Hector Middleton and the Foundry


The Foundry Workforce in 1949


Norfolk Chronicle Friday January 28th 1949


David Howe

talking with

Hector Middleton


The Farmers’ Foundry.


(When you started at the Foundry who was the owners can you remember now?) You talking about the foundry now? (the foundry) yep well I started work there, I left school in 19…1925 in the spring time and I went in I worked old Stark’s for a little while he used to keep the post office e down the bottom there , and I knew I was going in the foundry and old Harry Ely was governor there then and I started there somewhere during early summer and er to bring the village into it really things are getting a bit slow then I mean I went to school during the first world war bit and now this was several years after that in 1925 (yeah) but er the wage has come down as far as I remember a lot on the land cause they had everybody pleaded poverty like they do now but uh that weren’t never so bad as that but on the farms and that they cut the men off or stood em off all together so there was a that was a bad recession so I, I went to work in the foundry and uh they used to stand some men off certain times of the year old Harry Ely was but although I say it he was an old pig, he weren’t touched by  nobody. Anyhow he was as up to date as what you could get then although he never carried on latter years I mean there was all horse implements farm implements was all horse drawn I used to come in fairly regular every year and get repaired and that and traction engines they weren’t a thing such as a tractor and trundle and that sort of thing so we had to do all the engines (Who used to do the hurdles?) Steam engines (Who used to do the hurdles the old metal hurdles?) and the foundry they had (cough) pardon me they had old Albert Neale you wont remember him he lived down the Bridge Cottages in this end one next to the church he was a rough looking old bugger he used to drink tons of beer and he was a good boilersmith (Yeah) and er… there be… he had a mate with him Jim Baldwin.. or whatever they used to call him Jim Baldwin from Stibbard he was they were the two good boiler smiths and like I told you about Billy Hudson he got help them in hard times because Billy was a blacksmith but he was a good man at all things too he’d been there several years and he knew… so uh there were several I can’t remember all those steam engines what Bill had belong to but there used to be a big thrashing tackle man called Goddard at Shipdham . They used to bring all their engines in the slack time,  that be between Christmas like and the harvest you see or somewhere like that of course that some of it was a long job they you see everything had to be done by hand now that was all hand drilled and all that sort of thing and then when they used to put all a new set of tubes and that sort of thing even them days they used to have an inspector come down to see when they tested it for steam whether that would hold or whether they…  that just suited us boys cause we used to they used to get us to hang on to the big old blank on the fly wheel you know to see if they was all right.  Herbert Waters what I was telling you about not Tom,  Herbert, he was all the while I was at the foundry he was an expert turner and fitter when all the machines were old he’d been there so long he knew exactly how to fit them and when these steam engines come in if the valves were leaking they couldn’t do that the old boiler smiths that was too technical for them, he had to do all that he’d grind the valves in they used to be sliding valves in the top bit what instead of valves like in a motor car they used to slide in and out and let the steam through you see and that went on for several year.  and uh there used to be Billy Hudson he was one of the black smiths as well there be Walter Eggleton what lived down the bottom he had two sons didn’t he (Walter and Laurence) and Margery and  (Cuckoo) that’s right and uh there’d be old chap named Bird ( Herbert, Earnest or Frederick Bird? ) he uh he used to lodge in one of he pubs in Ryburgh I think that was on the otherside of the road he was a head black smith and I suppose he worked here all his life till he retired but he lived at Sculthorpe all those years he weren’t married and every Saturday he used to leave off half hour sooner to catch a train from here and got out at Fakenham and made his way to Sculthorpe and he used to come first thing on Monday morning on the early train back again so he’d spend all his time at Ryburgh and go home weekends

And  I… I, he retired latter years I can remember him retired but he was an expert black smith, one of the old timers who-  and I’ll tell you another thing what used to keep the blacksmiths going the shoein of wheels iron tyres you know that’s right  And they had an old shoein plate right round the back of the foundry  and that used to be, I never did do it  but that weren’t a very good job helping out the water and all that sort of thing it were very very hot they used to light a fire all round the tyres and they used to get the if they could they used to get them old thorn bull  what used to cut out of hedges years ago pieces about that big and stack them all the way round because there was a tremendous lot a heat in the old thorn bull and that’s what kept the blacksmiths goin, but the foundry where I went I didn’t like it although I was in 20,25 years that was a dirty filthy job but that’s what kept the foundry going longer than what it would have done because beside farm work, we used to do a lot like you now say the church stoves and all the ironmongers around here for miles we used to make their stuff (Cast iron stoves) oven bottoms and plates and the doors and the old coppers we used to do no end for Bakers of Holt what’s there now he was one of the biggest customers there and Hunting  Bolton Madeira? they’re gone out now they was another big family ironmongers and they was the ones we used to make them church stoves for they used to get probably 2 or 3 sometimes every year when they burned out cause he used to cover a big area. there used to be Bennet of Downham Mkt all their stuff you see we used to cart down to the station to go away on the old goods train. Us boys used to pull the old trolley. ( D.H.I don’t know where you are goin to find a copper now an old blue copper I have built them in my time but I don’t know where you’d go I don’t suppose  the bricklayers to day would know how to build one would they?) Yeah but as years drew on into the 1930s old Harry Ely was still there and he, you  couldn’t budge him to think things were movin. … used to be Rix of Sculthorpe turned into Philby at the finish  he gradually took all the agencies away from Ryburgh  because old Harry Ely  got to sayin you don’t want nothing to do with them and he wouldn’t he had all the agencies, the sugar beet ploughs and Ransoms and that and they could see thing were movin and they couldn’t get them away from the foundry so of course they went to them places and they got the agencies and that’s when he first started to let the place down and that went on till about 1936 and he took a bit of kicking out then cause he weren’t  very well and the Doctors down there used to be a Dr Doyle I believe in Fakenham lived in the Market square he was his Dr  and he doctored him up so he carried on for about 2 year but he still weren’t a fit man, well he cared less then and the directors  what ran the Farmers Foundry that was ran by the farmers, I spose they didn’t like to kick him out. Well I for years I think when that finished Frank  Perowne what lived at Snoring he han’t been dead many years he was Chairman of the Directors and they used to come round twice a year and old Harry Ely he was - I think he was 80 when he retired. There was Frank Perowne  which he got a son out here now  er whats  his name what oftens in the paper  Perowne near somewhere out    Heacham or somewhere. He’s still alive anyhow, quite a big  Then there was   Tom Ringer what you often see his name in the paper (Rudham) and there was an old boy at Lynn, Lionel Rodwell I don’t know what he did I should think he was a solicitor or something. He was on the board. And funny enough the Cooper rolling  bearing  people, at Lynn they was running that place then which that’s been sold as now  recent years aint it. Them two brothers they were on the Board so they was about six on the Board you see. And these Cooper rolling  bearing  people to cut a long story short, they knew Ryburgh so well because their father lived in the Vines and one of their ancestors, they reckon they were a very clever family, and when he invented these things he knew he couldn’t go, get too far at Ryburgh so he left Ryburgh altogether and that was a big blow to the Foundry cause he invented these here skates, ice skates and he put them on a  ( pardon me) on a  wooden -  slide them on a  wooden frame  and they were about ………they didn’t have the means then to put them on like they do now -  and these two Cooper brothers they went with naturally with their family to Lynn and they’ve kept  ever since and they invented that  split roller bearing.  If you look at it  a roller bearing now  is a ball bearing that’s  a race ent it,  a ring But Cooper years ago he invented what they call a split roller bearing that’s a roller bearing if whatever length you want but you could take half of it off instead of drawing the whole bearing out you could take the top half off and I suppose repair it  or take it out half at a time and that weren’t till Cooper and them  invented  that but  up till now recently they still make that split  roller bearing at Lynn don’t they  They’ve been taken over  modernised now but  that split roller bearing even now is a marvelous invention ( Yes , yes)kept on.

Well then Harry Ely  he retired in 1936  and a man got the job from Melton Constable his name was Pagett and he was a, he weren’t a bad sort of chap.  And he. he’d been a handicraft teacher in some schools and he knew a bit about the foundry work and pattern making and that.  Course the foundry was going down then there weren’t too many there then and he took over and he was then beginning to pull things round, I believe Billy was there then and they used to make a lot of these rib rollers he got to make them more or less exactly what they make now three gang rollers they used to call them. He knocked his leg on one of them as they was making it and you wouldn’t believe me that’s funny  that turned  TB and they couldn’t they hadn’t got a sort of  cure for it then he wasn’t a very strong chap so he had to retire  and he died within a year I think so we lost him.  And then they found another chap or he got the job, They used to run a foundry at Saxthorpe and he was the son of the man who ran that. So they thought he knew a bit about it so he came as manager and funny enough he wasn’t interested in - he knew the foundry work, but he weren’t knowing the other part and there’s a girl in the foundry office and he took more notice of her than he did some of the work, so he left. And then I suppose the directors thought – well they were the same directors there and they thought well we’ll find somebody different. and they found Trundle then, he came from Lynn and the Cooper brothers knew him so well because he was a pattern maker, he was a good pattern maker but he was a foreman in some works what they knew at Lynn, might have been under them any how they brought him over and of course he stopped there  til that  was sold. Trundle - they kicked him out didn’t they, not kicked him out but they didn’t play very fair with him.

D.H.  Did…( H.M.Can you speak a wee  bit louder if you’ve got some news on them I’m a bit deaf in one ear sometimes )do you remember my brother Laurie being there don’t you,  you remember my brother Laurie working there, (Yeah I do  )because he used to go with Billy Hudson over to Snoring  (Yeah)  Well he tells me that during the war they done some work for the  Boulton and Paul, (Yeah) , Boulton and Paul were working on the Hurricane and the foundry done a small part for the Boulton and Paul. Would that be  right,  you perhaps can’t remember? (Yeah  I….) He wondered whether that was partly why the Germans bombed the Maltings and knew that the Foundry were making parts for the aircraft. (Have you got it on here)  no, no these are just names,  these are just names of  people who  I can remember , (yeah)  these are just names of  people who  I remember working there you see, (I see,)  You see they’re just names.


You’ve got a lot of the men who were there after I left ….    ….    Adams, well Adams he couldn’t care less he robbed them up til his dying day.  Was you talking about your brother,  Brother Laurie he was there before this

He was telling about this B&P episode you see He said a lot of people probably never knew

They might have been trying to get the foundry as well. - - yeah--  Well, that leap-frogged over the foundry there was an old -  well that’s still there, it just missed the Foundry and course that  blew a hole in the rails at the station didn’t it  (that’s right) and  I forget who was station Master, named Partridge or something then (that’s right).  I don’t think it stopped  the trains much because that blew the Maltings up you know.

End of tape.


copyright Peter Trent 2014

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