Working for West Riding County Council - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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Working for West Riding County Council

Unlike today, when all vehicle details are stored on a central computer allowing access within seconds with just a few key presses, in 1953 there was a bulky file plus a hand-written index card for each and every vehicle. There were a dozen pairs of letters which indicated that a vehicle had been first registered in the West Riding of Yorkshire. We maintained a card for every one of 'our' vehicles whether it was currently kept inside the county or anywhere else in the United Kingdom. If the vehicle was kept in the West Riding, we had its file; if it had been transferred to another area, its file went with it. There was a suite of drawers containing the thousands of cards for vehicles that were currently kept in the West Riding but had been first registered elsewhere. Files for these vehicles were kept in an adjacent store room. We even retained the card when one of 'our' vehicles was subsequently scrapped or permanently taken off the road. I imagine there is a dusty archive somewhere where all the record cards for scrapped, crashed and written off West Riding vehicles are still stored.

Above: This is St John's North as it is now. The WRCC vehicle licensing department occupied three floors of the building behind the blue sign. There was a rear entrance which minions such as I had to use.
The card indexing system was straightforward because all registration marks, apart from those on very old vehicles, consisted of either two letters followed by up to four numbers, or three letters followed by up to three numbers. When all the numbers up to 9999 had been allocated to a particular letter-pair, the letter A was added in front and the numerical sequence started again. Thus WY9999, one of several West Riding registrations, was followed by AWY1 to AWY999 and then BWY1 and so on. BWY902 was well known to me because it was the immaculate Morris 10 saloon owned since before the war by the father of my best friend, Peter Moore. The City of Wakefield had its own registration letters: HL, and later AHL etc.

When the seniors in the office needed to refer to a card for file or any purpose, they either fetched it themselves from the appropriate drawer or, much more likely, shouted for one of the juniors to fetch it for them. When they had finished with it, they simply dropped the card/file into their out-tray. Towards the end of each day there were usually several hundred items awaiting re-filing and the worst part of my job, as one of the juniors, was doing the re-filing. By the time I left the job and joined the RAF I could tell you, from memory, where almost any vehicle had been first registered.

On 19 February I wrote in my diary that Dad helped me to fill in my very first Income Tax return that had arrived in that morning’s post - we always did things by return of post in those days! It would have been very simple to fill in. I earned £3 7s 3d gross per week (decimal equivalent £3.37). From that there was a deduction of three shillings for National Health Insurance and one shilling for Income Tax. Five weeks later the Inland Revenue sent me a five-shilling cheque as a tax refund. Very efficient! Dad took me to the Yorkshire Penny Bank at the top of Westgate, directly opposite Market Street, and opened an account for me. (That once splendid building with a rounded façade, has since had a less happy existence - see my 2009 image below.)

Two days after opening my first bank account, I went for one of my regular solo bicycle rides. I battled in the icy cold conditions against very strong head winds as far as and then beyond Denby Dale in the rolling foothills of the Pennines (the locations since 1973 for the long-running BBC TV series Last of the Summer Wine.) From there I turned south east to Barnsley and then north again back to Wakefield. I covered 32 miles, non-stop, in exactly two hours and wrote that I was totally exhausted when I got home. I remember that ride in great detail even today; the headwinds seemed to follow me every time I changed direction - the Pennines can be like that.

Above: My diary entry for 21 February 1953
As a matter of fact, that same journey over the same roads, ignoring village bypasses and that part of the M1 between Barnsley and Wakefield, still takes more than an hour in a car today, but in more comfort; I know because I did it recently, just for old times' sake.

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