There was a time when you could build a conservatory including all the base works within a day! My mate, Chris and I would set off during the early hours in our executive commercial Minivan with a trusty wheelbarrow on the roof and basic tools in the back.
The frames and glass had already been delivered to site and Chris would be unceremoniously pushed out of the van to start to dig the foundation. I would now burn rubber heading off to the nearest builder’s merchants, gravel pit or if it was very early in the morning, the local council’s roadside pile of gravel could be tempting!
It was still before many people’s breakfast time. Back on site, Chris would have the foundations excavated and start knocking up the concrete – more trips for three quarters all in ballast and cement.
Chris was busy knocking up and filling the trenches with his own brand of ready mix concrete. I would begin assembling the aluminium framework and lay out all of the parts on our customer’s lawn.
Whilst we were never expected to lay an Axminster carpet, nonetheless having completed all the other tasks, we set about laying an internal concrete floor. I can recall a large pile of ballast, bags of cement. We couldn’t afford the luxury of a cement mixer, nor indeed would the mini-van have taken its weight but in the course of our day’s labours, we somehow managed to lay an internal floor.
With the concrete now poured, Chris would take over assembly and I would shoot off again in the minivan burning even more rubber to collect bricks. In those days it was just two courses and a single skin, which our highly skilled bricklayer, who I have already mentioned, would take a little over an hour to lay. I always remember a couple of occasions when we run out of cement and some of the frogs would be filled with stones from the garden to save another trip to the builder’s merchants.
We would then complete framework assembly, before screwing this to the house and recently laid bricks, which miraculously seemed to accept this somewhat premature procedure but Chris and I wanted to be home before midnight and nothing was going to stop us. This step was usually completed in time for a late lunch and somewhere along the way we had managed to have a quick breakfast.
Glazing was usually completed by late afternoon, we would then seal the building to its host wall with a couple of tubes of mastic, hang the door and fit two roof vents and finally put the staging together, if that had been provided.
It was now pedal to the metal, for what was often a long drive home, dining at one of our favourite ‘chippies’ en route.
I still cannot believe we would regularly complete one of these projects in a single day, sometimes many miles away from home but we often did and many are still standing.
It was the first day when my new partner Chris had given up his secure job, for my promise of a promising and lucrative future in the glazing construction industry. We came to the first hill near his home approaching Winchester in the battered old minivan and the red light on the dash kept flashing. I told Chris to hand on tight, as I was going to wind it up to 28 miles an hour. To this day he still recalls saying to himself, ‘what have I done?’
One of our funniest moments was going up to North London, where we were to construct a modern style greenhouse, some 10ft x 12ft within the courtyard of an International Civil Engineering Construction Company premises. At first we didn’t see the funny side of it, parking the minivan with its wheelbarrow on the roof, beside the executive BMW’s and Mercedes, which were being sprayed and polished, albeit they probably didn’t need this. Having discovered that the base was not correct, we asked to see an appropriate manager and record being show up to the boardroom to meet one of their directors. I seemed to remember there was a very large teak conference table and pictures all around the walls of prestigious developments in Hong Kong, New York and so forth and almost being challenged by two of the directors when we were saying that the base had not been constructed accurately. Remembering that Chris could lay a few course of bricks in an hour or so, we eventually persuaded them that they had better leave it to us to re-construct as required and no doubt they went on to far more important issues. Back down in the courtyard, Chris and I suddenly saw the funny side of what had happened and literally collapsed in tears, to which we still do to this day when remembering all that had taken place.
Not all of our projects were completed in a day, bearing in mind this was well before the time of Holiday Inns or similar. We could sometimes be driving around an unfamiliar town, trying to find a B&B. We did however have some favourites and one was an elderly lady in Epsom, which shall we say, had seen better states of repair, although we did find it very cosy and most importantly cheap. You couldn’t close some of the windows, as there was ivy growing through and at breakfast time this dear lady was always speaking of people who had stayed with her over the years but were no longer with us. One look at the tea she had brewed, might have provided an answer or were they strangled in their sleep by the ivy coming through her window.
We all know Dad’s potting shed at the bottom of the garden with a bottle of light ale, his Old Holburn or pipe and no doubt a Playboy Magazine was a primitive but albeit most welcome refuge. However, when the weather was favourable, a number of our customers would lay a carpet in their conservatory, which was really no different to a greenhouse construction, more appropriate for tomatoes and geraniums and add an old three piece suite, so that they could sit comfortably in their gardens on many occasions when our English climate did not allow el fresco entertainment on the patio. It therefore did not surprise me when as the years unfolded, more elaborate and better designed glazed sun rooms came onto the market, providing a comfortable and very popular family room to be enjoyed throughout the year.