I joined Kenyon and Trott at age 15, as an apprentice electroplater. There were eight of us workers, plus Mr Flory the boss.
On the left of the photo is a large tank for cadmium plating. Above it are bars for suspending items to be plated. Across the window you can see two car bumpers which would be waiting either to dry or to be plated. Further right is a tank for chrome plating solution - pretty horrible stuff. There were fumes everywhere and little ventilation. The dials on the wall were for setting the voltage/current of the process. Plating was all done on DC current.
If there were bumpers being plated, the first process would be to strip off and de-rust the metal to get the old plating off. Nitric acid was used to clean the brass, hydrochloric acid - in a big vat - was used for the de-rusting, and sulphuric acid was used with electrolysis to get the old chrome off. Non-ferrous metals (e.g. copper and brass) didn't need the heavy copper plating.
Then the bumpers would be ground progressively finer by a series of abrasive belts and dollies (a dolly is a stitched cloth pad two inches wide, coated in glue and rolled in abrasive, at various grades). The belt would have been on a roller at the back and a dolly at the front going very fast. I saw a workmate cut his arm badly by walking into one of the belts: there were no belt-guards. There was not much awareness of health or safety in those days.
After grinding to a fine finish, the bumpers would be copper-plated with a heavy coat of copper, then polished on a lathe, then nickel plated, again polished to a high degree; finally they would be cleaned again and chrome-plated. Headlight rims and motorcycle exhausts and vehicle radiators were also done.
We also carried out silver-plating of antiques: teapots, coffee pots, cutlery, trays, jugs etc. We also did a small amount of gilding of the insides of silver cigarette cases and pots; very small-scale work with a very small amount of gold on a bit of wire.
Small items would be cleaned by acid and then rinsed and stopped with sodium cyanide (which was in an old gas copper) prior to cadmium or zinc-plating. For instance, things like nuts and bolts, tie rods etc, would come from Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies to be cadmium-plated.
There was a process called barrel-plating, using a machine which looked like a cement mixer which went round and round. This was the plating vat, and contained plating solution plus an anode of the metal you wanted to plate onto the very small items which would be put in there en masse instead of being hung on a piece of wire.
We passivated (dipped in a mix of chemicals) a lot of radio chassis (I think it was for Pye, the radio firm) to stop them corroding in hot climes. We also did a tremendous amount of work for the US Air Force: steel helmets for parade purposes, the air police; we also did slide-action pistols (45s) for them, bayonets, and all the bits of rifles. They thought that they looked good on parade, but I thought they looked ghastly. Some British RAF regiment blokes also had their bayonets done but they brought them back later, asking for it all to be taken off because they got into trouble for doing it! We polished copper and brass domestic items, also tin-plated the inside of copper saucepans and did lacquer-work, polishing brass items and lacquering them to keep them shiny.
There were three workshops in the one building: the first one was for nickel and zinc, the middle one contained a stripping vat to take off chrome and rust, and then the third one was for grinding and polishing.
My apprenticeship took six years and got me three years deferment of my National Service, which then followed. We worked Monday to Friday, with Saturday morning on overtime. We worked 7.30am to 5pm, or something like that. My pay as an apprentice was miserable - I never got to full wage as I never went back after my National Service! After 17 months open air work in the RAF in Cyprus, factory conditions didn't appeal any more.
[Kenyon & Trott Limited was registered in 1934 with its registered office in Ipswich.]