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
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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