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Marriott's - memories

These notes were prepared for the Marriott’s exhibition
at Rushden Heritage Centre October - December 2001.
[Not all authors have added their name]

Robert Marriott was a Farmer, Master Builder and Bricklayer by trade.

He lived in the Farm House in Rushden High Street, approximately opposite West Street. The farm was behind the house and reached up to Rectory Road on the ground now taken up by Hamblin's Garage.

Robert Marriott usually wore tweed suits and a soft tweed trilby or a duckshooter hat, highly polished brown shoes or light boots. He wasn't a tall man but quite broad-shouldered, a very smart man in appearance, one who stood out in a crowd. Robert was a very well-known figure in Rushden and highly respected, especially by other builders in the County of Northamptonshire, and the men he employed.

He was a man who had a voice of his own, like Winston Churchill. If you had it there was no need to turn round to see who it was you knew. He had a language of his own as well, usually addressed one as 'Chappie' or 'Laddie'! Sometimes he seemed a hard man, but he was a very fair man. It was always said if a labourer applied to him for a job, he would ask them if they could carry on the head, in addition to the hod, could they scaffold, drain and excavate. If the answer was "Yes Sir", he would say, "I will pay you eleven pence an hour, good labourers I pay a shilling". He used his farm labourers on the building sometimes, fetching bricks from Rushden L.M.S. goods yard, or the local brickworks at Sanders Lodge, by horse and cart, also sand for the building from his own sandpit. Sometimes he used his labourers from the building site on the farm. To the labourers concerned he would say, "Take your pick and shovel and go down to the hayfield and report to Bradshaw the farm foreman". Off they would go, but were never able to figure out what they needed a pick and shovel for to make hay!

Robert Marriott was a man who believed in apprentices for all trades. He employed more apprentices than any other firm in the county. Most firms at this time used apprentices for a year or two as cheap labourers. Not so Robert Marriott - he caught me once using a shovel and told me I was there to learn to be a bricklayer, he could get all the labourers he wanted -ten for a penny! Bricklayers were different, he need bricklayers. "Don't let me catch you with a shovel in your hand again Chappie", he said and I made sure he didn't.

Marriotts, was a Family Firm and Robert was known by the men he employed, with both respect and affection, as 'The Old Man'.

He was an employer who looked after his men, and they knew and respected him for it. It was the general practice of most building firms to lay off their men six weeks before Christmas until six weeks after when they would set them on again. Not so Robert Marriott - he would carry his employees through the winter if at all possible. During these years men used to speak of working for Bob Marriott with pride, they knew they were working for a good boss who looked on them as one of his family, not just as a number. I heard him tell Lady Taylor of Abington Manor that his men were the Cream of The Midlands. He meant it and, after fifty years in the building trade, I know he was quite justified in saying so.

Robert Marriott was a man who knew his business, he was a first-class builder and a very clever man, but at the same time he had his failings. One day he visited Sargeant's Factory in Crabb Street, where the firm wras doing extensive roof repairs. As he got out of his car he could see his employees looking at something he could not see so he said to the foreman, who was on the ground "Kempshead what are my men looking at?" Now, at that time there were only two airships in the world, the R100 and the ill-fated R101. Bill Kempshead said "The Airship, Sir". Quick as a flash Robert said "Whose Airship?" 'Whose Airship' often used to come up when men where talking about The Old Boss!

He was a man who was nobody's fool, he rarely missed anything - Like the day up St Peter's Avenue - there was a new hod carrier on the site - only started the day before. When Robert arrived on his daily visit at about ten o'clock, this brick carrier was running to and fro. Robert called the foreman over and told him to stop the man running - "He won't run when I'm gone, on the other hand if he does, he'll be dead by dinner time!"

Robert Marriott had a down to earth way of explaining things, like the time he tried to explain to me why every foul drain needs an air vent at its head. I could not understand what he was trying to tell me so I told him so. He stood and thought for a few seconds then he said, "It's like this laddie, if a man cannot breathe he cannot fart". Then I understood why an air vent is necessary.

If he came to visit a private job he always used to say, whatever you were doing, "Does the lady like it, she's the one to please not the husband". He did not count according to Robert's way of thinking, something else I have found out by experience he had got right!

Robert Marriott was a First-Class Farmer, a First-Class Builder and a First-Class Employer

Major Alan Marriott
Alan, one of Robert's sons was second in command on the firm. They were the only two bosses. He did not have the expertise of his father for building but he was a hell of a sportsman! Keen footballer, fanatic cricketer. He used to say, "I don't mind the rain stopping the work as long as it doesn't stop the cricket"!

Rushden Town had a good football team, and they owed a lot of this to Alan Marriott. Any player who came to play for Rushden, from away, was sure of a job at Marriotts thanks to Master Alan, as he was known by the firm's employees. He was a very popular man, playing both for the football team, and the cricket eleven. He did a lot for the welfare of the firm and was a very fair man. He also, like his father, liked to know of the antics that went on each day in the firm and enjoyed laughing at them as much as anyone else. He could also take a joke. Like on the thick foggy morning when Alan was accompanying a vanload of men to start a new job near Kings Lynn. The fog was so dense and Master Alan came up with a good idea. The men in the van were all young and fit, cricketers and footballers so they would run in front of the van in turn, possibly two miles each and as Master Alan had thought of the idea he would run first. This he did, but after he had run his distance no one else would get out and run. Just for the crack, his father loved it when he got to hear about it.

Alan Marriott was not a technical man - measurements never figured with him a lot. If you were to ask him how high he wanted a step he would lift one of his feet and say so high! If you were building a garden wall for instance, and asked him how high it was to be, he would say, "About knee high" or on the other hand he would say, "High enough to keep the dogs out, or the children in" - nothing technical.

He was a man everyone of the men on the firm admired and respected. Denis Muscutt

Sam Ball - Retired foreman
Sam Ball retired from Marriotts before I started work, but my father worked with him for years, although I never met him until the outbreak of the Second World War when, like a lot of other retired bricklayers he returned to Marriotts part-time. My father used to work with Sam's son, Harold, as a pair, like bricklayers do. One morning Sam passed Harold as he was having a good cough. "Harold", Sam said, "you've got a cold". Harold said, "No, Father, I've swallowed some dust". Sam said "If Sam Ball says you've got a cold, you've got a cold", and marched off. After that, if any little differences of opinion arose my father would say "If Sam Ball says it is, it is; full stop". I have grandchildren now, and some of them know that if Sam Ball says it is, it is.

Sam was a tall, lean man who sang in Rushden St Mary's Choir for over fifty years. He had a terribly deep strong voice and the sound of it was enough to frighten the younger ones on the firm. He had a suit made to measure when he was ninety - not many would have bothered. I suppose he was over eighty when I worked with him and still very active and to me he seemed a very aggressive man for a churchman and a bit sadistic. He loved grabbing an apprentice by the ear, he had long thumbnails, and he would drive it into your ear until you hollered. I did not like him very much - to me he appeared to be not very nice at all. I was not the only one who did not care for him. On one job at Sharnbrook Sam had eaten his dinner so having some time to spare and the weather being extremely hot Sam decided to lay back and have a nap on the grass placing an open newspaper over his face to keep off the flies. Soon, just after he dropped off somebody put a match to the newspaper. He lost one end of his waxed moustache and got his face scorched, he was wild but it never did come out who had applied the match.

He once sent me up the fields with a ten foot rod to measure a cow, he had got to build a cowshed and needed to know the length on the standing. I worked with him once, when he had an outside toilet to build. It should have been three sides and a door. Sam built four sides, no door, he was building from the inside - known as overhand to bricklayers, and never noticed anything was wrong until the labourer was having a job to get the material over the wall to him. He had to stand a lot of stick over that one.

When St Peter's Avenue at Rushden was first started Bill Kempshead was foreman in charge. He allowed apprentices to build a field oven, and also time every day to tend the fire so that the men on the site could bring food to work that could be warmed up in basins and suchlike. There were no canteens, sometimes a little wooden hut, but sometimes just a stack of bricks to sit on, so a warm meal was very nice, as conditions were in those days. Now, Bill Kempshead had to leave the site to start another contract, there were very few experienced bricklayers left on the firm, most of them had been drafted into the Forces. There were a few of the First World War ex-service men left but they were spread all over the firm's different jobs. St. Peter's Avenue work force consisted of apprentices, improvers and two rough bricklayers, as they were known then - today these would be termed 'cowboys'. If it hadn't been for the circumstances and shortage of labour owing to the War Effort neither of these men would have been employed by Robert Marriott. Sam Ball, although in his eighties, was an old foreman, and was the only man with any experience so Sam was placed in charge. Promotion went to his head, he played hell with everybody and the good working atmosphere that Bill Kempshead had built up disappeared overnight. Worst of all he would not allow the field ovens so we used to build them all over site - one for him to kick down and one for us to use. Ron Fensome, another apprentice bricklayer, and myself built dozens of field ovens on that site. It was a good thing for all concerned when Bill Kempshead returned to retake command.

Before 1940 bricks were delivered from the Brickyards by lorry as they are today, but straight from the kiln, red hot. The lorries had wooden bottoms not steel, like they have today and consequently a load of bricks would turn up with the bottom of the lorry on fire - it was a case of having the hosepipe handy. On a certain afternoon a load turned up red hot, of course. They had to be unloaded and stacked by hand as there were no such things as lifts or cranes - they hadn't been invented. The usual procedure was all hands to unload other than the charge hand, which was Sam, who at that time was way up the field in the toilet. He was working on the top scaffold on the pair of houses where we were going to unload the bricks. Good, I thought, got you so I got a piece of sacking and picked up one of the red-hot bricks, took it up to the vacant scaffold and placed it where Sam would pick it up. We did not have long to wait, Sam was back, everybody round the lorry had one eye on Sam waiting for the shout but it never came. I had placed the brick right, he had got it in his hand and twisted over and over as if looking for the best face before laying it. He never murmured. That brick must have been burning like hell but he wasn't going to let us have any satisfaction. That day, and only that day, I admired Sam. I knew what he was going through as I'd carried the brick up there.

I suppose Sam was a wonderful man for what he achieved for himself, but he was not a very popular man, not very well liked. I suppose one would say he was one of the 'old school', if Sam Ball says it is, it is! Denis Muscutt

Godfrey Kempshead
This man was the General Foreman, a Bricklayer my trade, he was the head man on the firm outside the office and he was regarded as something special, a man with no equal in the County as far as building was concerned. He was very clever both as a practical bricklayer, and a technician. He had untold knowledge and ability, and loved to pass it on to anyone who wished to acquire knowledge of the building trade. Not only would he explain how to do anything, he would show how it was done and got immense satisfaction from being able to pass his knowledge on. He was a man who was very time-conscious but was not a hard man to work with. In fact he was a good man to work with because anything he could do to make the lives of the men a little easier he did.

Godfrey was a man who, even with his education and ability, would at times panic a little. Like the time he was in charge of the job at Haynes Park Girls School in Bedfordshire. There was a large elm tree on the site of the extension and this had to be felled to make room. Close by was a large copper beech and according to the Headmistress people came from all over the world to see this tree. To be on the safe side Godfrey used a firm of professional tree fellers to do the job but just at the last moment something went wrong and the elm tree being felled went straight down the centre of the copper beech. Godfrey was on his motorbike and out of the gates before the Headmistress could come out of the school, and it was some time before he went back there.

I went to St Catherine's College, Cambridge, in 1939 to do a job. Godfrey and myself were the only two to go from Rushden and local labour was employed at Cambridge as the distance to Cambridge was too far for daily travel in those days. Godfrey and I had to find lodgings so we walked around Cambridge until we found a house with a ticket in the window showing 'Vacancies'. When the landlady came to the door she said "Yes", she had some vacancies, how many did he require? "Just two", he said "Me and the boy", then he said, "He's clean". I thought, he thinks I'm a bloody dog! He was very good to me whilst we were in Cambridge. I had to work while dinner, then he would say "Spend the afternoon round the Museums and the Colleges. You will never get a better chance to learn a little". I did as he said. One afternoon I went round the market and stood listening to a stall holder trying to sell his wares when a voice behind me said, "You having a look round Laddie?" There was no need to look round, I knew who it was - The Old Boss. I explained to him why I was there, and that I had been told by Mr Godfrey to learn all I could while I had the opportunity. "Good idea", he said, "just do as Godfrey says, and you won't go far wrong, now show me to the nearest cafe," where he paid for tea and cakes for two. I learnt quite a lot at Cambridge thanks to Godfrey Kempshead, things one would never dream of. Like for instance at the lodgings there were five other lodgers and we all had meals at the same time round one big table. Most of the other lodgers worked at the Colleges, teachers and so forth, all highly educated. This Friday teatime we had pilchards for tea. I loved pilchards and put them away a bit quick, then looking round the table I saw that everybody else had a heap of bones on their plates. There were not any on my plate, I'd eaten them, but ever since that day, if I have pilchards I leave the bones, and I remember that tea-time at Cambridge.

Godfrey Kempshead had a father and two brothers working for Robert Marriott, they were all good tradesmen, bricklayers, and all charge hands, and good men to work under, but not one of them could measure up to Godfrey, as I said he was something extra special. Don't forget, if you ever have pilchards, leave the bones!



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