Story: Marion Graham, Firshill History Group
It is very sad that young people are unable to find jobs these days. When we reminisce, all of us remember “leave school Friday, start work Monday”.
There were jobs to be had in the factories for the boys, and the girls would mostly choose to work in a shop or office. Before the war, most women stopped working when they married – they stayed home and kept house. The war changed all that when the women did all sorts of factory jobs (previously “men’s work”) while the men were away and they kept on doing it, to some extent, when the men came back.
A few of our members recalled their “working days” and the following are extracts from one of our books of memories.
Anne Murdoch’s first job was with a firm of sign printers where she applied paint to the signs. Later they applied camouflage paint to army helmets. It was a job with health hazards because they were inhaling the paint fumes and she often fell asleep on the bus going home from the effect of the fumes – they were given milk to drink at work every day to offset the health dangers – obviously the Health and Safety measure of the time. She was paid seven shillings and six pence (7/6) per week for working 48 hours – she gave her mother 7/- and had 6d left for spending money which often went as 4d to get into the Hippodrome on Saturday night leaving 2d for the rest of the week. Although she really liked that job, her parents eventually insisted that she left it because of the health hazards.
When she was 18, she was sent to work for the war effort at Baldock near Letchworth and she lived in a girls hostel there. Once, when she came home on leave, she was unwell and unable to return to Baldock on time so her place at the hostel was allocated to someone else and she could not work there any longer. Whilst she was at home she was called to the Labour Exchange to find out where they would send her to work next and they said that – provided she could pass a medical examination – she would be able to work on the trams and stay at home in Sheffield. She did pass the medical and worked as a conductress on the trams for 17 years – right up to the night when the last tram ran
Flo Gill recalls
“My first job on leaving school was at a silver-plating company and then I went to work at Batchelors (canned pea factory) while the war was on. I remember we used to have to sort the peas before they were canned and, when the fruit came in, we had to work overtime and nights and weekends because it had to be packed quickly while it was still fresh.
“Sometimes they would give us some fruit to take home and once they gave us a big bag of damsons and the bag burst on the tram going home – there were damsons everywhere. I used to work in the cannery where the peas were cooked in big retorts for two hours and then a crane would come along and take the peas to be packed. I worked there until I got married in 1945. Later I worked at a cutlery firm and Stanley Tools and Fletchers Bakery. I became a “home-help” and then worked at Firth Browns until my retirement.”
Finally, we have Lewis Boam (pictured above on the right) spent all of his working life at the Co-op. Lewis told us: “Over the years I worked in most of the Society's branches, the first one being at 370 Staniforth Road. Were one of today's shop assistants to walk into a shop of that era, they would find it a totally alien place. No E.P.O.S tills or pre-packed goods and certainly no self-service. Each item sold was brought to the customer by the assistant behind the counter. Most commodities came loose and had to be weighed and packed on the premises. Lard, butter, sugar, vinegar, treacle, dried fruit and many more came into this category. Bacon came as half a pig which had to be cut up and boned before being sliced on a huge hand-operated slicing machine. All the bills had to be totalled manually. I was the “flour-lad” responsible for weighing and bagging the flour. The hours were long and my wage was the princely sum of 11 shillings and 9 pence per week and nobody wanted to sit next to me on the tram going home as I was covered in flour! On some occasions, I would go out with a wheelbarrow delivering orders and sometimes I would go out with the horse and dray and help the delivery man. After work, we were required to attend evening classes on two nights a week at Salmon Pastures school until 9pm and for this we had to pay 4 shillings and sixpence per term plus the cost of text books!”
In those days, most of the shops were staffed by men and the only female in the shop was the office girl who attended to the accounts – until the war started and the men went off to fight. The 1950s brought us self-service stores which at the time were quite a novelty. Over the years, the Co-op branches all went “self-service” but many of them closed as they were unable to compete with the huge supermarkets. The wheel has now turned full circle and the Co-op is once again expanding via late-night convenience stores.