Monday, 2 February 2015

And Now To Work - Part 4 of Freda's Story

The fourth part of Freda's story tells of her working life.  I'm concious that the previous post was rather long and so I've split this one into two parts and I will publish the second tomorrow.

The first three parts can be found here:

The Early Days

My Parents

School Days

And now to work!

Now I had no thought about what I was going to do. As I have said, my Father worked

for McFisheries and one of his chores was on a Sunday morning he would have to go to

the shop and in the big icebox were dressed crabs that he had prepared the day before

that had to be taken to the Castle Hotel. Whilst he was sorting things out, I would sit

in the pay desk and pretend I was taking the money. I quite fancied myself doing that.

Crabs had to be delivered and I would go with Father to the big kitchens and see the

chef and his staff working and always came away with sixpence or a shilling kindly given

to me by the chef. I can tell you, I felt very rich indeed as that was quite a bit of money.

Mother always made me put some in my money box. Fleur de Lys was the next stop, a pub

in North Street. Crabs or lobster were delivered. But it was only 2d I got there. Thinking

about a job, I really thought Dad would get me a chance at the pay desk at McFisheries.

But he had other ideas. He had a word with Mr Sam Edwards, who was the manager at

the silk mills, Frank Calway & Son. In 1932 jobs were very scarce all over the country

but Mr Edwards belonged to the Oddfellows, where Father was a member too. Father

approached Mr Edwards about a job for me and being an Oddfellow brother, said to take

me to see him.

And so my working life began. I was not too keen and thought at that time I will do

this until something better turns up. It didn’t and I worked there for 50 years! All who

started with the firm had to be taught “winding” so as to know how to handle the very

fine silk. I was detached to Miss Lilly Hubbard, who was an excellent teacher in Room 6, a

top room that looked out over the front yard. I was given a “waste pocket” to wear

around me to put any threads in as every bit was saved and recycled. A keen watch was

kept to make sure you didn’t make too much. A pair of scissors had to be bought and 3d

was taken out of your wages until paid for. A cord threaded through the scissors hung

round your neck, thus keeping your hands free to handle the skeins of silk. The skeins

were bundled together with little ties and had to be put on a kind of wheel that was

called a “swyt”, a special wooden structure with spokes that were held by rice cords. The

skein had to be beaten out so that the pattern of the skein was even and correct and at

that point put on to the ‘swyt’. The tie that had the end of the skein was released and

lapped on to the bobbin and away the skein would go. The longer the skein kept going, the

better, so there were less knots. Finding a broken end was tedious but once the knack

was accomplished, you were competent. In a few weeks, I had done quite well. It was then

Mr Edwards decided that it was time for me to learn the job that he had decided for me

and I was moved to the big mill room. This was much lighter, as it had a glass roof and

the machines that twisted threads together were much bigger. It was here I was taught

the “spooling”, first on an automatic machine that was very temperamental and the

mechanics were called to it regularly. It was then I learnt “hand spooling”, a special job

that was not very easy to learn, but I made it in the end, and it was a job I did for most

of my time. Over the years, I must say, they were happy days. There were five or six of

us sat at machines around the bench and we became good friends. We would sing as we

worked, but were only allowed to sing hymns. Nevertheless, a good comradeship emerged

and soon we were meeting up outside of our working hours.

A few of us had been in the guides and it may sound naive to young people today, for

working girls at fourteen to still be interested in guides and rangers. But that’s the way it

was in those days. During the summer months, three or four of us would be out and about

at 7am in the morning. We would meet up and on our bicycles we would have a ride round

the countryside and be back in time to get to work at 8 o clock. Sunday morning at 7am a

lot of the factory staff met at the local swimming baths and excitement and laughter was

the priority.

Later in the morning, it was off to church and afternoon Sunday school. It was

simple pleasures. My Father died at the age of 49. I can still recall one of the

management coming to tell me I must go home. The feeling in the room as I walked out

was quite something. Sympathy oozed from all who stood by their workplaces. I just

remember that in times like that, the feeling and care came from your workmates. It was

on occasions such as this, the family feeling was much in evidence. Enough of sad


In 1935, King George VI was crowned and to celebrate the occasion, the

management decided to organise a trip to London to see the coronation decorations. A

great excitement filled the factory and a trip was arranged for a Saturday a couple of

weeks after the coronation. The trip was going to be free! Husbands could take their

wives but unfortunately wives could not take husbands. Most of the girls being single,

they were not bothered and in the end, the married ones just joined in with us.

We went by train and a special one was laid on. Standing on the platform and seeing

the train pull in with the name of the factory on the front was quite something and a

large cheer went up and so began the start of a very exciting day. All aboard up the

Westbury line and we arrived at Reading where there were coaches to take us to

Maidenhead. Boats were waiting there to take us up the River Thames to Windsor. I can

tell you, it was quite something. Many at that time had never been further than Weston

Super Mare!

We had lunch on the boat. We were blessed with a beautiful day and most of us

gazed in wonder at the lovely houses built on the shore. Windsor was reached and we

were left to our own devices. Luckily I had been fortunate to have visited Windsor on

several occasions. During holidays spent with my Aunt and Uncle, Windsor was always a

must. It was good to be able to take our group to the castle, walk the ramparts and onto

St Georges Chapel. In those days there was not so much security as now. Tea was

provided by the British Legion and it was then back on the train to Slough and then on to

Paddington where coaches were there to take us on a tour of the city decorations.

On each coach was a member of the staff from the London head office, (our head office

was in Little Britain). What a day! It was a tired group of workers that boarded the train

at midnight. Then something did not go well. The train was ready to leave and it was found

that four men were missing.

Mr Besley and my brother-in-law, who was a foreman in the firm, volunteered to

look for them. They did not have far to go as they were still having a last fling in the

“Load of Hay”, a public house, just at the top of the slope from Paddington. The guard

would not wait and the whistle was blown and we were off, leaving the six to come home

on the mail train. We had a great day and we didn’t let the incident spoil it. But I can tell

you, it was the topic of conversation on Monday when we were back at work.

Over the years, we have had many outings and all added to a family atmosphere

which must have been good for morale.

Over the years, I really enjoyed my job. They were many and varied. It was always

in my mind, the more jobs I learnt, the more valuable I was to the firm. The comradeship

that we all found was remarkable. The few altercations were drowned by all the good

times we had.

Mr Calway, our boss, thought of the idea of involving us all paying 2 or 3 pence

from our wages each week and this went into a hospital fund. It was readily received and

all workers felt safe as patient treatment cost a lot in those days (no National Health!).

The factory was the only one in Taunton to devise such a scheme and we were the envy of

most other firms.

 We have now become James Pearsell & Co. after many years of supplying Pearsells

in London with embroidery silks. It benefited us all, especially when they introduced a

guaranteed week, which meant if we were short of work and sent home, our minimum

wage was guaranteed. This was a great boost for all employees.

1939 – the second world war was declared on September 3rd. Within a week or two,

most of the male workers were called up. Most of them were in the Territorial Army. Mr

Reg Besley was an officer in the Terriers and had recruited a lot of the men in the firm

to join, so they were first away.

The factory did not seem the same without them and there were only a few older

men left, but it meant that girls had to fill the gaps and take over working the ring

spinner mills. And so we kept going. Some of us were considered “Special workers” and

when the time came for girls to be called up, the factory was allowed to keep some. Lucky

for me, I was one of them.

Surgical sutures had always been made in the firm and with the war on, sutures

would be wanted. Also another commodity was silk floss which was used for covering

electrical wiring and as you may realise, was another useful war item. Luckily, Taunton was

not bombed and we only heard the enemy flying overhead towards Bristol or Cardiff.

However, we had to be ready and the firm formed teams of employees for fire-watching

duties and each team was on duty at least once a week. The evenings turned out to be



stephen Hayes said...

Now I can say I know a "hand spooling" specialist, if the subject ever comes up at a party. Heck, you never know.

Sarah said...

You never do Stephen. The factory is still there, in fact I can see it from my house and they still make surgical sutures. Freda arranged for me to be shown around once to help me with a project I was doing for a business studies course.