Working Lives

A mardle about council work, mainly in North Norfolk (1962-2016)

Location: North Norfolk

Barry worked in local government in accounting and bookkeeping, primarily in North Norfolk. He was involved in Civil Defence and communications.

I went to school at Chase Secondary Modern Boys School, Enfield. I left there with no qualifications, just a school certificate.

My very first job was 1962-66. I started work at a place called N Yeomans, in the Enfield Highway area, for about four years, basically learning the trade, because I started from scratch; I was a junior clerk. I learned how to do the accounts, typing them out on an old machine.

I was typing up the statements and invoices for customers. I did get some qualifications then, RSA Bookkeeping and Principal Accounts ‘O’ Level at evening school afterwards. I just had to get some skills.

Yeomans were an interesting firm, they died out years ago; they made paper price tickets for all the industry. They sold them to shops and they supplied London shops too.

As well as working in the office, monthly I used to go and pay out the wages in the factory. It was part of extra duties. The chap in charge was Mr Trowbridge; he was the accountant, who I got on with. It was a very small company in an old-fashioned 1950s building.

I used to cycle to work in those days, because it was easier. It was about three or four miles away, so you had to have a bike; two buses to get there

Unfortunately, in ’64, my dad had a heart attack at Christmastime. So I was on my own with my mum from ’64 to ‘66. Then we moved onto Canvey Island from there.

Carson’s, Canvey Island

When I got to Canvey Island I had a temporary job, you might say, for about nine months with a firm called Carson’s. They were furniture manufacturers in Basildon.

But I didn’t really suit the situation; I was trying to find a job at the time. In those days you moved on, you got a job and you just took what was going, didn’t you? Jobs were much easier to find then than they are now. I think I travelled by bus, because I lived a lot further away from there.

Ekco, EA Cole, Southend

Then in ’66, for a couple of years, I went to EA Cole in Southend, who were the owners of Ekco, which made radios and televisions. It was an interesting time actually, because I was involved in costings. It was in a big room with huge benches, and you had to just get on with your job and work out the costings for each by looking at the paperwork on the components themselves, or from the manufacturer of that television or so on.

One of the sidelines on that was paying out monthly wages in the Plastics Section, which was in cash in those days. The Plastics Section covered the sets for the outer cases and things like that, but they also made nursery equipment, like baths and potties and toilet seats.

It was a noisy place, because you’d got compression machines going, moulding things and so on. I can remember going past one of the sections and they were testing colour sets as well, before they came on the market.

Ekco was part of a bigger setup, Philips, if my memory serves me right, and they had basic sets like Ekco; then you had Ferranti and all the other ones, which were in the wooden casing, but the same inside. So really it was only kind of appearance more than anything else.

There was a fiddle going on in that place, like any factory I think. What they used to do was when they were testing components for radios and so on they used to fail one or two, and send it round again, so they could make more money. But I suppose that happened in those days. A lot say it didn’t, but it did.

The Royal Liver Friendly Society, Southend

Then in ’68 I saw an advert for an insurance company. I was engaged at the time, so it was a case of just get a job which has got prospects. I think Ekco was kind of going downhill by that stage anyway. So I joined the Royal Liver Friendly Society, which was based in Southend. The manager was Mr Remington, who I got on with quite well.

It was in an old building in Southend, a three-storey building. We had a front office and lunchroom, that’s all; nothing special, but it was mainly dealing with the agents coming in.

You had new agents and old agents who had a retained agent. They used to bring their accounts in every week and we sorted them out and checked it over, then sent it off to Head Office. We had to deal with the customers as they came in for policies, which had matured, or somebody’d passed away. You paid out accordingly and the idea was to encourage people once a policy had matured, to have another one; to reinvest.

We were paid a salary and ten per cent bonus every Christmas on your salary. It’s probably an old-fashioned way of giving people extra money. I imagine the agents got more, of course, because obviously some got paid a certain amount of commission on the sales.

We did have one famous person on our books. We covered Southend up to Billericay and areas like that and there was a certain Sandra Banks on the books for a penny a week, which was the way you insured people when they were younger. Her mother insured her. She was Sandie Shaw (the singer), her real name was Sandra Banks, as was well know in the area at the time.

Benfleet Urban District Council

In 1970 I joined Benfield UDC which was based at Thundersley at the time, only up the road. Southend was 15/20 miles away.

They used to build the highways and things like that. I was a technical clerk, mainly doing accounts again. It was in a fairly modern building; I’m not sure if it’s been changed; it’s being used for other purposes now.

There was a Highways Section dealing with sewage and highways. I remember times when there were certain conversations at dinnertime! You used to talk about the worst things you could think of when you were eating your sandwiches. But it became routine and just ignored it. They didn’t put you off your food. We worked together as part of one section working for the senior technical people as well.

Canvey Island and the Civil Defence

In between times, in ’71, I got married on Canvey. We bought a bungalow, decorated it and so on but then three months later, moved to Potters Bar. I had to find the work and get a career.

On Canvey, prior to that period, I joined the Civil Defence. It was good fun, but it made you a bit wary of things. I must admit I don’t like climbing ladders and there was one time when you had to climb only two storeys up, but on a ladder and just a framework and it was a bit scary. We never got used properly for civil defence, but you learned from people and got to know people. Say something blew up and then you had to get gas masks and so on – we did exercises and things like that.

Canvey being low level often got flooded, and we had to deal with that and other scenarios of a situation. But it did get thrown back in our face saying well you can’t do that, doesn’t work in real life, you know.

I got involved in something similar to that later on in Cromer. We had radios as well and things like that, communications and so forth. Like this, when things go wrong, you can deal with the situation in time and help other people.

The Council, Potters Bar, Hertfordshire

So in ’72 to ’74 I transferred to Potters Bar. I saw another job going there, which was a similar type of work. That was Highways Section as well. We worked in a place called Wyllyotts Manor, which was an 18th century farmhouse originally. I think now it’s been turned into a fancy restaurant.

I can remember quite clearly the building itself. The walls were a bit thin and there was even greenery growing through the walls. I don’t know why they never took it off and removed it; it was a very old building, you know. It probably was damp actually and they only kept it for a short period of time, until they sold it on to somebody who could spend money on it I suppose, like authorities did in those days.

That job was dealing with public utility bill accounts. The main source of work was when the Gas or Water (departments) dug a hole, or did repair work, we charged them back accordingly.

There was a depot just round the corner. They used to pay out the wages, again in cash. Being near traffic lights, we were concerned about robberies, and we had a system. There were two minivans; we used to drive one van in as a decoy vehicle and another one had the money so that they wouldn’t know what was going on because of vehicles going in and out all the time. It was the London area and it could have been vulnerable.

In June of ’73, just before the changes in local government, a job created as bonus clerk for the section, just working out the wages and the bonuses. This was advertised but it was really a fill in job for six months, part of the changeover. Potters Bar was a place you could afford to live in and not to buy in, in those days. It’s very upmarket area now.

I used to work with a chap next door to me, who was a son of a foreman, and you got to know a lot of people round that way and I was given a council house to rent at that time. My daughter was about one at the time and a house with steps wasn’t the best of place to be in, but it was a nice part of the world.

North Norfolk District Council in Cromer

Then North Norfolk came up and that was it. So I moved from nice leafy Hertfordshire to this coastline. It was to do with work study at the time. I was trying to do something similar to it. I did know the area fairly well because we’d got friends who lived at Overstrand. I thought it’s a nice peaceful place to live in, which it is still at certain times of the year.

So my career was from ’74 to 2005 at Cromer in various guises. The first three years, I was on the work study section doing some of the calculations of the wages and bonuses for them, based on a schedule. They got so much allowance for various things, such as travel.

Some was actually going out with the refuse crews and doing work assessment; working out how far they had to travel and so forth, almost time and motion. Also with other people like the carpenters, bricklayers, painters and so forth. You basically learned from them, because you talked to them about what their job was and you could work out for yourself what you could do in a way, because you learned from their skills.

I also used to go out and do work study with the sweeper drivers, which was the only vehicle I remember that was left-hand drive.

The ‘Honey Cart’

Another thing was the honey cart, or the night soil. They didn’t exist in London, but coming out to this part of the world, you had no drainage. You had a septic tank, if you were lucky. People had a building with a bucket in and so forth. I think they’ve got more sewage in now over a period of time, but in those days (this was Smallburgh and areas like that) it was obviously very rural and no services were even built into it.

The driver said to me one day, ‘when you get out the cab make sure you go to the front and not the rear’, mainly because if it blows and you’re there, you’re in trouble.

They worked from ten o’clock to about two o’clock. You had to go round houses and trying to see where the things were. It was not easy to do work study with them, because you didn’t know where they were going; they knew the route. You’d walk into dogs and things like that in the middle of the night; it’s not much fun. But it was an interesting job, to see people’s work in action. I think now it’s done in a different way, though.

The workers were crafty as well. They were cunning in their own way. If the refuse crews were going round, they were picking up plastic bags into their bins in the vehicle. If they saw something useful, it was diverted and if it was anything metal, or anything like that, they put it aside until they shared it out between them. It was commonsense really; it was the early days of recycling I suppose. They were being helpful to people; not to just throw the waste away.

With the night soil, at the end of the day, you used to drive up to a farmer’s field and just release what’s in the vehicle, so that field was always fertile. It would be left on there, or ploughed in I suppose.

The refuse vehicles had bars you could add supporters at the back as well. So they rode on the back of the vehicle, which I’ve done. It wasn’t the safest thing to do and the smell from when it was summertime was quite horrendous, to say the least.

If my memory serves me right, when the Heavy Goods Vehicle licence came in, they didn’t have to do another test, because they’d been driving these things for years. But just to double de-clutch on those things – what hard work it was.

They had some small vehicles, because the roads were narrow. Like the one we’ve got at Loddon is a small one and it goes out on some roads, because if you put a big one round there, it would get stuck.

I used a stopwatch for timing things, of course. But computers didn’t come in until a bit too late on for myself. I can’t remember using a computer to do the wages; I think it was all done with a calculator onto a sheet of ordinary paper.

After a while I was transferred to the Rating and Valuation Section, which was in four sections. We covered the Walsingham area. This was the time when computers were slowly coming in.

We used to send reports to the Valuation Office if there were changes in the building or something like that. I think on a monthly basis we used to get a report back from Norwich and we used to transfer that information onto main paper formats, which was kind of a new system and we had a big book of hard copies.

You would have a master and a spare copy. You would change the original copy and then put the copy into another book, so you’d got cross-reference. If rateable value went up from 100 to 200 you changed it accordingly, then you put a cross-reference to any changes onto that copy. Then the revised copy you referred to that afterwards, so you could go back four or five times over, if the property was changed for various reasons.

Getting used to computers

Then it came to having computers, which was obviously essential at the end of the day. One or two people said ‘I’ve been doing this all my life; I am not going to change now’ and one person, he retired, because he said ‘I’m not a typist’. If he’s still alive, he’s probably got a computer of his own at home.

It was an interesting time, because we had to suddenly change and learn. Fortunately, I had learned how to type earlier on, in the sixties, so I had some vague idea, but it was with looking at the keys. Even now I can’t touch-type; a lot of people can’t probably, but I knew how to type.

They used to change the way things were described, for example, when BT changed its name. I’m the worst speller when it comes down to it, but when you’ve got to change, you soon got on with it; you just did it automatically. You had to just do it as you went along, so you learned by error sometimes and repetition.

You used to have other people in that section who would actually write reports to the Valuation Office by hand and they were duplicated. Then we came back with the information after they inspected the building, or whatever it was.

You’d get an old pub, say, which had been modernised, or changed from a pub to housing. I can remember some of the words we used seemed rather stupid at the time. A pond was land covered with water, not a pond! It was the technical way they had to describe it, but it only makes sense if you know the full details.

By then I had moved from Cromer to North Walsham to be a cashier for a couple of years, just doing the rents, rates any other bills that came in.

We did the banking every night, only up the road, but still you had to carry cash in a wallet and so on. You found a way of carrying cash without being obvious. Copper you could carry in a bag, no bother; notes we carried in pockets and things like that, so you could conceal them. But even now, if I carry a wallet, I don’t think about it, because I did it so often , that it’s kind of second nature.

In those days people did pay cash and so you did handle lots of cash at certain times. You took the money to the bank during the day and you used to put the surplus in the wallets and then collected it for the following day – very little was kept in the building. Some banks had external safes, where the drawer drops down and then the bag goes into the wall.

We got to know quite a few people there and we dealt with rent collectors as well; there were two in that area. At one time they asked me to do some rent collecting Sheringham-way, collecting the money. People were collecting thousands of pounds rent-wise; and were vulnerable, no matter who they were it wasn’t a very safe way of collecting money. But you found a way of making sure that you weren’t obvious.

That lasted about two years. When we moved, Cromer had a building, which was supposed to last for five years but lasted for 15 years. In the end it was falling apart.

Just prior to when the Community Charge came into operation in about ’89, I was asked to look after the direct debits format for it. I can remember waking up one night dreaming of this stuff. It was a busy time when we were trying to get things done and it got to you.

Prior to that period, I had gone back to Cromer again, dealing with the Rates Section itself, dealing with various general enquiries from people and if they wanted to pay by direct debit, which was new in those days. It was encouraged to keep the costs down. I think a direct debit was about one or two pence per entry. Other payments were about 30-odd pence per entry at the time.

Then I was given the job of looking after the Treasurer’s Section stationery area: doing a monthly check on what was required, or being used, then ordering stock, as required, from suppliers who you used on a regular basis, because got to trust people and people over the years.

I think the budget was about up to £8,000 at the time, which was a lot of money when you think about it, but it’s peanuts now. It was all pens, paper, envelopes and so on. All the stationery everybody would need and if anybody required anything specific, you’d just try and keep a small quantity of it in stock and try to buy the right quality, which is a problem even these days.

In those days people used to have manual diaries, not electronic ones like they do now. So you used to have to work out who wanted what type, so you could order it and it was available for them.

The other thing I was involved in doing was putting together the direct debit payments on a monthly basis from what was required. Going into the accounts with the Computer Section, which was on tape in those days again. So that you updated it on a certain day, so prepared for the day it was to be taken out.

That worked quite happily until one day, a Saturday, we were working late and there was a glitch in the system and it took more than it should have done. Two of us never picked it up at the time and so it went through. Because of the mistake, they had an enquiry and concluded it wasn’t our fault; it was a computer fault’.

You’re talking about £1 million going out, and it should have been less than that, so it was unfortunate, but banks make mistakes now sometimes. It picked up the wrong data at the time and that was it.

Apart from the stationery and so on, we purchased a machine to fold the documents together in the envelopes, and my job was to operate it. We had two in the end; both German, if my memory serves me right. Mainly doing weekly Council bills. We used to do all the housing changes, and forms for the Elections as well. Now it’s all electronic. And we used to in-house print all the rate bills in March.

Then they were transferred to me to fold them in strict postcode order into trays for the post. So you did so many and then you called Royal Mail and asked them to pick up so many cages of them and send off to Peterborough and then back to Cromer again.

Some of it was sometimes given to outside sources. It was the cheapest way of doing it. However, you’re paying two people lots of overtime, which was rather nice for us at the time. But it was long hours, of course; you were working through to two in the morning sometimes. You kind of did a nightshift and then you went in the afternoon to start up again, because you had to get some sleep.

The other thing was, I used to do the post itself. We had a big franking machine. Every day, about two o’clock/half past two time, you collected the post from each section and processed it through. If it was required for special delivery, you did the paperwork for it, got it sorted out and by three/four o’clock it was all prepared for the postman to just pick up and off it went.

Another job I did have was issuing rail tickets for staff. We bought them in bulk from Norwich, underground and mainline, and they were charged in section again for travelling back and forth to London, which was quite a common thing. You got bulk rates.

I did get out to transfer any rebate records to the store in Upper Sheringham. We kept the records for six years and every so often you used to take them out and get them disposed of by shredding people. They never got round to actually putting files onto discs at all. The cost was too high.

25 Years’ Service in 2000

In the year 2000, I had done 25 years’ service and I got an award.

My wife’s family has been involved in Doulton Pottery for years, and we said we would get something decent. So I got a 4-piece dinner service. We’ve still got most of it. It was their thanks for years of service. If they still do it now I don’t know.

I was fire marshal for the section and did yearly training. Even now I could probably use an extinguisher. We were told if there was a fire, out the building, unless you could control it yourself. I was a first aider in the building as well at one time.

North Norfolk Football Club

I was involved in local football; the North Norfolk Football Club. Not as a player I might add, but I was more a treasurer and I was fundraising as well, running a kind of weekly lottery. Then in the end I was thrown in at the deep end on the pitch itself; I had to be trainer and linesman, which is not my idea of fun. It was kind of forced on me and I did it, but I wasn’t very good at it. But on an amateur basis you don’t really worry too much about it. We went around everywhere and when I was younger, I could do it, but in the end I gave up on it. The team fell apart anyway at the end of the day, but we never got very far with it, but we enjoyed ourselves, you know.

Promoting Fairtrade

One of the other main things, which I did do and I’m proud of, by the way, is the Council had a green environmental team they formed, when I suggested helping people change the attitude to life and to the environment and one of the things I suggested and they picked up quickly was about Fairtrade.

We got together and decided the staff would produce some items of food from a £50 which Sainsbury’s offered us. So it was coffee, sugar; cakes and so on. The people said we will do it and we just actually let them taste it.

We created a little leaflet of what we’d produced from it as well, using ordinary recipes with Fairtrade stuff, which I think I might have handed round; That seemed to go down well. People enjoyed the fun of it.

[Referring to a photograph of himself dressed in a banana costume, standing next to Norman Lamb MP.] That outfit appeared for, I think, one of the national charities as well, so I kind of borrowed it and went round one day with it to raise money for Children in Need, or something like that.

Twice we did a clothes show, with staff promoting Fairtrade. We went to Temple’s, the cheese manufacturers in Wighton and bought cheese from there, Fairtrade in mind, to keep them happy and then we showed the clothes. We didn’t sell much, but one or two people said it was as good as Monsoon, good quality clothes.

I helped to model it and young ladies kind of assisted us. It was quite good, something different, to get people to help. Some people are happy to act as models, and it worked.

Emergency Planning Team, the Civil Defence

The last thing I did was as part of an emergency planning team, back to the Civil Defence again.

There was about ten of us. We had telephone skills covering the whole area working with other volunteers. I believe there were the radio hams people. We did a few exercises and went down to Weybourne with communications and had a food wagon, where they produced food on the site.

We also went to Aylsham where they had a base with all the phones, so once a month you used to go up there and talk to people, as an exercise for if there was a situation like flooding. They’d got Fire and all the other services, all worked together, they had all the equipment. We were just the backroom people, communicating with them, asking for their services.

The person in charge was ex-RAF, so he knew that side anyway. He controlled us and we just plugged the phones in and off we went. That was disbanded again as well, but they still have it elsewhere; I think South Norfolk do have a unit.

Barry Gibson (b. 1947)  interviewed by WISEArchive on 6th October 2016 in Loddon

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