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Beryl Jones. Voices from the Factory Floor

Hodges Factory, Fforestfach, Swansea (1960/1 – 1964) and Avon Inflatables (c.1980- 1990)

Interviewee: VSW050 Mrs Beryl Jones

Date: 27/03/14

Interviewee: Catrin Stevens on behalf of Women's Archive of Wales

Beryl began working in Hodges in 1960/1 (until 1964) after leaving school at 15. She knocked on the door of the first factory she came to. They made men's suits: men cut the material out and the girls sewed. She worked in the cutting room. She notes the importance of unionism in both factories, giving her mother her pay packet; the Swansea girls; the monkey parade. After marrying and bringing up the children she worked in Avon Inflatables from 1980 making dinghies. She describes the smell of glue and a complaint because she spoke Welsh. You learn about life in a factory. She left in 1990.

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Interview, Beryl Jones. Voices from the Factory...

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Beryl Jones (Matthews at the time) working in...

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Photo of Hodges factory girls in wedding 1963

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Photo Beryl & Dorothy collecting money...

(N.B. Beryl’s sister, Averil Berrell (VSW034), was also recorded for this project.)

Beryl confirms her maiden name (Matthews) and d.o.b. as 19:9:1945

She was born and brought up at Garreg Lwyd, Graig Fawr, Pontarddulais – her father was a collier and her mother a housewife (she’d once been a farm maid and served in London as a housekeeper for ministers.)

Beryl attended Ysgol Gymraeg Pontarddulais (before it was called Bryniago) – circa 1950. She went on to Pontarddulais Secondary Modern. Her mother hadn’t allowed her to sit the 11+ to enable her to go to Gowerton (Girls’) Gram. She left school at 15 (1960-61). ‘They told me if I could find a job I could go.’

Her first job was at Hodges, Fforest-fach. She knocked on the door and asked for work. (Lena, her sister who lived in Pontlliw told her: “Don’t take Mami with you – don’t take anyone with you or they’ll call you a chicken.”

She had 4 sisters. “Our Lena had been at Windsmoor’s … she was on the sewing machines." This factory was next door to Hodges.

4.05

Their sister, Averil worked in a factory office – not on the factory floor like Lena and Beryl.

Another sister, Gwen had ‘something wrong with her – although, I don’t think there was anything the matter – and Mam wouldn’t let her go out to work or anything – so Gwen didn’t do anything.”

She wasn’t prepared for her interview with Hodges – ‘I took my certificate with me. I had a certificate in Welsh, R.E., Needlework and History.’

She’d chosen Hodges because it was the first factory she passed in Fforest-fach.

Hodges made men’s suits and trousers. “You had to match the lining to the suit and cut it out and mark it for the sewers to know where to put the pockets and chose buttons to match.”

Hodges’ clothes were considered amongst the best. The complete suit was made there – cutting out, steaming and pressing.

She was trained at first ‘they were wonderful to me, I must say.’

The linings were important and some special orders would ask for a golden lining which wasn’t usual.

8.00

Beryl worked in the cutting room. “The men did all the cutting, because it was probably too heavy for women to handle.” The material was then rolled out for the women to sew – there were lots of women in the sewing part – then on to final assembly.

There were lots of different jobs: making button holes, sewing buttons, cutting to a template and sewing. The work was supervised. 3 girls marked the cloth with chalk to show where the splits for the gathers should be. ‘I don’t think men’s suits have changed much even today.’ They also made waistcoats but no shirts or ties. The suits were packed and sent to shops in places like Blackwood, Swansea and Llanelli, of course.

She had to provide her own overall – but when she went to work in Avon, she was given overalls and had to wear steel toe caps.

She was nervous on her first day but “They were good in Hodges - as good as gold.”

Beryl started at 8/8.30am and caught the bus from Pontarddulais to Fforest-fach. She didn’t move from the cutting room during her time there, but moved on from the simple job of matching the lining and rolling up the trouser fabric to marking out the lining. “This was more of a responsibility. If you put the mark in the wrong place it wasn’t good was it? And once they’d cut it – it was too late.” It was easily done but there were supervisors to prevent this sort of error – a woman to supervise the women and a man for the men.

14.00

Her first pay: “It would have been ten pounds or something”

What did she do with her money? “I gave it to Mami. All of it, and got 10 shillings back (to spend) on wherever I wanted to go. The Tiv (Tivoli) or somewhere.”

She had money to pay her bus fare (she had a season ticket which worked out cheaper). National Insurance and her union dues were deducted from her wages.

She had to be a member of the Clothing Industry Union or the other girls would refuse to work with her. When she was ill for a week, the union paid her sick pay.

Beryl remembers a walk-out – but only for an hour.

When she finished work there, her wages had risen to over £13 and she still gave it all to her mother. She believes that Averil left home because she was also obliged to give all her wages to her mother. (This is confirmed during Averil’s interview.)

By now the family had moved down into Pontarddulais – to Heol y Cae. It was much easier to catch a bus from the King’s Hotel.

She was semi-skilled but the machinists were skilled and were possibly paid more.

17.30

Tax was also deducted from her pay. She took home £13. English was spoken at the factory more than Welsh.

Swansea girls called Beryl a country bumpkin but that was about it – they were lovely. They were firm friends and looked after Beryl.

Beryl didn’t attend any classes/training outside work. She’d work from 8 to 4.30 Mon-Fri and sometimes on Saturdays (extra pay) if there was an order to fill.

Workers met targets and received a bonus for exceeding them.

Even though her mother only gave her 10 shillings (50pence) out of her pay she managed to save some in Lloyds Bank.

Sometimes the machinists would catch themselves in their machines. Needles could go right through their fingers. Beryl doesn’t remember any nasty accidents.

A full time nurse was employed at the factory. Beryl doesn’t recall ever having to trouble her.

There were approx. 300 workers – more women than men – “Because you’ll find that women can turn their hands to more ticklish or delicate work.”

24.27

There were tricks played on new staff, though none was played on Beryl and she never played tricks on anyone. There was plenty of banter between the men and women.

The factory was light and warm enough. The toilets were always clean. “Everyone kept their own patch clean.”

Everyone smoked in the toilet – Beryl couldn’t afford to smoke.

Music played all day. The workers were allowed to talk while they worked. It was quite noisy with the machines. They’d talk about what they did on Saturday night.

Unlike the other girls, Beryl went to chapel – and everybody got married in St. Peter’s church in Cockett, where Harry Secombe was, though Beryl got married in Pontarddulais.

She met her husband on Monkey’s Parade in Pontarddulais, where young people would promenade on a Sunday night (after chapel).

She used to go to Y Gopa (chapel) until her mother had a bit of trouble with Davies y Gopa, and then they moved to Hope (chapel).

Her husband is from Llangennech. He was a farm hand at the time before becoming a JCB driver. When they married they moved to Hendy. Beryl stopped working straight away - she was expecting their son, Andrew.

“They most probably would have taken me back – some girls went back.”

32.20

The factory shut down for a fortnight July/August – the same as the miners. “I never went on holiday.”

There were no shifts. If you were late clocking in, your pay was docked. If you clocked-in somebody else you could lose your job.

There was a ½ hour lunch break in the canteen. “I had to take sandwiches – I wasn’t allowed to buy food.” Some girls went out for a pub lunch – Beryl didn’t.

Other holidays included Easter and Christmas.

Beryl was off sick once and wasn’t paid. Unexpectedly she received something from the union.

There were no organised social events.

She enjoyed the work: “I went every day, anyway. I can’t remember if I was forced to by Mami....” She could have moved on to making buttonholes – they would have trained her. Sometimes she was told: ‘We think you should move on now.’

38.12

Workers had to complete timesheets and supervisors would check that they’d actually done the work they’d claimed for and not “cheated” to get a bonus.

She doesn’t remember anyone being sacked or moving to other factories. People left to get married or have children. She didn’t have a leaving party. “They were probably glad to get rid of me.” She was given a table cloth and napkins as a leaving gift.

Beryl is only in contact with 2 of the girls who worked with her –Carol and Helen from Pontarddulais. She sees Carol in Pontarddulais and Helen sends a Christmas card.

After leaving Hodges to raise her children, Beryl worked on Saturday nights at The Bird in Hand pub and then as a cleaner in the club in Hendy before working in the canteen at Morris Motors (Felinfoel). She then moved back to Hendy with Rhidian’s Caterers, working in Avon Inflatables until the manager there, offered her a job on the factory floor when they’d received a large order for boats – Iraqi Boats.

Avon Inflatables are still in business today – under a new name: Zodiac. Beryl points out that Hodges has now become Greenwood. When she was there the bosses were seen on the factory floor.

43. 30

Avon Inflatables’ closed their factory in Hendy so Beryl ended up at their Dafen site. (She thinks she might have gone back to Morris Motors before moving there). She worked on the shop floor (for which she received 6-7 weeks’ training) and was one of a group of 3 workers building cones that formed the inner structure of the dinghies. Beryl describes part of the manufacturing process: the men cut out the leather (?) in varying sizes for the different sized boats. Then the panels were joined together to form the skin of the boat. Beryl’s cones were added further along the assembly line. At the end of the line everything was inflated to check for leaks.

“There were a lot of girls working here too – 3 or 4 on panel-join, 2 on cones, 3 on battles and 4 on final join.”

There were several lines like this and others that made a different type of dinghy.

She didn’t wear gloves or any hair covering. Overalls were supplied - and steel toecaps because of the heavy work. “It was hard work.....it was good. I enjoyed it. I’m still in touch with those girls now.”

She worked there for 10 years early 1980s – early 1990s) and never handled a machine.

47.35

Beryl doesn’t remember her first wage packet. “I was earning good money at Avon.... for myself – I didn’t have to give it to Mami.”

Some girls spent all their pay on holidays but Beryl saved and was able to buy the house they now live in and provide an education for her boys. Her husband, Gwyn, was the main breadwinner and Beryl saved her wages.

There was a union at Avon “They wouldn’t work with you if you didn’t pay your union dues.” At first Beryl refused to join until she was told: ‘you’re not working with us, cos, if we have a pay rise, you’ll have a pay rise.’

There were walkouts and “a lot of nonsense because we were timed on jobs and if the bloke didn’t agree – he was a bugger anyway – they’d say: “Right we’re out now! We’re not agreeing to this.””

Beryl started making cones then moved to panel joining. The cones were small and she had to make lots of them to get her bonus. Then there was the glue. “..The glue didn’t half smell. You had to have regular breaks or you’d go as high as a kite.” There were no masks and some would be given warnings for “sniffing”.

52.30

Despite the danger, the girls thought about the money at the end of the week. “It was a job of work wasn’t it?”

They worked in little gangs – 2 on cones, 4 on panel join. Beryl didn’t consider moving from cones as a step up. The work would be different but the wages were the same. She’s not sure if men were paid more than women.

Because of the glue, there had to be a constant temperature at Avon – summer and winter. There was also a full-time nurse. Beryl thinks she mainly dealt with hangovers.

There were girls from Hendy, Dafen, Burry Port, Cydweli, Swiss Valley … so there was plenty of Welsh spoken. Some complained that Beryl was speaking Welsh so she told Huw Francis, the manager: “Well I’m Welsh aren’t I?” He told her to carry on.

Some would ask her to speak Welsh: “We love to hear you talk Welsh.”

There was music at Avon. The girls at Hodges sang as they worked, so did some of the Avon workers.

Beryl: “I didn’t – I was concentrating.”

To ensure reaching targets by the end of the week Beryl would do a little extra every day in order to have an easy day come Friday. There was a supervisor called Siân. Beryl didn’t have ambitions to become a supervisor.

57.50

Social events at Avon:

Beryl participated in a sponsored walk for Heol Goffa – in aid of disabled children who were going to the Olympics.

The workers had a Christmas savings club and a secret Santa.

She thinks there was a soccer team for the men. There was no netball team or tennis or choir for the girls.

There were more girls at Avon who were likely to be chapel goers (as opposed to the girls at Hodges). Beryl names Joyce and Doris who worked with her. “Not many of the Swansea girls went to chapel.”

Beryl has no recollection of there being children’s Christmas parties, but thinks they were taken to see Pantomimes.

Avon had a fortnight shutdown and also a week at Whitsun - ‘Urdd Week, I call it.’ Her son Colin was a member of the Hendy aelwyd (club).

Beryl worked at Avon from 8 to 4 with 2 tea breaks and a lunch break taken in the canteen. Beryl didn’t buy lunch. She ate her own sandwiches. “I’m not bringing money here; I’m taking it from here.’

Beryl remembers: “the older women were nasty. If you didn’t make your bonus they were terrible, terrible ....they’d been there a long time.... thought they owned the place.”

Nobody played tricks on Beryl: ‘We don’t want to play with her …’ She didn’t experience any kind of harassment. The only problem that arose at Avon was as a result of her speaking Welsh. “They’d say: “Oh the Welshy’s coming again” So I’d say: “So what? What country are you living in then?”

She was surprised to find so many Welsh speakers working at the factory.

Beryl thinks that her working life brought her out of herself and taught her how to stand up for herself. Having children also strengthened her resolve in this respect. “They’re not going to trample over me anymore.” Her upbringing had been sheltered: “Where I came from – I only went to chapel with Mami or to concerts ... and to see how the rest live – it’s nothing like us.”

“When I was at Hodges, the girls would ask “What are you doing with your money now then Ber?” I’d say “I give it to my mother.” “You aren’t giving it all are you?” “Yes.” Eventually they wanted to fiddle my docket so that Mami would get one docket and I’d be able to keep more money. Most of them only gave some of their wages to their mothers and kept the rest.”

Beryl refers to a friend who kept all her wages from the outset and didn’t give a penny to her mother. “Mind you, it teaches you – I think you’re better off, y’know – it teaches you how to look after your money.” Beryl’s mother didn’t save her money on Beryl’s behalf – unlike how Beryl kept some of her sons’ wages over the summer and gave it back to them at the end of the holidays.

http://www.lleisiaumenywodffatri.cymru/uploads/VSW050.2.pdf

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