|Eileen Bailey (nee Wood), 2007
Memories of John White's
My Story - People would probably remember me as Eileen Wood. I was actually born in a nursing home in Finedon but lived in Rushden all of my life until I moved in 1976 with my husband and family to Warwickshire. I came from a large family, all still living, eceptt from my father who died 4 yrs ago. We lived at number 5 Oval Crescent until I married, however that is another story, but Rushden will always be home to me.
I went to school in Rushden attending both schools in Newton Road then the North End Secondary Girls School as it was known in those days, leaving when I was 15 yrs old, in 1956.
My first job was in John White's Closing room on Newton Road opposite Wills's store at the corner of our High Street. After an initial introduction I was eventually sent to the training school used for all John Whites trainees.
This school, situated at the bottom of Skinners Hill was I believe, one of the first of its kind in our area. I was very young for my 15 years, scared and very naive. The machines we used, compared to my mothers old treadle sewing machine were quite frightening. Electric powered fast moving in fact they were extremely cumbersome very noisy monstrosities. I suppose I was lucky to get the hang of this task without getting a needle in my finger.
John White had the bright idea of bringing young people into the trade, training them in a safe and correct fashion and offering attractive wages to boot, if you will forgive the pun.
He brought girls from Corby who were all Scottish, I remember; I worked with them so long I started to pick up their accent, which thoroughly infuriated my mother. If I remember correctly, my first wage was £3:11s:9d, quite good in those days, especially with expert training included.
The Training School Manageress at that time was a Mrs Joan Maddams, who I believe continued to work there for many years. I knew Mrs Maddams quite well as she lived on the same estate as me, in Rushden and was the mother of a friend of mine called Pam who taught me to roller skate.
Joan Maddams taught us all the tricks of the trade in relation to sewing shoe uppers together; joining linings, seaming backs, facing rows, wax rows for brogue stitching, tongues on aprons; every different kind of flat machine work that is needed in a closing room.
I caught on fast and was soon using these machines with more confidence and ease. After about 3-6 weeks we were sent on to our various places of work, but on the day I was due to return I was asked if I wished to stay on and learn to handle the perforator and gimping machine. They brought in the machines and after a few errors I took to it better than the ordinary machines and was told by Joan Maddams that if I continued progressing in this manner, I could eventually earn good money on piece work. At least £12 to £14 per week she said. I was impressed, that was very good money, more than double the wage a friend of mine was earning in an office job, so I decided to learn as fast as I could.
Newton Road Closing Room - I started there just before Christmas in 1956, a fully trained operator of the perforator and gimping machines. The forewoman was Anna Hindemarshe, a nice friendly lady who lived in Pemberton Street Rushden with her husband. I believe she came from up North somewhere. Being the youngest in the room I was ribbed by most of the girls and I have to say, Anna was my saviour. She did not have an office, just a tall desk by my machine, so could usually be found there keeping up with the paperwork. Anna had wispy red hair, slightly greying round the edges, a small round face with a lovely smile. She was slightly rounded and short in height giving most the impression she was a soft touch. However if you crossed her, you certainly knew it for she was one tough cookie and knew her job well. I loved her, she was like a mother and granny rolled into one. I recall she used to send me on errands, mostly to Illiffe's, (the delicatessen shop on the corner up from the Lightstrung (which is another loss to Rushden as it has also disappeared.) She wanted me to pick up her order of tripe - this I hated because it felt and looked so awful. I remember asking her what it was like to eat and she told me that with onions it had a taste out of this world. This became a regular trip for me on a Monday.
The Room was long and narrow with about 50 different types of closing machines. There was a little cloakroom, which was a boarded off area, at my side of the room just along from the entrance. Just picturing this little place gives me the giggles, which you will understand later.
My perforator was the first machine you saw on reaching the top of the stairs leading up from the shoe room, so I always saw who came and went. Opposite the top of the stairs was a large lift. This was meant to be used just for any heavy leather shoe uppers for Dora, our trimmer, and trolleys or boxes of work being sent to us, from Park Place or Lime Street. I have to say occasionally we used to try to get a ride. I remember Mr Knight, he was the closing manager. He always wore a light grey type of suit, sometimes striped, sometimes plain, and he appeared quite stiff and starchy but always treated me kindly. He married one of John White's daughters I believe. The Skiving machines were in front of me where my friends Violet Furnace and Valerie Dorks worked. Violet and Val whipped their leather through these machines so fast I often wondered how they missed their fingers. Sadly, neither of these girls are around today. Val was only a couple of years older than me but she died a few years ago; her sister Anne has moved on and I am not sure where she lives nowadays. Violet was my first real friend there, and she also gave me my first ever second hand camera; an old box thing that took amazing pictures. Her husband Len worked close by but I am not sure where; he always seemed to meet Violet from work, they were a lovely couple, and later when I married, I invited them to my wedding. I believe they lived in Wymington.
As I said, being the youngest I was ribbed but I was also spoiled, the girls loved to treat me, and loved to rile me at the same time, but I loved them all. We had another skiving girl, June, she was hard to get to know, but was always polite and friendly; I remember Val and I went to the Green Dragon where she held her wedding reception in Higham Ferrers.
I loved tea break when the tea trolley came around. I usually bought those packets of six small Cadbury's chocolate biscuits, with a cup of tea. I loved them, and no matter how many I ate I never put an ounce on, which infuriated many.
I must not forget Irene, Renee to most. She operated the burnishing and lining rubbing machines. She lived out of Rushden, I think in Yelden, but was always at her machine in plenty of time. She was the worst teaser there. She put me through hell at times and until I understood her humour I thought she hated me. Violet put me straight. "Just give as you get girl" she'd say. Renee's language could be very blue. She used to call my boobs 'those little poached eggs' sometimes making a grab at them, I was so embarrassed, and used to get quite upset until I started to retaliate sending little barbs back in her direction.
Factory Life was a good experience for learning how to deal with all types of people I was to meet in the future. Here I learned how to stand up for myself; how to behave in certain company and more importantly, factory life helped me to grow up. Later on my friend Janet Holmes started in the same room she had been to the school to learn skiving; this caused some to moan, especially June, saying there wasn't enough work to go round, but Anna told Janet to ignore this; 'we would not have trained you if we did not need you' she told Janet. Although we had known each other from school, it was at John White's where we became best friends. One of the things we enjoyed was the trips to the clicking room. We had to walk through the lasting and finishing rooms to get there and, I have to say, we both enjoyed the wolf whistles and remarks from the men who worked in there. When I was about 16 and half I asked to go onto piece work, but was refused, I kept at it and eventually I earned the right. So big money was on its way. Janet was now on piece work also so we had plenty of money to go out to dances and buy new clothes.
Further up the room were many people who became good friends.
Gwen, on the solution machine, who soon would be preparing work for me when I eventually learned to use the beading machine.
Ann Clarke who was a wax machinist, stitching wax rows around the brogues. Ann had a knack of yawning, really loud, usually after tea break in the afternoon, often at my instigation, and poor Gwen, trying desperately not to join in, used to clasp her hands over her mouth trying hard to resist but eventually off she would go yawning for the rest of the day. Life was like that there.
Elsie King one of our under edge trimmers was another one, who could swear for England, but she was also very funny. I remember she used to do this little dance, shuffling her feet together and wriggling her bottom, sliding about till everyone was in fits. I only found out much later that she was apparently mimicking a certain old man, a local tramp, who apparently used to walk around the area, pushing an old rusty bike covered with pots and pans and all sorts of paraphernalia. Elsie told me he used to do his 'stuff in his trousers and wriggle about until it had dropped down his leg, then rub it into the ground with his feet'. I still don't know if that is true to this day, but I do recall the tramp with his old bike.
I also recall Anna ticking off both Elsie and Renee because of their language. She did not like to hear it used in front of 'us young'uns'. I never heard that language at home and never picked it up. In there, the language didn't seem so bad anyway. Then there was dear old Bert, the mechanic, who always used to whistle out of tune. He was getting on in years and used to stroll into the room whistling in his own inimitable fashion, to shouts of, 'Come on Bert, get yourself over here' or 'I'm first Bert' love. I can still see Dora, whose job was to trim and sort the final uppers before they were shipped off to the finishing room. Dora had jet black hair pulled back in a sort of Spanish style. She used heavy make up and had a very loud voice. When I first came into contact with her she scared me a bit but she was a very nice friendly person and chatted mostly about her daughter Ann. Dora was like the queen of the room; she sat in the corner, singing and swearing when things went wrong.
Before I close I must tell you this tale. Ann another skiving operator, Val Dorks' younger sister, was quite a live wire. She had many American boyfriends, and used to amaze me with her tales. She was about 18 months younger than me, but her life was so full I used to envy her at times. One day she decided she did not like her dyed black hair anymore, so to surprise her new boyfriend she decided to bleach it. We all warned her but of course she knew best. She had asked me to help her at tea break to comb her hair out. Calling me, she pulled off her headscarf, and I was dumbstruck. Ann's hair had turned a bright shade of green. I tried to tell her but she wouldn't pull the coats back to look into the mirror so I called her sister. Val just pulled the coats away form the mirror, and pointed Ann in the right direction, she just screamed. Needless to say she had no date that night, she snuck [sneaked] out of the factory the back way, legging it home to repair the damage, leaving us to explain to her fella that she was ill.
There are many more tales, but mostly I have to say how I miss the sight of the old fire escape now the new buildings of flats have replaced the old Newton Road factory. Memories are all I have now of a place where I spent my first working years, and many tea breaks, in the summer with friends, on the top of that old black fire escape. Sadly Newton Road will never be the same for me.
I left John White's in June 1961, just before I married, moving to Sergent's in Glassbrook Road. I left because I had the chance to be a beading operator on piece work which sadly I regretted later; I missed the old factory dreadfully; the true friends I'd made there I kept in touch with for a while but as we all know life goes on and with family and babies I eventually lost touch all together.
Anna Hindemarshe - Forewoman -I think she originated from up North somewhere, but she lived at Pemberton Street Rushden with her husband. Mr Knight - Area Closing Manager. Mrs Joan Maddams - training manager of the school in Skinners Hill.
Names of other Closers and Skiving machine operators
Valerie Dorks; her sister Anne Dorks, lived down Cromwell Road Rushden, sadly Val has died and I do not know where Anne is now;
Violet Furnace whose husband was Len, they lived either up Wymington Road or in Wymington.
June - whose surname I cannot remember.
Janet Homes starting later than me, but became my very best friend, we went everywhere together and even bought matching outfits at one time. Her name is now Malin;
Burnishing machine and Lining rubbing machine
Irene - Renee to all, who knew her, came from Yelden or Newton Bromswold I believe.
We had two or three, but I can only recall Elsie King? From Rushden, living in either Park Road or Hall Avenue area.
Perforator and Gimping machine operator - Myself.
Beading machine operators
Gladys? Plus, myself eventually.
Flat machinists and Brogue machinists
There were many of these but the famous one, and also the funniest was Ann Clarke who did brogue work and was so fast you could expect smoke coming from her machine wheels. Also whose yawning scam infuriated Gwen and made everyone laugh most of all me.
Our beloved Gwen on the Solutioning Machine; Gwen lived somewhere close to Balmoral or Allen road area.
Rene and her reference to 'my poached eggs' My boobs, they were very minute in those days at 15 yrs and growing. Also her very colourful language.
Anne Dorks and the time she bleached her hair and it turned bright green;
Tea breaks and the wonderful tea trolley - everyone was envious of my ability to eat Cadburys chocolate shortcake biscuits and not put on an ounce. The times we stood on the now non existing fire escape in the sun to drink our tea and watch the occasional boy go by to whistle at.
Bert - our out of tune - whistling Mechanic.
Working on Saturdays for over time - then being on short time when Janet and I would bike all over the area; to see her boyfriend Max in a little place miles the other side of Kettering; or at one time catching my sister playing truant from school in the hall park.
Anna Hindemarsh our forewoman and her regular requests for me to go to Illiffs, (now gone) to pick up her tripe on Monday mornings. Horrible stuff!
The training school down Skinner's Hill - how scared I was, my first time out of school, having to earn my living, having to take the taunts because I was so thin. But I enjoyed most of it.
My father Frederick Wood - worked at John White's in Lime Street and also in Higham where he retired from. And also my brother Derek Wood worked in Higham at one time. My sister Marion Wood also worked in Park Place closing room for a while on the Under-edge machine.