‘Non-affectionate’ memories of H.H. & S. Budgett

As told to me by the late Leslie Phillips, 1905-1995.

Leslie said “I worked for H.H. & S. Budgett from October 1927 to May 1928. I was their first graduate entrant, having come straight from being the President of the University Union.

I was to earn three pounds a week but in order that other employees should not be hurt, I was to receive only £2 per week, the remaining twenty six pounds being paid at the end of the first six months of employment.

I ought to have flatly refused such an arrangement, but I didn’t, times were hard – there was a dearth of jobs and graduates looking for first employment were wont to have 100 copies of their testimonials printed and many used that number before they found anything”. (Plus ca change? 2021)

“This determination to make me seem no different to any other entrant, continued.  I was told to arrive at 8.30 each morning and to sit at a long table to open and enter the mail, extracting from each envelope any item that concerned another department. The rest of the workers arrived at nine.

“I was sent first to the Invoice department sitting beside an old man called Lawrence, the head of the department. He took to me and showed me many of ‘the tricks’ that short-circuited some, but not much, of the toil –

Imagine calculating 2 tons, 3 cwts, 3 quarters, one stone and five pounds of currants, at less than 2½ % shrinkage, at threepence halfpenny per pound”!

“After I had been with the department for about a month Lawrence turned to me and wrote POPPLESTONE on a piece of paper “Yes”, I said. “My mother was a Popplestone.” He then told me that my grandfather Samuel Popplestone had been a corn buyer for the firm and that he remembered him coming into the department with a top hat and frock tailed coat. Samuel P. at that time had a corn shop dealing with American corn in West Street. *Lawrence said that my walk had prompted him. It was exactly like my grandfather’s”.

“The General Manager at that time was a man called Phillips which didn’t make my task any easier. When I lifted the telephone and said cheerily “Phillips”, the person on the other end would grovel and say “Oh, I’m so sorry, sir, I was trying to get Invoices.”

“‘Invoices’ were part of a teeming mass of employees still in the open plan office of vast proportions. On my left were the Ledger girls who sat a yard away with their backs to me. Nearest and most senior of them was Elsie Lethaby. Conversation between the girls and me was often hilarious – and General Manager Phillips didn’t like it, but he never interfered. I thought at the time he was giving me a loose rein so that I could cut my own throat”.  (as quoted – mixed metaphor!)

“After Invoices I was transferred to the Warehouse, then to the Retail section and then ‘on the road’ taking the place of representatives who were indisposed or on leave. It was this last assignment that broke the camel’s back. I didn’t like the shopkeepers and I didn’t like didn’t like the words “Budgetts? Not today!” shouted across a shopful of customers”.

In the Retail department I found myself surrounded with boxes and boxes of fruit which customers could sample before ordering. I could sample them too and sampled to such an effect that I came out in a crop of boils.

Ordering from the branches was very haphazard and had I remained I would have tried to make many changes”.

“As it was, I applied for and got a job as a teacher in Drogheda Grammar School in Ireland and handed in my notice. l was called to the Director’s room and met one of the Budgetts who at first refused to sanction the payment of the £26 due to me. We had a battle royal I told him what I resented about my treatment at the hands of the firm. Finally he allowed the payment and said I had decided to leave just when they contemplating offering me an assistant managership in one of the branches. I didn’t enjoy the interview but neither did he. He ended the fracas by saying he didn’t think they would ever employ a graduate again.”

(* In 1881 Samuel Popplestone , born 1835, at Asburton Devon ‘a baker, flour, employing 2 men and 1 boy’ lived at 63 West Street, St Philips, with his daughter Alice, born at Plymouth, 1857. Two young bakers, Henry Court and Henry Veale, both 14, ‘lived in’.  Leslie Roy Phillips was the son of another daughter, Ethel Kate Popplestone and Gilbert Phillips.)

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