hilldweller

Metro-Vicks

5 posts in this topic

I was lucky enough to secure an apprenticeship with Associated Electrical Industries, otherwise known as Metro-Vicks (Metropolitan Vickers).

The plant produced mainly electrical traction equipment for railways but also made smaller motors for milk-floats and a lot of rotating electrical plant for the military.

The works were located at two sites when I worked there, Attercliffe Common works, (now the site of Toys R Us et al) and Greenland Road Works at the corner of Shepcote Lane. The training workshops were located at Attercliffe and after a 6 month period in the training department you were sent on 3 or 6 month stints around the various production and service departments. Eventually you were settled into your final position in your last 2 years of a 5 or 6 year apprenticeship. I came out of my time as a skilled electrician in the maintenance dept.

One placement that still gives me nightmares was a 6 month stint on the electrical test bed. The traction motors were very rugged beasts developing around 1000 horse-power and running at 1500 or 3000 volts D.C.

Finished motors were light-run up to 10% overspeed with the series field seperately excited from a lower voltage, high current motor-generator set.

This was thought a suitable job for 17/18 year old apprentices. The test panels were all open with huge double pole reversing knife switches to set up the test conditions, all live at up to 3.3kV.

At the end of the test you had to poke a long screwdriver down the back of a very fast rotating pinion and put your ear on the end to listen for bearing faults. One slip and the screwdriver would have been driven through your skull. At one point it got even worse when a batch of reconditioned high voltage motors for South African Railways started blowing up on test due to tiny copper particles from the diamond turning of the commutators contaminating the mica separating the commutator bars. The solution was to dress an apprentice in boiler-suit, huge leather apron, MASSIVE rubber gloves and a welders helmet and stand him over the open motor directing a compressed air-hose onto the commutator while one of the senior men wound the motor up to full voltage slowly. This was called the "Ring Fire method" after the effect it produced !

According to the theory this caused the copper particles to burn off safely before the machine flashed over, in practice this only worked about 75% of the time. After I'd been blown over a couple of times I rigged up a wooden duckboard at 45 degrees behind me so that I didn't hit the ground with quite so much force !

The other apprentice on test bed, whose name must remain a secret, caused a huge explosion one day. Towards the end of his test he opened one of the huge knife switches with his boot-end instead of bending down. The switch flew into the reverse position and the fast rotating motor instantly became a generator, directly in opposition to the supply set. I was working on another part of the test bed and on seeing the huge flash and hearing a MASSIVE bang, looked up to see the motor furiously rotating on it's own axis up in the roof. Luckily it fell back approximately from where it came and no damage to life was caused. Some women working in the next bay fainted and there was a general rush to the lavatories !!! The lad was given a permanent job on the test bed !

We all complain about Elf & Safety nowadays, but when I think of all the ways that I could have been killed or injured I'm thankful that things have improved from the 1960's. I shall always be grateful for the excellent training I received which set me up for my working life.

Hilldweller

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What an interesting story hilldweller, thank you for posting.

And I'm glad your still here to tell the tale

:)

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Great reading, a wonderful account of your time at Metro-Vicks. In the same decade, I too served an apprenticeship as a Maintenance Electrician at Orgreave Coke Ovens, heavy industrial machinery, 11,000 volt cables feeding the plant, tiled sub stations with ancient black switchgear, locomotives operating on the same DC motors you described, old sequential switchgear with half-moon carbon contacts, the dead mans handle, sludge pumps, squirrel-cage motors, conveyor belts, the fumes, the coal dust, the smell of gas and benzene and pitch and anything else they can extract from coal. It was, as you rightly said, excellent training for a working life. I miss it (I punch a computer for a living now) but I know if I hadn't got away, I would probably be dead from miners' lung. Elf and Safety in the 60's ? I recall climbing a double extending ladder carrying a huge sodium-vapour light fitting on my shoulder, how I managed to fasten it to the wall I'll never know. I remember walking across a plank resting on 2 handrails, I stopped in the middle to change a light bulb - a flameproof fitting with 4 studs to unbolt - below me was a 50 foot hopper full of damp crushed coal, like black sand. Drop a spanner or a bolt and it simply disappeared, wouldn't like to think what would happen if you lost your balance.

No regrets, Hilldweller? Me either. It's an experience that can never be re-lived.

THYLACINE

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Further to my post about my apprenticeship at Associated Electrical Industries (Metro Vickers), I thought I would post a little of what I know about the history of the place.

The Attercliffe Common Works was built by the american Westinghouse Company around the time of WW1 using German POW labour. It was equipped with mainly american machine tools and these were ahead of their time because they had integrated drive motors unlike british practice which was to use a few large motors driving the machines using overhead line shafting and flat belts. Following american practice the motors were direct current (DC) with faceplate starters. Many of these machines and the DC distibution systems were still in use in the 1960's. Most of the main bay lighting was also fed from the 220 volt DC mains using 1000 & 1500 watt bulbs.

The DC power was produced using two rotary convertors, strange machines with slip rings on one end fed with AC and a commutator at the other which gave the DC output. both ends were connected to a common winding. The machines were run-up using a "pony" motor and had to be carefully synchronised to the supply. If the sub-station attendant made a hash of this then the main 11kV oil-circuit-breaker would trip and the machine would reverse polarity. Then yours-truly would bring a Lansing-Bagnall electric vehicle into the sub-station and using jump leads from the vehicle battery, "flash" the field windings to reverse the residual magnetism. On one occasion the attendant made a real mess of it and a voltage surge caused bulbs to explode and curtains of glass fragments to fall into the work bays. I believe there is a rotary convertor on display at Kelham Island.

Towards the end of the 1950's a decision was taken by the then Metro Vickers to build a new plant at the junction of Greenland Road and Shepcote Lane. This was built and a large number of the machine shops moved to the new plant. The new factory was built on modern principles with high-pressure hot water heating and a combined boiler-house/substation sited remote from one end of the factory and joined to it by a service tunnel. There was sufficient land to the south of the factory to expand and bring the rest of the Attercliffe Common works on to one site.

Unfortunately the AEI group were taken over by Lord Weinstock and his GEC consortium in the mid sixties and in an asset-stripping excercise the order was given to shoe-horn everything back to Attercliffe Common in order to sell the Greenland Road site. The site remained unsold and was used to store surplus stocks of Hotpoint white-goods for a while (Hotpoint then being within the group), until finally Whitbread bought this fine factory and used it to store cans of beer and the like.

The Attercliffe Common works, which ran along Attercliffe Common from the Pheasant Inn to Tinsley Wire Industries and as far back as Tommy Wards scrapyard, even had it's own railway line fed from Broughton Lane Station. It limped along for a few more years before GEC management decided to shut it down and moved production to a foreign place, Preston in Lancashire !!!

The site is now a shopping estate and the likes of Toys-R-Us and PC World have replaced the place I was lucky to work at, in a time when British people were allowed and proud to produce things.

Rather a long post I'm afraid but perhaps a tale worth telling.

Hilldweller

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Apologies for dredging this old thread up from the archives, but there's a unidentified photo on Picture Sheffield, which I'm thinking may be the AEI / Metro-Vicks factory, on the corner of Greenland Road and Shepcote Lane?

AEI / Metro-Vicks Factory - Greenland Road, Shepcote Lane, c. 1960-79

The curve of Shepcote Lane and junction with Greenland Road looks right. The building matches the current aerial views, as does the gatehouse, with that distinctive egg-shaped roof. Also that looks like Tinsley Bridge Spring Works at the top of the shot and Tinsley Park Cemetery on Barleywood Road, just visible at the top right?

Looking for more clues, there are some more photos that further reinforce my opinion:-

Clocking Off time at AEI c.1963

Planning Application at AEI (Change of use by Whitbreads maybe? Looks like a 'For Sale' board, right of shot?)

Not so sure about the additional buildings between the main factory and Greenland Road (Training Workshops maybe, but can't have been in use for long?)

I've always known it as the Whitbread Brewery distribution centre, but if someone else has any other views on where it is, or thinks it is one and the same, I'll suggest it to Picture Sheffield, get it annotated properly and taken out of the 'Unidentified' bucket?

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