Category Archives: Roy’s Thoughts

Dad started the business in 1946 so he’s been involved in the world of sewing machines for longer than most. Since Alan and Steve were young boys Roy has regaled them with his tales about starting the business and his experiences along the way.

Penny Farthing

A small part of our machine demonstration showroom contains a selection of the worlds top dozen overlockers. They are superb machines, some with auto looper threaders, and all chosen by us as the markets best buys.

Seeing them each day takes me back a few years to when there were factories in Britain that made such machines, only industrial types of course.

When I first got demobbed I got a contract to make and to service Butt Seam machines for a Manchester company that sold them to cotton mills and dye works all over Lancashire and Yorkshire. Butt Seamers were a special type of overlocker. I travelled by motor bike (allowance a princely sum of 1 penny farthing per mile by the not over generous company). One day, coming into the factory from some Yorkshire calls, the manager came down as usual to peer at the mileage on my bikes speedo. He would then deduct 6 miles from my claim because I lived 6 miles away from Collyhurst, in Irlams of the Height. As mentioned they were not the most generous company, Scrooge would have been proud of them.

As I was about to leave the manager said, “Oh you need to do another repair in a mill at Kirkcaldy, in Scotland”.

“Not likely” I said, knowing my 15 year old BSA Blue Star probably wouldn’t make it to Scotland. He then said I was to go by train and produced a ticket. I didn’t notice until I got home that the ticket was timed for midnight from Exchange station.

So off I went, and arrived next morning about 9am having changed at Edinburgh to a train stopping at every small station until we reached the middle of nowhere – Kirkcaldy.

A man met me there and drove us to the factory, even deeper into nothingness. The machine took about 15 minutes to put right, and looking up I noticed a vision in a white overall walking past. She was beautiful, but as I gazed, several other girls passed, all absolutely gorgeous. Remember, I was just demobbed, single, 20 years old and only used to seeing the occasional ATS girl swathed in khaki. Some of these were bigger than the average squaddie, and much tougher….

I thought that Kirkcaldy must be Brigadoon, and decided I would stretch the job out overnight, reasoning these visions must live somewhere nearby and the village must have a pub or even a dance hall. These dreams were interrupted by the manager coming along and saying I see you’ve fixed it fine so we’ll drop you back at the station now.

Ignoring my frantic suggestions that I stay overnight to give the machine a really good test, he ushered me into the van and drove me away from Brigadoon. Ah well.

I had a three hour wait at the station, a slow train that stopped every couple of miles and finally arrived in Edinburgh to wait another three hours for another train that stopped every few miles. I was told to change at Preston, for Salford. By the time we reached Preston I was fast asleep, and didn’t wake until Warrington at about 4am. Finally, after an hours sleep at home, I went back to the factory to carry on building a 32 foot long special machine we were making for a conveyor belt manufaturer in the Rossendale valley.

That weekend I presented my bill for the weeks labours including the overnight travelling etc. This was indignantly refused by the manager, stating he wasn’t going to pay me whilst I was ‘lounging in luxury on a train’. So I refused to finish off the special machine, which forced him to pay me the overtime.

I then finished off the special, went to Rossendale the next day and commisioned it, gave the satisfaction note to manager back in Collyhurst, told him to get someone else in future, and like Roy Rodgers, rode home on my motorbike.

Occasionally, a potential customer looking around our showroom will ask me if I know anything about overlockers. I respond by relating the above to them. Their eyes begin to glaze over until one of my sons, Alan or Steven, takes pity on them and prises me away from them.

Roy Bamber, aged 78 and 11/16ths. I use imperial measurements as you see and bugger Brussels, and they can keep their sprouts as well.

Vera Jollie

My 5 year old Grand-Daughter recently asked me how I started in sewing machines. So I told her.

I left school at 14 in February, 1945. Got a job at 30 Bob (£1.50) for a 56 hour week assisting the mechanic in a sewing factory in Salfords Dockland.

I got on well learning the trade and the owner of the factory next door asked me to service some of his machines in the evening. He paid me, eventually, with two old broken industrial sewing machines heads, no motors or stands for them.

However, during my daily bike ride to work I had noticed a domestic sewing machine treadle stand atop a blitz site. That Saturday, finishing work at noon, I hired a handcart from a rag and bone yard and pushed it to the bombsite.

I struggled up the mountain of bricks and rubble and managed to drag the stand down to the street. Only to be greeted by a copper who told me “That’s looting, you can be shot for that”. Eventually he told me to ‘Bugger off before the Sergeant came along’. As he turned to go I asked him for a lift to put the stand onto the handcart with my bike. He seemed a bit amused by my cheek, but he did help me load it.

I pushed the handcart (“What’s a handcart Grandad???”) about 4 miles home to Irlams O’th Height and got the machine assembled and working. Took it about 400 yards to my first ever customer a real lady by the name of Vera Jollie. She was delighted with it and gave me the agreed price of Ten Pounds by way of two crisp white fivers. A tenners nowt these days, but in early 1946 to a then 15 year old, it was a fortune.

Finishing this epic tale, I turned to look at my Grand-Daughter, expecting the usual torrent of questions. She was sound asleep.

Since then my company has supplied thousands of machines to Schools, Colleges, Universities, Hospitals and nice people all over the UK. But I’ll never forget that first tenner from Vera Jollie.
My two sons, Alan and Steven, who run the business these days, reckon I’ve still got it.

Dad’s Super 7

The Myford ML 7 lathe you can see in our workshop, I got in payment for servicing lots of sewing machines for a local school. I made the heavy wooden stand for it and stripped the whole lathe, cleaned it all up and painted it blue.

I used it for years, mostly making parts for overlockers, and we still find many uses for it to produce the odd unobtainable, obsolete part in our workshop.

Quite a number of male customers have mentioned it, mostly saying they used to work on one but had never seen a blue one!

Fair Do’s

A middle aged Yorkshire couple came in the shop the other day – I’d seen their Land Rover on our car park camera monitor.

“Reet lad,” he said, “I want a good machine for t’wife.”

I walked around her and said, “Well she seems a fair swop – but can she cook?”

“Oh, fairley,” he said, “and I’ll throw in a couple of sheep – how’s that?”

Strangley, his wife wasn’t amused.

My First Bernina

I’ll never forget the first Bernina machine I came across in 1958. It was a model 600 brought to me for repair at the small shop I had then, about 200 yards from our present much larger store.

I was already selling Viking, Necchi, Novum and my own branded Bamber machines. As a mechanic I was much impressed with the superb build quality of the Bernina 600. After minor repairs it ran like a Swiss watch and the stitch quality was superb!

It took some time to track down the distributor, (no Google in the fifties), Bogod, in London. I wrote to them but was immediately rebuffed as “they already had a dealer in Manchester”. Undeterred, I closed the shop and drove to London in my Ford Anglia Van, parked on the street outside Bogods premises – no meter maids then – and spent two hours convincing them I “was a good thing”. They again mentioned the Manchester Stockist but I told them that my shop was in Patricroft – they asked where Patricroft was and I said, “Between Manchester and Liverpool”. For some reason they took this to mean it was equidistant between the two Cities. They then reluctantly agreed to supply me with just one machine to sell at £65.00. They offered me 30 days credit but I plonked down the trade price in cash, which cheered them. I then siad I’d take it with me thus saving them the transport cost, and I finally drove away with one Bernina 600 machine. Not a bad days work.

By 10.30 next day I sold the machine, rang Bogod to order another 5 machines and posted a cheque to cover the order. The machines arrived a week later (after my cheque had cleared). Bogod, a family concern like ourselves, have told us over the last few years that we sell more Berninas than any other shop in both the UK and Europe.

Not entirely all my own work as after my two sons, Alan and Steven, had joined me in the family business, I made sure I sent them to Bogod in London, and Bernina in Switzerland for training. They have also been to Pfaff in Germany and did factory mechanics courses with our other suppliers.

Nowadays they run the business and sometimes even tell me what to do. I take absolutley no notice of them of course, and consequently, we three get along amicably and the business ticks over nicely.

Quiet Day on Regent Road

Roy BamberI remember a quiet day in my Regent Road shop Salford in the sixties. It was raining heavily and I noticed an old lady who’d been standing at the bus stop was now coming in the shop. She asked for a demonstration, and I showed her several different models. She liked the Novum Mark 10, a modern good value machine which we sold at £69.00. The nearest equivalent machine was the Singer Slantomatic and since that cost £114.00 the Novum was better value. She decided to buy one and asked if I could deliver it, she would come with me and pay for the machine when we got to her house.

It turned out she lived the other side of Manchester in Hyde. When we finally reached her street she got out, said she’d go in by the back door and would open the front door for me “in a minute”.Ten minutes passed, then fifteen before I realised the crafty old dear had, just like Baldrick, devised ‘A cunning plan’ to get a free ride home, out of the rain. And I, of course had fallen for it!

It struck me as funny, and I admired the old girls cheek. I couldn’t help laughing as I reached for the key to start the engine. Just then, her front door opened and she beckoned me in. “So sorry to keep you” she said. “I just went for my sister-in-law three doors away, so she could watch you demonstrate it again to me”. So I did, and as I finished and the old lady paid me, her sister-in-law asked if I would “bring one for her tomorrow, payment on delivery”

So all my nasty suspicions were wrong and I drove back to Salford, a little bit richer and a lot wiser.

I love this business!!

Still Got Gas in the Tank

About 10 years ago Dad (Steve and I call him RB) needed a heart bypass. RB being RB, it ended up being a quadruple bypass – he never does anything in half measures. A bit like his telephone conversations really, which as some of you will know can last a day.

After his 79th birthday in February (2010) he was a bit low and took to his bed, telling my brother Steve and I that he was only fit for the knackers yard and was seriously thinking of retiring. (Mind you, he’s been telling us this same bloody (sorry) story for the last 10 years!!!). However, a trip to the vet confirmed that he needed some more work on the old ticker.

A thick fug of depression descended and all was gloom and doom. We noted he’d not been this fed up since Carol Vorderman had left Countdown.

A stent was required, to help the blood flow through his arteries, along with the Southern Comfort, Bells and the Antiquary, to name but a few. Fair enough, he’d given up on the 80+ fags a day and his pipe (I still remember the smell of St Bruno) a long time ago but these things do catch up with you in the end.

Come the morning of the procedure and RB was not his usual robust self, he only took the mickey out of me two or three times – a sure sign that he wasn’t quite himself. I got him to Wythenshawe Hospital for 7.15am, he was still rather quiet and subdued. I booked him in, walked him up to ward F2 and left him in the capable hands of the Doctors and Nurses for his angioplasty procedure. They told me to call back for an update at 1:30pm, so I spent the next few hours doing several laps of the hospital, inside and out, with the odd pit stop for coffee or tea etc. and my usual feeble attempt at the Telegraph crossword puzzle. “The trawlerman’s after deducting expenses (3, 6). Net profit”

Anyway, come 12:30 I phoned the ward and was told RB had had his procedure and all was well and I should pick him up at 3:00. Long hours passed until 3:00 and I entered his room with some trepidation, I expected to find RB conked out from the anesthetic and several tubes plugged into him. Instead, he was sat in a chair with a smile on his face. Hooray!

Turns out all had gone well and he was feeling fine. (Phew!) A Nurse came into the room to tell RB what he should and shouldn’t do over the next few days. Of course he ignored all that and started to chat her up! “Go home, rest and take it easy for a week”, she said. He thanked all the Doctors and Nurses and I took him home.

Driving him to his house, he started to tell me where both Steve and I were going wrong with the business and how we were generally a pair of turkeys (one of his favourite expressions). Being the number one Bernina dealer in Europe, phones that never stop ringing and websites bringing in sales from around the world cuts no ice with RB.

I phoned him the next morning to check if he was ok, of course he should have been in bed resting. “Bloody (sorry) Doctors receptionists” he said. “I’ve just cycled up to the surgery so they can remove the thing from me arm where they inserted the wire for my procedure”. Of course RB expected everyone to drop everything and sort him out straight away. He was back to his cantakerous best – and long may it continue!

Alan Bamber
(number one son)

Errand Boy

Outside a Butcher’s shop about 50 yards from our store, there’s an old Butchers boys delivery bicycle. Takes me back to when I was 12 and worked after school, and all day Saturdays, delivering peoples grocery orders on such a bike.

The firm was called Scholes, and it annoyed Wetherfields and other grocers by displaying a sign saying ‘WE SELL FOR LESS’. They also paid the staff less. I worked every day after school, from 4pm to 6pm and all day Saturday for six shillings per week (about 30p in todays money).

Of the dozens of customers I delivered to, only two ever gave me a tip, usually tuppence. One Saturday when I arrived at the shop, the manager, Mr Robinson said “You’ve only one call today Roy. Our delivery van has used up the petrol allowance, so go to the warehouse at Prestwich, and bring some bits back, then you can go home”.
Seemed a good deal to me, although Prestwich was a good few miles away. So I pedalled from Irlams o’th Height up Bolton Rd, turned right down the steep Agecroft Brew, then flat for about two miles to the monster 1 in 6 Raincer Brew. Had to push the bike up that one. At the top about another mile to cross Bury New Rd, turned left at the Friendship Inn, another mile and left again on to Bury Old Rd. Two more miles brought me to the house Scholes used as their warehouse.

I went in and they began to bring the ‘few bits’ out to the bike. There was only a few, i.e. one 56lb Cheese. One carton of 48 cans of ‘Cow’ brand condensed milk (ask your Gran) and twenty brown 1lb bags of sugar. I had to climb onto the bike whilst two men held it, then they ran a few paces to get me started, and I wobbled away.

The return trip was level at first, until I reached Raincer Brew. I had to slow the bike with the brakes, and this went well for the first 100 yards, until the substitute wartime ‘rubber’ brake blocks wore completely out and I was virtually flying down the hill. I managed to keep upright until I reached the sharp right turn at the bottom. In spite of my banking, the front wheel hit the kerb on the canal bridge and the bike went one way and me another. I saw the cheese rolling down the road and the tins of milk scattered everywhere.
I chased the cheese and rolled it back and into the bike carrier. A passerby helped to get the bike upright, we collected the milk and sugar and he gave me a push off. I struggled to push the bike up Agecroft Brew, then it was downhill to the shop.

I was glad to get back, and about to leave to go home when ‘Robbo’ said there were only eight customer orders to deliver. He denied ever saying I could finish early, so by the time I finally reached home it was 5.30pm. A whole half hour early.