London Transport Clubs & Societies
London Transport was created in 1933 from bus, tram, trolleybus and Tube operators that were run by both private companies and municipal authorities. These operators had been popular employers. They had competed for passengers and for the most experienced staff, particularly after the First World War. Tram and bus services were a source of civic pride. This resulted in good conditions for employees: good wages, subsidised canteens, medical centres and benefit societies.
Workers contributed to Friendly Societies to insure against ill health and unemployment. Other societies offered cultural and social opportunities, for example by running art classes, amateur dramatics clubs and hosting dinner-dances and children's outings. Sports clubs were a particularly important staff resource. The company's subsidised facilities including tennis courts, football pitches and athletics tracks, access to which would otherwise have been beyond the means of most workers. These provisions were made partly to maintain high morale amongst the workers. Transport companies in London had been particularly badly affected by strikes such as the 1919 Railway Strike, and the General Strike in 1926 that 39,000 men from the Underground group and 80% of Metropolitan Railway staff had joined.
During the First World War, T.O.T. - Train Omnibus Tram - was formed. A group of 12 transport companies started a mutual aid fund for the benefit of transport workers who had enlisted to fight. The companies matched weekly staff contributions of one penny, and the money was used to support the families of enlisted men. They also organised outings and 'reunions' for the men's families. The T.O.T. magazine was founded, publishing reports from the Front. When London Transport (L.T.) formed in 1933, T.O.T. evolved into the L.T. Benevolent Fund.
From 1933, the clubs and societies also became part of L.T. Usually this meant just a name change; deductions for memberships at all the various rates still had to be made individually from each employee's wages. For example, the City & South London Railway Club and Institute continued to charge four shillings and four pence annually, although membership had been opened to all L.T. railway employees. Another club that survived was the Metropolitan Railway Athletics Association, whose new recreational and sports facilities at Wembley Park had been funded by contributions to a war memorial collection in 1919.
The transport companies had developed a paternalistic ethos in which workers were encouraged to see themselves as part of a 'family', with the bosses as benevolent father-figures. L.T. was keen to develop this idea and took over the running of 11 company sports grounds. This included grounds at Walthamstow, Cheam, Kingsbury, and Osterley, the venue for the popular annual L.T. Sports Gala. At the gala, there were serious competitions and light-hearted events such as the children's fancy dress and the sack race. Sports remained an important part of L.T. life, and many garages and depots fielded their own teams. Inter-departmental competitions were popular, and there was even an annual rugby match between teams from L.T. and the Paris Metro.
During the 1950s and 60s there was a huge variety of L.T. clubs and societies. There was a bowling association; a popular music and dramatic society known as the L.T. Players, which performed in the West End; a rifle club; a canine club; a horticultural society; and a flying club. There was even a Junior Staff Club for L.T. employees aged under 21.
By the 1970s, society was changing. The economic downturn meant there was less money available for club memberships. Yet getting involved with activities outside work was becoming more affordable, since local authority leisure centres and evening classes were becoming more common. L.T. club and society memberships continued to fall in the 1980s, influenced by bus privatisation. Falling revenues made it difficult to maintain facilities and L.T. tried to sell of some of its sports grounds. By the 1990s, staff were instead offered reduced rates at private health clubs across London. However, many clubs and societies survived into the 21st century. The Choral Society still performed its annual carol concert in St Martin-in-the-Fields, and the Bridge Club was still meeting every week. New clubs such as yoga groups reflected Londoners' the changing interests.
Record used with permission from the Exploring 20th century project
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