First Job

This tweet from @robleathern that I saw in my feed this afternoon got me thinking about the buildings where my first job was located.

So, I thought I’d try to find out what the building was used for today, and even see if I could get a photo. That actually proved difficult, even though the buildings it was part of are in fact pretty historic having been the place where a number of very significant inventions were created.

I started as a trainee in the year between graduating from secondary school and before starting at university. For that year, I was to be working at Thorn EMI in Hayes, Middlesex. The first six months were in the training department, located in Vulcan House, the remainder of the year we were split into different divisions of the company, but my assignment was to Radar Division, based in the nextdoor building, Mercury House, in Hayes.

This is the best photo I can find online for the entire site:

Thorn EMI, Hayes

If you look in the lower left corner of the highlighted area, the thin building right on the boundary is Mercury House; the larger, square footprint building next to it is Vulcan House.

Right now it looks as though they either have been, or are being, converted into something called the Old Vinyl Factory, but several pictures I found online seem to suggest that both of these two are somewhat derelict now (Thorn EMI moved out of the site in the early 1990s, and we were relocated to a site in Crawley that is still in use today, although under different ownership).

I mentioned that they were somewhat historic. Before WW2, the buildings were on the cutting edge of audio recording technology. Alan Blumlein, the inventor of stereo sound recording, worked in these buildings, and the very first movie with stereo sound was shot from one of them, looking down at the railway lines alongside the site (which were still there while I was there, but no longer with steam trains!). The buildings were also home to a lot of the early development work on television, with Blumlein listed as an inventor on several TV-related patents. Pretty significant stuff, but perhaps the more significant work was still to come.

As Europe was embroiled in war, the same people shifted their focus to other technology, including the development of radar, which was so critical in the defence of the UK. Blumlein was a key developer in the top secret airborne H2S Radar system project. Sadly, he was killed in a plane crash while testing the radar in 1942; just imagine what we could have achieved otherwise. At the time, some thought the H2S project would fail without him, but it survived (and in fact was still in active use as recently as 1993). Additionally, some of his early radar-related inventions are still in use in modern radar systems.

5 thoughts on “First Job

  1. I found your page while reminiscing about my own apprenticeship in Vulcan House. it’s nice to see it written about. I think the group I was with, in 1990, were the last lot to go through the training school, and the move to Crawley happened in 1991. Even the buildings in Crawley have been demolished now! Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  2. I stumbled across your post today (17th June 2019). I started my career at Thorn EMI Electronics in Hayes. It was 1987 and I was interviewed by John Packer in the training department. I turned up and the building was on fire, so my interview started on the pavement of Blyth Road. We then got the all clear so we moved inside to continue. I flitted between Feltham (the design location) and Hayes (production) while attending Brunel University in Uxbridge. I first saw my wife in the canteen in Hayes but never spoke to her. Our paths crossed 17 years later and we ended up getting married.

    To come full circle, I now work for Analog Devices and we have just relocated to Hayes and are in one of the new funky offices on the site and I am literally working within 100 feet of where I was first interviewed. The site fell into decline after Thorn (and me!) left, but it is good to see it being resurrected. Aside from its fantastic history (stereo sound and radar) it has a lot of personal memories for me. It is good to be back. Thanks for posting the photo. It is hard to remember the old layout of the site, but your photo brought it all back – Simon Bramble, Analog Devices UK

  3. Just a follow up question… With reference to your photo, I remember Mercury House (by Dawley Bridge) and Vulcan House. The building in the middle bottom was Phoenix House (now called The Record Store). The building on the far right hand side was called Apollo House (I think) and contained a couple of clean rooms, canteen and few admin offices. I cannot remember the building in the middle of the top of the highlighted area or indeed what was in there? Was it security?

  4. I strted my apprenticeship in ’64 in the training school under ‘Nunky, milling, shaping, using a lathe and making such items as a V blocks, a depth gauge, a G clamp, all within tolerances of + or – two thousanths of an inch ! If you got it wrong, you started again ! If you broke your hacksaw blade, you brazed it back together again . Then a year with Derek Attak repairing everything EMI and associated companys made, toasters, kettles, radios and record playes, fan heaters etc…I still repair today rather than chuck it away . Then in Dawley, as a progress chaser for Dem stock, following delivery and often doing ‘bomb runs’ at one shilling a mile with TV cameras to various London studios . In an out building was a TV mobile truck fully equiped allowing the watching of horse racing after having placed a bet up the top of road . A trip up to Leeds to the soon to be newly opened Yorkshire TV studios, to finish off some work on the mixing desks was a bonus . Some time was also spent checking EMI BTR 4 tape machines before delivery, followed by repairing items from Abbey Road studios in a small room in the corner of the record factory by the railway line . This was overseen by a Mr Mays and his secretary Anita often seen on his lap ! A position came up at Abbey Road in ’68, and I was accepted . I learnt more there than all my time at School, mainly thanks to the patience of Geoff Emerick . So I can thank EMI for my training and shaping my life .

  5. A little late but found this when reminiscing about my time with EMI. I worked initially at Feltham working on Thermal Imaging equipment (Spyglass and OTIS) then in the Trials team on ADAD. I made a mistake and left to go to “Greener pastures” at ITT in Basingstoke….. they were not so green so 3 yrs later saw a return, this time working at Hayes in preparation for a trip to Saudi Arabia as part of a Contractors Working party with “British waste-of-space!” Tom McCudden was my boss then.
    Two years in Saudi and when I returned, we had moved to a very swanky office in Basingstoke!! Mountbatten House, I think it was initially built for IBM. Complete with terraced gardens, it was then the premier building in Blazingsmoke. Two further years working as an Integration Engineer on lots of small engineering projects, including setting up a vibration bay in the basement! To test some sub assemblies, this really sounded good in receptionl when it was running!
    Given half the chance I would return to those days like a shot, there is nothing like analogue defense electronics to give me a buzz. Great times and thanks if you were involved.

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