Oral History: Cooperative Voices – Mary Level (recollections from her daughter – Marie McNichol)

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CWS Voices 2015

Interview Notes Marie McNichol (daughter of Mary Level) CWS Quilting 1960-1972

Interviewer Kath Connolly at Pelaw Library on 02.04.2014

Location of interview recording: Tyne and Wear Archives

Marie gave the interview to remember her mam, Mary Level who had worked at Pelaw Quilting. Mary died 2013.

Mary was born at Havelock Street, Felling 12th October 1945. She had an older step brother but was really brought up as a single child of older parents. She attended the local school, then Felling High Board until Christmas 1959 and started work at the Pelaw Quilting Works in January 1960.

They lived at the 32 The Bungalows, she went into work by bus and came home in her lunch hour to care for her parents who were both elderly and in poor health. She did the housework, garden, ran the home as well as working full time at the Quilting.

She did various jobs in Quilting but always worked making quilts (rather than dressing gowns etc.). They used machines, some of which had 100 needles. She also checked the bundles of cloth, packaged finished items which were exported worldwide and occasionally made patterns which she took to the office for approval. There was little contact with the office girls who she thought were above themselves.

Mary had married in 1970 but did not leave until 1972 when she was expecting Marie. The cot quilt (borrowed by the project) was given as a leaving gift. Marie’s father had been sick when they married so Mary had to work.(this was a time of great change -when many women stayed on at work until they had to leave due to pregnancy) There were no pay outs for married women by this time- they had tailed out from the mid 60’s –

She remembers one of the supervisors was a man called Stanley- a rabbi in the local synagogue. He had his own office- factory allowed him to meet the religious obligations for prayer. Stanley was not comfortable around women, if offered a lift by him they took the opportunity to tease him- Oh Stanley!

Mary loved the camaraderie in the factory. She remembered a story told about a needle working its way out at the knee- it had been stood on.

The girls who worked in the factory came from quite a wide surrounding area- the Felling, Windy Nook, Washington. They were always recruiting- looking for staff. Pelaw offered a lot of opportunities for women, other factories in the area were offering male employment.eg. chemicals, engineering.

Quilting was seen as a good job, it was stable, guaranteed work, hundreds of people worked there and fairly good money. Mary chose not to move to the Bainbridge’s Tailoring Factory due to caring commitments and the preference to stay on the shop floor with friends.

At that time they were paid a basic wage and piece rate, she doesn’t remember industrial disputes. Training was on the job, they would shadow an experienced machinist and follow what they were doing- training was all done in-house.

Mary tipped up her wages to her parents and got pocket money. She enjoyed a full social life going with her friends to the Birdcage and Club a Go-go in Newcastle- a very popular live music venue, featuring bands such as the Animals. She helped out at a hairdresser’s on a Saturday morning and got her own hair done as part of her payment. She often went with friends to Fortes Café in New Washington- an ice cream bar and café with juke box.