Monday, 11 July 2011

Earning a Living - 1945

GERMANY CAPITULATES! declared the front page of the Daily Telegraph on V.E. Day, 8 May 1945.

Obviously writers of historical fiction must know the big events which shaped the lives of their characters. How might the characters in a novel have celebrated V. E. Day?

 If in London, might they have been out mingling with the crowds in the streets? Or would they have stayed quietly at home, listening to the King and Mr Churchill on the wireless?

But day to day life goes on, even while great events are taking place. It’s the details of every day life which are of most importance in researching the lives of people in the past.

Page two of the Daily Telegraph on 8 May 1945 carried the Situations Vacant. No doubt many service men and women, hoping to be demobbed before too long, read these advertisements with interest.

There were plenty of opportunities for travelling salesmen, with companies looking forward to post-war development.

A ‘well known West London Dance Hall’ was looking for a General Manager aged between 30 and 40 who ‘must have sound experience in controlling crowds and staff, with a knowledge of accountancy.’

The Isle of Wight County Press wanted a journalist with ‘good provincial experience.’ The post was ‘war temporary’ but could become permanent.   ‘Preferably a disabled ex-service man.’

Despite rationing, there were still opportunities in retail for women. Fortnum and Mason required a junior saleswoman in their perfumery department.

Pontings of Kensington wanted an experienced Corsetiere to ‘live in or out’; in the past women staff of department stores, especially the teenaged apprentices, were often accommodated in the attics above the sales floors.

Other jobs in fashion and retail were advertised by Derry and Toms of Kensington and Netta Gowns Ltd of New Bond Street. At the opposite end of London, Hammerton’s of Green St, Upton Park, wanted a ’Lady Buyer’ for Coats, Gowns and Millinery.

Office work was the other main area of employment for women advertised in the Telegraph. Some advertisements stated ‘5 day week’ or ’No Saturdays’ - a reminder that many offices worked on Saturday mornings.

Posts for office juniors aged 14-16 were plentiful. The girl (or, sometimes, the boy) was wanted as a clerk or copy typist, sometimes to do telephone or switchboard work too. For the girl who wanted something more glamorous than a City office, Warner Bros in Wardour Street were advertising several posts.

One ‘old established firm’ required ‘Junior Girls’ aged 16-18. ‘Preferably secondary education but this not essential.’ Many children remained at their elementary schools until they left when they were fourteen and received no secondary education. It was not until the 1944 Education Act was implemented in 1948 that secondary education was guaranteed for all children, and the school leaving age was raised to fifteen.

More senior positions required shorthand and typing. Some shorthand-typists’ jobs advertised paid £5 a week - a very good wage for the time. Most advertisements however asked applicants to write stating their age, experience and salary required.

Society had been changing throughout the twentieth century, but some advertisements still specified ’Lady Clerk’ or ’Lady Secretary’.

Jobs in domestic service were still advertised, under the heading ’Household’. Mrs J. Mann of Greenacre, Cannon Hill, N.14, wanted a house-parlour maid. She offered £2 15s a week ‘and all found’. There were three in the family. A cook and daily help were also kept.

Local papers, and different daily papers, would advertise different types of jobs. And the type of job advertised changed over time. The 1940s, 1950s and 1960s were probably the heyday of the shorthand typist; in the 1970s audio typing took over from shorthand typing. But the Situations Vacant in a newspaper at any time and place provide a good starting point for a writer developing the background of a character in a historical novel.

No comments:

Post a Comment