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

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Sorted by factory name

B.S.Bacon toy factory, Llanrwst

VN020 Vanda MacMillan, B.S.Bacon toy factory, Llanrwst

Vanda left school at fifteen and went to work in a grocer's shop, serving behind the counter, but she wasn't keen on it, as there was a lot of paper work, people used to put their goods down on a bill that they paid on Friday. She can't remember how long she was there. She got married at the age of seventeen. After the shop, she went to work in a woollen mill in Trefriw, which was hard work. She was on the loom just before she left, making quilts. She can't remember how long she was there and said she earned about £4. She bought clothes from a catalogue with her wages, and also went to the pictures, bought make up. She can't remember how old she was when she went to the factory. She'd got married and had three children, but the family needed extra money, so she heard they wanted people in the toy factory and she made arrangements with her mother to have her youngest child, for which she gave her mother half her wages. Vanda worked as a seasonal worker in the toy factory, Llanrwst, in the run up to Christmas. She worked on painting flowers on the wooden dolls houses and really enjoyed it. She left because the place was going down and they were laying off seasonal workers. She worked as a cleaner for a little while before getting a job in a care home.

VN003 Yvonne Stevens, B.S.Bacon toy factory, Llanrwst;Dolgarrog Aluminium, Dolgarrog;Hotpoint, Llandudno;Danline, Llanrwst

Yvonne worked in Llanrwst toy factory on leaving school at 15, where she painted the wooden toys. She was one of the youngest and worked with two older women she called Aunty Lena and Aunty Martha. She liked the toys, which were well made out of wood, dolls houses and garages and farms, but could never afford to buy them. She enjoyed working there but wanted to earn more money, so she got a job at Dolgarrog Aluminium as an inspector. They made aluminium for lots of things from saucepans to corrugated roofs, and her job was checking for marks on the aluminium before it went to the packing dept. It was a very big factory, over a thousand workers, and she used to get the bus there from Llanrwst. She met her husband there and left the factory when her son was born two years after they married. She did cleaning jobs afterwards but never factory work again.

Barton's, Merthyr

VSE025 Mair Richards, Forma, Merthyr;Kayser Bondor, Merthyr;Courtaulds, Merthyr;Chard's, London;AB Metals, Abercynon;Barton's, Merthyr

Mair left the grammar school because of her father’s ill-health, at 15½ and worked for W.H. Smiths before joining Kayser Bondor c.1952. Her mother was against her working in a factory. She describes the interview, the spotless factory – timing of toilet breaks; hand-cutting – shades and sizes of materials; producing bras and slips in huge orders; the importance of KB for Merthyr. In Dowlais (1960 onwards) they made silk stockings and other garments. She remembers raising money in the factory after the Aberfan disaster. She notes the Xmas celebrations; the rate of pay, unions, one strike for pay and how Courtaulds treated them. Accidents with the cutting knives. She didn’t like working at A.B. Metals – it was dirty and the girls were different. She returned to KB and when it closed she moved to Barton’s and then to Forma – supervising the cutting room. She finished in 1995.

Belt making factory, Ynysmeudwy

VSW029 Anonymous, Revlon 'powder puff' factory, Pontardawe;Belt making factory, Ynysmeudwy

The speaker had to leave school because her father wasn’t well and go to work in the belt factory. Within a year she was a supervisor. She could bring work home to earn extra money. She doesn’t feel they were well treated – they had to work hard. The smell of glue was very strong. The factory closed after 2½ years and she moved to Revlon, where she worked for further 2½ years. She left when she became pregnant..

Berlei Bras, Dowlais

VSE015 Luana Dee, Sobells, Aberdare;TBS South Wales Ltd, Merthyr;NATO clothing factory, Rhymney;Guest Keen and Nettlefold (GKN), Merthyr;Thorns, Merthyr;Berlei Bras, Dowlais;Lines (Triang), Merthyr

Luana talks about her colourful family background and returning from abroad to MT. She left school at 15 (1967) and shortly afterwards began working in Berlei Bras as a machinist (2 years). Mixture of shy and assertive girls there. Brilliant German Pfaff machines. Fashion parades with employees modelling – lingerie. Piecework – paid per bra. Seconds thrown in bins and had to repair – not earning then. Eyesight good and she was fast so put on black bras. More difficult and so loosing money. But she was moved to stop her making trouble. Threatened because she stirred things up. Had to ask to go to toilet and supervisor knocking door. Watching them all the time. Sacked – quality of work? Or too forthright? Straight into another job. In BB’s - fashion parade on factory floor itself - Miss Berlei Bra competition? Describes factory. Sexual innuendo common. Xmas dance and trips. Next – Triang Toys sewing heavy duty upholstery (stayed 1 year). Some toy-making. Having fun with the factory boys in Cyfarthfa Park on Fridays afternoons. Some men brought in pornographic photographs – eye opener. Went to Thorn’s making filaments for light bulbs. Describes process. Japanese took over, it became stressful so she stayed less than a year. Moved to make industrial clothing for NATO – heavy duty sewing, more humanity here. In the TSB they made filing cabinets and she connected with the other workers. She was in the office now. In Sobell’s for a few weeks only - very large, industrial and alienating.
Part of this interview is available as an audio file

Berleis, Pontardawe

VSW030 Anonymous, Berleis, Pontardawe;Anglo-Celtic Watch Co. (inc. Smith's Industries and Ingersoll aka 'Tick Tock'), Ystradgynlais;Economics, Pontardawe

The speaker describes her upbringing. She left school to work in Woolworths’ before moving to the Tick Tock factory (c.1958), where she earned ‘a lot of money’. She left when she became pregnant (c.1965). When the children were small she started at the Economics making drums for the Mond Works (c.1970-1). This was dirty work in noisy, poor conditions. She moved to Berlei’s to work in the canteen (c. 1971-81) and became the manageress. She describes buying bras for sixpence, timing toilet breaks, ‘top payers’, unionism, music, a trip with the Merthyr factory on the train to London. When the factory closed she went back to Tick Tock (Rover works) (1983-99). She became a supervisor and got her cap and gown for business management.

Bernard and Lakin, Mountain Ash

VSE064 Martha Irene Lewis (Rene), Bernard and Lakin, Mountain Ash;Alexon Steinberg, Treforest

Irene left school at 14 (1941) and stayed at home to help her mother for 4 years before starting in Steinberg’s in 1946 (new factory). She worked on the buttons – for skirts and suits. She used to be used as a model to try on some of the clothes. Many of the clothes went to America – they were expensive clothes. On Saturdays they had open days – people could buy seconds. Her sister had a nervous breakdown while there – but she was given a light job to help her get better (she stayed there for 50 further years and got a gold watch!) Music and singing. She couldn’t afford many clothes from the factory. The factory was dry because of the dust from the clothing. It was hot because they were making heavy winter clothes in summer. She stayed there until 1952 and left when she was pregnant. In the early 1960s she went to another clothes factory – Bernard and Lakin. She was there for c. 3 years.

Bernard Wardell, Caernarfon

VN007 Dafydd Llewelyn, James Kaylor Compacts, Caernarfon;Bernard Wardell, Caernarfon

Dafydd started as an apprentice tool setter in Kaylor Compacts on leaving school at the age of fifteen. He wanted to be a driver and only worked there a year before getting a job on the Co-op van. His main job was going round and changing the tools on the presses, and pushing the compacts into a tunnel where they were heated, and maintenance work, although he was suppose to be a tool-setter. He didn't like the job because of the way the foremen, two in particular, treated people, but he said his co-workers were great. When he walked down between the machines, the girls would pull his leg and call out things like “Do you want a thrill?” and he was only 15! The women looked after him. When he went to the canteen, there was a nice woman there who'd let him pay the next day if he didn't have enough on him. They didn't serve hot food, just snacks. He did work in another factory, Bernard Wardell, after leaving the compact factory but mainly did driving work thereafter.
The inside of the Compact Factory, with women at work, 1950s.The inside of the Compact Factory, 1950s

Birmingham Small Arms, Dowlais

VSE028 Marion Blanche Jones, Hoover, Merthyr;Teddington Aircraft, Merthyr;Birmingham Small Arms, Dowlais;AB Metals, Abercynon;Kayser Bondor, Merthyr

Marion left school at c.16 (1951) and started in Kayser Bondor – until 1958. She feels they were pushed form pillar to post and so she left. Didn’t have a permanent job there so difficult to earn well. Singing and waving to their favourite songs. Moved to AB Metals – making TV tuners. Made redundant after 2-3 years – TV unit closed. In Kayser Bondor not earning much – crying coming home. Loved working In AB Metals. Gave her mother all her wages until she died (1960). Next to BSA making parts for guns. – closed down after a year. Then to Teddington’s making parts for aeroplanes. Cleaning coils under a microscope. Then to Hoover’s 1963. £10 a week and a weekly, monthly and Xmas bonus. Then equality became an issue. Member of union and shop steward. Working on new disposal bags. Once Equal Pay Act ,1970 passed – men became bitter. They knew Ford’s women (Dagenham) had had equal pay. Women contacted Ann Clwyd for advice. They went to management but convenor said they weren’t doing the same work as men. Men went on strike but had to give in, but animosity for years. Not fighting firm but the union. Describes changes in machines. C. 7000 employees in three MT factories. Hoover’s recognised 5,10,15,20 and 25 years service- necklaces. Good staff discounts. Years of wear and tear on body. Noisy and compensation. Section dos, but things changed as other companies took over. Left in 1992 after 29 years.
Marion Jones (on the left) working in Hoover, early 1960sBarbara Vaughan at work in Hoover, early 1960s

Brick factory, Newbridge

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.