VSE071 Veronica (Vera) Diane Lena Battle, JR Freeman's Cigar Factory, Cardiff;Ralph Mathers garment factory, Cardiff;Garment factory, Cardiff
Vera’s father was a renowned jazz musician – she outlines her background and his career. Vera left school at 14 (1948) and started in the sewing factory, sewing buttons and canvas in the lapels of men’s jackets. She moved to the cigar factory in Clive Street, annual trip to London. She took the cigars down the cellar and stacked them to dry out. Because the factory moved to Penarth Road she went to work in a tailoring factory making women’s clothes. She was on the overlocker and the buttonholes. They sang. There were a lot of Greek girls there. They were the best tailors She names some of the workers. She had clothes made for her daughters there. She moved to Toulouse with her prospective husband but returned and he went back to America. She was also a dancer who performed in the chorus of an American Negro show and on tour (London and Scotland etc.). She has worked in a primary school too.
VSW064 Keith Battrick, London Transformers Factory, Bridgend
Keith describes his traumatic experience as a 16 year old aspiring tool-maker in London Transformers in 1966. He experienced an initiation rite which involved stripping and covering him with oil and saw-dust. Both the male and female workers in the factory participated in this. The worst part was being unable to clean himself thoroughly afterwards. He left the factory because he couldn’t get an apprenticeship there. Today he is a self-employed electrician.
VSW035 Grace Beaman, Unit Superheaters, The Strand;Mettoys, Fforestfach
Grace left school at 15 (1963) because her father didn’t think it was worth educating a girl. She worked in shops and then in Mettoys for three years. Women were dextrous on the assembly line. Security and bags searched. Women would fix their own machines if broken. She moved to Unit Superheaters where she drove a gantry (overhead crane) – 13 other women also driving. Joined union because told she would lose her job if she didn’t. Section of Unit Superheaters had Gamma rays so women not allowed to work there. In Mettoys went to social club in Hafod and started a darts league. Eventually she bought the post office in Landore and got a degree in 2000.
When she was 14 Averill went to a commercial school but because her mother wasn’t supportive she decided to leave and work in Lightning Zip Fasteners as an office clerk, 1954 -. She could attend a technical college every week. It was an excellent, clean factory and no-one wanted to leave. She describes how the young lads were teased, and that some of the women were fit and used strong language. She notes the social club and the games’ facilities. She gave her mother her pay packet and she had nothing. The company gave shares to its workers. She left in 1967 to have a baby. She mentions some sexual harassment and pilfering of zips.
VSE031 Maureen Howard Boiarde, Polikoff's, Treorchy;Sobell's TV and Radio, Rhigos'
Maureen left school at 15 (1962) and started at Polikoff’s. Story about her mother on her first day – she would be out of the house if she lost the job. Noise - gigantic irons and presses. It was magical. Men’s section seemed drab. Precise cutting of c. 2 feet of cloth at the same time. Sexism – women doing the monotonous work. She became a floater- higher wages but couldn’t earn bonuses. Cost of scissors taken out of wages. Handing over whole wage, just board and lodging. Finished in Polikoff’s on hand sewing. Overtime. Men earned more – always. Lot of sexual bantering – men pinched bottoms but women paid them back. ‘Bull week’ – Xmas and before annual holiday –earning extra bonuses. Could make a dress for 30p. Needle through finger many times – rite of passage. Kept pad near machine to mop up. Did sew army clothes too. Engraved name on factory scissors. Listen to radio three times a week. Had to leave to go to London with mother – c.1963. Returned soon to Sobell’s – worked here for 1 year. Aberdare people were strangers to them. Workers in Polikoff organised lots of social events. Women’s football team played EMI. Factory taught her independence and gave her stamina.
Part of this interview is available as an audio file
VSW023 Caroline Bowen, Slimma-Dewhirst, Goodwick
Caroline left school at 15 (1983) and worked in several places – gardening, hotel management and on the ferry before replying to a Slimma advertisement (c.1993) . She felt the women were bitchy and the factory environment cliquey. She worked on jeans but had difficulty keeping up with her quota. She was reprimanded. She provided her own expensive scissors c. £12 every 4 weeks. Her hands became sore- everyone strapped their hands. Moved to make boxer shorts. She fell in the factory and lost her job. She returned to work in the canteen. Headaches and chest complaints on the factory floor. She hated the work. She was at the bottom re status there. Baby showers and ribbons to mark time. Box of chocolates at Xmas time. Too hot or too cold. Radio 2 and sing alongs. Three week annual leave. Hampers brought in for Xmas celebrations. She suffered miscarriages – the effect of strain and stress in the factory? It was ‘hell’ there.
Yvonne left school at 14 (1963). She went to Morris Motors in 1967, welding silencers (ha’penny for each one). Met her husband there. Reported bullies to the office. Refused to be union rep or forewoman because not confident of writing skills. But other skills – suggesting ways of improving plugs and machine doors. Managers etc took advantage because she couldn’t put her ideas on paper. Unfair practice – women losing jobs because on maternity leave. She had her son in 1971 but went back part-time (for 5 years) – then full-time then redundant, then on a temporary contract. Attitude to factory girls – she learned to swear. Women better workers than men. Men more militant. Heavy work on the ‘seats’ – arthritis today. Damage to ears, tinnitus. Gas visor and spats etc for welding. Gas explosions – burning hair. Caught arm in a conveyor belt. Paying union fees in toilets, before the union was established - it was a closed shop. Altogether she worked there 40 years. Initiation ceremony for new boys – ‘tickling’ them. If anyone got married - covered in mess. Strikes. The workers had the power. Got 25% off a new car – but couldn’t afford it! Practical jokes. She was very militant. Decorating machines at Xmas and lots of booze. She was in the shooting team. Darts nights and Miss Morris Motors competition. Finished there in 2006.
Gloria left school at 15 and stayed home to keep house after her mother died. Then she married in 1954 (21 years old) and had 5 children. Then she started shift work at the factory in 1972. She started on the assembly but went on to the process – which was more noisy because of the machines. They made different types of batteries. The women weren’t allowed to work on the night shift. There was dust from the cadmium in the process department. She injured her finger. There was a lot of leg-pulling there. She left in 1979 because the factory was closing. She remembers several floats in the carnival. Her son worked there and her daughters during the holidays.
VSE048 Mary Brice, Guest, Keen and Nettlefold (GKN);Silouette Underwear, Cardiff
After leaving school at 14 Mary had several jobs (café, David Morgan’s, Welsh Mills etc) before getting married and staying home with the children for ten years. Then she did agency work before joining the wages department at Silhouette’s. The factory girls were very sociable and included her. The factory made lingerie and swim wear. There was a nurse there who dealt with personal problems and minor injuries. The wages were basic + piece work. The factory was run from Shrewsbury. She remembers the huge support the factory girls gave to an unmarried mother. There were special buses from Barry. She organised chocolates for the workers at Christmas. She moved to work for the Electricity Board after four years.
Beginning at Courtaulds in 1960, Sandra worked first on the perning, doing 'dolls hair' before being moved on to the 'cakes'. They were on piece work but she was never fast enough. The factory had a glass roof which was painted green to keep the sun out but they were still 'cooking', said Sandra, but it could also be very cold in winter. She lived four miles away and went to work on the bus. She also went on day release. She left after six years, when she about 21, because she was fed up. “I gave my notice in; it was time to leave, time to move on. I was thinking, no, I’m not going in today and I drove right past and went to Rhyl.” A little later she got a job with De Havilands driving a crane on the Hawker Sidley 125 production line (small planes): " My dad always talked about slingers, I knew what a slinger was and things like this. I knew the language, so that was it, I was a crane driver." She left this job after a year to have a baby, and returned to work in John Summers (Shotton Steel works), and doing various driving and sales jobs, from 1971 until she retired in 1998.