A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

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PART VI - Employment and Journey to Work

The years between the wars saw a very considerable development of London as an industrial and manufacturing centre; and it was in north-west London that the most important concentration of industry occurred, particularly in Park Royal, Willesden, Acton, Wembley, Greenford, Perivale, Hendon and the Edgware Road. Of this, the major part is modern industrial development. Some of the factors encouraging this development have already been indicated.

Little attempt was made, however, to relate housing to industry in this, or in most other parts, of London. Thus, although industry largely settled in the north-west, the main labour supply was in the east, while suburban development of enormous proportions went on during the same period, often there was little local employment available for the population of these estates. Slough, for example, with ample employment resources, had relatively few local employees, Moreover, while the break-up of agricultural land through industrial growth has usually been followed by housing development in the interstitial areas, this development has only exceptionally catered for industrial employees. More usually the occupants of these dwellings have been black- coated workers, whose place of work is not in the neighbourhood but in Central London. The result has been, therefore, that the industrial population of the north-west has continued to be drawn, to a very great extent, from the older (and less expensive) residential areas in the east. The increase of industrial employment has meant an increase in population pressure exerted on neighbouring residential areas. Thus, the Borough of Willesden is faced with a vast housing problem very largely because of the industrial concentration which has grown up at Park Royal. (1) Because of this, the Greater London Plan proposed considerable reductions in the population of Willesden and Acton, to take place at the same time as a large measure of industrial decentralisation. (2)

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Hourly movement of Passengers

It was possible, from raw material provided by the London Passenger Transport Board, to obtain some general indication of the total, and the hourly, flow of passengers, and the main points of entrance and exit into the Borough. This data, based upon returns sent in by the Board's own investigators, referred to “a typical day in 1946”. Only road passenger transport was included, and the figures referred only to the hours between 6.30 a.m. and 10.0 a.m.

It seems from this material, that of a total road passenger movement of 66,667 between these hours, 42% were entering Willesden (27,940) and 58% leaving it (38,727). That is to say, there was an excess of departures over arrivals of 16% or 10,787 persons. There was some hourly variation, however, (3) in that the proportion of passengers entering decreased as the hour became later, while the proportion leaving increased.

Table 40(b) shows (4) the proportion of all departures which took place at various selected points on the boundaries of Willesden. It is clear that by far the greatest outflow occurs on the south and east of the Borough, particularly at the Harrow Road, the “Chippenham” and the Edgware Road. On the other hand, inflowing population entered Willesden fairly generally from all sides.

While it may be that these proportions are only approximately correct, they at least provide an indication of the large daily migration of workers into the Borough. Indeed, it is possible to conclude from them that between one-third and one-half of Willesden's workers come from outside the Borough. It seems, too, that workers outside the Borough may more often be clerical and other black-coated workers - outgoing workers left home later than those coming

in, which is consistent with the later hours of starting work usual amongst office workers. However, more valid conclusions on these and similar points can be more easily drawn from the data which will be available from the Borough's own industrial inquiry.

[106] For a fuller discussion of these points, of. Abercrombie, Sir P., “Greater London Plan, 1944” pp. 38-40; 42; 47-48

[107] Ibid., pp. 57; 145.

[108] Table 40(a) p. 102.

[109] Table 40(b) p. 102.

Willesden's Industry

Within the Borough itself, on the other hand, there exists a wide variety of industry. This is shown by the following table, referring to the situation as it was in 1939. (1)

WILLESDEN: Types of Industry

Type of Industry No. of Firms
Metal mfr. & Industry; engineering; chemicals 275
Woodwork; brick; pottery; glass 62
Textile; clothing; leather goods 39
Food; drink; tobacco 29
Commerce; professional; local government 4
Building; contracting 26
Paper; printing 37
Mining; quarrying; agriculture -
Transport; communications 3
Distribution; personal service; entertainments 147
Water; gas; electricity 11
Miscellaneous 28
Unknown 19
TOTAL: 680

Amongst these firms are some of considerable, and national, importance, such as the large engineering works of the British Thomson-Houston Company, the bakeries of Messrs. McVitie and Price (employing, before the war, over 2,000 persons) and the massive Guinness brewery. But the majority of Willesden firms are medium to small in size - some even carrying on their business in converted houses or in backyards. In general terms, however, four chief types of industrial area may be distinguished within the Borough. These are, (i) the industrial concentration situated at the north-east end of the North Circular Road, most of which has been built since 1930;(ii) the Park Royal area within the Borough of Willesden, covering a large part of the Stonebridge Ward. This development was mainly carried out during or before the Great War, although there have been considerable additions in the last twenty years; (iii) a smaller area in Church End, largely occupied by the fairly recently established industries of British Thomson-Houston and Hall -Telephone; (iv) widely scattered pockets of industry throughout the Borough, largely built before, or soon after, the Great War. In addition, there exist large industrial concentration in the boroughs adjoining Willesden.

About half the informants in t he present inquiry (51%) were working within the Borough itself. Thirteen per cent were working in boroughs adjoining Willesden to the W., SW., and N., 13% in adjoining boroughs to the S.E., and 14% in Holborn Westminster and the City of London. Only a small proportion (8%) went further afield than this to their work. Map 12 shows clearly the concentration of work places within Willesden itself, and in the immediately joining areas. This raises an immediate problem. If workers are successfully induced to move to a new town (as a later section suggests they may be) Willesden's industry will be left without a large proportion of its workers. Either industry must be transferred simultaneously with the population, or the continuing demand for labour in the Borough would before long re-establish

[110] Figures from the Willesden Health Department

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the population at its old figure. New workers would take the places of the old. To a considerable degree, Willesden and Its environs provides for its residents an area where home and work are closely related. This in itself is a helpful precedent for the planning intention to site the work-place within easy reach of the home.

In the following table, where the two are compared, it will be seen that the industrial distribution of the Willesden working population differs little from that of Great Britain as a whole:

WILLESDEN: Industry of a11 working members of households (Men and women) compared with the national average. (December, 1946)

Industry Willesden National (England, Wales and Scotland)
No. % No. %
Armed Forces 7 7
Agriculture, fishing, mining, quarrying 1 10
Distributive, Personal service, entertainments 22 36 32
Commerce, professional, national and local government 14
Transport 8 7
Water, Gas, Electricity 2 1
Building 8 6
Paper, printing 2 6 10
Textiles, clothing, leather 4
Metal manufacture and industries, engineering, chemicals 21 19
Food, drink, tobacco 2 3
Woodwork, bricks, pottery, glass 2 -
Miscellaneous 1 5
No answer 5 -
TOTAL: 2457 100 19,706,000 100

There are some immediately striking differences here. Naturally, Willesden, an urban area, away from the coalfields, would not be expected to have large proportion of it employees in agriculture, mining and quarrying - although there exist some nursery gardens in the vicinity, and a certain amount of gravel working is carried on. Similarly there is a divergence in the print- textiles and clothing groups, but their heterogeneity makes valid comparison difficult. Care must also be taken in comparing industries which, although grouped together (like “metal industries”) differ greatly in character between areas. The nature of the textile and clothing industry in Willesden, for example, differs greatly from the mills and factories of the north. However, it seems clear that in respect of the black-coated (or “non-manual”) industries Willesden has a rather higher proportion than the whole population.

There is, unfortunately, no similar national comparison in the case of occupation. The distribution in Willesden, however, is as follows:

Willesden: Occupations of all members of households, whether interviewed or not. Men and Women

Occupation No. %
Professional and technical 3
Supervisory and managerial 3
Clerical 6
Shop assistants; cleaners, etc. 9
Skilled workers 12
Semi-skilled; factory machinists and operators 4
Unskil1ed workers; labourers 5
Self-employed 2
Retired and unoccupied 6
Forces 4
Housewife 22
School, college and under 5 years of age 23
No answer 1
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Length of Time in Present Occupation

How long had Willesden workers been in their present occupations? The general impression given by this inquiry was that the majority of working people had been in their jobs for only short periods. For example, 29% had been with their employer for only one to four years. 33% had been with their present employer for as long as ten years or more; and a very considerable proportion had been there for less than one year (17%, equal to the proportion in their present job for from five to nine years). For the development of new towns, these facts are of some importance in that it appears to indicate the existence of fairly loose ties between employer and employee. This is confirmed later in this section by the large proportion of workers who said they would be willing to change their employer. (1)

Analysis by sex showed some significant differences (2) . For working men, the median time in their present job was 8 years and 6 months, compared with a median period of only 3 years and 6 months for working women. The median period for the whole working population, men and women together, was 5 years and 7 months. There can be no doubt, therefore, that in Willesden (as, probably in most of the country) women retain their jobs for much shorter periods than men. Household responsibilities are widely thought to be a fundamental factor resulting in the brevity of the woman's working life. In addition, however, it must be remembered that many women only entered industry during the war.

Finally, age analysis (3) showed that more of the older than of the younger working people had been in their present job for longer periods. This may be due, firstly, to the fact that older people have had more opportunity for remaining for long periods in their job; and secondly to the possibility that younger people tend, before settling down, to gain experience, with several employers.

Satisfaction with Present Employment

It is probable that a more rational distribution of London's population and industry would depend very largely upon the willingness of workers to change to a new employer and place of work. One of the main factors which, it was thought, would influence the extent of this willingness was the worker's satisfaction with his present employment. At first sight, therefore, the possibility of transfer did not seem hopeful when this inquiry showed that 90% of working men and women in Willesden said that they were satisfied with their present job. (4)

It is interesting to note that age analysis showed that there was a consistent rise in the proportion expressing satisfaction, from 84% of those aged 18-29, to 92% of those aged 50 or more. It has already been shown that older people had been in their jobs for longer periods than the young; it may be that this more widespread satisfaction amongst the old is closely related to the longer tenure of their job. Moreover, it is noteworthy that, with the men, the most considerable rise in the incidence of satisfaction occurred between the groups 20-29 and 30-39. Amongst the women this occurred between the groups 30-39 and 40-49. In addition, it was clear that satisfaction increased with the length of time spent in the job - for example, only 81% of those who had been in their job only six months were satisfied, compared with 91% of the workers who had been in their present job longer than this. This data is therefore consistent with a period of experiment in employment amongst younger people, ending in lengthy tenure of a job they find satisfactory; or the growth of satisfaction through becoming accustomed to a job they are forced to retain in order to provide themselves and their family with economic security.

[111] See below, pp. 65, 66.

[112] Table 41 p.103.

[113] Table 42 p.103.

[114] “Job” meant employer, not type of occupation.

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Willingness to take a new job

Despite the small incidence of dissatisfaction with the present job, about one-third of working men and women said that they would be prepared to take another job elsewhere. The question was put to informants, however, in three parts. The first postulated a new job in another part of London; the second a new job outside London, but in daily reach of it; and the third, a job situated in a place so far outside London that it would mean the worker's moving there. As the following table indicates, there were some differences in the replies to these questions, although not, perhaps, so large as might have been expected:

WILLESDEN: “Would you take another job?” Working men and women

(i) (ii) (iii)
No. % No. % No. %
Yes 37 29 31
No 51 58 56
Doubtful 9 9 9
Don't know and
No answer 3 4 4
TOTAL: 1739 100 1739 100 1739 100

((i) - new job in another part of London; (ii) new job outside London but in daily reach of it; (iii) new job situated in a place so far outside London that it would involve moving).

A new job in another part of London was definitely the most popular of the three proposals; and while the difference in the proportions accepting proposals (ii) and (iii) was not large, there was a significantly smaller proportion who were willing to take a new job outside London, and to travel to it everyday. It seems, therefore, that about one-third of Willesden working men and women, whether at present satisfied with their job or not, were willing to take a new job elsewhere. While rather more would do this if the job were in London, a job outside London would be taken by slightly more people if they could move out and live nearby than if it involved increased daily travelling from their present home.

At the same time, these overall figures conceal the fact that approximately twice as many of those dissatisfied, as of those dissatisfied, with their present job were willing to take a new one elsewhere. The table below makes this clear:

WILLESDEN: Those who were willing to take a new job elsewhere, analysed by whether satisfied or dissatisfied with their present job.

% willing to take another job % not willing, doubtful, etc. TOTAL
(i) (ii) (iii) (i) (ii) (iii)
% % % % % % No. %
Satisfied 35 28 29 65 72 71 556 100
Dissatisfied 62 50 58 38 50 42 153 100
No answer - - - - - - 30 -
TOTAL: 37 29 31 63 71 69 1739 100

((i) - new job in another part of London; (ii) new job outside London but in daily reach of it; (iii) new job situated in a place so far outside London that it would involve moving).

What is perhaps more remarkable is the apparent reluctance of a considerable proportion of the dissatisfied to take a new job either inside or outside London. But in any case, the proportion of the whole working population who were in fact dissatisfied was small. The bulk of a transferred working 70 population would consequently have to come from the workers who are already satisfied. The results of the present inquiry, however, indicate that the voluntary response from this group would be quite adequate.

Occupational analysis showed that, with one exception, the occupational structure of the group willing to take another job was almost identical with that of the total Willesden working population. Skilled workers were exceptional in that they had greater representation amongst those willing to take a new job than in the working population as a whole. Thus while 26% of workers interviewed were skilled workers, they formed 33%, of workers prepared to take another job without moving their homes (i.e., (i) and (ii)), and 36% of those who would take a new job so far outside London that it would mean moving.

In conclusion, it is clear that this data has immediate relevance to other data in this report on willingness to move to a new town. (1) As will be shown later, in the matter of moving to a new town, three proposals of decreasing attractiveness were made to informants. In each case, however, more of those who were dissatisfied with their present job, than of the satisfied, were willing to move. For example, informants were asked, ‘‘would you like to move to a new town if you were offered a house there, and your (or your chief wage earner's) employer moved there as well?” Of those satisfied with their present job, 54% were prepared to go on these terms, compared with 73% of the dissatisfied. Similarly, when a house and a new employer was offered in the new town, the proportions willing to go were 43% of the satisfied, and 70% of the dissatisfied. The views of the dissatisfied appear, therefore, to be inconsistent, since if they were not satisfied with their present job they would not be expected to wish to remain with their present employer in a new town. It may be, however, that housing dissatisfaction took precedence over dissatisfaction with the job and that the latter was temporarily forgotten when the possibility of adequate housing accommodation offered itself. Moreover, dissatisfaction with the job, and with present housing, together with willingness to move to a new town, were all more common amongst the young people than the old. It is consequently possible to surmise (i) that in the matter of housing, employment, etc., the young are, objectively, worse off than the old; or (ii) that irrespective of objective standards, the old are in general better adjusted to an acceptance of their existing circumstances than are the young.

The Journey to Work

WILLESDEN: Main form of Transport used to get to work. Men and Women

Willesden * London Region (1943)
No. % No. %
Bus, trolley bus, tram 42 45
Underground 13 8
Other trains 5 24
Own car 4 -
Bicycle 9 9
Walk 20 14
Other means 2 -
Live on premises 5 -
No answer - -
ALL WORKING MEN AND WOMEN 1739 100 407 100

* (Social Survey Report, N.S.31 “Getting to Work”, by Kathleen Box; 1943. p.6)

It can be seen that, compared with the general population of the London Region in 1943, Willesden's working population differed noticeably in the mode of transport used to get to work. What is perhaps most interesting here is the higher proportion of Willesden workers who went to work on foot (20%, compared with

[116] See below, pp.6981.

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14% in London Region). This suggests that the work place is more often nearby the home than is usual in London. In the case of the other methods of transport, it seems that Willesden makes rather more use of the Underground and very considerably less use of other trains, in getting to work. There was little difference in the proportions using bicycles, buses, trolley buses and trams.

Finally, while it may appear that Willesden workers are extraordinary in the relatively large proportion using their own cars, the data here is not comparable. At the time of the earlier (1943) inquiry, the prohibition on the use of private cars was almost complete.

As many as 41% of the Willesden working population took 15 minutes or less to reach their place of work, while 73% took half-an-hour or less. (1) The remainder took over half-an-hour. There was a clear tendency for shorter journeys to be undertaken on foot or on a bicycle, medium journeys of about half-an-hour to be covered by bus or trolley bus, and the longer journeys by the Underground and other train services. (2) Age appeared to make little difference to length of journey, but there were quite marked occupational differences. Thus, the largest single group of the professional technical, supervisory and managerial workers travelled over half-an-hour to their work. Clerical workers very largely travelled twenty-five minutes or more. Of the other workers, the skilled and unskilled alike, rather less than half travelled only fifteen minutes or less to work. (3)

Informants were also asked whether they enjoyed their journey to work or if they regarded it with indifference. The table below shows that a surprisingly large proportion said that they enjoyed it:

WILLESDEN: “Do you like or dislike your journey to work, or don't you feel strongly about it?” Men and women

No. %
Like it 27
Indifferent 52
Dislike it 16
No answer 5

* excluding those living on work-premises.

But, understandably enough, enjoyment of the journey to work was most common amongst those whose journey was very short; indeed, enjoyment decreased consistently as length increased. Thus, 52% of those whose journey was less than 8 minutes said that they enjoyed it, compared with only 3% of the people who travelled an hour or more to their work. Except in the case of the longest journeys, however, (where dislike was most often expressed) increase in the length of time resulted more often in the expression of indifference, rather than active dislike. (4) A journey of up to half-an-hour, it may therefore be said, was actually enjoyed, or at least regarded with indifference. It was journeys greater than this which were disliked.

The form of transport used may have had some effect upon the attitude to the journey to work, although it is difficult to be certain of this in view of the different length of the journeys undertaken on each form of transport. Enjoyment was expressed most frequently by those who walked to work (53% of all who walked), and least frequently by those who went by trains other than the Underground (9%). The journey was disliked most frequently by travelers by Underground (29%) and least frequently by the walkers (2%). (5) In all cases the proportion who were indifferent to the journey was much larger than those who actively disliked it. At the same time, form of transport and length of journey are here so closely interrelated that it is difficult to isolate one factor from the other. Finally, however, it is noteworthy that the journey

[118] Table 44, p.104.

[119] Table 45, p.104.

[120] Table 46, p.105

[121] Table 47, p.106.

[122] Table 48, p. 106.

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to work was disliked by a considerably smaller proportion of the old than of the young (19% of the group 18-29 years disliked it, compared with 8% of those aged 60 or more).

In view of the widespread enjoyment of, or indifference to, the journey to work, it is perhaps not surprising that not more than a third of the informants said that they would prefer it to be shorter:

WILLESDEN: “Would you prefer your journey to work to be shorter?” Men and women

No. %
Yes 33
No 34
Indifferent 28
Don't know -
No answer 5

* excluding those living on work-premises

There was a direct relation, however, between the length of journey and the desire for its reduction. The proportion asking for a shorter journey increased consistently with increasing length of journey, from 6% of those whose journey was loss than eight minutes to 75% of those whose journey was an hour or more. The proportion who were indifferent was approximately the same whatever the length of journey, except where this was half-an-hour or more, when indifference was less frequently expressed.

Once again, it was the younger people who were more impatient with their journey; 39% of the youngest compared with 21 % of the oldest group, asked for a shorter journey. This is especially noteworthy in view of the absence of any significant differences in the length of journey as between young and old people.


1. It seems that rather more than half the Willesden adult working population remain for their work inside the Borough. Of the remainder, most had their place of work in the boroughs adjoining Willesden, or in the West End and the City of London. Few went further afield than this to their work.

2. In so far as a valid comparison can be made, the industrial distribution of the Willesden working population appears to differ very little from the national average. It must be remembered, however, that the character of an industry may differ widely from place to place. It is apparent, however, that black-coated industries are rather more greatly represented in Willesden.

3. Only one-third of Willesden workers had been in their present occupation for ten years or more; and analysis showed that men had been in their jobs for considerably longer periods than the women.

4. Nine-tenths of the working men and women said that they were satisfied with their present job. Satisfaction was expressed more frequently by the old than by the young. The length of time in job was, as might be expected, to some extent directly related to satisfaction with it.

5. At the same time, about one-third of the working population said that they would be prepared to take another job, either inside or outside London. A new job within easy reach of the worker's present home was rather more popular than one which necessitated a longer journey from home, or which made it necessary for the worker to move his home elsewhere.

6. The majority of Willesden workers travelled to their work by bus or trolley-bus, although quite a considerable proportion (20%) walked. This was reflected in the length of journey which, for four-tenths of the people, was only fifteen minutes or less, while for three-quarters it was not more than half - an-hour.

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