David Peckham

Profile of David Peckham, SWS past President.

 My roots are very much in the West Country, for until the age of 14 I lived in the small farming village of Templecombe, in Somerset. In those days it was a major railway junction with a large marshalling yard and an engine shed servicing the intersection of the London to Exeter and the Bath to Bournemouth lines. It was a paradise for small boys with fields, ponds, rivers and railway embankments to play around.

It was also wartime, which made us all the more resourceful during our out of school activities.

In 1946 our family moved to Brighton, when my parents were offered the opportunity to take over the running of my grandmother’s boarding house close to the seafront in Kemptown. These were the boom-years when people began to come back to the seaside for their holidays after the war years.

Having come from a long line of railway workers – grandfather, father, uncles and brother all entrenched in the old ‘Southern Railway’, it was natural that my father would insist that I should also follow in their footsteps. So, in 1947 I was duly despatched off to the Southern Railway’s carriage works at Lancing, with the idea that I would be apprenticed to one of the many skilled trades that operated within large works. As it turned out, I was put to work as a hammer boy in the enormous blacksmith’s shop where they forged large axles, buffers, and chains from huge red-hot iron blanks. As a 14-year-old boy, my job was to drive one of the steam hammers serving three different blacksmiths. This was a dirty, demanding job and something that I soon learnt to hate, so I decided to get off the railway and into the mechanical engineering industry, much to my father’s dislike.

I started a 5-year apprenticeship in 1948 with the Brighton machine tool manufacturing company called, CVA Jigs Moulds & Tools Ltd. (later known as Kearney &Trecker) and set about getting myself qualified at Brighton Technical College during the evenings over the next 5 years. It was customary to spend six months in as many different departments as possible; so as to end up with a good rounded experience of mechanical engineering. At the age of 21, I was called into the Royal Air Force to do my National Service and following two months ‘square bashing’, I entered onto a course at RAF St. Athan to become an airframe fitter and subsequently was posted to service Meteors and Hunters at RAF Tangmere and was demobbed just prior to the squadron being sent off to the Suez campaign. Returning to civvy-street, I became a draughtsman and then a production engineer, which opened up the opportunity to be trained as a Technical Sales Representative with the Cornish mining engineering firm of Homan Brothers. A technical life ‘on-the-road’ was just what I wanted and over the next 20 years, I travelled extensively throughout Europe and to the USA selling control systems for machinery employed in a wide range of manufacturing processes.

In 1980, I joined the American engineering group called Abex Corporation based in Burgess Hill, as sales director and subsequently became managing director. It was during this time that I was introduced to Bernie Harris, whose wife worked in one of my offices. This turned out to be a winner, for I had just started to take an interest in wood turning as a hobby following a holiday in the Austrian Alps, and Bernie not only gave me a lot of help, but also introduced me to the newly-formed SWS.

From then on, woodturning began to play a big part in my life, selling my wares at craft fairs all around Sussex and when I retired from engineering in 1995 I was asked to demonstrate at some newly opened workshops at Bentley Wildfowl & Motor Museum, which became a semi-full time job for the next three years. I was also elected Chairman of the SWS, a position I held until Wendy took over when my wife died in 1999. I had also been organising the SWS shows at Bentley, Burgess Hill and Wakehurst prior to Tom Lednor taking over, and I also wrote the Newsletter for some five years. In all, I have met a lot of new friends, made many industry contacts and learnt a great deal about wood that I would otherwise not have done if it were not for the SWS. I am very honoured to have been elected President of the society, following the death of our previous President, Denis Woor.

One final accolade to the SWS is that whilst I was taking part in the 2004 Wakehurst summer show, I re-met a lady that I had not seen for over 40 years and I am pleased to say that Jillian and I married in October 2006. As she has taken an instant liking to my woodturning activities and the various shows that I still attend, she now also has a great affection for the SWS. We both hope to continue with the woodcraft side of our lives, despite our intentions to travel when and wherever we can.

David Peckham