"Off the rails"
As a student of silversmithing at Canterbury College of Art in the early 1960s, I often received commissions and repair jobs from the cathedral and the local community. One such item was a sterling silver sauceboat in the form of a Spanish Galleon. It was about 16" long and had four 3"dia. wheels connected to the hull. The wheels ran on sterling silver rails along the center of an 18-foot-long dining table. A chain was attached to both ends of the ship and it could be moved up and down the table with by a small winch at each end - so, if you needed sauce it could be wheeled to your section of the table.
I collected the piece from Lady? at a very grand country house near Canterbury. She explained that several of the sailors were broken and flags were missing - also the main mast was cracked. After fixing the bits and pieces it was time to move onto the mast. Having mounted the whole thing on the hearth I began to solder the mast back together. After a few moments the whole mast caught fire! Well, someone had rammed a piece of soft wood up into the upper part of the mast. After taking the whole galleon apart again, I dutifully repaired it and took it back to the country mansion. Upon my arrival, the maid of the house answered the door. During my short conversation with the maid, the Lady? approached us at the door - just as I was saying, "Some silly person placed a piece of wood in the mast and it caught fire." The maid then turned to Lady? and said, "Madam, you remember the piece of wood you pushed up the mast...?"
I left very rapidly...but did receive a check in the mail.
A cry for help can still be heard on a quiet night in Canterbury. By the way, I have searched the internet for a four wheeled galleon sauceboat and cannot find one at all. Surely I was not repairing the only one in existence.
I knew Gerald Benny very well. We became good friends over the years and when he died I wrote a short obituary to The Times in London. Gerald was related to Graham Hughes who, for many years, was curator at the Goldsmiths Hall. They were both external examiners for the Hall and often came to Sir John Cass [School] to assist me with the student examinations in jewelry, silversmithing and all the allied crafts. I employed all of Gerald's workshop craftsmen as part-time teachers at Cass people like Dave Murray and Brian Fuller. After Gerald moved to Beenham near Reading, Brian Fuller (one of his top silversmiths) carried on in London with the same spinners, smiths, and box-makers for a while. I often visited Gerald at his "country" house when he relocated his workshop there and that is where he produced all the enameled pieces...it was a beautiful setting and incredible studio.
He was a most unassuming and generous man. Each year he gave both individual and group money awards in each category of the dept. He also gave space to our apprentices and degree students on industrial practice.
As I said earlier, Gerald and Graham were cousins. On one occasion when they both came to the Cass as external examiners I put Gerald with the silversmithing teachers and Graham with the jewelry guys. Graham had given Gerald a gold pen for Christmas and Gerald was using it that day. During the morning Graham got into an argument with Bernard Kidd (head of jewelry) about a grade. So he called Gerald over and said, "Gerald, Bernard is say that this is a "C" and I think it's an "A" - what do you think?" Gerald holds the piece for a while and says, "No! This is definitely a "C" Graham."
Whereupon Graham replies, "Are you disagreeing with me Gerald!?" Gerald says, "Yes!" Then Graham grabbed Gerald's gold pen and says, "Well! Give me my pen back then!" Graham returned it to Gerald at the end of the exam period.