A portion of the female employees of one large firm occupy large houses, and an idea of the size of these establishments may be gathered from the fact that before they were secured, the tenants paid an annual rental of £130 per house. They are of quite modern construction, their arrangements being of a most sanitary and convenient character. The ceilings are high, whilst every room is well lighted and is provided with ample ventilation. The whole establishment is scrupulously clean and comfortably furnished. In the numerous sitting-rooms are to be found pianos, writing-desks, etc., whilst the couches and armchairs add further to a picture of homely comfort.
In each house there are twenty-two beds, each assistant having one to herself. In no dormitory are there more than five beds, whilst the majority have no more than two or three. The gardens in the rear of each house are large, and look, in the summer especially, particularly cool and inviting.
Of the few rules and regulations which are hung prominently in the halls, the majority are framed with nothing in view but the comfort of the occupants generally, and, beyond the fact that it is laid down that all must be in by twelve o'clock on Saturday nights and Bank Holidays, and 11 p.m. on all other days, there is nothing to which exception could be taken as being restrictive in any way whatever. Everyone will admit that eleven o'clock is quite late enough for a young lady to be out, to say nothing of the inconvenience which would be caused to the other occupants of the establishment if a few of their number were free to disturb the household at all hours of the night. The Male Employees
In an adjoining road are situated the handsome premises occupied by some thirty male employees of the same firm. Here, again, one found the same congenial conditions prevailing, and the billiard-room, tennis-courts, etc., contribute towards the success of what is nothing less than an up-to-date club. These advantages are thoroughly appreciated.
To give another instance, one may refer to the premises of another large London firm whose name is a household word.
Here there are five bright, well-ventilated, and roomy dining-halls, and the menu would do full justice to a West End restaurant. Its comparison with the bread-and-dripping variety, immortalised by a recent agitation against living-in, is not entirely devoid of humour. The buyers have two dining-rooms, one for the male and the other for the female officials. The younger girls have a large hall entirely to themselves. Each room is fitted with a view to a clean and expeditious service.
The kitchens are full of interest. Everything that is most up-to-date in ordinary apparatus has been installed, evidently at considerable expense. By means of a large, steam-heated oven, any number of joints, pies, etc., can be efficiently cooked at the same time. The bacon and joints in evidence are particularly of a high-class nature. The washing utensils are scrupulously clean - a characteristic noticeable, indeed, throughout the whole establishment.
In view of recent events, it is pleasing to note the careful precautions which have been taken against fire. Two fully experienced firemen are always upon the premises, whilst the escapes from the buildings are numerous and easily accessible.
The rules of the establishment are by no means arbitrary or harsh, but are made for the comfort of the majority rather than with a view to enforcing a staid existence upon any member of the staff.
Certainly it would be impossible for any member of the firm's staff to obtain the same food, cleanliness, and general comfort in a London boarding establishment for less than a pound a week. In addition to this, they enjoy the advantage of a club life which, did living-in not exist, would be beyond their reach, whilst they have no fares to pay in travelling backwards and forwards to business. In view of this, the statement of a director to the effect that their assistants cannot be induced to "live out," can be readily understood.
At Selfridge's in Oxford Street, London, a school has been established to train salesmen and saleswomen, and make them efficient. In this school, at the present time, there are something like 120 pupils, no fees being charged: During the first month, which is looked upon as a test, pupils are paid 5s. per week, and allowed their dinners and teas.
The Old Order and the New
The school was originally started by Mr. Percy A. Best, staff manager of Selfridge's, who was moved to take this step by recollections of his own experiences as a lad.
"My father," he said recently, " apprenticed me to a firm for three years, during which time I had to do the particular work that was set before me, whether I happened to be fitted for it or not.
"The first year 1 was put into the cash desk, at a salary of one shilling a week. This princely wage was raised to. two shillings during my second year, and during my third I received a further rise to three shillings, or £7 16s. per annum. I was not bothered with income tax papers, as you can imagine. But this consideration was as small as my earnings themselves by the side of the appalling fact that, during the whole of this period, I was having absolutely no instruction whatever.
The Importance of the Shop-assistant
"When one considers the many tripping-stones of shop life, how can one expect a nervous beginner to make rapid or satisfactory progress, unless he is properly taught his business? He, or she, is obsessed from the very outset by that one overwhelming fear - dismissal. He must' rub along ' somehow, and pretend to know the difference between silk or satin, and cotton and linen, and the value of every article in every drawer or shelf in the shop, even if he does not."
Selfridge's are, no doubt, in this way preparing many future lights in the business world, and in doing so are serving no small end. As the great firm's representative said: "We owe it also to the millions of small workers who help to gather together and distribute the wealth of our possessions. The shop assistant is, without doubt, one of the most important flies on the wheel of England's prosperity."