Barry Streets did his plumbing apprenticeship with Bulmer Ledingham, under the watchful eye of Mr Bob Miles… “…I was born in Madan Road at my grandparents house in 1944. They had been moved from Church Walk when they knocked it all down, and though my parents lived in Tatsfield, women always went home to their parents house to give birth as there was no National Health in those days.
I left School aged fourteen and started my apprenticeship in 1960 and finished in 1966.
My father paid twenty-five pounds for my credentials in 1960 to get me started, and that was about two and a half weeks wages for a working man then. It was all signed sealed and delivered and I attended Tunbridge Wells Tech one day each week and got my City and Guilds qualification. I had an old BSA M21 six-hundred c.c. motorbike and sidecar. It caught fire one day and the sidecar was burned to the ground. I got hold of an old tin box and bolted that to the sidecar chassis and I used to carry my tools around in that.
I was apprenticed to old Bob Miles and he was a good man to work for as well. When I first started we were putting in new sewer pipes along the top of the Green behind Marie Bond’s house. I’d never clapped eyes on Bert Fox before and he was there digging the trench. We had to do something at the other end of the site and it was a very narrow path. As I walked along it some of the bits of soil fell back into his trench and he got hold of me by the scruff of the neck, he lifted me up and he was going to knock my head off. Bob Miles said ‘leave him alone Bert, he didn’t mean to do it’ - I was discovering pretty quickly that Bert had a terrible temper on him, but fiery bloke or not, if you got to know him he was a wonderful man to work with.
I got my own back on him one day, we were working at a big house in Mapleton Road near Chartwell, where we had to clean out the gutters. Bert said ‘I can’t do ladders, you’ll have to go up there.’ As I climbed up I was thinking to myself ‘how can I get him up this ladder?’ When I came back down I said ‘Bert there’s a woman stripping off in that bedroom!’ He was straight up that ladder like a rat up a drainpipe, and he turned and said ‘where was she?’ ‘Oh she must have gone’ I said - Barry and I both laugh at this.
While I was still doing my apprenticeship with Bulmer Ledingham, we were working over at Roy Bulmer’s place, putting in a new gas-boiler. Roy was the ‘sleeping partner’ in the firm, and had helped with the financing of the company. Well, over at his place, I was upstairs putting some radiators in, and when I came down past this little room where the boiler was, there was a terrible smell of gas and I could hardly breathe. We had old Bert Fox working with us as a gas fitter so I said ‘Bert what are you doing?’ ‘I’m purging the gas’ he replied ‘and it won’t come through’ I said ‘for christ’s sake don’t light a match, you’ll blow the bloody place up.’ What I realised then was that he had no sense of smell, and as it was town gas in those days, it stank to high-heaven. He could be a bit of a liability towards the end because his eyesight went as well, but we loved him to bits.
I remember when it all packed up around 1970, John Ledingham’s cronies came in and they took scaffold boards and all sorts of things and hardly paid anything for the stuff. I had just bought my first house in Tatsfield and I needed some acrow props and trestle boards and he wanted a lot of money for them. I thought I’d get them for the same price as his cronies, but no, and I just couldn’t afford them. The yard was a bit of a mess really, with hardly any security, no gates, nothing. Twenty foot lengths of half-inch and three-quarter inch copper pipe and inch screw-iron pipe all stacked at the top of the yard where anyone could have walked in and helped themselves. And then there was the timber - anything that came back off-site was just piled in a bloody great heap which was a bit crazy, any of the lorries backing in to the yard could have got a puncture from the old nails sticking out of joist-ends.
I enjoyed my time working with old Bob Miles.
There were lots of old characters around as I was growing up, but the stories are all drink-related. Old Ron Lucock used to run the Men’s Club when I was an apprentice. He was a big chap and I nearly got my head knocked off by him one night. I was taking the mickey out of someone and one of the blokes said ‘watch what you are saying, he (Ron) used to box.’ Well, Ron worked in Mac-fisheries next to the Wolfe Garage, so I said ‘box what? box kippers?’ and he took umbrage to that and threw me out of the Club - blokes didn’t mess about in those days…
I bought my first house in 1967 - It was a little house in Tatsfield, and I was lucky really, because with the apprenticeship I had, there was very little money, but I managed to scrape together two-thousand five-hundred pounds. My mum went up to Edward Leslie and said ‘there’s a lot of work got to be done in that house, could you knock some money off the price?’ He reduced the price by two-hundred pounds which was a big percentage at the time.
We were working for Lord Cromer up at French Street at the time and Lady Cromer had a black and white kitchen floor laid in Marley tiles but she decided she didn’t like it so it was going to be changed. I asked the foreman if I could have the tiles and he said if I could get them up out of the black mastic glue then they were mine to take. I managed to do it and stacked them face to face and drove them back to the house. I had got a stack of old floorboards from Edward Leslie’s son in Brasted, because he was having a new floor laid, and our kitchen floor was rotten with woodworm. I laid the boards and stuck the Marley tiles on them afterwards - you have to be inventive when you’re doing up a house and you don’t have a lot of money…
By 1985 I was working for Durtnells when one of their clients approached me direct to put in a new bathroom suite. I was earning eleven pounds an hour then, as I had finished my apprenticeship and was a plumber in my own right at that point. I said I couldn’t take a private job on, but he said there was no rush, I could do it in my spare time. It was ever such posh stuff, all mother-of-pearl with gilt mermaids at the corners, and gold fittings. He offered me fifteen pounds an hour to do the job and I was sort of hesitating, so he said ‘all right, I’ll make it twenty quid an hour, will that do?’ Well, I couldn’t turn it down, could I? - That twenty pound-an-hour job took a long time as I didn’t want anything damaged - he laughs - and it allowed me to get the deposit together to buy this house which Doug Sayers and Tony Brill arranged, I just took them a big bag with five thousand quid in cash in it, and that was a lot of money back then…” .