Megan Owen, Voices from the Factory Floor

James Kaylor (Compacts) Caernarfon (1952-65 & 1977-84?)

Interviewee: VN022 Megan Owen

Date: 14: 04: 2014

Interviewer: Kate Sullivan on behalf of Women's Archive Wales

Megan worked for twenty years in the compact factory, starting at age 15. She hadn't left school properly when she started, but a friend who'd passed a scholarship to go to grammar school didn't want to go and this friend told Megan they were looking for people in the compact factory. So the two went down, got a job, and Megan had a row off her mother afterwards. She said on the first day they went in like schoolgirls, with little white socks and pony tails, giggling and not knowing what to do. The younger girls were put together in a room and taught how to put the little round piece that held the powder into the compacts and then the satin around it. Later she was moved onto to do other jobs, like printing, putting the designs onto the compacts with paint. Megan left for 12 years to raise her daughter, and then returned to the factory and stayed until it closed, c 1984.

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Interview. Megan Owen, Voices from the Factory...

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Photo: James Kaylor Compact, 1950s

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Photo: James Kaylor Compact, 1940s

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Photo: James Kaylor Compacts, the one with...

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Photo: James Kaylor Compact, 1950s

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Photo: James Kaylor Compact, 1950s

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Photo: James Kaylor Compact, 1950s

Megan Owen was born on 8th October, 1937. She was raised on the Sgubor Goch estate in Caernarfon where she enjoyed a poor but happy childhood. Her mother had been a factory worker during the war and then a waitress. Her father was a labourer from South Wales. He died in 1966.

She left school at 15, failed to get a job as a hairdresser and then secured employment for the next 20 years at James Kaylor (Compacts). Her mother would have preferred her to have worked in a shop but Megan enjoyed her time at the factory and, although the wages were low she found it a friendly place to work.

As one of four girls who started together, Megan didn’t feel lonely or frightened on her first day – it was somewhat of an adventure. They were given some basic training in how to assemble part of the compact which Megan did for 4 months before being moved on to something else.

8:30 Megan soon wanted to return to her old station as she didn’t like her new task but was then moved on to printing. She used a machine to print designs onto the compacts and had to fill a quota of boxes each day with 144 compacts per box. The more familiar she became with the work, the quicker she was at filling boxes – but tried not to show it. Most of the workers would complete their quota in the mornings and then have time for a chat or whatever they liked. The toilet was something of a dance school where she learnt the quickstep and the waltz. It was also the place for washing hair before a night out. The managers knew this went on but Megan thinks they turned a blind eye as long as workers had filled their quotas.

11.50 The factory made brooches and compacts. Boots sold the compacts and they were sometimes inspected in situ by Mr Chappell (a manager) who would then tell Megan if her printing work was a “thou” (thousandth/inch) out. He is now 91 and still lives in Megan’s village. Mr Ansell was her first boss before the factory was sold to a Londoner who Megan was not so fond of, since people were not used to seeing ‘foreigners’ in town.

The workers were women, but there were men in the tool room – a father and two sons and two apprentices. They made equipment and repaired the machines in the pressing shop while other men worked as porters. Mr Chappell asked Megan to learn every aspect of the work so that she could replace anybody should they fall ill. While she was working on the pressing machines, the girl next to her lost a finger in an accident and was taken to hospital. Megan remembers that she was paid £1,000 compensation.

Megan’s unsure as to why she was chosen to learn all aspects of the work – possibly because she’d worked there for so long. She worked mostly on printing. She printed floral designs in different colours.

19.00 Megan earned one pound three shillings and seven pence. She gave the pound to her mother and kept the rest for herself. On Wednesday night and Saturday night young people would come by bus into Caernarfon to meet up or go courting. Megan would meet other factory girls in a café for a cup of tea or Oxo in the winter and Vimto in Summer. She also went to the cinema twice a week if she was lucky. There were 3 cinemas - the Majestic, the Empire and the Guild Hall, which was known as the 'laugh and scratch' because of its dilapidated state. Looking back over her working days at the factory, Megan realises that she had fun. She greatly enjoyed the printing work - it was very interesting and required skill. Megan goes on to describe the various printing processes.

21.35 Megan recalls how workers used to ‘steal’ the compacts by making them up for themselves on the sly.

Her working day was between 8am and 6pm and she sometimes worked on Saturday mornings – especially in July when the Christmas stock was being produced. Many compacts were transported to England where Boots was the main buyer. Megan clocked in and out and walked ¾ mile home for lunch which her mother would always have ready for her. She and her father were the breadwinners of the family which consisted of her mother, grandmother and an unmarried uncle. She recalls with fondness, her simple home life sat around a big table, listening to the wireless, reading or crocheting. She was and is a regular chapel-goer.

Megan outlines break-times in the factory before and after the canteen was built. She also attributes her asthma to the dusty working conditions and the fact that everyone smoked a lot.

31.00 The factory was quite large but Megan doesn’t recall exactly how many workers were there – between 50-70. She remembers it being a very cold factory with no heating at all. When Megan married, she returned to the factory for 2 years but left work for 12 years to bring up her daughter. Then she secured part time office work in a warehouse. She had to walk past the compact factory to get to work. One morning Mr Chappell came out and asked her to come back to work at Kaylor’s. She was given special dispensation – the only worker on part-time hours, which enabled her to collect her daughter from school each afternoon. Megan thinks they made an exception for her because she was the only worker who could work anywhere in the factory.

On Fridays, the atmosphere was jolly – everyone singing and getting along, anticipating the end of the week and a pay packet. Megan asked Mr Chappell for a wireless and by contributing a sixpence each week they got a big wireless with a set of speakers.

There was a good working relationship between the men and women. The women were young girls, while the men were men in their 50s and 60s. One incident Megan recalls happened when one of the apprentices put a large lead ball (used for balancing the presses) in a paper bag on the floor in the middle of a thoroughfare. Mr Ansell, the boss, hated mess and he kicked the bag as he passed. Everyone was hauled into the office and threatened with the sack if he/she didn’t name the trickster. Nobody let the cat out of the bag.

The bosses wouldn’t allow a workers’ union at the factory until the Labour party came to power. Megan believes that unions gave many things to workers but they also lost out. The issue of pay/wages was the usual bone of contention, or compulsory overtime.

39.00 Megan was quite innocent and suggestible. The other girls took advantage of her gullibility. She tells a story about workers buying Manx cats on a work trip to Blackpool. Megan’s still in touch with many of her former workmates. Apart from the annual trip to Blackpool, there was a Christmas lunch every year. Megan remembers performing in a play one Christmas and sitting at the top table.

Mr Welsh, one of the managers once paid Megan to baby-sit his Welsh poodle while he took his wife out for the evening.

Megan looks back with fondness on her time at the factory. She was reluctant to leave and she missed the company when she did so. When the factory closed, an official dinner was held in a hotel where Morrisons stands today. On Mr Chappell’s 90th birthday, Megan posted a card through his door enclosing another card – the printed menu from the dinner. He was very pleased because he’d left his menu at the dinner all those years previously and his name was printed inside – making a toast to the Queen.

Megan lists the annual holidays and states that she rarely went away apart from one year when she went with her husband on the train to Butlins at Skegness.

Looking back, Megan doesn’t think she’d exchange her time at the factory, but she remembers how dirty and dusty the working environment was. She’s surprised that people weren’t taken seriously ill. People seemed to be more accepting/tolerant years ago.

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