Home resident Bob recalls his print apprenticeship

Bob's apprenticeship

This May is local and community history month, with the aim to promote and preserve local history. The residents of our retirement communities in Basildon and Bletchley have many stories to tell, and as communities are able to provide real insight into working in the print industry of the past.

A foot in the door

Bob, one of the residents of Beaverbrook Court, Bletchley, began his career in print with an apprenticeship in the early 1960s.

At the time it wasn’t easy to find a print apprenticeship without family connections, but Bob succeeded, securing a position at Messrs. C. Attfield & Son in Hollybush Place, Bethnal Green for 50 hours a week at £4 per hour.

Bob recalls his first impressions were of a freezing cold building, with many signs of its previous function as a stable. It was also home to a thriving cockroach population which entered the building from the café kitchen behind it. However, despite all this, as soon as Bob saw the printing machinery it housed, he knew it was where he wanted to work.

Learning on the job

For his seven-year apprenticeship, Bob was paid for a day a week at printing college, plus unpaid evening classes.

In the first year, he learnt monotype composing, taught by an exceptionally memorable teacher who often wore a top hat as a “learned gentleman”. Bob was very fond of him, and his teaching style.

Alongside his ‘normal’ job as ‘go-fer’ and tea boy, where he had to break the ice on the outside tap to fetch water for tea, on Saturday mornings he was allowed to clean the printing presses. Soon he began operating them if the company was short of machine minders. By the time he was in his second year of apprenticeship, he was setting up the presses and running jobs, something that he quickly realised set his experience apart from apprentice contemporaries in other firms, who were not operating presses and, in fact, were unlikely to do so for another couple of years.

Skills for life

By Bob’s third year, he was trusted to work on his own, composing, proofing and plate-making alongside operating the presses. By his fourth year, he was a fully trained jobbing printer – still on apprenticeship wages of around £11 a week – and still making the tea!

As the fifth year came round, Bob was doing well at college, where he enjoyed learning about new industry technology. Throughout his final two years he continued to make progress, eventually moving both company and location, out to Haverhill in Suffolk, where he lived in a new three-bed council house and was promoted to manager at the age of 22 – but still, as he says, kept busy as a tea boy for his wife and milk monitor for their little girl!

The Printing Charity’s affordable, friendly independent retirement communities are here for anyone who’s worked in print, paper, packaging, publishing or the graphic arts at some point in their career. Find out more.

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