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A collection of interviews and photographs recorded by Women's Archive of Wales in 2013-14

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VSE074 Tryphena Jones, JR Freeman's Cigar Factory, Port Talbot;JR Freeman's Cigar Factory, Cardiff

Tryphena left school at 16 (1966) and started in Freeman’s. She had an interview and an IQ test. She was in the making dept. – and had to get so many cuts out of one leaf. Some of the girls in hair rollers and hairnets. This stopped after 2 years. Describes a day’s work. Singing and chatting. Targets. Describes procedure of making a cigar. Worked in pairs – at the same speed. She explains the work in the stripping room. Quality control checked and if 5 faulty you were in trouble. She explains how they worked the targets. Well paid job. She worked for the money. It was difficult for women to become charge hands – this changed. She learned to fix her own machine and felt it was unfair that mechanics were paid more than the women. Time and motion person – she describes how they behaved when he was watching. Three warnings for not meeting targets and out. Dangers - one girl next to her lost 2 fingers. Union didn’t start for two years – disputes about noise and heat. Discusses harassment. She was involved in sport and had to take unpaid leave. Story about her television interview. Social events: It’s a knockout, skittles, dances etc. Miss Manikin – some jealousy and some opposed it. Noise has affected the workers’ hearing. Changes because of mechanisation. Looked after if ill. Four canteens and different food too. She did 3 years in Port Talbot too; 12 years in Cardiff. She was able to pass tests on gymnastics while there. Good learning curve.
J.R. Freeman Cigar factory 'It's a Knockout' team, Tryphena Jones front row on the left

VSE075 Era Francis, Smith's Crisps, Swansea

Era left school at 15 (1948) and after working in a laundry, she started in Smiths’ Crisps in 1951/2. She describes the departments in the factory and how everything worked to whistles. She wore a scarf over her hair. Her job was packing bags with crisps. She had to ask permission to leave machine. When hand packing fingers became sore because the crisps could be sharp. She used Nu-skin to put on sores. She worked there for 5-6 years. The smell of Smiths crisps. Those working upstairs in the kitchen had to wear clogs because the floor was slippery with oil. They cleaned the machines in her dept. every night. Rotation of work within dept. Bags of salt and the salt room. Radio and singing. Perk of buying crisps cheaper. They used glue to stick the packets together. Targets and getting bonuses. Some awful swearing there – particularly the older women. She was scared of them. When she got married she had a paid fortnight’s leave. Talks about the Empire theatre. She had to give her wages to her mother until 21 – rules. She left when she got married (1956) – the travelling was difficult. A lot of pushing and shoving to get on buses. Later she worked in Woolworth’s for 20 years.

VSE076 Christine Evans, Sobells, Rhigos

Christine left school at 15 (1964) and started in Sobell’s where her father worked. The factory was booming. She started on soldering and wiring. The job wasn’t difficult but doing it to speed was. Full pay at 18. Moved to work on transistor radio – so proud when she bought her own. Bussed to the industrial estate. She did different jobs e.g. putting components in. Describes procedures. In the late 60s she worked on colour TVs. Dangers – she has scars on her thumb (glass) and legs from solder burns because they wore mini skirts. Sobell’s gave her cutters and pliers. Exciting to be making colour TVs. Hitachi ran the factory in 1980 when she left because she was pregnant. Union and lots of strikes about money. Three day weeks. She talks of being put on a dangerous machine at 15 – no guard on it. Some bullying – moved to another line. Music and records and singing. Miss GEC competition in Top Rank, Swansea. Day before Xmas – stopped work, ate chocolates and drank. Later she did an NVQ in catering

VSE077 Jeanette Groves, Western Shirt Company, Cardiff

Jeanette left school at 14 (1946) and started in the sewing factory, where her mother used to work. She started in the cutting room then she became a machinist. Needles through fingers, scissors in her eye and one woman scalped (in her mother’s time) Getting to work by bus or bike. Wearing rollers to work but putting make up and combing hair at the first break. Some made their own clothes during lunch time. Had to unpick if there was a mistake and they helped one another or lose money. Their aim was a dozen skirts an hour @ 1shilling a dozen. Out around Cardiff during lunch break. A crowd went out in the evenings – dancing. They waited for natural light before making dark clothing. They made shirts and pyjamas only. Teasing the one mechanic by interfering with their machines. Annual trips and issued with cigarettes. She left after 3 years because she had TB. She married and moved to Bristol where it was cured eventually.
Western Shirt Company workers,  Jeanette Groves standing left, 1940s

VSE078 Margaret Duggan, JR Freeman's Cigar Factory, Cardiff

Margaret was born in Ireland and she left school at 17 (1964) after doing a course in a technical college. She worked as a cook initially. Between 1966 and 1970 she worked for General Electric (EI) and then she married and moved to Wales. She started working in Freeman’s. She describes making the cigars. She caught her hand in the machine – 8 stitches. She had compensation through the union. Changed jobs – check weigher. Targets – e.g. how many they could get out of one leaf. She could walk around and chat. She had a set wage. Strong smell of tobacco, conditions improved and they were given masks to wear. Fine mist to keep tobacco moist. Paying tax on the cigars, she did the finished order audit. She left in 2002 when she was 55. She received a watch for 30 years’ service. Good pay and bonuses every Xmas and Easter. Extra holidays depending on period of employment. Tobacco Worker’s Union – dispute about finishing at 1.30 on Friday – union won. She had redundancy pay. In the beginning it was a workers’ market. Newsletter – Smoke Signals. Perks - free cigars and cigarettes every month. Social clubs, e.g. golf and badminton. The company paid for her to go on a computer course. Xmas draw and dinner. Family place.

VSE079 Madeline Sedgwick, Slumberland, Cardiff;Spillers and Bakers, Cardiff;Lionites Spectacles Cases, Cardiff;Currans, Cardiff

Madeline left school at 14 (1943). She talks of sheltering under Cardiff castle during air raids and the dangers. She worked as a hairdresser and then she started in Curran’s in 1948. They had a reputation for being racist. She talks of her experience with Littlewood’s. She worked in enamelling, making chamber pots (their handles) and mugs. She talks of different areas of Cardiff. She bought clothes and fish scrumps and went to dances with her own money. She only stayed there three months and she went to Spillers, on the flour and dog biscuits. They got a big machines and changed to working shifts. Rats. Small factory. Unloading grain from the ships downstairs. They wore turbans. She liked the sewing machine. Singing and talking. She left because of the shift work and moved to Slumberland – it was dusty there. She describes a visit to London. She describes her work and says that the company’s Paisley (Birmingham) workers were paid more than their Welsh ones. In winter her fingers would bleed from the fibres and the cold. She hit her leg and left. Then on to Fletcher’s but in the office – dressed smartly, answered the telephone and invoiced. She tells the story of challenging the boss of Slumberland about working until 6 on Fridays.
Part of this interview is available as an audio file

VSE080 Margaret Gerrish, Cora Garment Factory, Pengam;Spirellas Corset Factory, Cardiff;JR Freeman's Cigar Factory, Cardiff

Margaret talks of her father’s unionism NACODS and of leaving school at 13-4 (1944-5). She started working in a boarding school in Yeovil and then returned to Wales. She worked in Freeman’s. They travelled there from Tredegar by train. It was a new world. She saved with a provident cheque from her wages. The work was about earning money. Radio and singing. Shirley Bassey used to work there. Before Freeman’s she says she worked in Spirella’s. She had been apprenticed at The tailoring shop in New Tredegar- Parry’s. She didn’t go into the factory but did corset fittings for people in their homes. She had a skirt and jacket made for herself at Spirella’s. In c.1949-50 she went to Cora’s, making clothes for M&S and began in the cutting room. Supervisors were sent to Leicester to train. Then a new supervisor who began sacking workers. She was on examining and because one whole batch was bad he sacked them all. The union stood by them and they had their jobs back. After getting married she didn’t work in a factory.
Margaret Gerrish, far left, and colleagues from the Cora garment factory

VSE081 Anonymous, Slumberwear, Barry;Sidroy's Lingerie, Barry

Contract work in Sidroy’s Lingerie and Slumberwear, Barry. The speaker worked for his father’s building firm maintaining (c.1964-8) the buildings etc at the factory. Locally Sidroy’s was called the knicker factory but they made all kinds of underwear there. He was very scared of the women, their language was very forthright and they would de-bag the boys and men if they were too sure of themselves – stripping them and covering them with grease. It happened to him once – his father had warned him. He felt the girls’ work was very monotonous. The women wanted to keep the men in their place.

VSE082 Mary Patricia (Pat) Howells, Dunlop, Rhigos, Hirwaun estate;Lastex Yarn and Lactron Threads (LYLT), Rhigos, Hirwaun estate

Pat recalls her working life on the Rhigos Trading Estate and how her father was an engineer at Dunlop's on the estate. She left school at fifteen to work in Dunlop's too where she trimmed mattresses and cushions etc. She handed her pay docket over to her mum. As a family, they lived in houses built for the estate workers. The workers didn't talk, it was work, work, work. Then she moved to Lastex Yarns and Lactron Threads (LYLT) - better prospects. She became a supervisor and then a forewoman. She remembers losing the top of her finger in Dunlop's. As supervisor helped with personal problems e.g. pregnancy. They used lots of French chalk which had to be blown off their overalls every evening. One hour of radio a day. Sports and Social Club - they played netball, and did archery. Also there were plays in the canteen. There was an annual Miss Dunlop's competition. She married a miner and left the factory when she was pregnant.
Dunlop workers in canteen 1950s: speaker, Pat Howells second from left  supervisor.Dunlop beauty competition 1950s  Pat Howells second from rightMiss Dunlop 1957 Contest in Dunlop Canteen. Pat Howells 4 th from rightMiss Dunlop 1957 line-up in Dunlop Canteen. Pat Howells 4 th from left.

VSE083 Violet Skillern, HG Stone Toy Factory, Pontypool

Violet describes her childhood in Pontypool and how her father had difficulty finding work after the war. In their row of cottages they shared a toilet but everyone was friendly. She started in the toy factory at 15 and describes being sent for 'glass washers' - teasing her. She describes moving from the stores to the sewing - finishing off the teddy bears and sewing on their eyes and embroidering their noses etc. 'Happy days' on the line. She did homework too. When she got married she left the factory. She talks of her pay. She recalls having to finish off a huge Teddy Bear destined for London. Mainly a female workforce and one of the designers was a woman. Annual dances. Everyone was a union member, but it was happy environment. The camaraderie was good. She walked to work but caught a bus home, and took her own lunch though there was a canteen in the factory. She didn't like it when a conveyor belt was introduced. They listened to the radio over a Tannoy. She remembers a holiday with fellow workers in Bournemouth. Not many social activities linked to factory.
H.G. Stone  toy factory Pontypool