A lifetime in the workshop

colinpearcePast issues of the Wychwood Magazine have featured a series on individuals who have spent a lifetime in one career, or, at least, what has perhaps felt like a lifetime. The spotlight has been shone on a doctor, a builder and a farmer. In this issue, we turn our attention to Colin Pearce, an engineer.

Every community has more than its fair share of unsung heroes, the sort of people who take pride in their work, work that is achieved with absolutely no fanfare, but work that is appreciated by colleagues and employers alike. They are the sort who do not move far, who become part of the bedrock of their own community, who take immense satisfaction in family life and who stand for all the best values that underpin our society. Enter, stage left, Colin Pearce, lifelong resident of both Milton and Shipton, a friend of many and a calm reassurance in a fast-changing world.

Colin, like his wife of 60 years, Barbara, was born in the Wychwoods, lived in The Sands when he first married before moving to Barbara’s grandparents’ cottage opposite the Shaven Crown in 1963. But back to the beginning…

Colin’s parents moved to Milton from their home in south Wales in 1927 on a day long-remembered as the occasion not only of a change of location but of a victory for their beloved Cardiff City in the F.A. cup final. His mother was headmistress of Milton school and the family lived in the schoolhouse close to the church. Aged just nine years, Colin was sent to a boarding school back in Pontypool and it was from there, at the end of his secondary education that he set off on a cycle tour in the Brecon Beacons. He then received a telegram from his mother informing him that he was to start work at the Post Office Radio Station at Leafield later that same week.

Photograph of new building work of the Power House at the Leafield Wireless Radio Station site. Date: not known

Photograph of new building work of the Power House at the Leafield Wireless Radio Station site.
Date: not known

Two years of radio work resulted and this was followed by two years of National Service with the RAF, based at Henlow, where his focus was again on radar. He determined on a change of direction so Leafield it was, but not in the radio section. Always practical by nature, maybe stemming from his childhood’s most treasured possession, a Hornby clockwork train, he was destined for a career in the workshop, first as an apprentice and, from the early 1960s until retirement in 1992, as foreman.
The title ‘Jack of all trades’ suited Colin to the ground. Although he had trained as a mechanical engineer at Witney and then at Headington Tech – now Brookes University, he could turn his hand to most things. He was never more at home than in his workshop. Mending fittings, repairing water pumps and even making nuts and bolts, a job unheard of in the twenty first century; these were all his tasks. Mechanical challenges were always met with what would now be called a ‘can-do’ attitude.

For one day short of 40 years, Colin continued his life in the workshop but it was not all work and no play. Together with Barbara, whom he first met spectating at a bowls tournament in Porthcawl, he raised three children and enjoyed a range of activities, not least snooker and table tennis. Many of these took place in the thriving social club at the radio station or, at least, what started as a radio station but was taken over by BT and used as their training college from 1970. Bowls became a life-long passion, with both husband and wife becoming stalwarts of Shipton bowls club and appearing regularly in county teams.

Colin’s life was, however, if the pun can be excused, lived below the radar. He was perfectly content with his family life, his hobbies and his love of the workshop. The limelight was never for him. Even when the dramatic blowing up of the radio masts took place above Leafield, the job was done by riggers, with Colin in the background, literally picking up the pieces. When one of the masts fell right across the water main, Colin quietly got on with rescuing the situation and restoring the supply.

Aerial photograph of the new Leafield Technical Centre - TWR-1 Date: c 1990s

Aerial photograph of the new Leafield Technical Centre – TWR-1
Date: c 1990s

One further challenge that he met with a smile and many fond memories came after a day of heavy snow up at Leafield when he and his colleague, Len, struggled up to the crest of the hill on the way back to the Wychwoods in the pitch blackness of an Oxfordshire night. Len slipped, damaging his ankle. Unable to walk, he was literally miles from help. Colin carried him back down to the workshop, laid him on a row of valve boxes and covered him up with some old cloths to spend his night recovering. Job done, and no fuss.

So after 40 years, when the Radio Station announced its closure, he retired, spending a couple of years instead as a delivery driver. Never one to stand idle, he drove for the Day Centre and the surgery in his retirement. But this was nearly all out of the public eye. This quiet and unassuming man moved gently into old age and, when he had finished speaking with the Wychwood Magazine, he sat back, reached for the remote and resumed his passion for snooker; such characters do, indeed, provide the bedrock for our community.

February – March 2019