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

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VN008 Mary Evans, James Kaylor Compacts, Caernarfon

Mary began in Kaylors when she was sixteen and she liked the work and the company. Her work was putting the polish on the compacts after they'd been dipped in acid, and putting the gems in them. Also she was making the tube that pushes the lipstick up. They could have rejects for free. She said factory work was an eye opener: “I was in my element there. Everyone was so close, there were 'rough and ready' girls but I liked them, I really liked then. I could listen to their stories, things I never got to hear at home, Good Lord!” The money was bad however - two pound something - and she left to go to Waterworths where the money was better. She met her husband in Waterworths left in 1961 to have a child but returned the following year. She left factory work in 1962 for office work to earn more money.

VSE008 Yvonne Morris, Miles Laboratories, Bridgend;Addis, Swansea

Yvonne left school at 16 (1962) and worked as a shorthand typist – bored. Eventually went to Addis (1963). The women she worked with became a substitute family – unhappy at home. Started as a packer on a line. Then moved to work on machines – then into training. Machines trimmed brushes and attached bristles. Very hot / or very cold. Dreaded visits of time and motion man. Joined TGWU union - disputes re. conditions not pay. Painful periods and having to stand all day. Talking to one another kept them sane. Smoking a massive issue – quick fag in toilets. Xmas time- went to club together. Left to work with a milliner, then into the army. Returned to Addis for c. 2 years – didn’t ‘come out’ in the factory because considered disgusting. When she moved in with her partner she went to work in Miles Laboratories (1972-74) – bottling medicine on the line. No time to talk. Excellent facities etc. Factories gave women a sense of who they were as individuals. Learned to be loyal and discreet. Perks – buy seconds but also randomly frisked.

VSW008 Sally Cybluski, Parsons Pickles, Burry Port;The Optical, Kidwelly

Sally left school in 1935 aged 14. When she was 18 she was called up and worked on a farm – selling milk in Carmarthen. She fell and broke her back. Then she worked in a wool shop. She talks about her husband who was a prisoner with the Gemans – came to Wales. They got married in 1946. She worked in a pickle factory – awful place. She packed mussels. She saw a piece of paper written by Parsons saying that all the factory girls were lazy. She complained and was sacked. She worked at a cleaners for 10 years, then at the Optical factory, where her husband worked. Describes process of making lenses. The cold – the lenses were kept in a large freezer. They had to do 11 trolley loads a day. It was heavy work; her shoulders and legs have been affected. It was also very noisy and she’s deaf now. They had to buy Swarfega to clean their hands from the company – she tells the story of an Italian stealing it. She tells the story of Wadic, her husband’s illness.

VN009 Beti Davies, Woollen Factory, Glyn Ceiriog

Beti worked in the Wool Factory in Glyn Ceiriog straight from school at 14. She also kept house for her father after her mother died shortly before this. She started on the bobbins then moved on to make the material for good quality wool coats that were fashionable at the time. She had a chance to buy one of these coats: “One was camel, and a sort of duck egg blue, oh, a lovely colour, and we had the chance to buy a coat for five pounds. They kept five shillings a week out of our wages until we'd paid the five pounds. And someone told me that those coats were worth twenty five pounds in the shops.” Her sister, Marion, worked there too. Beti left around the time the factory closed and she went to work for the Forestry Commission. She married four years later and had a son, after which she didn't return to work. She also looked after her father until he died, after which she did some part time cleaning work.
Beti with her sister Marion and their cousin, at Deganwy, all wearing their £5 wool coats,  1950s

VSE009 Sheila Hughes, British Nylon Spinners, Pontypool

Sheila left grammar school at 16 (1953) and started in British Nylon Spinners (Courtaulds) – 4000-5000 working there. New factory (1947-) and developing. She began in physical test lab. Very noisy – lip reading. Describes processes. In PTL she went round factory with ‘Albert’ machine to check humidity and temperature. Also knitting panels to test dyes. Testing how much twist, and breaking strength of nylon. Looking for slubs. So a control centre to check machines working properly. The factory produced the raw material not finished products in nylon.. Didn’t like women working night shift. Called the men in the lab ‘the girls’! Constant flow of buses. Trained by osmosis. Gradually worked herself up to section head. Worked in textile development dept. – testing garments to destruction – bri-nylon. Lab assistants sent to Doncaster factory – helicopter crashed. Exhibition to promote factory. Perks – two pairs of stockings a year. Danger – one girl caught her hair in a machine. Allowed 10 minutes in toilets to smarten yourself up. Grades of canteens. She was staff. One long social life: clubhouse with huge ballroom, rifle range, judo, concerts with big bands and films, parties. The Queen visited. Never bored – singing. She left when pregnant – 1967. ICI had taken over – not the same. Later became market researcher – 23 years. She was in a training film made in 1960s. Company newsletter – The Signpost.
Part of this interview is available as an audio file

VSW009 Helena Gregson, Slimma-Dewhirst, Lampeter

Helena left school at 15 in 1970. She used to sew for the family. She went straight to Slimma's and stayed 32 years (2002). She had a machine test. She earned £10 a week. She remembers the noise of the machines, piece-work, targets and tickets, the clothes went to M&S. It was a ‘good school’- she was flexible as a floater. There was a Social Club there. She left to have her first child (1982) and returned part time. She went to London to train as supervisor. She became a shop steward. Some girls wore rollers to work. Accidents with the needles. One girl's hair went into the machine. Guessing the names of songs on the radio - Golden Oldies. At Xmas there was turkey and champagne as bonus. They had seconds. Some of the women played football and they had a Slimma Queen. She set up her own sewing business after leaving. The factory moved to Morocco. There was great sadness at this.
Part of this interview is available as an audio file
Read an English translation of this audio clip

VN010 Marion Davies, Woollen Factory, Glyn Ceiriog;Brick factory, Newbridge

Marion worked in the Glyn Ceiriog Woollen Factory straight from school at 14, like her sister Beti. She was on the bobbins the whole time she was there. She left when the factory closed in 1952 and went to work in a brick factory in Newbridge, near Chirk. The work was heavy as she had to put the clay tiles into a press and turn a wheel to press it down. Men and women worked there, the men mostly on the kilns and the women, and some boys, doing the pressing and turning the wheels. There were more people in the brick factory than in the wool factory and the wages were better too. There was a sort of a canteen, where someone made tea for the workers, and they brought their own food in, or bought lunch there. The work could be dangerous, for example someone could trap a finger in the press, which happened to one or two, but not to her. She left the factory work after a short time and worked in Boots Chemist until she retired.

VSE010 Brenda Mary Farr, Thorn Electronics, Hereford;Dressing Gown factory, Blaenavon;HG Stone Toy Factory, Pontypool

Mary left school at 15 (1956) – didn’t want to work in factory – wanted work in an office. But she found herself in HG Stone factory making soft toys - teddies and pandas etc– she worked on the line as a machinist. Piecework. Very big, noisy and dusty. Stuffed with straw or flock. Time and motion pricing time on each toy. Worker’s Playtime on the radio. Finished there in 1964. The women producing teddy bears got more than the others – specialist job. Wasn’t promoted because she talked too much. Also made dolls – plastic bodies and stitching on hair. Also dogs on wheels. Needles through fingers. Men’s work – on plastic and machines. Xmas dances with band. After 8 years in HG Stone spent 6 weeks in dressing gown factory in Blaenafon – couldn’t bear the smell of candlewick. When married she moved to Herefordshire – worked in Thorn Electrics making street lights. Lots of families in HG Stone (later Chad Valley) factory.
Part of this interview is available as an audio file

VSW010 Phyllis Eldrige & Olga Thomas, Cardwells, Lampeter;Cardwells, Machynlleth

Phyllis left school at 16 (c.1959) and stayed home on the farm for 3 years before replying to an advert in the paper for a machinist at Cardwells'. A bus took them to Machynlleth. Stayed in lodgings. Olga left school at 15 years (1959), worked in an egg packing factory and then in Cardwells' Machynlleth. They also travelled by train. They earned £4 a week + lodging + travelling. Stayed there one year, until the Lampeter factory was ready. The factory was closed for weeks in 1963 - snow but no pay. Girls came from the outlying villages. They made women's dresses mainly. Can't remember a union - just 'grin and bear it'. They had the off-cuts. Needles through fingers. Sewing was skilled work V ironing. They spoke Welsh mainly. They left when expecting baby. Phyllis bought a machine and worked from home. It gave them satisfaction to see women out in clothes they had made.

VN011 Marian Roberts, Cookes Explosives, Penrhyndeudraeth

Marian worked first as a children's nurse after leaving school, then returned to Penrhyndeudraeth. Her father, who was already working in the powder factory, asked the manager for a job for his daughter. She worked in the canteen, serving and cleaning for four years, and she remembers vividly the big explosion of 1957: “I was at the tub and there was a bang, and the tub and the chair, went sliding down the canteen, but not a drop of water spilled out from it. And we ran to the window and Mrs Williams shouted, 'Don't go to the windows, it's dangerous.' Four were killed that day, in that cwt. It was a dangerous place, but you never thought about it when you were there.” She also remembers the time they were filming 'Inn of the Sixth Happiness' in Penrhyn and she and a friend sneaked out of work to get Ingrid Bergman's autograph! She married a man who also worked there, leaving to have her first child in 1959 and didn't return to the factory afterwards but says that her time in Cookes was the happiest in her working life.
Marian with the powder workers. Her husband is also in the photo, far right, 1950s