THE BUSINESS

In the 1950’s Sowman’s employed around fifty people, including apprentices, and consequently had a significant influence on the wellbeing of the town, although the Tannery employed more workers and was probably the largest employer in Olney. The staff employed by Sowman’s during the late 1950s are listed in the table at the end of the article. Sowman’s pay and working conditions were generally average for the town, but with few benefits and no sick-pay scheme. Sowman’s employees did not have to ‘clock in’, unlike those working in major industries in the larger towns such as Northampton, Bedford or Wolverton. Improved pay and conditions for tradesmen were often available there, but for most people, working in any of these towns involved the expense and time of travelling at least twelve miles each way by public transport.

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Stanley Weetman Lord – 1933

Mr Stanley Weetman Lord, was appointed the General Manager of Sowman’s in January 1927 (according to Mr J J Garner’s diaries) and was undoubtedly the ‘boss’ during Jean Orchard’s time. After the Sowman brothers retired Mr Lord became the Managing Director. He lived at ‘Branksea’, 122 High Street, next to Brock’s Garage. He eventually became an Alderman and died in Olney in the 1960’s, shortly after his wife’s death. (Information and photographs of Stanley Lord have been difficult to obtain, but he is included in two of the photographs of the staff visit to Mersea, which can be seen in the companion Sowman article.)

Other than Mr Lord’s position, there was no obvious management hierarchy at Sowman’s, but Mr Arthur Adams and Mr Lewis Lenton were, in effect, the foremen in the ironmongery shop. They worked well together for most of the time but sometimes they could tread on each others toes! Mr Lenton was in charge of domestic goods and Mr Adams was in charge of the ironmongery side (including fixtures and fittings). These two supervisors did most of the buying for the ironmongery shop. A similar arrangement applied to the electrical shop, Ken Nelson ordered what they required when company reps came to visit. Pete Kitchener was in a similar position regarding bicycles and their sales. There was no specific buying department or any sales targets to be met.

SOWMAN’S STAFF c.1958

Stanley Lord – Managing Director
Total: 52 Staff

IRON MONGER'S SHOPOFFICEELECTRICAL SHOPGARAGEWORK SHOPREPSWAREHOUSE
Arthur AdamsTed AndrewsKen NelsonFred LettMike WestRonnie SowmanGeorge Alsop
Ray CliftonRuth SharpTed EleyBill WestClarrie ColesFrank FluteJimmy Bath
Harry AlmerothJanet LloydPete KitchenerPeter TunnFred Ingram
Reg SomanDorothy WoodingMarjorie StevensDave StapletonBrian SharpDRIVERSDARTMOUTH ROAD SHOP
Lewis LentonChristine EvansMick OrchardEddie ClarkeHarold BarkerBob AndrewsNellie Lett
Reg SargentJean OrchardJimmy CainTom HarrisDick LuckDoris West
Roger HodgePam SharpCarl Clifton
Lawrence TompkinsNellie AndrewsCHINA SHOPFrank PanterMOBILE SHOP
Tom DixCharlie SharpEthel SandersPhil FisherBob Robinson
A WoolstoneDon Hooton
M Gray

Once a year the auditors came from London and stayed for a week at Mr Lenton’s house to inspect and approve the books. Ted Andrews, the office manager, doubtless found this an anxious time. Mrs Andrews had always prepared some of the bookkeeping from home, and then took over his post after his early death.

The staff at was largely kept in the dark regarding the success or otherwise of the company; the employees just went into work, did their job, went home, and were paid in cash every Friday. Jean has no recollection of any board or staff meetings and there were certainly no trade unions or strikes. When talks were in progress with Burgess’s of Stafford regarding a possible takeover, according to Jean, the staff was totally unaware of what was going on. The negotiations were conducted in secret.

 Visit the next page – The Main Shops

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