In April 2007, I found myself revisiting my home town, Scarborough, and took the opportunity to return to the location of my first ever full-time “permanent” job, which was at a light engineering company called Swifts of Scarborough.
I didn’t actually work at Swifts for very long — only from September 1979 to June 1981 — but so much happened to me during that approximately eighteen-month period that, in retrospect, it seems as though I was there for much longer.
After having had to drop out of Warwick University in 1979, without a degree, I found myself back in Scarborough, where job prospects are not good at the best of times (unless perhaps you want to work in a hotel). My father had just died, and my mother was trying to support a family of three on her teacher’s widow’s pension, so there was much urgency for me to start earning a living as soon as possible.
After several dispiriting months of job-hunting, I obtained an interview at Swifts, for an Accounts Clerk position, and was hired. I had no professional accounting qualifications, but I’d always been good at math (and had 2 A-levels in it), which was presumably what impressed them.
As I was to learn, Swifts was already a long-established Scarborough business. The factory had originally been in a downtown location near William Street, but had moved out to a larger site on Cayton Low Road during the 1960s. Traditionally, the company’s main product had been aluminium milk churns, but, when demand for churns evaporated, the company switched to the manufacture of cable support systems (cable tray and cable ladder). Cable support systems are a simple and unglamorous product, but there is a steady industrial demand for those components, which the company’s successors still manufacture today.
[I haven’t been able to find any photographs of Swift’s original premises. However, the out-of-print book Scarborough in the 50s and 60s does include a couple of photographs of the William Street area. On page 69 the old Swift’s refreshment block is shown, and on page 26 you can see Swift’s sign on a wall near Hope Street.]
In 1979, the company’s accounting department was housed in a building separate from the main factory, called “The Bungalow”, which was literally that, being a former private home that sat on what was now Swift’s land. This building is shown derelict in my 2007 photo at the head of this article.
I Keep Getting the Same Advice
It soon became obvious that, although Swifts was a “solid” company, its products were “not rocket science”, and I felt that continuing there would not make good use of my abilities.
Realizing that there were few suitable jobs for me in Scarborough, I began applying for more challenging jobs in other parts of the country. I attended several promising interviews, in London, Aylesbury, and elsewhere, and a pattern soon became apparent. Every time I applied for a job, I was rejected on the grounds that I didn’t have some specialized knowledge, or was in some way overqualified, and I was told to go back to university and get a degree.
That was much easier said than done, but I did eventually reapply and was accepted by several universities. Thanks to the award of a Royal Scholarship, I ended up graduating in electronics from Imperial College, London. At that point, I recalled the advice I’d received from one potential employer who had declined to hire me pre-university—the BBC—so I reapplied and, this time, I got the job!
To Richmond At Last
Back when I worked at Swifts, the company had a satellite location at Richmond in Surrey. This had originally been the premises of a company called Walker Mainstay, which Swifts had taken over. The Richmond premises were not used for manufacturing, but only for warehousing the products that were made in Scarborough. Trucks loaded with Swift’s products left Scarborough for Richmond on an almost daily basis.
During my eighteen-month period of employment, I was never allowed to visit the Richmond premises. In 1981, finding myself now a student in London, curiosity compelled me to go to Richmond and seek out the location. The photograph below shows the Richmond premises one dull weekend afternoon. I realized that I hadn’t been missing much!
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I returned to “The Bungalow” during a visit to Scarborough in 2007, to find it still standing but derelict.
The remainder of Swifts premises on Cayton Low Road still exist. The company was taken over first by Wiremold, and then by Legrand, and continues in essentially the same business in the same location.