Friday, 30 May 2014

Dave Unwin recalls two events from his time with Willesden Council

I started my working life on 10 August 1959 working for the Building Division of Willesden Borough Council. I was sent to South Kilburn where we were completing Blocks F & G which became Canterbury Court. In early 1960 we commenced Blocks P & Q (these later were called William Dunbar and William Saville Houses). The site straddled Denmark Road and one of the blocks was actually built across the old road.

In those days hydraulic excavators were not readily available so a dragline excavator was used. Traditionally any lead, copper etc found in the excavation was the digger driver’s ‘bunce’. So when he uncovered a lead covered cable he was in seventh heaven. He connected a chain to the cable and wrapped it round the bucket of his excavator and pulled and pulled and pulled. I suddenly realised what was happening and yelled ‘Stop!’ The cable ran under the surface down the section of Denmark Road which was still in use, and all the street lamps were lying flat on the ground where they had been pulled down by our cable.

Denmark Road looking towards Carlton House, 1961 (Brent Archives)

The second story concerns the Central Library in Willesden Green. At that time the original Central Library was still in existence and we’d won the contract to build an extension along the side of Brondesbury Park. We had to make timber book cases, which was not a problem as we had an excellent joinery shop. The architect (not the Council’s architects but a private firm called Musman and Couzens), had specified that the bookcases were to be finished with, what was then, a new material - Polyurethane Varnish. You had to mix two parts together to form the varnish and if you couldn’t use it that day it had to be stored in a refrigerator. It was supposed to give a super-hard finish.

After about three or four months the Borough Librarian, Mr Gillette, came to our depot in Stonebridge to speak to our polisher, Jack Edwards. Mr Gillette said the varnish was rubbish because it cracked and crazed when a book was dropped on it. Jack said that they only thing he could do was to strip it all off and then French polish the shelves. Mr Gillette said he would find the money in his estimates and Jack should go ahead with it. The action was kept very ‘hush-hush’. When the maintenance period was up and the final inspection was in progress, the architect Mr Couzens remarked what a marvellous finish this Polyurethane Varnish produced. He was never told what had happened and for the next seven or eight years he continued sending people to the library to see what a fantastic product Polyurethane Varnish was!

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