Augusta Davies. Voices from the Factory Floor

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Augusta was born on 8th August, 1945 in Aberystwyth. Her father worked on a farm in the Aberystwyth area before the family moved to Felinfach and he went to work for the Milk Marketing Board. Her mother was a home help. She had two brothers and three sisters. (Augusta was the youngest but one.)

She went to school in Felinfach and then on to Aberaeron School. She left school when she was sixteen and went to work in Lampeter cleaning houses. She felt she had to go out to work. Her mother had just died and her sister got the job in Lampeter for her. She did it for two years before she got married and had children. The next job she got was the one in Cardwells garment making factory, Lampeter in 1965. She’d gone into the factory and asked for a job. Her daughter was two years old at the time so she went to work there for about three yeas before she had her son. She then finished working there and returned after it had become Slimma.

When she went for the job in Cardwells her mother-in-law looked after her daughter. This influenced her decision to go and get a job. There were always jobs going in Cardwells. Augusta doesn’t remember having an interview or a test.

When she returned to the factory, after it had become Slimma she knew the supervisor.

When she started at Cardwells there were about forty five people working there.

00.04.23: She started off as a machinist making aprons and worked from eight o’clock until five o’clock. She knew some of the people working there already.

She walked to work as she lived in Lampeter by then. She had to clock in and out of work. She remembers a mecanic called Mike travelling down from Machynlleth and he would bring the work down with him every day, which would have already been cut.

Augusta enjoyed the sewing. She hadn’t done much before going there but had enjoyed sewing and crafts when she was at school. There was a mixture of single and married women working there. Everybody seemed to get on quite well. Augusta can’t remember how much she got paid but it was good money, and she thinks she got a pay rise every year. When the factory was Cardwells, she got paid in cash every week on the Friday. There were targets and were paid on a piece work basis.

When Augusta left Cardwells to have her son she missed the other girls. She finished when she was seven months pregnant, although other girls carried on for longer before leaving to have their baby. August can’t remember a union being there then.

Augusta never had a sewing accident in work although many others did as there were no guards on the machines then. There were no Health and Safety rules there as such.

Augusta’s son was seven or eight years old (in 1975 or 1976) when she returned to the factory although things had changed considerably. Everybody had their targets to do, and somebody came round every two hours to check how much you’d done. There were many more people working there by then which meant you couldn’t mix and get to know everybody, only the little group that worked with you.

00.13.17: Under Slimma there were Health and Safety regulations and a union. The union was very good although Augusta never had cause to go to them with a problem. Union membership was taken out of the workers’ pay.

00.14.01: By the time Augusta returned to the factory, it was much bigger because it had been extended. There were over two hundred working there by then including some men on the loading, pressing and as machinists. Some lads started straight from school. The women had a lot of fun with them.

The radio would be playing as they worked and the girls would sing along.

‘We had a lot of fun but by the end, it had gone in the last five years, things had changed a lot. It was harder.’

The targets had become difficult.

‘You couldn’t have a conversation with anybody because there was so much noise there, between the machines and the radio. You could say a few words to the person in front of you, but you didn’t have time to talk anyway ...’

00.16.53: They were allowed to chat as long as they hit their targets. In Slimma, she had a ten minute break in the morning, half an hour in the afternoon (for lunch) and ten minutes in the afternoon. Just before she finished they were starting work at half past seven and finishing at five but was off on a Friday. They had previously been starting at eight o’clock and having a half day on a Friday but when they switched to paying through the bank they changed to starting at half past seven, finishing at five and having Friday off.

Augusta went on several works outings but there weren’t as many trips as there had been when the factory was Cardwells. She went to Rhyl when she was in Cardwells, and went to Ireland twice when she was with Slimma, as well as to Bournemouth to see Tom Jones. When she was with Cardwells, everybody went on the trips but when she was with Slimma the factory had grown so large it was just certain groups that went.

She would have to clock in and out at Slimma, but by the end she would have to fill in timesheets instead.There was a canteen at Slimma where they provided cooked dinners although Augusta usually didn’t have them because she had to cook a dinner after going home in the evening. Augusta got more holidays with Slimma than with Cardwells. In Slimma, many of the workers went on holiday together to places like Turkey and Spain although Augusta went with the family.

There would be a Christmas party for the Slimma workers held somewhere like Ty Glyn. There would also be a party on the day they broke up before Christmas in the factory.

Augusta would buy seconds from the factory shop at an employees’ discounted rate and bought several pairs of trousers. They usually didn’t have much wrong with them.

00.24.54: Augusta worked as a float which meant that she would fill in as a machinist for anyone who hadn’t turned up for work. If everybody was present she would work wherever an extra help was required. She enjoyed being a float.

Augusta felt proud that she was working there especially when the people from Marks and Spencer would come to check on them and would say that everything was fine.

There weren’t many women with children working when the factory was Cardwells. When the factory was Slimma it was hard on women with young children because they started so early and some of them travelled to work from over ten miles away. There was once a creche there. The women would take their children into work and a bus would take the children from the Lampeter factory to the creche at the Cardigan factory. They would return by five o’clock.

There were works’ buses running to Slimma but many workers came by car too. One bus went round Tregaron way and another round Llanybydder. Most of the workers came from outside town but this changed with more workers from Lampeter town itself coming to work there in its later days. Some workers came to the factory straight from school and would decide after two or three years to go to college or do something different.

The bosses only lasted about two years and then would move on to somewhere else or be promoted.

Augusta spent time working for Slimma in Llandovery and on other sites as the need would arise. The factory in Llandovery made trousers. There were only about thirty working there. A work’s car would take a car load of them down. She also worked for Slimma in Swansea, which was much larger than the Llandovery one. If she went to a different site to work she was usually given the same type of work as she did in Lampeter.

Augusta enjoyed the sewing and the company of the women even though one or two of them could be awkward once in a while. She would never quarrel with anybody.

She didn’t socialise much with the girls outside work unless there was a work’s party on. These usually took place in Lampeter and were arranged by the social club. There was a group of girls who organized everything rather than a social secretary.

Augusta enjoyed all aspects of the work. She was in Cardwells for about two years and in Slimma for about twenty five years. She never had any accidents there although she remembers somebody else getting a needle through her finger. This was prevented from happening when Health and Safety measures were introduced and guards were put on the machine.

She would go to the canteen for her break but by the time you’d had a cuppa and a little chat it was time to go back. They introduced a Smoking and a Non-Smoking Area in the canteen.

They had cleaners in Slimma who came in at eight o’clock in the morning and finished the same time as the machinists, and would be cleaning and brushing the floor all day. It was noisy there because of the machines but if the radio was on it blocked the sound of the machines. People who came in to the factory would ask how on earth they could work in such noise.

00.38: ‘… you were in it all day, you didn’t hear it.’

Augusta suffers from arthritis but doesn’t know if it’s been caused or made worse by her work at the factory but thinks her hearing might have been affected a bit.

Augusta’s husband worked for the Council and would help around the house when he could.

There was a lot of gossiping and leg pulling at the factory. It was mostly the women pulling the legs of the men. Some of the lads who started were really shy at the beginning but that soon changed.

Everything they had in work, eg tea or coffee, they had to pay for and didn’t get anything free from the company.

Augusta doesn’t know what type of job she would have gone for if she hadn’t gone to Cardwells and Slimma. (The factory had become Dewhirst by then.)

They were given ninety days notice that the factory was going to close. She felt saddened that the factory was going to shut but her health was breaking down at that time. She’d already cut her hours down to nine until three due to the arthritis. The manageress had agreed to these hours for her although the bosses weren’t happy because they didn’t want part timers there. These hours were only worked by two other people in the factory. The full hours were a problem for her because the arthritis was bad in the mornings when she would be getting dressed and if she’d worked until five she would feel stiff after coming home in the evenings.

With the closure of the factory Augusta felt sad for the youngsters in the area who would be finishing school and not have jobs.