Listen to Michael Barry share how he prepared to be a SED fieldworker.

In 1956, petrol rationing was in force in Britain. This affected fieldworkers Stanley Ellis and John Wright, who were using the Land Rover and Jowett Van respectively. Ellis needed to apply in November 1956 for extra rations from the University’s bursar because the Land Rover used more petrol than an ordinary car. At the time, he was in Bristol and his monthly average use of petrol for the Land Rover was 48 gallons. The Jowett van and Land Rover were eventually sold in 1959 for a combined cost of £306, 8 shillings. The equivalent cost in 2017 was £6,422.45![1]

Transcript of letter:

The University of Leeds

Leeds. 2

From the Bursar                            Telephone 31752

Williamson. T.D., B.Sc. (ECON.)

HSM/KS                             26th November, 1956.

Dear Orton,

                          Petrol Rationing

              The basic ration coupons for the Land Rover, SUG 448and B.S.A. motor cycle, NNW 309 are available in my office. I should be pleased if you could arrange for these to be collected from Mr. Marshall, Room 45, and for the register to be signed.

                                                    Yours sincerely,

Professor H. Orton,

Department of English Language

Type-written letter, Bursar to Harold Orton, signed and dated 26th November 1956

Letter, Bursar to Harold Orton, 26th November 1956 ‘General Administration File 3’ (LAVC/SED/1/1/4/3)

[1] Using the National Archives Currency Converter which converts to 2017.

The BSA Bantam motorcycle remained in use throughout the fieldwork research period from 1953 to 1960. The BSA Bantam had several fieldworker owners – Peter Gibson, John T. Wright, Donald Sykes, Michael V. Barry and David Parry. It broke down many times!

Receipts allow us to follow the BSA’s journey throughout the country and therefore the fieldworkers themselves as they interviewed informants. The first mention of the motorcycle occurs in November 1953 when it is awaiting repairs whilst Peter Gibson is in Mavesyn Ridware in Staffordshire. It changes hands to fieldworker Donald Sykes from November 1954. A receipt kept by Sykes shows he visited County Motors, Craven Arms in Shropshire. This is close to Diddlebury where he interviewed informants from 30th November to 6th December of that year.


By September 1956 John Wright has possession of the motorcycle but by May 1957, he is using the Jowett van to get around. In September 1958, the motorcycle’s insurance is renewed, and Michael Barry uses it to travel around the Southern Counties from Goudhurst, Kent to Canewdon, Essex. In 1960 David Parry takes ownership but he prefers using a push bike instead. The motorcycle’s journey finally ends in September 1960 when Orton declares that he is finally selling it.

Garage receipt filled out in blue pen.

Garage receipts (fieldworker vehicles) ‘General Administration File 3’ (LAVC/SED/1/1/4/3)

Garage receipt filled in blue pen.

Garage receipts (fieldworker vehicles) ‘General Administration File 3’ (LAVC/SED/1/1/4/3)

Paper garage receipt.

Garage receipts (fieldworker vehicles) ‘General Administration File 3’ (LAVC/SED/1/1/4/3)

In this audio clip John Wright, who carried out the Survey in the West Country, remembers the long journey from Leeds to Somerset on the departmental motorbike.

Listen to John Wright here

Transcript: ‘You were more or less given the questionnaire and access to a 125 motorbike. It’s a long way down to Somerset from Leeds down the A46, which is an old Fosse Way. And I used to set off at six o’clock in the morning, and I’d be wearing fisherman’s waders, and a flying suit bought at Millets, you know, which was the ex-army surplus stuff, a flying suit, and a crash helmet, and a Leeds scarf wrapped around my lower face, and goggles. And you had to find your own accommodation when you got to these places. There was a slight advantage, as I found out as I went around these villages in Somerset, in that the Ordnance Survey had sent people out doing field work some years before, not too long before, and people like the postmaster would have known about it, and was able to point me in the direction of somebody who might have a bed and be willing to look after you for a few days.’