Duty and Opportunity: J.Jackson Saint & Co during the Second World War.
When Britain became embroiled in the war against the Nazis in September 1939, Saints once again lost its best and fittest men to the battlegrounds in mainland Europe and across the world.
It was a difficult time for the firm, and for senior partner John Boustead Saint. Two of his best chartered accountants, Walter Paton and William (Bill) Charles, left for the frontline and, in January 1940, he lost his brother and business partner, Roland, to appendicitis.
Despite the vacant offices at 22 Lowther Street, there was still work to be done. It was the perfect environment for ambitious young office boys like Andrew Grainger and Les Robson to seize opportunities for which they might otherwise have been overlooked.
Mr Robson was just 15 and a top student at Gregg College in Carlisle when he was selected to take up a job at Saints in 1940. Mr Grainger followed three years later when, after a post at the Midland Bank fell through, he simply walked into Saints’ office and asked for a job. He was interviewed immediately and he started work the following Monday, earning 37.5p a week.
From Clerks to Fire-watchers
Within months, Mr Grainger was promoted from office boy to junior audit clerk. It was a job that took the inexperienced teenager to work in Dumfries, the Lake District and even Manchester. But he did not escape the horrors of war.
“I remember going to Manchester every month with the managing clerk because we had an interest in the Deansgate Hotel, which had been blitzed. The hotel itself was just a shell, just girders and things. One day we were there they found the remains of one of the victims on the girders.”
In September 1940 a law was passed requiring businesses to appoint employees to watch for incendiary bombs outwith office hours.
At J.Jackson Saint & Co, both Mr Grainger and Mr Robson were made “fire-watchers”. They were expected to sleep on collapsible beds in the boardroom, from where they would make regular checks on the roof of the building. Armed with just a stirrup pump and a bucket, they were charged with extinguishing any fire caused by the German bombs.
Busy and Bustling
At least 30 people were employed in the three-storey Lowther Street building in 1940. It was a busy and bustling office, with strict rules on timekeeping and good behaviour. John Saint worked from an office on the ground floor, where he smoked Richmond Gem cigarettes and from which he rarely ventured.
“I used to go into his office and he’d have a cigarette in his fingers as well as one burning away in his ashtray,” said Mr Grainger.
Herbert Rigg would occasionally leave his first floor office, smoking his Briar pipe, to survey his employees, but it was the “bird-like” Nancy Stoddart, from Burgh-by-Sands, who kept order at J.Jackson Saint & Co.
Mr Robson said: “She was just a slip of a lass but by God, she ruled the front of the office. She was a damned good typist, but she ruled with a rod of iron.”
A Mischievous Time
Miss Stoddart may have run a tight ship but there was mischief in the air at Saints during the war years.
When interviewed, both Mr Robson and Mr Grainger had a twinkle in their eye as they recalled their years at Saints.
They shared stories that simply cannot be repeated but there are some tales that illustrate the good humour of the office during an otherwise dark period of British history.
In one instance, one of their former colleagues is rumoured to have ridden his bicycle around the large table that lived in the boardroom on the basement floor. And in another tale, Mr Grainger implicates his colleague Bill Charles, who went on to become a popular partner with the firm.
“We all had to keep a diary of what we did every day. There was a guy called Bill Temple who had had enough of Saints. The last entry in his diary was ‘playing hide and seek with Charles’. Charles became a partner after the war.”
The Laundry and The Grill
During these years, two of Saints’ main clients were The Silver Grill – one of the best restaurants in Carlisle at the time – and many of the England’s profitable laundries. These businesses were so important to the firm they each had a room dedicated to them in the Lowther Street building.
Two men worked full-time on The Silver Grill’s accounts in “The Grill Room”, while others worked on the laundries’ books in the so-called “Laundry Room” in the basement.
When Mr Robson returned from service with the Royal Navy, he took on much of the laundries’work. And in the late 1940s he was invited to work full-time for Carlisle Laundries, where he forged a good career.
But both men still had fond memories of their time at Saints.
“It was a happy office, there was no animosity. We would never have been allowed to do the job we did in normal times,” said Mr Robson.
And Mr Grainger added: “It was good fun in those days, especially having the opportunities that were thrown up. I ended up with much more experience than someone who spent five years under articles. We had quite a lot of fun in the office.”
Walter Paton returned from the war as a captain of the 242nd Armoured Division Troops Company, having spent much of his military career in Italy. Bill Charles was also made a captain during the war, probably in the Royal Armoured Service Corps.
According to Mr Robson, the pair were demobbed in 1946 and they immediately returned to Saints where they asked for partnerships. They were both made partners on the same date – April 1, 1948.
Shortly afterwards they were joined by Eric Schooling, a Londoner who had been stationed at Hadrian’s Camp during the war. When he married a local woman and set up home in Cumbria, he took a job at Saints.