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
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
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
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