Meriel Leyden. Voices from the Factory Floor

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Meriel was born on 13th July, 1934 in Clydach. She attended Hewl Twyn-y-bedw School in Clydach where the Welsh school, Ysgol Gellionnen, now stands, and then went on to the Secondary Modern school. She left when she was fifteen. She had mixed feelings about leaving. She felt she wasn’t good enough in subjects like Mathematics to stay on. Her mother was from Clydach and her father from Craig Cefn Parc. Her father worked in the colliery and a few months after leaving, was called up to go and fight in the War. He was in the army for seven years. He was scared of being called up again so when he returned he went back to work in the colliery. Meriel’s mother was a housewife. They were three children initially – Meriel and her two brothers – but after her father returned from War she had a sister.

One of her brothers worked in Clydach hospital for a while, then went to work in the Mond Works. Her second brother went to work in the same place. Her sister, the youngest, stayed on in school and got a job in the council office in Pontardawe.


Meriel went to work in the Home and Colonial shop. (There were a number of these stores in the area in those days.) She had already met her future husband. He was off on a Saturday, while she would be working so she went up to the Smith’s Industries factory in Ystadgynlais to look for a job. (The factory was known locally as Tick Tock).

Her husband is Irish and she had met him in the park in Clydach after he had come to live in Glais. He also worked in the Mond. Many people from the area worked here. From there he moved to BP in Baglan Bay (which is now shut.) There were only men working in the Mond although there were a few women working in the canteen.

Meriel was twenty one years old when she started working in Tick Tock. She’d sent in an application form. She then had to have an eye test. (Good eyesight was required because many of the watch parts were small.) No qualifications were required. The interview was quite strict and the main focus of it was whether she could see well enough. She was also given a chest xray and had to see a doctor for a check up.


She was given on-the-job training. She had to work in different parts of the factory for this and once she was shown what to do would be left to carry on. She was put on the job of placing the little springs in the watches which meant she had to be very careful. The work would be inspected and if it hadn’t been done properly would be returned to her. She had learnt many different jobs before specialising.

There were many girls working there from Ystalyfera, Cwmllynfell, Cwm Twrch and Ystradgynlais and many of them spoke Welsh which made Meriel feel more at home. One woman came to work with them after being in Mettoy and commented on how much better it was at Tick Tock because of the community spirit there.

There were two parts to the factory. One part made clocks (Enfield) but the part that she was in only made watches. One line made pocket watches, and another line would be making the smallest watches. This was what they called the Assembly.


It was a clean factory because they had to safeguard against dust. They had to wear overalls and there weren’t any windows that could open.

Meriel remembers her first day, which she didn’t enjoy very much. She came home and said that she didn’t want to return. When she started there the hours were half past seven until five o’clock. (Later on, under the influence of the union, the finishing time was changed to half past four and four o’clock on a Friday.) Meriel felt the hours were long. She was reassured by the other women that they all felt like that when they started there. The foreman would come round and she didn’t feel comfortable with this at all.

There were about fifty working in the Assembly. There was also the machine shop. The people in charge of them were men and worked as foremen or charge hands. It was also men who worked in the machine shop, maintaining the machines.

As she became more familiar with the girls she started having fun. There were no radios so a group of them would sing. They would sing songs like Calon Lan, and at Christmas time would sing carols. If somebody new started the singing would help them settle down.


They were quite strict in the factory. The workers weren’t supposed to talk and the foremen and charge hands would be back and forth. The foremen were the ones who made sure that the work was getting done.

It was the type of work that required Meriel’s head to be bent over her work all day. She would wear her eyeglass. They were given half an hour for lunch from half past twelve until one o’clock when they would go to the canteen. There was a break at eleven but they would remain at their benches for it. In the summer they would sit outside the factory at lunchtimes.

Tea would be brought round for their break but there were many workers so some brought their own flasks in. Eating was forbidden because the crumbs might get into the watches although some workers sneaked in things to eat.

Meriel would catch a service bus from Clydach, and there were also (work’s) buses from Cwmllynfell, Ammanford and Seven Sisters.

“When you went out at night it was comical, once the bell went, well … nobody walked – they all raced out to catch the bus but had to clock out first. We were like animals coming out of the zoo!”

As time went on some of the workers bought cars. Meriel and two others started getting a lift from a woman who lived in Craig Cefn Parc, and they would give her money for petrol. This was much more convenient than getting the service bus. The workers travelling on the work’s buses from places like Cwmllynfell had to pay for the bus.

Meriel had to clock in and clock out. If someone clocked in after seven thirty they would lose quarter of an hour, and if they clocked in after a quarter to eight they would lose half an hour. Meriel thinks her wages might have been eight pounds and something. She started work there in March 1955 and finished in 1980.


“I wouldn’t have finished then if they hadn’t closed down. Oh, the sadness, because many people depended on it, in this area, depended on the place”

Meriel had been married three weeks when she started there. She and her husband were living with her mother at the time but had bought a little house of their own, and Meriel would spend money on things for the house.

Meriel’s work was classed as semi-skilled. The work would be brought to her on trays. She would insert the hair springs and had to insert about nine hundred a day to reach her target.

She could earn a bonus for extra work. She thinks her eyesight may have been affected by her work at Tick Tock because she was constantly bent over looking at it closely through her eyeglass.

“Well, in the beginning you wore white overalls, with long sleeves, buttoning down the back and they were up to here. But as time went on things got better and the girls asked if they could buy their own and they bought colourful ones … Because when I started there wasn’t a window that would open there, but by the time I finished there they had relaxed a bit – because we had a very hot summer; well with no windows open there was a strike. They couldn’t open a window…”

The overalls were made from white cotton which looked like the ones worn in an operating theatre. The factory provided them but nobody liked them. The women had to wash them themselves and remove them before they left the factory. Meriel would be sat down to work all day long.

After Meriel had inserted the hair spring the women behind her would place it into a small machine which pressed it. It hooked into a little anchor and then this was put onto a wheel …


The manager, Mr Boult, lived in Clydach and built a house there. The owners of the factory were Smith’s Industries. They also produced the popular Smiths clock. There were houses that had been built behind the factory and the foremen lived here. Part of the operation was in Cheltenham.

The foreman told them what to do from day to day but Meriel knew what she had to do. All the foremen were men. The charge hands would help if there was a problem with something, and they would come and sit with you. These were also all men.


Many of the married women would finish work when they had children. There was no maternity leave in those days. Some of them returned later on because they felt that they had to for financial reasons.

The workers had a pay rise every year. The factory shut down for two weeks every year – the last week in July and the first week in August. Meriel went to Rimini on holiday once. Everybody was exicted the week before they broke up. The foremen would say, ‘Oh! Girls, we’ll be glad to see you all going out of the way’. There was a lot of leg pulling between the men and the women.

If one of the workers wanted to buy a watch from the factory they had to go up to a place near the office where they sold jewellery. They got a staff discount on purchases.

When they started a shift system, many mothers with young children returned to work at the factory. They called it the swing shift. The main shift finished at half past four and the swing shift workers started. It suited the working mothers because their husbands would be home from work by then. Meriel never worked this shift. (She didn’t have children.)


There was a strong union at the factory. It was the AEU – Amalgamated Engineering Union – run by a man called – David Bowen from Ystalyfera. He told them once, ‘You’re like a lot of sheep. One says ‘out’ you all want to go out. You don’t think’. There were several strikes there. The money went to the Labour Party but nobody questioned this. They collected every fortnight. They went on strike once because it was too hot and there was no fresh air coming into the factory. It lasted about a week or two. On one occasion she came home from work and told her husband she was on strike. He asked her why but she replied that she wasn’t sure of the reason. (She trusted the union.)


Meriel thinks the workers were treated fairly, especially as the years went by. In the beginning they were very strict. There was one woman called Iris Badisson (?) who was in the union. Meriel would ask her for advice on work matters. Meriel thinks the union was needed. When they worked forty four hours a week the union had fought to reduce their hours and they went down to forty two, and then to forty.

Meriel’s wages were in cash. Two of them brought them round on a tray. They bore the workers clock numbers and names. Meriel remembers her number was 477. The bonus payment would be in her pay packet together with a paper detailing what was being paid (or being docked, for example, for late arrival.)

The work in the Assembly wasn’t dangerous but several workers had been injured in the machine shop. There was a nurse on site. Several of the women passed out due to the heat and then they would go down and see her. No sick pay was paid.


The factory was active in the community. They invited the blood transfusion service into the factory and all the women would donate blood but the men refused because they were too frightened. The factory also collected for a children’s home in West Cross called Ynys y Plant at Christmas time, and for the Craig y Nos hospital which looked after patients with TB.

There were many rules and regulations in the Assembly although things were stricter down in the machine shop where the large machines were. It was quiet in the part of the factory where Meriel worked. It was the women who made the noise. Sometimes the workers would be called to the office to discuss their attendance. This didn’t happen to Meriel, but if somebody had been off work for a week the personnel officer would want to have a chat, even if the person concerned had a doctor’s paper.

The girls would go the toilet for a cigarette or a five minute chat. Meriel didn’t smoke. Workers weren’t allowed to smoke as they worked.

“I’ll tell you a story. Christmas was coming, and you weren’t supposed to take drinks in at all, and I didn’t drink anyway, but somebody said, ‘Let’s have a little sherry’. You got searched as you went in so what the girls did was … pack bottles or whatever we had in Christmas paper and pretend that we were taking a present in for the other girls and then we’d go out to the toilet … but they cottoned on in the end, and were watching … They [the girls] would be going out to have a drink and they [the bosses] would say ‘What’s going on here today? You’re back and fore out to that toilet – jiw, jiw’, and one of them would say, ‘Is there something wrong with your water or something?’

“There were girls – I was young at the time but I was married – a lot younger than me, and they’d get hold of the men and take them to the toilets, and wash their hair and things like that you know – it was just Christmas time fun, you know. Oh, they [the men] were afraid at Christmas time!”


Meriel worked five days a week. Sometimes they would be open on a Saturday morning from half past seven until noon if there was a rush on to complete an order. On other occasions they would be asked to work on until six in the evening.

They would have paid holidays on Good Friday and Easter Monday, but then the holiday changed from the Friday and the Monday to the Monday and the Tuesday. Later on they would also have Whitsun, the August Bank Holiday and Christmas of course.

As time went on they got extra holidays. If they needed time off for personal reasons such as attending a funeral, they could take a half day’s leave.


‘... the factory never gave us anything. We never had anything extra from them.’

There would be a Christmas lunch in the canteen but the workers had to pay for it. The women would arrange to go out somewhere to have food and the husbands would come along too.

Meriel goes on to say that there was a children’s Christmas party held in the factory canteen when she first started there. Her sister was young at the time, and they would arrange a trip to the pantomime in Swansea for them.

There was a social club – the Tick Tock Club – situated up the road from the factory. They had a bowls team, a cricket team, and a Miss Tick Tock contest. They held shows there too. Miss Tick Tock contestants wore nice dresses. Meriel never entered this contest as she was married and thought there was too much competition. The workers arranged their own trips. They went to London one year on the train. Meriel was very excited. There were lots of activities for men in the club such as the bowls and the soccer team but not for the women.

Meriel remembers that the Prime Minister, possibly Hugh Gaitskell (?) visited the factory.


Several important visitors came to the factory. The place was famous because they also had a big factory in Cheltenham. A few of the women went up to Cheltenham to visit the factory when they were bringing out a new watch.

Meriel made the same type of watch during the time that she was there.

On her last day at the factory, they had a huge party in the canteen, and when she got home her husband asked her how it had gone and she burst into tears. He said, ‘You wouldn’t make more fuss if I’d passed away!’ He knew many of the men and the bosses who worked there because they socialised together.

Meriel received a watch for her twenty five years of service at the factory. She was worried that the factory would shut before she got her watch. Several of her colleagues were presented at the same time in a hotel in Ynys Meuddwy. There was a meal first of all and then the Managing Director called them up one by one to receive their watch.

“They would do this every year, they would have to get a group together to do it wouldn’t they? I had heard that they were doing it that year, but I’d also heard that the factory was closing down, and I told my husband… ‘I want that [watch] …’ He said, ‘Oh! I’m getting fed up of hearing about that gold watch!’


Meriel’s name is on the back of the watch. She was only forty four when the factory shut and would have liked to stay longer. After finishing at Tick Tock she spent time at home but got fed up because she missed the company. Her cousin worked in an old people’s home in Morriston and suggested she try for a job there, but Meriel wasn’t keen on this idea. A vacancy arose as a community care assistant with Social Services. She tried for this job and got it. She enjoyed it but wasn’t allocated enough time to look after the people properly. She would get them out of bed, dress them, and go back in the evening to undress them and put them to bed. She wasn’t a home help, as home helps didn’t look after the person. Initially, her brief was to go and chat with the people in the afternoon but this changed. Meriel feels they weren’t getting the care they needed.

Meriel reflects on her time at the factory and what she enjoyed the most:

“The company – the camaraderie – and the money, of course. Mind you, I’d come in some days and think, gosh this is going on and on. We’d all get fed up from time to time. But it was the company … the Welsh. .. I think if I’d been in a factory … down in Swansea or somewhere, I don’t think it would have been the same.’

When girls left, others came to take their place, and fitted in although the odd one didn’t fit in.

When Meriel was laid off, workers were finishing in batches. The factory became Lucas (no connection to Smiths). She thinks the Smiths’ factory in Cheltenham closed down as well. There weren’t any other factories in the area where she could look for work.

As part of her initiation a new girl had a joke played on her. She was sent down to stores to ask for a left-handed screwdriver. This happened to several of them. Other jokes were played. Pencil would be put on the eyeglass and when the girl put it against her eye it would leave a black circle around it.

“and nobody would tell her, and she would go round, and nobody would say anything; and they did the same thing with the microscopes.”


As well as dragging men into the toilets to have their hair washed, the girls would write things on a piece of paper and stick them onto their backs as they were walking round. This silliness broke the monotony.


Notes on Meriel’s photographs

The engraving on the back of her watch reads:-

Presented to M Leyden by Smiths’ Industries in appreciation of 25 years’ service. 28:3:80.

Photo 1: The girls on a night out in Alltwen– Meriel is approximately twenty five years old

Photo 2: Another night out.

Llun 3 – A night out in Brecon when they allowed the men to come with them. The men would complain about the women going out and not including them. (Meriel is approximately 24-26 years old.)

Llun 4 –A night out

Llun 5: The Managing Director – Mr Boult – presenting Meriel with her watch in 1980 in Glanafon.


One or two of the women in the packing department thought that they were more important than the rest. They were different from the girls who made the watches.

Many of the women who worked in the factory went to chapel. Meriel remembers working on Good Friday and rushing from work to be in time for the Cymanfa. The girls would sing hymns in work. (‘Rwy’n canu fel cana’r aderyn …’)

As the years went by and new girls came in they would sing songs from Top of the Pops, and the hymns and carols would be sung at Christmas time.