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Meiryl James. Voices from the Factory Floor

Felinfach Creamery, Ceredigion (1957-68)

Interviewee: VSW053 Mrs Meiryl James

Date: 11/04/14

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

Meiryl was 19 when she left school and she started working in the laboratory in the factory in 1957 – until 1968 (when she became pregnant). She mentions the overalls and the acid burns on them and on skin. She describes testing the milk and the smell of the milk from the different farms. The factory had to be open all year round. They had a lot of fun and she would compose verses for the Christmas party. She bought a car after 5 years and went to eisteddfodau. She won the Sydney Foster prize. She describes the problems in hot weather. They attended one another's weddings to form a ‘guard of honour'.

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Interview, Meiryl James. Voices from the...

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Meiryl James and friend testing milk on the &...

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Felinfach Creamery staff Meiryl on right c. 1960

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Felinfach Creamery staff Meiryl on right c. 1960

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Felinfach creamery workers

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The girls of the Felinfach Creamery laboratory,...

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Meiryl & her first car Morris 1000 circa 1965

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Meiryl in Felinfachcreamery lab 1968

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Felinfach Creamery lab 1963-4

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Wedding of one of creamery workers in Mydroilyn...

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Wedding of one of the Felinfach Creamery...

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Milk Marketing Sydney Foster Prize Winners 1964

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Magazine Milk Marketing Board Llangefni

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Magazine Milk Marketing Board, Llangefni

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Magazine Milk Marketing Board Llangefni

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Magazine: Milk Marketing Board No. 3 Vol.7 1960

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Document: Creamery Staff Handbook Milk...

Meiryl’s full maiden name was Elinor Meiryl Jenkins. She was born on 10th February, 1938 between Dihewyd and Mydroilyn. When she was two years old the family moved to Dihewyd and then to the small village of Troed-y-rhiw Capel y Brwyn. Her parents kept a small holding. She attended Dihewyd Primary School and then went on to secondary school (the grammar school?) in Aberaeron after passing her scholarship exam. She passed O levels (?) in Welsh, Geography and Scripture. She enjoyed school and left when she was nearly nineteen. She wanted to teach but wasn’t accepted in Bangor College. She then tried to get a place in Shrewsbury but didn’t have the necessary qualification in English Language.

She tried to pass her English Language twice. (She didn’t do A level.)

4.00

The only employment options open for her in the Dyffryn Aeron area were in the milk factory or in the garment making factory, Slimma, in Lampeter. There were no jobs for maids on farms by then.

Meiryl had considered doing an NDD (National Dairying Diploma) in Agriculture in Aberystwyth but didn’t in the end.

She got work in the factory in the laboratory in Felinfach after being interviewed. No qualifications were required as training was provided which involved working with somebody experienced until she understood the job. She started there in 1957 and was there until 1968. The factory was officially opened in 1952 but they had been taking milk from 1951.

‘We sold milk at home so I wasn’t stupid, not totally stupid, about the process that took place.’

At home they sold milk and made butter, especially in the winter if the snow prevented the lorry from coming to collect the milk.

8.03

The churns contained 5 gallons, and then later on 8 gallons, although they had 10 gallon churns in the factory.

She wore a cap and overall to work. Working in the lab with acid, often, holes would be burned into her clothes and the white cotton coats would get dirty so they changed their overalls about three times a week.

The girls didn’t have to wash their work clothes – they were sent to a laundry. They wore Wellingtons as there was always water everywhere - hosepipes and washing...

She worked for the Milk Marketing Board whose head office was in Thames Ditton, Surrey. The factory produced cream which was churned into butter. Sometimes they sent some milk to other factories which were short of milk to make cheese.

‘We helped each other – that’s how factories were in those days.’

Skim milk came in to Felinfach to make powder for animal feed.

12.00

The process: Milk arrived in churns by the lorry load. They were unloaded, a sample taken, and the milk tipped into a large tank. Milk from approx. 30 farms came into Felinfach. Then came the testing – firstly a test for sourness. (In the summer, the nose was sometimes the only equipment required.)

16.20

“There was a smell for each farm... you got to know them and they were like your children... and a different smell at different times of the year, depending on the cattle’s feed. If they’d been out on fresh pasture or grazing on rape, then the smell was quite different.”

If there was a sample which needed further testing, the driver would keep the following churns (from that particular farm) separate and each churn would be tested. If they didn’t pass, the churns would be returned to the farm.

The milk passed from the large tanks through a cooling system and the cream was kept in one tank while the skim milk was blown through cones at 120° Fahrenheit and turned to powder. Meiryl tested the fats and solids levels to ensure the milk was of a high standard. A cream sample from the large cream tank would arrive hourly at the lab for testing. The lab also tested the skim milk and the powder. Then they’d test the butter. Any milk returned to farms was usually fed to pigs which many farms kept. “They only kept pigs because sour milk kept being returned to them (laughs).”

21.46

At most, 7 girls plus the “head” worked in the lab. at any time. Sometimes the “head” had a deputy because milk arrived at the factory 7 days a week.

“I was a regular chapel-goer and I remember the minister telling me, because I sometimes worked on a Sunday,... “Meiryl, they’ll have to invent a six day cow!”

Workers were paid time and a half for working on Saturdays and double time for Sundays. There were other girls in other parts of the factory: 2 in the canteen and 4 or 5 in the office. There were also 1 or 2 girls engaged as cleaners. The men working in the creamery itself were split into three 8 hour shifts. There were approx. 100 working there. There was no longer a cobbler or blacksmith in the Vale of Aeron so, for many, the factory was the only option for employment.

25. 43

Meiryl can’t remember her first pay – but she remembers she was paid £8 7s 6d when she finished and her last pay packet (including overtime) contained £10 10s.

The factory was open 24 hours a day. Meiryl worked on a rota system. At one time when her “deputy boss” left, she became the “second in command” and was required to work on Sundays too. During the summer, milk production increased and they couldn’t manage all the deliveries within the normal working hours (8 hours). The first lorry usually arrived between 8.30 and 9am. During the winter, deliveries had usually finished by 2pm and as the milk yield increased this could move to 4pm and sometimes in the summer, when there was much more milk, they’d have to work until 9 or 10pm.

The canteen closed at 4pm. “We had 10 minutes for tea at 10 and ½ hour for lunch and another 10 minutes for tea in the afternoon.”

Tea was taken in the lab. They went to the canteen for lunch – sandwiches and crisps. “And we’d eat them quickly so that we could go to the games room to play skittles, table tennis or darts.”

Lunch was staggered because lorries were expected to arrive regularly.

31.35

Safety standards were high. Everything had to be sterilised – bottles, test tubes, pipettes.... Acids were used in the testing process.

“We used acid... which were poured on the milk to separate the cream. Very dangerous. If we got any on our hands we’d run them under a cold tap and apply bicarbonate of soda...”

They wore gloves but Meiryl can’t remember if they wore goggles. There was a former nurse who knew first aid.

There was no trial period and training was done on the job.

The manager was Mr Rowlands who came from Pont Llanio milk factory when Felinfach opened. When he left, he was replaced by a North Walian – Mr Phillips. He’d walk around getting to know the workers. He even kept his milk in the lab fridge.

37.00

Workers could buy milk and butter at a reduced rate.

The first lab supervisor was Mrs Evans from Llanfair near Lampeter. She married and left to farm. Her replacements were 2 young English girls straight out of college.

Apart from these two, all the girls who worked at the factory were Welsh. Most of the workers in the rest of the factory were Welsh too.

A train used to collect milk from the factory to be taken to other factories. Later, the milk was taken by road in large tankers to Crudgington, Llangefni and Wem.

43.14

The lab. girls organised Christmas parties at The Feathers Hotel in Aberaeron or somewhere in Cardigan or the Marine, Aberystwyth. After a dinner, the girls would provide entertainment like singing songs about some of the characters amongst the staff.

There was also a Christmas party for the staff’s children. Meiryl remembers driving to Aberystwyth to buy presents in Woolworth. It was freezing weather and on her way home she lost control of the car and ended up off the road. (c. 1962)

National Insurance and tax was deducted from her pay packet “And sixpence for the Social Club.”

49. 50

Meiryl was a union member: “If someone was in trouble, it would get sorted out wouldn’t it?”

There were not many disputes. Most workers were glad of the work and they came from far and wide – from Llanybydder, Synod Inn, Llan-non, Llanrhystud, from many places, some quite far away.

… After working there for 5 years, I’d saved enough to buy a car...” (Shows photograph)

Before her driving days, Meiryl cycled 2 miles to Cribyn and met a workmate who gave her a lift to work. During the snow of 1963, Meiryl walked into work. (6 ½ miles)

She clocked in and out and was never late (so cannot say if latecomers lost pay.)

55.36

Workers had an individual number though Meiryl can’t remember hers. She thinks she was spoilt as she wasn’t expected to give any of her wages to her parents. She spent some (competing in Eisteddfodau and going to concerts or whist drives) and saved the rest.

She competed in recitation competitions and sang duets and had a cupboard full of cups. Chapel was important also. Meiryl taught children (Sunday school?) and was an organist for years. Then she was the secretary who organised plays and concerts.

Everyone (her fellow workers in the lab) went either to chapel or church.”

Meiryl saw many personnel changes because most of the girls married at a young age. Meiryl married at 27.

59.30

Initially, girls had to stop working when they married. By the time Meiryl married (1966) she could stay on until she had children (1968). She left when she was 7 months pregnant.

Meiryl thinks her annual leave was 2 weeks when she first started work – this increased to 3 weeks. Leave had to be booked in advance because the factory couldn’t shut down in the summer – unlike other types of factory.

She didn’t go away for holidays. She might catch a bus to Aberystwyth or have daytrips here and there. Work continued over Christmas and Easter.

One year, (possibly 1964) she won the Sydney Foster award – the MMB awarded a week’s holiday to 6 employees.

1.03.30

She travelled by train to London and then on to MMB head office in Thames Ditton. The prize was an educational tour of MMB facilities. Meiryl was interviewed and asked to write an account of her week and a picture of the 6 prize-winners was taken. (Meiryl shows her copy of the photograph.)

Meiryl talks about the MMB magazine which was issued each season. It was a means to keep abreast of company news.

Things changed significantly in 1968. A few months after Meiryl left, the factory at Pont Llanio closed and its milk was diverted to Felinfach.

1.08.50

Meiryl was given a farewell party and a present. “A glass bowl with legs.”

She and Harri were given 2 Minton china plates as a present from the factory manager. Harri had started work at the factory in 1957. He’d had a 2 year break (National Service) and then,

left again for 12 years before returning in 1974.

1:13:14

Health and Safety:

If there was an incident/accident, it was recorded in a book and if required, the member of staff involved would be taken to hospital/GP surgery. Meiryl was lucky: “apart from small burns from the acids we used...”

There was no designated nurse or room for first aid.

“We worked quietly because of the nature of the work.” Some of the testing machines made a little noise but nothing to affect her health.

“I liked milk.” The staff was allowed to drink milk at work. There were 3 churns of pasteurised milk kept for that purpose. Meiryl had a bottle she filled and took to the canteen – she didn’t drink tea, so she drank milk. She took her own food to eat – the canteen fayre was limited to sandwiches: a lot of spam sandwiches and tomatoes in the summer. They had fun in the canteen – shouting and provoking each other.

There were toilets provided (which were cleaned by somebody.) They had to ensure the lab equipment was clean and sterilised, but somebody else came in and washed the floor at the end of the day.

1:19:00

There was no music and no singing at work. They could converse about work and would sometimes be able to have a chat while washing up. There was a lot of washing up.

The lab girls would rotate the different jobs/responsibilities. 2 were needed to leave the lab. To collect the bottled samples, 1 would be in the kiosk checking the farm name and number while the other took the sample. Farm testing was done once a month, all being well, or every day until the results were acceptable.

Meiryl can only remember one girl who smoked – and she’d once been a nurse! Smoking was only allowed in the canteen. A fag and a cuppa!

She thinks many farmers who skimmed off the cream for themselves to make their own butter, tried to get around the tests by bribing the drivers who’d know when each farm was to be sampled.

This practice stopped with the advent of the milk tankers.

1: 23:19

Meiryl saw plenty of snails in churns – and even a mouse! She thinks they could have crawled in past a loosely fitting churn top.

Social events: An “It’s a Knockout” competition was held in the summer. Playing darts in pubs became popular too but Meiryl didn’t go to pubs.

“I enjoyed the 11 years I spent there. I worked with some very decent girls ...we had a lot of fun in the canteen...”

1:27:36

If someone from work was getting married, the lab girls would be allowed to leave work for an hour to be a guard of honour outside the church or chapel. They’d form an arch by holding ladles or test tubes above the happy couple’s heads.

Meiryl enjoyed the companionship and the social aspects of her work. (working in small teams etc.)

She recalls one girl who narrowly missed being dismissed. Every month, their work was cross-checked. Someone came in and took samples and duplicated everyone’s tests, then compared the results. This particular girl’s results weren’t as they should be a few times in one month. She would have been sacked had Meiryl not announced her pregnancy and that she would be leaving.

“Then, unlike today, you didn’t go and tell everyone “Oh I’m expecting.” You kept quiet until it became obvious.”

Meiryl had three children with a year and a half between each one. She didn’t return to work at the factory. When her eldest was 10 she worked as a Home Help.

MMB sold the factory to Dairy Crest who produced the same products. It’s passed through many different hands since then but continues producing milk and powder.

Meiryl is still in contact with some of the girls from work. They’re local girls who all married before her. “We don’t always talk about the old days. It’s usually, “Where are the children?” and that sort of thing.... but sometimes we’ll say, “Do you remember...?”

http://www.lleisiaumenywodffatri.cymru/uploads/VSW053.2.pdf

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