Shop floor to Appledore

Like many, I’m sure, I was chilled by the evil villain of the recent Sherlock series, Charles Augustus Magnussen (a performance of extraordinary menace by Lars Mikkelson). But also (and again, like many) was intrigued by Magnussen’s house - the futuristic but entirely appropriate super-villain secret headquarters (though why do evil mastermind secret headquarters always look like evil mastermind secret headquarters? Surely an inconsistency there…).

Swinhay House

I was pleased though, after a bit of digging, to read about the real house — Swinhay House — designed by David Austin for David McMurty, engineer, inventor, and founder of Renishaw.

There’s a delightful reprint of an interview with McMurty here. I love the fact that he started work as an apprentice, in an industry with strong engineering traditions:

…my parents decided I should be in the insurance industry, which was big at the time. Later, I decided that I didn’t want to be there, so I applied to Rolls-Royce, who turned me down, and so I applied to Bristol Aero Engines Ltd., which was where the engines for the Concorde started and which was Rolls’ rival in aero engines and military engines, in England at the time. This was in 1958, when I was 18. I was reasonably good at math, physics, and chemistry, the sciences of that time, and they accepted me, although they didn’t recognize the Irish qualifications, which are different from the English ones. They accepted me for a craft-grade apprentice, which is basically a shop-floor apprenticeship—only one day college and four days out on the shop floor—for a start. I accepted the apprentice program because they said if you did well, they’d upgrade you and you could become a full-time student. I had two years literally on the shop floor, which when I look back on it, was amazing because in the apprentice school, they took you through machine tool millers, turners, and grinders, two weeks in each section—and then on engine build. So it was all practical, then one day a week in college.

It’s worth reading the whole interview, there are lots of lessons, but I’m somehow both touched and inspired by a tale of success founded on craft, intelligence, luck (of course) and perseverance from an era (not so long ago) when we Brits were actually quite good at making things and capitalising on it.

No Comments

Add your own comment...