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Rita Davies & Meirion Campden. Voices from the Factory Floor

Glanarad Shirt Factory, Castell Newydd Emlyn (which became Myfanwy Products, and subsequently, Croydon Asbestos) 1945 – 1980s

Interviewee: VSW020 Rita Davies & Meirion Campden

Date: 27.1.14

Interviewee: Susan Roberts on behalf of Women's Archive of Wales

Rita and Meirion left school at 14 (1945 and 1949 respectively). Rita started immediately in the shirt factory and left to get married (1954) but returned after three years and Meirion joined her (c.1949-1995). The boss was Johnny Morgan, brother of the owner of J T Morgan's warehouse, Swansea. The first job was hemming woollen shirts. They had pocket money from their pay packet. The boss would tap them on their heads or pinch them if they talked. Rita worked on the button machine and Meirion made shirts. They had a book to record their work. The factory was taken over by Myfanwy Products, Gorseinon – they made dolls' clothes and shawls for 2-3 years. Then by Croydon Asbestos making leather gloves (Heavy work) with industrial machines. The older women were kind to them. They had a piece of clothing from the J T Morgan warehouse as a gift every Xmas and a trip to Llandrindod in June. The workers' numbers were put on each shirt. Meirion had to go to hospital after sewing her finger. Rita went to work in rollers and a turban. Croydon Asbestos closed c.1996.

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Interview, Rita Davies & Meirion Campden....

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Miss Young's retirement Glanarad Shirt...

Rita confirms her name (nee Woolley), address and date of birth as: 29.10.1931

 

Meirion confirms her name (nee Jones), address and date of birth as: 10.8.1935

 

Rita

Rita was brought up at Garreg Wen, Bryndiodde, Castell Newydd Emlyn. She lived there until she was 7 when the family moved to Aberarad. She lived there until she married at 22. Her father worked at the Cow & Gate milk factory in Newcastle Emlyn. When her children were older, Rita’s mother was a cleaner at Ysgol yr Eglwys in Newcastle Emlyn. Rita and her sisters went with her to help. She was one of 10 children (one died in infancy). Rita was the oldest of the 4 youngest. She attended Ysgol Adpar, Sir Geredigion. She left school at 14.

Meirion

Meirion was born in Saron. Her father worked on the road. He was injured during the war and so it wasn’t easy for him to work. She was the oldest of 3 sisters. She attended school in Brynsaron and left at 14.

Rita had an aunt who worked at Glanarad factory (the Pandy), where Rita went to work when she left school until she married at 22. She then stayed at home for 3 years nursing her husband’s grandmother before returning to the factory.

Meirion wanted to work in the sewing factory when she left school. She started work there 2 years after Rita. Although she was still a child, Rita regarded working in a factory as a sign she’d come of age. Meirion felt there was no option other than to work in the factory. Glanarad Shirt Factory was its official name. There were woollen factories in Pentrecwrt but Rita lived too far away to be able to work there. Meirion preferred to work in the sewing factory as opposed to the woollen factory, which made Welsh blankets.

00.06.40: Rita recalls her first day, being stared at by all the girls who soon became her friends. There were approx. 30 working there at the time. There was a machine for each girl. Johnny Morgan, the boss, would stroll around. Enoc Davies cut-out the shirts. The workforce was all female – young girls and old women, - but one lad joined them some years later to learn how to cut-out, but he didn’t stay for long.

The new girls were shown what to do by Miss Young from Drefach, Felindre. She had plenty of patience, and never gave anyone a telling off. The first job to learn was hemming. The factory made flannel shirts (and sometimes, cotton). The finished shirts went all-over to be sold. One such place was JT Morgan’s warehouse in Swansea. (JT Morgan was the owner, but he rarely visited the factory). His brother (Johnny) was the boss at Newcastle Emlyn. Rita was paid ½ a crown when she started. Rita walked to work (she lived ¼ mile from work) while Meirion caught a bus.

Work started at 8am and finished at 5pm. There was a ¾ hour break for lunch (Rita went home) and a tea break at 3pm. There was no mid-morning break.

Meirion took a packed lunch to work. Tea was provided.

Meirion’s first task was to get used to her machine. Then she could sew hems and make shirts. She earned 50 pence as a flat rate until she became more familiar with the work, when she was put on piece work. The initial training took a month- after that she earned £2 or £3 a week.

Rita’s mother secured the job for her by asking Johnny Morgan about work for her daughter. Her Aunty May, who had made all of Rita’s clothes when she was a little girl, had worked at the factory for years. Rita believes this helped her get the job.

Meirion’s parents knew Miss Young (distantly related) and their approach to her resulted in Meirion being given work at the factory. There was no formal interview or test.

At 14, Rita was happy to be working and earning money to give to her mother who gave her ½ crown as pocket money. Meirion also received pocket money and they both frequented the cinema in Drefach, Felindre.

Rita and Meirion soon got used to the noise of the machines. When the factory was taken over by Croydon Asbestos, the workers listened to the “wireless.”

The girls weren’t allowed to talk while they worked. Johnny Morgan walked around and tapped girls on the head if they were talking. According to Meirion, he pinched girls as well – answering back was futile, they just had to listen.

00.16.35: ‘You respected him.’

Rita’s main task was making button holes on the button machine, which she enjoyed because it meant she wasn’t on piece work.

Meirion made shirts – the neck, hemming, the sleeves and cuffs. She preferred hemming because it was easier.

There was a book in which the girls’ work was recorded. Men never came there to work. Over the years, the workforce reduced from 30 to 10. The factory was taken over by Myfanwy Products from Gorseinon who made dolls’ clothes at the time – the wages were good. The owner fell ill and the factory was taken over by Croydon Asbestos. Once again, the girls were on piece work. Then they were told that their work (sewing leather gloves) wasn’t good enough for them to be on piece work and the machines were replaced with industrial machines.

Myfanwy Products also made Welsh shawls (this enterprise lasted 2 or 3 years). When Croydon Asbestos came, 2 or 3 new girls started work. But the numbers of workers dwindled because people didn’t like the work – sewing leather was hard, heavy work. Some girls preferred to work in the nearby milk factory or in shops because the work was lighter, even though the wages weren’t any better.

There were no unions at the factory – and no problems either. Rita and Meirion were happy with conditions.

The factory was lit with strip lighting. It could be very cold especially in the mornings and during the winter months. Rita and Meirion wore trousers to combat the low temperature. The work wasn’t especially dirty. On Fridays, work finished an hour early to give the girls time to clean their machines. The younger girls helped clean the older women’s machines and in return the older workers would sometimes do extra sewing for the girls to ensure their pay packets were topped up.

00.27.10: ‘The little old ladies were good.’

Meirion remembers she’d arrive at her machine and everything would be there ready for her to begin work. It was “head down” all day then, and a good chat ‘round the table at lunchtime.

It was quite strict at Glanarad - the bosses wife worked as a sewer so that she could keep an eye on the girls.

As Croydon Asbestos there was a 10 minute break in the morning, ½ hour for lunch and another 10 minutes at 3pm. The machines were noisier than those used by Glanarad.

Rita remembers finishing work at 5pm. That time changed to 4.45pm with Fridays finishing at 4.30pm

Meirion recalls that the only holidays were Christmas Day and Boxing Day – she had to work on 1st January. With time, things changed.

00.29.46: Meirion talks about the management at Glanarad, ‘Things were stricter in those days. Bosses nowadays have to be careful what they say to staff. Things have changed.’

Though strict, Rita and Meirion think their employers were fair. They received a present every Christmas. They could choose some clothing from JT Morgan’s warehouse in Swansea. There was also an annual works’ outing every June to Llandrindod Wells. Rita remembers getting a dress as a gift. Meirion remembers receiving a skirt, umbrella and a bag.

On the Llandrindod trip, the company paid for food. On arrival they’d have tea. Then they’d have a 3 course lunch and a cup of tea before returning home. The afternoon was free.

There was a boating lake at Llandrindod.

00.32.16: Rita said: ‘We were cackling like geese on the boats.’

One year they went to Neath.

The trips were arranged and paid for by J T Morgan and Johnny Morgan. The workers didn’t pay for anything. There was no Christmas dance or party but some of the girls arranged a night out to somewhere like the Coopers in Newcastle Emlyn.

Both Rita and Meirion have emphasised how very happy they were working in the factory. Neither of them ever bought anything from the factory.

Usually, when expecting a baby, girls finished work. According to Meirion, some girls returned to work after the birth. Rita doesn’t remember anybody expecting a baby: “They were all good girls.”

A worker from South Africa used to bring her 10 year old girl to work with her.

“As it should be,” they had regular pay rises. The wages were distributed on the factory floor – the little brown envelope was placed on the machines on Friday night.

00.38.39: Rita was ‘thrilled to bits’.

The older girls earned more because they could sew faster. If someone wasn’t feeling too well, work suffered (along with the wages.)

Time off (without pay) was permitted for a funeral. A paid holiday in August was introduced at some point.

The girls were required to clock on and off – this was still important in the eyes of management even though the girls were on piece work. Nobody took more than 6 shirts to sew at any one time. If the collar didn’t sit properly then it had to be re-sewn. Miss Thomas checked the work – it was she who also folded and ironed the shirts. When Rita didn’t have enough work making buttonholes she’d help Miss Thomas with the ironing. The girls all had an individual number which was attached to the shirts so it was possible to see who had made each shirt. Rita was no. 11, Meirion was no. 5. Neither had much work returned to be re-done. But if Meirion ever had shirts returned, the 2 older women on either side of her would help.

00.42.50: Rita said (re: the relationship between managers and workers) ‘Everyone was comfortable there – and nobody answered back.”

Rita “sewed” her finger many times, but she didn’t always own up to avoid a telling off. Meirion did the same – and once a needle broke off in her finger and she was taken to Glangwili hospital to have it removed. (The doctor in Llandysul had already tried and failed to remove it.) Meirion wanted to keep the needle, but couldn’t as it had to be filed. As a result of the accident, Meirion had a day off from work (paid) but she remarked: “you had to keep your mind on the machine all the time.” If the girls had cuts that didn’t need treatment from a doctor, they covered them with Elastoplast and carried on working.

Work started at 8 and finished at 5. There were no rules as such, however, talking was forbidden to ensure the girls concentrated on their work and avoided accidents. Johnny Morgan didn’t need to say anything – he just tapped the girls on their heads with his pencil.

The facilities were clean. Miss Tomos cleaned the toilets. There was no sign of health and safety, but when Croydon Asbestos took over, there was more safety care. 2 men from the Milford Haven factory came to keep an eye on the girls. The, manager (Sylvia) was brought in. The industrial machines were heavier and the girls tired as they worked. Some didn’t like the new work and left. The leather work was hard on the fingers, but the girls got used to it after a little while. The girls in Newcastle Emlyn were assured that they weren’t handling any asbestos, unlike the factory in Milford Haven.

Smokers smoked in the toilets. Unlike in some other factories, there was not much legpulling at the factory.

00.52.51: Rita: ‘We were all a little bit old fashioned, I suppose.’

The factory girls and the staff at JT Morgan’s warehouse had a good relationship. One lad who used to come down from Swansea was fancied by all the “Pandy Girls” even though not one of them managed to “catch” him.

Rita worked at the factory for 9 years initially (1945-1954). She left when she married, and returned 3 years later.

Meirion started aged 14, and worked there into her sixties. She eventually left because her husband was ill. She travelled to Milford Haven to give her notice, and cried on the way out. The factory closed within a year in any case.

Before working together at the factory and becoming best friends, Rita and Meirion knew of each other through the local chapels. They’ve remained lifelong friends and go everywhere with each other.

When Rita returned to the factory after her 3 year absence, nothing much had changed. She’d felt “stuck” in the house on her own all day and went to see Mr Morgan and asked for her old job.

There were no shifts at the factory – only the day shift. There was no extra casual Saturday work and no overtime. There was no canteen – just a kettle. After she was married, Rita took sandwiches to work and called in with her parents at lunchtime. Sometimes, Meirion went with her.

As Croydon Asbestos, the factory closed down for a holiday every August.

01.02.30: Rita remembers a fire at the factory circa 1961. She received a phone call after work one night informing her that the factory was on fire. There wasn’t too much damage caused and the girls were back sewing in a fortnight. Rita felt flat when she heard about the fire, but nobody lost wages because of the temporary closure.

Rita and Meirion enjoyed all aspects of the work. They hadn’t minded doing piece work but felt less pressure when they were paid a flat rate by Croydon Asbestos. (They still had to hit their targets.)

Rita finished at the factory when she was 60. Her husband had retired early and she wanted to be at home with him. She missed the girls and called in at the factory to see them from time to time.

01.07.53: Rita doesn’t think she would have liked going from job to job. After retiring, she sewed small items for herself at home.

When Meirion finished at the factory, there were about 6 workers left and she and Rita guessed that closure was imminent.

Many of the girls at the factory were from Saron. They travelled to work on the bus. Others came from Bryngwyn and Beulah. During their long years at the factory, making a variety of products, Rita and Meirion don’t think they witnessed much in the way of change. The management changed with changing ownerships and Rita and Meirion believe that English managers weren’t as warm/friendly.

01.12.15: Rita describes her photographs.

Johnny Morgan lived in Aberarad. He was JT Morgan’s brother and their sister was Davies the cutter’s wife. There were many family connections inside the factory. Over the years, the Glanarad staff got to know JT Morgan staff through their joint annual trips.

The Morgan brothers were from Lampeter or Llansawel. There weren’t leaving parties but a clock would be presented as a leaving present.

There was a factory in Llandysul and the Cambrian factory down in Drefach.

Johnny and JT Morgan were Baptists. They were quite religious. When Rita was going out for the evening she’d go to work that day with her hair in rollers and covered with a turban. When Johnny Morgan asked her where she was going, she’d tell him she was going to a chapel meeting. The Morgans were Welsh speaking even though JT’s wife tended to speak English. She was regarded as a real lady. (She was his second wife – his first wife had died.) Rita and Meirion went on a trip with the workers down to JT Morgan and his wife’s posh house in Skewen (?) to have a meal.

http://www.lleisiaumenywodffatri.cymru/uploads/VSW020.2.pdf

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