Checks, Tokens & Passes – Types & Methods of Use

From the information included in the legends (i.e. the inscriptions and information presented on them) of this series of paranumismatics it is possible to assign exact uses to less than half of the known types. However, the design of many of the other types are common to other such checks, tokens and passes used in other British industries during the same periods. As such it is possible to assign, with varying degrees of confidence, the uses of many more of the types known to specific functions. The purpose of some remains a mystery and can only be guessed at.

A list of common “War Work” token types and uses are outlined below.

Identification & Security Passes

These typically comprise circular metallic discs (often brass or w zinc based white metal alloy) and are pierced towards their upper edge (12 o’clock position) for suspension. Their designs normally bear an outer raised die stamped legend around a central field which contains a unique worker’s identification number comprising incusely number which have been applied using individual hand-held number punches.

A Great War period employee’s pass for the National Shell Filling Factory No.6 at Chilwell, Nottinghamshire

These passes would be issued to each worker in the factory or shipyard at the time of their initial employment. They were retained by the employees at all times while at work and had to be shown on request to the work’s security staff or management if challenged. The passes acted as each worker’s unique identification disc and works entry security pass.  Enhanced security was essential in most ordnance and munitions works given the  risk of enemy espionage and spying.

At the end of each working day such passes were typically taken home with each worker who would be responsible for their safe keeping throughout the length of their employment after which they would be returned to the works for possible re-issue to a new employee. Loss of such checks by the workers would typically result in them being fined before being issued with a replacement. A worker attempting to gain access to the works without a valid pass would likewise result in a fine and possibly prosecution as illustrated in the example case below which was reported in the”‘Nottingham Evening Post” on 3rd August 1918.


For attempting to enter a munition factory with an unauthorised disc or pass, a labourer named James Dunn, aged 50, was fined 21s. at a Midland police-court today. 

Defendant, who was a discharged soldier, had lost his own pass, but instead of reporting it to the management he tried to get in with another disc. The danger of such a proceeding is that discs which are lost may get into undesirable hands.

Defendant’s further explanation was the substituted disc was given him by his wife, and that it had belonged to a lodger.

Registration & Time Recording Checks

These were similar in appearance and design to the security passes described above. The difference being in their method of use.

At many small establishments employing this type of check, on arrival at work each worker would report to the work’s time registration office. After confirming his/her unique employment number the time office clerk would record the employee’s time of arrival in a time recording book and move their uniquely numbered time check from the “OUT” to the “IN” side of a numbered tally board. The same procedure would be repeated at the end of the shift at which time the employee’s departure time would be recorded in the same time ledger and  their personal time check moved from the “IN” to the “OUT” side of each pair of similarly numbered compartments on the time check board. The use of a check board allowed the time office staff to see at a glance which workers were on the factory “shop floor”. Usually time registration would be initiated only after the workers had passed through the works changing rooms and were preparing to start work. Similarly discharge registration occurred immediately after leaving the factory floor, i.e. prior entering the work’s change and wash rooms in preparation for leaving the factory premises.

An late 19th century employee’s time check for the privately owned munitions company G. Kynoch & Company Limited. The example illustrated was issued at their Witton Works in Birmingham

While the above, very simple system of time recording, may have operated fine for small to medium size factories it was arguably impractical for larger ones where the workers needed to be processed quickly without queues forming outside the time office window. For such larger factories alternative time registration systems were available.

By the outbreak of the Great War many factories had progressed onto using electro-mechanical registration time machines which in many places made the earlier use of time checks and check registration boards redundant. While many of these time clocks operated by stamping a worker’s individual time card (which each worker  slotted into the machine at the start and end of each shift) others types still operated via a check system.

With those time clocks which operated with time cards the workers first collected their individual time record cards from a rack on the wall adjacent to the time registration machine. Each card carried the workers name and their unique work’s identification. The workers then inserted their cards into a slot in the front of the time clock. The time clock then automatically printed their shift start time on the time card. The card was then removed from the machine and returned to the safe keeping of the card storage board. At the end of the shift the procedure was repeated so as to record each worker’s finish time. Such a procedure is shown in the film clip below.

A contemporary film clip of a group of Great War “munitionettes” changing for work and then “clocking on” at the beginning of their shift

Alternative types of time registration clock utilised a paired set of metallic numbered checks instead of time cards. In this system each worker had their own uniquely numbered pair of time checks which were often struck on dissimilar metals such as brass and copper in order to quickly distinguish them apart. One disc was used for “clocking on” at the start of each shift while the other was used for clocking off” at the end of the shift. In between shift times these time checks were kept on a numbered peg board located on a wall adjacent to the time clock (see illustration below).

An example of a time clock used in association with metallic time checks c.1899

At the start of a shift each worker removed their personal “clocking in” check from the storage board and dropped it into a reception slot in the front of the time clock. The check then passed through a chute system within the machine and was deposited into one of a series of compartments (typically 8) arranged around the edge of a slowly rotating turn table which was mechanically linked to the machine’s clock mechanism. Each compartment reflected and was labelled with the given time of the day. At the end of the shift the workers repeated the process, this time using their separate “clocking off” check.

Part of the internal mechanism of a Llewellin’s & Company time clock showing the check collection drum at its base comprising 24 separate (i.e. half hour interval) check collection compartments

As and when was convenient the time office staff would retrieve the time checks via a lockable door on the side of the time clock. Thereafter they would record each worker’s attendance in a time register before returning the checks onto the numbered storage board adjacent to the time clock.

A Time Check Storage Board used in association with a Time Clock System

Where a check was intended specifically for use for as a time registration device it often bore the word “TIME CHECK” in its obverse legend, often in the check’s upper field below its suspension hole.

Pay Collection Identification Checks

These were similar in appearance and design to the identification and security passes described above. The difference being that they were specifically used to identify their holders to the works pay staff as indication of proof of their identity when they queued weekly at the works pay office to collect their respective pay packets. In large factories, employing many thousands of workers, such a system was essential to ensure that the pre-prepared wage packets held at the work’s pay office were handed over by the pay staff to the correct employee. Pay checks were particularly common in privately owned and operated factories. In many instances a single check could serve as both a pay identification and security identification pass. Where a check was intended specifically for use as a pay collection identification device it often bore the word “PAY” in its obverse legend, often in the check’s upper field below its suspension hole.

A Great War period un-issued employee’s pay check for the privately owned company Kynoch Limited. The example illustrated was issued at their Thames Explosives Works at Kynochtown, Essex.

Canteen & Refreshment Tokens

British industry, and for that matter the military also, have used canteen tokens since at least the latter quarter of the 19th century. Their precise method of use varied considerably. In some instances workers received such tokens from their employer’s as a concession as part of their terms of employment. In other cases their issue, by the employer (or his representative), was as an incentive (in the form of a free or subsidized canteen meal) when requesting workers to work overtime. At some industrial establishments (at least in the mid to later 20th century) the management also issued apprentices with an allowance of canteen tokens to help subsidize their wages while training.
In most canteen and refreshment token schemes, the company management issued the workforce with the tokens. These were typically circular and of metal or coloured plastic. Typically the tokens carried a denomination of value on one of their sides (i.e. 1d, 2d, 3d etc.) or an indication as for what they could be exchanged in the work canteen for (i.e. good for one packet of cigarettes, half a pint of Cocoa etc.). In addition to a mark of value some, but by no means all, canteen tokens bear the word “CANTEEN” in their obverse legends.

A Great War period penny token exchangeable in the work’s canteen of the National Shell Filling Factory No.4  – Georgetown at Houston, Renfrewshire

In company operated works canteens once one the tokens had been exchanged for some form of refreshment, by the employees, they were collected and accounted for before being re-issued by the work’s management to the workers. In works canteens operated by either private catering contractors or charitable organizations (e.g. the Y.M.C.A or Y.W.C.A. in the case of some munitions factories during the Great War) once collected in the tokens would be exchanged between the canteen operators and work’s management before they re-entered circulation. Depending on the exact nature of the token scheme, the value of the tokens exchanged in this way also formed the basis of payments claimed by the canteen operators from the work’s owners in the form of legal tender.

Tool Usage Receipt Checks

Throughout the 20th century mechanical fitters and machinists within most factories  provided their own tools with which to work. However, this was not the case when it came to specialist tools and machine parts. For such items the factories often held their own central specialist tool store from where items could be booked out on loan to individual workers.

A tool check issued by the Great War aircraft manufacturer Sopwith Aviation Company Limited

A common system of keeping track of such tool loans utilised metallic checks. These were often similar in appearance and design to the identification and security passes described above.

In factories employing such systems those workers that had need to draw specialist items from the central tool store were issued a number of checks (in the order of 10 per person) bearing their work’s identification number. On arrival at the tool store the worker would request the item to be taken out on loan and hand over one of his/her personally numbered tool checks. The store keeper would then hand over the tool in question, which were typically kept in cabinets or suspended from hooks on a storage boards. In place of the tool the store keeper would suspend that worker’s tool check from a peg or hook in the location where the tool had been stored.

After returning the tool to the stores the store keeper return it to its allocated storage place. Thereafter he returned the worker’s tool check to close out the tool loan procedure.

Workers’ Travel Passes

In the early decades of the twentieth century in some areas of the United Kingdom employees provided their workers with pre-paid travel passes for use on local public, or in some cases, the company’s own private transport services (i.e. buses and/or trains).  These travel passes were particular common in the South Wales and Great North Coalfields but are also known to have been used by some War Department contractors and ordnance/munitions factories. Typically each travel pass was individually numbered so as to be specific to the worker to whom it was issued.

Rare examples of such passes are know to have been used by at least one  large engineering contracting company who, in 1914, were engaged in a significant Contract awarded By the British Government’s War Department to build fifteen army training camps north of Salisbury in Wiltshire.

A workman’s railway travel pass used on train services between Salisbury and Codford and Heytesbury  in Wiltshire.  These were issued for free travel to and from work to the employees of the construction company Sir John Jackson Limited. In 1914  this company was contracted by the War Department to build several army training camps north of Salisbury