Reminiscence and Resource Centre


From 1948 until its closure some years after I left the company in 1968, British Bata ran a Scholarship scheme whereby 18 year-old school-leavers were recruited from all over Great Britain to be trained as eventual key employees in the Bata organisation – home and abroad.
All-found accommodation in the purpose-built College building and a weekly allowance was on offer, together with free Sandwich Course style higher education at London colleges in order to obtain professional qualifications in leather or rubber technology, or business studies and accountancy. In return, the College “boys” as they were known worked at the East Tilbury site when not attending their study courses, and were found placements upon graduating after three years at BTC, often abroad.
In my time, we were also required to sign a contract promising to stay with British Bata for, I believe, a further three years after leaving BTC, but I know many students in fact left sooner than this for better pay at other organisations.
For a fuller outline of the set-up see the booklet “Bata Scholarship Scheme”.


It was 40 years ago, so my memory will no doubt play tricks at times, but I recall there were about 50 students at the College at any one time, spread across three yearly intakes and the three disciplines referred to above.
Mr Bacon (the Principal) and his wife lived at the College premises.
Although we students lived at the BTC site, we took all meals at the Bata Hotel in a special dining room. This meant that getting hungry also meant getting wet and cold in inclement weather! The day began with the alarm going off at 6.30am, with breakfast across the way at 7am prompt – I cannot remember the sanctions for being late for breakfast, but know that there were some, and we made sure we were never late. In those days the factory (and offices) started work at 7.30am, and finished at 5pm. I think there was also a lights out in the evenings.
I was on the Commerce/Accountancy stream and after the first year’s results we were sorted into two sub-sets – those doing HNC in Business, and those going for the full ACMA (then ACWA) accountancy qualification. This left Fred Byatt, Arthur Williamson and myself doing the accountancy course.
In those days you had to pass 4 subject exams at the same sitting to pass each level, and there were five levels – i.e. 20 exams altogether. There was no such thing as referrals or resits of individual papers – if you failed one of the four you had to do all four again six months later. As we were on a three-year throughput at B.T.C. there was no facility for anyone failing even one exam – you were out! We worked hard! Because Bata wanted us qualified in three years we had only 10 weeks full-time tuition to learn a complete level each time from start to finish.
I am glad to say we all passed all the exams until the final set in June 1965 where unfortunately Arthur failed one paper. He redid the set the next December and passed the paper he had failed in June 1965, but failed one he had passed then, so he had to resit the whole set once again. To this day I don’t know whether he finally made it to fully qualified – I hope so.
I cannot remember anyone having a car – we either walked or cycled locally or caught the train to elsewhere. However one or two had mopeds and autocycles and these were coveted prizes. I decided to buy a NSU Quickly from another boy and this saved my legs a bit when making the frequent trips up the road to St Catherine’s church, where I was soon to become organist, for choir practices and services. It wasn’t until I left the College that I could afford the next step up – a Honda 90cc! That NSU had a top speed of 20 mph and you had to stop every twenty minutes to remove and clean the baffle from the exhaust, but it got me to Canterbury for the cricket one day, and also to Bournemouth to try to find my parents new house (they had moved whilst I was away at BTC and I think they were hoping I wouldn’t be able to find them!).
Sport played an important part in College life and we ran football, rugby and cricket teams. Having received a cricket ball in the mouth when spectating at a match in my early teens, I was adamant that I would not play in the cricket team no matter how short of players they were (I didn’t really want to give up my summer Saturdays either) – so they elected me scorer instead, and I had to go!
Football was fun and we did O.K., although Fred, being a smoker, would have to stop after about five minutes complaining of being in a near-death state, although after a wheeze, cough and a spit he was usually able to continue.
We had a snooker/billiards room and a beaten up piano which Dave Earnshaw used to make me belt out the backing on so he could sing Tom Jones’ “Its not unusual”.
For entertainment in the evenings we also had a common room downstairs with a radiogram in it that played 33s (LPs) and 78s (singles) of course. Now 1962 was really at the start of the Beatles and the classic pop scene that is now looked back at with such nostalgia, and although we were individually poor, we were collectively relatively rich, so we formed a Music Society whose sole function was to buy records once a month. The number of records was determined by the size of the membership and due payment of the subs, and the choice was wonderfully democratic involving a non-secret voting system. After a fixed time, a list of all the suggested purchases for the month was made and you used your three votes by signing your name under the ones you wanted to see purchased. Inevitably it meant we mostly bought the latest pop records because if you had a fringe interest, say jazz or classical, you could not hope to raise enough votes to have it selected in the ballot. I collected the subs and a decent collection of records was achieved – we had an LP voting section too. The collection was freely available to anyone to play, and nothing ever went missing.
For personal musical entertainment we each had our own transistor radios, but these didn’t put out much volume so one day I found a prototype amplifier in a shop in Stanford-Le-Hope and for a time had the best sound on my corridor!
Then, in 1963, fortunately having no habits like drink or cigs to spend my allowance on, I was able to buy the first reel-to-reel tape-recorder in the College. It sounds incredible now, but the ability to record and hear back your own voice was such a novelty then that I had fellow-students trooping into my room at all times of day or night to render up poems and pop songs, just so they could hear themselves back.
For the periods in the year when I was not on study at Thurrock Tech and later at SEETEC I was assigned to various departments throughout the E. Tilbury site. Although I was an accountancy student, I was also expected to obtain an appreciation of the manufacturing processes too. Back then we had Health and Safety-type regulations in the form of the Factories Acts, and when at one time I was posted to the Leather Factory it was made clear to me that I would not be allowed to “have a go” at clicking as I was too young. This fact almost certainly saved some of my piano fingers too! I therefore spent 510 minutes (I counted each one off!) each day standing, mostly silently, watching the skilled operator earn his money. Whatever this taught me about shoemaking it certainly taught me how to cope with excruciating boredom!
Once each year there was the Past and Present Students’ dinner. This was a formal do – see the programme for 1965. John McGoldrick was in my year, and he was the College Captain for our final year. However, he had a spat with some of the senior staff and suddenly I was his replacement and would have to do the speech at the Dinner in November. Although I had sung some solos as a boy and played at music festivals and on church organs, this was to be my first “speech”. Little did I know that I would spend the rest of my working life giving “speeches” all day long as a college lecturer!
For College boys, Saturdays meant Shop Service once a month – which for me involved being sent to a Bata shop in Acton, London to learn how to be a shop assistant. The other assistants hated me because any sales I made were taking away their potential for commission, and of course I did not know where any of the stock was and had to keep asking them! As you can appreciate, we were not popular, and we hated Shop Service.
Bata cinema was a desperate choice if really bored, but for 10d you did get a cowboy 4 reeler, even if the projectionist would occasionally mistake reel 3 for reel 2 in the dark, so that when reel 2 eventually did come on you saw Red Indians who had been killed off already suddenly reappearing large as life again.
If the Saturday was free and Arsenal were not playing at Highbury, a quiet start followed by a trip to the lights of Southend was in order. In either case, this meant that we would not be at E. Tilbury so would not be able to have our free meal in the Espresso Bar. After some negotiations it was agreed that we could have an allowance for not taking this meal, but NOT in cash! It had to be taken in goods. Now, the only goods worth having that you could transport anywhere were large KitKats, so on Saturday mornings you would find most of us ritually collecting bar after bar of the wretched things. Oh! - they were lovely enough to start with, but multiple bars of KitKat week in and week out soon took the shine off it! I am convinced that my diabetes stems from that time!


I enjoyed College life – we had to get on with each other because there were so many of us crammed into such a small building – it was two to a room except for “monitors” at each corridor end who had their own smaller room - but I was in a state of anxiety most of the time as a result of the endless shouting and swearing I encountered in the factory buildings, Shop Service, the lack of money, the possibility of failing my exams, and the constant fear of inadvertently writing something down using green ink!


I have a letter in my possession dated February 17th 1966 signed by John Tusa in which he states, “our thoughts have been directed for some time to the use of a Computor (sic) in our organisation”

How times have changed!

Bata Technical College Blazer Badge.
Bata Technical College Dinner Programme.
British Bata Scholarship Scheme.