I spent an enjoyable and informative afternoon with Ray Stutley. Ray worked for Bassett-Lowke from 1931 to 1980, in fact all his working life. He had not intended on this course of life and had been accepted to work as a window dresser. His father, however, was not so keen on this occupation for his son, so he approached a friend of his, Leo Halford, who worked in the boiler department at Bassett-Lowke’s to see if they needed an apprentice. Luckily a space had become available and Ray was accepted without an interview, as Mr Halford knew he came from a reliable family and so his future in life was sealed.
Luckily he enjoyed the work and progressed through the departments within Bassett-Lowke’s to end up as a ‘finisher’ in the Model Ship Department. He started out making stanchions (hand rails) for model ships, progressing to do catalogue work -the parts you could purchase to make your own models. Through the years he worked with many different people, including some university students in their gap year who had come to learn different aspects of the works. Some became good pals.
When he progressed to the finishing department he was told he was perfect for the job as he had dry hands, no marks on the paintwork! There he worked with Jim Kent who taught him a great deal. Over the years he worked on thousands of different waterline models and ships including fittings and fixtures, including model passengers. He even added a small stone to one of the lady passenger’s finger so when the light caught it, it sparkled.
Ray enjoyed his time at Bassett-Lowke in fact he would get up in the morning looking forward to going in to work, how many of us can say the same? He said it was like an extended family working at Bassett-Lowke’s, kindliness flowed over to the staff.
One of the models made at the Bassett-Lowke factory was the ‘Queen Elizabeth’ for the Cunard White Star Line. B-L had been commissioned to make the model of the liner and, of course, in the making of a model there is no better inspiration than that of seeing ‘the real thing’ first. So by the courtesy of the Cunard White Star Liner Company all of the craftsman engaged on the model made a complete tour of the liner while she was in port at Southampton on a turn-round for her next Trans-Atlantic trip. The staff travelled in two coaches to Southampton and spent several hours aboard. Over the years Ray met many famous people who came to the factory, actors, Members of Parliament, the Mayor and Mayoress and many others who were in the limelight.
One of Ray’s friends was a local Liberal Councillor so he often got invited to local events with him, and often W J and Florence would be there and, although they were boss and worker, WJ was always pleasant to him, and Florence would come over for a chat. Also when they had directors’ meetings at the works she would pop down to see him. He had got to know Mrs Bassett-Lowke after WJ found out that Ray lived in Broadway, a street not far from New Ways, he would ask Ray to pop in to see Mrs Bassett-Lowke and let her know if he would be late home.
Often she would tell Ray to go into the garden and pick a bunch of flowers for Ray’s mother. Ray also made a gadget (a handle with 4 dowel prongs) for Florence which enabled her to undo the cross headed taps as she found it difficult with her arthritis.
Ray came and looked around 78 and was pleased to see the original kitchen table that he had sat at and had a cup of tea with Mrs B-L at New Ways, also he informed us that the ships we had on display were the wrong way round (now rectified!).
First published in December 2006 in The Friends of 78 Derngate Newsletter Issue 44.
Author: Chris Sherlock
Transcribed 2019: Barbara Floyer