Westwood Works 1903-2003
From Paper to Computers
Before the age of universal computer literacy, letters were dictated using either shorthand or cumbersome Dictaphone machines. Wax cylinders or recording belts from these machines were sent to the Typing Pool - situated on the 5th floor of the 1933 office building (See photographs in - In the Offices) - where around 30 ladies spent their days typing out finished letters. Hand-written reports and other material were typed-up by copy typists. The required number of copies was made using carbon paper (No photo-copiers in those days!). Any mistakes, or changes of mind, meant that the letter had to be sent back for correcting or re-typing. All of these ladies had to spend time in the Personnel Training Department, only being allowed into the Typing Pool after reaching a satisfactory standard. Later, a Departmental Secretary using a Personal Computer and a photocopier carried out these activities.
Jean (Strickson) Wattier worked in the typing pool at BP from 1948 until 1954. Her father, George Strickson, was with the firm from approximately 1933 to 1966, as a foreman and later (probably remembered by many) as the first Safety Officer. Jean was a member of the musical society and played for one season on the hockey team ("the worst player ever"). Jean has provided a fairly comprehensive list of people working in, or associated with, the Typing Pool in early 1954:
Paul Edmunds; Michael Jubb; Phylllis Stafford; Bob Bland; Winnie Roberts; Irene Shortland; Babs Binns; Sylvia Cook; Janet Sugden; Gillian May; Marion Wilson; June Negus; Monica Lambert; Pat Bingham; J. Watkins; Merle Brown; S. Humpfries; Janet Stainsby; Margaret Beechen; June Foster; Kay Kisby; June Winch; Daphne Prentice; Pam Bettles; Marian Morgan; Margaret Williamson (Patchett); Jean Babbs; Joan Cook; Edna Sculthorpe; Jean Bird; Davina Chambers; Jennifer Dick; Mr. Drewery; B. Richards; Florrie Bridgeman; Josie Steel; Mrs. Pirret; Gillian Ferkins; Dorothy Kilsby; Nellie Mackman; Edna Greenland; Hazel Church; Una Blyton; Jean Foulds; Sheila Swift; Jill Wortley; Delmar Brazier; Pat Bell; Joan Walker (Robinson).
Miss P.M. Stafford was appointed Typing Pool Supervisor in 1949, Miss Dorothy Kilsby taking over this task in 1963.
Five erstwhile members of the Typing Pool have fond memories of the department:
Florence (Graham) Morgan
Florence (nee Graham) Morgan (85 years old), began working at Baker Perkins in September 1938 at the age of 14 as a runner, graduated to being a copy typist and then, eventually, a comptometer operator. Florence used to cycle from Werrington through country lanes to get to work! Her mother bought her clothes to start her working life but Florence had to pay her back when she got paid, handing over her wage packet each week. After taking money for the clothing loan and board she was a penny short (which her father gave her) to pay for the bus fare to Stamford where she cleaned house for her grandmother to earn some money as she had none left from her wages. (Here Florence remarks – “I can't see that happening today”).
After being at Westwood for about a year, Florence used to relieve the lift girl on her breaks. One day Florence was going from the 5th floor to the 4th, this being where the directors had their offices. When she arrived at the 4th floor, the doors opened and one of the directors, Alan Baker, ran towards the lift and went sprawling onto the floor that had been highly polished. Florence ran over to him to help him up but she was terrified even to touch him. He picked himself up, brushed himself down and said very matter-of-factly, "2nd floor please".
They got in the lift and off they went, as if it had never happened. Florence didn’t know who was more embarrassed.
As a junior typist, Florence worked under Mrs Gabbertas. One of her jobs was to collect ‘cylinders’ from all of the directors and other personnel who used Dictaphones. They recorded their letters on to these and Florence would deliver them to the senior typists. Once the letters had been typed, she would collect the cylinders and take them to a machine where they had a layer shaved off to erase the dictation and once clean, she would return them for re-use.
Florence recalls that the waitresses in the canteen wore caps and aprons! The canteen was run by the same people who had a little tearoom in Peterborough to which Florence and her sister were regular visitors. She also adds to the many stories circulated following a significant event which took place during WW2 - “A young girl, whose name I cannot remember, was in the drawing office when a German plane was raiding over Peterborough and a bullet went through the office window and whizzed past her nose. She fainted about half an hour later!!” (See also - Memories of Westwood Works in World War 2).
With the start of WW2, fewer typists were needed and one day, Florence and two other junior typists, one of whom was Barbara Knight, were sent for by Mrs Gabbertas. Barbara was sent to work in one of the offices within the works but Florence was asked if she would like to train to be a comptometer operator. Florence remembers Mrs Gabbertas as – “a lovely lady and very kind. Very well groomed with beautifully polished nails and silver hair which was swept up in an elegant style”. Mrs Gabbertas told Florence that the colour of lipstick she was wearing did not suit her. She opened her office drawer where there must have been over 50 lipsticks, picked out a colour, gave it to Florence and said, " Here try this one". She was then told to go back home and ask her parents if they would allow her to train as a comptometer operator. Permission was given.
The comptometer office manager was Emma Burman who later married Florence’s brother - George Graham. Florence left Baker Perkins in 1942 and moved to English Electric, Stafford, as a comptometer operator. She married in 1952 and settled in Stamford where she still lives. Her last job was at Monks in Stamford where she was head comptometer operator and she retired from there 25 years ago. She often talks of her time at Baker Perkins, remarking that she enjoyed her time there more than anywhere else she had worked.
NOTE: For further information on Comptometers, go to Before the Computers Came.
Sheelagh (Blood) Elphee remembers – “I left Spalding High School in July 1948 aged almost 17 and went straight into the Commercial Training Department (situated on 'M' floor behind the lift shaft!), there to be taught typing by Miss Yewen and her assistant Mary Jessop; (four of us from similar schools started together, but I was the only one who stayed for 20 years). Our machines were old Barlocks, built like Sherman tanks, and all the keys were covered with blank caps, so that it really was "touch typing" – no cheating by being able to see the keys. One day and evening per week were spent on day release at Technical College, where we absorbed the mysteries of Commerce and Bookkeeping, and continued our studies of English and French. After 6 months of intensive training, we were deemed competent to be unleashed upon the Typing Pool, under the supervision of Miss Phyllis Stafford. At first, we carried out copy typing, and then we were initiated into "Dictaphone typing" (or audio-typing to a later era). The Dictaphone machine used black wax cylinders, just like the old-fashioned music cylinders from the very earliest gramophones, and once the letters etc. on it were typed, the cylinder was put on a special machine which shaved off the top layer and left a clear surface ready for the next correspondent to dictate his deathless prose – but as the wax got thinner, so the quality of the recording deteriorated; it was wonderful when the first lightweight plastic sleeve machines were introduced and quality remained constant.
After several years in the Typing Pool, those of us who were considered secretarial material were again consigned to the Training Department (mornings only this time, afternoons were spent back in the Typing Pool) to learn shorthand and office practice, prior to being assigned to a post within the Company. After this further training, I was sent to Norman Mountain, then Biscuit and C+C Manager (he later became Managing Director, of course) and remained with him for a year until, with the sponsorship of the Company, I was fortunate enough to be chosen to join a 6-week tour of the West Indies and South America as part of an "Education of Youth through Travel" programme. On my return, I went to work for Mr Dick Webber, Chief Financial Accountant, as his secretary, and did the typing work for the Accounts sections which he controlled. For the last three or four years of my time I was also secretary to one of the directors, Mr. Stephen Hargreaves – as he was on the 5th floor and RJW was in the old building, life could get hectic!
When I started work, I received £1.17s.6d. (£1.75p) per week; the bus fare from Crowland was 9d. (4p) Worker’s return, and subsidised lunch in the Canteen was 6d. (2½p) up to the age of 18”.
Joan Hepper (nee Cook) began her time at Baker Perkins in 1948, at the age of 16. Her memories of the Company, the status implied by simply being employed there, the excellence of the training received, the firm but fair discipline, the "extras" available as normal to Baker Perkins employees (see On-site Services for Employees), the above average remuneration and the quirks of the organisation, such as the hierarchical implications of particular seats in the office, would be echoed by most who worked at Westwood during the 1950s and 1960s:
"I had tried my hand in a chemist’s shop and an aunt of mine was horrified to think I was wasting my time after the Country Grammar School education I had received. She helped me to compile a letter after which I had an interview and intelligence test. In due course, I started my days at Baker Perkins in the Purchasing Department as a filing clerk under the charge of Dick Hutchins and Horace Petch. Being only young, I was allowed to go to the Technical College one whole day and one evening a week, where I studied shorthand, typing, English, and German in the evening. Provided the pupils passed their exams they didn’t have to pay for their books and I was fortunate in not having to pay a penny. (See Training at Westwood Works). I believe my wage was 35 shillings (£1.75) a week with weekends off, whereas before, I had been earning 24 shillings and worked all day Saturday until 6.00pm as well.
I then applied for the training section, and after being accepted, was there until it was felt I was proficient enough to work in one of the offices, copy typing. Under Miss Yates’ watchful eye I had learned to touch type to the tune of William Tell. From there I moved into the typing pool and found I really enjoyed Dictaphone or audio typing. The desks had metal edges and now and again, if you leaned on your elbows, you would get an electric shock in your arms. The Dictaphone rolls were black and made of the same material as gramophone records. As a new girl at the job I asked the more senior girl next to me to listen to something to see if I had got it right. I still had my ear plugs in and she turned the machine up to full belt and promptly nearly deafened me. I have not forgotten her name!
We started work at 8.30am and at about 10.30 the tea trolley would arrive. At this stage we were all allowed to talk and Miss Stafford, to give her her due, would not be too hard on us to keep time and start work again. When we had completed typing from the Dictaphone, the roll would be returned for shaving and our work checked before sending it to the various departments. As time went on I worked mainly for the Electrical and Outdoor Departments. I loved doing Wilf Morgan’s work as he spoke so clearly and I had no problems at all.
Occasionally, we would be asked to do overtime. This would mean typing masters (This involved typing documents for duplication. The typing paper had a special coating and was placed on top of a piece of special purple carbon paper which made a reverse imprint on the back of the top copy, and the two pieces of paper were placed on top of a hard black backing sheet. After a lot of work on masters we could end up with purple fingers and purple smudges on our faces!) but we did get our tea in the Works Canteen at no charge. Talking about the Works reminds me of an instance when I was first in the Purchasing Department. Mr Hutchins asked me to take a message to a machinist in the Works. As I walked down the steps into the works all eyes were upon me and the man who swept up asked me “Ain’t you brought your mate wiv you?” I lost my bearings, and asked the nearest workman where I could find the man I had the message for. He directed me, but said I would have to shout as the man was deaf. I shouted at the top of my voice only to be asked what I was shouting for. Very red-faced, I turned round to find the workers having a good laugh.
To go back to the typing pool. Lunch break was from 1.00 to 2.15pm and then we should have worked until 5.20. At 5.00p.m. a steady stream would start to go to the toilets. Not only to the toilets, but we had a system to collect our coats from the cloakroom on the 6th floor. So as soon as the bell went we could clock off and the first out would get the lift, as we were on the 5th floor. This system worked really well until one Friday night. We had done all the clocking off, got our coats and piled into the lift. Someone had found that if you flicked a switch you could go past the other floors. Yes, we did, down to the bottom and straight up to the top of the lift shaft, before coming to a halt. The doors would not open and we were all stuck in a crowded lift. Inside was a small door we could open and use to ‘phone for assistance. “Stay where you are” we were told – as if we could move! After a while we heard movement of the adjacent lift and knocking on the inner door, which opened to reveal the other lift a short distance below us and a big yawning gap between. It seemed big to us, but was probably only inches. Each of us had to step in turn into the other lift and we were rescued. Needless to say, we left that fateful switch alone and did not try it again.
Each day Miss Stafford sat at her desk with Jill Wortley, at the back of the pool, but it didn’t go unnoticed when we were all getting ready to go home on time. Miss Stafford would stand in the middle of the pool with her poor disabled foot, leaning on her crutch and it was at this point we knew she had something important to say to us. The message was that as we had to go past the Overseas, or Export Department, we must not go in twos or carry our combs when going to the toilet. Another time we had to have our desks turned round so we were not facing the office door as nearly all the girls would look up when someone came in. Consequently we had our backs to the door and simply turned round if something was going on. Now and again we would have fire drill. This meant going out of the fire door, down the outside iron fire escape, which was quite a hair-raising experience when you were nearly at the top of a high building.
In the pool there were audio and copy typists, and one of the copy typists was Evelyn Deboo, a relation of Jim Deboo. She was a friend to all, but caused quite a stir one day when she blew up her empty crisp bag and gave it an almighty punch which caused a bang like a bomb dropping. That didn’t go down too well!
When the typewriter mechanics came to clean our machines there would be an odour of methylated spirits which drifted round the whole floor and they would have plenty of rubbings to brush out of my typewriter! We had to rub out the carbon copies as well as the top ones in those days.
One of the things we were entitled to was free ‘flu or cold injections. The jabs would be over three weekly visits, or you could have sunray treatment. I always opted for the jabs and duly got a stinker of a cold a few weeks later and then not another one for the whole year. If you had any medical problems you could go to the first aid department where we had a sister in charge who would dish out cough medicine or aspirin as necessary.
One memory I have is when King George VI died. We were all working when Simone came in to tell us. All work stopped and you could hear a pin drop.
On the 5th floor where we worked we were surrounded by huge windows and along by the windows was a single row of desks instead of two side-by-side. My bosom pal was Margaret Beeken from Crowland, and being both young we always had quite a lot to talk about. In an all female pool now and again staff would leave to have babies or to get married, and one day, two seats became vacant one behind the other, next to the windows. Margaret and I put our heads together and I was nominated to ask if we could move to these two vacant seats. Miss Stafford said we could, but that Margaret would have to sit at the one in front so that she could seen if she turned round to talk. Poor Margaret! She wasn’t the chatterbox. However, the new situation really worked because my voice carried from behind her and we could converse without having to move an inch.
I left Baker Perkins in 1958, heavily pregnant with my daughter, Ann. Baker Perkins was the place where you were proud to work and would never think of looking for another job. The training we received was second to none and this has carried me through all my working life. We were just one big happy family. Trained to respect our superiors with the necessary discipline but not unfairly so. Just to mention you had worked at Baker Perkins was a key to open any employment door. My wage on leaving was £8 4s 6d (£8.22½) which doesn’t sound much today, but was well above the average. As well as this, we had a profit sharing scheme which we all had a part of. Provided you took your holidays at a time other than the Works shut down I think, but am not too sure, we had a bonus.
I had a very happy, memorable time in my years with Baker Perkins, made many friends, a few of which I still keep in touch with fifty years later. If you asked me if I would like those days again, I would certainly say “YES”!"
Margaret (Barnes) Preston also spent some time, from 1955, in the Pool as a copy typist and a Dictaphone typist, her experience being much like those described above, having been taught to type by Winnie Pratt, and shorthand by Gloria Kinghorn and Beryl Parkerwood.
One of Margaret’s most significant memories is that of noise – this being long before the introduction of the Health and Safety Act:
“The sound of around 35 manual typewriters in operation could be heard long before reaching the door of the Pool. When opening the door, one was greeted by a wall of sound. On being promoted to work with Dictaphone machines, the machines were frequently turned up to full volume as typists struggled to decipher the mumblings of correspondents who were, no doubt, waiting impatiently for their deathless prose to be committed to paper. Earphones were passed around as colleagues tried to guess, and in desperation, Jill Wortley came to the rescue – with her own set of earphones.
It was a lovely place to work in spite of the above. The view from all three sides was one of the best in Peterborough. Facing west, sunsets frequently delighted us and electric storms could be quite spectacular.
The typing pool didn’t take up the whole of the fifth floor. To get there you had to pass private offices on the left hand side, and small departments on the right. First through the swing doors were A.I. Baker and R.H. Wilkins, I think, and their secretaries, all behind closed doors, then came the offices of E.E. Wenban, P.R. Edmunds and W. Hotchin; on the right hand side outside the swing doors, I believe H. Crowther and Olive Cleaver had offices. On the right hand side through the doors was the Secretariat, with R.W. Batson, J.S. Hardy, G.B. Smethurst , Joan Usher and June Kirk. The next office along was for the Patents Department, B.O.M.S and the office next to the typing pool was the Export Department until it moved to Swallow Street". (For details of what these departments did see History of Baker Perkins Ltd - The BOMS, The Holdings Building and History of Baker Perkins (Exports) Ltd.).
"Reading through Joan Hepper’s reminiscences, her trip to the ‘deaf man’ in the works reminded me of a similar joke played on me by David Ogilvie not long after I had started working in the drawing office. It was around 11.30 on a rainy 1st April when the intercom buzzed and I was asked if I could go the experimental department (see The Experimental Department) to pick up a biscuit file from Bob Fuller. I realised that it was April Fool’s Day, but thought that surely Managers didn’t play tricks. I put on my coat and went through the works and across the yard to the experimental bay. Bob Fuller was in the middle of an experiment and was surprised to see me; he didn’t have any biscuit files – did I know what the date was? I trudged back in the rain, determined to get my own back, there wasn’t much time, it was almost midday. On my desk were three telephones, the office one and DAO’s internal and external ‘phones. I buzzed the intercom and informed him that there was an outside call for him from abroad – it was a very bad line, faint and kept disappearing; he picked up his receiver. I peeped round his door a few minutes later and he was sitting with the receiver held to his ear, but I’ll never know whether he realised that it was my feeble attempt to get even."
Joan Hepper mentions an event which always caused much excitement - the periodic Fire Drill. (See The Baker Perkins Fire Brigade). Before the erection of the 1975 Office Block, this entailed a mass evacuation of the 1933 building via the open iron fire escape on the west end of the building. This was always viewed with some trepidation, especially by the stiletto-heeled girls in the Typing Pool on the 5th floor. If some of the male staff felt any qualms about the descent, this was in part offset by the prospect afforded by the mini-skirts in fashion at the time.
Barbara Westney (see also - Credits - Oaks from Acorns) had joined Baker Perkins at the age of 15, starting work on the 5th floor with the Export Company, where, she recalls - "I was bored out of my mind. I kept the "records" - narrow little pull out drawers that I would flip up and enter details of a contract - hardly any sales correspondent used them. I also had to order stationery. I remember being thrilled when I heard that the Export Company was moving to London, so I had to be placed elsewhere."
I was pleased to get out of a busy sales office (being very shy at that time) and down to the Training Dept. where we were taught shorthand and typing and where I could relax a little among girls of my own age. After training, I moved back up to the right hand side of Typing Pool to do copy typing - Connie was the gentle lady who corrected our work - then I advanced to Dictaphone typing".
An early task was to prepare the Dictaphone wax cylinders for the next job - (see Sheelagh Blood's memories above). One of the other jobs given to the younger members of the department was to collect files of work from the different departments and then deliver the finished typing. (Margaret (Barnes) Preston remembers being issued with a 'map' showing all of the offices together with the position of each of the sales correspondents' desks - including their "IN" and "OUT" trays!). Barbara looked forward to this as - "we could get out of the typing pool and into other parts of the building. I especially loved going to the drawing office where I had a crush on one of the young men".
Visiting the various drawing offices meant using the lifts and Barbara recalls - "One day I was staggering under a pile of folders when Mr. Braithwaite entered the lift. I could tell from his look that he felt sorry for me and soon after we were given a trolley to ease our task".
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