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Mair Richards. Voices from the Factory Floor

Pont Llanio, Llanio Milk Factory, Ceredigion, 1957-1967

Interviewee: VSW057 Mair Richards

Date: 06/05/14

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

Mair left school at 15 (1952) and worked on a relative's farm for three years. Then she had a job in the laboratory in Pont Llanio and within a year was moved to the office. In the laboratory she took samples of milk. The factory made powdered milk. There was a room there for the workers to play table tennis. Office work was better paid. She prepared the wages. There was a strike in the sixties – a dispute about a driver in the Felin-fach factory. The manager was given a car and a house by the Milk Marketing Board. On her wedding day a milk lorry came down her street and rang the horn all the way. She left when she was pregnant in 1967. Since then she's done several jobs – caring in an old people's home was her favourite. She learned to type in the Pont Llanio office. It was a happy place to work.

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Interview, Mair Richards. Voices from the...

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Dai Evans Pont Llanio

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Mair Richards & Glesni Davies

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Mair Richards & Marian Gregson

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Alf Gregson Pont Llanio

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Pont Llanio Creamery Christmas dinner in Gwesty...

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Debbie Edwards & Marian Gregson, Pont Llanio

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Head of the lab and the deck boys, Pont Llanio

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Phil Rowlands Pont Llanio

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Glesni Davies & Phil Rowlands Pont Llanio

Mair was born in Ty’n Cornel, on Llanddewi Brefi mountain. Her father was a farmer and her mother helped him on the farm. Mair was an only child. She attended Llanddewi Brefi Primary School and then went on to secondary school in Tregaron. She enjoyed her time in primary school, but didn’t enjoy her experience in secondary school, and left when she was fifteen years old. She went to work for a relative on a farm in Pumpsaint for a period of three years. The daughter there had to make frequent hospital visits, and this meant that the mother was absent from the farm quite often. Mair enjoyed this work. It had been arranged for her before she’d left school, although she never expected the job to last that long.

The job on the farm came to an end and Mair heard that there was work available at the milk

factory in Pont Llanio. One of the girls working there was leaving to go to a job in Aberystwyth. Mair went to meet the manager and as a result got a job in the laboratory which lasted a year. After this time, they were implementing cutbacks which would have meant that the last people to start in the laboratory would lose their jobs so she went to work in the office there. Office work didn’t appeal to her much but the manager had suggested she try for it, and there would be a three month probationary period. She started work in December but by the end of March the manager hadn’t said whether he was happy with her work or not. She asked him and he said he was happy for her to carry on, and she was there for a period of nine years.

Mair had mixed feelings about the job at the beginning because she didn’t have much confidence in her abilities. She would have like to have gone into nursing. She feels she  wasn’t encouraged enough to go and do this.

00.05.57: ‘In those days, you went out to earn money. That’s how it was.’

Working in the lab involved testing samples of milk. Three women did this work during the time that Mair was there. The other girls showed her what to do. She knew them before she started working there. It produced powdered milk (for animals) but had been producing butter. No qualifications were needed to work in the laboratory, although the woman who worked as an analyst had been to college. There were fifty seven people working there including a mechanic, a man working in the boiler house, two on the powder, and the others  on the deck with the milk.

The women in the lab had to wear white overalls. Mair wore a blue uniform when she worked in the office. It was the manager himself who showed Mair what to do in the office. There were three different managers during the time that Mair was there, and she got on well with each one of them. The managers spoke Welsh and treated the workers fairly.

The lab and office workers started at the same time, which was half past eight, and finished at

approximately half past four. There was a morning break at ten o’clock and at lunch times there was a room available where the workers could play table tennis. There was also an afternoon break. The canteen made soup and sandwiches, although some drivers took their own sandwiches. Several of the women would knit or crochet during breaks.

When Mair started at the factory the women who worked there were single, but by 1960 married women were allowed to work there. There were no mothers with small children working there. Mair doesn’t remember how much she was paid, but she received two pounds more for working in the office than she had for working in the lab and received a pay rise every year. There were no other women working in the office with her. The wages were prepared in the factory in Felinfach, and sent to Pont Llanio. On a Friday, Mair would go to the bank in Tregaron with the manager to get the money and would fill the envelopes with the money, in order for the workers to collect them at the end of the day.

There was a lot of leg pulling in the factory. Mair remembers a strike that took place in the 1960s which was a miserable time. Mair can’t remember the cause of the strike – it was a dispute that had originated in Pont Llanio rather than in Felinfach – and it was something to do with drivers.

00.19.47: ‘I didn’t know that it was going to take place and when I went down to the factory they stopped me. I wasn’t to go through the gate. And the manager was inside, saying come in … Most of the workers had gone out on strike except for one driver. And he was on the lorry, in the yard, ready to go out, and there he was but they wouldn’t let him pass … The manager was telling me to go in and the boys were telling me not to. Well, I was going to listen to him wasn’t I? It was a bit awkward, you know.’

Some of the farmers would come into the factory to help during this time because they had to keep things going. One woman had brought milk in and went to help on the deck.

Mair remembers that there was a union there, and she remembers paying her membership money, although she doesn’t remember which union it was.

Everybody had to clock in and out of the factory. When Mair started working there she would go to dances as far away as Bow Street and Llanybydder.

Mair thinks the workers were treated fairly, and apart from the time of the strike, the relationship between workers and managers were good. Under the manager, there was a foreman called Dai Evans.

The majority of the workers came from the Llanddewi area. During her early years there Mair would cycle to work from Tregaron, like many of the other workers. She was nineteen years old when she started working there. The manager was provided with a car by the Milk Marketing Board to come to work. He would also be provided with a house. The manager’s wife would sometimes come in to the office to type when it was really busy there.

The noisiest place in the factory was on the deck. The factory was heated so it was warm enough there, and it was well lit. It was a small place compared to Felinfach. Mair knew some of the people working there as well.

Christmas time a party would be arranged in the factory itself. They would have a big draw and a tea after work but they weren’t allowed to drink alcohol.

00.33.05: ‘I remember the morning I got married – seven o’clock in the morning and the milk lorry coming. I was living in Tregaron at the time and the milk lorry coming down the street honking its horn … and disturbing everybody.’

Mair was very friendly with the girl who worked as an analyst. She came from Llanarth and lodged with one of the drivers. Mair got married in 1965 and continued working until 1967 when she had her daughter. Her husband was happy for her to carry on working after they got married.

After finishing in Pont Llanio, Mair didn’t work for four years and then went to work with the Farmers’ Union. She had learnt to type in Pont Llanio and used these skills in her new job. She worked for the Union for two years and then cared for her mother. Within weeks of losing her mother she had a divorce. This was a difficult time for Mair and she had to look for a job. She found one in an old people’s home in Lampeter, and worked there for eighteen years. She loved this job.

There was a typewriter in the office in Pont Llanio and the manager, Gwynfryn Evans, would encourage Mair to practice her typing at every opportunity.

She had a fortnight’s holiday in Pont Llanio. There was no shut down during the summer months, like at other factories. Mair could choose when she took her holidays and a woman from the factory in Felinfach would cover for her.

When Mair started in the factory there was a shifts system, with workers working overnight. Three of them worked in the lab, and swapped shifts every other week. The later shift started at half past five in the evening and the foreman would have to take them home afterwards.

The factory operated seven days a week, even though Mair didn’t work a Saturday or a Sunday. Mair’s parents were glad she had work. The lad in the storeroom and the manager were very supportive.

Workers went on holiday with their families rather than with each other. Mair can’t recall any trips being organised for the workers at the factory.

Mair was very sad when Morlais Jones, the manager, left. He was a local lad from Dyffryn Aeron, and got a job with the Milk Marketing Board in Crudgington. The manager in that factory had had a serious accident and was sent to Pont Llanio to work as it was a smaller factory with less responsibility.

There were rumours in Pont Llanio while Mair was there that the factory would close. The biggest shock was that the factory in Felinfach also shut. Mair said of her time in Pont Llanio,

00.49.10: ‘It wasn’t somewhere that I would have chosen to work, but having said that, it was such a homely place … there would have been something wrong with you if you weren’t happy there.’

She was really sad to leave. She said,

00.50.46: ‘On the one hand I was happy because I was expecting a baby, on the other hand I felt I was going to miss the company.’

Mair describes getting the job at Hafan Deg old people’s home in Lampeter.

00.54.57:

Mair talks about her photographs of the workers at Pont Llanio factory.

http://www.lleisiaumenywodffatri.cymru/uploads/VSW057.2.pdf

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