M’Caw & Co.

Changes in office practice since 1951 by Anne Hector

I started work in 1951 and retired in 1994. There were vast changes in office practice during that time.

Anne Hector



When I first started work and for many years after that, offices were using manual typewriters. In order to obtain a good impression on the paper, particularly where a number of copies were required, the typewriter keys had to be pounded quite hard, some machines having heavier keys than others – a very different technique from electric and subsequent computer keyboards. I remember that when I was taught to touch-type, the keys were sometimes covered up with rubber ‘blanks’ so that you couldn’t see the letters etc. on the keys. I think there would be problems trying to do this today with the modern computer keyboards. Around 1960 , M’Caw bought their first electric typewriter (IBM) with the standard platen. It was wonderful to use after the manual machines when once we became familiar with the change in ‘touch’. The next stage was the then very innovative IBM golf-ball typewriter which was in use for quite a number of years. We later purchased an IBM magnetic card typewriter which, at that time, was very sophisticated but cumbersome and difficult to use. Only one was ever bought. We then moved on to the Silver Reed memory typewriters which I think everybody liked to use. When computers were introduced, it was initially in connection with the computerisation of the records department and shortly after for general use.


Before the advent of photocopies, copies of letters, patent specifications, etc. had to be made with the use of carbon paper. Patent specifications for British Applications were usually typed with five extra copies. Any errors made during typing had to be corrected by placing scrap paper ,or a special metal shield, between the carbons and the sheets of paper so that the work wasn’t smudged when the error was rubbed out. Any errors discovered after the papers had been removed from the typewriter had to be rubbed out. Correcting fluid had not been invented for most of that time and each individual piece of paper had to be replaced in the machine for correction.

If a large number of copies were required, for example when overseas patent applications were being prepared, the specification was typed on to stencils and copies were made using a Gestetner duplicator. This was very irksome and quite disliked. It involved using special ink which was apt to get on to your hands and clothes if you weren’t careful.

Photocopies then came into use which eventually made life a great deal easier but the first one that Mr. M’Caw bought used a wet process, very fiddly and rather unsatisfactory. Before that, if, for example, we wanted to send a client a copy of a letter we had received from someone else, we had to type it out.

When M’Caw moved to Saxone House in Market Street, we used the WGE photocopier before we had one of our own. For quite a while the M’Caw junior used to take anything to be photocopied over to WGE on the other side of Market Street – usually just once a day. It is almost unbelievable to think of that now.

Telex, Fax, E-mail

In the very early days of Mr. M’Caw’s practice, we had a German client who was the inventor of the magnetic drum and other basic computer-related equipment. He was passed on to Mr. M’Caw by other patent agents who at that time did not have the manpower to handle the complexity and size of the invention/specification. He had on file a patent application which eventually had to be divided into 34 separate applications within a very tight deadline. This Client had links with a large British Computer Company (British Tabulating Machines Ltd., subsequently named ICL) who arranged for us to have what was probably one of the first telex machines in Manchester. It was huge, approx. 3 feet high, 4 feet wide and 3 feet in depth, and it used to make the most tremendous noise as it started up and sent messages through.

As the years went by, of course, telex machines became smaller, quieter and more sophisticated and, in these modern times, have been overtaken by fax machines and, of course, e-mails and the Internet. I recall that there was always a worry about whether all the pages of patent specifications sent by fax machine were received safely and legibly and I understand that these days there is concern as to whether sending documents by e-mail is secure. Life was far less complicated, albeit slower, when the only way of sending letters etc. to clients and agents was through the Royal Mail or by hand.


Communication by telephone has, of course, advanced with great changes in the telephone instrument itself, by the introduction of features such as the storage of numbers, redialling, conference facilities. Mobile phones were just coming into general use when I retired. I imagine that offices now wonder how they ever managed without them although no doubt these phones are a mixed blessing on occasions. I can just about manage to use my mobile phone for straightforward incoming and outgoing calls and find the present technology (or wizardry!) completely baffling. Of course, switchboards have advanced considerably, having changed from the old PBX (private branch exchange) boards to sophisticated automated digital systems.


Until the 1960s, the records of Wilson, Gunn & Ellis had been kept in large handwritten registers which contained detailed indexes and also separate day books or diaries for such as completions, Official Actions, renewal fees etc.. The Registers were splendid books to look at, especially the Trade Mark Registers -wonderful archive material. From the outset, M’Caw had hand-written loose-leaf registers which were kept in due date order with detailed indexes and also special diaries.

In or around 1966 Mr. Pennington and I went to London to an Office Equipment Exhibition and to various suppliers to look at record systems. As a result, a hand-written card-index system contained within large desk-height cabinets was devised involving a separate record card for every patent, trade mark and design with day cards for the prosecution of patent applications etc. and separate day cards for renewal fees. This system worked very well and particularly in connection with Trade Mark and Design Registrations. Computerisation was introduced in the early 1990s only because of the benefits of advanced technology.


The M’Caw accounts from the commencement of the practice until the late 1980s were kept in loose-leaf ledgers sales and purchases ledgers with separate day and analysis books. The Wilson Gunn & Ellis accounts had a similar system automated system which was introduced in both practices and was extremely efficient, enabling separate entries to be made in one operation and the automatic printing of statements.