The Cranfield & Haden-Carrier Years – October 1979 ~ April 1984
Despite successful completion in June 1979, of my one-year PGCE postgraduate teacher training course, at the University of London, Instiute of Education (now part of University College), in physical sciences (mainly physics, plus some chemistry) & mathematics, for 11~18 year age group secondary education, I was unable to secure a suitable salaried teaching post (preferably a grammar school, sixth form college or further education college) anywhere in the country by the end of August 1979, in time for the start of the new school academic-year in September.
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Equally vexing, was my inability to obtain a non-teaching post, having also applied for several of these, when suitable teaching vacancies in physics and/or mathematics, seemed to be few and far between. These included a research assistantship re blast waves associated with hand-held rocket launchers, at RMCS (i.e. Royal Military College of Science); an MOD civil service establishment of quasi-polytechnic status (taught defence related, degree-level courses, ratified by the CNAA – Council for National Academic Awards), with which I was to become better acquainted during 1990~91!
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Whilst at Chelsea College, I had developed an interest in alternative-energy technology and environmental physics, which I was interested in pursuing further, but had previously found no way to do so. However, during the summer of 1979, I had reason to speak with Robert Manning, one of my former physics-student colleagues at Chelsea College, which radically changed my future and that of my Triumph Toledo as well.
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He informed me that the normally 1 year M.Sc. in Applied Energy Engineering course (Energy Conservation and the Environment option), in the School of Mechanical Engineering at CIT – Cranfield Institute of Technology, could also be taken as a 2 year course, incorporating a preliminary 1 year M.Sc. qualifying cum conversion course, for those who held an HND/HNC, non-honours degree and/or non-engineering qualification in physics, chemistry or related discipline; of which he had just completed the first year.
Although by this stage, the final date for applications had already passed, he recommended that I send a letter of application to the Applied Energy Group course director, in the School of Mechanical Engineering, explaining the reasons for my belated application, and simultaneously submit a formal application via the normal channels. Much to my surprise, I was invited for an interview just a few weeks before the course was due to commence in early October 1979 and subsequently offered a place.
In the meantime, I had also learned from the University of London Careers Advisory Service’s fortnightly job vacancies listing, that the Haden-Carrier Group in London were offering sponsorships to students studying for an HND or B.Sc. in Environmental Engineering. I didn’t match their criteria, but having nothing to lose, I contacted the company, explaining that I was already a graduate of B.Sc. Applied Physics including modules in alternative-energy & environmental physics and that I was applying for a two-year M.Sc. course at CIT – Cranfield, that was closely related to Environmental Engineering.
Again to my surprise, I was invited for an interview with the head of the personnel department in central London, which was co-ordinating these sponsorships, whereby students would receive an allowance of £60 per term (i.e. later increased to £120 per term), plus a pro rata salary during college vacations when working with whichever Group company or department one had been assigned.
I didn’t fit the existing profile of Haden-Carrier Group’s sponsored students, being a postgraduate, but their Central Engineering R & D Laboratory, had an existing vacancy which had remained unfilled for at least six months and they wondered whether it might be of interest to me; noting that my Summer 1976 university vacation job, had been in the Mobil Oil Company’s Research & Technical Service Laboratory; some of which involved investigating the viability of blending bitumen with sulphur, as a reduced-cost material for road surfacing.
After a meeting in Wembley, Middlesex (on the fringe of west London), with the R & D Laboratory’s manager a few weeks later, I was taken on as the Group’s first postgraduate sponsored student, with my pro rata salary directly linked to that of graduate trainees, which was higher than that of other sponsored students and was £500 more per annum pro rata, than I would have earned as a newly qualified graduate teacher. I also gained the additional concession of being officially based in central London, but on attachment to the R & D Laboratory, in Wembley, so I was eligible to reclaim a significant proportion of my travelling expenses.
In principle, it would have been possible to drive daily in the Triumph Toledo from Canvey Island, Essex, to and from the R & D Laboratory, in Wembley, Middlesex, but it would have been a long, tiring and harrowing journey during the long peak-traffic periods, either via central London or around the A406 North Circular ring road; recalling that the M25 London orbital motorway had yet to be built. Instead, I commuted by public transport (i.e. bus, train & London underground train), which door to door, took about 2 hours each way; including a 15 minute walk from Hangar Lane underground station, at the junction of the A406 and A4.
In early-October 1979, at the age of 23¾, I commenced two years of study in the School of Mechanical Engineering at CIT – Cranfield, but I was not authorised by my father, to take the Triumph Toledo with me. Unbeknown to me until decades later, he lived in fear of me (an only child) being killed or injured in a motoring accident of some kind; a fate that had befallen the only son of my father’s colleague, shortly after passing his driving test. Hence, for the next year or so, I was obliged to rely upon public transport; taking approximately 4 hours each way, when travelling home for the weekend, by bus (ran at two-hourly intervals), British Rail train, London Underground train, British Rail train and bus.
However, after driving our 1973 VW 1600 Type 2 campervan in France & Switzerland and a hired Datsun E20 campervan in South Africa, Swaziland & Botswana, during our 1980 Easter and Summer touring holidays, my father concluded that I was a capable, careful & responsible driver, so he finally relented and allowed me to take the Triumph Toledo to university, making life and travel much easier and more convenient.
So, in October 1980, at the start of my second year at CIT – Cranfield, I finally took the Triumph Toledo with me. I successfully completed my M.Sc. in mid-September 1981 and was invited to continue my research project for a Ph.D., for which I obtained consent from Haden-Carrier, but sadly circumstances forced me to abandon this research in late-April 1984, after 2½ years. So, contrary to my original expectations, I was using the Triumph Toledo, to travel back and forth between Canvey Island and CIT – Cranfield, for about 3½ years.
During this period, Haden Carrier had announced its intention to close the Group Central Engineering R & D Department, so I had no job to return to. Fortunately for me, I soon found a suitable post, requiring my specialist expertise, at Celcon Blocks Ltd. (part of the Kingsway Group of companies), in Grays, Essex, just 15•7 miles by road from my home on Canvey Island and commenced full-time employment in late-June 1984, at the age of 28½.
CIT – Cranfield Institute of Technology (integral with Wharley End village, a few miles from Cranfield village), accessed by unclassified roads, is on the Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire border, roughly mid-way between Bedford and Milton Keynes. In common, with many establishments, any vehicles which were parked on campus, had to have a parking permit, bearing its registration number, displayed on the windscreen.
Cranfield Parking-Permit Disc
In those days, there was no M25 London orbital motorway, so the quickest and least congested route from Canvey Island to CIT – Cranfield, was cross-country, on the A1301, A130, A414, A1060, A1250, A120, A10, A507 and various unclassified roads, via Chelmsford, Hatfield Heath, Bishop’s Stortford, Puckeridge, Buntingford, Baldock, Stotfold, Ampthill and several small villages, on a variety of roads, several of which were extremely windy, with a succession of several sharp left-hand & right-hand bends, with quite short straight-road sections between.
Mark Tothill, from Padstow, Cornwall who was one of my fellow students in the School of Mechanical Engineering, had a Triumph Dolomite Sprint. He suggested that it might be possible to fit Dolomite Sprint front & rear anti-roll bars to my Toledo. Detailed close-quarter inspection of both the Dolomite Sprint and Toledo, indicated that he was probably correct. He also suggested that decambering the front wheels might also improve road holding when negotiating bends. I implemented both upgrades during the summer of 1982 and winter of 1982/83.
Over the coming years, the Triumph Toledo was to become intimately acquainted with every junction, bend, concealed entrance, pothole and drain cover of that route. The MOT, road tax and insurance, were already paid for, so if one considered just fuel costs, using the car was significantly cheaper than using public transport, even with a 33•3% discount obtained using a student rail card.
On a typical Friday or Sunday evening, after my evening meal, driving to and from home at the weekend, the 80•0 mile journey took almost exactly 2½ hours, but when the traffic was especially light, it took only 2¼ hours. In December 1981, after a week of snow, before the university’s Christmas vacation, it took me 2¾ hours to drive home along this route, driving most of the time on hard-packed snow, so my Driver Advisory Course, with the Essex Police Driving School, during the late-1970s, again proved its worth.
In later years, when enough sections of the M25 London orbital motorway were built, I sometimes travelled via the A1301 (now re-designated as part of the A130 to Chelmsford, since they were joined), A127 – Southend Arterial Road, M25, M10, A1031, A414 and M1, turning off at M1 Junction 14 for the A509, signposted for Newport Pagnell and travelling the remainder of the journey to CIT – Cranfield via other unclassified roads, that took me around the perimeter of CIT’s large airfield, which had been part of the former RAF Cranfield aerodrome, that formed an important part of CIT’s College of Aeronautics’ facilities.
At that time, there was no junction between the incomplete M25 and the M1. This route using the M25, M10 and M1 motorways, was also exactly 80•0 miles, as indicated by my odometer & trip-counter, but typically took 2 hours returning to CIT – Cranfield on a Sunday evening, which was ½ hour shorter than my 80•0 mile cross-country route. Returning home on Friday evenings via the motorway route was usually impractical; commonly involving journey times of more than 2½ hours, because of traffic congestion, even as late as circa 7:00 pm.
Joining the M1 (Junction 7) from the M10 near Hemel Hempstead, was quite challenging, because the down-hill slip-road from the roundabout had two lanes, which served as both an entry & exit slip-road on & off the M1, in addition to being the through-road from the M10 to Hemel Hempstead. Northbound traffic on the M1 was always busy, even on a Sunday evening, so I was obliged to accelerate hard down the slip-road in 3rd gear and change up to 4th gear at something in excess of 50 mph, and then accelerating to almost 70 mph in 4th gear, negotiating lanes of traffic, to swoop like a Valkyrie onto the motorway’s nearside lane, adjusting my speed as necessary by means of the brakes, to fit into a “convenient” gap in the traffic.
I find motorway driving extremely tedious and the Triumph Toledo 1300 is not ideally suited to motorways, having a comfortable cruising speed of 50~60 mph, which is okay, but there is insufficient reserve power to comfortably overtake slow-moving lorries under heavy traffic conditions, especially on hills, which can be as steep as 1-in-25 to 1-in-20 (i.e. 4% to 5%) on some motorway sections. The overall fuel consumption was the same via either route to within measurable tolerances, so I still tended to take the cross-country route, unless circumstances obliged me to do otherwise.