Bromsberrow Heath's Centenarian Print
Written by Steve Glennie-Smith   
Saturday, 29 February 2020 14:09

Bromsberrow Heath's Roy Thompson is 25 100 today!  We wish him a very happy 'proper' birthday.

Roy was born in Derby on 29th February 1920 - and is still living in his own home.  He is still driving (albeit infrequently and for short distances).  More details about his life here.

That it’s a major achievement to reach the ton is without doubt - but it’s even rarer also to be a 'leapling' (a term coined to describe anyone born on 29th February).  It is estimated there are 5 million 'leaplings' worldwide, ie. less than 0.1% of the global population.

A 'Quarter Peal' of 1260 Grandsire Doubles was rung in 37 minutes earlier today on the six bells of Bromsberrow church to “celebrate the 25th birthday of Bromsberrow resident Ernest Roy Thompson - 100 years old today”.


Roy is not alone in the UK though - the BBC carries a report of a lady in Portsmouth also celebrating her 100th today.

I first got to know Roy in 2002 when, on a bike ride, I rode past his house and noticed he had the same solar thermal system on his roof that I had had installed on mine six months previously.  Mine had given me big problems, which I decided best to fix myself and thus withheld the final payment.  I knocked on his door and found he’d used the same installer and also had had problems with them.  So we started by comparing notes and later became friends through our common interest in electronics and engineering.

Ernest Roy Thompson, the eldest of 6, was born in Derby on 29th February 1920.  His father was an upholsterer at the then Midland Railway Locomotive Works (later LMS) in Derby.  Roy attended Pear Tree Elementary School and, having passed the 11-plus equivalent at the time, went to St James the Greater C of E school.  At that time, schools were strictly segregated: girls went to different establishments.  Although eligible academically, he could not go to the grammar school because his parents couldn’t afford school books and uniform etc. (this was at the depth of the 1930s depression and way before R.A. Butler’s Education Act of 1944).

So Roy had to leave school at just under 15.  His father managed to get him an apprenticeship as a machinist at International Combustion - a major employer in Derby that had been jointly set up with Vickers in 1922.  Although the apprenticeship should have lasted for 7 years, the Second World War intervened.  He registered for future call-up in 1938 but because the apprenticeship was deemed to be ‘skilled’, and therefore a ‘reserved occupation’, Roy was allowed to continue with it for the time being.  International Combustion’s main business was manufacture of boilers for power stations, but as part of war effort, the company sub-contracted to Rolls-Royce (Derby’s largest employer).  Roy qualified early and became a Machine Tool Setter, which included training of others.  From age 16, Roy attended night school 2 nights a week of his own volition.  At the outbreak of war, he was selected on recommendation by his foreman from 300 machinists for Admiralty work - principally lathe-turning shells for 21-foot torpedoes.  Improvements in production reduced manufacturing time from 200 man-hours to about 3½.  His skills ensured accuracy became the best in the world.

International Combustion acquired a small holding in Aberdare Cables in 1940, and Roy was working partly in Aberdare and partly in Derby for the remainder of the War, achieving rapid promotion to Chief Inspector and Development Engineer.  It was during one of his return visits to Derby that he met Edie, whom he married in 1945.  Edie’s father was a sign-writer for LMS (before the days of stick-on transfers) and Roy later found that their two fathers were drinking partners well before he had met Edie.  In addition, Roy was a Special Constable during the War for two nights a week.

It was during one return to the Derby works that Roy was very nearly killed - by a cluster of four bombs, one of which hit the Rolls-Royce works.  Despite being heavily protected by barrage balloons, a Dornier 217 bomber managed to penetrate on the murky morning of 27th July 1942.  A second plane was shot down.  At about 600m from Roy’s parents’ home, the blast knocked him back against the kitchen wall - in slow motion - as he recalls.  And later that day he went to work on his bike!

International Combustion was not a good payer, though.  In 1948, Hoover had opened a new factory at nearby Merthyr Tydfil to make washing machines and was recruiting.  Roy applied for a job and very quickly received a telegram asking him to attend a day-long interview, along with 7 others, six of whom were already Hoover employees.  Roy and the other ‘outsider’ got the jobs as Foremen: he started with Hoover in December 1951.  Roy later became Chief Inspector and then Quality Control Superintendent, in charge of a team of several hundred employees manufacturing thousands of washing machines each week.

Golf and Amateur Radio

Roy had always been a keen sportsman.  Shortly after the move to Aberdare in 1940, he joined Aberdare Golf Club and later served on its committee for 15 years.  He founded Hoover Golfing Society shortly after starting at Merthyr, in which he achieved a number of trophies.

His interest in radio was sparked (pardon the pun) in 1931 when, aged 11, he was fascinated by hearing the Henry Hall Band on a crystal set.  He became a radio ‘ham’ (call sign G3VZR), having passed the Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB) exam in 1951.  Also while at Hoover, he founded the Hoover Amateur Radio Society.

Move to Gloucestershire

In 1972, Roy was offered a partnership in Richards Electrics in Worcester by his son’s father-in-law, who wanted mechanical engineering expertise to expand his business.  After some persuasion to give up a good job with Hoover, Roy agreed but insisted the new shop should be in Gloucester, which he considered a much better location than Richards’ original proposal of Hereford.  Richards died in 1974, leaving Roy with the business (which continued to carry the Richards name).

Roy bought a plot of land in Bromsberrow Heath and had the house in which he still lives built in 1972.  The Eastgate Street shop in Gloucester flourished, including taking on an agency for Bayliss Drills:

Advert in the May 1976 edition of Wireless World.
The ‘Pfera Works’ in Redmarley is now Pfera Hall - a care home.
Hoopers Radio in Ledbury is now Get Connected, 16 Homend, which still retains its 1930s shop front.

The Gloucester shop rekindled Roy’s interest in radio, and early on he joined the Gloucester Amateur Radio and Electronics Society, of which he became a life member.  He was able to attend their weekly meetings until 2017.  The advert to the left appeared in the August 1974 edition of Electronics Today.

Unknown to Roy, the secretary of Aberdare Golf Club (which conferred life membership on him when he moved to Gloucester) had written to Ross-on-Wye Golf Club, anticipating Roy's future interest.  Such organisations were very 'closed shop' then - membership was more-or-less by invitation only.  So Roy was welcomed with open arms at Ross when he applied.

Meanwhile Edie had proved to be a very talented artist while in Aberdare.  On the move to Bromsberrow Heath, she went as a student to Gloucester College of Art and - after 8 weeks - her teacher announced he had got a full-time job elsewhere and had recommended her to take over (as a teacher!) from him.  Many of her paintings hang on the walls of Roy’s home.

Sadly, Edie was showing signs of dementia in the 1980s.  Roy sold the shop in 1986 to retire and care for her.  She passed away in 2009.

Very much from the ‘Make Do And Mend’ generation, Ray spends some of his time maintaining his own appliances, shunning the popular (and unsustainable) fad of always buying new.