Montague Burtonís

Northern lights roof

One of the UK’s largest tailoring companies, Montague Burton’s (now Burton's and part of Arcadia)  was based in a mill building in Leeds, in the late 70’s they were moving away from manufacturing and over to importing finished goods and required storage. They selected the whole top floor of the mill for storage of leather and fur goods which were high risk stock items. 

Chubb already had several systems on the site and now started a major new work to create a high security area. The specification was to say the least over the top.

Because the mill had a northern lights glass roof, the alarm required infrared interruption beams at 18-inch intervals for the full 150-yard-long floor of the mill, so 300 units just for the roof. At 50-yard intervals, banks of three infrared interruption beams were to be installed at low, medium, and high level around the perimeter of the whole area and across the width at the 50-yard intervals points, another 36 units. 

Every window required a tube and batten wired frame simulating security bars, but with wires through the tubes.

Every door required wiring on the bottom section, a frame covering the glass section and a door contact to detect the door being opened. In addition, ultrasonic movement detectors were to be installed in every office approx. 35 units in all.

It took over nine months to install the system even with on occasions as many as twelve engineers on site. During this period, several memorable events occurred; -

The construction of the tube and batten frames was one area, we estimated it took a man a day to build and fit just one, and there were dozens of windows down both sides of the mill top floor. 

To alleviate the boredom, we held tube cutting championships, fastest to cut all the tubes needed for a frame won, of course this descended into farce, when people tried to cut whole bundles of tubes with a hacksaw at once, a lot of tubes were not the correct length after so some degree of waste was introduced. 

However a few of the waste tubes found a new life, as pea shooters, using putty or small round plastic cable connectors, we chased each other around the mostly empty building until one engineer ran into another who stopped suddenly, the result was the engineer lost a 12mm diameter circle out of his top and bottom lips, a war wound which he had to bear for ever afterwards much to the amusement of all involved.

On the lower floor of the building vans and lorries were loaded with racks of clothes, the clothes were hung from ‘jets’ which were long enough to hold approximately 50 hangers with clothes and hung from a tubular rail system installed throughout the loading area, by lifting a section and dropping it onto another rail, similar to changing points on a railway, the clothes could be loaded quickly onto matching rails inside the vehicles. 

Martin started first, taking hold of a spare jet, then running and hanging from it by raising his legs, he could speed along the rail network at some tilt, the loading area that day had a single row of clothes awaiting the vehicle and the whole of the rest of the system was empty, several of us started to hold races on parallel tracks and a lot of laughing, pushing and shoving ensued. 

One of the engineers then realised he could move the points after someone had started their run, causing sudden diversions onto other tracks and around corners. 

Unknown to us because our view of the entranceway was obscured by waiting jets of clothes, security had walked into the loading area, I had just started to run and hang when an engineer changed the points ahead, I flew around the corner and knocked one of the security guards off his feet. They were not impressed.

One of the tasks included cutting hardboard sheets to size to cover wiring stapled to the surface of a door. I had been shown a quick technique for this and decided to demonstrate this to the watching engineers, I laid one sheet on top of another at the cut line location, kneeled upon the sheet and started to run a Stanley knife down the sheet using the top piece as the guide, the first sheet was scored neatly, and with a little pressure broke neatly along the line. 

Everyone was most impressed, however for the second cut the knife dug in to the side of the top sheet and ran up and over the edge, cutting my thumb of my left hand quite badly, after a round of applause, two of the engineers grabbed a stretcher from its box nearby, laid me on it and walked me round to the onsite surgery, we all looked pretty daft arriving with a stretcher for a cut thumb, but the nurse saw the funny side as she stitched up the cut. 

One of the engineers, once he realised that there was a surgery and dentist on site, booked an appointment with the dentist and had several fillings completed for free. Just another perk, he claimed.

In the intruder alarm industry, we had been taught not to discuss security with anyone asking questions on site, this was a throwback from the days of Burgot, when systems were top secret and intruders thought it was bad luck when the police caught them in the act. 

However, while working in the offices, Peter fielded a question from one of the ladies in the office, “what exactly are you doing”, to which he glibly replied, were installing CCTV cameras so that management can keep an eye on everyone. 

Half an hour later, we went for lunch and upon our return there were hundreds of people standing in the street outside the building, we joined in at the back presuming a bomb scare or similar had caused an evacuation. The lady Peter joked with earlier then pointed him out and said “it was him who said it”, it transpired that Peter’s glib comment had caused a full walk out backed by the union representative and was on the verge of a full strike. 

Whilst working at the site, I was asked to park my motorbike in the car park which formed the ground floor of a 1950’s building opposite the mill, there were parking bays marked out for motorcycles so all was well, however I returned one day to find that a clumsily parked scooter had fallen over onto my bike and had damaged the seat, I lifted the scooter as best I could and found it did not have a stand, so I laid it on the floor. 

I then had a silly moment and thought I would teach the owner a lesson, I removed both side panels from the scooter and standing on the seat of my bike, I placed them on top of a series of insulated overhead pipes, I left with a smug grin and every day when I arrived, I looked to see and they were still there.

On another occasion, there was a push to complete and a dozen engineers were on site, Our favourite supervisor Gordon decided he needed to hand out a warning to one of the other apprentices, his favourite part of his job, so he drove to site to conduct this. 

On arrival no one could find the apprentice, a search of the building located him in the locked storeroom we were using for our tools and equipment, trussed up like a chicken, Gordon did not free him, just handed him the envelope with the written warning inside and left.

Installing the control equipment was daunting, with over a hundred 50 core cables from the roof alone to be connected to relay panel expanders with 16 relays per panel, each panel was a steel box approximately 14 inches by 18 inches by 4 inches deep, and there were 14 of these along with the control panel, the signalling panel and the ultrasonic detectors all on one wall in a side room. 

I was given the task and it took me a full week to install all the control panels, I asked the electrical contractor if I could use some of the 4 X 4 galvanised steel trunking he had on site and set about creating a grid of trunking to surround every panel, with brass bushes drilled through from the trunking for myriad cable access.

When completed, supervisors were tasked with connecting and commissioning the whole system, this took weeks but was eventually signed off.

Meanwhile our favourite supervisor Gordon called me into his office for a warning, it would seem the electrical contractor had invoiced Chubb for the trunking I had asked for and believed had been freely given. As I was the apprentice on site, this would be 100% my fault, so just another written warning then.

The whole high security system installed was a bit of a joke, the system reported to a small HO (home office) indicator panel in the tiny ground floor corner security office, the security office door was open most of the time and overnight was manned by a single past retirement age guard. 

Disabling the guard, or even the system would have taken seconds even during the day, anyone could have walked into the office from the street and as it was not occupied some of the time, just taking the light bulb out of the panel would have effectively disabled the whole system.

Just three weeks after completion, Chubb received a call from Burton’s, they had decided to knock down the office in which the control equipment had been located and required the whole control system re locating, one of the supervisors simply retorted, I will make sure I am off sick when the order for that comes in.

Many years later my friend and neighbour, who was the IT director for Arcadia, invited me to his office where the entire global operation was controlled, this was in a modern building on site at the old Montague Burton’s mill in Leeds. 

I had purchased a new PC processor and he offered to help me to get the speed settings on the board correct whilst showing me around the facility. 

I parked in the same car park for the visit, afterwards I had a look, and sure enough the scooter panels were still there.