Apprentices at Winfrith

Winfrith Revisited


 By Paul Sinclair

In 1965 the first intake onto the newly created Risley Engineering Apprenticeship scheme travelled down to Winfrith for a year because Risley did not have adequate facilities.

 Twenty years later in 1985, 9 of the 22 surviving members of the initial draft reunited to make a nostalgic return trip.

In this article Paul Sinclair then one of the UKAEA apprentices relates the experience.

In the late summer of 1965, 23 school leavers from the environs of Risley were recruited to pioneer a scheme which modified the orthodox craft apprenticeship to enable individuals to develop draughting and design skills which would be of use in the then expanding design offices at Risley.

So was born the Risley Engineering Apprenticeship Scheme. So quickly did the concept take off that the Atomic Energy Authority had to act swiftly to find suitable facilities to train such numbers. Hitherto three apprentices per year had been the norm. No such facilities at Risley existed then so it was to Winfrith in Dorset that the officials looked to entrust their charges.

Following a fortnights induction course at the now demolished 'Proof Yard' Training Department the day arrived when we had to parade in front of a coach, to record the event on film. For most of us it was the first time away from home. No explanation of the impending years tour of duty had been offered at the interviews, except for the passing query as to whether you would object to 'doing a bit of travelling'.


Twenty years on in 1985 John Hankin put the idea of a reunion to the others. The detective work began to track down the remainder of the group. All the 22 survivng members of that year were contacted, the most difficult being Alan Greenhalgh who was at the time working as a computer engineer in Kuwait. Tom Heaton was 

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running his families Drapery business. Bill Browne was the chief engineer at SGS Sonomatic. Geoff Caswell was a design engineer at Cadburys with Ray Charnock, Steve Aspden, John Turner and myself still in the Nuclear Industry with BNFL. The nine of us were now the hardcore of the group committed to the idea of a reunion. The idea clear in all our minds was reliving that first journey to Weymouth, a town that was to be our home for twelve months.

Back in 1965 the journey to Weymouth took over 9 hours. The M6 finished at Gailey in Staffordshire and a long crawl through Wolverhampton and the suburbs of Birmingham followed. South of Bristol, fog closed in so the last stages of the journey were a complete mystery.




The following morning we found that our home was a single story 'terrapin' construction known as Egdon Hall', named after the fictitious Egdon of Thomas Hardy novels. It lay on the outskirts of Weymouth not far from the infamous Chesil Bank. The establishment was run by the YMCA under the quite unassuming eyes on one Eddie Hapgood, the England and Arsenal fullback of the late 1930's. Egdon Hall was typical of most hostels; public dormitories; communal ablutions 

and food served up with Dickensian efficiency.


Egdon Hall


The first full day of our anniversary tour had to be Egdon Hall. To our surprise the building  (for which the architect should take comfort) was still standing, now extended by at least four new wings to become an Admiralty Research Establishment. In place of the well tended privet hedge however stood an imposing security fence with an entrance barrier worthy of any border frontier. We stood there in solemn procession savouring the memories of those days.

Those days started at 6 am, to queue for what seemed acres of bacon and an epidemic of fried eggs. Most of us just had time to trap a sample of each between dried bread before we had to run 100 yards to the droning double decker that would take 40 minutes to cover the 13 miles to Winfrith.

Our brains entered fast forward as we boarded our modern chariot to retrace that journey, pausing only at Alf's, our favourite fish and chip shop, for the sake of the faggot lovers in the party.




The memory of fish suppers behind us we continued our journey to Winfrith,

Original article by Paul Sinclair, adapted and edited for web by Graeme Pilkington

 passing the famous white horse at Osmington, taking in Swordfish steaks at the Lulworth Cove Hotel before going on to the site itself to see again the familiar buildings. The Training School, well equipped workshops with the gymnasium attached, still appeared modern twenty years later. The gym and the adjacent Social Club with its distinctive spired roof both held special memories.




Going back in time, on arriving at the site each morning the gym had to be visited for twenty minutes of torture under the watchful eye of ex-marine commando Mr Prosser-James. This pint size character had an inexhaustible list of impossible tasks with medicine balls, alternating with the command 'on your backs - feet six inches - raise'.

All this before starting work at your lathe or milling machine before 7.30am. The social club on the other hand was visited only once a week. On pay day after collecting our pay packet from the cash office we would call in at the social club on the way back for a drink of lime and lemonade. The money in our pockets was short lived, as that evening we would queue to give the majority of it to Mr Hapgood. I remember having only 1 18s 6d left to last me all the next week out of my first pay packet.




As we got back into our minibus we remembered a similar vehicle that used to take us home on rare weekends. Seats were limited and lots would be drawn and over half of us would usually left behind in Weymouth.

Our journey home was uncannily similar to those minibus journeys 20 years previously. Everyone who made the journey thought it a suitable way to mark such an anniversary. For a weekend in October we were able to put back the clock twenty years and realised that a special bond existed between us. This bond existed because we had all been thrown together to work, study and laugh, we now realised this and hope the bond will continue for another twenty years.