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Patricia Prudence White. Voices from the Factory Floor

RSW garment factory, Cwmbran;Lotery's Factory, Newport

Interviewee: VSW058 Patricia Prudence White

Date: 15/05/14

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

Patricia left school at 15 (c.1951) and hoped to go to university, but her brother needed an apprenticeship instead. Describes how her mother was treated unfairly by Redifusion. Factory work had a stigma, but wages good. Lotery's made uniform tailoring. She did an evening class in dress making and design at the same time. She wrote operas and did crossword puzzles to occupy her mind. Working on the overlocker was ‘mindless'. People there from different backgrounds and abilities. Expert lip reading and no secrets. Rivalry between smokers and non-smokers about productivity. Intricacies of piece-work – a lot to learn. Time and motion strategies. Concise movements made work more efficient. Challenging the manager by singing. Union relationship with management poor. After a time driving a minibus, she was offered a job at RSW. Career details: Lotery's c.7-8 years (c.1951-8), c. six months in Western Biscuits; returned to Lotery's (c.1960-4/5) as machinist then trainer. She worked for RSW 1974-78.

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Interview interview part one, Patricia Prudence...

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Interview interview part two, Patricia Prudence...

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Patricia’s maiden name was Patricia Baggett. Patricia was born on 15th August 1936 in Newport, Monmouthshire. Her father was a steel worker, but he died when she was thirteen years old from occupational cancer. Patricia’s father’s family had all come down from the Midlands with Lycetts (although Patricia’s father did not work for them when he died.) Patricia is the eldest of three children – she has two younger brothers. Patricia’s father suffered from ill health from when she was approximately six years old, although the reason for his illness was unknown at the time. He had cancer of the lung, bowels. Patricia’s mother had to work during his illness, because there was no other income. Nobody from the family offered to look after the children while her mother went to see her father in Sully, so her mother would give Patricia the money to take her brothers to the cinema in the afternoon, and for chips for lunch. Her father was in and out of hospital during this time. He was sent home eventually, and the doctor would come every day to give him a morphine injection. Her mother did all sorts of jobs, including cleaning. Her mother’s half sister would normally be in the house when they got home from school, even though she was only a school girl herself. (She was in grammar school.)

Patricia attended Eaveswell Primary School and then on to a ‘modern secondary school’. She had passed her eleven plus but left school when she was fifteen. When she left school she started going to art classes at night school, and passed a scholarship examination which meant she could have gone to Bristol University but it meant she would have to spend a year getting the equivalent of ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels. She had a talk with her mother about it and they decided that because her younger brother would need an apprenticeship, because eventually he would have a family to look after. For this reason she didn’t take the scholarship in order to give her two brothers the opportunity to further themselves.

00.06.10: She said, ‘I didn’t mind. She had a hard life ... I would have liked to have done it but it wasn’t to be.’

When she left school at fifteen, she worked one week in a grocer’s shop (circa 1950/1).

00.07.14: She said, ‘Passing your eleven plus didn’t necessarily take you to grammar school.’

There were secondary modern (if you didn’t pass your eleven plus) or a modern secondary school, which Patricia attended. Patricia didn’t dislike school while she was there. Patricia had several little jobs before she left school – babysitting, helping in an antique shop in order to give her mother money. Patricia remembers her mother working for Redifusion, collecting television rental money. She had taken on the job of a man who had died, but her employers claimed it was a different job because they had taken one street out of the round and refused to pay her the same rate.

00.09.05: She said, ‘Women have always been sold down the river.’

There was a monthly bonus with the job. Every month she would have to take her pension book into the pension people, who would deduct the bonus out of her widow’s pension. It would amount to five or six pounds. Patricia remembers her mother crying because they had deducted money from her, when Patricia’s brother, Leonard, needed new shoes.

Patricia worked for a week or two weeks in the grocer’s shop. It closed early on a Thursday, so she went over to the clothing factory to ask for a job, and started the following Monday. She didn’t even bother going back to the shop to tell them. Jobs were very easy to come by. She hated working at the grocer’s shop. It didn’t suit her. She didn’t like the people who worked in the shop.

00.10.59: ‘Working in a factory had a terrible, sort of, stigma.... In Newport if you worked in Standard Telephones, that was a little bit upmarket. You know, you were a little bit better than people that worked in a clothing factory.’

00.11.27: ‘If you went in to the clothing factory, you were working at the lower end of the scale. You know, they didn’t think you were worth much.’

This was true despite the fact that wages at the factory were very good. When somebody started work at the factory, they were given three weeks training. If they were very good, they didn’t stay in training for the full three weeks. Patricia only remained in training for two days before being put on a job on a line.

Patricia knew of many girls who had gone into the clothing factory. The factory was called Loterys, run by a Jewish family, and was a uniform tailoring factory. The stigma attached to working in a factory didn’t bother Patricia, and her motivation for going to work there was that she didn’t want to work in the shop, and her family circumstances dictated that she needed to work somewhere.

There was an interview when she went to ask for a job, ‘but nothing much’. She went there on her own, and they asked her if she’d had any sewing experience, which she hadn’t, despite her mother being good at sewing. Pat didn’t actually like sewing at the time. When she started in the factory on the Monday she enrolled in the art college and did an evening class in dress making and design which she thought might help her to get on. She did this so that she wouldn’t be stuck in a factory. Her cousin started at the same time as her, and they both did their City and Guilds qualifications. Her cousin also did a course which gave her a teaching qualification in order to teach needlework.

When she started there was a women called Mrs Gill teaching a group of them. Pat didn’t feel intimidated by the experience, but comments that it was noisy there. She also had to get used to using an industrial sewing machine, as opposed to the old fashioned hand sewing machines. It didn’t take her long.

00.15.38: ‘It’ not rocket science... It’s one of those things that’s easy to do. I never had trouble with anything.... You didn’t use any of your mind – only about a quarter or .... even an eighth of your brain.’

Patricia says there were ‘loads of things’ that she could do with the girls, such as writing operas, or do crossword puzzles, in order to occupy her mind. The other girls all though they were ‘made’. A colleague called Marie de la Mer used to write operas with her. Patricia’s mother hated her involvement with her. According to

Patricia, Marie wasn’t stupid. Music was a passion for both of them. They invented scenarios for the heroine, who would always die.

At this time Patricia was working on an overlocker-type machine. (They were called ‘surges’ then, and were machines that finished the edge of the fabric.) This work was absolutely ‘mindless’, and really monotonous.

They were allowed to talk, but it was frowned upon, and anyway, they wouldn’t have been able to stop Mari (Marie?) from talking. They were separated in the end.

Patricia was still fourteen years old when she started at the factory. When she started there she was given pieces of test fabric to practice on, and Patricia thought the tasks were a bit pathetic. (They weren’t part of a garment.) No qualification were needed to work there.

00.19.50: ‘It was pretty brainless.’

Patricia estimates there were nearly a thousand people working there at its peak.

00.20.10: ‘There was good company there because you are talking about a whole, entirely mixed bunch of ability there from different backgrounds and different abilities, mental abilities.’

Many girls were brought in on buses from the Valleys, from Brynafon and Ebbw Vale, and New Tredegar, and most of their parents worked in the coal mines. There was a big accident at Nine Mile Point, and this incident affected the whole factory. It wasn’t announced until the buses had arrived, and they were then told that the girls from the places near the disaster could all go home. Half the girls from the factory left. Nobody knew at that point who was involved in the accident, and even if relatives had not been injured they might be involved in the rescue effort.

There was another incident when one of the supervisor’s son went in to hospital to have one of the first quadruple by-pass operations. This affected everybody in the factory

Nobody in the factory could keep a secret, and everybody could lip read, because of the noise. Everybody knew that this woman’s son was in Chepstow having this operation, so everything was tense all day because everybody was rooting for this boy. At approximately half past three, or four o’ clock it was announced that he had pulled through the operation. He re-started work again about four months later.

00.23.45: ‘We had a lot of fun mind, you know, there was a lot of fun went on, a lot of bitching and arguments as well. When you get a lot of women, that’s what you get. There would be arguments about boys, or fellas.’

There were quite a few men working in the cutting room – they would cut the garments that would be made, made the patterns, and were mechanics that maintained the machines and presses. There were steam pressers and finish pressers – pressing was a highly skilled job. When the garments were finished, then

they had to be pressed, and if there was something wrong with the garments, a presser could sort this out by, for example, shrinking parts of it.

00.25.21:A good presser was worth their weight in gold.’

The ratio of men to women was about one to thirty. The men and the women didn’t work in the same place, they were divided by partitions. There was an enormous cutting room, with enormous tables.

00.26.12: ‘Cutting again, is a very skilled job’.

All the factory work was piece work, and rates of pay for piece work would be worked out by time and motion people. (This is something that Patricia did at some point.)

00.26.52: ‘They don’t give you much opportunity to make money. You might be able to cover your money. Some people didn’t make much money. But I think I always made a lot of money.’

Patricia worked with an Italian girl. ‘The Italian girls could really work.’ They were very competitive. She worked with one girl who wouldn’t let her do one stitch more than her.

00.24.24: ‘I was always fortunate, because, one, I never smoked, and two, I never keep going to the toilet. If you smoked, you had to keep on going to the toilet. They didn’t like it mind – these girls, who couldn’t earn the money, and you were earning good money. There would be a lot of trouble about it.’

00.28.04: ‘This Italian girl, I wouldn’t have let her do one more stitch than me... She was the same, she never smoked, .. the only time we left the machines was for breaks.’

They wouldn’t let you work through your breaks, as this was against the law. They were working eight hour days. They started at eight in the morning, and worked until five o’clock. A good canteen was provided. Employment laws protected the workers even as far as back as then.

Married and single girls worked there and not all of the women worked full time. In the beginning they had to work full time but as time went on this rule was relaxed because it was becoming more difficult to get labour.

As far as the piece work was concerned, some girls couldn’t work out that what was needed to be done in order to earn a higher wage. What was required was to cut out every single movement that wasn’t necessary. You were given a repetitive task, eg putting a pocket lining on, and that’s all you did. (That’s why Patricia says it was ‘mindless’.) If you were on a line, you worked in pairs. The garment would come on to the top of the table. It would have been sorted in the cutting room. Each bundle was numbered so that when it was opened, all the pieces stayed together. For example, if they had twenty garments there all the pieces needed to have the same corresponding numbers, otherwise the dye colours would be different. There was a lot to learn. If your own work dried up there was nothing to stop you doing the work of the other girls, and then your own, and then passing it on down the line. Each job had a ticket, that you took off and put into a folder. It was team work. The work of the smokers would pile up while they were gone because it was a ‘continuum movement’ down through the line. There were usually about fifty jobs on the line, and about four people doing the same job. But some girls didn’t like the fact that Pat would pick up work that they hadn’t done. Patricia mentions the competition between the girls to earn the most money, and mentions the ‘Italian girl again.’

00.33.14: ‘I don’t know what her name is, and we very rarely talked, but you know there was a lot of competition between the two of us, and we would sort of mop up all the spare stuff.’

‘At the end of the week you had what you’d done in your pay packet.’

There were targets that had to be maintained, and which would give you one or two seconds to do a task. If the time and motion people were setting a target and timing somebody you would try and stretch the task, and when performing it for your own purposes you would minimise movements in order to maximise your earnings.

00.34.25: ‘The whole thing was to cut down on any unnecessary movement. That’s the only way you could beat the timings. You could not be fiddling around with scissors or you know, you’d have be able to wind your spare bobbin up. You had to be concise with all the movements, because you were talking about cutting seconds off. You know, you had to be conscious of all those seconds... It’s something that’s affected the whole of my life since because you were very conscious of time. .. It makes you very efficient.’

Patricia said that they would have ‘little wrangles’ with the management about the timings of tasks, but they would never win.

Patricia didn’t mind that there were no secrets in the factory. She mentions ‘an incident’ that occupied a whole day at the factory. There was a man called Mr Nash who worked at the factory as a manager. He would come out of the factory office and stand on the factory floor and forget that the girls could lip read. Everybody in the factory would know what he was talking about because they could lip read.

00.38.03: ‘If you wanted to talk to a girl on the other side of the factory you know you’d wait until you caught her and give her a little wave, and you’d talk to her and she’d answer you but you couldn’t hear anything because of the noise of the machines, so everybody was expert, expert lip readers.’

Referring back to ‘the incident’ Patricia says that somebody had written graffiti on the walls of the ladies’ toilet.

00.39.00: ‘He was a terrible man, Harry, he never used his brain.’

He announced over the tannoy that if the graffiti didn’t cease, he would arrange that all the toilet doors were removed. All the girls were talking about it. He had also said that if the waving across the factory floor didn’t stop, he was going to have military band music put on the tannoy instead of the usual music. When the girls

favourite songs came on over the tannoy they would wave. This day he was in a particularly bad mood. He came out after making the announcement, and stormed the aisle in the factory, and stepped in a fire bucket. He couldn’t get his foot out, and was walking along trying to get the bucket off. Everybody was laughing. The girls didn’t stop waving, so he acted on his threat and had military band music put on over the tannoy, but the girls started singing along, with Mr Nash walking up and down the line telling them to shut up. The ones in front of him would all shut up as he was going along the line, but would all start singing behind him.

00.41.15: ‘He’d put himself out on a branch and sawn the branch through.’

Patricia was supervisor at the time, and he told her to stop the girls from singing, but Patricia told me it was his problem.

00.41.36: ‘We laughed, and we laughed all day. It was the most fun day we’d ever had. Nobody did any work. It was a whole day of production lost.’

At about four o’clock, the usual music came on again, and everybody cheered. They settled down and started working but it was nearly time to go home.

00.42.15: ‘It was a victory for the girls. It was a very enjoyable day. I’ll never forget it.’

He didn’t dare take the toilet doors off, and Pat thinks the girls might have lynched him if he had.

00.42.35: ‘He was a very small man who looked like Hitler.’

When Patricia worked for him several years later she would call him the Fuhrer, and he knew this. She used to tell him when he was in a good mood, that the supervisors were all intelligent people, and could control all the girls. (This was a place where they were always going out on strike – it was another factory in Cwmbran – RSW’s?) It would always be down tools, and the union representatives would be up in his office. The first thing they would do was light their cigarettes.

Patricia says that he never learnt his lesson. He would have a brainstorm over the weekend and try and introduce his new ideas in the factory on the Monday, ‘his new regime’. But the union ‘wouldn’t have it.’ Rather than coming in and implementing a trial, which would have been acceptable to the union, he would come in and try and change everything on a Monday morning.

He once said that he’d lost thousands, upon thousands of blouses, which would have meant that every single person in the factory was involved in a major scam! He threatened to get the police involved, and told them they were all going to be searched and that they were all going to prison. As production manager, Pat told him he couldn’t do that. He used to have a calculator with a lever on the side on his desk, and he would type figures into it. When they would be in the office with the union and they would all be screaming at each other, Patricia would have an overwhelming desire to get a fire axe and bring the axe down through his hand and through the machine because he couldn’t really work it.

00.46.45: ‘He was really off his box’.

Patricia thinks he may have become factory manager because he owned shares in the company. After the bust ups in the office with the union, Pat, as production manager would leave the office laughing. It was upstairs, and she would walk down the stairs with the laughter would echo back up the stairs. He told her, ‘Your chancing your arm, you are, I’ll have you one day.’

Having said that, the girls were very, very fond of him, and would have done anything for him.

00.48.10: ‘I have often come across this, when there is a man who is not quite up to the job, and would do him down the river, and they all think he’s wonderful.’

He had a moustache like Hitler, and all around his mouth was brown due to smoking. (He used to roll own cigarettes.) He always had a cigarette in his mouth and died of lung cancer circa 1979.

Patricia describes the bust ups Mr Nash had with the Union over his ‘daft ideas’. They were basically good ideas but the problem was the way he tried to implement them, as he never tried to talk them through first.

00.49.22: If you have quite a lot of union staff, they won’t put up with changes, and you’ve got to win them over, and show them what benefit it’s going to be to them. You can’t just take something off, you’ve got to give them something.... It’s human nature. And he never sort of twigged, that if you had a meeting with the union they wouldn’t have had to come and see you as a deputation. ’

In RSW in Cwmbran, the workers were all members of the union. (Mr Nash had worked at Lotery’s and then moved to RSW.) It was a very closed community, and they all knew each other. After working at Lotery’s, Pat was working for Kenny Williams, and driving a mini-bus for him, taking the girls to work in a factory down by the transporter bridge in Newport. Harry Nash found out from her friend Jackie, that Pat was working for Kenny Williams and he found her. She told him she was also driving the mini-bus. He turned up at her home with a brand new mini-bus and offered her a job at RSW. Both she and her friend Jackie decided to go and work for him because they always followed each other everywhere.

Patricia was at Lotery’s for a period of ten to twelve years. Her friend, Jackie, and two others had a row with their supervisor there and decided to go to Western Biscuits, so Patricia decided to go with them. Patricia stuck it for six or seven months, even though she didn’t like it there. The money was very good. Pat had met a girl called Isabel, and Pat really liked her. They would be laughing together all day, although this didn’t affect their work. This got on their supervisor’s nerves because she couldn’t stop them from talking so she moved Pat from packing biscuits to making boxes as a punishment, so that she was working on her own. She didn’t mind. It was easier than packing biscuits but she was on her own. She decided to go back to Lotery’s and got a job as a machinist again (rather than supervisor.) She had been there a week when she was offered the job of training approximately forty girls who had joined the factory from a candlewick factory that had closed down in the Rhondda. The problem was, they couldn’t sew!

There was another man at Lotery’s called Mr Bennett, who looked like Winston Churchill and used to frighten Pat to death. He had a very gruff voice, and she’d always been scared of him. He called her to the office and she thought she was going to be sacked but she was asked to take on a job supervising the line (ie the Rhondda girls.) He told her if she had any trouble she was to stand on a machine and yell, and he would send her help. She started supervising on the Monday, and it was a nightmare. The girls had been working for about three weeks already, and they couldn’t sew. When they were taken on it was mistakenly assumed that they could sew. There were rejects and bad work nearly up to the roof. She tried to sort it out for two days and didn’t know what to do and decided to stop working coming onto the line. She asked for all the work they’d done to be sent back to the cutting room and sorted, and said she wouldn’t accept any more work onto the line until the problem was sorted.

There was another man working in the factory whom she had learnt a lot from and he approached her and told her, ‘you’re for it now.’ Pat was a bit worried and had to inform the chap from London that she was going to train these girls on one bundle of work, and wouldn’t accept another one until the standard was okay. She worked with the girls in pairs until they could do the job, which took her a fortnight. Mr Bennett approached her at the end of the second week and gave her a white envelope. Patricia assumed it was her notice but the envelope contained a ten pound note. Ron (the man who had previously warned her that she was for it now) informed her that this had come out of his own pocket.

01.05.30: ‘It’s no good doing things unless you have fun. So we used to have a lot of fun.’

The girls in Lotery’s were from various places in the Valleys, Newport and Cwmbran. In RSW they were from further up the Valleys, and they were using their own transport, not buses. The mini-bus that Pat drove was according to her, an innovation. She would pick the girls up in Newport and take them to work. (This was Mr Nash’s mini-bus)

Pat has also worked for social services, looking after children, in the period before she went to RSW. She worked in RSW between 1974 and 1978. Harry Nash’s mini-bus was an ‘innovation’ according to Pat. She would pick the girls up from Newport and take them to work, and Pat considered it was her vehicle to do with however she liked.

Pat’s mother died in 1978 so Pat had a week off work. When she returned Harry had arranged for the mechanic to drive the mini-bus, and Harry Nash told her it was a permanent arrangement, and therefore she would no longer be driving it. As a consequence she told him ‘what to do with his job.’ Pat thought that Harry had done this because she’d had a week off work.

When she got home her first husband asked her what she was going to do for a job, so she phone Ken Williams and asked him if he had any work. He replied that he did but that she would have to be self-employed. He had a place in Rogert, Caldicot, and was trying to get somebody to take on the manufacturing of check shirts and jeans for Richard Branson’s shop in Cardiff. After her husband left her Pat considered being self-employed too risky, and sought other employment.

Pat describes the meeting that would take place in RSW between Harry and the union representatives who would challenge his new decisions. He would then back down and work would resume, as normal. But Patricia thinks that working relations were good there, despite these bust ups. It wasn’t a big place. There were only about sixty or seventy girls working there. They did work for Marks and Spencers, Next and Mothercare. Patricia describes this type of garment making as the ‘cut and make’.

The factory was at the end of a very long lane. Pat used to catch the bus, or sometimes she would walk and meet the other girls at the bus stop. It was only about three ha’pennies to get on the bus but it was still an amount that she didn’t have sometimes.

01.01.05: ‘We would then walk in a great crowd down to the factory, which was about a twenty minute walk from the bus stop.’

There were no other factories in the area. There was a railway on the one side of this road, and the backs of houses on the other. It was almost in Caerleon.

01.01.49: ‘So you had this very long walk, so if it was raining you’d get soaked. If there was a great crowd of you, you didn’t notice it. We’d have a really good laugh going to work.’

‘They were always coming up with inventions. They were an imaginative lot. They used to try and invent a sort of umbrella which encompassed you all, that you put the umbrella up and it hung down and you were inside it and it was absolutely weather-proof... We were forever designing this walking umbrella. I told you, they were a mad crowd. Or we would be writing books, which we were going to submit to a publisher... Romantic books mostly, you know, being that age. And as I told you they used to do crosswords, so you couldn’t do that walking. Once you got inside, that was an occupation you could do.’

Of the other girls Pat said (01.03.28): ‘They didn’t like it if you earned more money. You could do what you liked as long as you didn’t earn more money than them. And I told you, it was piece work so there was opportunities to earn good money. And I told you this Mari de la Mer ... they shifted up in the end because when we were together, we’d be laughing all the time.’

‘Sometimes it got on management’s nerves, you weren’t there to enjoy yourself, you were there to work. It’s amazing how it gets up people’s nose, if you’re having a good time , especially if you’r also earning good money.’

01.04.37: ‘Management is a very funny.... When some people get into management, you have all sorts of trouble.’

Patricia and her friend Jacqueline were going out one night straight from work. Pat was supervising at the time, and they went into the supervisors’ toilets to change and put their make up on. A key was required to open the door. There was trouble when it was found out that Patricia had taken her friend in there. Some of the other supervisors didn’t like it.

Patricia remembers another element in the story she told in part one of her interview about the manager Mr Nash who was annoyed that the girls were waving at each other on the factory floor.

01.05.56:Every time he showed his nose around to come into the factory, his name was Harry Nash, this guy, everybody in the factory would sing, “Let him go, let him tarry, let him sink, or let him swim.” ... Five hundred voices, even if they’re not trained voices, can produce quite a good sound, and it would be blasting out over this military band music. And that was how he came to have his foot in the fire bucket. He lost it completely. I thought he was going to have a heart attack.’

Pat repeats the story of how she used to drive the minibus for Harry Nash, years later at RSW, and how he took the responsibility from her. She resigned as a consequence. When Ken Williams offered her the chance to work for him on a freelance basis, Pat saw her chance to get her own back on Harry, and recruited all his best machinists. He had told Patricia that she was going to go bankrupt, and was telling the girls at RSW the same. She rang him up and told him that she was upset about this (even though she wasn’t) and advised him to stop as Ken Williams wouldn’t be too happy either. He apologised and told her to come and get some cotton from the factory.

01.11.30: ‘He was like Hitler. He looked like Hitler, he acted like Hitler. I used to call him the Fuhrer... I did once say it to his face... He just said, You’re chancing your arm my girl... He did have a sense of humour though... He was a force to be reckoned with.’

After Pat had finished at RSW, the bus service she had provided only lasted another four months because he had to pay Clive the mechanic to do it so it cost Harry an extra two hours a day in labour costs, to run the bus, as he had never paid Pat.

The working day in Loterys was from eight o’clock in the morning to five o’clock in the afternoon. There was a ten minute break in the morning and in the afternoon. There was half an hour’s break for lunch. There was no uniform for workers on the factory floor, but supervisors were provided with an overall.

When Patricia became a supervisor in Loterys, it changed her relationship with her good friend, Jacqui, and the special friends that she spent her time with, because she couldn’t be seen to have favourites. Also, she didn’t work with them anymore. She worked with a different set of girls.

01.16.15: ‘What I’ll say it, and I’ll always maintain this. There’s five hundred of them, and you might know individuals, a few individuals, throughout the factory. And you know a lot by sight, but you don’t really know them. You see them often to know that they are part of the factory workers. But because you are one of a few, they’ll know every single thing about your business. And they think they know you, so when they meet you out they’ll greet you like an old friend, thinking that you know just as much about them as they know about you. But you don’t you see. They’re just a face in a crowd. You only get to know the ones you are immediately working with.’

Patricia felt conscious that her new role as supervisor had made a difference to her relationship with her friends. She didn’t mind that everybody knew her business because it was inevitable that she was of interest to them, because she was in a ‘superior.’

01.18.18: ‘They’d talk about you, whether it was good or bad, probably hate your guts. They wanted to know you, so they’d want to know all about you. It’s a strange phenomenon.’

There was a lot of gossiping in the factory.

She said, ‘You know what women are, some of it could be quite catty. But it depends on you. If you are catty you can belong to this catty group. But if you’re not, they don’t come into your area, because you don’t have anything to do with them you see. They’re not your sort. Even in a factory, the type of person you’d want to be friends with, you wouldn’t be friends with the ones that you wouldn’t be friends with in any circumstances, because they’re not your sort. You’d have nothing in common.’

Patricia doesn’t think that a supervisor’s job was one that was coveted. When Pat worked at a hospital she was always looking for supervisors and she found that it was no good trying to bring them in from outside, because they didn’t know the set up and would require teaching from scratch.

01.20.40: ‘To try and get some of the girls who you knew would do well, to take on the responsibility was hard because that big step of over the threshold of being one of the girls, and being in management, some of them didn’t want to take it. They ... didn’t want it. They wanted to be with the girls. So I instigated a system where – there was a couple of girls I had who were really good when I worked in the hospital. And they wouldn’t take on a supervisor’s role. So in the end I said to the one girl, she’s done really well for herself now, “why don’t you take it on temporarily and give it a try.’

She tried it for a day but noticed that the other girls didn’t really respect her, so she ordered more overalls, and gave the girls a supervisor’s overall, and told her when she did her supervisor’s duty she had to wear it so that all the other girls knew she was no longer one of them. She gave it a go, so when a vacancy came she had a trained supervisor.

01.22.16: ‘She took the job then because she knew what it entailed, and she wasn’t afraid of it any more. And she’d sorted out her relationship with the rest of the girls so it wasn’t a big transition from one role to the other... What I said to her was, “you don’t always want to be a cleaner... If she had a chance to go on and increase her earnings, the whole family benefitted.”

‘[It] was a lack of confidence and lack of ambition because they don’t think they can do it... She was a brilliant supervisor and she’s gone on, to a quite a high position in the hospital now.’

Patricia talks of her role as supervisor and later on as production manager. She said,

‘They don’t like you because you tell them what to do... You can be popular and unpopular. If you always get things done, if you do your job, that’s the thing. If you do what your paid for, they’re [the girls] going to always want you to be on their side. ... You’ve got to control these girls haven’t you. It’s a peculiar relationship you’ve got with the people who work for you. You’ve got to be able to make them do what you want, without any hassle. And if you says “do it” they’re going to do it because they know you’re not taking advantage of them, and you’re not bossing them around. They’ve just to do it because you’ve told them they’ve got to do it. It’s a difficult relationship.’

01.26.04: ‘When I first took supervisor, there was a lot of resentment about it from other supervisors.

‘There was one or two who were really helpful, but there was one or two who would be after your blood really.... They would tell you wrong information.... It was always amazing which ones turned out to be helpful to you.’

She was paid one pound, seven and six when she started, and was given a pay rise every year because it was age incremented.

01.27.25: ‘If you started and you were fifteen, and I was fifteen, you had the wages of a fifteen year old... You would get full pay when you were eighteen. But working piece work, it didn’t matter... Your basis rate was less, but you got the same money for the piece work.... The rate for the piece work was universal so you’d get what you’d earned.’

Patricia says there was never one union that could encompass the whole of the workers at the factory. She thinks a union was necessary, even though she felt she could always stand up for herself. But it was also very easy to ‘walk’, and go and get another job in a different factory.

01.29.00: ‘I didn’t believe in unions, and my mother didn’t believe in unions. So I would never have joined a union plus you had to pay the union fees, which you didn’t want taken out of your wages.’

Patricia doesn’t believe that the unions ever became powerful in the clothing trade. There was a strike before the war which she thinks was significant. People committed suicide over it. Clothing workers in the Midlands came out on strike. They wanted thrupence ha’penny more per hour. They were out for nearly eight or nine weeks. They went back to work, and got an increase of one a half pennies. The strike had failed, and during it the workers, both men and women, had been in such desperate straits.

Patricia talks of the way the British workforce was enslaved and the predominance of the Establishment.

Of all the people Pat worked with at Loterys and RSW she quite admired Harry Nash, and another manager who always explained things and was very helpful. He wasn’t part of the blame culture.

Patricia remembers several accidents occurring and had a needle through her own finger several times. They had a doctor who would come in and examine all new workers. She said,

01.38.14:“You had to watch him. He was a little bit .... When I see these things about Rolf Harries, ... you don’t know what we had to go through... You would always have to strip to the waist. And if you wouldn’t take your bras off he would go. (SHE PINGS HER BRA.) ... Ping your bra... That was him, he used to enjoy his job he did. All the girls went on about him.... It was a laugh. Everybody had suffered at his hands... Nobody had complained either. At least I don’t think they did. It was a factor of life. You know, you had to go and have this medical, and he was the doctor that did the medical examination and that was the way he was. You know, he’d touch you up, so you didn’t take any notice... It was an ordeal... They’d say, “oh God,” especially if you were ordered to go for some reason or other. If you had a rash or anything.... you’d still have to strip to the waist. You know, it was just a fact of life.’

00.40.24: ‘You never voluntarily went to see this man. You were ordered.’

The doctor would come about once a month, and would be in with the nurse, who would always be present.

Dermatitis was prevalent in the factory because they were working with cloth, and there were mites living in the cloth. Workers could become allergic to the cloth. Sometimes there were chemicals in it which would come out when the cloth was steamed which would affect pressers, and give them respiratory problems.

There was always a big turn-over of female workers because jobs were so easy to come by. In Newport there was a water heater making factory, and Standard Telephones. Working at Standard Telephones was considered a much better job.

01.43.12: ‘It was all part of the snobbery.’ Patricia doesn’t think that the money was better there but the women considered themselves educationally superior.

00.43.48:If you worked in a clothing factory, it was something you had for the rest of your life. You would learn something that was useful and pertinent to the rest of your life, if you were good at learning. It wasn’t just piece work and repetitive stuff. You could make garments for yourself, you could make garments for your children.’

Patricia worked in uniform tailoring at Loterys rather than in a clothing factory where she just sewed parts of garments together.

00.45.16: ‘There used to be trouble, especially over fellas. If they would fight ... physically, some times.’

Patricia remembers seeing a fight in the cloak room area. Everybody was going down to have a look but Patricia was more interested in earning money. In Lotery’s it got very hot in the summer. It was a new factory unit at the time. The factory has been re-located from London.

Patricia believes that working in the noise of a clothing factory affected workers’ hearing but compensation was not and is not available for clothing factory workers who have suffered hearing loss.

Patricia talks about developing the ability to lip read in the factory in order to ‘talk’ to girls on the factory floor, although this was a skill that she lost when she stopped using it.

Patricia worked a forty eight hour weeks, and thinks that Saturday work was included. The working hours were eight to five o’clock from Monday to Friday, and eight until about twelve or one o’clock on a Saturday. Hours were reduced to forty hours.

They had a lovely canteen in Loterys, which provided good food. They also had a Work’s Council, which Patricia considers to have been very progressive. They had different girls, from different sections of the factory who would stay behind for an evening. A substantial tea would be provided and they would have a meeting in the canteen where they would discuss all the grievances from their sections with management. They were representatives from the factory floor, chosen by the girls. There would also be supervisors present and top management as well. Mr Lotery would often come down for the meetings. They were held every three or four months. They used to discuss things like long queues not moving fast enough during break times when time for having a cup of tea was limited. The time the canteen would keep you waiting during break times was always a bone of contention. There were complaints that the cleaning of the toilets and cloak rooms wasn’t done properly, and complaints about the girls writing on the walls. Some of the comments were really, really rude.

The clothing trade had a close-down fortnight during the last week of July, and the first week of August, which meant that the workers didn’t have a choice about when they took their holidays. Patricia went abroad on holiday during this time, to Spain and Holland. Many people didn’t do this at the time, but Patricia’s cousin worked on the railways, and used to get cheap travel so Pat would go with her, and went abroad for the first time when she was fifteen years old.

Patricia didn’t socialise much with people outside work, as she said there was no time. There was always a Christmas dinner dance when the management all came, which would be held in a local hotel. They also used to run trips during the factory shut down for people who didn’t go on holiday, such as trips to Weston-super-mare on the paddle steamer, or go to Barry Island on the bus. There was no Sports and Social club but Pat used to play tennis with two men from the cutting room and they had a tennis court at the back of the factory, adjacent to the canteen. They also used to let her keep a canoe there, as the factory wasn’t far from the river. It was owned by her and her brother and it saved them from carting it back and fore on the back of a bike.

Many of the workers used to cycle to work but never did organised sports as such.

When Patricia was at Lotery’s they always had government inspectors coming round because they made clothes for the army, and British Rail. Contracts like these aren’t available now. Patricia talks about the sub-standard uniform issued to her son during his time in the army, which was made abroad.

01.03.58: It’s the money you’ve got to go for because at the end of the day that’s what benefits your family most isn’t it. If you’ve got to be out working, and most of us can’t afford to say home anymore, you’ve got to go where you’re getting the most for your time, the time you’re away from the family.’

Patricia started work about 1950 or 1951 at Loterys when she was fifteen. She worked there for three to four years then she worked at Western Biscuits for about eight months. She returned to Loterys and stayed there until she was twenty two years old (in 1958 – when she got married.) She went back again when her daughter was two years old (in 1960.) She worked there for another four or five years. She then worked for herself for a couple of years before going to work for Kenny Williams in a factory in Newport making garments for Richard Branson’s company. She returned to work with Harry Nash at RSW, and worked for herself again for another two or three years.

Patricia has also worked in a variety of jobs outside the clothing industry. She worked for a security firm but decided to finish there because she was working in the office and there was no safe on the premised despite the fact that they kept about £200,000 there in ammunition boxes. She also had concerns about a man who was working there who she suspected of being up to no good, and who was obstructing her in her work.

Of the bad reputation factory girls gained at the time for their behaviour, Pat thinks this is unfair, although justified in some cases. She also thinks that many of the girls working there could have done a lot better for themselves but were never given the opportunity.

01.12.15: ‘There was a lot of them there who were capable of going a lot better, with better jobs... It was very difficult to get on if you were female. ‘

Work opportunities also depended on where you lived.

‘It all depended on what’s on your doorstep. If you were determined you were going to be a hairdresser ... there was always something easier to do, so it wasn’t worth the struggle.’

01.13.33: A lot of women haven’t got any ambition have they? Really and truly, they only want to get married, and in those days, within getting married you were pregnant within the first year. Life was settled for you, you know because you got married and you had a baby within the year. And sometimes you were already having the baby when you got married. We’d have chairs in the factory that nobody would sit on, because everybody who sat on them became pregnant. It was a chair you didn’t sit on, it was contagious. That was all part of the myth.’

01.14.37: ‘There was a lot of camaraderie. You’d have a really good laugh, because it makes the time go you see. Eight hours a day is a lot of hours, nine hours at one time... You needed something to occupy your mind didn’t you? That’s what I think about car workers you see. That was a repetitive boring thing. That’s why they were always out on strike for more money. They had too much time on their hands, or too much time on their brains. And you get the ones who want to cause trouble. They’d all be “out” wouldn’t they? And I blame them for the state that the world is in today, and the miners, in a way. I think the miners did themselves a disservice.’

Patricia talks about her opinion on the miners’ strike of 1984.

 

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