Memoirs of Ron Bromley

8 Up the ladder

The next morning at breakfast was a different story. Mother asked how I was to live at Esher and I told her Lena and I were to marry and we had been offered accommodation. "But you cannot get married in the month's notice you have to give." "Yes we can, in a Register Office." Mother's face went black. "Only pregnant women and divorcees use such places." Lena was quite friendly with her vicar as she and David (her brother) played badminton with him, so I asked her to have a word with him. He had a word with the Bishop of Dover who referred us to a Canon Elnor in Dover who heard our story and said it would be OK. I seemed the important thing was the money for the licence, fortunately I had my cheque book with me. We kept the whole thing secret as we had no time to organise a wedding party, only close relatives knew. We both resigned our jobs on Friday and we were married on Monday July 7th 1952 at Eythorne church, the witnesses being my brother Frank and Lena's brother-in-law Jack Westgate. I had hidden my car with Mr Anderson who had a market garden next to our HQ when I was stationed at Eythorne. Frank drove us away from the reception to my car so we avoided having old boots, etc, tied to the back. We spent the first night at Sevenoaks in a hotel in very nice grounds, in which we spent some time in order to avoid being seen as possible honeymooners. Lena however found her case was stuffed with confetti.

wedding photo
Our wedding photo
(Rons' mother, Ron's father, Ron's brother Frank, Ron, Lena, Lena's sister Audrey with Angela and Barry, Lena's mother, Lena's stepfather)

I cannot remember where we toured, but on the second Wednesday we booked into the hotel on Taggs Island, which is situated in the Thames across the water from East Molesey, which is next door to Esher. The reason being I had been in touch with John Apps, the deputy at Esher who was leaving, and if he managed to move out as planned on the Thursday he would fix it with the Housing Manager that I could have the key to his ground-floor flat. All went according to plan and after a quick check Lena and I went to Kingston and spent a glorious day at Perrings buying all the furniture we needed. I had not spent the gratuity I received on leaving the army. We also spent a little money in Bentalls. Perrings effected delivery on Saturday morning which was convenient and very surprising. On the Friday we bought a gas cooker in the Gas Co showroom in Esher. When I suggested delivery on the Saturday morning the manager who was dealing with us was horrified. "Sir, if we have none in our Wandsworth store we will need to send to the manufacturers." "But that is the one I have bought." "Oh, no, that is the showroom model." On signing the cheque, I said, "That is OK, providing it comes on Monday at the latest," and walked out of the shop, leaving the manager gasping at us as we went through the door. After receiving the furniture on Saturday, we drove to Lena's mother's to collect her "bottom drawer". We were leaving on Sunday evening, the old Singer loaded to the gunwhales, when Lena's mother hurried out of the house and dumped her sewing machine into Lena's lap, the only space available, saying you will need that for the curtains. Lena's father said, "That's the last we shall see of that in this house," and how right he was. With chassis almost touching the tyres we crawled back to Esher. In the morning the tenant in the first-floor flat offered us water to make some tea as we had no means of boiling any. When I took up a saucepan she said, "Why not just bring the teapot?" I replied we do not have one until Bentalls deliver on Tuesday. I went to work on Monday, and the gas man came, and miracle upon miracle he brought the necessary equipment to connect it up and Lena walked into Esher centre and bought liver and bacon, and cooked me my first meal of our married life. Perhaps that is why I am still fond of liver and bacon with fried onions.

I spent all of the morning with the Engineer and Surveyor, Mr Alderton. He had a desk piled high with files and from them explained what each entailed. I took them all away to my office and worked through them to get an idea of what work was on, or should have been in progress, and thus planned the drawing office programme. The drawing office was in a very poor state, there appeared no-one I could rely on. I was most unpopular as everyone thought one of the seniors should have been promoted, but this was the last thought in Mr Alderton's mind. Ray Maple the office "candidate" was far from co-operative in the office, but strangely enough outside of work we got on very well, we played cricket together, drank together, and shared an allotment.

The staff generally I graded as either incompetent or bone idle, things had been dealt with very badly. I once asked the Housing Manager to refrain from entering the drawing office as one member of staff, an Arsenal supporter, would argue for ages with him, a Chelsea supporter and part-time referee. Fortunately we had little serious engineering work to do, mostly housing estate roads and sewers, but it was good for me as it got me into management, good training for my future career as Chief Officer. Lena and I had a quiet social life, enjoying each other's company in our new life together. We did make friends with the sewage works manager and his wife, he was the only one in the whole of the council offices that had a TV. That first winter we spent many hours with them. I think the programme started at 7 o'clock, finishing at 11 or perhaps 12, with an interval about half-way through. It was significant how high the demand for electricity was at this time, everyone making tea or other drinks.

After almost two years, Nigel was born. We secured a place in a small hospital which had been Jewish before being taken over by the then new National Health Service. Some of the old customs remained. It issued each new patient with a brochure, one paragraph of which went something like this: "For boys, circumcision arranged with or without ritual. Glasses supplied, but not the wine." "If it's a boy, why not try a little ritual," I asked Lena, but she did not find it a bit funny and firmly decided to have nothing to do with it. It was a very good hospital and Lena was thoroughly spoilt, doing absolutely nothing except breast-feed Nigel. As a consequence, when she came home after more than a week she thought she could do everything. Unfortunately, she went down with breast fever. The first week was a nightmare with the doctor coming each day and the nurse twice. Each morning after attending to Lena's needs, who was confined to bed, I bathed and dressed Nigel, he continued fortunately to breast feed, and then wheeled him round to Mrs Renee Philpott, the sewage works manager's wife. At lunch I collected him and again attended to him and Lena. If someone was taking Nigel out in the afternoon I would leave him in his pram by the front door. Imagine doing that today. In the evening I was again fully occupied. After about a week I was feeling very down, and when Ella, who was working at Richmond, came to visit and asked me if she could help in any way, I just said I would sit down and would she make me a cup of tea. [1]

Incidentally it is worth recording that Charles Alderton sent Lena flowers. We were the only members of staff to be so honoured.

Some time before Nigel was born we made friends with the Alexanders, Alex was the new Deputy. He had always been around the Richmond area and kept in touch with his old friends. We went to several very nice evenings, dances, etc, with Nancy and him. On one occasion when Lena was pregnant she wore a red evening gown and looked gorgeous, Alex was transfixed by Lena's appearance and later when we were going to a dance Alex would always ask Lena to wear the red dress. It made me a very proud husband.

As for work, there was not any exciting work to do - just one housing estate after another either to be designed and built for council housing or private estates to be supervised to ensure they were up to specification in order that we could adopt the roads and sewers for future maintenance once completed. I designed a bridge to connect Cigarette Island which was in the Thames opposite Hampton Court with our side of the river, but it was never built.

We had a very odd set-up in the Engineer's Dept, which was something left over from 1933 when Esher was expanded to take in East and West Molesey and Cobham. One of the senior officers who did not get the Chief's job, or retired, held the post of District Surveyor. As such he controlled all the labour on the highways and drainage, so apart from any new work I had nothing to do with it. Quite suddenly it seemed he upped and left and went to the Thames Conservancy. Adverts for a replacement brought in no fitting candidate. Meanwhile I was asked to take over the work. No-one in the drawing office I considered capable of doing the job, so I was saddled with it. It was annual estimate time which made me very busy, so a lot of the extra work was done at home. Lena was very helpful as she was good at figures and her adding up of long columns of figures was always correct. Estimates for trunk roads required a special procedure, as did classified roads for Surrey County Council. These were completed on time. I also had to supervise three area foremen, who controlled the work force on the roads and sewers. It was fortunate for the Engineer and Surveyor that I had experience of the work at Dover and Canterbury and everything went smoothly.

Unable to replace the District Surveyor, the chief got the Council to revise the Establishment and a No 3 for the whole office was to be appointed covering Architects and Planners as well as my section. I put in for the post but was not appointed, although given an interview. Alderton explained to me that the Committee (or perhaps him) did not think I had sufficient experience. Imagine my disgust when I found I had to show the man appointed how to do the job. There was nothing difficult about it, but I knew and he did not. In spite of everything I got on well with the chap appointed. Johns was his name, and we went to the Derby togther. We both had to work in the morning - we worked alternate Saturdays at that time. Lena had gone with the Maples and the Philpotts. It was the year that Gordon Richards won the Derby. I was not on him, but backed Pink Horse which came third. I heard later that Lena had won but the bookie tried to swindle her and Ray Maple had a stand-up row with him. Just up Ray's street.

The appointment of the No 3 however unsettled me. I thought I could not trust Mr Alderton after the incident and began to think about moving on with my eye on a Deputy's job.

I can not remember anything about short lists for this post. I get confused I think with interviews for Chief Assistant. I remember clearly however my short list at Leamington Spa. It was a very pleasant affair and I fell in love with the place from the start. It was all quite informal. In the morning we saw the Borough Surveyor and then we were handed over to Michael Pearce who was to show us the flat provided for the Deputy. I say we as Lena and Nigel came with me.

Lena had nothing against the move although I realised that she thought the Midlands were akin to the Frozen North and what is more twice the distance from her mother. She was however a bit taken aback when she saw the flat. It was part of a large house which after it became outdated for the upper classes had been a school. Taken over by the Council it had been converted to four flats for staff.

The Deputy's domain was the only one using the front entrance which had a large portico with ionic columns. Then there were large double doors opening to an outer hall about 8 feet square. Then more double doors in a glass screen which brought you into the main hall, again 8 ft wide and about 30 ft long. On the left was the living room, 24 ft by 24 ft with a very large bay window and another 4 ft wide. On the right was the main bedroom 20 ft by 20 ft with another bay window 12 ft wide and again a second window. Next was a very large kitchen, followed by another large bedroom and at the end of the hall was the bathroom, just a large space in which bath, basin and WC were lost. Well not quite, as the WC was so placed that if the door was left open any caller at the front door could not avoid seeing it. All ceilings were 13 ft 6 high and to curtain the place required 105 yards of material. In spite of all this Lena did not demur even in face of having to make all the curtains. It was a lovely place in the summer, but with no central heating it was unbearable in the winter. In fact for the worst months we moved the two armchairs into the kitchen and closed down the living room. The kitchen had an open fire with a back boiler to provide the hot water.

I can only remember meeting the Chairmen of the Highways and the Water and Drainage Committees. There was certainly no Council meeting and I can not recall meeting any of the other candidates. There were some, as Michael Pearce said he had to show them the flat. I was told that day that I was appointed and we drove back to Esher quite happy with our day's work. "Bishops Move" gave us the best price for the move. The only snag was they wanted two days. They loaded up on Thursday and were due to unload on Friday. We spent Thursday night with the Philpotts who had moved from their council house to a flat in a large house which was very similar to ours at Leamington. We started out early, but Bishops were ahead of us. They obtained the key from the Town Hall and by the time we arrived they had put everything in place exactly as we wanted it. They were indeed experts. When we arrived they were sitting in the van waiting for the cheque. As they had done so much, including putting up the beds, we were able to settle in very quickly and found time on Saturday to go to Coventry to buy the curtain material from Owen and Owen. Rather cheaper than Leamington shops, but we soon got into the habit of shopping in Leamington. It was very good, and you only had to say you lived in the Kenilworth Road and you could get as much credit as you needed. There were a few Bromleys in the town, all seemed to be well off so I suppose we were regarded as one of the family by the tradesmen. Monthly accounts were sent out, and one was given a discount if it was settled within 14 days, and back would come the invoice receipted with a stamp. We were definitely living in company of the upper classes. My Ford Popular looked out of place on the front drive. We quickly got into the swing of things. We were told before we moved that you are not accepted fully if you were not born in the place but we found in our case not so. Lena made friends with Margaret Pearce (wife of Michael) who occupied one of the flats. [2]

Most days Lena wheeled Nigel, and later Clive, the length of Kenilworth Road into the town centre - The Parade. There seemed to me to be two ladies' coffee circles, one at the Royal Pump Rooms, which was very top drawer, and one at Burgess and Colbournes for the lesser lights. Lena was definitely B & C.

At the office, work started at a much more gentle pace than at Esher. I was allowed to ease myself into the job. Most of the Engineer's department was situated on the ground floor of the Town Hall and in a nearby annexe which housed Planning and Building Inspectors. My office was on the second floor of the Town Hall with only the drawing office to keep me company. It was very isolated, the first floor holding the Council Chamber, Mayor's suite, committee rooms and a large assembly hall. Windows were high up so I could not see out, other than to view a pigeon or two who nested on the cill and looked in. Ideal for getting down to work with no interference. This was a good thing as I found a few problems to sort out. I did not form a good impression of my two predecessors in the post. The last one had obtained a post as managing director of a civil engineering company in the town which had been formed by the biggest building contractor in the area. For his last months as deputy his thoughts and energy had been with the new company.

One member of staff was absent from the office for some weeks. He was an architect who had designed new changing rooms for the Victorian swimming pool (all the locals called it a "bath"). There were also major alterations to the pool. The reason for his absence was the fact that he, in conjunction with a private quantity surveyor, was preparing the bill of quantities etc for the work. When he returned to the office he presented me with a very large volume which I worked through rather carefully. I spotted one or two things I did not care for but reasoned that they could be sorted out as the work progressed. One item however did surpise me. It said in effect "Allow the PC some of £5000 for the provision of pre-stressed and post-tensioned concrete balcony". This meant that a specialist firm was to design and construct this balcony at the same time as the main contractor was working; this amounted to about a fifth of the total contract. I enquired of the architect the name of the firm. His reply shook me to the core. He said he did not know. The engineering drawing office had designed one using in situ method but the Borough Engineer had rejected it as it would take too long and would obstruct the main contractor too much. The period of contract was from 1st December to Easter, all too short as it was. I asked the BE about it and he said he had done nothing as he thought my predecessor had dealt with the matter. In fact nothing had been done and we were going out to tender for a start in two months. Definitely an emergency. It meant all rules and standing orders would have to be by-passed. Things such as advertising for applicants interviewing and selecting of a suitable firm, acceptance of tenders, etc.

Fortunately I had got to know two young engineers who had graduated from Cambridge and being in a hurry to get to the top declined junior posts in a consulting engineer's office. They formed a limited company and as such could operate outside the rules of consulting engineering. They said they could do all the work and would get a firm capable of making and erecting the balcony.

When looking at their design I was skeptical about one right angle in the main cantilever brackets and said I wanted to have one tested to destruction. The two designers did not like this very much but I insisted. The architect and I travelled up to Leigh in Lancashire to view the test. The bracket failed at "safe load". In case this is thought satisfactory I would point out that in work of this kind one builds to three times safe load. The trouble was that at this particular angle there was not enough concrete to house the loops required in the steel reinforcing. The "bright" engineers spoke of the "classical loop" which referred to the Code of Practice which gave rules for the diameter of the steel bar which varied according to the loading. I was then told that many of the brackets had already been cast and what is more it was thought to be very difficult to amend the design to get the necessary strength. I cannot recall whose idea it was, the Cambridge graduates or mine, but a steel rectangle was designed about 15 inches square. This was bolted to the inside of the right angle in the concrete to give the additional strength. Fortunately they were disguised as the brackets for supporting the slatted seating which was initially for three sides only of the pool but had to be built into all four.

A short time into the contract, our achitect could anticipate further problems arising and got himself another post. I could not see getting anyone with sufficient experience to take over and decided to supervise the work myself. Many snags were found but fortunately we had a good local contractor. The job was satisfactorily completed but some way over the contract sum. This was forgotten when the pool was re-opened by our local MP Sir Anthony Eden. He did shake my hand and say something like "Well done".

It was about this time that Lena became pregnant and we (I say we) had to attend pre-natal classes. They were well-run and a midwife was appointed. At this time the policy was to provide hospital treatment for the first born or for mothers who had previous difficulties. The one allocated to us was very efficient and came to inspect the premises, and asked (no, demanded) to have additional heat in the bedroom and a table with a bare board top, no varnish or PVC. Fortunately our kitchen table was "utility" as was all furniture manufactured after the war and just fitted the bill. Going the rounds in the area was a lady who would come and help out in the house, say a fortnight before the birth, help the widwife at the berth, and then carry on with the housework and assisting with the baby for about a fortnight after the birth. The period depended on her next appointment. Mrs Fox was an absolute gem, very pleasant, very clean and looking very smart in her clean white coat. For the birth Nigel was well cared for by Margaret Pearce in her upstairs flat. I had the day off, but as was the practice (in fact the midwife demanded it) I kept out of the bedroom. Half-way through proceedings Mrs Fox appeared and said "The midwife wants the doctor". I phoned and he came almost immediately and asked me to boil water so that he could sterilise his equipment. He went in and came out after a while and asked me to boil up again. "All finished?" I said. "No", was his reply, "dropped the damn needle." The midwife was furious and words were spoken. I explain Lena wanted a stitch or two. Soon after the birth I collected Nigel and took him in to see his new brother. "How do you like your brother?" I asked. "Don't like it, put it back," was his response, as he stormed out of the bedroom. Thus was Clive's welcome into the world. After this things went very well; no complications this time and we were very fortunate as Mrs Fox stayed on for a fortnight.

Work went very well. I found the Councillors very easy to get on with and the BE let me get on with things very much as I wanted. Lena continued with her trips into town and made friends very easily; quite contrary to what we had been told about the locals. However her close friend was Margaret Pearce. They played badminton together and went to evening classes. One year they did woodwork and Lena made a coffee table and a workbox. I think she played her cards right with the instructor as the joints looked much too good for a novice. Husband Michael and I used to go out to the pub quite often. We used to babysit for each other, but it was mostly Michael sitting for us. He said he liked it as he could get on with his studies. He had no TV as he said it was bad for the children and studies, but I found he always knew what was on ours when he "studied" at our flat. Lena insisted on a telly when Clive was born, "I cannot stand another cricket season without one". I found however she usually came to matches as they were a good crowd and Nigel and Clive behaved well. There was one little incident, at the Solihull club house a crowd of the home team were playing on the one-armed bandit with little luck. They paused to get a drink, Clive nipped in with just one coin, a sixpence or a shilling and got the jackpot, with money all over the floor. We hastily picked it up and headed for the door.

We met the Braebaums playing cricket and we became great friends, and we acquired another babysitter. Margaret and Michael were not very socially minded but we went out quite a bit with Roy and Edna. The Mayor's New Year Ball was always a great event. The Town Hall was always decorated up for the Mayor's Christmas Party and the decorations were retained for New Year. As a deputy I broke with tradition and was invited to the Mayor's party. This upset the other deputies and the next year they were included and also for the Mayor Making lunch.

It was not all pleasure as we were very busy particularly on the water supply side. This was the BE's favourite and he kept it very much to himself, but he got very involved with consultants on an impounding reservoir on the river Leam and a storage reservoir on the supply side. This was in my favour, as we still had a lot of work to do on the treatment side. We were taking more water from the river to keep up with demand and the work was designed in the office. The treatment works were on a very small site, one time just a well and pumping plant. This was still running with old-fashioned pumps powered by steam boilers. We had to squeeze in settlement tanks, pressure filters and tertiary tanks. It was a feat of engineering in itself to get in the 32-foot long pressure filters. A most interesting job and I used it to get elected a Member of the Institution of Water Engineers. There was no examination, you had to show your competence in design, construction and management. One also had to have passed the Civil Engineer's examinations including a specialist part in Water Engineering.

We also carried out major improvements at the sewage works. Michael Pearce was in charge. Very similar technique, just different water.

Refuse was disposed of in an incinerator and the heat raised steam which powered electric generators which drove pumps which pumped sewage from the town to an open spot about two miles out of town. Very economical when installed as every household burnt coal which produced clinker and ashes plus coal dust, but as coal changed to gas we had to supplement steam with electricity from the mains. This made my estimating tricky as we did not know how much we would need to purchase. When things looked bad I would have to have a word with Fred the foreman, but his answer was always the same, "You can't steam on bloody paper". The furnaces got into a bad state and had to be relined. This meant shutting down for a time and finding a site to tip the rubbish. The farmers I approached all seemed keen at first but refused in the end. I am not sure but I think I finished up at the Southern cement works where they were filling one of the quarries already worked out.

Returning to domestic issues, it was time to think about school for Nigel. We saw the headmistress at Rugby Road School, a state school, and she indicated to us that he could start in the new school year when he was four-and-half. I was shocked when she sent for us to attend, I found about six mums there. Mrs McDonald, I think that was the name, kept us waiting, and then said "I do not know why you are here as I have not any places". I reminded her of her promise some months previously, but it was no good. Had I left it and had a word privately I think I could have got Nigel in, she got on better with men than women. Nigel was most upset as he really wanted to go to school and he was not a joy at home; quite often I would come home for lunch and find Nigel confined to his room and Lena in tears. Fortunately at Christmas we gave him an electric train set and this kept him amused as he quickly found how to wire up the electric points and the signals. At some point in the new year he was admitted [3]. Everything seemed to go well. He always went off happy and was smiling when Lena picked him up. Imagine my shock when I asked his teacher if he could stay to lunch one day as Lena wanted to come somewhere with me. The teacher said, "It's all right if you want something but you never bother to see us when we are having trouble with your offspring". I did not apologise but was quite strong with her, telling her Nigel was always pleased to go to school and always smiling when he came out. It was her job to see us if she had a problem. Apparently Nigel had kicked and bit her. She gave way, and we became good friends. We were a bit worried when he reached the top class. The teacher was old and was said not to be very nice to the children, so after about two weeks Lena met her at the gate and asked how Nigel was getting on. She misread Lena's question and said, "You mothers are all the same. You have your children at school for five minutes and you want to know if they will pass the 11-plus. Well I can tell you that Nigel will either win a scholarship to Warwick School (a public school) or get to Leamington College". Nice to know, but not the answer to Lena's question. Apparently she was completely different with children in her own class.

[1] April 1954
[2] July 1955
[3] 1959

©2003 Ron Bromley