Frank was known at Chets as Robert Francis Chalmers
Where are you now?
After a “portfolio career” (ref Charles Handy) I am now retired, living rural Cumbria, in sight of Wainwright’s Howgills, which are at the bottom of the road. But before that…..read on!
Fox Court photo by Arthur George (l to r) Bottomley, O’Hagan, Chalmers, Ashley,
Tracey, Thomas, Thorley & Carney.
Tell us about your career since leaving Chets
It’s more a question of what “careers” have I had since Chets, since my work experience covers quite a range of situations. They range from Narrow Boatman to General Manager, but it is much more complex than that.
My sideburns were too long for Chets, that is to say too long for Harry Vickers and I did not fully thrive, finding the school experience puzzling and obscure. I was a late developer and perhaps that is exemplified by my doing a Hons degree at the age of 48, down in the University of Birmingham -BA(Hons) Community Justice (Probation Studies).
Francis & Edwin (Father)
Leaving Chets was a relief, but one tempered with apprehension having no plans for my next step. This step turned out to be a “crammer” where I learned more about leisure pursuits than about the “O”s and “A”s I was supposed to be achieving. I remember more about the Musical “Hair” than about gross national product. This was the age of the dawn of Aquarius and hedonism was the “done thing”. The crammer, in a stately home, near Dorking, was an expensive interlude for the idiosyncratic youths of the wealthy and they had usually been to Eton, Harrow and public girls schools – so this for me was a culture shock, coming from ”the North” without the trappings of that level of privilege. I entered a world of “Blues”, motorbikes, recreational substances and girls – a heady mix, for one year.
Family Group & family friends (Roger Beaumont & his father Rob Stratton)
Looking back to childhood, in the village of Bowdon, we had a “Bohemian” who lived in a sort of penthouse flat – this seemed very romantic to me. There were many older people in the village who had had lives of great interest, who had gone on “grand tours” or been the first female in the LSE, or who were “feminist” before feminism became a mass movement – larger than life, people of great presence. I was influenced by these asymmetric “characters” who for me seemed “the norm” I would aspire to. It was difficult to imagine how school could shoe horn me back into conformity.
One of the Bowdon group of friends (FC) who had to pose
for Gallery of English Children’s Costume, Book 7, Platt Hall, M/cr
FC with teddy bear – still have this, of course…
As my academic prowess was still hidden (after the crammer), I was enrolled at St John’s College of FE, in Manchester, which was considerably less expensive and exalted. At each stage I accidentally gathered up some more GCSE’s, but it really was reluctantly. Local Government did seem interesting as a subject, but leisure pursuits and “finding one’s self” was more a dreamy priority. This was now the age of the Hippy, sociologically speaking…. So festivals, communes, hedonism, tents, hitch hiking, Amsterdam, beaches, Sufism, Transcendental meditation etc were enjoyed, indeed relished. Thanks to the lecturers there, one of whom I met in Ravenstonedale, fairly recently – Aidan Roe; its a small world.
(Right) Passport Photo
Work did begin to become an interest, and in those days it was easy to pick up a job. So I tried several – Storeman at Kearns Richards, Machine Tools and then a lovely “job” – a narrow boatman for Willow Wren Kearns, Middlewhich – hire boats. I was working with the son of the ex director of Kearns Richards – Ray Kearns, who loved everything about narrow boats and lived on one called Lilly. She was a beautiful pedigree Josiah Wedgewood, wooden (then) house boat, driven by a Bolinder single cylinder Swedish engine. This singular engine needed two people to run it. To set it into reverse, I needed to go down the engine room and at a signal press the fuel injector pump – at the syncopation point and that reversed the action – lucky I went to a music school….
(Left) Photo whilst at Willow Wren Kearns looking out of the back cabin of a narrow boat
This was a delightful blend of the “recreational” (that word again), hobby, earner, skill developer and commercial. We had to do everything from mend the roof to help strip the Lister engines, teach the boat hirer (scary) or mend the loos.
The Manchester Ship Canal came next – I doubled my wages by going to a Unionised dock environment. Starting as a day labourer, I then moved to be a small tug skipper on the Bantam 2 based at Castlefields on the Bridgewater. I helped in fill the subsiding canal at Leigh with pit dirt, by push-pulling barges and did inspecting the lengths from Castlefields to Lymn. Another cracking job perhaps, even more enjoyable than the last, thanks to many – Tommy Lloyd, Harold Smith et al.
(Right) FC - Young Dock worker
(Above) The Bridgwater Tug I was about to take on.
And from that to Master of Surveyor No2, the hydrographical survey departments Salford end boat. She was a beautiful wooden c. 50 foot boat, built of oak, teak and varnish, with a kitchen rudder (opposed “cups” round the propeller, that swung forwards-cupping to send water backwards or vice versa) and this enabled rapid manoeuvrability in a short distance). This was useful when doing cross sections on the ship canal to sample the depth and maintain the legal minimum. In fact the Kitchen rudder was essential when used in the swift flowing estuary waters of the rip tide Mersey approaches, when we were expected to hurtle towards the shore line rocks at speed, holding a bearing determined by early microwave technology, against the tide, in the path of oncoming ships and tugs. We had to pull out from the run, when the gradient of the shore showed up on the trace, sufficient to evidence safe passage into Eastham Locks. The boat had to turn very fast to avoid the shallows, with the tide pushing or swirling. Far better than any fun fair - measured risk taking and skill.
My job there covered relief Mate for the Mersey approaches, but the main duties (as Master of Surveyor No2) were helping to survey all tributary rivers into the ship canal, such as Irwell, Bridgewater canal, upper Mersey, Cheshire rivers, Warrington and Howley Weir and of course the Ship Canal itself from Manchester to Runcorn including all berths. We had to ensure that the Carchester ship could navigate safely to Salford turning basin at some 26 feet depth and discharge maize at CPC berth, which would be later eaten by you as Kellogg’s Cornflakes, no doubt. Thanks to Charlie Banbury, Dick, Charles Leas, Mike Emerson and the head surveyor whose name escapes me.
Few people realise the historic complexity of the waterways and systems behind billboards, with delicate weighted underwater flood gates, siphons and spillways. The Ship Canal truly is a marvel of engineering – people rightly go to see the Falkirk Wheel – but the hydraulics and engineering of the MSC Co predates Falkirk and eclipses it a hundred fold, with its deep locks, swing bridges and swinging canal at Barton.
I have to register a debt of gratitude to the men of the Ship canal, who were so patient with me as I learned to work in a strange (to me) environment- a middle class misfit in the centre of Salford - Labours heartland.
I learned to while away time, as the others did, waiting for jobs; maintaining the machinery, ready for “the word”. To enjoy the various pastimes that many Dockers had to develop such as gardening in the cinders, growing Coleus and other flowers (crane shifters), or making maggots for fishing (No 9 Dockers), breeding exhibition budgies (ferry men at Partington Coal basin), or enjoying a sort of unofficial “duty free”, where new ship would come in and sell off beer, cigs, spirits for cash. This was a hive of industry that had only a slight connection with the main company. It was very creative and had gone on for a hundred years according to the literature.
At Kearns Richards, Altrincham (previously)I began to understand more about industrial politics – I saw how Benny Rothman, the communist convener and mass trespasser, would have his open air meetings to decide by a show of hands (no secret voting here and no democracy) how many “wanted” to go on strike – hard to go against the tough guys. I saw in the Docks how men who were frankly bored, would have a strike not just to improve conditions, but for entertainment and power. Some Dockers certainly had dangerous jobs, such as shovelling up into open sacks, white asbestos that completely covered them in thick white dust – no breathing filter… or cleaning the conveyor belt tunnels that transported grain underground – there were always many rats on the canal. Or there was the Carbon Black that was delivered in the holds of ships that covered men in black sooty dust, or the risk of a man falling into grain hoppers and being crushed – or flowers of raw sulphur – or the risks at the petroleum berths etc. One industry entailed a man (always a man) with a sieve on a long pole, catching golf balls that were dredged up at the sandy mouth of the Bollin, where the balls had carried from various golf clubs into the Ship Canal.
The Manchester Ship canal was a wonderful place to work and the people there all heroes and/or villains (Joe McCormack, Tony Peatfield, Pat O’Neil, Dave Dodsworth, Petre Toulbre, Harry Benyon and many many others). Another lost industry and history - Print, Mining, narrow Canals, Beechings Railways, Pot Banks, and Careers Services, each swept away for efficiency, with little regard for the trauma, loss of capacity, history and possible future uses. The bill for these personal displacements paid by national sick leave, criminal justice services, the NHS and family breakdown.
Redundancy loomed as the company (MSC Co) was faced with takeover, asset stripping and eventually and very reluctantly I lost my boat, job, fun and work friends – to find another unplanned niche.
Next came an Extra Mural career change course (under the wonderful Manpower Services Commission & HEFC), which after enjoying that at the University of Manchester, I was offered the job as project manager of the Careers Study Unit course – I liked it so much, I absorbed it like a sponge. The Unit was run by a rather brilliant ex colonial Policemen – Norman Page and he gathered very able colleagues mostly from industry, who ran the modules of the 3 month course. The course helped people made redundant/ unemployed to assess their capabilities and focus on new directions. It was a multi faceted highly innovative set of empowering experiences and assessments, way before its time and I suspect, never replicated. Thanks to The then head of the Extra Mural dept and to Ken Hoggard, Paul Green, Paula et al.
(Left) Celebration with fellow students from the Careers Study
Unit, Extra Mural Dept of the University of Manchester (FC on right)
This had a limited life contract and as it diminished, I was offered a DES research project, helping convert liberal adult education to vocational courses, and then worked with the Archaeological Unit, to create and manage a graduate Jobclub, the first of its kind in Manchester. First in the terrace near the University Precinct and then in the shopping centre, we ran a friendly Jobclub helping not just Graduates, but people from the gay community, refugees, long term unemployed – staffed by people on MSC courses, getting back into work themselves.
Moving swiftly on – this Jobclub was a successful project, but I wanted to study to be better at what I was doing, so I left to do a Diploma in Careers Guidance at the (now) MMU, completing the second professional practice year in Burslem, Stoke on Trent. Again this was a difficult but most engaging job – working with mainly unemployed young people (as a Careers Officer Unemployment Specialist) and doing outreach in places like Chell Heath (estate). We also had the opportunity to do industrial visits, so I managed to go down a coal mine and spend time in Pot Banks (ceramics factories). The area of Stoke on Trent was steeped in history and even though many who lived there could not see it and wanted just to get out, to me it was magic. Thanks to all at the Burslem Careers Office above the Co-op; Chris Wallbanks et al. What will we do without “the Careers Service” as it becomes disbanded in 2011. It was a focal point for many young people (and adults); an impartial service, supportive, encouraging, knowledgeable and worthwhile. Now with 1.2 million young people adrift, where will they go and why? If no structures are provided, young people may find ones that do more harm – a cost to be borne, by all.
I developed an interest in working with offenders, who I felt were an under invested in group, who if the right “treatment” could be applied, could turn from dysfunction to positivity. It seemed an equal opportunity issue, and later that was agreed by senior civil servants, who acted on my request to review the services offered (not offered) to inmates, offenders under supervision and those in secure units. National Careers Contracts (Requirements for Guidance) were changed and the next government created Connexions.
But before that - I was seconded to Staffordshire Probation, were I developed careers packages that could be integrated into Probation field teams and that would feed into ETE (Employment Training and Education). This in turn should create a virtuous circle of “throughcare” so that when an offender came under supervision or became a prisoner, they could get the right advice and employment, reducing later offending.
Once I left the Careers Service and spent a year in HMP Brinsford YOI & RC as an Employment Development Officer and then “sold” my business idea to Bilston Community College, near Wolverhampton.
(Above) Prison Photo, YOI & RC Brinsford
When you join as staff they give you this experience!
I worked alongside the excellent probation Officer at the prison, Nigel Byford, someone I have a high regard for. I began to think there was a gap in the market – why shouldn’t Probation work more closely with not just the careers Service, but also the FE colleges, and why wouldn’t it be better for offenders to do some recognised qualification alongside their punishment?
(Left) Pictured here in Spring 1998 (FC on far right, wearing Chets Greslet tie!)
with Joyce Quinn, Home Office Minister in middle.
The idea was to meld budgets (Probation & FE) to produce qualifications for offenders whilst under supervision or Community Service, resulting in initial qualifications for offenders increasing their job readiness and likelihood of getting better qualifications (NVQs). The idea was taken up by three counties (Staffordshire, West Midlands and Leicestershire) and began to enrol around 2000 students per year. A business that was worth I the region of £700,000 per year and parts of it still run on, in changed ways. I set up the organisation called Problink (Colleges and Probation) and worked on Prison Education bidding. Thanks to Mike Jolley, Peter Fieldhouse, Cliff Thompson, Simon Doran and others…
The BIG question is raised again by Ken Clarke, recently (2011) about offenders and employability- reducing offending – but will it be taken forward? There is no doubt that employment decreases offending.
The opportunity to join the Probation Service and train came up and with my background it seemed logical. So I passed the rigorous assessments and started in on the £70,000 per place process, that involved an NVQ4 and an Hons Degree in 17 months, at aged 48-9.
Well I got the Degree, but ill health stopped me going further and I moved up to Cumbria with my long term friend where she and I now live. At the University of Birmingham, I met a remarkable man – Mike Nellis, who now works at Strathclyde Uni (Professor Dr Mike etc), without his help and the Birmingham team, I could not have completed the degree, against so many odds. When you hear a natural teacher, perhaps especially a Quaker? Its worth listening to.
(Above) Moss House Wythenshawe with Morley’s
Before retiring, I did work with the Youth Offending Team in Carlisle – a very interesting job, but a multi disciplinary quagmire.
And so into the age of 60….
What was Chets like when you were here? What is your fondest memory?
Chets as I have indicated was a difficult time for me (and others), and even though there were many areas of great pleasure, I did not seem to be able to use the experience as fully as I would have wished. Fondest memories –I think were the friendships in the peer groups – such as Johnny Ashley, “Frigby” Pearson, Abersoch, or people I looked up to such as Peter Maclean, or Johnny’s brother. The whole group who were “Boarders” were a fairly tight knit group, even if we had ups and downs (I remember Chris Bottomley punching me on the nose and altering me for life!).
(Above) Thorley, Chalmers (under) Bottomley, Clough.
I also remember Masters who were kind and who persevered, such as Penry Williams, Gerald Littlewood, and many others…. I remember with considerable pleasure the singing (Vols) and the orchestra (clarinet), the Baronial Hall and the guiding visitors round – the magical Library; still with echoes of famous historical people and events… and the bell.
Voluntary Choir (FC front row, 4th from right with specs)
One other thing I remember quite clearly is the sung grace before meals –
“Lord, Lord, we thank thee for these great blessings, provided by our founder, with such paternal care. Through Jesus Christ Our Lord, Amen” - sung with speed and gusto! And of course the excellent Physics master, who liked to tease us with the self deprecatory “SHUT UP” and “every time I open my mouth – some dam fool speaks” or something like this…what a wit. And “Exeats” - having to go up to the gatehouse, and the kindly women in the sewing room – “Bundles” every week. Summer camp in Deganwy, ill fitting boots and blisters, damp canvas, camp coffee – it’s so character building.
Are you still in touch with your contemporaries from Chets?
No, I tried to use the Alumni web site before it changed, but I found there were no people from the year I came from. However I now am in touch with the QTT group and hope this will increase the possibilities.
How do you think being at Chets had an influence on your life?
Can I count the ways? The Chets experience, of course, because of the developmental stage I was at there, imparted much to me by osmosis. The musical side; so important, gave a better sense of integration, team work, coordination, discipline, excellence, beauty and sheer pleasure. The historical context, gave me a sense of place, that is, some idea of the multi layered city, where Brigantes were displaced, and they in turn were overlaid, and so on. The many positive events that came my way – being chosen for the “White Company” radio production at the BBC, alongside Brian Blessed (does he still treasure my autograph?). Me as Mary Ann Sailors, in Under Milk Wood; my first strut on the stage “Mary Ann Sailors - 83 years old, dreams of the Garden of Eden. During the day she announces her age ("I'm 83 years, 3 months and a day!") to the town” - me in a quavery voice. Latin, chemistry, Biology, Sports, “Craft”, guiding visitors round the buildings, learning to entertain, all to some degree shaping me to become (or to value) a public servant – with integrity.
All in all, Chets had a profound effect on my life, and I’m glad it prospers, offering more young people chances to be their own personal best.
I am involved in history, here in Ravenstonedale, where I run and develop the “FC-Rdale Independent History Archive”. Google the phrase or search within www.ravenstonedale.org. This I feel is a continuation of the Chets experience, one which Penry Williams, history master, would have enjoyed. The date Chets was created 1653 is a fascinating period in history. Here in Ravenstonedale it echoes still – the great ejection, Act of Uniformity, one of the Quaker start places (Firbank Fell and surrounds), the Good Lord Wharton etc – all links for me back to Chets.
(Above) L to r, Carney, FC, Ashley, Thomas & Bottomley (at back), Thorley & O’Hagan on right.
(Above)Bowdon friends as children (back row - Jane Whittle, Alayne Robin, front Paul Spicer & FC on right)
Shows clearly that early costume determines later Criminal Justice career choices.
(Above) Further proof of careers choices influenced by toys (boat)