I was interested to read Neil Thompson’s memories of his early working life at the Willis Faber offices, in the October Newsletter.  Prompted by members of my family, I have written down some of my own memories of starting work, back in the mid-1950s, at the former head office of R&W Paul. They are a well-remembered Ipswich employer, which had a significant influence on the business development (and townscape) of Ipswich in the 19th and 20th Centuries. 

I was employed as a junior clerk in the Head Office of Paul’s in Key Street, Ipswich from 1956 until 1958, immediately after leaving Northgate School.  R & W Paul Ltd. – founded in the first half of the 19th Century by a member of the well-known local Paul family – had grown by then to become one of the principal animal food manufacturers in the country. At that time, as well as Ipswich, they had mills in Hull, Kings Lynn, London, Faversham, Avonmouth and Manchester. Their sailing barges were a familiar sight on the Orwell and in the Wet Dock. 

The company produced ‘Sow and Weaner’ nuts & pellets for pigs/swine, ‘Layers Mash’ and pellets for poultry and the curiously-named ‘Kositos’ feed for cattle.

There were between 50 and 60 staff employed in the office and I worked in the ‘Kositos Department’, recording sales, producing price lists and general admin duties. My pay was £3 15 shillings per week, paid in cash in sealed envelopes with notes visible for checking prior to opening. We worked from 8.45am to 5.30pm on weekdays and from 9am to noon on Saturdays. We signed in each morning and at 8.50am a line was drawn below the signatures, anybody falling below the line twice in a week was required to report to the Company Secretary. Like many staff at that time, I cycled to work; in addition I used to cycle home (to Whitton) and back to the office each lunchtime. 

The impressive Head Office, located in Key Street behind the Old Custom House, was built during the 1930s (but has sadly been out of active use for most of the years following the merger with BOCM in the early 1990s). It contained a spacious main office area with double-sided sloping desks arranged in long rows across the office, for all but the most senior staff. We were seated on high stools. The Company Secretary’s office had a window through which he could observe activity in the main office and check on any ‘slacking’ – in which case those nearest to him would pass along appropriate warnings to the miscreants. 

An important part of office life each month was to produce, pack and distribute revised price lists for our animal feed products. Prices varied across the mills, so each had its own list. The newly-printed lists would be loaded onto a trolley, which two of us then pushed up Fore Street, along Orwell Place and Tacket Street to the old Post Office Sorting Office on Old Cattle Market, in time for the post. 

Members of the Paul family regularly worked in the office and were known by their first names, at that time Mr Jim (Managing Director), Mr William and Mr Geoffrey.

At one stage we were subjected to the new idea of an ‘Efficiency Study’ of our working practices (carried out by an external consultant), to look at a restructuring of staffing. Some staff were then ‘encouraged’ to leave and, if replacements were recruited, they tended to be young females – who could at that time be paid less! 

Staff were interviewed about their career aspirations – most wanted to become sales reps, as those posts were rewarded with the provision of a car. I was advised I had no chance. I was also asked how much I anticipated earning, in the future. I had little interest in a career at that time: I was young, single and lived at home with my parents and family, and my main financial needs were for weekend social life. However, when encouraged, I plucked an exaggerated figure out of the air: £100 per week. I was rapidly advised to think again, as only 1% of the working population were paid at that level then and, of course, professional footballers in those days were famously still subject to a ‘maximum wage’ rule of just £20 per week. 

As with many other major employers in the town at that time, sporting and social activities were encouraged; and the company owned an excellent sports-ground off Belstead Road, on Stone Lodge Lane. The Pauls football team was based there, and - being left-footed- I played at Left Half for a few seasons (including for a period after I left to work at the old County Hall). During that time the team was playing in Division 3 of the Ipswich and District League and in the most successful season I experienced, they finished 2nd and were promoted to Division 2.  Each year, all the Paul’s Mills and Head Office competed for the ‘William Paul Knock Out Cup’. On one occasion we played the London Mill at the old Crystal Palace ground (at Sydenham) which had been used for staging FA Cup Finals between 1895-1914.  Another time we played Hull at the Market Rasen Racecourse and changed in the jockeys’ weighing room. 

Other sports played on a company team basis included tennis, table tennis and netball. At Christmas time, all staff at the Head Office were presented with either a brace of pheasants or a turkey. During the week before, the printing room (home to several Gestetner copying machines) would become engulfed in a sea of feathers, as that was the location for plucking the birds.

A former employee at Paul’s was a young Sir John Mills, the famous actor, who worked there as a clerk in the 1920s, while living in Felixstowe from where he travelled to work by train. It was reported that his parents funded his daily rail fares from Felixstowe to Ipswich but that he left the train at Derby Road station, walked the remainder of the way to the Paul’s office and saved the sixpenny fare difference. At Paul’s he was remembered as being particularly successful at a particular extracurricular activity in the office – the game of Battleships. This was a long-standing office tradition, passed on to later employees and played discreetly by me and my colleagues during quiet times in the office, under the pretext of checking invoices, and using code names to indicate ‘targets’ and ‘hits’. Although long before my time, it appears that Battleships had been a more ‘formal’ competition back in the 1920s as we later discovered in a store cupboard the old ‘Battleships trophy’ (spoon), featuring the name John Mills and the various dates he was awarded it. 

I enjoyed my introduction to working life at Paul’s and the friends that I made there. It was, even then, something of a throwback to earlier times in terms of a ‘patriarchal’ office environment. The remainder of my working life was spent at County Hall, where I worked until retiring in 2000.

Derek Lay

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