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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

Cockle factory, Caernarfon

VN006 Dilys Wyn Jones, Corset factory, Caernarfon;Cockle factory, Caernarfon;Ferranti, Bangor

Dilys worked in the Corset Factory from the age of 15, straight from school. She worked on various lines, on different parts of the corsets. She enjoyed it there but on the whole found factory work repetative and boring. The factory was very basic: “It was a concrete floor and there was dust there, lime from the corsets. We had an X-ray every year. A man brought water in, in a watering can, he went around the place like that, watering the floor. There were windows like those on a greenhouse upstairs, and in the summer, it was boiling, you were being cooked alive.” She also worked later in other factories, such as the cockle factory in Caernarfon and Ferranti in Bangor.

Cookes Explosives, Penrhyndeudraeth

VN030 Iorwerth Davies, Cookes Explosives, Penrhyndeudraeth

Iorwerth worked at Cookes Explosives Ltd for 46 years, starting at the age of 14. He didn't have an interview, just went down to ask for a job. At that time, the new Labour Party had come to power and they established a rule that young workers finish their work half an hour before the older workers, so Iorwerth could leave work at 4:30. There was quite a lot of young workers in Cookes as many people went there after finishing at the village school. The boys had to be 16 and the girls 18 before they could work with explosives. Iorwerth did a number of jobs in Cookes during the years he was there, starting with bags - 'paper shells - into which the explosives went. The bags then went to the girls in the packing to be filled with explosives. After reaching 16, he was working in the huts with other women and men, not with explosive itself but with bags. Men went round to every house with bags and collected them after they were filled. He moved to other jobs in the factory and ended up as transport manager, monitoring the transport of explosives to mines all over the country and often having to defuse them when they'd become unsafe. He married one of the girls in the 'cwts,' Mary.

VN027 Beryl Jones, Cookes Explosives, Penrhyndeudraeth

Beryl worked in Cookes for four years, first in the printing room and then in the pay office as pay clerk. She knew people there before starting and said it was like being with a family, everyone knew each other, everyone was happy. She was not nervous because there hadn't been a recent explosion; she left before the big explosion in 1957. She met her husband there and married in 1954, leaving shortly afterwards when expecting her first child. Her husband was there for over 35 years, until the factory closed in the 1980s. Beryl left when she was expecting her first child. Her mother had two girls at home at the time so Beryl couldn't expect her to look after her child too. Beryl was quite happy to leave and at that time, that's what women did. After leaving Cookes, when her children were older, she worked in a fruit shop and after that in Bron Garth nursing home, where she stayed for 20 years until she retired to look after her grandchildren

VN016 Susie Jones, Cookes Explosives, Penrhyndeudraeth

Susie began at Cookes Explosives in 1933 at age 14. The factory was in two parts then, Mining Safety Explosives and Cookes. The youngest workers were in the detonator department, not handling the dets but preparing something for them, and this work wasn't dangerous. The girls moved up according to their ages and Susie moved afterwards to the wiring and then the sheathing departments. When the war came she filled hand grenades, working three shifts, and making lots of friends. After the war, she stayed at Cookes, firstly in packing and finishing in the lab, where they tested the powder and where she was the only girl. This was in the 60s and 70s. Susie worked at Cookes for 46 years, minus two days. If she'd stayed the extra two she would have got her full pension but when she went to ask, they refused. She retired in 1979.
Susie receiving a tea set for 35 years service, 1968The lab department, with Susie the only woman, 1970sA colleagues retirement party, Susie centre wearing a necklace, c.1950Susie with friends at work, 1940s

VN026 Blodwen Owen, Cookes Explosives, Penrhyndeudraeth

Blodwen worked in Cookes Explosive from soon after leaving school to when she retired in 1970. She had a five year gap when she had her children. The factory wasn't a comfortable place to work especially during the war, when they made hand grenades and the women's hands went yellow and there was an odor of TNT. It was a dangerous job. In describing the work, Blodwen said she had a stand and she had to push the powder inside the grenade. Other girls painted the outside, either green or red, and when they were dry, they were put into a holder to fill them with TNT. If they weren't filled properly they came back to be refilled. Blodwen always tried to do hers properly. She lost a sister, Elizabeth, in the big explosion of 1957, when four workers died in a explosion in one of the 'cwts'. Blodwen was on the works committee in the late 1960s. After working there for 25 years, the company presented her with a silver watch, which she still wears today. In the end, the doctor discovered that she suffered from 'NG Poisoning' and said she was not going back to work, she had to finish work on the same day. After that, she worked in a shop.
Blodwen in the Cookes canteen, 1960sThe Cookes Works Committee, Blodwen front row on the right, 1960sReceiving a clock from Dr Stone  on her retirement, 1970Blodwen with co-workers, 1940s

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

Copygraph, Treforest

VSE006 Sylvia Ann Reardon, AB Metals, Abercynon;Copygraph, Treforest

Sylvia decribes her mother working as a cleaner and taking in evacuees. She took a chapel house – slave labour. Her father was a Communist. Sylvia went to Clarke’s Commercial College, left at 18 (1966), worked for electricity board, on to Copygraph factory Treforest, but hated it and ‘mitched’. Then she went to the biggest employer locally AB Metals – into invoicing section – worked like a dog. Stayed there 1959-1966. Made to feel an important cog in wheel. Twenty AB buses, but had to pay. She made one huge mistake with export documents. They made tuners for TVs and other electronic equipment. Details of job. Some girls had to sign the Official Secrets Act Complicated processes. Vast customer base. 4000 women workers – redundancies. Helped a friend to get a job in the pit. Loyalty to people on your line or in your office. First day at work in overcrowded office and everyone smoking Woodbines. Wonderful place to work – gave her confidence and capability. Complained re. lack of. space but they took the ceiling down instead. No trade union for office staff but she organised secret membership. Men 75% higher wages than women. Union rep. Saving with National Savings. Story about giving fellow-workers dexadrine and amphetamines to help productivity. Later withdrawal symptoms! Segregated canteens – office / assembly. Big social scene: going clubbing; sketches. Unmarried mother taken under their wing. She didn’t mix with the factory floor girls. Factory freed women up. Miss AB. Fabulous Xmas do in Cardiff. Left first time when husband to Huddersfield. Left second time because no pension – into local government.
Part of this interview is available as an audio file

Cora Crafts, Pengam

VSE054 Doreen Lillian Maggie Bridges (nee Moses), Valeo, Ystrad Mynach;Golmets, Pontllan-ffraith;Switchgear, Pontllan-ffraith;Cora Crafts, Pengam

Doreen left school at 15+ (1957) and started in the stores in the Cora Crafts Factory, which made jewellery. Men came in to collect the stones. She helped with weighing the gold powder for the gold-plating too. With the orders she was using her brains. Her father was very strict re. going out – no lipstick. Her friends went monkey-parading. She only stayed 6 months. Doreen moved to Switchgear – quite a big factory, drilling, countersinking (making a ridge for screws) and de-burring (taking flashing off what was being drilled). The factory made switches. Mother and pay packet. Union supported her re. lifting heavy loads. Taken off job. Radio and singing to themselves. Noise affected her hearing. Men had been trained and got higher wages – unfair. By the time of the Equal Pay Act (1970) she was working in Valeo's. But they did not have equal pay. She stayed 1 year in Switchgear, and went to Golmets. Left to have first child 1965. Golmets made ironing boards and kitchen stools. She spent a time cutting white asbestos – no masks. She ‘could see it in the air’. She went to Valeo’s in 1977. She became a union rep. with the GMB – a fight against using a special dip which caused cancer. Valeo’s made armatures for windscreen washes. She also had to negotiate pay rises. Advised women to pay the full stamp. Women were ‘being done down’. Xmas carnival with Switchgear lorry – choir on float. Doreen retired in 1995.
Part of this interview is available as an audio file
The Switchgear Factory's Christmas Sleigh with the company carol choir

Cora Garment Factory, Pengam

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

Corgi Hosiery, Ammanford

VSW065 Margaret Young, Corgi Hosiery, Ammanford

Margaret left school at 15 and joined Corgi’s in 1958. She has worked there for c. 53 years. She describes their products: socks initially, (with different patterns); then jumpers, tapestry clothes etc. She earned a wage + bonuses. There were no unions and no strikes. She moved from socks to knitwear. She describes how they treated girls on their birthdays and when they got married. It was very cold there and their toilet breaks were timed. They brought in records to play over a tannoy. When her children were small she borrowed a machine and worked from home. Trips out. She works on hand repairs in the factory now.
Corgi Hosiery Factory, 1950s