Monday, June 20, 2011

The Rhythms of the Day

The "Works Whistle" as we called it was a loud siren that sounded regularly at 7:43 am, 12:25pm, 1:25pm and 5:30pm for five days a week. For those who worked on Saturday morning it went of at 8 am and 12pm. I don't know in what year the "whistle" was introduced but it could be heard all over town. It governed the lives of most residents. When I did a paper round in the 1950s in my teens I was able to observe the start of the working day. Usually we had to be up at 6:30 and down to Muscutt & Tompkins by 7. We sorted our papers into our bags which were permanently greyed with printing ink. The Daily Herald (which later morphed into The Sun) was the worst as they seemed to use a particularly greasy back ink which made our hands dirty and everything else. Men started to appear on the Front at about 7:15 when some of the village buses came in. Very quickly, as the Stony Stratford and New Bradwell buses disgorged their full loads and a stream of workers came from the railway station the road was heaving. Many came into Muscutt & Tompkins for their newspapers and a packet of fags. Some of the popular papers like the Daily Mirror and the Daily Express were stacked about two feet high at 7 o-clock; by 7:30 they were down to a few inches. Most Wolverton workers left their homes at about 7:30 which gave them enough time to walk down to the Front to clock on. The warning whistle went off at 7:43 which gave everyone two minutes to clock on. The street quickly emptied and a great silence fell upon the Stratford Road.

Shops opened at 9 and closed for the day at 5:30 (it might have been 6) and there was an early closing day on Wednesday where shops closed in the afternoon. It was rigorously observed. There may have been a by-law to govern shopping hours.

School hours were from 9 to 4, with almost an hour an a half for lunch. One friend of mine, who lived at Stony Stratford, took the bus home and back every lunchtime.  The mid-day meal was the main meal of the day, a custom that had lasted for centuries until recent times. We may have been almost the last generation to experience this. I think that the Primary School and Secondary School had slight variations in time so that the children did not coincide at lunchtime and the end of the day.

The men left at 12:25 when the whistle went and were home shortly after 12:30 when the meal was served. There was a full hour for lunch. Those who came from further afield could eat in the Works Canteen. I am sure that some put in some time at one of the four pubs or the bottom club. Again the Front was a bustling place until 1:25 when it all fell silent again and several thousand men did their work behind the wall.

At the end of the day, at 5:30 the gates opened and for the final time thousands of men and women teemed out of the gates. The buses on hand quickly filled up and the trains were not far behind. Within about five minutes the street was empty again.

In the 1950s we took this as normal, as indeed it was in those times. We probably could not have imagined a time when the old industrial economy which employed people in their thousands would give way to lighter, smaller, more flexible work places. There are still rush hours today, but people are travelling in a multitude of directions at different times to different destinations. In Wolverton in the 1950s there was one destination for almost everybody.

2 comments:

Andrew said...

The works whistle is permanently ingrained in my memory. I am not sure but I think that there was an old WWII air raid siren in use in my day.

I think the retained firefighters were also called in by a siren that made a similar noise, I still don't know if they are the same one for works and fire. I used to be able to see one of them, I think at the fire station, a cylindrical thing at the top of a mast.

I have strong memories of the movement of people up and down the town during the day. Ancient bikes were used and thermos flasked poked out of shoulderbags that were actually WWII gas mask holders.

Terry said...

Two different sirens, one on concrete tower at Stratford end of Wolverton. and one on Works canteen roof.