Oral History: Cooperative Voices – Allan and Joyce Jackson

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CWS Voices 2015

Interview Notes Allan and Joyce Jackson DDS Pelaw

Interviewer Maria Goulding at Pelaw Library 22.01. 2014

Location of interview recording: Tyne and Wear Archives


At the launch of Voices. Allan is on the Left next to Joyce

Joyce’s career

Joyce was born in Pelaw and went to Jarrow Central School where she chose to study Commerce rather than go for the School Certificate as she knew she would be better at that. She went straight to the factory from school, having written to both the Dry Saltery and the Cabinet works for a position as a shorthand typist. That was in 1942 when women were leaving the offices to go into the forces. The Dry Saltery took on about fifteen 16 year olds. Joyce was asked to go into manager’s office with two older ladies to do his typing and filing and that was where she was when Alan started as chief chemist. Not only was a job with the CWS seen to be a good job in those days but it was also very convenient. For instance, it was so close that you could home for lunch as the dining rooms were very basic in those days.

What was it like for Joyce?

 On her first day, Joyce started in a huge general office with lots of young people , making the tea. She still sees Doris, one of the older ladies that she met on her first day. She got to know all the other typists and the girls who operated the comptometers. Three of the older girls left, one went into the Wrens, one in to the ATS and one got a reserved occupation job. At first she used to file and type all the orders from the Co op. but then she was chosen by the managers secretary to move from the general office to the private managers office and stayed there until she left to have her son.

Joyce was trained on the job by a secretary called Miss Pye and Miss Ellis who was the cost accountant. Her secretarial duties included doing the manager’s typing for his correspondence and meetings and filing. They were very happy times and the staff were very friendly. When she started she was with Mr Vann. She also worked with a Mr Taggart, Mr Taylor and Mr Williams. They always called the managers ‘Mr’ and they called her Joyce. There were no lady managers and in the factories there were foremen but no forewomen. In those days it was a man’s world but Joyce never thought about it because she was happy in her work

At first Joyce did not think she had received any perks from working for the CWS but then she remembered when they went to get mortgage from the Co-operative Bank. At first it did not look as if they would be able to get one but when they said they worked for the CWS the bank people said ‘Oh, that’s different’. Besides that, they also got a slight discount if they bought jewellery or clothing from the Coop retail shops in Newcastle.

In those days there were seven factories in Pelaw. Joyce can remember the names of 6 of the managers and there is only one she can’t remember. One by one the factories closed but when the Dry Saltery closed she was at home with her son.

Social Life

Joyce remembered the social life at the CWS with great affection. At Pelaw she helped start up a dramatic society in the dining room and did plays like ‘The Inspector Calls’. As well as that, four of them, all girls, joined an operatic and dramatic society at Blandford Square in Newcastle. She ended up doing some of the leads and she loved it. From then on she went on to join choral societies in Newcastle, doing concerts with visiting orchestras like the Liverpool Philharmonic and Charles Groves, and the Bournemouth Symphony with Simon Rattle. She even went to stay in Liverpool with the choirs. She ended up in the Newcastle Choral Society for seventeen years but she had to give it up as she had a bit of vertigo on the free standing city hall, not because she couldn’t sing.

Joyce leaving the CWS

In 1956 when Joyce got married life was beginning to change. Joyce felt very lucky to be able to stay on at work and was one of the first to do so. However, in those days you didn’t normally stay on when you had children and she chose to leave when she had her son. She had a daughter two years later and when she was seven she went back to work, first temping, then two days a week and then full time but not for the CWS. She liked going out to work. She had missed it because she wasn’t a traditional housewife. She loved being with her children but when they were older she loved going out and being part of the outside world.

Allan’s career

Allan was born in Wooler in Northumberland. His father worked in Co-op retail and moved to Seahouses in 1935 where he was in charge of the Co-op store until he died in 1951. This was the same year Allan came to work in Pelaw. In 1938 Allan went to the Duke’s school, the grammar school in Alnwick, and then on to St Andrews University to study Chemistry. He came to work in Pelaw in the Dry Saltery after a successful interview with the director, John Sanderson. To begin with, he didn’t know anyone and took up digs just over the road from the factory. He stayed there for his first six years in Pelaw until he married Joyce in 1956. Allan met Joyce at work and knew her for a few years before they were married. Out of work time, Allan did not get involved in Joyce’s operatic and dramatic activities but they had just moved to a new house and he cared for the house, did some DIY and loved gardening.

What was work like?

Starting work was strange – you just went straight in but when Allan left and went to Winthrop Pharmaceuticals things had changed and you were shown around and introduced. It wasn’t a problem, just the times. Everyone just plodged along. In those days life in Pelaw revolved around the factories. For instance at 12 o’ clock you couldn’t move as people dived out for their meal. The workers from all the factories could go to the dining room half way up the street although it was a bit far to walk for some of them. Allan didn’t have to clock on but he worked from 8.50 to 5 and sometimes came in earlier or stayed late if there were problems that had to be sorted out. There were some differences between the people working in the offices and labs and people working on the factory floor e.g. different toilets.


The work itself

The products in the Dry Saltery were either Food or Non Food. Working with the food items was not as scientific as the non foods but you still had to apply science. Flour and custard were a big part of it. For the self raising flour you had to monitor the carbon dioxide and for the custard you had to get the colour right – it wasn’t easy, that. The flour came in in 40 ton batches – it was blown up to the top floor and came down through various stages either plain or SR. However, once the flour came in and it was not up to a high standard – it looked greenish. To really sort it out and tidy up took about two or three weeks and they had to come in in the evenings until the problem was solved.

In the non foods section one of the things they worked on was polish. There were 5 colours of shoe polish and the floor polish was pink, reddish or violet. This led on to polishes that you poured on and they dried. In non foods they also did disinfectant, a pine detergent called Nondi based on a detergent received from Shell, and bleach as well. Towards the end a small aerosol came in which was quite interesting. They worked in close coordination with the labs in Manchester and when they got stuck they would speak to their man, Fred Hawkes. You learned a lot on the job, at times the hard way. Later on, when they were doing aerosols Allan went away to be trained for a week and came back to apply his knowledge.

They also had to test some of the shoe polish and the lids of the tins, made in the Birtley tin plates factory, had little side arms that you turned to take the lid off. The margins there were tight but the lids were sometimes difficult to get off. At the beginning, products were packed in glass and they had to have a plan for washing glass but that went out as more things began to be packed in plastic.

The people

Allan worked in a lab with three other people – two lads and a girl but that changed over the years and later two girls were all doing the experiments with him. Later on a lady came up from the floor below and she did baking so there were some cakes to sample which was rather nice. Allan was the only one with scientific qualifications but over the years two of the lads went to evening classes in Newcastle to gain qualifications. Up until then they did not have any qualifications as they had not had any educational opportunities but they were really good at their jobs. Although there were more men than women in supervisory positions there were two ladies equivalent to the foremen on the floor where they were doing the packing. Allan doesn’t remember the men and women being treated any differently from each other.

The bosses were Mr Taylor, who was a scientific man and then Mr Williams, who was not. They called everyone Mr but this changed over time and later the top executive was just called Bill. The bosses just left them to get on as Allan and his team knew the way to do the job. There were Trade Unions on the floor and for the admin staff. You had to be a member of a union but you could choose which one. A chap Allan knew who was in leather goods persuaded Allan to join his.

One of the men whom Alan still sees today left to go to work for Winthrop Pharmaceuticals, and he told Alan about a job that was going. Alan enjoyed working for the CWS but he really loved it at Fawden – it was a totally different life. He was working with tableting and capsules and some really complicated technical plant. All that was very interesting for someone with a scientific mind like Allan’s.