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Post Office Factory

Post Office Factory , Fordrough Lane, Birmingham

The Post Office Factories in 1947.

The following article appeared in Post Office Magazine dated January 1947. 

            What we do in Our Factories by H.J. Partington.

Even though you may be employed in this vast organisation of the Post Office, how many of you realise the amount of work that has been, and still is, done in the Department’s Factories at London, Birmingham and Edinburgh in the manufacture and repair of the multifarious parts that go to make up telephones, switchboards, relays, bell-sets, dials, meters, electric motors, clocks, coin collecting boxes, watches, radio transmitters, receivers, and all the other apparatus needed at exchanges throughout the country which are necessary for the smooth working of the telephonic communications of this land? How many of the users of this system ever stop to think, especially when given a wrong number or their own instrument refuses to buzz at the right tone, of the “telephone mechanic” – that is the official description of the workman in the factory – who is the highly skilled craftsman behind all this work?

Come to the Birmingham factory and have a quick look round where something like 1,200 workpeople, Telephone Mechanics (male and female) together with craftsmen of other trades, Cabinet Makers, French Polishers, Enamellers and Coil Winders, spend their daily lives. Linger in the machine shops where parts are being made on drillers, presses and automatic machines by the thousand; parts that you do not normally see in your instrument (there are 92 different pieces in the dial alone) and yet vitally necessary. Visit the relay shop where all the benches are lit by the latest type of daylight tubular fluorescent lamps, for it is a strain to the eye to adjust the springs and contacts of the different types of this most necessary form of magnetic switch, the relay.

Adjoining, we might notice the cabinet workers who make and repair the woodwork of the switchboards and boxes used in telephone work, and also notice the polishing of this woodwork. Walking around we pass the tool room where highly skilled men, using the latest types of machine, fashion the jigs and tools necessary to make all sorts of parts, large and small, true to shape and size to a ten-thousandth of an inch.

Perhaps you who have seen the inside of a switchboard, whether it be a floor model or a table one, or one built in sections in your own exchange, will wonder how those thick ropes of wires with their apparently tangled ends are made to appear in exactly the right spot for soldering to the right point. We see this being done in the cable forming shop where strong-armed, nimble-fingered ladies, with long lengths of wires of different colours and combinations of colours with deft twists of the wrists pass each colour around iron pegs in a huge board until the whole cable is formed according to a chart which the ladies read as easily as reading “Peg’s Paper.”


We climb the stairs and visit a workshop on the top floor, and have a look at a very varied assortment of Post Office instruments. Clocks of all sizes hanging on the walls and on racks, all having been repaired by a telephone mechanic, and now ticking away and shewing the time within a few minutes of each other, so that you can look up into your local Post Office window and know that the clock therein will be correct to a minute in 24 hours. On this same floor we find the motor used in driving the teleprinters also undergoing a repair, and how good this repair has to be only the telephone mechanic knows. All this apparatus which we see in the factory, too big to be made or repaired in the Regional Workshops, where machines are not installed for this purpose, has to be tested by skilled workmen with the necessary technical knowledge, and every instrument, whether it be an ordinary telephone or the large switchboard wanted to extend the local exchange, or the latest piece of wireless apparatus for foreign communications, leaves the Post Office factories as new and in perfect working order.

Extracted from Post Office Magazine January 1947.

A Potted History of Garrison Lane Factory by Len Copsey.

This is a potted history of the time I spent at Garrison Lane Factory. I started in 1943 aged 14, and was interviewed at Fordrough Lane in the dark-oak (?) Office Block, where I did the maths and english tests. I was then called into the office where three dark suits were sitting down. I was told to sit while the papers were looked at, 1st Question - "How is your Brother Albert ?" "As far as we know he is alright Sir," "Pleased to hear that, start Garrison Lane on Monday."

So I travelled on the trolley-bus from The Swan, walked down the side roads, came out by The Sportsman pub and signed-in at Garrison Lane. I was issued with the Check Number 2053, a tall wooden stool and a bar-of-soap with G.R. moulded on it. - My start to my working-life.

  I was to spend the next six months on fitting and machine operating before my transfer to be trained as an Electrical Engineer if I was a good lad. My Toolsetter's surname, Timmins or Timms, asked my name and told me to sit at a metal-topped bench, "Right Son this is what I want you to do, straighten these pieces of black bar steel, (1/4 inches thick by 1.1/2 wide by 24 inches long) you use this 1.1/2 lb hammer, put the pieces across these two blocks, look along the edge to see if they are straight, if they're not, you hit them with the hammer until they are !"  He showed me how and left me to it. He came back occasionally and checked them, some he rejected.

Dinner time was one hour. I didn't have a cooked dinner but brought sandwiches which I ate in the Canteen whilst making friends with the other 'slaves' - oops sorry ! Lads. Names I remember are, Ron Green, Albert Towner, Jimmy Lewis, Bill Lees, Des Dyer, George Draper, Pinky Scandrett, Kimberley, Stagg, Dorrington, Bluck, Toolmaker Sailor Brown and Foreman Albert Wadley.

At Garrison Lane around this time, small Post Office Telephones and Royal Mail vans, handcarts and other small transport were maintained on the left-hand side of the factory - we used the old engine oil for oil-blacking metal jobs.

Len Copsey - August 2009.



 During the 1970s a number of Telephone Mechanics, as the Grade was then known, retired around about the same time, and resolved to continue the friendship and camaraderie they had established over their working lives.

Most of them had worked in the old Receivers Shop at Fordrough Lane and the initiators were Bill (Bob Hope) Rhodes and Les Tye. They met regularly at the Custard House public house and were rapidly joined by many others, notably including Johnny Simons.

It soon became apparent that the pub was becoming too crowded for their needs. Les Tye was rightly proud of his son Royston who played cricket for the Marlborough Cricket Club and through this connection Les was able to establish the first retirement club for Post Office Factories personnel at the premises of the cricket club. The Officers were Bill Rhodes,  Johnny Simons and Les Tye. The first meetings consisted almost entirely of alliances formed in the old Receiver Shop, Albert Howell, Harry Shelley, Fred Molcher, Frank Peters etc, and they were later to be joined by Sherlock Street sexagenarians from the Relay Shop. The numbers of retirees continued to swell and were at that time all ex members of the Factories Branch of the POEU.

The Union Branch Officers, Charlie Reynolds and Trevor Inglis supported the club from its conception and were able to persuade the Head Office of the POEU to allow them to pay a yearly donation to the Marlborough Club out of the Union Branch Funds. 

As the years followed retirement groups grew more and more popular and the Main Supplies, set up a club at the Bordesley Green Allotments which is still going strong. Unfortunately its meeting date coincided with that of the Marlborough but one stalwart, the late Freddie Miller managed to fit in both. In 1981 the POEU started a Retired Membership Section and its Branches everywhere established retirement clubs. The Birmingham Factories Branch set up a retirement club to meet at the Civil Service Restaurant close to Marks & Spencer in High Street in the City centre. It would have been the right thing to amalgamate with the Marlborough Club, but well before the end of the seventies the Marlborough had expanded to include all grades from all departments, and the prohibiting factor was the fact that the club was exclusively male. There were two memorable occasions when two "stalking fillies" tested the water but were politely told not to come again.

Many retired staff attended both clubs, and somewhat inappropriately Bill Rhodes became the Treasurer of both clubs. When Bill died it was not possible from his records to be really sure of the amount of money belonging to each club. Reg Trevethic took over the responsibility of running the Marlborough Club, and because the majority of its members were ex POEU members, Charlie Reynolds who was running the Branch Retirement Club decided that the Marlborough should have the bulk of the money Bill had put aside, because his own club was helped in its funding by POEU Headquarters, pro rata to its membership numbers. The two clubs existed harmoniously side by side until the Civil Service Restaurant was forced to close.

The Factories Branch Retired Members' Club could not find a suitable venue that would enable it to continue so it held a farewell meeting at the Masonic Hall in Stechford. Although its members continued, or started, to go to the Marlborough the ban on women members still remained. The passage of time saw the Japanese take over the BT Factories, followed by eventual closures, the POEU merged with the CWU and now all retired members of the old Birmingham Factories Branch are members of the Birmingham Branch of the CWU.

In the meantime attendance at the Marlborough meetings continued to grow and at its peak has been attracting well in advance of fifty ex Factory male employees of all grades from the highest to the lowest. Sad to say that at one period, there was a top table of one time management grades separated from the less elite. The majority of these were from the old Headquarters Group who had not " come up from the ranks " many recruited from outside the Factories.  Ex SPOE members such as Stan Smelt and Horace Bullock sat uncomforably among them whilst Reg Trevethic bridged the gap. Fortunately that was a short passing phase and in the later years there were no distinctions, except more in jest than protocol, the one who had achieved the highest grade of all, the Controller of Factories was forced to be the first to lead the rush for refreshments.

As inevitably happens with all retirement clubs the passing years will see membership and attendance reach a peak, then slowly but with increasing pace, decline and decease follows. By the time that Reg Trevethic passed on, the monthly attendance at the Marlborough had dwindled to a maximum of 20. George Smith took over the reins and the club struggled to survive, despite members being prepared to pay increased subscriptions, the willingness of Dorothy Britlands to provide the catering, and the generosity of the Marlborough Cricket Club's barman, Clive Bishop.

The sudden death of George on Monday 16th November 2009., came as a shock to all, and it is true to say that the club which was dear to his heart, died with him. The last rites will be held on December 9th, but the hope is that many will arrange to have lunch together once a month in a public house.

                                                ------------ WHICH IS JUST HOW IT ALL BEGAN ! ---------------