Reading’s Municipal Transport 1939-1950: War and Austerity
EARLY DAYS OF AUSTERITY – READING IN 1946
Britain might have been on the winning side of the Second World War but there was a price to pay notwithstanding voting in a new government which had declared it would make some serious improvements to the country’s infrastructure.
In 1946, Reading’s overworked public transport system become subjected to extra pressure, especially during the evening rush hour, by having suddenly to cope with around 1,500 extra passengers finishing work earlier than hitherto with the advent of the 44-hour week. This was an era of misery, too, in so many other directions – in particular, there had been a staggering 12% increase in a year in the demand for electricity. On a national basis, there simply was not, at that time, the capacity to generate the extra amount of electricity demanded – and neither was there likely to be in the foreseeable future, notwithstanding any shortage of coal that also happened to exist at that time. The short-term result was an all too regular occurrence during the winters of the austerity years – power cuts!
But, then, absolutely everything was in short supply. There were still queues at most food shops, for there was still food rationing – in fact, even worse than during the war years. In the aftermath of the war, the country was heading for bankruptcy. Desperate measures were being taken by the Labour government to steer a course finely balanced between trying to put the country itself back on an even keel, earning money abroad from exports in a very competitive market, and helping feed the starving populations of parts of war-torn Europe. The government was also honour-bound to introduce the improvements promised when it was voted into office in 1945 – nationalisation of fuel and power, haulage and public transport and introduction of the National Health Service amongst them.
New housing was unable to be built anything like fast enough. In Reading, although considerable numbers of new houses were being built, there were simply not enough trained building operatives and tradesmen to get on with the job. As a result, ‘desperation housing’ brought about by the takeover of former army camps as squats, like the one at Ranikhet Camp, on the slopes of Tilehurst, had had to become official temporary council housing. The labour market was, in any case, extremely fluid, and the Corporation Transport Department was just one of many employers where staff were continually changing in very large numbers. It was little wonder, therefore, that with a large section of comparatively inexperienced labour, the public perception of the municipal transport undertaking being run erratically was not too far from the truth!
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