[ A. E. Watson & Co. of London, civil engineers (steel). ] Typewritten account by Tamkin, titled 'The Way We Came', describing the progress of the firm over three decades, with much work for London Underground, and on the Home Front in World War Two.

A. E. Watson & Co. of London, consulting, civil and constructional engineers specialising in steel (C. Tamkin, director) [ London Transport; the Home Front, World War Two ]
Publication details: 
The time of writing dated in the text to September 1957.
SKU: 20601

157pp., 4to. Carbon typescript, with a few manuscript corrections. Each page paginated in type, and on a separate leaf. The leaves punch-holed and attached in a buff folder. Aged and worn, with the first few leaves a little ragged, but intact and legible. The author is not named, but is referred to in the text as 'Tam', and is therefore clearly the 'C. Tamkin' who is named in 1946 as one of the directors of A. E. Watson & Co, 21 Tothill Street, London, 'Consulting, civil and constructional engineers, etc.'. Title at head of first page: 'THE WAY WE CAME'. The 'time of writing' is stated on p.118 as September 1957. A well-wrtten and detailed account of the progress of the firm, over a period of thirty years, describing various jobs (mostly in London), many of them for London Underground, and a great deal of war work, and also the internal situation in the company. The text begins: 'Albert E. Watson telephoned me one morning in August, 1925, to ask if I could call at his office in Palmer Street, Westminster. That surprised me, for as far as I knew he was still with Peirson and Company, which firm I had left in February, 1924, and where we had been fellow draughtsmen; and, I may add, good friends. I was eager to hear more details and as oon as convenient I called. | It was only a short way from 55, Broadway, Westminster, where I worked – or, shall I say was willing to work when there was any to be done – in the Civil Engineer's drawing office of the Underground Railway.' (Later we learn that during his time at Peirson's, Watson had 'desaignd and detailed a number of big-span “umbrella” roofs for London bus garages.') The author finds 'Wat' in 'a smallish dark room on the second floor containing the bare necessities for an office', and during a chat over a cup of tea at 'what is now The Dickens Cafe' he asks him why he has 'chosen an old room in an ancient block in an obscure street to start this (to him) important adventure. | “First and foremost, economic necessity,” he said; “but it really came about this way. I learned that Mr. Ernest Cannell was architect for some alterations in the block we've just come from, and he introduced me to Mr. George Ravenshear chairman of the property-owning company. From that interview a tenancy was arranged, and the modest order for structural steelwork required in alterations became the first order for A. E. Watson and Company – instead, incidentally, of going to the old firm.” | And that is how Watson's was born.' After explaining the circumstances of his joining the fledgling company part-time, the author proceeds to describe its progress and growth. For an early order the author designs in his spare time 'some coal bunkers at Portsmouth Dockyard'; this is followed by 'steelwork for a sizeable building in Ealing which was built to suit Woolworth's and eventually sold to them'. In February 1927 the author joins full-time 'as Chief Assistant', the other member of staff being an office boy. He brings with him 'a drawing-board and tee-square that had been regarded as redundant by an Underground colleague'. Before leaving London Underground he asks his 'senior' to send Watson's 'any steelwork enquiries that were going, and to our delight we received one during my first week. It was an alteration job at Tottenham bus garage, and we went all out to put in a keen price.' He describes the details of the order, which is followed by several others from the same source: 'The “Underground” had a “flap” on regarding what were termed “train-starting devices.” Two wires were to be stretched at about seven feet above and parallel to the platform edge; the guard when ready would apply the copper handle of his green flag across these wires to form an electrical circuit, and the train would be rung away at the motorman's end. | Instructions from high up were issued to equip about twelve stations in next to no time at all.' This order is followed by the firm's 'first thousand-pounder', in February 1927. Details of the contract, 'to support the upper floors of Blocks A and C adjacent to our own office block'. The orders that follow include 'the extension to a platform and roof of Golders Green Station – quite chunky compound stuff'. During this job 'an agitated voice on the telephone' demands that the author stops the work 'in case the platform collapsed. It was the nervy Chief Civil Engineer himself. In our opinion there was not the slightest danger, but we stopped delivering steel on to the platform, the remainder having come along by rail-crane at night – much to G[eorge]. D[over].'s disgust and contempt and, as night work, extra expense.' 5 August 1927 is a 'red letter day' for the firm, with a £5000 order from '[t]wo elderly brothers who ran an old family coachbuilding business in the Borough', who had 'decided to switch over to car-body building'. 1928 sees an order for 'three or four small reinforced concrete bridges'. The firm's growth to 1930 is described, and around that time 'our young representative, Norman Iles […] gained access to Sir Edwin Lutyens (designer of the Cenotaph); but that worthy gentleman, though very friendly had no steelwork orders to dispense'. During work in 1931 on 'a big new block of flats on Brixton Hill', the firm declines a bribe of £3000 from a 'non-Aryan'; in the same year the firm works on 'a multi-storey steel-framed factory in Islington'. Description of the firm's orders and growth follows, with much work coming from 'Mr. Allen' of a Hackney building firm, including 'a heavy little fifty ton job located in Lewis Berger's paint factory in Homerton'. An example of the firm's flourishing state is the description of a £50,000 contract for 'a project in Worthing', involving 'nearly 600 tons of steel'. Despite the depression, the firm continues to flourish as war looms: 'One morning in Mid-May, 1939, Norman Iles burst in with some great news. He had come straight from Rodney Hannen, of Holland, Hannen and Cubitts, to say that they had received urgent instructions to build militia camps in Oswestry and district. They were to place orders for steel framework with any firms who could produce the goods in double-quick time – no matter by what means – and what could we do about it?' The requirement is 'bigger – much bigger – than anything we had tackled', and the completion of the order is described in detail. Around fifty pages deal with the firm's activities during the Second World War, including 'London Transport maintenance', 'militia camp buildings and ancillary parts to them', 'A. E. F. orders galore'. Details are also given of staff members who joined the armed forces. As the phoney war turns into the blitz, the firm receives 'an urgent telephone summons from the Gas Light and Coke Company to send as many men as we could muster to Beckton Gas Works, the largest in Europe'. Work is also done for London Transport, following the bombing of Camberwell bus garage. Moorgate is 'the first Underground Station we were called in to clear, early in February, 1942 […] followed in tragic rotation at Aldersgate, White-Chapel, Crystal Palace and Neasden Power Station. This last-named occupied us about three months.' 'Early one Sunday morning in May [1942] about fifty buses were waiting in Croydon Garage with filled petrol tanks ready to go into service. | Jighj explosives and fire bombs caused a tremendous conflagration, and we were called in to help in clearing away the mess, which took us a fortnight. Around this time a major job is undertaken for 'London Aircraft Production (L. A. P.)' in preparing Chiswick Bus Works for the building of Halifax bombers. Another job is done in Victoria Embankment Gardens, covering 'an opening in the “cut and cover” of the Underground Railway', so that the Minister of Aircraft Production, Lord Beaverbrook, should not be disturbed. The firm returns to Beckton Gas Works, in order to 'improve their “black-out” arrangements'. In December 1943 Watson dies aged 52, and Tamkin takes over the firm. Details are given of how the manager of the firm's Beckneham works, Bill Trindall, was discovered to be a black-market dealer at Beckenham in 'stolen Canadian army blankets and overalls'. One of the 'last big orders for war purposes' is booked in April 1944, consisting of 1500 steel crates 'required by the Admiralty and we heard that they were to contain serial torpedoes for use against the Japs in the far east'. In subsequent months the firm does 'rush orders for “Phoenix” - the code name for our coming invasion of Europe. One such contract was four hundred sets of wall ties which, presumably, were to hold upright the walls of buildings abroad after damage by shell or bomb blast. And another ws for an incredible number of steel “cat” ladders that had to be delivered to points on the Thames Estuary and to Southampton. We learned later that they were used in “Mulberry Harbour,” that marvellous conception that made possible the landing of stores for our invasion forces.' There is continuing trouble with Trindall, whose 'proclivities in the “black market” line' are found to be accompanied by 'fiddling' within the firm. The firm's works at Beckenham take a direct hit, and although none of the workers is injured, none of the forty diners at Trindall's cafe opposite survives. Trindall's wife also dies, while he is 'enjoying rough shooting [i.e. having an affair] in Norfolk'. As the war draws to a close Tamkin has a meeting in Park Lane with 'Mr. Bell, director of Stewarts and Lloyds, the enormous tube-making concern', where he is offered a contract for 'a million pounds worth hof structural and civil engineering work'; he declines, and is offered another contract for £120,000, 'sited at Bilston in the Black Country'. After the war's end the account continues with descriptions of a succession of contracts, including one at 'the Consett rolling mills, near Newcastle', a 'garage roof-raising job at Uxbridge' and similar work at 'Atholl Street, Catford and Dalston garages', and work 'connected with the unsavoury purpose of sewage disposal' at Nuft Safid and Agha Jari in Persia. The account ends with description of 'friction between Jim Short and two lady members of staff', more work for Consett Iron Company, 'an awkward lift structure at Queensway for London Transport', 'steelwork to support a new projection room and a completely new suspended ceiling' at the Gaumont Cinema, Streatham, and a factory at Brighton, and 'sun-covers to many of the tanks that had been installed at Doha': 'Our thirtieth year of trading was rounded off by a two-hundred ton steel-framed garage in the Edgware Road'. Tamkin ends by quoting from a poem he wrote in 1950, titled 'If Only', and discussing humorously the shortcomings of jobs.