Mr Martin Strazdins, from Latvia, talks with Carmela about going to work at London Brick Stewartby.
“So you went for this interview at the brickworks. Which was it, Stewartby?
And you got offered a job. What was the job then you were offered?
Well, as a Technical Assistant to the Physics Lab. Well, and there’s a reason I find out afterwards why it was in advertisement in Latvian newspaper! Because it was already working one of my countrymen, he was already working in the lab, so although the management was impressed with his workload, they probably asked him if he could get a similar sort of people who could be willing to do useful work in the research laboratory.
What was the pay like then, was it better than you had before?
It was certainly better.
Do you remember how much it was?
Oh, that was in 1955, of course it was different what you could buy for the money. I think I got clear, I think from the beginning it was on a weekly basis, I think I got about ten pounds, but that was not too bad at that time.
No, it was good.
Mind in agricultural world I only got two pounds. It was a big difference.
So you moved here, to Bedford?
Actually, first place I moved was, at that time I was single still and I got accommodation in Kempston Hardwick Hostel because I didn’t know anybody in Bedford, but I had a separate room and accommodation was not so bad. Kempston Hardwick, of course it’s closed now.
Yes, yes. Was it full of Italians at that time when you arrived?
It was again, all sorts of nationalities. I don’t think it was, not at that time, I think the Italians… There was, there was Italians, but I think also there was a lot of Polish and Ukrainian and that sort of thing.
Was the majority of the people also working at the brickworks or…
Majority was at the brickworks, yes.
What sort of atmosphere was there? Was it friendly like the place where you were or…
Oh yes it was, we had snooker tables and so we could have a game and that sort of thing and also I think they was arranging the dance party and that sort of thing. There was a little bit more social life. But, I didn’t stay very long there, I only stay few weeks because I didn’t like the hostel life, so I got a private accommodation in Bedford.
And that was all right was it?
Were you just, you just had a room or you were…
Just a room, just a room, till I saved up the money and bought my own property.
So was there any other people from your own country when you arrived in Bedford… apart from this technician at the… ?
You mean Latvians in London Brick? There was quite a few.
Quite a few.
Quite a few Latvians, yes.
So did you make friends with them, or did you know some of them already or… ?
Well, I didn’t know personally because you see, I was living in a different part of country, but when (inaudible) the organisation you know that the Latvians call Latvian Welfare Fund, which was in Latvian language Dorvil Svanak(?), then of course you get to know each other more and it was expected you pay so much membership per year, and then you have a gathering you know. You hold meetings and that sort of thing you know. In that time there was probably I remember about a hundred and fifty or two hundred Latvians…
At the brickworks? At Stewartby?
Not at brickworks, I’m talking in Bedford all together. Majority was in brickworks, yes.
And do they always have the kind of job that you have or did they do a variety of jobs.
It was a variety. In the laboratory I would say there were the three Latvians. One was in my department and one was, two was in Tool Research. See, we had four different departments in the lab.
So what was it like, your work then? What was it like on the first day? What did you have to do?
Well, actually I was connected with the Testing Lab. In other words we have to prepare samples according to British Standard Specification which was laid down how the bricks had to be prepared. In other words you had to measure every brick separately in order to calculate your burning area, then you had to immerse in water for twenty four hours in order to calculate water absorption percentage which again it was very useful to know what sort of percentage, and also filling the Frog. You know bricks have a Frog, according to British Standard Specification the Frogs had to be filled before you tested. Actually from beginning I also sometimes had to fill the Frogs with the (?) cement fondue you probably know it sets hard in a short time. So, we fill it today and you could test the following day. But before we tested the bricks we had to test the mortar what we was using for filling the Frogs, and the mortar strength was laid down, 4000lbs per square inch. So that would be roughly, or slightly higher than the brick itself. You see that all was laid down in British Standard Specification.
So you test these bricks after they’ve been fired. Did you test any bricks before they were fired?
We did some days what you call ‘green state bricks’ which was partly dried out, but it was nothing to do with cracking them because you could imagine a green brick wouldn’t stand much then, but we were doing what you call transfer strength, in other words calculating the force which would be needed to do the transfer test, breaking over instead of pressing. Breaking over, you see.
And obviously you had the machinery to do that. Do you think they were up-to-date machinery?
Well, one was the best in Europe. It was (?) testing machinery for loading the ranges 20 tons, 50, 150 and 200 tons was the maximum that we could test with the real up-to-date testing machinery.
So did you like your job?
Yes, I did. There was a variety of jobs. Actually at that time I’ve mentioned testing but I also was involved in taking the temperature (?) of the kilns which actually probably was not directly our department responsibility, but sometimes you had to assist you know. At the time the Thermocoppers was introduced in order to cut down the wastage and to help the Burners to take the temperature of the chambers you know, because before the Burners had to use eyesight, just to find out when to ease the fire and so. But no, when the Thermocoppers was introduced everything was recorded straight to Kent recorders, and you could see what range the temperature goes and when the Burner had to ease or had to add the smudge that was used for burning the brick. So, I said the testing, but I also was involved in a wider range you know!”