Stephen Fieldhouse of Wolverhampton
left St. Joseph's School in Steelhouse Lane in 1955 and
recalls that "my first job was at Sankey's of Bilston,
the Albert Street Works, where I was a welder.
"We had a large family and I had
six sisters and two brothers. All of my sisters worked
at the Ever Ready in Park Lane. My eldest brother Billy
worked at a firm on Wednesfield Road, after he came home
from the Navy after the war. My youngest brother Michael
was born with Down's Syndrome. As with all families,
money was very tight and my mother told me to get a job
at the Wolverhampton Steam Laundry, in Sweetman Street,
Whitmore Reans. The reason for this was it was coming up
to Christmas and if I could get on the delivery vans I
might get some tips for Christmas.
The old Ever Ready factory in Park
Lane, as seen in 2001.
"The following year, 1956, my mom
heard that my mate across the road in Hednesford
Crescent had got a job at the Osier Bed Rolling Mills,
Horsley Fields; I lived on the opposite corner of Foster
Road. Billy had started in February as he was a few
months older than I, and you could not start until you
were 16 years old, so I stayed at the laundry until
June. As soon as I was 16, my mother arranged an
interview with the mill manager, Mr. Cope. The job was
three shifts, so mum arranged my interview at 5.30 in the
morning to show that I could get up for the 6-until-2
shift and I duly got the job.
"The rate for the job was paid on
tonnage, but you had to wait a while to get on the
rolls, so my first job was filling a large skip with
coal, probably a ton at a time, to be tipped into the
coal fired furnace.
"My mate, Billy Boult, had by now
got a job on the rolls, I think it was tramming which
involved dragging the white hot billet from the strand
roll to the first set. My wage was £10 per week which I
took home to my mom and was given £2 back for pocket
money. One of the jobs I had as well as filling the skip
was fetching the beer for the men on the rolls, they
would all have their own pop bottles and I would push a
barrow to the 'Oak' in Alma Street, Heath Town. I would
give the piece of paper with the order to the publican
and he would start filling the bottles and he asked me
if I wanted a pint, but I told him I was only 16. He
said that if I was old enough to wheel the barrow and
work in the mill I was old enough to drink a pint. So in
later years I blamed him for being a hardened drinker.
"After a while I got a job on the
rolls and one of my first jobs was on the 'guides'; this
could be a killer of a job especially if we were
producing one inch rounds off the roller. Mr. Norman Cox
had to tighten the guides and you had to pinch the bars
in and many times your hands would be close to bleeding;
the rollers' cure was to run to the toilet and urinate
"As the time went by I saved enough
money for a deposit on a brand new Francis Barnet Rover
motorbike from Copes in Stafford Street, costing £179
plus £9 fully comprehensive insurance, and things were
going fairly well until late 1957.
"I was on the
afternoon shift 2 until 10, and was travelling down
Horsley Fields when a car shot out of a side street.
"This is where the story gets
interesting. I was semi-conscious in the middle of the
road and someone carried me into the nearest building
which happened to be Jennings the Funeral Director and I
heard a man say 'Don't leave him in the foyer it's bad
for our image'. For years the joke in the family was
that I was the only man carried into Jennings and
carried out alive.
"I spent a couple of months in
hospital with a badly broken leg, and as time went by I
ran out of money and had to let my bike go back to
An advert for Osier Bed Rolling
Mills from 1959.
"When I finally went back to work
it was on nights and I asked the roller, Mr Cox, if I
could have a light job for a couple of weeks, he started
laughing and said a light job didn't exist and I had to
work topside, this involved dragging a billet of up to
two hundredweight from the first set to the third set
and by the end of the shift I could hardly walk. I stuck
it out for a number of months and was gradually getting
worse - but my mate Billy Boult was a great help.
"I asked the mill manager, Mr C, if
there was a chance of learning a new job such as roll
turning but he laughed and said those sort of jobs
weren't for the likes of me and I would always have to
use a pair of tongs.
"I left just after and got a job
back at Sankey's Bankfield Works, Bilston, as a trainee
toolsetter for about three years before moving to
Chubb's, Wednesfield Road, where I spent many happy
years, but I never forgot my time spent at the
Wolverhampton and Birchley Rolling Mills’ Osier Bed