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Risdene Echo, September 2022
Roger Brown

Child Labour in Rushden !!

aged 13
Roger aged 13 in Scout uniform
WHEN I see our local paperboy struggling with his deliveries in all weathers, it is refreshing to see that the work ethic in young people is as strong as ever. Strong as it was with me when I started my working career in Rushden aged 13 in the 1950s.

My first job was a paperboy for Desborough's, a newsagent opposite the Railway pub next to Roddis's fish shop. [later Wilbur's]

This was a fairly new business and he was just developing paper deliveries. My paper round was from the top of Hall Avenue, the top of Newton Road and the top of Hayway!!! and it took over 2 hours. It was too much for a young lad on a bike so I resigned.

Mr Desborough also owned a shop next to Billy Keller's at the bottom of Victoria Road, this he sold to a Mr Jim Osborne who was looking for a Saturday boy ... and I was recommended.

This turned out to be an amazing opportunity for a 14-year-old. Jim was a wonderful man, kind and patient with an awkward teenager, and taught me how to deal with the public; organise things in a business; and most importantly how to wrap purchases in brown paper (there were no plastic carrier bags then). This skill is still useful to me at Christmas and the giant paper roll is still in the shop.

I did however get into trouble once when I saved up and bought an amazing glitter jacket from Hepworths(?) in the High Street. I thought it was really cool, but Jim felt differently and sent me home to change!

I worked for Jim most Saturdays and some evenings after school until I went to University, but there were times when Jim did not need me so I would search elsewhere for work opportunities.

I worked for a short time at Warner's garage in Montague Street off the Wellingborough Road. Here I served petrol, swept up and made tea -- great experience for my future career.

One holiday I needed a more substantial job and worked at the CWS shoe factory in Portland Road where my dad was a manager. I managed to get jobs for two pals at the same time. We spent our time sorting boxes of shoes, loading lorries and doing odd jobs ... but we got bored. The factory was on about five floors linked by an ancient lift with trellis-type doors. There was a sign in this lift warning of the maximum weight it could carry and we were fascinated about what would happen if we overloaded it. So we did.

Being an old lift I doubt there was any safety locking system, so we overloaded it, pressed the button from outside and the lift just crashed down five floors with bells ringing. We tried to hide but were soon found, dragged into my father's office and all three of us were fired on the spot. I will not name the other criminals as they both became vicars!!

aged 17 motor cycle
Two pictures of Roger aged 17 with his motor cycle

After this I felt a bit of building might be useful so I joined Marriott's who were building the Borstal at Wellingborough. I was a labourer in Murphy's gang.

My job was to dig trenches for the footings with pick and shovel. It was hard work (I still have the callouses on my hands after all these years) ... and then boredom set in!

Myself and a fellow student worker amused ourselves racing dump trucks, until one slipped into a trench and had to be pulled out by a recovery lorry. The foreman was not happy ... fired again. (They knocked my Borstal down anyway).

A more technical job beckoned - why not be an electrician's mate? Oberman's of Higham Ferrers unwittingly hired me and I soon became a valued member of the team!

On one occasion we were rewiring a shoe factory in Northampton and the foreman told me to remove some conduit (metal tube containing wires). To do this I had to saw through the tubing ... you know what's coming - a flash, my saw welded itself to the tube and the machines in the factory stopped ... really not my fault Guv.

I managed to stay with Oberman's for the full holiday, but the next holiday would be in summer. So I applied to Butlin's holiday camp in North Wales to be a Dining Hall porter ... that really was a life-changing experience that I am not prepared to disclose, and, yes, I and a group of naughty students did get fired after six weeks for... ! (?)

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