Arthur East started work at Chance Brothers Glass at the age of fourteen in 1945. Arthur has already contributed to the project entitled ‘Taking Chances‘ that was run by The Public in West Bromwich 2006.
Articles with Arthur’s stories are published here.
Arthur’s tour of the factory premises is found here.
Arthur East– Edit from the Oral History.
This is a copy of the edit taken from the original oral history taken from Arthur East and passed to MADE by Richard Franks. Richard worked on the Taking Chances project in 2006. A Heritage lottery funded project in collaboration with The Public in West Bromwich.
And I left school at 14 and that was in 1945. I was actually going to go and work on a railway but an uncle of mine was very friendly with a foreman carpenter at Chances when he said, “You know you’d do much better if you learn to do carpentry.” So, I went and had an interview and they said yes, fine, and I started work there.
At first, I had to do with 12 month period in the gatehouse. Every apprentice had to do a service, I think it was a way of getting you into the hang of what the industry was like, I mean we were very green and 14 as you can imagine! You have to do menial tasks, like running, messaging, going getting the toast from the canteen for the gatekeeper. I always remember my one job was to go up to the end of the drive and polish the big brass signpost was said ‘Chance Brothers Glass’; I polished that every morning, it had to be done otherwise the directors and will be on your tail.
Then after six months I was moved over to the Old Gate House and that was where the post room was and we had to do internal post to and it was such a big firm that we did the post twice a day, so I would collect and deliver post to and from the different departments. So I did another six months there before I went into the carpenters shop and then I eventually started an apprenticeship and stayed there until I was 21. I found it very interesting because being in the maintenance department you got to see all the departments within the factory because you would be sent around to repair woodwork, floors, doors, windows, desks in the offices and so it was interesting and I was one of these nosey sorts of people who wanted to know what everyone was doing and so I got to know quite a lot of people in various departments as I went along.
The British industry’s fair
In 1947… I think, they started a thing called the that B.I.F the British industry’s Fair at Castle Bromwich and I think it was the original site where spitfires were assembled. Anyway, there was two of us at the time, a carpenter and myself, I was still an apprentice then an we went over and built the stand for Chances, I think that was for two years running and then it didn’t seem to take on after that.
But then we were, after the war, like everyone else trying to display our products for business and Chances had all of their sheet glass on stands. We had our photograph taken working on the stand because the stand consisted of an office you see, it was like a semi-circular office, in the working plans it looked like a key hole because it had two straights and a circle, and all the circular part was glass and it was different types of glass that we made. What was unique about it as well was that the glass was curved so that it fit to shape the round, quite innovative for its time really. I saw the photograph of the stand we made but unfortunately, the carpenter that I was working with of the time is no longer with us, a chap called George Badly so I presume the photograph went with all his belongings. A bit unfortunate really.
Fun at the fair.
They had a good social club and recreational ground, cricket, football, tennis courts but I never played in any of the teams, to be honest, the only thing that I can remember now about the sports field was when Chances had their Jubilee, well at least I think it was the Jubilee, I can’t remember now. But anyway, we had a big open day and we had to turn the sports field into a fairground and I spent weeks down there doing jobs. We had to build a lot of different things including a rustic bridge that went over the stream, we had to install temporary toilets and stalls. It was rather a splendid affair, especially when you’re a young man; it was certainly an interesting job. Unfortunately, I haven’t got photos of that either, that was the problem you see, in the 1940s, you couldn’t take any photographs because of the war work. It’s a shame really because there had been so much history lost.
On the job.
Quite a lot of people used to live locally to Chances, there was George street, Feeder Street, Oldbury Road, Highbury Road, they had a lot of property, I think they had about 20 houses altogether, I remember well because when I was there they only had gas lighting not electricity and so all the rooms were lit by gas mantle and all the houses for some reason had quarry flooring downstairs and upstairs. Alt the woodwork though had woodworm and I systematically went to through all the houses and replaced the woodwork and all the floorboards in the top floors, I don’t know why they had woodworm, the joists were OK.
For some reason the woodworm hadn’t touched the joists, Just the floorboards, anyway, I had a labourer with me and we ripped all the floorboards up and threw them out of the window and set fire to it. We painted the joist with this stuff to kill off the woodworm then replace the flooring. This one time, in the winter, we will bashing away putting these boards down and the woman of the house came upstairs and said, “I’ve made you a cup of tea lads”, so we sat and on the floor and had our cup of tea and my labourer said, “I can smell gas”, and I said, “bet we have nailed the boards to the gas pipe!” So we ripped the floorboards up and we had put a nail straight through the lead piping, we ran downstairs and turned the gas off.
I told the woman what we’d done, and she couldn’t put any lighting or heating on and she said, “Oh my husband will go mad, he wants his tea when he gets home!” Well by the time the gas board had been around it was about eight o’ clock at night and the sold lady wasn’t very happy and I don’t know if her husband got his tea in the end!
Then the next house we were doing the same thing and we met the property manager who came around one morning to see what we were doing. I told him we had painted the joists and this creosote stuff and that we were throwing the boards outside and the labourer was burning them. So he walks across the floor to look out the window and slipped! Well, he went crashing down and went straight through the ceiling! I tell you he was off work for quite a few weeks and he’d bruised all of his hips.
My form then said to me you’re a menace on this job!
A family affair.
There was a family atmosphere at Chances but I think most factories did back then, probably because people didn’t move about as much as they do nowadays. People lived in the same borough all their lives so children went to work at that factory because their Dads and Mothers got them the job and so there were loads of families that worked at the factory.
Also, in the crate shop, which was attached to the carpenters shop, they used to have a lot of or four by one timber and to make the crates for the glass and all of the off cuts they had would be passed onto this old chappie who would then saw up the off cuts and make bags of firewood. Then on a Friday, these lorries would come and collect these bags and then deliver them to all Chances pensioners.
A star is born.
There was a film based at Chances and I was looking after the production company doing the things that they needed me to make for them, things like painting pipes the right colour, and if they wanted to get rid of something I would shove some partitions up, so I was set building really.
It was quite a good film I thought, it started with someone digging down into one of the tunnels to get underneath one of the furnaces and then as the story unfolds they accidentally disturb a corpse of a Roman Centurion, the Roman ghost then starts to tell the story about how the Romans invented glass and goes on to all the modern day side of it.
It was made is an education film for schools I believe, I only came across it once after that because I was in the Smethwick Film Society for teachers and we used to vet films to see if they were suitable for teaching in schools. You could borrow these films for free from 13 distributors who had films on history, science and so on. I saw this one and I wondered if it was the one at Chances and the nice surprise was that it was.