Welder Harry clocks off after half a century with North Walsham steel firm
08:51 24 March 2016
Archant Norfolk 2016
When 15-year-old Alan Puncher reported for his first day at work with Wall Engineering, he little thought he would be turning up for his last day with the same firm half a century later.
Mr Puncher, 65, who is universally known as “Harry”, remembers starting work with the North Walsham company on a Thursday.
“I thought, ‘I’ve only got a couple of days and then I’ll have the weekend to think about whether I like the job,” he said.
After 50 continuous years as a fitter and welder with Wall’s, which makes steel structures, he is due to begin his well-earned retirement on April 14.
When he began at Wall’s it was based on the town’s Aylsham Road but moved in the mid 1990s to its present, larger, Cromer Road site.
The legacy of his long working life is all around us. Mr Puncher has been among the workforce creating the framework of well-known East Anglian buildings including the Colchester garrison and, in Norwich, the cinema at Castle Mall, and Tesco in Blue Boar Lane.
His final working days will be spent helping to make the steel structure to go inside a derelict building in London to create a new office block.
Mr Puncher, of Melbourne Road, North Walsham, followed his late father Victor into Wall’s. His dad had been a painter with the firm.
Harry spent about four years as an apprentice, and has seen major changes in the industry over the past five decades.
When he started, steel was measured in feet and inches. Today, only metric measurements are used although Mr Puncher admitted: “I still find myself converting back”.
And computerised machinery has taken the place of many jobs once done by hand, such as drawing plans, sawing and drilling steel.
As a result Mr Puncher has seen the shopfloor workforce fall from 75 to 26 during his career.
“You have got to go with the times and compete against other companies. I’ve been lucky,” he said. “It’s given me work for all this time. I’m going to miss the people - they are a good bunch.”
Works foreman Paul Taylor said Mr Puncher would be missed in return.
“He’s been a staunch worker who’s helped young lads through over the years - including me. Harry’s a reliable, good guy.”
Mr Puncher and his wife Janet, who works in North Walsham’s Roys variety store, have four daughters and eight grandchildren and he is looking forward to spending more time with all of them.
Wall Engineering, which today employs 64 people, was founded in 1949 by the late Dick Wall.
In 1984 it was taken over from a national firm in a management buyout by its current owners, businessmen Keith Bindley and Tony Bell.