News of the recent Coffin Works tours reached Graham Webb who now lives in Belgium, but is still a member of Birmingham History Forum. He got in touch to say he worked next door! I dug a little deeper and he has shared some great memories of working at Rayboulds, the brass founders (now the Viet Moon restaurant) and Newman Brothers.
It is really nice to hear more about industry in Fleet Street. Graham kindly said I could share these memories with you.
“Yes that was the place, Rayboulds, I think they called themselves ‘brass founders’. I worked there at the age of 18 in 1962 and I still have a few brass objects from the place. Downstairs was mostly women working at capstans (lathes) turning out brass parts for gas light fittings, for caravans and places without electric. I worked upstairs assembling and brazing the brass parts together and sometimes took stuff next door to be plated at Newman Bros.
Any newcomers to Rayboulds would be sent next door to ask for empty boxes (sick joke because they made coffin furniture). When I applied for the job at Rayboulds the boss asked me what my ambitions were, I said “to become a pro racing cyclist” he nearly blew his top and said “that’s only for one in millions”.
A few years later I was cycling world champion (still today the only Brit to have won this race since the first one in 1922, so I’m one in billions not millions!) and signed a pro contract with a French team, Mercier, just about the best there was; I often wonder if Raybould remembered my words?
I started cycle racing in 1961 and often said to the other workers at Rayboulds “if I win this weekend I’ll be feted at the Royal Albert Hall.” I did just that and later that year I was on stage at the Royal Albert Hall but by then I’d left Raybould’s because they wouldn’t give me a rise in wages.
The upstairs work place looked a lot like that photo of Newman’s with the tiny square cast iron windows. In those days I visited the Science Museum in Birmingham and there they had a mock Victorian work place that looked more modern than that of Raybould’s or Newman’s! Even in 1962 we were working in a museum!
I learnt to play chess there upstairs, from the Forman’s son, he showed me once and then he never won one game off me! It was also here on the works (valve) radio that I heard The Beatles for the first time. Every time they came on I turned the radio up loud, to the protests of all the old men working there.
Above is a photo of a brass nut-cracker taken from Raybould’s, one day they had a tea-chest full and I helped myself!”