Archive for September 9th, 2009

Factory Life 1952

September 9, 2009

Factory Life 1952/3

One of the jobs I took on after losing the design post at the dark ‘Dickensian’ factory, with its low beamed ceiling and shortage of windows, was as a cutter at a single-storied modern factory stuck out in the middle of nowhere. I was supposed to be there as an assistant designer but agreed to helping on the cutting benches while they had a shortage of cutters. I did not want the job but neither did I want to be out of work drawing ‘dole’ money. Most of the cutting was for the sample ranges and specials. But before long I was using the rotary cutting machine for bulk production. (One of the girls would show off when we had visitors in the factory. She would leave the cutter’s safety bar high up and keep her fingers close to the blade. Dangerous, because sometimes the fabric would catch on the blade and pull it. Me? I kept the bar down as far as possible!)

Once again I was in a difficult position: offically staff, but really no different to the workgirls. I was shown where the staff ate their lunch — in a corner of the workers’ canteen, screened of from the lesser mortals. I felt like a fish out of water. I found a spare seat at a table with managers as my eating companions. One hardly spoke the other talked management issues. One day he mentioned that one of his workers had caught his thumb in the machinery. The machinery had to be taken apart to release the thumb. The man was taken to hospital. That did not help my food go down. I was asked if we had a garden. (I was living at home then.) I said yes and that I had got it into shape over the years. Then I was told that the (quiet) companion sitting at our table had one and a half acres. The man smiled but said little. Was he shy of girls? Maybe but I did not stay in the staff dining area for long to find out. Being a shy person I felt my lowly position keenly. After all, I might be paid monthly but to them I could be no more than a cutter on the benches. What’s more, after eating their lunch they went their separate ways and I was left to drift at will. Hardly surprising that I joined the girls I worked with — in the workers area of the canteen. There we chatted and eventually I took embroidery to get on with.
Fifty seven years later I still have the cloth I busily stitched. The cloth was paid for with a pound note given to me as a reward for finding a gold watch and seeking its owner in the local pub near the factory. It was a Saturday, snow was on the ground, and I had been working overtime. I happened to see the watch on snow near the factory.
Snow was not the only weather to contend with. Although a bus could skid, fog could be worse. Sometimes I thought I would have to have to walk home. But I don’t recall the weather being an excuse for not attempting to get to work.

Cutting samples was easy enough, whether according to pattern or grading up a size or two. Far more difficult was dealing with the fabric, especially a check pattern. All the squares and lines had to be matched. Cutting one at a time was not too difficult if the fabric was perfectly finished. Trouble came when I was expected to cut several garments at once. Laying the knitted fabric for checks to match in both directions in unison with each layer was impossible. So I had to carefully cut one at a time, making sure any adjustment for extra sizes was done in a manner that would keep the checks and lines matching. Not easy with pockets and design details involved. I informed our overseer that the checks were not even-spaced due to fabric stretch, but nothing could be done. The production manager was furious because when he read my work card he saw how little work I had done. He bellowed at our overseer — a gentle soul — rather than at me. Did he think I would walk out? Too right, I would. We had all done our best. It should have been forseen that such fabric is not suitable for mass production.
Some of the knitted fabric arrived with a bad crease down the middle, which in places came up like the shape of a certain female sex organ. Not knowing how to cope with it we called the overseer to look at it. He stood looking at it and then pressing a finger on the ‘organ’ to see if it would flatten. It just bobbed up again. He kept doing it. The girls could hardly contain their amusement. He looked up at grinning face and then at the shapely blobs in the fabric, turned scarlet and walked quickly back to the office. We burst out laughing. The fabric was returned.

I was given a chance to do a few designs but doubt they would have got anywhere. The only garments they sold at that time were plush-fabric sweaters. It was really an extention of their underwear business. The designer had a rail of dresses but I do not recall cutting anything other than samples. But then, I was not there for long. The sample dresses were sold to the workgirls and I got a couple that did me nicely for my honeymoon.
The designer was able to get me fabric for my wedding dress, and bridesmaids dresses, at greatly reduced prices. I had a pale yellow taffeta and white lace overlay, with yellow underskirts. Brighter yellow for the bridesmaids. My dress cost me £2.50 and our reception was done by my mother with help from friends. Yes, it was an inexpensive wedding, but the churchwarden was heard to declare that it was the best wedding they had that busy Saturday! We had a weekend at Buxton and then back to work. It was impossible to get a flat or house. The council waiting list was incredibly long — being childless kept us near the bottom. But we had no intention of having a baby to get a place of our own. We lived at my home in a bedsit for three years. Then we bought a house for £1900 and we had to get an insurance to cover the loan. Only one income was allowed for calculating how big a loan could be had. And that was restricted to two and a half times the annual salary. Good thing really as it kept the price of houses at an affordable level.
More to come… other factories…