Shorthand Transcription Service

Pitman’s New Era Shorthand - History

My story

A history lesson of sorts!  I hope you find my story inspiring.

It was circa 1975 and I was about 14/15 and very bored at school.   I had developed into a bit of a trouble-maker (a nice one though!) and had been suspended from school for being a little unruly, but following a well-deserved telling-off (and being grounded for a month!) by my parents and the school Headmistress, I started to knuckle down.

I attended Matthew Arnold in Staines (made famous by Ali Gee!!!)  It was the same school as my mum went to and it was starting to become mixed, although my year was staying single-sex which was really annoying.  In those days girls would take secretarial subjects and boys metal and woodworking. That wouldn't happen nowadays!

Luckily for me I was a natural at typing and seemed to be spending more and more time in the typing classroom.  One day, during another attack of boredom, my best friend, Anne, and I were nosing through the teacher's cupboards and by chance I came across a small text book which caught my attention.  Inside it was full of pretty squiggles and funny symbols and I wanted to know more!  I asked the teacher to show me what it was all about and she very kindly agreed to teach Anne and myself the basics of Pitman New Era Shorthand.  I was hooked from that point on.

At the beginning of the next term, I was told that it was only fair to offer the same opportunity to other girls in my class who were interested in learning this subject.  There were quite a few to start with but in the end there was only me and one other girl – even Anne had dropped out!

In my last school year I was considered good enough to take the Pitman's Shorthand and RSA exams at 50 wpm, although I was already taking dictation at 80 wpm.  I passed – not bad for a 16 year old, I even won the “Gladys Hallier Cup for the most progress made in commercial studies”.  My mother especially was so proud because she had been taught by Gladys Hallier (see her history and how she went on to work in the Old Bailey taking down dialogue/testimony in shorthand).

I then went on to college – lasted nine days.  I had an excuse though because unfortunately I was the only one who could do shorthand and had the exam passes to prove it.  Also they were teaching a different version (Pitman 2000) which I knew was easier but not as fast as New Era.  The college could not give me one-to-one tuition so my lessons were put on tape and I was stuck in the corridor so I couldn't disturb the rest of the class.  It was horrible.

I was getting nowhere, even though I was the most qualified student in my year.  I made a decision and phoned my mum to tell her that I was leaving college and getting a job.  It was a Thursday, I went to the employment agency the next day and was immediately sent for an interview as a Junior Shorthand Secretary.  The interview was awful. I was given a shorthand test but my nerves got the better of me and I stumbled when reading it back.  Luckily my interviewer could read my shorthand (the beauty of Pitman New Era!) and I got the job, started the following Monday.

Since that time I have always been employed in a senior position where shorthand is a necessity.  The Chairman/Managing Director of a company shouldn't have to type his/her own correspondence, running a company is much more important.  It is far easier just quickly dictate what is on their minds and for someone to take that down in shorthand and transcribe it into a sensible, meaningful document.

I also have an advantage in that, unlike machines, I don't break, run out of batteries or get lost!

A bit about my mum

My mum had quite an exciting time with shorthand!  It was the early 1950's and she was due to leave school and get a job.  Not having excelled in any particular subject, except sports (not very useful if you need to earn a living!), she was therefore a little worried about what she would do.

Luckily the school she was attending decided to start a secretarial course for anyone who would like to stay on.  This was a chance for her and so she sought permission from her grandparents, who brought her up, to see if they would allow her to take this course.  Luckily for her they agreed and so she applied and was accepted.  There were only eight students who wanted to stay on for this purpose.  The course included shorthand, typing and English.  They worked on the course throughout all school holidays and she passed her exams with flying colours.  She doesn't unfortunately have her certificates as these were lost after her grandmother's death.

After getting a job she continued with night school to improve her speeds.  The teacher was, Mrs Hallier, who also took the course.  She would dictate at very fast speeds of about 200-250 wpm.  Luckily my mum achieved these speeds which were to stand her in a good position for her future employment.

She joined a firm of solicitors and started  as a secretary in conveyancing.  After about a year or so, Mr Payne, who was once with the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions), joined the firm and needed a secretary.  My mum was recommended for the position.  She was very young at the time and had no experience in litigation.  The job included meeting clients at their premises and taking statements and going to the American Air Force Bases, mainly in Bushey, near Hampton.

She then proceeded to go to court, at first with Mr Payne, later sometimes on her own.  She had to meet the clients, locate the Barrister and accompany them in the court room.  She would take down all dialogue between witnesses, counsel, clients etc.  This would immediately be transcribed when she got back to the office.  The courts were mainly local but on occasion she went to the Old Bailey, Middlesex Sessions, Bow Street, Kingston County Court etc, also to Counsel's Chambers in Lincolns Inn.

After two to three years, Mr Payne decided there was not enough litigation work for him in the area and said he was going to Bournemouth to start up in practice there.  He was married with two children and he and his wife offered her a job there where there was a small flat attached to his house.  Due to other commitments, she couldn't unfortunately take up his offer.

She then went back to conveyancing work until she finally married and had my brother and me, and left the firm.

After my brother and I went to school, she decided to work as a temp (part-time).  She was offered a job with a firm of chartered accountants but was later head-hunted by a rival firm, and stayed with them until she retired at the age of 65.  To this day she still uses shorthand frequently.

Even my dad knows a bit!

On leaving school my dad joined a local firm of solicitors and thought it would be useful to learn Pitman's shorthand and typing so he went to night school for this purpose.

At the age of 18 he went into the Army National Service and achieved the rank of Corporal.  Whilst in the Forces, he took a correspondence course to further his shorthand.  On leaving the Army at age 20, he returned to work for the same firm of solicitors and continued with shorthand classes, eventually achieving a certificate for 50 wpm.

He later left the solicitors to work for his father who had a shed-making business.  He didn't use shorthand again but still retained the basics, and can sometimes read parts of mum's shorthand which she uses constantly.  Shorthand is probably a bit like riding a bike - once you know the basics, with some revision you can pick it up again and become quite fluent.


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