Bill Hardman, B.Sc.
The King of Glue and The Ace of Spades

Text and images © Mike Hardman, 2003
Last updated: 13th December 2003

Bill, passport photo, January 1959 Bill, passport photo, January 1959
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Bill Hardman died aged 93 on 11th November 2003 at Epsom Hospital, almost a year after his wife, Violet. Bill's ashes were interred at Randall's Park, in the same spot as Vi's, on 26th November. This tribute was read by his son, Michael, at Bill's funeral at Randall's Park, Leatherhead, on 24th November.

Billy grew up with his parents, and younger brothers and sisters in Belvedere, Kent, having moved there from London as a toddler. His father, Joseph, used to work at Crossness pumping station, part of the revolutionary improvement to sanitation in London commenced by Sir Joseph Bazalgette - whom Billy would come to admire, along with many other prominent engineers, in future years. Billy used to love to visit his Dad at the pumping station, admiring the vast brass and iron Victorian steam engines in their cathedral-like halls bedecked with intricate wrought ironwork. Just as visitors there today are struck open-mouthed in wonderment, it should come as no surprise that the young Billy probably acquired his fascination with engineering there, too. A good deal of the works at Crossness were underground; under, in fact, a cricket pitch. That was where he watched his Dad play, and learned to play the game himself.

He attended schools and colleges in south London, and he liked to grow tomatoes, but never liked eating them other than as soup. He also liked to grow Begonias, but he was not keen on eating them, either.

Billie with his first guitar, 1928 Billie with his Ace of Spades Dance Band, c. 1938 From the late 1920s up to and during the war, Billy was largely occupied by dance band work, reaching a crescendo with his own ‘Ace of Spades’ dance band which was very busy during the 1930’s. He, playing guitar, banjo, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet or other instruments, and his band featured at venues across southeast London and northeast Kent, including Erith Oil Works, which went by the colloqial name of ‘The Butter Factory’. He received guitar tuition from no less than Len Williams, father of famous classical guitarist John Williams. Billy’s playing career had its roots when, at 14 or 15 years old, his mother bought him a ukelele. He used to stand behind his sister Beattie while she was playing the piano, and he would read the ukelele symbols from the sheet music.

Billy & Vi's wedding, 1945 In 1938, Billy met one of his sister Beattie’s work friends from W. H. Smith, and in 1945 he and Violet Marshall were married in the Parish Church in Ewell. They moved to Leatherhead in 1950, where they lived for the rest of their lives, and they had three children: Valerie, Sylvia and Michael, and one grandchild: Christopher.

During the Second World War, Billy was a draughtsman and design engineer; he was involved in the development of the Rolls Royce Merlin aero engine, as used in Spitfires and Lancasters. One harsh winter, in somewhat primitive office accommodation, each morning he used to have to brush the snow off his drawing board before he could start work!

Vi was almost killed by a flying bomb outside Waterloo Station during the War, leading to her involvement with disabled people for the rest of her life, culminating, in formal terms, in her being honoured with an MBE. Billy supported her in all that hard voluntary work, and further work for local schools such as Rosebery in Epsom, and he was involved in many fund raising activities such as fêtes. The school at Dilston Road, Leatherhead, acquired the name ‘Therfield’ following a proposition from Bill and Vi, around 1963. As well as founding the Leatherhead Swans Club, Vi was involved with the conversion of the original Leatherhead Cottage Hospital to a home for disabled people, whence it was renamed Victoria House. At the same time, the current Leatherhead Hospital was built. Bill was a patient there on several occasions in recent years, recuperating after treatments at Epsom hospital, just like Vi.

From his skills as an engineer and draughtsman, and being a naturally inventive person, it was not surprising that Bill devoted many years to do-it-yourself at his home in Leatherhead. That started with designing the house from the ground up (and that of Vi’s parents), though limited by many post-war building constraints. He had the advantage of great familiarity with plastic laminates and adhesives, having sold the first piece of Formica in the UK. Such was his renown in this field, that when he first met one of the inventors of Formica, Daniel O’Connor, over from the USA, Bill was introduced to him as ‘The Glue King’. As DIY was gaining popularity in the 1950’s and 60’s, Bill wrote articles for Practical Householder magazine, and he and his colleague Phil Casey were the experts who tutored Barry Bucknall, the face of DIY on British television in those years.

He liaised with many rail and coach companies, such as Great Western and Duple, helping them start to use plastic laminates in their vehicles; the family still have photographs and samples from those pioneering days. As well as working for companies such as Formica, De la Rue and Commercial Plastics, Bill was involved with engineers such as Sunbeam Talbot, Callendars (later BICC), and Constructors John Brown (CJB; now part of Aker Kvaerner). Although he did eventually retire, Bill did not sit on his laurels; instead he continued to pursue them, studying maths and languages, spending many years under the auspices of the Open University, and still looking at new prospectuses in his 90’s. On 29th June 2005, his grandson Christopher received Bill's B.Sc. posthumously, Valerie, Sylvia and Michael being at the ceremony at Milton Keynes as well, and all being proud of Dad's achievment (especially considering the domestic stresses impacting his studies), and wishing Vi could have been there as well to share in that pride.

Billy had a problem with his eyes when he was only a few years old; he received treatment every day for many months, without which he would have gone blind. But, between then and recent years, he was a rare visitor to hospitals, and even when he died, at 93 years old, his mind was as sharp as ever – still joking, still drawing diagrams to explain concepts, still relating tales old and new. He could still name and describe all the children in his classes at school, all the people he worked with, and all his family and friends over a 90 year span. It was only physical frailty that let him down. And it was less than a week between Dad being diagnosed as having lung cancer and his death, almost a year after Vi passed away. Thankfully, he suffered much less than her.

Bill had a good life. He was a great brother, husband, father, grandfather and uncle, and friend to many. He will be missed greatly by those who were lucky enough to know him. He will stick, like his glue, in their minds.

Design + Production Engineer promotional postcard Ace of Spades promotional postcard
Ace of Spades Dance Band poster, 1939
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[ I shall be adding more pictures and text here, when time permits! ]