It was great to meet up with Allan & Sheila Johnston. I mean just think; imagine an appeal for past employees to get in touch hits the airwaves and within a few minutes two lovely people phone you up to tell you that they worked together in the 50s & 60s, met there and then got married! All adding to the perception that the ever developing story of the Tew Group does seem to have the depth & complexity you hoped for.
Allan & Sheila are a lovely couple. Retired of course but have stories in plenty and told with richness and fondness for the employer all those years ago. Listening to them now, it’s hard to believe we work for the same organisation and in some ways there are familiar names & musings but theirs were a different time, full of cheeky apprentices in the bucket load; tea trays and bosses called “Mr” Fred and “Mr” Harold, surnames omitted. A switchboard with 2 foot of elasticated cables and a four digit phone number Sheila still remembers as if she was speaking into the Bakelite mouthpiece today.
Sheila (nee Arnold) started at TEW in 1956 and met Allan there, who had started as an apprentice electrician in 1953. Sheila worked in the original Bertram Street office and in fact, is a Meadows Lass where WH Tew & Co started the business way back in 1914.
Allan has a whole host of stories, particularly remembering his time as one of the apprentice lads working alongside some of the older electricians.
He says “Old Fred Valentine was a bit of a character. He was as deaf as you like and I remember doing some electrical work in a lift in the George Hotel or somewhere & shouting to him on top of the lift to let down some conduit I was fitting. Of course he couldn’t hear me but when I mumbled something about him being “ a deaf old sod” , he suddenly exclaimed “ I heard that lad” and I was in trouble when we were back outside.”
“There were many stories like this” he adds. “Lenny Lang used to wash cars in the yard but had a habit of disappearing to the Norfolk Hotel up the road on Crocus Street. If Mr Fred (Tew) appeared someone had to run up to fetch him!”
Sheila agrees.”I worked in the office on the switchboard. There was Miss Loach who effectively ran the place on behalf of Mr Fred & Mr Harold (Tew). Fred had a large Humber Hawke black car and always was a real gentleman.” We are left wondering if Mr Harold was as well?“I even remember an earthquake in the Meadows which shook the tea pots all over the place” she adds.
Sheila & Allan were working at Tews when they started courting “after Allan asked me out to the pictures” and were both there when they got married over 50 years ago.
Allan is still in touch with some old colleagues from those days but admits that many are probably not around anymore. Allan & Sheila do remember a number of names and have listed them out to help in our current research into people from the past.
Speaking to them, it’s hard not to dream up a scene from post war Britain. It was over 60 years ago, let’s be honest. Their account fondly adds colour to the sepia pictures they have kindly lent us to add to our gallery on our centenary website
1953 had seen a Queen crowned but even now rationing was still in force in some commodities. This year would see the removal of restrictions on sweets, eggs, cream and sugar: the meat ration would creep up from 1s 8d (8p) a week to 1s 9d (9p). White bread would reappear: during rationing, the National Loaf had been brown
Against this, Sheila & Allan met, went to the pictures and after an appropriate time of course, they married. They both left Tews in the 60s to do other things. Sheila only left as she says there was a distinct lack of females at the company and she wanted to work with other girls like herself. Quite so, we agree and we add another frustratingly emergent story to the list.
They both agree however, that WH Tew was “the bee’s knees” of businesses at the time. Allan say that they were held in high esteem and went on to produce a goldplated list of people who he remembers worked there at during his time. He talks about Arthur Walker, one of the older guys who fought the Japanese in the Burma campaign and became one of the many prisoners of war form that terrible time. His quiet recollection was that Arthur never spoke about the war except the once where he chastised a young lad for complaining about his tea; due in fact that until you’ve tasted tea made from “rusty cups & polluted water “, you wouldn’t have much to moan about.
Sadly we won’t be hearing from Arthur. Perhaps we may be fortunate to hear from his family and that would be a delightful experience I’m sure. What is certain is that all our stories will find their way into a very special memories book that we look forward to sharing with our new friends.
Do you know any of the following people from Sheila and Allan’s memories of TEW? Get in touch!
Fred Valentine (Valo)
Joe (Tim) McCoy
Eric Bladon was making labels, in the office was George Clarke, George Gooderham
In the stores – Albert Folley
Labourer –Lenny Lang, Lorry Driver – Jack Lang
Office – Miss Dorothy Loach (Mrs Kerry), Sheila Arnold,
Derek Spencer – Estimator (and to be future owner), John Hart – Estimator
17 February 2014 by Jenny Jones