The above, beautifully designed, programme was produced by the Western Electric Company, Limited, for a corporate event on the subject of pensions held in 1919 which also celebrated employees’ long service. The ‘event’ was a meeting and dance held at the Drill Hall, Woolwich, on Friday 5th December 1919 starting at 7.00 p.m. At the meeting the company’s pension scheme was to be explained and long service badges were to be distributed.
Western Electric first introduced a pension system for its employees in January 1911, ‘as a consideration for their employees’ faithful service’. Under the scheme, which had been introduced voluntarily by the company, every employee at the age of 60, with continuous service of 20 years or more would be eligible for a pension. The pension would be 1% of the average salary of their last 10 years’ employment for each year of service.
Most of the pages in the pension meeting programme have illustrations at the bottom showing a bandsman and a light-hearted commentary mentioning the contents of that page. Three of these illustrations are shown below.
History of Workplace Pensions
An online article by Teresa Hunter in The Telegraph written in 2015 covered ‘A Turbulent History of British Pensions, Since 1974’, and that article also discussed the history of workplace pensions in the UK. It said that embryonic workplace pensions began in 1874 with the first nurses’ pension paying £15 annually to ‘broken down’ carers, which was followed by a more comprehensive National Pension Fund for Nurses in 1887.
Schemes covering civil servants, teachers and police were set up in the 1890s. Railway companies were the first private industrial companies to offer pensions followed by Reuters in 1882, W. H. Smith in 1894 and Colman’s in 1899. Widespread adoption of pensions in the private sector remained limited until the 1921 Finance Act introduced tax relief on pension contributions. Western Electric in 1911 would therefore have been one of the earlier companies to introduce a pension scheme.
Western Electric Company
Western Electric Company was an American electrical engineering and manufacturing company that was founded in 1869. It began business in the UK in 1883 by opening a Sales Agency at 36 Coleman Street, London, under the direction of J. E. Kingsbury. As business grew it moved to 79 Coleman Street in 1888, then in 1897 it took over the premises and business of the Fowler Waring Cables Company, and the manufacture of cables became an important feature of the company’s activities. A fire in 1899 resulted in much rebuilding of the factory, which was later extended in order to manufacture telephone apparatus. By 1919, the time of the pension meeting, the company had over 3,000 employees. In 1925 Western Electric sold off its international operations to ITT Corporation which renamed its new UK operation Standard Telephones and Cables (STC).
The Pension Meeting and Dance, December 1919
The evening began with 5 pieces of music being played by the Royal Artillery Band. This was followed by an introduction given by H. M. Pease and an address given by J. E. Kingsbury. Then there was the presentation of long service badges.
Employees became eligible for a long service badge at the completion of 10 years’ continuous service (eligible for a plain badge). This could then be exchanged for a similar token bearing a star for each additional 5 years completed. The plain badge (10-14 years’ service) was awarded to over 130 employees on this occasion; the 1-star badge (15-19 years’ service) was awarded to 75 staff; and the two-star badge (20-24 years’ service) was awarded to 34 employees. 4 other staff received badges with yet more stars and they were;
A Crane (Merchandise), 28 years, 3-star badge
A T Turney (Sales), 31 years, 4-star badge
J E Kingsbury (Administration), 36 years, 5-star badge
J Herrlein (Superintendent Operating Branch), 37 years, 5-star badge
The names of all those employees being awarded a badge were listed in the programme as shown below.
We even have some later photographs of employees named in this document which can be found in our collection of STC photographs. One such person is Miss C Brumloh, Cord Shop, who was awarded a plain badge in 1919. She was still working in the Cord Shop when the photograph below was taken 16 years later on 3 October 1935.
After the badge awards had been made, to keep the excitement levels high free refreshments were on offer until 10.30 p.m. which comprised; tea; coffee; minerals; cakes; pastries and biscuits. The Royal Artillery Band also struck up again with a series of 10 dances as set out on the following page of the programme.
For those Strictly Come Dancing addicts who don’t recognise the dances with names such as ‘Lancers’, and ‘Veleta’, there are plenty of instructional videos on YouTube, for you to be able to brush up on these before the next series of Strictly begins e.g. for the Lancers see here – YouTube, and for the Veleta see here – YouTube
The Western Electric programme, has an archive reference NAEST 211/5/12/1, and has been digitised. It can be consulted in the IET Archives by appointment, or can be sent to enquirers by e-mail. Enquiries should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.