Industry: water, steel & energy

McInerney, Tom (1 of 12). An Oral History of the Electricity Supply in the UK

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  • Recording date

    2014-08-20, 2014-09-23, 2014-10-07, 2014-10-19

  • Interviewees

    McInerney, Tom, 1935- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 1: Born in central Liverpool 1935. Remarks on parents and family: mother Moreen Morritary, Irish background in County Cork, cinema usherette in Liverpool where she met TMI father; TMI father from County Claire where his father was a head teacher, never speaking of troubles in Ireland, large family so left Ireland for Liverpool to work in cinema as projectionists in the Palace Deluxe on Lime Street; TMI three sisters; anecdote about confusion caused by TMI sharing father's name Patrick Thomas, leaving TMI being known as Tom; industrious housewife nature of mother; mentions wartime bombing, father's leg injury from motorcycle crash and other factor excusing him from military service; father industrious and quiet, made TMI's Christmas presents; [05:30] father an air raid warden, split of family after bombing of house, leading to TMI being sent to various relatives in Ireland for 2 years, enjoying life on farms, not going to school; anecdote about TMI being briefly sent to a special school in Ireland. [08:05] Story about TMI and family emerging unhurt after sleeping downstairs when house in Liverpool hit by bomb. [09:10] Remarks on school: TMI returning to Liverpool in late 1943 to live in their repaired house; attending local school from 8; TMI not very good at reading but doing quite well at school; intimidating experience of taking Junior City Scholarship exams aged 11 for St Edwards College. [11:45] Short description of wartime Liverpool and home: football teams; bomb damage; good humour of Liverpudlians; militancy, such as dockers and Orange Lodge; mentions sister teaching; visits to New Brighton; description of three bedroom detached house home, amenities and appliances in kitchen; ARP wardens using house as a base; acceptance of wartime conditions. [15:50] Remarks on TMI in youth: average nature; anecdote about sisters playing roughly with TMI; good relationship with sisters over their lives. [18:00] Remarks on father's work at cinema: arc lights, projectionists changing over films, complimentary tickets, cinema damaged by fire; description of cinema; other cinemas on Lime Street, such as The Futurist. [20:50] Remarks on interests: stooging around with friends; close relationships with neighbours; flying model aeroplanes; watching football matches at weekends; freedom of childhood; visiting cinema; anecdote about being bullied into supporting Everton; cycling; Mecano sets, making cranes, collecting sets, modifying plans. [26:30] Remarks on: parents beliefs, Roman Catholics, anecdote about their reasons for voting Labour; TMI brought up Catholic, church on Sundays, Catholic schools, boring religious services; accepting life as normal; TMI drifting away from Catholicism, developing own political views; influence of Catholicism on TMI standards. [29:50] Remarks on time in Ireland: TMI accepting change as normal; moving from relative to relative; enjoying time in Ireland, active life on farms, good weather, good company from large family; TMI uncle visiting Liverpool occasionally, holiday to Ireland with auntie; TMI sisters keeping in closer touch with family, death of several relatives; sisters attending convent schools in Ireland during wartime; TMI not attending school in Ireland; [34:00] TMI activities helping out to work farm with labourers; anecdote about horses pulling bin-trucks in Liverpool; sometimes staying in Limerick. [36:00] [cont' from 36:00] Remarks on: return to Liverpool c.1943; settling into school on return, Junior City Scholarship exams; freedom in childhood; parents' expectations, TMI later hearing they were disappointed that he had not gone to sixth form; streamed classes in grammar school, split into classics and science in sixth form science; TMI eventually studying hard and doing well in maths and science at school; anecdote about careers guidance being limited to suggestion he join English Electric. [39:15] Story about how TMI joined British Electricity Authority [BEA] at 16: neighbour who worked at Clarence Dock power station; parents' advice for a secure career with a pension; industry build up in postwar years with increased standard of technology, industry training up apprentices to meet demands of future; difficult interview at Mansion house headquarters with large board; anecdote about being given expenses for cycling to his interview; anecdote about odd questions in interview; TMI interest in electricity beforehand, Mecanno electric motors, father giving him electric Morse code toy. [45:00] Remarks on starting work in ES as apprentice at Clarence Dock: TMI deciding to study electrical engineering at Liverpool College of Technology, later John Moore University; anecdote about manager criticising TMI study of electrical engineering, TMI later studying mechanical engineering; poor quality of training course, working with craftsmen for first two years of apprentice, followed by working with engineers and managers; shift work in the control room, learning about how to implement voltage reductions; expansion of National Grid from 1930s and increased demand for electricity; Clarence Dock supplying power to Grid and operating according to merit order, meaning generators were switched on and off as needed. [48:50] Description of switching on generators and synchronising them to the grid, risks of damaging equipment if mistakes made. [50:53] Remarks on Clarence Dock: description of hot and difficult conditions working in the boiler house and ash basement; seven 50MW generators; differences between generators and boilers, both chain grate and pulverised fuel; each turbine locally controlled, TMI period of working as an engineer controlling turbines; detailed description of starting a turbine and how it works, anecdote about difficulty communicating between stoke hall and engine room; filling in log sheets to record equipment instrument readings; TMI doing much studying during the routine of day shifts; [58:45] TMI subsequent placement in efficiency office; manual nature of work at time. [59:40] Comments working practices and labour relations: nearly 1000 staff due to heavily unionised workforce and heavy consequences of industrial action; anecdote about rota for peopel to go off allegedly sick; anecdote about various, sometimes spurious, allowances for different working conditions, such as heat, cold, height and trench money; management unable to afford industrial disputes or lengthy breakdown; anecdote about overtime rota; many Communists in Liverpool. [1:03:20] Story about TMI's ETU [Electricians Trade Union]: TMI told craftsmen wouldn't work with him unless he was in a union; foreman advising him to join a union to keep the piece, but resign when he became an engineer; TMI joining ETU, then run by a Communist, General Secretary [Frank] Foulkes; TMI unsuccessful attempt to resign from ETU when he was promoted to engineer; anecdote about attending branch meeting in a pub to try to resign, ETU hopes to gradually recruit membership from engineering staff to gradually gain influence over industry; [1:08:40] TMI discovering engineer's union, the EPEA [Electrical and Power Engineers Association]; EPEA representative advising TMI on how to transfer to EPEA; TMI continuing to receive ETU journal; TMI continuing to belong to EPEA and successors; TMI regard for EPEA; ETU lack of effects. [1:10:35] [cont' from 1:10:35] Remarks on first day at power station: cycling through bad conditions in dockland area; discussion with assistant manager over studies; bewilderment over noisy and hot environment; contrast with picturesque grammar school; poor productivity of staff. [1:12:45] Remarks on well known Communist Les Cannon: TMI working Cannon, who spent much time at meetings; TMI loosing debates with Cannon; anecdote about Cannon's disgust at lavish wedding reported in newspaper; Cannon and other unionists, such as Frank Chappel, leaving Communist party over Hungarian revolution; Cannon's education in Soviet bloc; Cannon's later rise to prominence in union movement. [1:17:40] Remarks on life in power station: solid Liverpudlian colleagues; overmanning of power station and abuse of overtime; observational Liverpudlian sense of humour, exemplified by early career of comedian Jimmy Tarbuck; limited attention to health and safety apart from leaflets; issue of overalls, towel, duffel coat; lack of hard hats and hearing protection; many accidents in construction, rule of 1 fatality for every £1million spent on projects; well trained first aid teams, full time nurse at power station; [1:24:00] yearly mock exercises and inspection of first aid teams; anecdote about colleague with a missing finger; poor conditions in locker rooms and canteen; TMI given meal tickets; new facilities under construction when TMI left; differences between work and qualifications of craft apprentices, intended to become skilled craftsmen, and student apprentices, feedstock for engineering staff of new power stations; Clarence Dock largely supplying Liverpool area, but with connections to CEB established National Grid under control from Manchester; telephone communications from grid control to increase output. [1:29:20] Detailed description of control room, operations within it to control power station and substation, communication systems, operation of switch gear, contrasts with operation of control room later in TMI career at Trawsfynydd. [1:33:18] Remarks on load reductions: outlines five stages of load reduction, reducing voltage by stages, disconnections; rare use of disconnections, quite common use of voltage reduction; Merseyside and North Wales Electricity Board [MANWEB] dealing with customer complaints, insulating BEA from customers; outline arrangements between generators and distributors for electricity supply; later CEGB reduction of regions leaving each generation region dealing with several area boards. [1:36:35] Remarks on: TMI joining BEA in 1951; anecdote about change in name from BEA to CEA [Central Electricity Authority] to avoid confusion with British European Airways; CEGB formed whilst TMI on National Service between 1957-59; change in livery of vans from CEA to CEGB; National Service Act requiring employer to provide equivalent work when an individuals National Service ended; TMI assigned to Connah's Quay power station when he returned from National Service, opening his eyes to opportunities available; many jobs to apply for in 1950s. [1:41:00] Remarks on TMI feelings about joining industry and career options: opportunity to move around and find new jobs and promotions; TMI decision that operations roles better suited his experience; applying for control engineer post; new post of plant control engineer created with changes to rationalise plant control systems; articles about nuclear power stations in CEGB magazines; CEGB building Bradwell, Berkeley and Hinkley point nuclear power stations at time; TMI applying for posts at control engineer at Portishead A and assistant operations engineer at Berkeley; TMI interview with difficult manager at Portishead; TMI taking post at Portishead temporarily before transferring to Berkeley. [1:46:10] Remarks on Portishead: anecdote about first day; old fashioned station; understaffing leading to long shifts; anecdote about many job vacancies advertised at the time.

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