1939 – 41, Cluttons Part 1 of 3

I describe the Cluttons of 1940 because it was a marvellous institution and to set the scene of the Westminster Home Guard. Told, misguidedly, going to university during the war was pointless because of evacuation and being called for service, I was articled as a Valuation Surveyor to the most august Surveyors in Britain, and the inaugurators of the Chartered Surveyors’ Institute – Cluttons. The building, near the Victoria Tower at Westminster, of redbrick and cream sandstone, is at least 150 years old. Then it possessed the most charming lift, in the building centre, built like a wrought-iron bird-cage, with filigree ornamentation The wrought iron safety frame, was open right to the roof with its weights and ropes naked to the eye. and the lift was almost a living eccentric, it had a will of its own. One entered through a door like a garden gate, one pressed the floor button, pulled on a rope and nothing happened. After a few more pulls it grunted into a stately rise, or fall, under sufferance, obliging, but only just. I and my mates were too young to take office life totally seriously, we could stop it at any time by merely opening a gate on another floor and strand the thing between floors. We were also able to drop confetti from the hole-punches down the shaft as the cage had no top, merely a matter of not being caught at it, a fine art one soon acquired.
It is difficult to describe that first day at the office – the transformation from the schoolboy to the worker. I had my first suit, and was absorbed into the closed atmosphere of that office. They successfully fostered a sense of belonging, the man and boy ethos, once a Clutton’s man always a Clutton’s man – and it worked. The building itself had a faint aroma of polish and leather bindings, not unpleasant, which imparted a feeling of familiarity. I was the lowliest of the low. My immediate boss, a Sergeant Commissionaire, in the blue serge uniform, with the patent leather belt and medal ribbons, was a tall, stern, imposing figure, and a punctilious disciplinarian. He guarded the door, was receptionist, part-time telephone operator and post boy, and promptly transferred all that to me. Everything had a place and everything had to be in its place at the right time.
At the top of the building in a nice little self-contained flat lived the Janitor and his wife. He was known affectionately by all as ‘Skipper’ He wore a carpenter’s apron and a fawn, patterned pullover over a collarless shirt, and generally, when you saw him, he had his tool bag in his hand, and was on his way to fix something, He was a jovial, almost fatherly figure, who guided the innocents like myself through the minefield of tinned pipe tobacco, with an eye on the economics of the underpaid. Balkan Sobrani was fine for the older members of staff who could afford such luxuries; we were offered Four Square Yellow or Green, St Bruno, depending on taste, or maybe Erinmore. Every Friday, after we had received our pay packets, he came round with his tray of sweets, cigarettes and tobacco, like an ice-cream vendor in a cinema. During the week the staff had to climb to his flat to make their purchases, but he did run a slate which was an advantage to the juniors like myself, on half a crown a week. Skip knew all the gossip and his weekly sales pitch was a welcome relief to a fairly rigid discipline. A father figure indeed.
Skipper was ex- regular army. His additional duty was to train the section of Home Guard which had been formed from members of staff and a few from other offices. Sam Clutton, a Partner, was the officer in charge and actually had converted a Rolls Royce into a troop carrier, for us, his little band of followers. We paraded in the basement like ‘Dad’s Army’, had bayonet practice and the sergeant’s description, instructions and logistics were so bloody and graphical, I opted for the Navy on the spot. In the office basement Skipper had erected a firing range and had fitted some 1914/18 0.303 rifles with Morse tubes so we could fire 0.22 ammunition. The basement ran some considerable distance under the building so we were able to lie, kneel, and stand and fire at targets which were stationary and moving. Apart from the odd exercise, the visit to see the Northover Projector and standing guard on Buckingham Palace our duties were mainly to swell the numbers of the Grenadier Guards in blockhouses round Westminster.

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