called a 'deckle edge' There is a firm in Germany, using the letterpress method to produce the entire works of Shakespeare in single play books They are hand-bound in goat-skin leather, with 22carat gold blocked titles. The books are very labour intensive, and very expensive.

The hard earned bike
When I was fifteen, I wanted to join the Romford Wheelers Cycle club, and as I needed a decent bike, I decided on a handmade touring/racing model costing 34 (an ordinary bike would have cost 4.50. So I took up a paper round to get the extra money. I got a job at a news- agent for seven shillings and sixpence (approx. 32p) a week, I got extra for Sunday mornings. This entailed getting up at 5.0am to get the deliveries done by 7.0am ( I had to be at work by 8.0am). Each week I banked the money in the Post Office Savings Bank.To speed things up, I got an extra job in the evenings, collecting and delivering customers films to and from chemists and taking them to a processing company, this earned me an extra seven shillings and sixpence a week. After a year I was able to have the bike made and join the Romford Wheelers.

While at Pirie, Appleton's, I met Irene, which changed my whole life. She was 16 and I was18. She worked in the Self-Seal envelope department, so we saw each other every day, we usually had lunch together, I shared my cheese sandwiches and she shared her bean sandwiches. We met on 19th August 1939 and continued courting for five years. The war years made life so uncertain and Irene had to go in the services, but she was able to choose the NAAFI. Life was run on a day to day basis and not a time to be looking into the future. However, things got a little easier, so we eventually married at Holy Cross Church on the 17th June 1944. I remember my brother Laurence, who was my best man, who drove me to the church, saying " this was my last chance, to make a run for it" We bought a 3 bedroom semi-detached house in Gidea Park for 950 with a 600 mortgage.

My brother Laurence, suggested that we start up a small engineering business, we had a chance of orders from his company. This was very tempting, as being an apprentice, my wage was only half of his with no chance of overtime, and I was now courting. I approached my company about a possibility of early release (I had served 4.5 years) In view of the imminence of war, they were prepared to release me. Dad had two lathes, a drilling machine, various other tools, in the workshop beside the house. Did I mention that Dad had been a toolmaker. So we started a business.


The garage at Chestnut Glen


Prior to 1946, I had never heard of Sudbury!

In February 1946, I was called up for the RAF, and on leaving the intake at Padgate, Warrington,I with six hundred other 'sprogs' were put on a train for an unknown destination, to start our 'square bashing'.

After a nine hours journey we arrived at 8.0pm in the dark, at a cold windy railway station, goodness knows where. After a while, we were picked up in Bedford trucks, and whisked off into the night to a campsite with Nissen huts, fifteen to a billet. Next morning, on parade for roll-call, we were informed, that we were in Sudbury, Suffolk. To most of us this was the end of the world. We were billeted at Gt. Waldingfield, on a campsite near the church, within marching distance of the airfield.

The USAF 486 Bomb Group left in August 1945, the camp was then passed over to the RAF, and I arrived in February 1946. The airfield was complete with a control tower, runways, perimeter track and a parade square, which is now Heathway. The huts on the airfield still had the aircraft recognition posters on the walls. The camp post office and cookhouse were down Folly Road, I spent many hours on 'fatigues' in the cookhouse, peeling spuds and washing up.

Little did I realise, that after my service, I would bring my engineering company to Cornard Road (Lucas Road) in 1949, and stayed in business for 33 years. I have seen Sudbury grow from a small market town, where the live stock was sold in the market square, the Corn Exchange was just that, the police station stood where the roundabout is now, Borhamgate was a house of that name and Gt Cornard was a small village with a church.

Incidentally, I engraved the replacement plaque for the USAF Bomb Group which is mounted on a stone plinth at the entrance to the airfield.

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Ronald. H. Rawden 1920-2011