Enid Davies & Bronwen Williams. Voices from the Factory Floor

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Nan was born in Faerdre Fach, near Castell Carreg Cennen on 12th January, 1950. Her parents were farmers. When she was 2 she moved to Nantfforchog in Gwynfe, and went to Gwynfe School when she was about 4. She later went to Llandovery County High School (now called Ysgol Pantycelyn.) She hated school and was glad to be able to leave aged 15. She spent hours getting to and from school. Firstly, she went from Nantfforchog on a minibus to Three Horse Shoes and waited there for a Thomas Brothers Double Decker to Llandovery. Afterwards she had to catch a bus that took her through Myddfai in the morning. It was very often dark when she arrived home in the winter. She would have liked to have been a nurse but she lived in an isolated area with no transport.

Before leaving school she had a Saturday job in a small local shop selling sweets for Dai Bont, near the Three Horse Shoes. Dai was a ‘moonlight grocer’, delivering to farms late in the evenings. She liked shop work and did some butchery! She doesn’t remember being paid, but thinks she may have been paid with sweets instead of money. Nan was about 14 at the time and she walked 2 or 3 miles to reach the shop.

When she left school she worked at the Post Office in Llanwrda looking after 4 young children between Easter and the summer. She liked the work but didn’t feel she was cut-out for it, not being much more than a child herself.

That summer Nan started work at the factory. To begin with she had a lift with her mother or her father then later with her boss – Bert.

Nan can’t remember how she got the job, but she was glad to come back to Llanwrda and live at home. The factory was called Deva Dogware, Pontarlleche.

Her work at the factory involved cutting chains, welding and allsorts. Sometimes she made belts from chains.

They made dog leads including leads for guide dogs. They made leather leads and chain leads. Nan started work there in 1965/66. She enjoyed working there and knew everybody – there were 10 workers. The owners were two brothers from England. Their wives worked in the office. The factory was situated between Gwynfe and Llanddeusant on the site of an old mill. Thomas Brothers, the bus company were the previous occupants. Nan’s parents were happy that Nan had the job – they’d been farming all their lives and weren’t used to regular pay.

Nan doesn’t remember her first day but remembers her first pay packet - ‘two pound four and nine a week’. There was enough for her to save some money. She didn’t have to give money to her parents – she just helped out on the farm.

She was the second of five children. Her older sister worked at home on the farm but when she saw that Nan earned good money at the factory, she got a job there herself.

Although they were young when they started work at the factory, Nan remembers them going to a dance in Llandeilo. She and her sister had 10 shillings between them and there was plenty left for them to go to the fair too.

All the Deva Dogware workers were from the area and of a similar age. No qualifications were required – just a willingness to work.

00.09.54: She said:

‘They showed you what to do, you picked it up very easily, and because you were so young, you could just do it’.

Bert was the boss and owner. He also worked with the others. They were all in one big room and Bert was welding in one corner. He wasn’t strict and Nan can’t remember him ever giving the workers a row.

She said:

‘He was just like one of us. I thought he was ancient.’

There were a lot of tapping hammers at the factory and the noise of chains in the vices, the oxy-acetylene and the welding. Everyone sung Welsh songs.

She worked from 8am to 5pm 5 days a week. (More if required)

There was a tea break at 10am. There was a tap in the toilet where they washed the teacups and got water for the tea.

00.12.30: Nan said:

‘I thought it was very upmarket, because we’d only just had water connected at home’.

Nan and the girls sat on the oily chains to drink their tea.

There was no uniform. She wore old clothes because the sparks from the welding burnt holes in them.

The girls would race each other – who could be the first to make 50 chains.

00.13.34: Nan said:

‘We made it fun and the time flew by.’

The factory was cold. There was a large heater which blew hot air. Nan can’t remember if they had an afternoon tea break. There was no music so the girls had to make their own entertainment. Nan enjoyed the work – it wasn’t boring because there were a variety of different jobs involved in the whole process, e.g. stretching chains, loading, welding.

Nan says that all the workers had fun.

00.15.20: ‘It was different from any factory you’d find in a town’.

Nan’s not sure what she would have done had there not been a factory at Gwynfe as there weren’t many opportunities in the countryside.

00.15.46: ‘There was no chance of going anywhere unless we left home.’

00.15.57: ‘We were scared, we were cowards. You know how we are in the country – not as cheeky as townsfolk.’

The work didn’t change while she was there. When Crufts dog show came around some of the workers would go there to work seeling the factory’s merchandise. Nan never went. She doesn’t remember ever being asked to go. She didn’t realise the significance of Crufts anyway.

The work didn’t require specific skills (even though they turned their hands to things, like welding) everyone did everything.

The workers were mostly single women although some were married. The wages went up to £3. Nan was paid every week – a little brown envelope with her name on it. She was very excited when she received her first pay packet. It was a lot of money for her at the time. She thinks the men were paid more because they handled the machines. She doesn’t remember ever taking a day off.

Sometimes the girls would make a belt for themselves – ‘triple links or double links’. The bosses were unaware of this little perk. They’d also make the odd gaff for the boys to catch salmon.

Nan doesn’t remember any problems at work. Bert, the boss, worked with them and could solve any problems that might arise. Occasionally Nan had problems getting to work.

Usually she’d walk to meet Bert who’d give her a lift. During bad weather e.g. snow, Bert would call for her at home.

There was no canteen at work. The building was enormous – four rooms downstairs where the machines were housed. One machine welded each link then the chains were brought upstairs where Nan welded rings to go each side of the lead.

There was no ceiling upstairs, just the slates on the roof. It was like a big shed.

00.23.35: Nan said:

‘Looking back, it was quite bad – at the time there was nothing wrong with it, it was quite posh considering. It was like a little haven where we all met and had fun.’

It was cold. Nan wore winter clothes in the summer. It was quite dark with the odd strip light - “just enough to see.”

Bert and Les Thomas were the factory owners. Yvonne Dredge came down from London to work in the office, and a man called John Bunt. Those in the office didn’t have much to do with the other workers.

Nan doesn’t remember any accidents apart from the occasional burn from welding sparks. There was no fist aid available – Nan spat on the burn, gave it a rub and carried on.

There were no rules as such. She started at 8 and finished at 5. Nothing went wrong – Bert was always there to deal with problems. The facilities were quite primitive – 2 toilets, an outside sink and a geyzer. Coats were hung over the bannister. Upstairs was one big room with an office in one corner. The chains were cut and linked there. There were 3 or 4 welding benches and 3 or 4 people putting links on the chains. Others made swivels.

Downstairs, the large machines welded the small links together. Then the chains were plated so that they shone.

00.31.25: Nan said:

‘We were tough nuts, country bumpkins... Nobody complained.’

The heater smelled of paraffin. There was no radio. In those days, radios ran on batteries and they were too expensive to buy. The girls chatted while working about the latest news from the Young Farmers Club and everyday matters, and they’d have such fits of laughter that they couldn’t even answer the boss when he asked what was wrong.

Nan smoked at the time – one fag on a Saturday night, to be one of the gang. However, none smoked at the factory.

Nan didn’t suffer any long term ill-effects from her work at the factory. On the contrary – she believes that her time at Deva Dogware stood her in good stead, enabling her to be very versatile.

00.34.37: She said:

‘I think it helped me. I’m not afraid to do anything. I’m not afraid to try anything. It’s been a good education.’

00.34.48: She learnt:

‘How to use a hammer, how to use a saw, how to weld, how to get along with people, how to rough it. But don’t give me a pencil and paper.’

There was a good atmosphere at the factory – plenty of joking and leg-pulling. Nan finished at Deva Dogware because she heard about jobs in Ammanford that paid £7/week. There was no shift system at Deva Dogware – everyone worked the same hours.

Nan took sanswiches to work or bought a pastie in Dai Bont’s shop. She always tried to get some fresh air at lunchtime.

The workers arranged weekends away in London or Blackpool but Nan can’t remember having a proper holiday. There was no 2 week summer shut-down like in other larger factories, but Nan recalls going to the races in Llangadog one bank holiday. She also had time off work to go to her uncle’s funeral in Birmingham but can’t remember if she lost pay for that day.

As far as requiring practical skills were concerned, most of the workers were brought up on farms and in Nan’s opinion, this alone made them suitable to work.

00.41.16: ‘You weren’t fussy about getting your hands dirty... Those with brains went off to college, didn’t they? They knew what they wanted to do’.

00.41.37: ‘If you were brainy you didn’t like doing practical things. Me? Now I don’t like paperwork.’

Nan put money into a “pot” at work each week to save for work outings. They went by “Jones International” (buses) to London one year and to Blackpool the following year. Some 5 years ago they had a reunion in Tenby which saw Bert’s daughter and as many workers as could be tracked down, along with Myrddin, one of the drivers on the London and Blackpool trips. Myrddin still drives buses. During the London trip they saw Buckingham Palace and Petticoat Lane where Nan was photographed with a monkey. She bought a pair of white boots there and thought London was a dirty place since her clothes, which she’d made herself to go on the trip, were dirty when she arrived home.

In Blackpool, some of the boys had tattoos done. Some of them were crying in pain during the process. They’d originally chosen a snake and dagger design, but as they watched one by one in pain, one of the boys opted for a tiny little robin on his thumb.

Apart from the Young Farmers Club, there was not too much socialising after work. Nan was in a pop group with her sister and Enid (who also worked at the factory). They wore mini skirts and orange boleros, and competed in chapel competitions.

The other factory workers were local – from Gwynfe or Llanddeusant. There was no Christmas party, but Nan remembers being given a big box of chocolates one Christmas.

00.49.06: ‘It wasn’t a sweatshop like the laundries. We didn’t have a hard time at all. Working there was quite nice.’

There were no supervisors as such in the factory. Bert was the boss, and everyone worked under him. ‘Everyone was on the same level. Maybe that’s what was good about it.’

Welsh was spoken at the factory, and if a non-Welsh speaker started working there, it wasn’t long before they were speaking Welsh too. Bert didn’t stop anyone speaking Welsh.

00.50.57: ‘It was a happy time in my life’.

Nan finished there when she was about 18. She worked there for 2 ½ years.

00.51.25: Why did she leave?

‘An engagement ring came my way – and more money.’

She went to work in (Alan Paine, in Ammanford. She didn’t like it there.

00.51.46: ‘You felt as though you were in a factory there.’

She was attracted by the wages - £7/week. She could drive a car by then, but she hated working at Alan Paine.

00.52.15: ‘Everyone looked at you as if you’d come down from heaven.’

When a new worker started everyone stared at them. Nan wasn’t used to that. At Deva Dogware, of course, everybody knew everybody, even new starters. She had to start earlier in the mornings in order to rech Ammanford on time. Petrol cost 4s 7d. She disn’t regret leaving Deva Dogware because the wages were so much better.

00.53.53: ‘You were never going to make friends in a place like that. You sat in your chair and did the same thing morning noon and night. You went to lunch, then came back and did the same thing. And you went home. And it was like… I felt like I was in a box.’

Alan Paine made sweaters. From her seat, Nan could only see the back of the head of the person in front of her. Inspectors came round constantly and said ‘do that again, do that again’. She finished at the factory when she became pregnant. She hadn’t known anyone at the factory before she started. Her sister had first heard about the jobs and they both went together along with another girl from Gwynfe. Nan doesn’t think she could have continued at Alan Paine.

00.56.15: ‘It was like a gaol sentence. It was horrible.’

The facilities were better there - radio, canteen, the toilets, cloakroom, everything.

00.56.40: ‘Everything was right but the people were wrong. You couldn’t make friends, everyone was concerned with themselves, each with her own work, do a job and go home.’