CWS Voices 2015
Interview Notes Eleanor Moore Pelaw Shirts/Tailoring 1956-61
Interviewer Margaret Creaby Pelaw Library 22.01.2014
Location of interview recording: Tyne and Wear Archives
Eleanor Coonie was born 1941 in Corbridge, raised in Windy Nook- her father was born in Felling and mother came from ‘over the water’ ( i.e .Newcastle). She started school in 1945 and left in 1955 when she was 14. In those days there was a huge Co-op in Windy Nook – it had lots of departments- dairy, butchers, bakers, green grocer, dry goods drapery- and horse and cart deliveries to your door at no extra cost. Upstairs there were offices – ‘what a shame that big building was pulled down’.
She started work at the shirt factory in Pelaw but it lasted only 6 months- she hated it. She was limited to working on the shirt collars all day and found it boring. Eleanor’s mam didn’t want her to work in a factory, she would have preferred her to work in an office and ‘make something of herself’ . Factory work paid much better than shop work £9.00 as opposed to £3.10 shillings.
She moved to working in the drapery at the Felling Society it was very old fashioned- didn’t even have a till in men’s wear- just a drawer. She was trained well, shown how to fold shirts and measure men for suits (including inside leg – she was 16 )She wasn’t very happy to be given jobs such as sand on the floor and removing stickers from the windows- especially when buses passed by.
She didn’t like Saturday work and at 18 moved back to Pelaw to work in Tailoring- the money was much better and she felt she would have been stupid not to take that job.
At that time they had introduced Time and Motion- (giving every job a time and each worker a target number of garments). She remembers there was a glass roof and lots of windows so in summer it got very hot. They went on strike and lay sunbathing on the grass- there was no air conditioning in those days. Every Friday was a sweet day when people brought sweets into work and they shared them with their friends.
Meals were taken either at home or in the Dining Room. When they ate in the Dining Room it was with people from all of the factories although dinner breaks were staggered to prevent queues – they might sit with girls from quilting or friends from other factories. Alternately they might go into the Cosy Café- this was run by two old ladies (although might not have been so old- after all they were just teenagers). They made meals such as mince and dumplings- they were old fashioned. The dining room was the last place to be pulled down.
Girls who worked in the factories came from the wider area Felling, Hebburn and Jarrow- she remembers them hanging on the back of crowded buses as they left work at the end of the day.
She liked Tailoring and made lifelong friends at both Shirts and Tailoring. When she first went into the factory she was trained in a glass office by Gladys- a lovely woman. Her first job was in Kersey which was almost underground- and tiny windows. If there was no work in then they would make gabardine raincoats. Eleanor made the whole garment other than buttons and buttonholes- there were special machines to do that. She got a sewing machine needle through her finger and was taken to the nurse for treatment. The nurse was very glamorous. She left the factory at wanted more out of life and went on to do lots of jobs- work at Butlins, shops, Reyrolls. At 22 she was making over£20 per week working at Reyrolls making electrical power lines for the power stations – her husband was only making £15 working at Vickers.
She remembers that industrial relations were good- Lance the Shop Steward for the Tailors’ and Garment Makers’ Union was good and sorted out problems over wages before they escalated into disputes. All of the managers were great, they were all really nice and men and women were treated the same. A lot of the supervisors were forewomen and had worked in the factory since leaving school. It was mainly women in their part of the factory , the men were downstairs in the cutting room. They worked each day 8am-5pm, I hour for dinner 10 min in the morning and afternoon- those who smoked went outside. All the power was switched off for breaks. They were on piecework so there was bonus to be made if they exceeded their targets- this was sometimes a source of problems- there was occasional fiddling of tickets (means by which they identified who had made the item)
At 10 am they listened to Workers Playtime on the radio. There was a brilliant atmosphere everyone joined in the singing the girls were great. She and a friend would sing Cheating Heart.
There was a good pension scheme and while she had not joined it her friend was still receiving a pension and going to an annual pensioners event in January at the Assembly Rooms in Newcastle.
Eleanor remembers going with a few friends from work for a day out to the hotel at Gillsland Spa .It was a hot sunny day and they played croquet on the lawn, had dinner and a dance. There were just ladies dancing but Gillsland has a proper dance floor. They went to the bar and had a couple of drinks but a giggling fit on the bus on the way home landed them in trouble with the supervisor when they got back to work on the Monday. Their giggling was seen to be really bad mannered
Looking back it was a good time and she made lifelong friends.