Memories of Murad - Four Stories
Assembled from conversations between Ben Cook (who has an interest in capstan lathes and early plug-board automatics) and John Beech, the latter having worked for Murad on two occasions during the 1940s, the following stories paint a brief picture of Mr. Murad's working life.
Originally from Jamaica, Mr. Wadia Halim Murad studied Electrical Engineering at Manchester University, gaining acceptance as an A.M.I.E.E. At some point before WW2 he moved to north London and set up his first factory in Watford; success was sufficient for the Company to be divided, eventually, into several divisions: "Murad Developments" - responsible for research and development; "Murad Machine Tools" - machine-tool manufacture; "Technaloy" - a firm devoted to the production of castings; "British Bronson" - design and manufacture of electric motors and associated equipment and "Murad International" - a marketing name used after a move to Sheerness.
John Beech was born in January, 1914, served an apprenticeship at John Dickinson's and studied Mechanical Engineering at Regent Street Polytechnic. Having cut his teeth in engineering, and being a gifted individual, he was appointed by Murad as Foreman of the Toolroom, a job of some responsibility for a young man in his twenties - and one that involved him in early development work on the 3Q capstan. At this stage of his career John's idea was to stay at Murad for a year or so, master the job, and move on. Events, however, intervened and two years later (at the start of World War Two, in 1939) he was called up for military service. However, being technically capable and qualified, he was seconded instead to the Ministry of Supply, his initial task being to check up on munitions factories, largely in the East End of London, that were not meeting their production targets. The general finding was they that they were too busy making shirts instead (read into that what you will!). However, an explanation can be found in the fact that, at the time, any factory could apply for munitions work and with it came the potential of access to new machinery, materials and money - all of which were in short supply.
JB was subsequently placed with the "Higher Appointments Board" as a Manager for up to sixty staff. Towards the end of the war one job, whether by accident or design, sent him back to Murad as Manager of Development and it was during this second spell with Murad that JB spent some time working on the development of a car. This project was, with the benefit of hindsight, doomed from its inception for, even if the vehicle had been sufficiently radical in its design to have attracted an enthusiastic cliental (and then developed for production), it could never have competed with the cost-cutting economies of scale enjoyed by the big Midland-based motor companies. Although an exercise without a satisfactory outcome, JB referred to the car episode as excellent experience; it had cost the company a great deal of money, and diverted resources that might have been better employed on machine-tool, electrical-equipment or research in alternative products - but this was a diversion obviously enjoyed by Mr. Murad as a (rather expensive) hobby for his amusement.
After the car episode, and in order to diversify into other areas, JB was asked to tool up to make electric fires and mincing machines - a less-than-exciting prospect which caused him to resign from Murad's and take up his next Higher Appointments Board posting with the Hatfield Engineering Company. Murad's desire to diversify into "domestic products" was, of course, not unique, and like many other engineering companies, having grown beyond their normal market share on the back of the all-out war effort, needed to diversify to survive. The domestic market was suffering from an acute shortage of household items to replace those worn out during the war - and, more importantly for the country's survival, for export. Even though the items suggested may have been unglamorous, they would have provided a steady income from a steadily growing market.
Immediately after the end of the war, in 1946, Murad moved his operation from Watford to Aylesbury, where he had a purpose built factory constructed for the use of his Company Group. Subsequently the Murad organisation moved again, this time to West Minster, in Sheerness, Kent, at which point some sales literature was marked "Murad International". This move, to an area with few skilled engineering workers, was prompted by Government encouragement and the promise of suitable compensation, which, naturally enough, was never forthcoming. The costs of the move, and the need to divert resources to train new staff, did nothing for profits and trading difficulties were made worse as many machine-tools firms saw a huge downturn in demand. Murad's fertile imagination caused him to counter this by diversification into new fields - a risky undertaking even during good times - and it is suspected that in over-reaching himself in this area caused outgoings to exceed income. Even so, the Company struggled on until as late as 1980, when it was declared insolvent - with the situation complicated by arguments amongst the accountants as to how the assets should be split up, the result being that no one part could be saved. The end was finally confirmed when, on the 8th October 1980 the magazine "Machinery and Production Engineering" carried a full-page advertisement offering the rights to the machine tools and all the production equipment and drawings. At this point JB contacted Mr. Murad who was reduced to living in a "boarding house" in London and had virtually nothing left of his business. Murad offered JB the car and some machine tools (which he declined) in exchange for the production of a prototype gearbox for a typing transcription aid powered by a stepper motor--a new technology at the time. JB produced the required parts, sent a pro-forma invoice - but nothing more was ever heard.
Although Murad was an Electrical Engineer, he clearly had a flair for artistic engineering design and liked to see his ideas become reality. JB described him as: "Good electrically, completely useless mechanically and a good artist. He would be insistent about the appearance of a machine, down to some trivial line on a casting, to give the look he wanted".
His most successful product, certainly in commercial terms, was the Company's range of capstan lathes, especially the 1"-capacity 3Q of which a large number appear to have been made - and which found their way into all manner of production shops including those engaged in armament work. Part of their success was down to the Murad-designed electrical system that eliminated the need for an expensive drive gearbox and made them unusually quiet, even when working hard. They were also robust, accurate and compact.
It seems a shame that, after so successful a business career, and doubtless having to overcome more than casual racism, Mr. Murad should slip away into oblivion; if anyone knows more about the Murad story the writer would be pleased to hear from them..
Some memories of Murad - from notes supplied by John Morris:
While looking through your Archive of machine tool companies I spotted " Murad"; reading on I am delighted to say it was the company I was employed by in the '50s after leaving school at the age of 15 with very little in the way of qualifications. I can remember making a list of local engineering companies and, in my very best writing, drafting letters including one to, " Murad Developments" whose factory address was Stocklake, Aylesbury, Bucks.
I received by return of mail an invitation to attend an interview. As this was my first job offer I tried to look the part, together with advice from my parents on how best to conduct myself when being interviewed and "Don't be late". On the day I duly arrived at the factory and was welcomed by "Betty" who directed me to the office of the "Chief Draughtsman" and was told to wait until called. Murad's offices and foundry were situated a ten minute walk from the factory next to "Negretti and Zambra", a company of instrument makers who considered themselves a cut above their neighbours. On the dot the door opened and out stepped Mr. Jeeves, who announced himself as 'the chief draughtsman' and then introduced me to the boss himself, Mr. Murad. I was a little taken back by his appearance as there were very few coloured people living in the English provinces at that time; he instructed a secretary to make a pot of tea and we settled to the business at hand. Although this was my first ever interview I felt quietly confident as they put me at ease with straightforward questions. Within a day a letter arrived at home offering me a job as a potential apprentice - providing that I first completed a probationary period, of a duration that was not stated. I began work just 48 hours later and my first day in the factory was something of a culture shock after school; there were no attractive young girls wearing tight skirts here! However, I was warmly greeted by the ever smiling face of "Betty" who, I was soon to find, made the whole place tick; she was receptionist, nurse, typist, mail service, secretary for two foremen, confident to all - and finally flashed a nice pair of legs when on her cycle. Betty took me to the office of the two foremen where I was introduced to Mr. Cocking (Alf) and Mr. Dobson ( Harry) who quickly showed me round, telling me at the same time to put on my overalls and, "There's a spare peg in the 'bogs'* to hang your coat. See me when you are ready to start." *bogs: the lavatory - or to sensitive American ears known by the euphemisms: 'bathroom', 'rest-room' 'powder room' and 'little-boys' room'.
Rectangular in plan-form, the factory was divided lengthways by the foremen's office, tool-cutter's store (a Mrs Rayner re-ground the cutters) a finished-parts store and the paint shop. To one side was the assembly line with production of components on the other side.
My first job was operating the power saw which I did alongside another new starter, Cliff Ricard; we were also responsible for collecting castings from the foundry, washing Mr. Murad's cars including the black-painted "Murad" (there cannot have been many factory owners who drove regularly in a car of their own manufacture).
The factory, later occupied by Askey's ice-cream wafer and cornet makers, was a spartan place and in the winter could be very cold; it wasn't uncommon to have night-watchman-type open braziers arranged along the length of the factory - the smoke usually lingering until lunchtime.
Winter tea breaks were spent huddled around the glowing braziers consuming mugs of hot tea, rolls and cakes bought from Mrs. Greenwood, who ran a small refectory opposite the paint shop. Summer breaks were rather more pleasant and we either relaxed outside in the sunshine or played cricket against the factory wall. I worked for Murad from 1956 to the end of August, 1957. After eighteen months I was offered an apprenticeship, but did not take this up, preferring instead to join (after successfully passing the entrance exam) an apprentice scheme offered by a rather more exciting establishment that dealt with rocket-propulsion systems.
My start pay at Murad's was £1: 14 : 7d a week after deductions, which increased to £1: 18 : 9d after one year. During my time with the company I worked in most sections from pen-pushing and sorting in the stores to more exciting times on the busy 'assembly line' (based, economically and efficiently, on two old railway rails bolted to the floor) for the 1A, 1B, 1C and larger 3C Models of capstan lathe. Working there I was shown how to install a suds tank, the pump and associated pipe line and ask the electrician to do a dry run. Leak checks were carried when the machine was powered up for its final pre-delivery checks.
A number of Polish tradesmen, displaced from their homeland by the Second World War, were employed and groups of ladies contributed the usual feminine input of the day by operating milling and drilling machine fitted with jigs and fixtures. Many tradesmen remained loyal to the company for years, if they could withstand the almost Victorian working conditions, for Murad was known for paying over the local rate for the job in order to maintain his employee levels. All the lathe beds were entrusted to the hand scraping of just one man, Harry Rickard, with the fitting and alignment of the saddle, apron and cross and top-slide assemblies attended to by Doug Cox. Harry made his own very effective and low-cost scrapers from the outer track of scrap ball races by removing the cage and balls then annealing the outer track before cutting it open and straightening it; the end was shaped to accept a handle and the tip ground, re-hardened and finished with an oil stone. Cost virtually zero, satisfaction limitless.
Mr. Murad had an unpredictable personality and both pay awards and firings were always on the cards in equal measure - though he treated his apprentices well and with sympathy. In the mid 1950s industrial production was finally clear of the supply difficulties that had plagued post-war reconstruction, though in the Murad factory shut-downs due to power failures were not uncommon as electricity was generated in-house with the energy source an ancient, solid-fuel furnace.
The electric motors for Murad lathes were manufactured by "British Bronson", a subsidiary company that employed a small number of disabled people in the assembly room located within the Murad factory. Extended armature motors were also produced for the two-sizes of Murad off-hand "Dustless" grinding machines; this little known Murad product, with two fans on the motor shaft that drew air down into filter boxed in the machine's base, complimented the range of proper machine tools. Whilst I was there the company also produced, to Government order, a special copper-banding machine that resembled a modified capstan lathe; I can recall the unit being demonstrated to a suited "man from the ministry" and the satisfyingly large amount of copper swarf it produced.
I have just been amusing myself on the Internet when I came across your pages about Murad. Having been born and brought up in Watford, in August 1939 (when I was 141/2 and just a month before the start of World War 2) I started work with a local firm of Electrical Engineers. After two years I left to work for Murad Machine Tools, then located in a rambling former laundry building in Southsea Avenue (I think that my transfer must have entailed a bit of string pulling on the part of Murad as any change of employment at the time had to be agreed with the Ministry of Labour). Another section of Murad, located at the top of Whippendell Road, had the Foundry and small capstan lathe assembly line.
My initial impression of Mr Murad was of a pipe-smoking, unpredictable man - sometimes very amenable yet at others very demanding. He'd come into the factory every day and stand about looking as if he was surveying his empire. Although at my previous employers I had been getting 9d an hour I told Mr Murad that I was receiving 11d, whereupon he offered me 1/- per hour (12d), and besides this rise I have to say that I was also grateful to him for the opportunity, as a young lad, to be trusted to work on machinery that would have been impossible in peace time. I must have made a good impression, for I was soon working on a 17" Le Blonde centre lathe. Although the factory was a shambles (war time allowing no opportunity for cosmetic improvements) most of the machines were modern, self-contained motorised types - in comparison to the factory that I had left where everything was belt driven from overhead line-shafting. Having integrated drive systems meant that Murad could fit his machine in wherever there was a big enough space.
I well remember work being done towards the making the car and I myself did some turning relating to the project, though the main job at that time was manufacturing the small capstan lathe, We also did some subcontracting for Rolls Royce, who had a factory at the private Leavsden Aerodrome. However, I don't think this could have been successful, for the work soon petered out; although we might have worked to tolerances of 3 tenths of a thou it's possible that RR were even more exacting and we couldn't meet their requirements. One job I remember the toolroom having trouble with was a design of knuckle joint that allowed the wings of a plane not only to fold but also turn at 90-degrees so they sat flat against the fuselage - the idea being to save space on board an aircraft carrier.
As I was 16 I was expected to work the "fortnight about" night-shift; days were 8 am until 8 pm and nights from 8 pm until 7.30 am. As well as these long working hours (and remember, I was only a teenager), I was also conscripted to join the local Home Guard - this taking care of my only day off, a Sunday - with duties included long, boring hours fire watching in my street. Two incidents that I can call to mind: one concerns the working conditions, the other a personal gripe with the bonus system. As I have said, the factory was a shambles and up in one corner, not isolated in any way, were three free-standing, case-hardening gas-fuelled ovens. Components were placed in a big metal "pie dish" with charcoal all around them; a lid was placed on top, sealed with fire clay and the "pie" placed in the oven and brought up to temperature for several hours. Because the process was lengthy the ovens operated around the clock and one night there must have been a leak of gas as, one by one, the girls working on machines nearby began to pass out and needed carrying outside to recover. The next evening, when we arrived for work, the maintenance man had hastily rigged up two ceiling fans - rather too hastily as it transpired for during the night one became detached and fell onto an unfortunate worker. Today's Heath and Safety brigade would have had a field day - but back then flat-out war production at all costs was the order of the day and safety took a definite back seat. The other incident concerned the bonus scheme. The Time and Motion man came with his stop watch and clip board and timed every operation. He arrived at a basic time for each operation, with a certain percentage less for a bonus time - and you were paid the difference if you managed to equal or better it. One job I had was to finish machine the eccentrics that operated the tool slide on the small capstan - the blanks being cut off on an automatic with a centre drilled on one face. The part, about 4" in diameter and around 2" thick, had to be faced down one side and half way across the diameter. Then, held in a 4-jaw chuck clocked up until true, the rest of the diameter and the other face machined. After the T & M man had gone I devised a way of doing this job with a running centre and was able to machine straight across the whole of the diameter and down one face in one operation. Turning the piece round brought the now-machined face against the chuck and enabled the other side to be finished just as quickly. Having made around twelve hours bonus on this operation, and looking forward to a large payout, I was feeling very pleased with myself; however my joy was short-lived - as payment was refused. I had not done the job as instructed and, to heap insult upon injury, was not given anything for my idea - a result that made me very wary of attempting to make too much bonus in the future. I also think that Mr. Murad (like many other engineers) did not like the idea of someone else having a better way of doing things that himself. However, on the whole, it was a great time at Murad - with all the war-time comradeship and a shared, strong sense of purpose. There were many more good deeds done than there are now and I look back on those days with affection. People may say that it was a hard time - and so it was, but there was a lot to be said for the way in which we lived despite the interruption of a few bombs and "Doodle Bugs" (V1 flying bombs). I eventually left Murad to join the Fleet Air Arm.
I hope that this rambling will be of some interest to you.
…. and finally:
I have just spent some time looking at your site and I am reminded that in 1972, at 15-years of age along with a school mate, I put on my new blue boiler suit and started working for Mr. Murad at his Sheerway Works at Westminster, Sheerness. I believe that building was originally made for his printing, for in it stood an old Mann printer with various brochures, of past and present products, arranged on racks all squeezed together at one end. Down the cluttered factory were his capstan lathe, drills, milling machines - all things from a passing empire - and there, standing on the factory floor close by the door was the lovely old Murad car. Its blue engine was no longer in place but, standing alongside it, Mr. Murad said he would be driving it again; though he likely never did.
Outside in the yard were piles of old wooden patterns used in the creation of his machines, once so important, but now sad to see them past their useful days.
I used to make, on his milling machine, the small aluminium bushes that fitted into the top of the "Teckni table" and on other occasions we cleaned steel blades that would be used to make small hand-operated paper-cutting guillotines.
One regular job was to cross the road to the shop to get his shopping - which always included a Mr. Kipling Manor House cake; the office was his home at this time.
Once, we had to spend time clearing out other factory buildings crammed with items from what had been the heart of his empire, but now fast becoming junk. During that occasion we found wooden crates with large jars of scent, alongside these were glass funnels, filters and little bottles with Murad labels on; we had some fun decanting some and it smelled OK, as far as I can remember. I guess this had been yet another enterprise to try to keep things going..
Anyway, despite the £5 a week, I never stayed in engineering; hardly started, really, but thank you for the trip down memory lane. What a Man he was, our Mr Murad!