Patricia Saville (B.1933): Life and Labour: Part One

“We were issued with the most awful green overalls; wrap over granny ones that did absolutely nothing for ones’s image. I don’t know if this was deliberate design or whether things were still hard to come by, but id didn’t stop the boys from looking at us” (22).

Patricia having passed the grade and given an excellent report from a certain “Mr Jaggard the headmaster “(22), found herself plunged into the world of work at the tender age of 14. It was through Mr Jaggard’s report and the strict supervision of Miss Butler (22) that enabled Patricia to gain what was then regarded as a “prestigious job” (22) working at the post office. Although the prospect of going into full-time work then seemed daunting, Patricia managed to take it in her stride even take pride in her job as “girl probationer” (22). Patricia simplifies this as the “female equivalent of a messenger boy (they’re all just called postmen now)” (22). Below contains and picture of the messenger boys amongst a young Patricia in her earlier working days.

Patricia amongst the messenger boys of North Finchley. 

Having worked at the post office from the young age of 14, Patricia oftentimes remembers how the female workers were always separated from the male ones. Although as David Vincent points out, “few men had the opportunity of regular contact with the opposite sex during work hours” (1980, 234) or “fraternisation” (22) as Patricia called it, it “didn’t stop us of course, there were always ways and means” (22).  Patricia fondly remembers that it was strictly forbidden to coheres with the opposite sex although for her breaking the rules was all part of the work experience.

Selina Todd argues that “entering paid employment was an abrupt, often bewildering change for young school leavers” (2009, 85). Patricia identifies with this statement. For her it was the surroundings that bewildered her most of all with CTO posing as a “huge building where you could easily get lost” (23). Her earlier working conditions also contained the overtones of war. Patricia vividly remembers the top floor of the CTO that was bombed and was “still out of action at this time” (23). Below contains an image of a few ‘girl probationers’ hard at work during the height of World War Two.

Labour not only enabled Patricia to avoid domestic duties at home (which she really hated), it also provided her with a sense of financial freedom. Reginia Gagnier argues that the conditions of labour “were often literally dehumanising” (1987, 339) which was true with the “bombed out top floor” (23). But for Patricia this did not matter. What the post office provided for her was the chance to gain luxuries such as a pair of “real court shoes and a long elegant coat” (23), not to mention a first new bike for her to travel to and from the CTO in. So the conditions of work were not a problem for Patricia. It was her financial independence as a young working-class woman that she took pride in.  The perks of the job weren’t too shabby either! You had the “luncheon vouchers in the canteen” (23), not to mention Patricia’s pay doubling and her 14 quid back-pay which helped pay for her “new look” through the purchase of a “new outfit” (23).

Mike Savage argues that, “the relationship between middle and working class is a social divide which has caused the most anxiety and concern” (53). Patricia provides the perfect example of this through how her superiors treated her. She even describes how she amongst other girl probationers were the “lowest of the low” (23) amongst the working-class environment. Having said that, awareness of class is something Patricia does not dwell upon. Although her ill felling towards her superiors is indeed justified, she later goes on to realise their ill treatment of her was due to them having “lost their men in the First World War” (24).

Having spent almost two years at the post office,it was time for Patricia to move up in her respective field. To be either a telephonist or a telegraphist. Patricia had opted for the latter as she “didn’t fancy being on a switchboard all day” (24). This job Patricia would soon find out wasn’t as glamorous as she may have first thought. It required speed and accuracy. The tests required Patricia to “send at least 100 telegrams in an hour with a maximum of three mistakes” (24). This was not the only problem. The test was also done blindfolded and had to be passed not once but three times. Below is a vivid picture of a typical Central Telephone office in the wake of World War Two London.

Central Telegraph Office, London, 1939.

It was through Patricia’s labour life that she first found love. With my second post, I will focus on relationships and leisure and how they impacted Patricia’s young working life and how lifelong friends and lifelong memories were made because of it.

Proofread by Tom Dinsdale.

Written and published by LJMU student Brian McCloskey.


Gagnier, Regenia. “Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.” Victorian Studies 30, no.3 (1987): 335-63 Available from:

Savage, Mike. Social Class in the 21st Century. Great Britain: Pelican Books, 2015.

Saville, Patricia. “The Daughter I Never Had”, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, vol. 4.

Todd, Selina. Young Women, Work, and Family in England 1918-1950. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Vincent, David. “Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class” Social History, Vol.5 No.2 (1980): 223-47 Available From:

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