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55 Years of Working Life in Howard Street

I was basically a partner in a firm at 21, which was quite unusual


Photo of David Hodgson

I’m David Hodgson, I’m a chartered accountant and I’m a partner in the firm of Read Milburn and Company. This is my only job from leaving school, so I’ve been actually involved with this particular practice, initially as an employee and then as an owner, for 55 years.

Photo of Read Milburn officesThe business is in Howard Street, in North Shields. Our address we regard as number 71 Howard Street, we don’t use that front door anymore, we actually enter from number 68. We’ve actually got three buildings which are terraced offices, which are all interlinked. The buildings are well over 100 year old.

From what I can discover, the person who was actually the owner at that stage was a guy called Alan Davidson and he died in December 1927. And then there’s a guy called Bowman Pettifer seemed to take over, and my former partner, Tom Read, was working for him. In 1965, when I joined the practice, Tom Read was the sole practitioner.

I think, generally speaking, our practice has catered for smaller businesses. I don’t think we ever catered for any sort of PLC’s as they are today, it was all basically businesses in the local area on Tyneside. There would be corner shops, pubs, building societies, charities probably to a lesser extent in those days than they are now.

In terms of school, I seemed to have a leaning towards Maths that seemed to be just about the only subject that I was any good at or took an interest in. I think my mother decided I should do something with Mathematics and I hadn’t a clue really about what I wanted to do when I was at school. So, she decided to knock on doors and knocked on the office door here, Read Milburn and Company and said, “Have you got any jobs? My son will be looking for a job.” I had to write a letter and I got an interview and got a job here. I hadn’t a clue what accountancy was about, but I think we both thought it was all about numbers. There’s a little bit more to it than just adding up.

You’re articled to a principal for a period of time. It was five years training if you started with O-levels; four years if you started with A-levels, but of course it took you two years to get your A-levels so effectively that meant six years before you were qualified. If you started with a degree, it was three years and of course, it took you three years to get a degree after the A-levels so effectively it was 8 years to qualification. So, starting with O-levels, you would qualify quicker and I was actually qualified at 21.

In those days, of course, it was before the advent of calculators. I remember, I don’t know how many years later, we were eager to await the arrival of a calculator, which I think we had to buy from London and it was £47 10s.

One of the first jobs which I did was to go with a more senior chap across to South Shields on the ferry, which again, I think, was probably a relatively new experience for me because we had the audit of three or four building societies in those days and this was the Corporation and Eligible Building Society, which was in Fowler Street in South Shields. And we were over there for two or three weeks, I think doing the audit. A lot of people, smaller businesses, they would release their records to us and we would work on them in the office. But the larger organisations, like a building society where they would need their records all of the time, we would have to go to their offices and do the work there. There was one particular thing which I remember vividly about that was, we used to get an allowance of five shillings subsistence for our meals because we’re out there all day. And five shillings was just enough to buy a three-course meal at the local Chinese restaurant. If you spent another sixpence, you could get a coffee as well at the end of the meal, so we used to go every day.

I’m not entirely sure that I appreciated everything that was going on in the early days because I was very much a junior and I was given various jobs to do in the office and I processed them and passed them on to a manager and he took over. I think the world of professionals was much more laid back in those days. Maybe it’s because you weren’t paid an awful lot. Tom Read, when he did his articles, his father had to pay £100 to the practice and he got no wages for five years. It was the elite, I think, that became accountants in those days. He always used to think I was much better done to because I got a wage when I started at the office, he paid me £3 9s a week. The nine shillings was the National Insurance stamp that I had to pay.

We had another audit to do where we were the auditors of the Trustees Savings Bank and they had branches in West Percy St and Verne Road and also in Cullercoats. And in those days, the accounting records of the banks were maintained on card and handwritten. So there was a Ledger card for every person who had an account and as a junior in the office, on a Saturday morning we had to go into the Trustees Savings Bank for a couple of hours and compare the Ledger cards with the Passbooks and take a record of the number of accounts which we’d seen. The other thing which we didn’t particularly like, but every six months, all of the balances on each account had to be tallied and added up and I don’t know how many thousand accounts the Trustees Savings Bank had, but that was a soul destroying job really.

When you were preparing accounts for the corner shop, you would have a cash book, which would be usually written up on a weekly basis and in order to find out the transactions for the year you would analyse the cash book on analysis paper and you’d have 52 lines of the takings, the purchases, the various bits of expenditure and you would have to find the totals of those. In those days of course, there wasn’t any calculators or computers, so, you had to manually add things up. I could often spend a full day trying to cross out this sheet of numbers and get it to balance. You got used to it, but that was the way it was done in those days.

There was a smallish room and there were six of us in that. We had wooden desks, which I think in Dickens’ times would have been taller and you would stand at them without chairs, but I think they’ve moved on in huge strides by the time I got to the office and they’d cut the bottoms off the stands and provided seats. I know the cleaner used to always put some Polish on and when you put your papers on the desk they used to just slide off. I think you had to lean on your analysis sheet to actually keep it on the desk.

We were upstairs; we had a manager next door to us and there was three or four typists working in an office downstairs. And Tom Read, the only owner of the practice at that stage, had an office at the front of the building, which was a little bit posher than the audit room. He was involved with the YMCA as Treasurer and, I think, Tynemouth Golf Club and the Albion cinema.

I think that the network wasn’t as noticeable as it had been in earlier years before I got involved. I think all of the professional folks in North Shields used to meet, I don’t know whether it was a restaurant or a hotel on Saville Street and very often they would go down there for an extended lunch.

Telephones hadn’t been all that long. I think the telephone number of our office at that stage was only three numbers.

I think there was 5 building societies in North Shields. There was a lot of individual firms of solicitors, quite a number of accountants, architects, chartered surveyors and such like. Howard Street seemed to be the place where most professional practices were based? A few in Northumberland Square as well I suppose, but predominantly in Howard Street.

I think I was on £25 a week at the end [after qualification] so it was 8 times what it was when I started. I bought an old banger of a car, a Riley 1½ I think it was. A number of lads in the office, at that stage, were obviously interested in cars and used to buy old cars and do work on them. The lads of today want something flashy and it goes fast. In those days we were happy with something that went. I think my expectations at that stage was that when you got qualified, you would then move on to a larger firm. I had a conversation with Tom Read then and expressed that to him. And he sort of turned it about and said, “Well no, I’m starting to think about the potential for retirement or succession. You’re the first one that’s qualified in the practice for a few years, if you hung around for another couple of years, got a bit more experience then you know, I would consider taking you in as a partner.” So, rather cheekily I said, “Well, how about straight away?”

To which he said, “Oh, I’ll think about that.” He did actually give it a little bit of consideration for I think maybe about a week and then said, “Yeah, OK, well you can come in as a salaried partner.” It wasn’t an equity partner, I got a fixed a fixed salary. So, I was basically a partner in a firm at 21, which was quite unusual. It was a case of being in the right place at the right time. I was quite content, the clients were familiar, the work was familiar to me. So it was quite easy for me just to continue on doing what I knew I could do rather than move on to another organisation where I might have not been quite so up to speed with what was going on.

Later on, there was a small firm of accountants across the road from us, Leslie Knox and Company, and we actually got an opportunity to buy his practice, it was probably 25% the size of ours and we took on a couple of his staff in the process. I was still sole practitioner at that stage. And then a good number of years later, our practice merged with Theo Benjamin, who had a practice in Northumberland Place in North Shields and that partnership went on for three years, but that was always with a view to Theo Benjamin retiring and I became a sole practitioner once again. And then about 12 years ago, Nick Liley became a partner who was a manager in the business then.

I think we’ve probably had about 20 staff at one stage. But I think with the advent of computers and so on, we didn’t need as many staff, became more efficient. We had, I think, 3 typists at one stage and we haven’t any now. Because, at that stage, you would hand write out a final set of accounts that would then be typed by the typist. And you would have to call them over with another member of staff to make sure that the typed version agreed with the manual version. Any amendments then had to go back to the typist. Now you do the analysis onto the computer and the computer spits out the accounts. We do all our own letters, such as are necessary, but with word processing, it’s completely different.

There’s a lot of buildings changed ownership over the years. The buildings themselves, in some cases, are quite tired now. One of the three buildings that we occupy has got a sandstone bay window and the sandstone is starting to crumble a wee bit. But it’s not so easy to repair sandstone. I’m hoping that perhaps with the assistance of some sort of heritage grant, it might be possible to do some remedial work there. Certain aspects of the heritage prevent us from doing things that we would like to do, like fitting double glazing to be more efficient for heat purposes. Because they are buildings of historical value, they’re not too keen on us putting double glazing in the buildings.

It was as a street, largely of professional offices. Coming down from Northumberland Square, there was the Tynemouth Building Society, Hadaway and Hadaway, Elliott Hedley Estate Agent, Simms and Brown. There was a loan company, Mark was the surname, I think, I can’t remember the actual trading name. But you’ll find now that the likes of Hadaway’s have taken over the Tynemouth Building Society and another and Mark’s and they’ve got two or three other offices together. So they’ve got quite a large operation now and they’ve merged other solicitors as well.

Photo of Hadaway and Hadaway offices Photo of Hadaway & Hadaway offices 2023

Further down towards Saville Street, the building which is now Wades Financial Services, that used to be the area where the North Shields Permanent Building Society was based and that merged in with the Mercantile eventually. The Mercantile Building Society was in Northumberland Square at that stage, in a granite faced building, which I think is now Kidd and Spoor. But to accommodate the larger society, North Shields Permanent Building Society went into temporary accommodation in Northumberland Square next to the Mercantile and then their building was flattened in Howard Street and Hastey Burton built that new building, which is the square-shaped building.

Every professional office seemed to have a building society. We had an agency for the Huddersfield and Bradford Building Society, which I think eventually became the Huddersfield, which had an office in the new centre in North Shields. But most professional offices had had some sort of connection with a building society and invariably, the principal of the of the firm would be a director of a building society as well. I think when I first started there was something like 3700 building societies. There was 5 with head offices in North Shields. They were all modest in size. There was the Tynemouth Victoria Building Society, the Standard Building Society, the Tynemouth, the Mercantile, the North Shields Permanent.

When I started in ‘65, Tom Read was the Treasurer or the Secretary, I’m not too sure which, of the North Shields YMCA as it was then. I have been a trustee of the YMCA for 20 odd years more recently.


David was interviewed as part of the North Shields Heritage Action Zone project.

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