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Homers is an articlewhich I had published in the 2003 Spring edition of East Lothian Life a first class quarterly magazinefrom P.J.Designs Bellhaven Dunbar.
In an issue of
Prestongrange ParishChurch newsletter,
I read an account of
how, when building
repairs were being
carried out on the
church tower in1953
the weather vane was
found to be beyond
repair and needed to
be replaced, writes
John Kay Wilson
A PICTURE OF THE TOWER AND WEATHER VANE
The church always had close ties
with the nearby Prestonlinks
colliery,as many of the workers were
church members,so it was decided a
new weather vane would be made in
the pit workshop as a 'homer'.
A" homer" in my apprenticeship days
was the name given to any piece of handiwork done,
not for the company's use, but to take home.
Work on the new weather vane was duly put in hand ad was soon completed. The men doing the work were first class tradesmen and the materials used, although second hand, were good copper, bras sand steel, and a very superior piece of craftsmanship was produced.
The weather vane was a glorious example of what can be done with team spirit and a lot of thrift
The new weather vane was duly erected in its very prominent position. It was perfect,a first class job, a credit to the skills of the colliery workmen and their ingenuity.The weather vane was glorious example of what can be done with team spirit and a lot of thrift.Just imagine the cost making and erecting a new one.
Reading the article brought back memories of my years as an apprentice and journeyman in the colliery workshop and the
many "homers" which were produced by my colleagues and myself..At that time World War 11 was in progress and many items of everyday use were unobtainable or strictly rationed, but " needs must" and we tried our hands at making lots of items. There was no end to the ingenuity of the men in producing articles from scrap and in many homes around Prestonpans I am sure there are still many examples of "homers".
Many of the articles produced may seem trivial compared to the church weather vane, but they were no less useful in times of shortage and were as well made. For example,"whangs" or leather bootlaces, which had to be really strong and hardwearing in the men's boots, were unobtainable during the war. To make them we needed a 2"-3" circle of leather cut from the upper of a discarded boot . Attached to a 4" square of flat wood we fixed a broken razor blade and a smaller piece of wood one eighth of an inch apart, to act as a guide. The circle of leather was pushed between the guide and the blade, and then pulled through this gap.It produced a long strand of leather, the circle revolving as it was pulled through.
A comb was a necessitate in every household, especially for the young men of the day with their "sheds" slicked back by Brylcream. A piece of brass or aluminium with teeth precisely cut and filed, the whole thing highly polished did the trick. Whilst," Kirby grips",fashioned from pieces of spring wire bent to the correct shape, pleased the ladies.
As matches became harder to obtain and most men smoked, petrol lighters were made in a variety of shapes and from numerous common items- brass hexagon nuts rifle cartridges, in fact anything that could be made into cases to hold a swab of cotton wool soaked in petrol,with a piece of string for a wick. A small wheel and a flint completed the job.
A comb was a necessity in every household, especially for the young men of the day with their 'sheds' slicked back by Brylcream.
I remember one small boy who found a real red and yellow scooter on his doorstep one Christmas morning. Santa had been busy in the blacksmith's shop- another 'homer'. Santa depended quite a lot on 'homers' for his supply of toys and presents.
Luckily timber was used extensively in the pit for shoring up roofs and walls. The props used were just the right diameter for toy 'pugs' which were models of the railway engines used to shunt the coal wagons at the pit .Pieces of log were used to represent the wheels boilers of these toy engines. Many of these toys were so robust they were handed down three or four generations.
A TOY PUG MADE FROM PIY PROPS
My favourite 'homer' was the humble coal fire poker of which I made many to give as presents.
There were elegant highly ornate designs , more ornamental than useful.The shaft and point were highly polished steel ; the handle was fabricated from layers of different coloured metals and fibres.
There were many more unusual articles turned out in those D.I.Y. days and one, which surely deserves a mention, is The 'Gird'. Many of you reading this have as children covered many miles with a cleek and gird, probably, one of the many 'homers' from dads or uncles who worked at the pit.
The Spitfire aeroplanes and their pilots were heroes of the apprentices and men in the workshops during these war years and every day the Battle of Britain was fought in the air there were excited discussions. Stories would be exchanged and the latest battle scores would be checked! The high regard felt for those pilots and their Spitfires were reflected in the quality of the model Spitfires the boys turned out.
Although pop groups were still far in the future, music was an important part of young people's lives and dance bands were quite numerous,instruments usually being piano, trumpet and drums.
Pianists and trumpet players were thin on the ground but most lads tried to play the drums. We had regular orders for drumsticks, which were turned on the lathe from hickory.This wood was widely used in the coal washing and cleansing plants. It is a very hard springy timber and strips of it supported and shook the coal and water containers.
I don't know if 'homers' are still in vogue. I cant imagine a computerised lathe turning out a pair of drumsticks. Are there any fourteen-year old apprentices keen or thrifty enough to make them?
Most of the work was done at break times and was encouraged by the older tradesmen. the apprentices were in their early teens, working long hours for very little pay, so the models,toys etc.the made helped not only to improve their skills,but kept up their moral and made their jobs more interesting.
Most of these wartime apprentices were very resourceful and I know many still use their ingenuity to make some interesting items from any scraps they may find lying around, thanks to the experience they gained in making 'homers'.
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