Westwood Works 1903-2003
Never since 1933, when the Willesden workers moved to Peterborough, did Westwood fail to operate a night shift, with just over 100 men reporting for duty every evening. Up until January 1964, the Company worked a 44 hour week and the night shift worked 5 shifts per week - from 9.45pm to 7.15am (6.15am on Saturday morning). Then came a reduction in the working week to 40 hours and it was about this time that a "Twilight" Shift from 4.00pm to 8.00pm on Friday was tried. This proved unpopular, both with the employees and, because the cost of providing power, heat and light for such a short period was quite significant, with the Management. A proposal for a four x 10 hour shift pattern was considered with the unions. After lengthy discussions the workforce agreed to a night shift from 8.45pm to 7.15am on Monday to Thursday (finishing at 7.15pm on Friday morning). A reduction to 39 hours came in November 1981 and in March 1991 the working week was reduced again to 37 hours, to bring it in line with Staff hours, and the night shift ended at 2.15am on Friday morning. However, some workers chose to continue until 7.15am, being paid overtime for the last 3 hours.
The main justification for having a night shift was the better utilisation of expensive machine tools and at least 80% of night shift workers were from the Machine Shop, the rest working in the Fitting Shop or on maintenance. Inevitably, in times of high pressure on production, more were asked to work nights, this happening regularly in the later days of the Printing Machinery operation.
It might have seemed an odd life but it was one preferred by some workers. Len "Busky" Wright, a turret operator in the machine shop, worked on night shift continuously (except for one fortnight in 1947) from when the night shift was introduced at Westwood until his retirement in 1969. Other long-time night owls were heavy turner George Mayes and horizontal borer Bill Winsworth. There were perceived benefits and not just monetary – night shift work attracting a premium of time and a third - as, after the move to a four shift week, night workers had a longer weekend with no work from Friday morning until Monday evening. In winter, particularly, they had more daylight leisure time – all morning before going to bed at lunchtime.
Other workers alternated fortnights of day and night shifts. Some found this had its disadvantages, the changeover from day to night shift being considered to be particularly difficult at first. One worker remarked "You needed a fairly strong constitution because you turned your life over completely." It was for this reason that some considered regular nights to be better than constantly trying to come to terms with the changes imposed by a fortnightly change in routine. However, some men negotiated with others in their section so that they worked a month of nights and then a month of days, thus easing the effect of the time changes on their constitution.
Even then, not all of the men in every Machine Shop Department worked regular "fortnight–about" night shifts. It depended on the workload and some, e.g. the Gear Cutting section, were able to share out the night shift obligation, working only one period of nights every two months for example. The obligation to do nights in the Fitting Shop was not as onerous as in the Machine Shop – some Fitters only doing a few nights per week when the workload demanded.
It was thought that there was "less distraction at night and you could get on with your work better. It was no good being on the night shift if you couldn't work on your own". "I don't know why, but nights seemed to go quicker then days." Workers confessed to hearing strange noises at nights and "On days you did not notice movements as there were so many people about. At night you noticed the slightest movement."
Apprentices were expected to take their turn on nights. One young apprentice at Westwood, a newcomer to the night shift, got out of bed one dark winter evening to get ready to go to work. He half dressed himself, washed and shaved, then went back into his bedroom. He promptly put on his pyjamas and got back into bed. About 10 minutes later he woke up and thought "What on earth am I doing here, I should be on my way to work!"
David James recalls: "We in the fitting shop could sleep when required as well. On one occasion I finished all my work on nights and slipped inside a pile of boxes used on the machine we built for making jelly babies. I awoke to someone banging and was about to shout for them to stop when I realised it was very noisy. My considerate night shift workmates had let me sleep on when they left at 07.30 and it was now 11.15! I waited till the day shift broke for lunch then slipped out unnoticed and no one else knew about my sleep over - until today!"
It was a different matter in wartime. During WW2, the factory worked round the clock with twelve-hour shift work and just an hour lunch break on day shift and half an hour on night shift. The main drive motor for a machine tool would be started up at 7.30 am on Monday morning and, running day and night, would not shut down until 4pm on Saturday, resume on Sunday, and start up again on Monday. (See Westwood Works in World War 2).
During the early part of the war years there was no canteen for the night shift, workers brought their own food and thermos flasks or billycans. Later, canteen facilities were introduced and people were able to eat a proper meal from 2.30 – 3.00am during a night shift of 8.00pm to 7.30am. It is understood that up until the mid 70s at least, the night shift used the facilities of the Staff Dining Room for their mid-shift break. (See Feeding the Three Thousand).
Some office workers were expected to do night work too. When Computer Aided Design (CAD) was first introduced into the Drawing Office in the mid 70s, there were only a few terminals and, therefore, shift work was introduced. There was a long morning shift, an afternoon/evening shift and a night shift. We understand that the night shift lasted only a comparatively short time.
Workers in the factory were not the only people at Westwood working at night. The site still had to be policed and Security was responsible for employing Patrolmen who walked around the whole site throughout the night. Metal keys were positioned in each part of the Works and Offices and the Patrolman carried a special clock into which he inserted each key as he made his rounds. This recorded both the time and place and thus ensured that all corners of the site were properly monitored.
Last but by no means least, the Surgery had to be manned in case of accident or injury. Three of the dedicated souls who watched the night away were Mrs M. Reeves, Mrs H. M. Henton and Mrs. D. Merritt.
We would be very much obliged if someone with experience of the Night Shift could help us by checking the statements made above.
Some of the "Night Owls"
|Terry Garbutt||George Mayes||Bill Winsworth||Len Wright|
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