The Payroll

Today, I can wave a plastic card at a machine and the money is immediately transferred from my bank account to the merchants. Yet in my early days almost all transactions were by cash. Money was handed over and change given and often those heavy pennies and half crowns would wear a hole in one’s trouser pocket. The Wolverton Work’s payroll, when you come to think of it, was an astonishing enterprise.

One of my great uncles was Chief Cashier in the works the 1930s and it was his job to supervise the payroll. There were almost 5,000 men and some women in the works in those days, and almost all of them received weekly pay packets. All calculations were made by hand and I am not sure that there were even any mechanical adding machines bak then. The amount was recorded in a ledger and finalised onThursday. Lloyds Bank were notified of the total amount required and that money was brought into the bank on Friday morning.

That morning (and this practice continued into the 1960s) two people would wheel a  hand cart from the Cambridge Street works entrance across the Stratford Road to the bank. The appropriate amount would be placed in the cart and wheeled back to the works. Not a Securicor van in sight!

Astonishingly, since this practice must have been very well known, no robbery was ever attempted.

The money was then counted out by clerks and placed in manilla pay packets with an explanatory slip. Wages would be paid out in pounds, shillings and pence – even a halfpenny was significant. Once done, the cart would be wheeled along the whole length of the works, stopping at each shop so that employees could collect and sign for their wages. All this was accomplished before 12:25, when the works whistle signalled the start of lunchtime.

In the 1950s, the Building Society offices opposite the Vic would be open to receive payments of deposits. Prior to the war that function was accomplished Friday evening in the Science and Art Institute. The average weekly payment on a mortgage might have been about 10 shillings – a figure that seems laughable today when the modern equivalent of 10 shillings is 50p!

Very few people had need of a bank account. Indeed, bank opening hours were Monday to Friday from 10 to 3 pm – times which were totally inconvenient for working men. All of life’s transactions, paying for food, housing, gas, electricity, entertainment were on a cash basis and a cheque would never be part of anyone’s life experience.