Wednesday, 25 November 2009
I have also been fortunate enough to meet and speak to Alan Taylor and Ray Drury, previous employees of the company who have offered to help me when I get stuck with understanding how Chances operated. Whilst the records provide the textual evidence of how work was done at the company it is very hard to imagine what it actually felt like to work at the glass works. Alan and Ray can provide this insight and it is very interesting to hear their stories. Ray has kindly sent us a copy of an interview he participated in as part of the Taking Chances project in 2006, recording the experience of Chance employees. I have also received other items from followers of the project. Kevin Byng bought in some photos taken in 2004 of Chance Glass Limited in Malvern, which was set up by Chance Brothers Limited in 1946 for the production of syringes made from precision bore tubes and laboratory glassware. This branch is now the only part of the company that is still operational today. Thomas Tag from the USA Lighthouse Society has also forwarded a copy of a photograph taken of Queen Elizabeth during her visit to Chance in 1940, which I previously posted details of. I will post these images on the blog as soon as I get permission from the owners.
If anyone else has any items of interest they would like to share or deposit with CHAS or if you would like to leave feedback about what you have read on the blog please feel free to post a comment or send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, 17 November 2009
There are hundreds of service agreements amongst the collection, which offered employees fixed-term employment for a period of between one and ten years (subject to three or six months notice being given by either employer or employee). Once the employee's term of service was over they had to write a letter offering their services again for a suggested term and wage and the company would then negotiate with them to confirm or alter these new terms. This means that some employees who continuously worked for the firm over a longer period may have had many service agreements during that time, for example, John Penn's twenty two years of service as a clerk is made up of five service agreements for a period of three or four years each . Permanent agreements seem to have been offered more to the managers and directors of the company.
Nevertheless, this does not necessarily mean that there was a high turnover of staff at Chance. The company has a very strong record of long service employees and these employees were awarded accordingly. For 25 years of continuous employment they were awarded £10 and on completion of 45 years service a presentation was made and the employee could choose from a gold wristwatch, a chiming clock, a camera, binoculars or a barometer. For example, William Grigg received a gold watch and a medal on his 80th birthday in 1916 after completing more than 60 years of service. Which proves that although employees were not often on permanent contracts, they did often have a job for life at Chances.
Long service employees and pensioners at the Chance Pensioners' Party 1945After cataloguing the main bulk of service records I am now moving on to catalogue the wages and salaries books and records. Once again, it appears that in true Chance style, these are not a straightforward run of records. The picture below shows a sample of the salaries books. Each book is a totally different shape and size and they each records different details regarding salaries, for example, the biggest book contains quarterly and yearly salary payments whilst the smallest book contains notes on salary ranges for different jobs. I will keep you posted on how I progress with this mixed batch next week.
Wednesday, 11 November 2009
Monday, 2 November 2009
In September 1921, at the unveiling of a memorial tablet, which records the names of employees of the Spon Lane Works that lost their lives in the great war, Sir Hugh Chance said that Chances were 'the eyes of the Army, Navy and the Air Force'. This is a fairly accurate description as the company made optical glass for gun-sights, range-finders, submarines, field-glasses and air-craft. Sheet glass was produced for trench periscopes, coloured glass was used for signalling and ship lights, special glass was supplied for gas masks and the Lighthouse Department supplied searchlights, flashers, bomb-sights and produced shells in the thousands (please refer to the picture below of the Shell Department at the glass works). In order to ensure that all of these necessary products were produced many men working at the glass works were not permitted to join up. In order to avoid receiving the cat-calls and white feathers that were handed out by a certain class of women to mark cowardice, these men were encouraged to wear a war service badge to show that they were employed in essential war work (the 1915 'On War Service' badge below was also found amongst the records).
Of the 337 men who joined the Colours, 242 returned to the works, while 55 died or were killed in action. These 55 are commemorated on the tablet, which the employees raised £120 towards the cost of whilst the directors promised to find the balance. It is important to note, however, that most of the remaining 40 men could not return to the glass works as they were 'incapacitated'. The fate of the wounded, both physically and mentally, is often neglected in the overall story of war and conflict as the tally of death tends to take precedence, however, I was taken by the story of one man who applied for the position of assistant works manager in 1921 after serving as a Lieutenant during the war.
There is a bundle of correspondence regarding his application and it is clear that Chance deemed him to be the best man for the job out of around a hundred candidates, despite the fact that he had suffered from shell shock during the war. In a reference, his previous employer describes him as 'one of our best students' and 'a very capable engineer'. To ensure that his illness during the war would not affect his appointment, Chance organised a thorough medical examination. Whilst the doctor states that the candidate's 'manner is a little jumpy' in a letter following the examination, he concludes that there is no reason why he should not succeed at the job and the company soon appointed him. Three months later, however, the new assistant works engineer was forced to resign. A year after his resignation he sent a letter to Chance requesting a certificate confirming that his resignation was due to ill health caused by 'my war disability', in order to claim an increased pension. Chance were happy to oblige and confirmed in their certificate that after a while, 'the strain of work told on him and, after being absent on one or two occasions, he finally broke down...and was compelled to send in his resignation, which was accepted by us with regret'. It is clear from this correspondence that Chance wished to help with the claim in any way they could. What is unclear from the records is whether the promising ex-serviceman ever managed to pull the pieces of his life back together.