I left school originally to join the Navy, but I’ve always had a problem with my weight so that excluded me, although they did write to me every month for a year to see whether I’d lost the weight. So I was obviously fairly good to get in the Navy. However that wasn’t to be, so my first job was a temporary job with Bexley Borough Council in the cashier’s office. The biggest memory that I had from that time was the fact that once a week we’d go across to Welling and open up a cashier’s office above the Library, and people would queue down the stairs to come and pay their rates and their rent. And we had a little old lady used to come in – every time we were there she’d come up with a handful of money to pay her rates. But we owed her money, so every time she came we’d tell her ‘No, you don’t owe us anything. Thank you very much. Good afternoon.’ And she’d walk down the stairs and join the end of the queue (laughs). So several time this poor lady we’d tell her. Whatever happened to her I don’t know. I was there a few months until I found my first job in London, and, shortly after I left the cashier’s office, the van that took the money back to Bexley was raided, and the money stolen. So obviously I was out of the way!
My first proper job in London was with a shipping company on Upper Thames Street, doing accounts work. At that time you could change jobs quite quickly, so I went in, I believe it was Wednesday, into the Agency and got myself another job to start on the following Monday. And that was with the Investor’s Chronicle in Bucklebury House on Queen Victoria Street, which, if anybody knows that area, it’s like a pinky-reddy colour building almost opposite St Paul’s.
And that was quite interesting there. It sort of spoilt me for other jobs in the times that I had to be at work, because most days we didn’t start till 10. So I missed the rush hour in the morning generally.
The Investor’s Chronicle wasn’t a shipping company. The shipping company was my first job and then I moved to Investor’s Chronicle in Bucklebury House. We started at 10 most mornings. Tuesdays we stayed until 7 at night and we had to be there at 7 o’clock on the Wednesday morning, which was press day. We could have lunch in the Financial Times canteen and it was subsidised, so we could have a 3 course lunch for 2 shillings which was very nice. Had to walk through the print room to get to it, but that was fair enough.
They were building what I think was the Salvation Army Head Office across the road from us. There was a bit of excitement because they found an unexploded bomb while they were digging around there, so we all had to come away from the windows. We all wanted to watch what was going on, of course so that was fun. And I left there in 1966 because my parents moved up to Norfolk. Dad had retired from the Fire Brigade and they decided that he would be better off away from the company that he’d had so that they could start a new life together somewhere else. And my grandmother was born in Norwich and my mother always felt well here in Norfolk, so that’s why it was Norfolk we came to rather than further south or wherever.
I came to work for the Norwich Union in the Claims Office. Mostly handling paper anyway, shuffling it from here to there like you still do, even though they’re meant to be paperless. And I was there with the Norwich Union for 18 months to 2 years, but we lived at Winterton when we first moved up here, so coming into the city was quite a long drive. I had to learn to drive when we got up here; fortunately got a lift initially from somebody who lived in the village, but then I got a car and drove in myself, which was something else too – quite exciting really.
And then I decided that the travelling in was a bit unnecessary really, I suppose, ‘cos there were things happening in Yarmouth, so I then went to work in Yarmouth, which I think, if my memory is right, was a fairly new roll-on, roll-off company, and I started down there doing accounts. Now the order of the next jobs is a little vague because I worked for the roll-on, roll-off company, which I think was the first, I worked for the Dock Labour Company, which was interesting. I worked for a while for an Insurance Broker, and I worked for Dalgety Franklin at Rackheath. But I’m not sure what order they were.
I was with the Norwich Union until about ’68 and – probably about 15 years, I suppose, this collection of jobs. Sort of going backwards, I came back to working in Norwich in about ’79.
I was out of work and I did sign on for a short while, but nothing too serious at that stage. But it was interesting. I had the most fun, I guess, with the Dock Labour Board. I was doing the wages there, and we collected the information from all the people who used the men on a Monday morning and then collected that all together, and then, with a big Kalamazoo System, hand worked out what they were getting paid and so you’d do all the workings out, the tax, insurance and things.
The Kalamazoo System was a big sheet and it had, like, the small pay slips on that you’d write on, so you’d have the man’s name and what you’d paid up till and these were filled in by hand. There must have been something like 120, 150 maybe, dockers at the time, ‘cos they were obviously still working for people like Bunns, so they’d go and unload the grain boats.
They were grain boats that came up to Norwich. Apparently Norfolk, well East Anglia is quite the best place for barley for whisky, so we’d send a lot of that up to Scotland, which is why the distillery just south of Norwich was set up there. So we did that, and then we had to work out what cash we were going to collect on the Friday morning, and it had to be specific. You couldn’t have anything less than three £1 notes, so if it came to, say, £155 you’d have to have five £1 notes, you couldn’t have a £5 note. And the change had to be specific. Presumably so that the men would have a certain amount to give their wives, and bills and things, and stuff like that.
They had to have a certain amount of change for shopping. And then Friday mornings the van would come with the cash and we’d be locked in, and it was dreadful if you couldn’t actually balance things. I mean, the number of times when we were actually doing the payments to work out all the bits of money, and if you were tuppence out it took forever trying to find it. It could be horrendous.
Payment was in cash and weekly in those days. I heard a fair amount of strong language working there as I’m sure you can imagine! Dockers will be dockers! And the shop steward came in one day. He was angry about something and he was standing in the door really letting rip at the Manager with language that was quite ripe. He suddenly realised I was sitting there, turned round, apologised for the language, turned back and carried on using the language!
I started at Dalgety Franklin who were grain and fertiliser merchants, and they had a big place at Rackheath. They had somewhere in the region of 30 lorries, that would go and collect grain and we’d store it at Rackheath and then send it wherever it was needed. They had three grain buyers. We did a lot of pea movement and that sort of stuff, and fertilisers to the farms in the spring.
I started on one of the machines that calculated bills and wages and that sort of stuff, and then just before I left there I worked in the transport office for a while, helping to set the drivers off in the right direction and give them jobs to do and things to collect and places to go. That was interesting times too.
And then I joined an Oil Company. It had a drilling rig off the coast here, an American Company. It was a drilling rig rather than a platform, so it was on legs and just jack it up and tow it somewhere else when the time came. We finished there when they moved the rig initially to Holland and then I think they went to South America somewhere. Whether they’re still in business or not I don’t know. Whether they might have been swallowed up by some of the big companies.
I was there about three or four years, maybe. I was the only one in the place who knew how to work out a payroll so I had a fair amount of autonomy there. If I wanted to go away on holiday then actually my father did it! There wasn’t anybody else in the establishment who knew how to do payrolls, so Dad did it.
He was a fireman in London. At the time when he retired from the Merchant Service they did 28 years, and he had done his 28 years and they included the time when he was at sea during the War. They included that in his 28 years, and he was only 49, so he then needed to do something else, and when he finished when he was 65 he was working for Wimpey Marine. They were dealing with the boats that go out to the rigs.
The Merchant Service, yes. And he went into the Fire Brigade in ’38 and so was in London all during the Blitz, which wasn’t very pleasant. And then after the Blitz they sent him back to sea and he spent most of the time going backwards and forwards to America, and South America, and bringing food back generally, which was a bit of a hairy time. And actually the Merchant Service lost more men than the Navy did. He didn’t talk about the horrible things that happened generally, but the fun things, and I guess that was the same for all men who went through that period. When we moved up to Winterton a chap who lived opposite us had been a prisoner of war of the Japanese, and you never heard him talk about it.
After the rig moved away I obviously then had to find another job, and the job I got was with a software house that was in Norwich off Pottergate. Which is in the building that is now the dole office… whatever they call the dole office now.
Social security office is it? But it was that building that we were in. The company handled accounts, packages and payment packages, and I was involved with the payroll package, which was actually a company that was based in Peterborough. So if we did any training we’d go up to Peterborough or thereabouts to learn how to work it. Generally we’d have to go to Peterborough when they were changing the package to do various bits and pieces – legislation – that came in, obviously we had to keep up to date with. One of the big clients we had was British Sugar, there was one at Wisbech, a factory at Wisbech, and the factory at Cantley. And at the time the chap who ran the Cantley factory payroll would not talk to a woman. So although I was handling his accounts I had to take a man with me so that this chap could talk to the man and I would do the work! Very antiquated.
Then I was with Boulton & Paul for ten years, looking after their payroll system cause they used the same package that I had been using with the software house. So I’d look after that and put it right if it went wrong, every time they sent through a change then we’d have to do test runs and check it out with the payroll manager that he knew that we were getting the same result.
Generally the first run you we did was to physically check the payslips so that we could see that the program was doing the same things and that we were coming out with the same sort of answers. The odd penny or two really didn’t matter too much, it would have done over a while, I would probably do that myself, but we’d physically check each of the payroll slips to make sure that they were right. Cause we had the factory on Riverside, and there was a factory at Melton Mowbray, and one at Lowestoft, and one at Maldon. So we had all those to do.
When I was there Boulton & Paul were doing windows and doors and kitchen units. But I mean during the war they built aeroplanes.
Going back to Boulton & Paul, when they told me that I was being made redundant, that was eleven o’ clock. I had a software run to do at lunchtime and they escorted me out of the building. They stood behind me while I did the run and checked it, made sure it was ok and then escorted me out of the building.
I think it was just that the amount of work that I was actually doing lessened so I guess I wasn’t being employed to my full capacity and not being a programmer just wasn’t probably any more use to them. Which I felt was a bit of a shame but hey, it’s one of those things. But I never went .
After three years I went temping at County Hall. And I worked in various departments before I ended up in the social services section, dealing with– the last years of my employment with social services was dealing with the charities and organisations that the county council funded, and I organised their payment. I didn’t work out who got what, I was told who got what, but the budget I was handling was somewhere in the region of sixteen million.
My first job on the temp register was in Legal Services and the call I had to say I could start work there, the question I was asked was ‘Was I a sensitive person?’ Because they were putting me with the children’s services part of legal services and they said that could be – And what I was doing was typing up reports of conversations the solicitors had had with whoever and that was, some of that was quite nasty.
There was one of the legal people there, she wasn’t a solicitor, she would take some of these conversations, but she didn’t like saying some of the swear words. And the first time I typed something up for her, I didn’t realise this, and actually typed what she said. She would say different words for the letters of the swear words. So I’d typed what she said, it didn’t make an awful lot of sense to me, but I was fairly new, caused a lot of hilarity when she got it back – no, you actually have to put the word in!
It wasn’t the phonetic alphabet, if it’d been the phonetic alphabet I would’ve, having been in the Naval Reserve and gotten used to that, that wouldn’t have thrown me. But it was the different words, like somebody’s name beginning with F for the F word.
A bit bizarre. So I was in Legal Services for a while, I was in Education for a while, I was in Transport for a while. I worked down in Watton for about eight weeks, ten weeks. And then eventually landed in, it was the Contracts unit, and the team there dealt with the contracts they had with various charities like Scope and Barnardos and Age Concern.
It started off with the fact that I’m a Girl Guide, and when I moved up from London I joined the sea ranger unit that met at Pull’s Ferry and the girls who ran that, well two of them, belonged to the Naval Reserve. And they would invite me to their social functions and then the permanent service chief who was in charge kept saying to me, ‘Well you keep coming to these social things, why don’t you join?’ So I did. They didn’t seem to worry too much about my weight at the time. The unit was stationed above the Black Boys pub in Colegate. We had the floors above the pub. The first floor was where we did all our training and the second floor was where we had a very nice social area and a pub.
But we were purely a communication centre so all our training was around using the system at the time which was a Teddy printer, and voice communication. We also had to learn the codes that they used for encryption. We had to go down to President on the Thames to do that training.
The aim was that we could join, should it arise, we could go into a Navy station, the men could go onto ships because women weren’t allowed on ships at the time and join the crew. Because we trained up as well as the crews that were permanent service. We had to do a certain number of hours a year and two weeks training on a Naval station, and then we get our bounty, we get paid and that was quite handy. And also more often than not your company was obliged to allow you to have the time as well as holidays to go and do your training. All the training that I did to get my rate higher was done down in Plymouth, in HMS Drake. So a fortnight every other year was down at Drake. But I managed to get to Malta three times, on the strength of this out on exercise, all expenses paid by HMG, thank you very much!
It was a bit like the TA. There still are units around, there’s one in Liverpool, one in Calliope I think was up Newcastle way. So they’re jotted around. Southend I think is the nearest one to us now, or it was last I heard. And the Reserve had one or two minesweepers which they’d let us out on every now and again, took us over to Alderney several times and minesweepers would rock and roll in a saucer of milk on a calm day, they really were quite unstable things. But we went over to Alderney once, they wouldn’t let us go out on the Saturday when we were due to leave because there was a force eight gale running so they decided that was too rough. We went out the following day and the wind had dropped but the seas were still running, and I think it was only me and the guy who was steering that actually weren’t sick. Well I enjoyed myself really!
Penny Field (b. 1946) interviewed for WISEArchive in Norwich on 29th May 2015