The date when we finally become eligible for our pensions is always a red-letter day, but when did pensions begin?

Actually they can be traced back to January 1, 1909, when the first State Pension of five shillings (25p) a week was paid to a lucky few, as not everyone of age could claim.

Here in North Devon the event was marked by public meetings, speeches and celebrations.

In Bideford, for example, a massive public tea was held in the Market where 1,000 people heard the local MP Ernest Soares say that ‘many would remember that occasion as a great birthday – the birth of a new era in social reform’.

Pensions ‘would, he firmly believed, bring peace and contentment a home where otherwise there would be poverty and despair’.

In the Bideford rural district nearly 400 pensions were paid out, the oldest recipient being a 99-year-old Parkham man.

At Barnstaple some 300 aged people qualified for the new payment with the first being paid to George Heayel who claimed his pension at the old Post Office in Cross Street.

He was later followed by one of the old ladies from Horwood Almshouses who had been living on 2/6 (12½p) a week and who was reported as saying of the pension ‘twill be a great benefit to me’.

Another old gentleman told anyone who would listen that ‘It is the first sum I have ever received in my life without working for it’.

J Gent, who ran the Summerland Street sub-post office in Barnstaple, marked this auspicious day by presenting each pensioner with a card inscribed ‘To commemorate the nation’s gift of an honourable pension to the veterans of industry, January 1st 1909. With every good wish for the coming year from Mr and Mrs JR Gent’.

At Ilfracombe, 108 pensioners collected their money amongst them a blind 95-year-old who reckoned ‘This is the best day I’ve had for many a long day, thank God for it’.

South Molton saw 55 pensions paid out with another 35 at Combe Martin.

At Clovelly the new pensioners were so grateful they actually clubbed together to send a telegram to the MP thanking the government.

So began a system we all take for granted today – a safety net for all.