Eva Hall (1902-c.2000) and Betty Hall (1904-c.2000) Hall: oral history audio recording.
The sisters’ aunt was 1 of the first 9 employees when McCorquodales started in Wolverton (1878). They worked in a disused railway carriage producing envelopes: the men cutting shapes and the women folding and gluing.
As children, they received 3d pocket money. Sweets cost 1d per 2 ounces and bananas were 2d each. They received a new outfit each Whitsun and used the old one for play. Whitsun was a big holiday with a parade and sports on Bradwell recreation ground. The proceeds went to Northampton Hospital. They saw their first aeroplane in 1910-1911. It was a Graham White, but at the time they did not know what they were looking at.
During World War One, there were food shortages, but no rationing until the very end. Word went round that a scarce product was in a certain shop and their mother would run to join the queue. Also, their mother said that she didn’t like butter, bacon, sugar and other scarce items, but after the War, when they were freely available again, she said that she did. Their mother witnessed the zeppelin shot down in flames over Salcey Forest.
Most menfolk of the sisters’ age joined the Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry, which suffered very heavy casualties during the First World War. BH lost 5 male friends in 1 week and both sisters saw the loss of menfolk as the reason why they did not marry. They remembered women coming out waving yellow “envelopes” which notified them of the loss of a husband or son. The bell was tolled (once for men) and people would ask who it was for as everyone knew everyone. During the War, their father was in a reserved occupation and wore a khaki armband to show that he was not avoiding service.
Their eldest sister worked for McCorquodales and was involved in the strike over war bonuses. Bonuses were granted to office workers, but not the shop floor, which came out on strike about it. The bonus was granted at the rate of 1/6d per week for adults and 9d per week for those under 18. The bonus ended after the War, but it was the sisters’ perception that the cost of living came down at the same time, especially for things like silk stockings and hairdressing.
Jobs at McCorquodales were obtained by standing outside the factory when workers were wanted and being chosen by the foreman. There were no interviews and the foreman tended to choose those who looked strongest as the work was physical, involving lifting heavy “forms”. BH started in 1917 at 6/9d for a 50 hour week: 08:00 am to 6:00 pm on weekdays and 08:00 am to 1:00 pm on Saturdays. There were approximately 400 employees at the time, most of them women. The first job in the morning was usually sweeping up rat droppings. There were no tea breaks. Workers took in their own flasks, but could only take a drink when the foreman was away. He was Bill Kirk and scarcely a day went past when he did not reduce a girl to tears. His wife was a forewoman working under him. After the War conditions improved to the extent that stools were provided and toilet breaks could be taken without requiring permission. Meals were taken in and reheated, or delivered warm by children, but a canteen and cook were not provided until after the General Strike.
The start of the working day was announced by loud whistles starting at 7:30 am and increasing in frequency until 08:00 am, when the door was shut. Workers who were shut out lost a quarter hour’s pay. The Christmas break lasted 2 days and it was difficult to get extra time even though it was unpaid. Sickness absence was also unpaid, although there were schemes to pay into that provided some cover. When the factory ran its own generator, before 1926, workers were not paid when machines were idle due to lack of power.
In 1918, BH was promoted to work on the printing machines, where sheets were fed in by hand. A quota of 8-9,000 per day was expected to earn the wage, but colleagues would give a thousand of their own to those who were in trouble and falling behind.
The McCorquodale family, especially Hugh and Malcolm, were considered “nice”. They would come round and ask people if they were happy in their work. On one occasion they fed the Postmaster General, who was visiting, the same food as the workers got in the canteen. Barbara Cartland married into the family. She divorced her first husband (Alexander in 1933) and married Hugh. She visited the factory and sometimes brought her daughter Raine, who climbed the coal heap on one occasion when she was sent outside.
Mabel Archer was the Union Secretary and called them out for the General Strike. A woman called Daisy Hyde was the union rep in the small machine room and was known to be very fair. She was older than MA and eventually left to become a missionary. When they were called out on strike, they came out, although many did not know why. The sisters and others weren’t in the union at the time, but joined afterwards because it provided strike pay and also became stronger. During the strike, the workers held concerts in the Picture Palace, providing their own entertainment, and BH did a comic turn. Before the strike, a tram used to run from Wolverton Station to Stony Stratford and provided free travel to Railway Works employees. That stopped after the Strike and it was allegedly done out of spite.