BILSTON ENTERPRISE LTD.
When I left Joseph Sankey I joined
Bilston Enterprise to teach engineering. The company had been
set up to retrain unemployed local people. The man in charge
of the company was Tommy Icke. The company offered courses, usually
lasting 16 weeks but people could leave the course (if, for
instance, they found employment) and then come back to it. We
offered about 34 such courses including carpentry, joinery, welding,
bricklaying, stacker truck driving, car repairing, model making,
engineering, wood carving, picture framing, painting and decorating,
and secretarial work.
The company's headquarters were in the buildings behind the church in George Street, Ettingshall, where the community centre now is. The secretarial courses were run there but the company had other premises in Bilston. I had an office in the town centre, above the dentist opposite the Town Hall. But most of the trade courses were run in the old Phoenix (British Heat Resisting Glass Co.) premises at the corner of Loxdale Road and Oxford Street.
Many of these trades course produced good which could be sold and the proceeds ploughed back into the company to train more people. So, for example, garden tables, benches and picnic tables were sold from the Phoenix works. And so were enamels.
The enamelling section was under Reg Jones. In the engineering section I produced copper boxes for enamelling; and the people on the framing course produced frames for the flat enamels. The decoration on some enamels was produced by using transfers but most of the output was of hand painted enamels, all of which was done, not by trained artists, but by local unemployed Bilston people. All of them were signed by the person who did them, either on the front of the enamel (and I remember "Pete" doing a lot of them) or on the paper label on the back of the frame, or both.
A large number of these enamels were sold at the Phoenix works and many were produced to order when someone, usually locally, asked for a particular picture or for something to commemorate a particular event.
Our courses were, I think, pretty successful even though there was, at that time, precious little employment available in Bilston. But as an example I remember a young man on the woodcarving course who went from us to university and who is now a well known local wood carver who includes commissions for public art in his work.