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Copyright 2006
Enfield Garages

 
 

 

 
I, Bill Medcalf, served my apprenticeship for seven years, in precision engineering and engine design at the JAP Motor Works in Tariff Road, Tottenham in the late 1940’s. JAP stands for John Arthur Prestwich, who was my master and was the inventor of many things and who started the company in 1895.

In 1974 I bought some properties and among them was number 24 Bury Street, Edmonton, N9. The resident of this property was an elderly lady by the name of Mrs Jolly. She was very old and virtually bed-ridden and her rent of 18/6d per week was paid by social security. Mrs Jolly had no close relatives and I visited her twice weekly, taking in her bread and milk and so on which she always insisted on paying for. I would often slip in to see her (the front door key was tied to the letter box) and we would pass the time chatting. Her mind, alas, was failing. She would tell me all sorts of stories, only some of which proved to be true.

In 1910 her husband had built a bath into the kitchen floor and access was gained by a trap door. The bath could be filled with hot water from the copper which stood in the corner and as the kitchen was higher than the outside drain, this would allow the bath water to drain away. All this was in a time when people generally did not have a bathroom as we know today.

Her final “claim to fame” was when she told me that well before the first world war, she was an aircraft engineer. I dismissed her statement as being somewhat wild and left it at that. Many months followed and whenever I asked her what she did in her younger days, she always remarked that she had been an engineer. Eventually she told me that she had worked for JAP and that she had worked on aero engines right up until the 1914-1918 war. I told her that I too had worked for that firm and recalled a long line of events which brought back memories to Mrs Jolly. I then became certain that she was not as “cuckoo” as I had first thought. We became very close friends and though I never discovered her age, I estimate that she was well over 90 when she finally passed away to that world above the bright sky.

One day Mrs Jolly said to me, “Bill, I don’t really think you believe I worked on aeroplanes, but somewhere I have a photograph”. “Oh” I said, “May I see it?” She turned her humble house inside out and could not at first find the picture, but it finally came to light. She insisted that I should have the photograph. Two days later Mrs Jolly died.

The photograph was taken in 1913 and shows a group of people with Mrs Jolly standing before and aeroplane engine and in the background can be seen an aeroplane suspended from the roof. It is interesting to note that it was still there in the 1940’s. Mrs Jolly is marked with a cross in the picture, she was a foreman lady, a status which carried on into the 1950’s. Millwrights, wearing dark blue overalls and caps, can be seen in the group, with aircraft fitters in their grey coats and foremen in white coats, whilst such people as chief engineers and designers are seen wearing suits.

JAP made engines for lawn mowers, motor vehicles and aeroplanes. The Americans rated the JAP aero engine as being the best, being light and more powerful than it’s competitors. Four such engines would be overhauled by teams, allowed 12 hours to run-up and test, but if anything did not test correctly the whole team would have to stop on until the work came up to the level of perfection required!
Mrs Jolly will be remembered by me as one of the first women engineers, a lady with a wonderful sense of humour who had become a dear friend to me.

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