Eirwen Jones. Voices from the Factory Floor

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Eirwen’s parent lived in Glynawen, Pontrhydfendigaid. She was one of nine children. Her brothers and sister were born at home, but she, the youngest, was born in the Priory Hospital in Carmarthen. Her father worked as a farm hand when he was young. He also lived in London for a while, and worked on a milk round. He was born in Treorchy and moved to Llandysul when he was seven years old where he learnt Welsh. Her mother was born in Ffair-rhos and couldn’t speak English until her brother married somebody who couldn’t speak Welsh. Her mother was a farm maid before getting married, and would have to get up at five o’clock in the morning to see to the cattle, and make breakfast for the farm hands. This was a happy time for her mother but it was hard work for little money. Her father went to work on the same farm as her mother. Her mother left school when she when she was fourteen. Her father preferred to go fishing than go to school. Eirwen’s grandfather was a cobbler from Llandysul who also made clothes. There was also a butcher’s shop in the family and her father was offered work there but he refused. He preferred to work on the farm, and then went to London.

Her father worked on the ‘tar’ during the war. Then he got work driving buses before getting a job in Pont Llanio driving the milk lorry, so the family moved to Llanddewi Brefi in order for him to be closer to work.

Eirwen went to primary school in Llanddewi Brefi and secondary school in Tregaron. Eirwen liked school and never missed a day. Her mother made sure of that. She caught the bus from Llanddewi Brefi to Tregaron. Waunclawdd was the name of the small holding in Llanddewi Brefi, where the family were self-sufficient. All the children were eager to go out to work and earn money. Her mother shopped in Lampeter every Tuesday, where all the shopkeepers knew her. (The market was in Lampeter and Tregaron every other week.) Her mother would carry all the bags home on the bus. All the stall holders would put things by for her until she came. She would go into the clothes shop in Lampeter and would take several suits home for the boys to try on. After a fortnight she would take the ones she didn’t want back and pay as she could for whatever she kept.

00.09.30: ‘People knew each other so well, and they had so much faith in each other.

Eirwen helped quite a bit on the farm when she was growing up. She had to help with the house work every Saturday and thought that her brothers were lucky because they didn’t have to do it. (Her father didn’t do any housework either.) Eirwen decided to follow her sister into nursing. She left school when she was seventeen years old in 1969 but couldn’t start nursing until she was eighteen. The manageress of the canteen in Pont Llanio fell ill, and gave up her job. Eirwen’s father told her that there was a vacancy. She said,

00.13.01: ‘I thought – great – I’m starting as a manageress. Cafeteria manageress – instant! And I liked the idea. And I thought, right I’ll do it.

There was no interview as they were desperate to fill the post.

00.13.34: ‘Girls stayed at home. They didn’t go out to work… It was easy to find work.

Eirwen would have liked to have gone to teach but didn’t get the O level results needed and the next best choice she could make was to go nursing.

At the time Eirwen wanted to go away to work as she thought this would give her more experience. Over the summer holidays she would go on a trip to Aberystwyth but she wanted to see the world. She would go on a Sunday School trip to Llandudno but she had never been to Cardiff or Swansea. The prospect of going away was a difficult one for Eirwen because she was the type of person to feel homesick. Her friends were happy enough to get married and settle down in their area but she felt she was a little bit more adventurous. After she started nursing she would go home regularly on days off and she could then see her friends who would ask her how it was going. She would communicate with her mother by letter as her family didn’t have a phone at home.

Eirwen talks of being sent on errands for her mother and would have to walk miles. Her brothers would escort her but she was the one who would have to go into the shop and say what was required, while her brothers waited outside.

00.18.11: ‘Kids today have so much confidence … I was very shy and I didn’t speak a word of English.’

They didn’t have running water or central heating in the small holding in Llanddewi Brefi. There was an open fire and they boiled the kettle on it so they would have to wait a while for a cup of tea. They would have a bath on a Sunday night using a bowl of water in front of the fire. When her mother dished out the food she would start with the oldest – her father was first and then she worked her way down to Eirwen, as the youngest.

She’d made the decision a year before getting the job in Pont Llanio and had got a place in Aberystwyth starting on 4th January, 1970. The job in Pont Llanio was a good opportunity to earn some money. She feels that it gave her some confidence during the period after she had left school because she had to communicate with other people. There were about eighty people working there. The majority of the workers were male, and there were only about four women working there (in the lab).

00.21.14: ‘It was quite a lot of responsibility, looking back, just being thrown in there. I didn’t have a day with anybody telling me what I was supposed to do.”

Wil Bach had been running the canteen since Nansi (the former manageress) had become ill. He told her she would need to put a large pot of water on the stove in order to make the soup and then add the powder. She would give it a stir now and again. Fresh bread would arrive in order for her to make sandwiches. She could make any type she wanted to but had to ensure that everything was ready by the time the first lot arrived at half past nine.

She would get a lift into work from ‘Dai Bear’ but many others offered as well.

00.23.04: ‘They were lovely people, and lots of fun.’

She worked in the canteen on her own. She had helped her mother a lot at home so she had a good idea of what she should be doing. The prices were written down for her.

She didn’t feel shy there because most of the workers were friends of her father, and because she had a big family she’d had to stand up for herself.

The workers seemed old to Eirwen. When they came in at half past nine they would try and grab her and get her to sit in their lap, or ask her for a kiss. Eirwen would then send them out and lock the door.

00.25.57: ‘But totally, totally innocent … But there was a lot of mischief.’

If Eirwen’s father was present they would behave themselves.

He would clock in at eight o’clock and clock out at four. The manager would make sure that nobody checked in on anybody else’s behalf.

00.27.21: ‘They got up to all types of mischief in Pont Llanio.’

If somebody had clocked in for somebody else, it was difficult to find out who had done it as nobody would own up. (Some would leave early and get somebody else to clock out on their behalf.)

There was a strong emphasis on cleanliness in the factory.

‘We had to clean, clean, clean every day.’

But nobody checked to see that the work had been done.

When Eirwen was in school she would accompany her father to collect the churns quite often. This would be the best day out of the holidays. Sometimes he would come home with a little calf on the back of the lorry. He might open a churn and Eirwen could help herself to milk.

One of Eirwen’s brothers worked in the powder factory when she was in primary school. He worked night shift there for years and Eirwen couldn’t understand why he would be in bed during the day.

Eirwen thinks that there had been more women working there in the 1960s, when the factory was flourishing, but the number had been reduced after they stopped producing butter. By the time Eirwen started there much of the milk would be sent to Felinfach.

Eirwen’s wage was six pounds per week.

00.32.52: ‘It was big money, in my eyes.’

Eirwen saved her wages and bought new clothes in order to go away to nurse.

When she was sixteen she lived opposite the police station. The policeman’s wife worked in a home and they had an adopted daugher who was approximately six years old. Eirwen would stay the night there when the mother was working overnight and the policeman was out on call. Eirwen would take her school books with her and would be paid ‘two and six’ per night. She would play with the little girl and go upstairs at about nine o’clock with her books.

She worked in Pont Llanio for about five months, five days a week. Wil Bach came up at the end of the first day to tell her to wipe the tables. He was quite a character.

00.36.09: ‘He was only little. I could floor Wil, if he was being naughty, I could floor him… they were terrible for leg pulling … It was an experience that helped me after I went away … I’d become accustomed to talking and dealing with people...’

‘I began nursing then, and nursing men, and I wasn’t scared at all. I was accustomed to leg pulling.’

Eirwen didn’t see much of the other women who worked in the factory. She was always more wary of them because she thought they would judge her but they were always lovely.

Eirwen never went out in the evening apart from one or two dances she went to during this period. She never went to a pub in Llanddewi Brefi and indeed never went to pubs in those days.

Eirwen didn’t have to pay for anything in the factory. When she started there and saw all the crisps and chocolates in the canteen she was delighted.as she could help herself. As a result she put on a lot of weight.

The managers were male and English usually. There was one manager there all the time but Eirwen never saw him. She thinks that the Milk Marketing Board was a good company to work for and very kind. Her father would get a hamper from them every year including cheese, butter, tins of fruit, tins of salmon and boxes of chocolates. The workers would get a free Christmas lunch every year. This was the only occasion when her parents went on a night out together.

The workers went on strike in 1968 before she worked there, but Eirwen doesn’t know why. Her father was on strike, but it did the workers no good in the long run.

Eirwen wore an overall like the girls in the lab. She didn’t really have a supervisor and if she had a problem she could go to her father. There didn’t seem to be any rules there.

00.48.22: ‘’If the floor was wet and if you fell it was tough luck.’

The factory was noisy because of the machines. The lorries spewed out a lot of chemicals and smelled of petrol. It wasn’t heated so the workers had to wear plenty of warm clothing.

The canteen was busy all day. Many of the workers smoked in the canteen. Eirwen wouldn’t allow them into the kitchen to smoke there. Eirwen remembers the first time her father came to have lunch in the canteen after she had started working there. He ordered food from her and gave her the money. She gave him change and only charged him a penny or so but he insisted that he paid in full.

The factory operated throughout the year and Eirwen’s father would collect milk on Christmas day.

The workers in Pont Llanio knew that Eirwen was there on a temporary basis and would tease her about finding a man after she’d moved away. Welsh was the language of the factory. There were one or two workers who didn’t speak Welsh but she didn’t communicate much with them because she didn’t speak much English. This was difficult for her when she went to Aberystwyth to do her nursing course. It made her feel that the other student nurses were superior to her. When she had her examination results she had done just as well, if not better than the others. She could speak Welsh when she was on the wards.

It was the chapel rather than the factory that was the focus of her social life. She was happy to be leaving the factory to go nursing, but after she’d left she missed it.

Eirwen describes the experience of sharing a room when she went nursing. She didn’t get on with her room-mate because she couldn’t speak English.

She describes her time in Pont Llanio as ‘a happy time... it was a new experience.’ She’d always wanted to work in a shop and she felt like a child working in her own little shop during this period.

01.05.20: ‘At the back of my mind, I knew that my father was there, and if anything was wrong I could call upon him, and he’d put them in their place. He had that skill.’