Oral History: Trades Unions – Pat Buttle

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Popular Politics Project

Interview summary: Pat Buttle

Date and place of birth: 30 April 1942, Hill Cottage, Great Burdon near Darlington

Interviewer: Margaret Eason, transcriber: Liz O’Donnell?

Date of interview: 14 December 2012

Location of interview recording: Durham County Archives


There are TWO tracks which I have been able to upload onto my computer, one 4.02 minutes, the other 3.14 minutes. Both have similar -but not identical – material on them and I have saved them both. Below is a summary of the first track, with additional information from the second one in brackets.


Pat Buttle was born 30 April 1942 at Hill Cottage, Great Burdon, near Darlington. She went to Sedburgh school from the age of 5 until she was 15. 2 days after leaving school she started work in the grocery department of Darlington Co-operative Society. For at least six years she worked at the Stockton Rd store in Horton. The Co-op were good at giving training. You had to know where all the commodities were from and about quality. Everything was loose and had to be weighed – sugar, dried fruit, ground almonds. The latter was weighed into a piece of greaseproof paper and you had to make an airtight bag or it would lose weight. It was a hard job. Customers were served individually. (Nothing was priced so you had to have a good memory and be good at maths). The tills did not add things up and there were no check-outs. Everybody’s account was added up in your head or on the side of a bag of sugar. Every item purchased had to be brought to the counter. The service was personal. Butter, cheese, lard, all had to be weighed. There were no fridges, just a cold counter. Sometimes the bacon had maggots in but it was not thrown away. They put it into a big white sink, half filled with water and a bottle of vinegar was put in to drive out the maggots. It was then sold to the unsuspecting customers. It was the same with cheese. (If it was left over the weekend and you had forgotten to put lard on it to keep it moist. You could just cut a ring off the cheese). Nothing was wasted. (Members of the Co-op had their dividend number. They expected you to know it even though you had hundreds of customers).


At the age of 23 she became trade union branch secretary. (of the Darlington Co-op branch, representing at that time 1,000 members). She had become active at the age of 16 and was encouraged by a colleague, Marian Richards. She recalled one branch meeting she attended when she asked a question because the branch secretary had said something she did not understand. He told her she had raised a red herring but she did not even know what that was. (She was then accused of being obstructive. Later the man – Maurice Taylor – encouraged her). She used to be very shy, hiding behind the counter when customers came into the store. Trade Unionism changed that and she became very outgoing. She had the privilege of representing people in the workplace for her union, USDAW. She was now 70 but still represented them. There was nothing better, when someone was in trouble, to go with them to the personnel manager and stop them losing their job or getting a warning. It was worth all the money in the world to see the relief on their face. She had never been paid for her union work. Trade unionists did it because they believed in people.