Thursday, April 30, 2009

Alfred Herbert's Schooldays

The Stoneygate Class Lists of 30th July 1880. Click to read. 'Herbert' is mentioned on both pages.

Alfred Herbert went to school at Stoneygate, a private school on the outskirts of Leicester with - in those days - some 50 pupils.

The class list for July 1880, when Alfred was 14, show him excelling at divinity, English and the sciences. In that year, he won the Class II prize jointly with another boy, as well as a music prize. He still had at least two or three years to go and was must have been top of Class I when he left. Interestingly, the boy next to him in class was William S Hubbard who excelled in maths, algebra and geometry and with whom he later went into business. Also, above him in Class 1 was David Gimson, who went on to be an accountant and in 1918 became the Financial Director of Alfred Herbert Ltd, only retiring in 1953.

Although Alfred was expected to go on to university and into the church when he left school, he met up with Hubbard, who had joined Joseph Jessop's Engineering Co in Leicester. Herbert was fascinated by what the small lathes at Jessops produced, so he persuaded his father to let him follow his friend's example. Subsequently he became an apprentice at Jessops and thereafter joined Coles and Mathews, a firm of engineers in The Butts, Coventry, which he later bought with Hubbard and which became the foundation of his own company, Alfred Herbert Ltd.

The 'Great Paul' being transported to London. Herbert and Hubbard took this as the logo of their firm.

He must have been interested in engineering from an early age. In fact, a short memoir that Alfred wrote in 1954 recalled that during his schooldays he was fascinated by the transportation in 1882 of 'The Great Paul', a 17 ton bell for St Paul's Cathedral from Taylor's foundry in Loughborough by a special lorry built by Coles and Matthews - the firm he later joined in Coventry. He wrote that he was at Stoneygate as the bell passed the gates and that 'we boys were allowed to see the procession and I climbed on to the lorry and wrote my name in pencil on the bell'. The story continues: "It was an imposing cavalcade preceded by a man with a red flag. Then came two great traction engines hauling the bell, a caravan for the men to sleep in and a water-cart completed the train......At Fenny Compton the road gave way, so boiler plates and jacks had to be sent to the rescue. The journey took about a fortnight and ultimately the bell was safely delivered."

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