Ivy Johnson (1922-c.2010) & Catherine Ager (c.1920-2010): oral history audio recording.
IJ’s father and grandfather continued to work through the General Strike, whilst their neighbours did not. She remembered a horseshoe being thrown over the wall into their premises and also a neighbour telling her that her father was being “set upon”. Also in the twenties, she remembered young boys taking lunches to their Fathers at the Railway Works from Bradwell and Stony Stratford. Milk was delivered twice a day by horse and cart, measured out from a barrel. As children, they played hopscotch in the backstreets, walked in the Pancake Hills and bathed by the viaduct. The cinema was silent until 1929 with a woman playing a piano at the front. When “talkies” arrived, tickets were 6d and 1/3d at the Palace and long queues stretched past where they lived. When they were older, the Science and Arts was the centre for social activities.
They attended school from the age of 5 to 14, with the infants on the ground and the girls’ school on the first floor of the same building. The boys’ school was in Church Street. There was also a grammar school in Moon Street, for which three scholarships per year were available. They remembered Miss Townshend, who taught at the girls’ school and also took Sunday school and knew of Miss Fry, a teacher brought up in India whose father built houses in Wolverton and gave them Indian names.
The worst of the Depression was over by the time they joined McCorquodales, although school-leavers from previous years had had difficulty finding work. They filled vacancies created by women leaving to be married. The company gave a marriage day gift of up to £10 for ten years service
When they started at McCorquodales, the pay was 2¼d per hour. The working week was 48 hours: 8:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. for three days, 8:00 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. for two and 8:00 a.m. until 12:00 midday on Saturdays. Stoppages were “about 3d” per week. At that time, there were roughly 800 employed there; with a lot of work printing air letters, registered letters and income tax envelopes; plus envelopes for Lloyds Bank, relief-printed with the Black Horse logo. IJ finished her first day with a blister caused by tearing stamps from envelopes. There were no permitted tea-breaks and meals had to be eaten whilst working and without the foreman seeing. The foremen walked to and from work wearing their bowler hats. IJ and CA were told they would be paid 32/- per week when they reached 18, but the start of World War Two changed that.
They both remembered Mabel Brown, née Archer and that she organised “pageants and things”. Another woman they remembered was Mrs Skinner, who asked to be re-employed by McCorquodales after she was widowed and was allowed back on condition that “she didn’t cause trouble again”. Other people they remembered included: George Bowyer, MP (later Lord Denham); Aidan Crawley, MP, who represented them as a Labour member, but later joined the Conservatives; Robert Maxwell MP; Father Guest riding down Bradwell Hill with his cassock flying; and the Revd Harnett’s, father and son.
IJ remembered Friday 1st September 1939 and a workmate making a play of hiding under a table, crying out about being bombed and gassed. At 11:00 a.m. on Sunday 3rd, the air raid warning went off. Trenches were dug across the road from the Printing Works, but many employees went home during warnings. Wolverton was not bombed, but they both remembered German bombers going overhead, identifying them by the noise. CA was a volunteer on the fire service switchboard, as well as her job at McCorquodales. One night, they cycled to Newport Pagnell to see “Gone With The Wind” and had to follow the white line in the centre of the road to get home during the blackout.
When war was declared , people queued at the Printing Works to buy paper to cover their windows before their blackout curtains were ready. It remained busy during the war and, although some staff were conscripted for munitions work, Skipper & East, the cheque printer, moved in from London. After the war, there was a lot less work, with “quite a lot” of one-week-on-one-week-off. The company had generally good industrial relations, but there was a five week strike in 1959 over a reduction in the working week from 45 to 42½ hours, during which IJ received a notice of dismissal. During the strike, which was successful, the union paid 18 to 25/- per week.