W.Williams & Son: The Period During The First World War

W.Williams & Son: The period of the first world war...

The period leading up to 1914 was one of almost constant success despite various changes in fashion. When war broke out there was considerable nervousness throughout the textile trade and at first a great reduction in business. After some months trade adjusted itself accordingly. In 1914 most of the men in key positions at W Williams were exempt from military service and therefore the business ran on with its main methods unchanged. In May 1918 during the height of the war the staff at W Williams & Son, Bread Street numbered 436.

There were a few minor air-raids between 1917 – 1918 and as a consequence W Williams & Son had the roofs of each warehouse covered with steel netting attached to steel supports to protect the buildings and roll the bombs off the roof and onto the street. Thankfully this system was never tested.

Like all patriotic companies W Williams & Son encouraged their staff to join the Territorials and other bodies for training for Army and Civil Defence and Police Reserves etc. A bonus of an extra week’s holiday was given to each employee who joined one of these organisations and as a result a large and increasing number of staff served within these organisations. During the war 161 members of staff served and unfortunately 30 of them were killed. In 1913 a benevolent fund was commenced, from which older servants of the firm could receive a small pension and in 1936 this grew into a contributory superannuation fund.

During 1919 a large number of the staff were demobilised and returned to their pre-war work. Business expanded far too quickly and prices rose to an alarming extent. During the early post war years, the trimmings and allied trades experienced a remarkable boom period. Ladies fashions returned in certain respects to those of the preceding sixty years and dress fringes became popular once more.

1920 Compan Cars     

In 1920 additional land was purchased for the sole purchase of erecting a large garage to house company cars used by London representatives and company vans used for deliveries. However, the following years proved to be difficult trading times, with anxieties being faced due to the constant fall in merchandise values owing to the boom and scarcity of goods and then being succeeded by the 1931 slump. Like all businesses W Williams & Son experienced some of the consequences of the slump but not to such an alarming extent like other businesses.