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18 Humphreys Road

History of 18 Humphreys Road

Home of Edward Katon and family from about 1955. They had previously lived at 21 Devonshire Road.

Edward Katon wrote at length about his life and Capturing Cambridge reproduces excerpts of these ‘diaries’.

We moved into an end of terrace two bedroomed house. Turned out that its construction had been held up for 18 months due to the discovery of a Roman coffin with a skeleton inside with two pots of gold. There is reputed to have been a Roman farm in the area, but to my knowledge it has not been found. The house, being at the end of terrace was 90 degrees to the middle houses, so the front door was at the side. Moving on a Saturday took all the morning, two workmen shifted our furniture and the boxes of crockery etc into the furniture van and then unloaded at our new council house. Joyce looked at the heap of stuff left in the sitting room and seemed about to burst into tears when I said loudly ‘Dinner!’ There was then a scramble to get out crockery, frying pan, saucepan, cutlery etc. With the gas cooker installed by the gas man and pressure adjusted we had dinner of sausages, mash and the tin of fruit for sweet and of course a cup of tea. The afternoon was spent laying lino (we couldn’t afford carpets) putting up curtain rails and getting straight. Putting things away in cupboards etc not forgetting to light a fire in the all night burning grate which has a back boiler for hot water. It was lovely to have a bath before going to bed. That was when I had a feeling that something was wrong. Going round the house I eventually realised that I could not hear cold water filling up the loft tank. The water system is that cold water from the mains was piped into your house, a ‘take off’  pipe took water to your cold tap in the kitchen. (This is your drinking water) The piped water is taken to your loft  and into a large tank. It is regulated by a ballcock, a device with a sealed copper ball on the end of a rod. As the water in the tank risers to a set level, the ballcock apparatus rises and shuts the incoming water off. The water from the tank fed the washbasin and cold tap, the bath cold tap and the toilet flushing apparatus (with its own ballcock) and also the hot water tank at the back of the fire. The first ballcock was sitting in the air above the now empty tank. I hit it hard and it immediately fell down to the bottom of the tank and operated the water valve. The mechanism was very elementary and the only thing that could have jammed it was rust in the pivoting lever. I watched the tank fill and checked it operated properly. If the tank behind the fire was not filled, the remaining water would have turned to steam. The pressure wold have blown up the tank and flung fire debris into the front room setting that on fire. Sorting out the front and back gardens were adventures in themselves.

Before I could sort out the gardens we had a tropical storm. When it finished we were surrounded by 2 metres of water. Our house was in a dip. All the ways to it sloped downwards the the water came nearly up to into the house. The front garden slope was not too bad. The side (where the front door was) was wide enough to pass a pram to the rear and the rear sloped steeply upwards at about a  50% angle to our fence, the other side of which was then dirt road leading to an open  space where Council garages were to be built. The back garden gently sloped upwards. Levelling half of it was the solution. A concrete path ran around the house from front to rear back door, but far from neighbours fence. The back door had all glass panels about 10 inches high by 3 ft long. Starting to dig just outside it I thrust the spade down into the earth. Before I had gone half an inch there was a metallic clang and the spade bounced up. Carefully shifting the earth into a bucket I uncovered a drain cover. The next surprise was halfway across the lawn when I uncovered part of a dry stone wall. It ran from my neighbours fence to halfway across the ‘lawn.’ I had intended to make the garden half lawn and half vegetable plot. Now I had to make a decision. Should I inform the archaeological people of the remains of the wall?  Thinking the 18-month of their digging in my garden is quite enough. There were at least three trenches further up the vegetable plot all filled in with old tins oil drums etc. So I dug up the wall as far as my neighbour’s fence and told him about the wall and gave him the bits for foundation of his wooden shed. Then just as I was deciding whether to go another yard or not I bumped into another dry stone wall. That was too much. The wall was hastily covered up.  The earth from the lawn was deposited in the middle of the garage  space and made a big heap up to 2 metres. We went on a week’s holiday and found the heap was a lot bigger and there was a smaller heap outside someone’s back gate. Someone told me that the council would charge me for taking the earth away. My answer was ‘If the council send me a bill I will pay it.’ Eventually council men moved it, but I never had a bill. I concreted a path from the house up to the rear fence. It ended a few feet away from the rear fence in line with my path was another leading to Fortescue Road. In the dark people were likely to walk straight into my fence instead of turning right so I made my path half the width of the other and finished ?? feet from my rear fence. Near the end of the path I dug a 3 ft deep hole for a clothes post. There were some big stones down there and when I pulled them up to look at them they were part of another dry stone wall. They were went back down the hole and my clothes post rested on them. Twice I went Downing Street to tell them but they were shut. Other things happened and I forgot. A few days after we moved in our daughter three-and-a-half years old called out one night ‘There’s a man in my room.’ We went upstairs and there was no one. Asked describe him she described a Roman soldier. We thought the place might be haunted so when our daughter was born we are moved to another house on the same estate.

It is not clear exactly when Edward Katon stopped working for Pye and started as a TV/radio repairman but it would have been sometime in the late 1950s:

I left Pye Telecommunications Ltd where I had worked on a variety of jobs. When big organisations, like the post office or railways ordered thousands of units, which could be broken down and passed down an assembly line, they often slipped in three or four special units which had to be wired from scratch. That was the work of the specialised department I worked in. The best unit was a monitor for the TV cable from London to Birmingham. It was designed in 1939 and shelved when war broke out. In 1946 /47 it was resurrected and given to me to make. A total of five were eventually made. It was a most interesting job. I was able to go into the machine shop and fashion the metal bits until they ran short of work and I readily agreed to doing that side of it. Building things up from drawings (often pencilled) was work I had done at the RAF to radar research station at Gt. Malvern during the war so this was easy for me. The only thin I was not into designing was electronic circuits. So I was sent to the Pye Research Lab where I worked under the man who also taught electronics at night school. We got on fine. I fund that I could not remember formulas for circuits and came to realize my future lay in making electronic units and servicing repairs.

The first shop I worked in as a radio/TV repair man was called ‘Murdoch’. he was part of a big chain of shops in Scotland and North England. They sold musical instruments as well as TVs, radios, records, radiograms. There was another engineer employed there and also drove the firm’s van. I did not drive then and made local calls on my bicycle. Going round Cambridge’s narrow streets in a van and finding parking places was not easy. It was often quicker and easier by bike. Part of the job consisted in taking and erecting a ?? mast. It was in three pieces with supporting wires. You needed three people to erect and dismantle it and we got quite expert at it.

I liked the variety of sets to repair that came into Murdoch. Some modern, some almost antique. One day I had to go to a customer’s house. They had bought a lovely radiogram from us a few week’s ago and it had gone wrong. I cycled out to their home and tried the record player. The record was titled ‘Images’ and had the most weird sounds.. First the sound of two sticks beaten together twice, a few moments and then a short blast on a horn, then another short silence followed by a ‘twoing’ note from a string instrument. This miscellany of single notes and noises continued until the record finished. The lady said, with a very worried look on her face, ‘It doesn’t sound right does it?’ I thought, ‘You’re taking the mickey out of me!’ and replied firmly, ‘No madam, it doesn’t. Let’s try another record!’ It was a dance record and the first three awful noises obviously came from a cracked cartridge in the pickup head. Returning to the shop I found we had no spare so borrowed from the one radiogram left in the shop. It worked perfectly in the shop, so I took it back to the customer and played the start of the dance record and the whole of ‘Images.’ When it finished I smiled at her and said ‘Sounds better now. doesn’t it?’ She agreed. I sent for a new cartridge and a spare which arrived within two days and the new radiogram was all ready for sale.

Another radio engineer joined us. he was a Scotsman and that made three of us. He had previously been a test pilot.One day we gave him a record playerunit we had repaired. It came out of a standard combination radiogram. All he had to do was find the road in the part of the farm rented to our customer & fit the unit on the sliding shelf connect, a few leads. It was a really creepy place even on a sunny day. A pub opposite had been shut for twenty years. You never saw anyone about. The only sign of life was a pregnant pig. It was a sunny day when he set off. He wasn’t too happy when he returned. He had found the farm. Went down the inside unevenly spaced stair in the room where the unit was. He noticed a small table with every sort of alcoholic drink out. Opening the unit, placed the record player assembly in place, went round the back, and had his head inside to see where the connecting leads went when all of a sudden felt prickles and somethin furry on his neck. Startled he straightened up , banging his head on the upper inside of the cabinet. He threw the object to the floor. It was a little kitten which ran off shaken by this. He now determined to have a drink to settle his nerves. That was when he found every bottle was empty except for one bottle with a soft drink of squash near the bottom. He wouldn’t drink that. Finishing after checking the radiogram he went over to the pub only to find it had been shut for 20 years. Still unhappy he was travelling fast when he noticed a police car catching up with him so he slowed down. The policeman indicated for him to stop. ‘You saw me coming after you’, he said.’ That’s right, what do you think I’ve got these mirrors for?’ ‘Where did you learn to drive?’ He was trained on the Link system’, was the reply. (He later told me  that was the system they had been using until lately.) 

I really enjoyed working at Murdochs. We had a section mast with guy wires which we could take round, set up and get TV signals into houses and flats and demonstrated TV sets. One day I cycled out to a customer’s house to mend the TV. Instead of asking me in, the lady asked questions such as “Did mind going up ladders (to attend faulty TV aerials you very often had to”, “Did I mind travelling” and other  questions. When I told her I had come to mend the TV the penny dropped. Her husband ran a window cleaning business and hired contractors to work on factories in London. You got a travel allowance of £8 per week. I got £6. mended the set, I went back and told boss about it. He calmed me down with a 10s a week rise.

After a few months I found that although I enjoyed the work and going meeting people to mend their TVs, radios and radiograms I was not happy at having Sunday only weekends and applied to Pye’s for a TV servicing job. The man who interviewed me said he had no vacancies in the service department at that time and suggested I go on TV production line testing the sets as they cam off the line. he promised me that he would send me to the service department as soon as a vacancy occurred. He was as good as his word but it was five months before it happened. In the meantime I worked on the ‘lines’ where TVs were set up and tested. Setting the picture straight and checking them and see that all controls inside and outside the cabinet worked properly. I enjoyed the companionship of the other operators. Finally the day came to move to the radio and TV service division.

My first job there was to learn how to use the ‘wobbulator’, a piece of equipment used to set up the picture circuits from the incoming signal. It had a linen screen and you attached leads to th jacks of three stages in turn. The picture on the screen should have looked like the outline of a top hat. If it didn’t you knew there was a fault in that stage. The other engineers brought their sets to me if the picture wasn’t clear. You were supposed to be on the wobbulator for 3 months then train someone else to do it while you worked on other faults. The intermittent faults were the hardest of all to find, faults like ‘blows fuses every 10 days,’ and ‘ will suddenly go off in the middle of programme during the evening.’

There were ways of finding those faults and life was never dull. After 4 years we were moved to larger buildings. Cars were brought in to have car radios fitted. Sets with intermittent faults  were put in backs and switched on with low pitched sound coming out of their loud speakers. All this extra noise got on my nerves so I left. Joined a furniture shop that had four small vans in their radio and TV service department and ran an evening shift up to 9 or 10 o’clock.

It was interesting to visit villages I had never heard of alsolots of people. One day when all four vans (radio controlled) were out I settled down mend some of the radios and TVs left on a shelf awaiting attention. I was getting near the end when the foreman came and greeted me. He noticed that I wasworking on a small portable battery radio. ‘That’s Mrs Defrieto’s set, the mother of a labour MP.’ He said, ‘She bought it a few week’s ago and we were all clearing the shelves, when she phoned up to ask about her little set.’ ‘I called out’ he continued ‘who’s got Mrs Defrietoa’s set.’ Alan, one of the engineers had it in front of him. ‘What’s it like?’ I called. ‘Little bundle of rubbish. Should never have been made’ he said. I repeated this down the phone. ‘Really?’ came the reply. I bought it off you several weeks ago brand new. It’s under guarantee.’ he told me he replied ‘Good little sets madam’ and it went back on the shelf until I came. ‘As you have mended it you can buy the one to take it back’ he told me. I did and the lady laughed. ‘ How’s my little bundle of rubbish?’ I just laughed and said, ‘I wasn’t working there at the time, but it’s all right now.’

One morning I had a call to a house. The TV had ‘gone wrong’. The lady let me in and her little (almost miniature) white dog attacked my ankles. When I kicked it wasn’t there & came back to bite my until the lady saw I was going to leave after telling her if she didn’t remove it I would go away. With the dog sorted out I was taken to a big room with a tv in it. It was fairly large with a 12ins screen. A boy and girl about 10 or 12 years old and an old man obviously grandad smoking a pipe came in with me. I turned the tv on, a faulty looking picture came on the screen. The sound was ok. I turned the set round and removed the back cover showing a very busy interior. Immediately the two children rushed up and each put one of their hands inside. Before I could remonstrate with them granddad blew a thick cloud of tobacco inside it. With only a gas filled 40 watt bulb, seemingly on its last legs for illumination. I had had enough. Selecting a big well insulated screwdriver from my kit, I placed the tip on the tubes highest (about 15,000 volts) point and drew a long spark from it with a sparking noise, which also caused a loud noise from the set’s loudspeaker. In a very loud voice and shouted ‘Be careful, this could kill.’ Panic. Mother shouted ‘Dog out, father out, children out.’ The door slammed shut. I thought, ‘Just a minute, she got that wrong. It should have been children first and dog last. Some people have funny priorities.’ Anyway, with them all out of the way, it didn’t take long to fix the set.

I found that I had taken the place of another engineer who had lung trouble and had  to go into Papworth tuberculosis hospital for treatment over 6 months. When he came back I and one of the aerial fitters were made redundant. The second time I was redundant with no redundancy pay in those days. I didn’t blame the man who gone into hospital and came back. We strongly urged that we need a ‘resident’ engineer but to no avail. And I soon found another job.

A few weeks later I was sent to mend an old man’s tv. He was a lovely old man and I liked him straight away. he was cheerful and happy to see me. When I switched the set on I was reminded of the set with the previous family with the dog. I knew I could have some fun with him. So I just growled ‘Well, what’s wrong with it?’ He was taken a back for a moment Then burst out laughing. “All right my son” he said. “You mend the set, I’ll make the tea.” Taking the back off the set I found that the high voltage lead had come away from the tube. Making sure everything was safer I refixed the lead on the tube and all was well. I went into the kitchen, ‘Your set’s fine, how’s the tea coming?’ My next visit to him a  few weeks’ later came just the ‘Horse of the year’ show was on tv, His picture had shrunk in height to abput 2inches. I diagnosed a small transformer. I would take 2 days to arrive. Meanwhile our load set was already out on loan. ‘Can you do anything to get me a picture on my set?’ he asked. I tried all the adjustments in the set, got him a full screen picture, but you have never saw horses like them. A suitcase size body with horses tail. Feet and legs were like ducks feet,a long neck like a giraffe’s and a horse’s head. I roared withlaughter, but he was so pleased to see ‘horses’ jumping. two days later I came back with the transformer. At first he wanted to keep the set as it was, but I explained to him it was under guarantee and would cost him nothing to repair and I would have to charge him once the guarantee ran out. I left a very happy man.




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