BI General Office (Reprint from Dec 1920)

By on Thursday, August 15, 2013

BI_General_Office_PrescotStephen Nulty, of the excellent Prescot Roll of Honour website, has transcribed this article from the December 1920 edition of Link, the magazine of the British Insulated Wire Company (BI).

Pictured are the BI General Office (top) and the hutments mentioned in the article (bottom).

In 1888, Mr J B Atherton, who at that time represented a Bradford firm in New York, heard of an American invention which was intended to provide a substitute for rubber in the insulation of wires for electrical purposes. He became interested in the matter and in conjunction with hit brother, Mr Jacob Atherton, eventually secured the British rights in the process, formed a company known as the British Insulated Wire Co., Ltd., and in 1891 opened a factory at Prescot, on what was in those days a large scale.

The first General Office was located on Station Road, on the ground floor of one of the houses, this being sometime in 1891.

In the same year, the sod was cut for the first permanent general Office. Before the building was finished, however, it became necessary to have a temporary office nearer to the Works and this was built where the Cooper Store was eventually located. This remained there until September 1891 when the Company moved the Office staff into the new General Office.

The total office staff was three! In those days the compiling of the wages books was a very onerous task, and to cope with the number of workmen employed a clock register system was commenced and so successful (or maybe not!) was this that the timekeeper spent most of his mornings and evenings in interviewing the various workmen on order to ascertain from them the time of starting and finishing their duties!

This was discarded after a little while in favour of cardboard checks which had to be lodged with the timekeeper when entering the works. Communication between office and works was by a system of whistles in tubes.

The office contained three desks, and the filing system was not perfection, but answered the purpose and one typewriter was in operation.

About 1894 there were further additions to the staff and only one of those In office in those days is with us now, our present Secretary, Mr Kerfoot. The personnel of the office was approximately 10. About this period there is a record of a dinner being given at the King’s Arms to Mr Hugh Briggs on his departure for Matabele Land.

In 1896, the number of Staff employed by the Company had risen to 12.

Another Office was opened in 1898 and one of the liveliest recollections of a member of staff is that every morning they had to “walk the plank” to get into the General Offices, as the building was still unfinished. Quietude appears to have been the order of the day, and to ensure this, each member of the staff had his own choice of a full desk in the office, where now six to eight members were accommodated.

The Stationery Department at that time was not very large as the whole of it was kept in one drawer and some members of the Staff now with us will remember a fore breaking out in the Works and the Stationery being placed in the Strong Room for safety.

It may perhaps be interesting to relate that the wages were paid by one pay-clerk through one window.

It would appear that the only members of the G.O. Staff at present with us who were then (1898) with the Company are: Mr Kerfoot (Secretary), Mr Crook, Mr Mills and Miss Bradbury.

In those days, the clerks were expected to do any work that was given, and not as it is now – set work for each clerk – and amongst their multifarious duties some had to do a little rent collection, and it is quite possible
that one of the staff members could write a page or two on the reception he received in the endeavour to collect rent in Allens Court, as it was a none too salubrious neighbourhood, and the tenants had strenuous objections to parting with any ready money.

The filing system was contained in large cupboards at the far end of the office, the cupboards extending the whole width of the office, and from floor to ceiling, and the Stationery Department was at the back of the old Waiting Room adjoining the Hall.

In 1900, one member left to join the colours for service against the Boers.

1901 brought more extensions in the Offices, and the Fore Station and Bicycle Shed were removed to allow of a Filing Department being commenced in earnest, and the present General Office (no 2) was built as a Stationery Room.

In 1908/1909, the Offices were rearranged providing for centre aisle leading to the present Filing Department, and Stationery Room. The whole office was redecorated and Trunk Telephone Cabinet installed, abolishing the old Wall Telephones.

In 1911, Mr A. R. Dodd left to take up the Secretaryship of the Automatic Telephone Manufacturing Company Ltd., and Mr Crook was appointed Chief Clerk in his place.

Only minor alterations have taken place since 1909, but with the increase of Staff there came a concomitant overflow into other rooms, so that the department acquired a predatory reputation, some averring that it was not safe to leave their office unguarded for long.

BI_Wire_WorksAs a result of the congestion, the officers were further extended in 1919 by the building of two hutments, while in the current year another was provided for the Typists, and appearances show that it will necessitate large offices being built, as supervision is almost impossible.

The Office is now equipped with most modern appliances, including Motor Roneograph, Card Index Filing Cabinets, Calculating Machines, Automatic Phones in every department, so that the work is done much more quickly than in the good old days.

A few comparisons of interest:-
Clerks. In 1891, 2. By 1920, 111
Pay Windows. 1891, 1. 1920, 29
Typists. 1891, 1. 1920, 24

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