Cambridge University Press Memories by Elizabeth Toller-Brown,
I started work at Cambridge University Press (C.U.P.) in August 1968, in the ‘Assessors’ office; a section of the accounts department. I was just seventeen years old. This was the start of a big adventure for me and it continued for the next three and a half years.
During this time, I grew up, had great fun, in so many ways and made more mistakes than I care to mention, but all in all, it was generally a happy time. I left before big changes took place there and I am glad I did! I had enjoyed some of the best years C.U.P. had to offer.
In my time there, I worked just a few offices from my beloved father, Eddie Toller. He had worked at the old C.U.P. building, in Trumpington Street, from the age of fifteen and had worked his way up to become one of the managers and ‘Production Liaison Officer.’
In my father’s previous office, in the front corner of the second floor of the old Pitt Building, he had a huge wooden desk; full of interesting things like putty rubbers, that a child like me could squeeze and squash and a swivel chair, which I could spin around on, when I went into ‘town’ and called in to see Dad.
Across the road from this lovely old building was a hairdresser’s shop; Reid’s. One day, for fun, the employees lifted the cover off the man hole in the path and kept popping a hairdresser’s dummy head out, much to the surprise of passers by! This was one of the amusing tales Dad told us, when he cycled home, had his dinner (including a dessert), a lie down on the bed and then cycled several miles back to work! We lived in Netherhall Way and I don’t know how he did this, but he was very fit! He had done the same when we lived in Oxford Road, until 1954. It was much easier for Dad to cycle to and from work when the new building opened in Shaftesbury Road, in 1962.
I had not been able to take the eleven plus exam, as I was in hospital at the time (another story!) and I felt cheated, as they had said I was “university material” and going to college had been my childhood dream. From my later years at secondary school, I determined to work at the new ‘Press’ with my father and my brother-in-law, Mick Brown. Several of my mother’s Hatchman cousins also worked there, but at that time, I did not know them.
When I eventually got a job at the Press, after doing two other mundane jobs, to pass the time of waiting, I found that my office was on the second floor, near my Dad’s. I was to be surrounded by a number of other ladies, mostly around my own age and our poor male boss, Jack Whybrow, had his desk at the back of our office. What goings on he had to endure each day! He was such a quiet, gentle man, nearing retiring age.
All of the offices and workrooms were built around a square of gardens, with other workrooms leading off on one side. This meant that we could look out of our office window and see people across the way; great fun for them and us; we fun-loving, giggly girls!
One day, I was about to go on one of my walk-arounds, to take papers to other work departments like ‘Compositors’, ‘Readers’, ‘University’, etc. when my friend, Tina Leland, put her black cardigan over her head and a white band across her forehead and sat in my chair near the window, telling me to tell those in the opposite room that we now had a nun working in ‘Assessors’ and of course, they then looked up to see if they could see her! Tina sat there singing ‘Ave Maria’ and saying she was ‘Mother Inferior’! That was just one fun time I remember.
We were paid on the 28th of each month and my friend, Carol Hurst, and I would go to town in the lunchtime, on pay day, get some cash out and go shopping in the ‘Alley’ boutique in Falcon Yard, to ‘Primavera’ gift shop on King’s Parade and on the market. I sometimes bought gifts for my Mum and maybe pear drops or sherbet wafer rounds for my Dad, which he enjoyed eating from his desk drawer. Of course, we also bought L.P. (long-playing) records, too.
The other lunch-times were usually spent in the large staff canteen, eating cheese rolls, or we might go for a walk to nearby Finches Walk or somewhere local.
On Friday evenings, Carol and I would go to the Press discos in the Pavilion, which was then a very small building in the grounds. The disco was run by three of the apprentices, whose work I mainly dealt with; Barry Reynolds, Graham Cherry and Roy Fabb. It was, of course, called the R.C.F. Disco!
‘My’ apprentices included Barry Reynolds, Roy Randall, Graham Cherry, Roy Fabb, David Pearson, Alan Pell-Coggins, Graham Pegg, Noel Woodgate and Roger Thwaites. I also had to assess how long jobs would take for those in ‘Comps’ (Compositors), ‘University’ and ‘Journals’ departments. The men often tried to get me to give them longer time to do jobs, so that they could get more bonus minutes! I enjoyed working out the times for jobs and I could spot mistakes on proofs easily.
Carol and I loved these wonderful times. We dressed in the latest fashions and wore quite a bit of make-up, which we took great care applying!
We loved dancing at the discos and were pleased when reggae and bubblegum music came along, enjoying these, as well as the usual soul and pop music. In those days of the late sixties to early seventies, bands were always called ‘groups’ and bands were a larger company, playing ballroom, jazz, classical music, or whatever
Another use for the Pavilion was as a rehearsal room for the C.U.P. Singers. I had a small group of my own among this group of people, called ‘The Press Gang.’ As a larger group, we sang songs from the musicals, a medley of London songs and many others and my little group sang things like ‘Morningtown Ride’, ‘Michael Rowed The Boat Ashore’ and other folksy songs. I played a 12-string and other electric guitars, which I frequently changed at Ken Stevens, in Petty Cury! We did many gigs all around Cambridgeshire and nearby Suffolk.
In my office, among others who came and went, were: Carol Hurst, Gill Hurst, Julie King, Tina Leland, Teresa Georgi, Boosha something, Iris Squires (a lovely older lady), Helen Sweet, Yvonne Pope, Margaret, (who later married ‘Pressite’ Dave Allen), Janet Ayers, Paula McKnight.
In Dad’s outer office were Mick Brown, Brian Allen, Tony Littlechild, Colin Walsh, Carmen Raghaven.
I knew everyone at the Press and I loved my job and work colleagues. I think it’s sad that all girls do not enjoy that camaraderie with work colleagues and the chance to enjoy the dances, discos and parties that were connected with work, in those golden days; along with the socialising and fun experiences galore, including swimming together at Parkside, which went well until my bikini top came undone in the pool once and the Compositors manager, Gerry Haslop, told everyone about it the next day!
All Press employees were photographed by one of the ‘Readers’ named John Bowman; a quiet, reserved person usually, but a keen photographer.
Ah, happy days!
Elizabeth Toller-Brown. April 2021
As written by my aunt Val Burroughs ( nee Toller ) March 2005.
Food and Clothing
My uncle Bill had allotments where he kept pigs and poultry ( chickens and turkeys ). We therefore had veg and eggs. Chickens was a treat. Sometimes Uncle Bill would kill a hen that had stopped laying and it was cooked in a saucepan as a "broiler".
We brought rationed fish from the MacFisheries and rationed meat from Roses the butcher in Petty Cury [Cambridge].
At Richmond Road School, I was one of the children who was selected to recive cod liver oil of malt, administered daily by the spoonful to each child as we queued. A crateful of small bottles of milk stood warming in the hearth in Miss Chandlers classroom.
At the end of the war we relished the idea of fruits we hadn't had before, like bananas. At our Victory party in Richmond Road we were given ice-cream for the first time, although a neighbour who worked in a hotel did used to bring home small bars of yellow 'ice cream'.
A neighbour, Mrs Kidman, used to spend some of her sweet coupons on me and would give me turkish delight. At the end of the war, the first influx of sweets included 'wrapped soft-centered fruit sweets from Poland-an inch and a half long with pictures of fruits on the paper wrappers.
At Easter my mother would make me an Easter egg. She would melt chocolate and pour it into two bakelite egg cups. I remember sitting by the radio, watching these set, placed in front of the radio. They would be stuck together when set.
We would go to the clinic at the Methodist Church on Castle Street where we recived concentrated orange juice that you would mix with water.
Clothing rationing, combined with low income meant that families were glad of second hand and refashioned garments and bedding. We were thrilled when the Red Cross gave my sister and me a cardigan each because our father was a solider, ( my mother recived a bedspread ). Our wardrobes were never full like they are now. Our blankets had to do for several years and would be passed from one generation to the next. Some of them were thin with no fluff left and often bore the utility mark. Overcoats would be piled on top of bedding to add extra warmth.
Coal was rationed. We would awake to frosty fern patterns on the inside of the bedroom windows. When I was confined to the front bedroom for weeks with Scarlet Fever, I remember Miss Chandler bringing some of my class-mates to wave to me from the other side of the road. Mrs Fletcher, the milkmans wife, gave me some jelly- an unobtainable treat!
All scraps of food like vegtable peelings were collected in the pigswill bins that were found at intervals along the kerb-side, ours was next to the telegraph pole outside 112 Oxford Road. As Uncle Bill kept his own pigs and chickens, scraps also went to them. I remember the smell of potato peelings boiling on the gas cooker and then they would be mashed into chicken food that looked and smelled like bran. My auntie would carry it to the allotments each afternoon in buckets.
A well provided water and I warned to stay away from it. Horses and carts delivered milk, vegtables etc. The milk came in bottles with cardboard tops. If you pressed out the centre you had a ring on which to wind wool to make a pom-pom to decorate clothes or to play with. I remember watching the greengrocers horse eating from its nose-bag outside our house and then tossing its head to reach the remains at the bottom of the bag.
Val Burroughs ( nee Toller )
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