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Anthony Bathurst, November 2007
A Cox and Wright Apprenticeship

I started at Cox and Wright in the April 1973 after being taken on by Mr Roy Peake the Production director. I started in the Electrical dept under the leadership of Mr Vince Withnell, working initially on setting out components on electrical control panels for various types of machinery mainly allied to the shoe trade. After a period of training I was men allowed to start to wire some of the simpler control panels for such items as High Speed Sole Reactivators. This was a very impressive name for a relatively simple piece of equipment whose job it was to reactivate the dried cement around the sole of a shoe before it was applied to the upper; it was just 4 halogen lamps and a timer.

Once a week I would go on an 'day release' electrical course to the Wellingborough Technical College, this went on for 5yrs. After completing this, the company then allowed me to go to night school to take City and Guilds in Electronics, as this was coming more and more into our machines. Just as I was leaving in 1982 we had developed a travelling head press controlled by a computer, the idea of this press was to take the place of the old Revolution press that was being phased out due to more stringent health and safety requirements.

Cox and Wright exported all over the world to such far flung places as the USA, Japan, South Africa, France, Canada etc, all with the help of a very skilled workforce. When I first arrived probably the main stay of their sales was High Frequency Welding Machines, a really specialised machine that was virtually killed off by the oil crisis in the early 1970s due to the massive increase of the cost of PVC material that was used in the process that this machine used. Luckily we had some good old standby machines, the likes of Travelling Head Cutting Presses, Blocking machines (especially for the cowboy boot market in the USA), Rotary Moist Heat Setters, Heel Trimmers and Staplers. We also developed our own touch sensor clicking press (I proceeded to crack the beam on one on a call out to Scholes of Northampton). We even sold a few specialised Carpet cutting machines for a few years as well. One press that I do remember well was called the Beam Press; this press could be supplied with a feed system of any length that the customer required and had a cutting pressure of 80 tons. One of these with a very long material feed system either side of the press was sold to British Leyland for cutting the seat covers for the then new Metro car. I was the electrician sent to help with the reassembling of it at their Longbridge plant, which I think took us about a week.

All in all I had a very happy 9 years there, eventually becoming the Electrical Foreman of, at one time, about 10 electricians, panel wirers and printed circuit board assemblers and worked with some real characters. My own training was excellent covering many facets of electrical work ranging from panel wiring, machine wiring, pcb assembly, fault finding and testing of machines through to maintenance and installation of electrical items in the factory. It is a shame to me that, along with Cox and Wrights, the town has lost many of its engineering jobs with the closure of other engineering factories such as Norris’s, Covallen and John Ormes. A great number of highly skilled jobs have been lost to the town over the last 20 or so years and it seems a great shame to me that we are unable to offer the youngsters of the town these quality trades any more.

Anthony Bathurst November 2007

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