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Book reviews — June 2004

'Dockland Apprentice', by David Carpenter
192 pages hardback, Bears Hide 2004, ISBN 0 9546488 0 3, £15.99. To obtain a copy of this book write to 2 Bramber Avenue, Peacehaven, Sussex BN10 8LR or telephone Dave at 01273 583154. Also see Dave's website
This is a chatty book with tall stories which have perhaps grown in stature with the retelling but it is a very good read and will appeal to a wide range of people, not just those with an interest in ships and machine shops. A social picture with some very vivid Dockland characters emerges and gives an inkling of just what it must have been like to work in a London ship repair yard in the mid 1950s.

David lived in Plumstead and used to ride to work at the London Graving Dock Company (Preston's Road E14) through the Blackwall Tunnel on his 1933 Norton International motorcycle. Unfortunately the new 10-year test put an end to this as the Norton was a pure racing machine, without lights. Getting home could be difficult. Being very dirty after work the conductor in Greenwich would sometimes not let him on the bus because of the state he was in and he resented being treated as a second class citizen. So having learnt to drive he acquired a car. The Suez crisis had occurred in 1956 and that had helped make Rolls Royces unpopular. Old ones with big engines were no longer that expensive. In Notting Hill he found a 1930s Rolls Royce Phantom awaiting scrap which he bought in December 1959 for £75 (still quite a sum of money in those days). Needless to say this caused a sensation when he arrived at work but the 7,600cc engine did use a great deal of petrol.

The above anecdote illustrates the flavour of the book and Dave Carpenter still owns Rolls Royces today. There is information about some of the ships that visited the Port of London in the later 1950s and more than a mention of food. Following his apprentice days Dave served in merchant ships at sea as a ship's engineer and judging from this book a second volume about his later adventures would also be really worthwhile.

Three hundred years ago even Czar Peter the Great of Russia served an apprenticeship in a shipyard and L T C Rolt might be mentioned as an example of an engineering apprentice but apprenticeships have been rather out of fashion recently. This means people with both an education and practical skills are becoming scarce. In this book David Carpenter makes a special plea for the apprentice. Bob Carr

© GLIAS, 2004