Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Works Fortnight

It was a common feature of early 20th century Britain to close down industrial plants for two weeks while the workforce took their holidays. Wolverton was no exception in this regard and accordingly for two weeks in July Wolverton Works closed down. Usually the schools ended their year the Friday before Works Fortnight and on Saturday morning the railway platforms were heaving with people. Special trains were laid on for the occasion and most North Bucks families connected with the works set off for a one or two week vacation.

My memories are of the 1940s and the 1950s and I suspect that the pattern changed after that. The Wolverton workforce became more diversified as newer industries appeared and the railway works diminished in importance. In those days two weeks holiday was considered plenty and those holidays were fixed. Destinations for most people were the British seaside resorts and this of course was their heyday. Mostly people went either east to Hunstanton, Cromer, Great Yarmouth and Southend or to the south coast. Some went to Blackpool. Very few crossed the English Channel, although that was possible. One of the great perks for railway workers was free or subsidised rail travel. Depending on your status or length of service you were entitled to a number of free passes every year. In all cases the annual vacation was covered. The other thing I remember from those years was the huge amount of luggage people took with them. there were no self service laundrettes in those days so you had to take enough clean clothes to last the week or fortnight. And of course clothing was a lot heavier back then. So suitcases and trunks were pulled out of storage and packed to overflowing with the families' needs. Often a leather strap was called into service to hold the case together.

One year (I think it was 1953) my Father was required to work on some project, so there was no holiday for us during Works Fortnight, and we went late in August instead. It was then that I experienced what Wolverton was like when virtually all its citizens were off on holiday. A visitor might easily assume that it was a ghost town and expect tumbleweed to blow down the Stratford Road. The town really was empty. Sme shopkeepers took the opportunity to take their holidays at this time and shut up shop for the period. Regular buses ran mostly empty but the extra buses in the morning, lunchtime and evening did not run. The works whistle, which normally punctuated the day was silent.

My brother and I found it a pretty lonely experience as there were no friends to play with, and we were left to our own devices. Character forming I suppose!

1 comment:

Roger Haycock said...

Luggage was sent in advance on the Tuesday before the holiday. You had to take your trunk to the station but it was delivered back to the house. No humping heavy bags in those days. Cases didn't have wheels either.

I remember that my father used to wrap our trunk in sacking which he sewed up.