My working life – Part 3

Missed  part 1 and part 2 of Geri’s working life click on the links.

Here’s Geri final installment of how to live life to the full…..and all this before transitioning!


An example of re-built chimney stacks

Within the group of companies was one of the oldest contractors in London; founded in 1781, and I transferred to them.

Hampton Court Palace, typical grace and favour apartments

Shortly after the move I took charge of the Special Works Department that had been working at Hampton Court Palace for many years, carrying out brick repairs, especially rebuilding the intricate chimney stacks of which there are 241 and it is believed no 2 are the same, Experiments were carried out over the years to produce lime mortar that gave the appearance of being Tudor. Just prior to the fire in March 1986 one of the grace and favour apartments was being refurbished for occupation by the retiring personal private secretary of The Queen and his moving in was delayed by a few weeks.

New wall in background

I then had under my wing the re-building of the garden walls between the back garden of 10, 11 and 12 Downing Street and Horse Guard’s Parade. At that time there was a police “tardis” adjacent to the rear entrance of the gardens and on a pre-commencement site visit I was asked to check in my brief case. So, on a subsequent visit I offered to do this only to be rebuffed with “If you’ve got a bomb, you can blow yourself up, but not me.” British security!

Yes, that is me to the rear and on the right of Mrs T

The walls were constructed of reinforced concrete with hand-made brick skins either side and Portland stone copings. Special measures were taken to inhibit ram raiding and to offer protection to tree roots.

At the end of the project the PM – Margaret Thatcher – wanted to meet both the design and build teams. Permission was granted to have a photographer present and about an hour was spent in her company. I presented her with a book commissioned to celebrate my Company’s bi-centennial.

Specialist decoration works were undertaken for a leading company in Berkeley Square. The work comprised silk wall coverings, hand printed wall papers and gold leaf on the balustrade. The silk was stretched over timber battens with cotton waste, felt between, known as batten and bump. To finish the silk at the edges plaster moulds were cast using single strands of hessian as reinforcement then silver gilded. The wall paper pattern was over 2 rolls so, left and right hand rolls had to be ordered. Regrettably, some of the paper was hung upside, so had to be replaced. Only 20 rolls at £20 each! But the pattern was unclear.  Shortly thereafter our client – Ploy Peck – was broke!

A project to construct an extension to the Kennel Club was carried out but there were sensitive issues with neighbours who, it seemed, were probably security services! All restrictions were complied with, without too much difficulty.

Osterley Park House

My next foray into specialist decoration was 1 room at Osterley Park House and involved using batten and bump again to the walls with hessian stretched and glue sized to make it taught, covered with hand-made linen, untrimmed, lining paper. The whole was then painted in soft distemper that was made on site.  3 coats were to be applied and the foreman decorator said that would be impossible as the whiting used would “ball up” but the paint Consultant was adamant 3 coats be applied.  After the 3rd coat, the finish was appalling; all lumps and bumps. The site team said it could be rescued by washing the distemper off with warm water and applying 2 coats. It was successful. Again, gilded dowel was used at the edges.

Ferry Terminal, Campbeltown, Argyll.

I moved to the west coast of Scotland for about 7 years and became General Manager of an Argyll based contractor where I and had to convert most of the 200 plus operatives from self-employed to PAYE status whilst not inviting union involvement. I was successful and all received new Contracts of Employment.

Wooden Spoon House

On returning to England, I worked for a company who were making great inroads into social housing by virtue of the Government’s “Decent Homes” programme. This required many procedures to be created due to the interaction with Residents. I wrote many of these procedures as situations presented and in 2004 the company won The Queens Award for Enterprise for their Resident Liaison Procedures. Other projects I was responsible for won Gold and Silver Awards from the newly launched Considerate Constructors Scheme. I also became manager for the refurbishment of a building to become Wooden Spoon House in London, which was opened by the Princess Royal.

St Peters Court, Lowestoft

My last significant project was the design and build contract to upgrade a tower block in Lowestoft. The work involved insulating the roof, insulated render to walls, new windows, individual heating schemes, re-wiring, bathrooms and kitchens refitted for the 90 flats. The external face of the scaffolding was clad in clear tarpaulins to provide protection for the render works; but due to high winds these were often ripped off as they were designed to. About £5,000 was spent on the rubber ties and during one very windy period, the Building Inspector issued a Dangerous Structure Notice as the tarpaulins were blowing on to the A12 nearby causing it to be closed. If stronger ties had been used, unacceptable forces would have been applied to the scaffold possibly leading to its collapse. Being the tallest structure in the area, many aerials were fitted on the roof and these had to be carefully worked around.

Early discussion with the Planning Dept. about colours to be used led to a request for a motif to be introduced above the entrance with a representation of a fish to show the local connection to herring fishing. However, the suggested motif reminded me of spermatozoa. I managed to convince it was not a good idea!

Whilst I reflect nostalgically, I’m not sure I would want to be part of the construction industry now. Times move on and some of us get left behind!




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