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U3A Writing: Before Computers

Hazel Dracup recalls working in a motor taxation department when manual work was the norm and computers had not yet arrived on the scene.

When I left boarding school back in 1965 and returned to Yorkshire permanently, my first job was with the former West Riding County Council in its Motor Taxation and Licences section. This was situated at No. 14, St John’s North, in Wakefield.

In those days, before the DVLA was set up in the early seventies, the County Councils and the County Borough Counties were the authorities that had the mandate to issue both motor vehicle and driving licences.

The West Riding area itself was a very large area. It was by far the largest of the three ridings. Areas such as Bawtry, Ripon, Goole, Selby, Harrogate,and Uppermill, near Oldham - now in Lancashire, were included. Addresses such as Barnoldswick via Colne, Lancs and Woodsetts via Worksop, Notts, were familiar to us - at the time they were part of the West Riding of Yorkshire, but are no longer part of Yorkshire today. The West Yorkshire of today is much smaller in size, and much of the old area has been absorbed into the newly created councils which were set up on 1st April 1974.

When I first started, the vehicle excise tax for cars had been increased in the previous budget to £17.10 for 12 months and £6.08 for four months. It increased later to £25 and £9.03 which became £9.15 with the introduction of decimal currency.

The busy times for us were around the beginning of each month when the motor taxes fell due. We would get 20 plus sacks of mail, which would take much of the day to open. Overtime was not uncommon, it was compulsory and working until 8 pm was the norm at the beginning of the month. The post would be divided into the relevant departments and those for the Motor Tax department (which I was part of) would then be checked that the correct documentation was there and that the correct fee was enclosed. If not the whole lot would be returned with an explanatory letter indicating what was not correct.

For those that were correct, the relevant licence was issued and then processed on a machine that at the time was the next best thing to the present computer!! The licence was then checked for accuracy and then stamped. The licence, along with the enclosed documentation would then be placed in a basket ready for the envelopes to be addressed by hand – something that seems alien today! We had so many at the beginning of the month that more often than not, other departments had to stop work and help us. This meant that we had to help them in filing etc when we got less busy after the middle of the month.

All the main garages within the West Riding would send in applications for brand new vehicles and this meant writing out the log books for them. This was one of my favourite jobs. In later years, I was able to recognise those I had written previously.

I got to know all the main garages in all of the West Riding. Even recently going towards the Lake District on holiday we passed one garage that I remembered and thought ‘goodness, is it still there after all those years.’

The Post Office strike which caused great disruption was a very chaotic time for us. Normal deliveries could not take place and special courier services had to be organised. Hundreds of people queued outside our offices each day to tax their vehicles - the queues were much, much longer than usual. Overtime was compulsory to deal with the amount of work - This attracted the attention of Calendar and Look North TV crews who had reporters showing the amount of disruption this was causing to the public (and to us!). Our boss was interviewed and told the reporters what people could best do in the situation. Scenes inside our office were shown of several of us working away on the machines typing and processing the licences – I was one of them.

About a year of so before I left the organisation, it was announced that our organisation would be disbanded within a few years and the new DVLA which would come under the Civil Service would be set up.

Fortunately for me, I left the organisation at the end of March 1974, so I was not involved in what went on afterwards. The West Riding County Council ceased to be on 1st April 1974. The Motor Taxation Dept closed a couple of years later.

Some twenty years later when I started a job within the NHS in Huddersfield, I discovered that several of my new colleagues who had worked with that organisation for over twenty years had in fact actually worked within 200 yards of where I worked in the same street in Wakefield quite unbeknown to us all. The organisation within the NHS that I had just joined had also changed with the times – they, too covered the whole of the West Riding up to 1974 and was split into several smaller ones after that date.

Each year twenty or so of the former Motor Tax workers hold a daytime re-union in Wakefield every May. The older ones that attend are into their eighties and the younger of us (the Motor Tax Girls as we call ourselves) also meet separately four times a year in the evening to keep in touch, as we by no means live near each other. We have all gone our separate ways and work for different organisations

Those were the days one might think, when manual work was the norm, Nowadays computers rule the roost and this certainly makes life a lot easier – apart from computer downtime when nothing is able to get done.

I know which I prefer having experienced both sides of the coin. How about you?

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