Industry: water, steel & energy

Whitaker, Bob (1 of 8) National Life Story Collection: An Oral History of the Water Industry

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  • Recording date

    2011-04-06, 2011-04-07, 2011-08-30

  • Interviewees

    Whitaker, Bob, 1933- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Gilmour, Alison (speaker, female)

  • Abstract

    Part 1: [Session one: 6 April 2011] Bob Whitaker [BW]. Description of early memories during the war [World War Two]: responding to air raids while at primary school, memory of house being bombed during Bath Blitz, moving to Corsham with sister and mother. Comments on being aware of the war from 1939: mentions radio, newspapers, military style Dinky Toys. Mentions mother and sister’s reaction, reflects on feeling excited. [3:30] Description of shelter build under house by father, a cabinet maker. Mentions house had gas lights, toilet was in basement. Comments on other houses having toilets in gardens. House had electricity when family returned from Corsham. [5:25] Description of Victorian house in area called the Triangle: local shops, deliveries by baker and milkman, keys were kept inside letter box. Description of house: front door, sitting room, bathing routines. Mentions sharing bedroom with brother until he joined the army; mentions sleeping arrangements after father died, 1950. Description of bedroom; view of Baptist church. Description of Aladdin paraffin stove used in winter. [11:56] Comments on sharing bedroom with brother. Comments on relationship with brother and sister. Remarks on family personalities: not liking school, mother and her paranoia about dampness and wetness, description of father. Reflects on how life was different to the present. Description of taking the train to have picnics. [16:19] Description of father’s background: family from Combe Down, worked as builders and beer retailers, mentions his father took over King William pub. BW’s father did apprenticeship with De Montalt cabinet works, run by his uncle John Whittaker, then worked for Bath Cabinet Makers. Father moved to New Kings Street once married, then to house where BW and sister were born. Description of father: worked on Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary ships to restore them back to luxury liners after war, comments on staying with father at weekends and holidays. Comments on father making furniture and radio sets at home, playing rugby for Bath Rugby Club and Somerset County. Remarks on father loving sport, attending all school rugby and cricket matches played by BW and brother. Mentions father died, 1956, relates brothers’ comments about not playing sport anymore. Comments on not playing ball games after father’s death except for croquet in retirement; mentions BW’s wife played croquet. [21:51] Comments on father being away on work contracts; brother being away in the army. Comments on looking after mother and rented house after father died, contributing to household finances. Sister was at Cannings College learning typing prior to working in a bank, BW worked for River Board after father’s death in 1950. Description of events leading to father’s death from a brain tumour; comments on mother’s decision for children not to attend father’s funeral. Mentions BW’s wife died last year; comments on family attending funeral and burial at Monkton Combe cemetery, mentions grandchildren’s response. [27:18] Comments on relationship with mother after father’s death: becoming the ‘man of the house’. Mentions sister married first and moved out, BW announced marriage 1960, brother married two weeks later; comments on timing of brother’s wedding. Mentions mother later moved to Combe Down, then into sheltered accommodation, then a nursing home until she died. Mentions mother’s sisters. [29:47] Description of mother’s background and her parents’ backgrounds: father, Mark Beasant [MB], a market gardener; mother, Annie Fisher [AF], housemaid for Miss Hart at Arnian Lodge, Combe Down. Story about Miss Hart leaving her house to MB and AF in her will. [33:04] Comments on researching family history after retiring from National Trust, 1996: description of findings about Whitaker family, mentions sister’s research and daughter’s interest in BW’s wife Audrey’s [AW] history. [37:02] Mentions mother did not work. Description of mother’s siblings and their work: story about BW's uncle meeting Prince Philip on Corsham train platform, aunt worked for Ministry of Defence; story about Auntie Lillian, known as Auntie Bill, who looked after horses at Georges' Brewery, Bristol. [39:45] Comments on parents’ expectations. Comments on failing the eleven-plus; description of prospects for pupils who attended grammar schools and secondary modern schools. Lists subjects studied by BW at West Twerton Boys School. Story about being sent to art school, subsidiary of Corsham Court Academy of Art, in Sydney Place, Bath; gives parents’ response. Reflects on decision to change school. Comments on learning from teacher, Ken Story [KS]. Description of Art Master eating fruit with chopsticks. Mentions leaving school with no qualifications. Comments on BW’s initial reaction to the option to change schools. [47:15] Comments on lack of ambitions at school. Description of playing with friend, Tony Barber [TB], and his dog; story about unblocking fox holes to save foxes from the hunt. Mentions TB also applied for job at River Board. [49:35] Comments on first day at school. Comments on not remembering primary school. [50:54] Story about having a fall in 1950s: not remembering what happened, wonders whether early memories were lost. [53:07] Attended East Twerton Infant School; mentions teacher Mr Alexander, other pupil called Polly Parrot. Comments on West Twerton Boys School, mentions Headmaster, Mr R O Dann. Remarks on limited memories of art school; mentions teachers KS, Miss Smith, Theo Olive. [55:49] Comments on responding to air raid sirens, experiencing two air raids: mentions main target was Bristol. Comments on being surprised by air raid on Bath in 1942, mentions brother was ambulance driver; description of Baedeker raids. Description of air raid shelters. [1:00:06] Description of buying and growing food during the war, using coupons for meat and rationed sugar. Description of process of preserving eggs in Isinglass. Mentions clothing coupons; learning to darn. [1:02:22] Description of food after the war. Description of dried bananas, mentions not liking real bananas after war. Mentions grandfather went shooting. Description of family meals during war; mentions tea, having toast with dripping in the evening. Reflects on attitude to food at the time. Mentions school dinners in 1950s. Description of Sunday roast, eating leftovers: comments on weekly routine being dictated by mother’s washing routine. Description of washing and ironing routine. Mentions shopping daily for food. Comments on first refrigerators. Mentions listening to radio. Remarks on not using record player or piano: mentions Oldfield Park was known as ‘pride, poverty and a piano’. Mother was church organist. Comments on function of living room. [1:12:07] Description of family evening activities. Makes comparison between toys then and now. Description of Christmas gifts made by father. Mentions collecting stamps, cigarette cards. Comments on early interest in geology and archaeology: joined Archaeological Society in 1949, taught by Sir Mortimer Wheeler [MW]. Mentions television programme ‘Animal, Vegetable, Mineral?’ with MW and Glyn Daniel. Description of MW and Bill Wedlake teaching archaeology. Comments on meeting MW. Gives reasons for joining Society. Comments on growing up in Bath: learning about Georgian architecture at art school, visiting Roman Baths. Mentions designing posters for Archaeological Society. [1:21:39] Description of Sunday routine: going to Baptist church with grandfather, mentions parents’ families went to Anglican and Nonconformist churches. Mentions grandfather’s involvement with Salvation Army and a Mission Hall, description of Mission Hall. Continued description of Sunday routine: playing ball in garden with father, having dinner, attending Sunday school, having tea with cake, going back to church, reading until bedtime. Comments on mother’s role at home, comparison to father. Story about father’s philosophical advice to BW and remarks about women. Mentions mother was very religious. [1:29:10] Comments on returning from the air force [RAF], 1954: being unable to settle at home, mentions interactions with mother, not wanting to go to church anymore. Mentions not attending church after marriage: AW was Anglican, children went to Church of England school but were not christened. [1:31:48] Description of BW as a young man going to the junior labour exchange to find work: mentions options presented to BW including Engineering Learner for the River Board, his appearance and clothing. Description of visit to River Board offices: telephone exchange, Miss Hill, Miss Tilley, Mr [George] Yates [GY]; meeting TB, Herbert Orr [HO], Chief Engineer. Mentions still having superannuation certificate for Bristol Corporation, dated 1950. Mentions being given ‘a job for life’. Comments on smartening up for HO; story about HO’s reaction to TB looking untidy. Story about TB’s revenge: description of blakeys worn to protect shoe heels, TB kicking open toilet door and surprising HO. [1:41:37] Remarks on not preparing for River Board interview, description of interview. Comments on reasons for taking job: knowing TB, working with GY. Description of GY’s background, his work as a Clerk with catchment board during the war. Comments on mother’s response to BW’s work. Remarks on spending earnings. Remarks on mother’s response to BW’s brother buying a car; lists brother’s cars. BW bought a 1933 Austin 7 from brother. Comments on brother driving mother to Weston-super-Mare. Description of brother; brother’s career. [1:50:32] Description of sister: attended West Twerton Girls School, learnt shorthand typing at Cannings College, worked at Westminster Bank, left work after having children, her husband was engineer for Stothert & Pitt. [1:52:00] Description of starting work at Bristol Avon River Board: mentions reading about work done by Stan Harold and colleagues to clear river debris, improvement and dredging schemes; buying stamps. Description of telephone system and internal communications by bell. Story about bringing drawings to Chief Engineer, Mr Mercer; buying his cigarettes. Mentions doing the daily ‘doughnut run’ to Cobbs Bakers, posting letters, cleaning surveyors’ equipment. [1:59:40] Mentions working with mileage strips: ordnance survey sheets of river network; description of tracing maps on to linen, making copies at Ross printing shop for copies. Comments on learning conventions, drawing on cartridge paper, 1951. Story about Chief Engineer not liking BW’s drawing. Mentions new employee arrived, Paul Villars, and BW spent more time drawing and surveying. Comments on previous employees, Ray Ricketts and colleagues, needing to take bus to do surveying work; later engineers had own cars. Comments on HO being protective of his car. [2:06:37] Comments on learning to trace drawings, do water colour washes. Description of levelling surveying process and equipment used. [2:11:40] Comments on relationship with HO. Comments on discipline and hierarchy at work; mentions GY was different. Description of Horace Mercer [HM]. [2:13:24] Description of functions of the River Board after River Board Acts, 1948: land drainage, flooding, pollution control, fisheries. [2:14:45] Comments on use of information gathered through surveying. Comments on development of BW’s role before he was called up for national service, 1953. [2:16:41] Description of receiving letter about national service, reporting to recruitment office in Bristol. Story about meeting Regimental Sergeant Major: his comments about BW’s parents’ names, Mary and Joseph. Comments on choosing to join the Royal Air Force (RAF). Description of intelligence test. Mentions receiving papers, being asked to report to Royal Air Force Padgate, Liverpool. Comments on arriving at Padgate, then reporting at a ‘square bashing camp’ in Hednesford, Staffordshire. [2:21:44] Remarks on feeling excited about going to Padgate. Comments on training at square bashing camp. Description of introductory week spent at Padgate. Description of training, routine, inspections at square bashing camp. Mentions punishment: cleaning inside toilet with razor blade. Reflects on growing up during this time. Comments on preparing for inspections. Description of choosing activities for remaining national service in fifth week of training, being posted to St Eval, Cornwall, in Air Traffic Control and Operations. Description of journey to St Eval, settling in. Mentions meeting Alan Rees [AR], later BW’s best man. [2:32:39] Description of AR. Remarks on making friends. Mentions going to stay with AR and his parents in Skewen, South Wales. Comments on going caving in Town Drain Neath, after reading book by Norbert Casteret, on AR’s father’s suggestion. Comments on interest in caving and climbing. Comments on discovering a cave with Jerry Lavis [JL] near Frome, 1960s. Description of documenting and naming areas in caves; comments on not thinking about dangers.

  • Description

    Life Story Interview with Bob Whitaker, Regional Emergency and Securities Officer for Wessex Water; Regional Water Coordinator for South West; Security Advisor for National Trust

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