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Ray Cobbett interview: Early career

When and where did you start your first job?

As I recall at my school there was no such thing as career counselling or anything like that. You left on Friday and were just told to go to work on Monday morning and find whatever job you could. My very first one was at the top of Haydons Road in a small engineering company. I was sent there by the Labour Exchange (Job Centre now) and the foreman said: “You’re hired. Ten bob a week”. My job was to get the tea and coffee orders for the older men working the machines and count lots of different screws and fasteners. The only thing that stayed with me from that particular job was that I could recognise a British Whitworth thread from a British Standard Fine (BSF), to a British Metric – a skill that has stayed with me all my life.

This was a time when we as young lads were all about earning as much money as we could get. So from the first job at the top of Haydons Road, I went to one in a forge which was at the top of Quicks Road. There was a bakery there too, I seem to recall, a really hot, dark and fiery place. I must have stayed just a few months. We lads used to meet after work to find out who was working where and what the money was like. “Two bob an hour-what, two bob an hour – are there any vacancies?” and you would just dash into the next job. Unlike today there was plenty of work around.

I had a succession of engineering jobs and wound up with a company off Wimbledon Broadway down Wimbledon Mews, called JBA Engineering, run by one Mr Plumber. His claim to fame was that his nephew was Mickey Stewart., a first-class Surrey cricketer who progressed to become a coach and played for Wimbledon Football Club (the Dons) which was not quite as famous then as it became later. Mickey’s son was Alex Stewart who became captain of England’s cricket squad in the 90s. At lunchtimes we all met on a spare piece of ground at the back of the workshop where we used to try to play football with Mickey Stewart. Every time I see Alex Stewart now I think, I knew your old man. I used to play football with him.

I was quite a keen Dons fan. Living in Kohat Road, Plough Lane was just at the back of us – the home of the Dons – and my father played for them in the 1920s. Most Wimbledonians remember the original team with pride. And also in the same area was Wimbledon Stadium and there, every Monday, was this marvellous Speedway contest going on and Wimbledon was rated pretty good, Our heroes at the time were Ronnie Moore, Barry Briggs and Ollie Nygren This was a sport thousands turned up to see and Wimbledon was  a top venue.