Oral History: Cooperative Voices – Ann Skelton

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CWS Voices 2015

Interview Notes Anne Skelton(nee Mc Stea) Pelaw various factories 1964-1979

Interviewer: Howarth Harvey, Hertfordshire House, Pelaw. 12.02.14

Location of interview recording: Tyne and Wear Archive

Anne was born on 10th of August, 1948 in her aunt’s spare room in Fairfield House in York. Following Anne’s birth, her mum and dad moved into a new house in Gosforth Terrace where they stayed until she was five. They then moved to King Street, Pelaw, and remained there until Anne was about 15. Both her parents were working. Her mother worked in tailoring and her father in British Paints. Her grandparents were also living in the house.

Anne had one sister, fifteen months older than herself.

After the age of 15, Anne lived in Duke Street, Pelaw, until she got married.

Anne went to school in St Albans and then St John’s in Felling. She left just before her 15th birthday and went to work in Fawnings(?) in Newcaslte. She worked there for about a year before starting at the CWS shirt factory in Pelaw. Her first wage there was £2 18s 2d. The wages at the factory were a lot better than in the shops. She found out about the job through the employment office (dole).

Anne went in as an examiner. She can remember being interviewed by Mr Larry Cook(?). He was very stern and it was quite frightening. At first work felt terrifying. Knocking back someone’s work could result in being shouted at, being bullied to try and get it passed. After a while when Anne got to know them well, it did get better. She talked over the problem with her mother who said you have to stand up to them and once she did that it got better but it was a job that nobody really wanted.

The factory was full of shirts. Each girl would do one small job, e.g. the hem, attach the collar, attach the cuffs, make the button holes and attach the buttons. The shirts would be moved along on a bogey with arms. It would finally end up with Anne who would hang them up to inspect them. As well as inspecting the shirt, any hanging threads had to be trimmed with scissors. She learnt about inspection on the job. She was trained by Mavis Jones for a period of about 3 months. There was quite a lot to learn about all the different types of fault. As well as inspecting the shirt, any hanging threads had to be trimmed with scissors. Mavis was 28 and single and had been working at the factory a long time. They are still in contact through exchanging Xmas cards each year.

When a fault was found, Anne would mark it with a red sticker and then write a note to describe the fault, e.g. button missing, stitching missed on collar.

For wages, there was a piece work system. Anne had a target of 20 dozen shirts per day to inspect to get top money. Basic wage had a target of 16 dozen and if you did more than that you started getting more than the basic wage.

Everybody was on piecework at the time Anne was working at the factory. Anne could remember being stood over by the time and motion man. She thought some of the machinists sometimes had issues with the rates that were set and the length of breaks but she doesn’t remember having any issues with the rates. Dinner break was 45 minutes and the machinists wanted longer.

Anne worked at the factory from the age of 16 until she was 22. Anne didn’t have any memories of things changing that much during the time she was there either in terms of machinery or the organisation of the work.

Anne didn’t have any particular memory of being a member of a trade union except for the fact that the money was taken out of your wages.

In respect of perks with the job, every now and then there were sales and you would get discounts on the shirts. There were not discounts on products made by the other factories.

Anne left the shirt factory when she got married (1970). She then left the country to go to Spain but returned and needed to go back to work. She found a job in the tailoring department in1974.

Anne worked there until it closed (she could not remember the date but in the history of the CWS factories in Pelaw, it gave 1975 as the closing date of the tailoring department). When asked if there were any differences between the tailoring and the shirt factory, she remembered that in both factories there were a good lot of people to work with.

When Jim Davison, her boss, introduced her to first job, he explained that she had to rip out the tissue inside the jackets and then trim the cloth. After she had done about 20 jackets, Jim came back to look and said that they had been done wrong and they had to go back to the cutting room to be re-cut. Jim decided to give Anne a different job. There was a wire going around the room on which the 4 women machinists would peg their work. Anne would make sure that these 4 other women always had a supply of pegs and she would then get a share of their bonus (this was another department where everything was piece work). She remembered getting good money there as it paid to put her daughter into a private nursery in Hebburn. Anne continued that job until her daughter went to school which she thought was in 1975. Anne was not absolutely sure that the factory closed at the time her daughter went to school but it closed soon after.

Anne then went to work in a pub and a knitwear factory on Green Lane in Pelaw before returning to work in the CWS in the canteen from 1977 to 1979. She left the canteen when six months pregnant to have her son. Anne loved her work in the canteen. It was very old fashioned but you did all kind of different work. It wasn’t so nice clearing the plates and washing up but preparing the food and serving the women she enjoyed. She remembered some of the women she worked with in the shirt factory.

When asked what she thought of the meals, Anne thought they were OK but sometimes they were a bit strange. One day when asking what the pudding was going to be being told that it was to be barley and raisins. This raised eyebrows but was told that it was very good for you but instead some of them went out to buy a cake for pudding. Anne thought the meals were subsidised. She remembered that there was a man called Jack, who was not a CWS employee but whose wife had died. He always came in for a main and a pudding because it was better than he could get locally elsewhere.

When thinking back to the time she worked in the shirt factory, she remembered that men had the jobs of mechanics, manager and undermanager but she didn’t feel the men were in better jobs.