The Paisley Factories

This is Hilary Horrocks talking to Mary White in her flat in Ayr. It’s January 28th 2008.
Can you tell me when you were born and where?
I was born in Paisley, 29th January 1935.
How many were in the family?
Just my mum and dad and myself.
Did you have any brothers and sisters later?No. Do you think, did your parents want to have any more children?
I think they wanted to but it just didn’t happen according to what my mother told me years ago.
How old were you when you went to school?
Five and a half.
And how long did you stay at school for?
I stayed at school ‘til I was sixteen.
Did you take any exams when you were at school?Aye. Do you remember what they were?
Er. Eleven plus.
Did you take any exams when you were fifteen, sixteen, before you left?
Yeah, I took exams just before I left the school, just to get a classification of what was in my head. I got a top leaving certificate, a three year leaving certificate. That was top of the class.
What was the name of the school?
Mansfield (?)
What were your parents called, Mary?
Mary and Archibald.
What was their surname?
I never knew that. Mary and Archibald Hambly. So you were called after your mother?Mmm. What was your first job when you left school?
The thread mills.
What sort of job did you do in the thread mills?
A job called ball boxing. Small balls of thread, two dozen balls of thread in a box. It was a piece work job, depending on how many boxes you could fill, you get paid by what you were producing. I did that for quite a few years, and then I progressed onto what you called a desk job at that time, an office job, and I was there ‘til I got married. When you got married in the mill, you didn’t get your desk job back again, you had to go and work on floor level. And again, that was working at machines, at the thread machines, putting corks (?) of thread onto the machines, take them off. The corks of thread were then attached to balls, got made into balls of thread, what was called Mercer Crochet, crochet thread to crochet wee doilies and things like that. I was there ‘til I had my first boy.
And what was the name of the thread mill?
Anchor Thread Mills, Clark’s Court amalgamated Anchor Thread Mills. So I was there until Adam (?) was born which was in June 1955. I didn’t go back to work in the mill, my next job after that was in a potato crisp factory.
In Paisley?
In Paisley. And I was there for a couple of years.
Whose potato crisp factory was it? Was it Walkers? Can you remember the name of it?
Smith’s. Smith’s Potato Crisp Factory.
Was that a big potato crisp factory?
Not really. No, not really. It closed quite a number of years ago.
What were you doing there?
Sat at a wee table, and there was an overhead belt came and the crisps came down and tipped into a scale, and there was an air blower beside you and you took a bag out of this air blower, the air would blow into the bags and open the bags. You put the bags like that and held it underneath the scales and so many ounces tipped into the bag, and you put the bag onto the conveyer belt and it moved along and the girls closed the bags and put them into tens at the other end of the line. So I had that job for a couple of years, then I had Robert, so I didn’t work for another couple of years after that. Tom was in and out of jobs and we moved for him.
Where were you living and where did you move to?
We were living in Blythswood Drive, you know by the Fountain Gardens. BlythswoodDrive, that was where Robert was born. [Can’t be certain of the street name but Blysthwood seems to be said and is near Fountain Gardens]
That was the room and kitchen?
So here’s about your nan, coming up to two, moved into our first council house and things were pretty tight.
Was that an improvement though, the house?
It was a bigger house, a bigger house, aye, more expensive to keep.
In what way?
And again, Tom wasn’t getting a lot of work, you know? He was working with an abbey on Kirkpatrick’s, pole lines, and he got paid off there and then he got a job in a Calor works, ah don’t think he’d want me to say this.
We discovered there was a house empty by my mother’s and I thought if I could get that house down by my mother she could look after the children, and the school was just round the corner and it would let me get out to work.
Where was that, Mary?
That was on Springbank Road. We got the other house and Tom managed to get started at Babcock’s at that time.
Where was Babcock’s? In Paisley?
Babcock’s was in Renfrew. He was there for quite a number of years. I managed to get a job in a whisky bond, the first whisky bond, Chivas. I was there for a couple of year and then Grant’s opened up in Glenburn and they were putting up more wages so I moved up to Grant’s and I was there for twenty years.
What sort of job were you doing in Chivas?
Machines, what they call a swift machine, you see the seal that goes over the bottle you had a bundle of them in your hand like that and you kept feeding them through the rollers like that as the bottles were coming along like that, constantly, all the time you know. And other machines as well, you stood at the bigger machine and the bottle came along and you bent the bottle back, put it in the machine and the label came out and you put it on the bottle and a clamp came and clamped the label on it and you put the bottle back on the conveyor belt again and it was fast, like that all the time. You were more or less standing one leg, well we were standing on one leg all day doing this.
Why on one leg?
Because you were dead on the other leg.
What was the pedal doing?
It was operating the machine. As I say I did that at Chivas then I moved up to Grant’s and I was doing the same sort of work and Grant’s also wrapping the bottles in tissue paper, packing the bottles into cartons, and filling, operating the carousel, and operating the corking machines.
That was the carousel that filled the bottles?
That filled the bottles, aye. And again, label them. You took your turn from the top of the belt to the bottom of the belt every day; you’d end up on job. But I was more or less a machinist, you know, more often than not I’d end up on machine, labelling these bottles. And you know the rest, you know my health started to go after quite a number of years; my back was getting sorer and sorer and sorer through doing these jobs you know? And I thought I’d go to – I asked off the machines and I asked for a cleaning job, so I went to do cleaning, which was a big, big mistake – for me anyway – because I was using different muscles, different body movements, you know? So that only made my body worse, you know? It was heavier actually. I went on sick; I was on sick for about six months. The management sent for me and told me they’d have to let me go because I wasn’t fit for the job any more. And I said,“You making me redundant?” and they said “no, we’re just putting you off on health grounds.” I said, “Do I get a pension?” They said no, they would just give me a bit of money, send me on my way, you know? And I said I wasn’t happy about that, and I came home and thought about it, then the phone went and they asked me to go back up to the office, sent a car for me and I went back up to the office again and they’d decided that they would give me a pension of £11 a month and a lump sum of £300. I can verify that, I’ve still got the papers there, you know?
What year was this Mary?
What year was that? 1984. June 1984. Erm so what I didn’t know was that as I was walking through the gatehouse into the factory, there was the personnel lady and three doctors who were watching me walking in.
So they were watching you to see if you really were as badly affected as you said, and they obviously realised that you were?
Yeah I wasn’t fit to work there any more.
So you think that’s why they decided to change their mind and give you a pension?
Uh huh.
Did the Union get involved in this at all?
The Union didn’t want to get involved. I went to the doctors and the doctor said yes, they’d send a letter stating that you know, what I’d told him was true – that the state of my health was true.
This was your GP or the company doctor?
He was going to send a letter to the Union, for the Union to fight for me, and the Union said they never got the letter. And I went and saw the doctor, and he says “I sent the letter, Mary. Right I’ll send another one.” So he sent another one and the Union said they never got that one either.
Which Union was this?
Transport and General. And anyway, well, as I say, the management said they were going to give me a small pension, but fortunately enough it was indefinite so it gradually went up these past years. The factory totally destroyed my life, destroyed my body. It did, because it was heavy, heavy work.
Why was it heavy, can you say more about that?
Very, very constant.Very constant. You never stopped. You never stopped. Your foot’s constantly going, and your arm’s constantly going, you know?
What if you wanted to leave the conveyor belt?You had to ask permission to go for a toilet break. How did you ask permission? Did you put your hand up?Mm hm. And what happened then?There was a relief woman and she was assigned to the belt and she went along the belt and everyone got let out in their turn. To the toilet and back in, for five, ten minutes, whatever. So what time did you start in the morning?
8 o’clock official time.
Did you clock on?
Clock on, clock off, take three quarters of an hour for your lunch.
So apart from your lunch break did you have any other regular breaks?
There was a tea break in the morning, about 10 o’clock. 15 minutes.
And in the afternoon?
No. No tea break in the afternoon.
What time did you finish?
And how many people, roughly, do you think worked in both Chivas and Grant’s? Was it hundreds?
It was hundreds, yeah, couple of hundred. I would say at that time when I was at Chivas there’d be maybe two hundred in Chivas, it was just starting up at that time, it had just opened. But a lot more there now I dare say. And Grant’s when I was there I reckon there must have been more than three hundred. Just, three hundred plus?
Can you remember the year you started at Chiva? Can you remember the year you started working at the whisky bond at Chivas? Must have been in the fifties or sixties?
Early sixties. 1960 I’d imagine.
And you said you were there a couple of years and then you started working at Grant’s.
That would have been 1965.
The department you worked in, was it mostly women?
Uh huh.
All women?
Nearly all women. There was men at the end of the line building the palettes up, the full cartons of bottles. They built the cartons up for the fork truck to take them away to the loading bay.
So most of the women were doing the repetitive work?
The women done the heavier work.
You think the women’s work was heavier?
Oh absolutely without a doubt.
Why do you think that happened? Why don’t you think they had men doing that work?
I don’t know.
Perhaps they were better protected.
Women were faster I’d imagine at putting it in the machine. And just before I left that factory, things were starting to get automated; they were gradually bringing in great big machines. The bottles were running along the line and automatically go through the labelling machine, machines would automatically label them and lift the bottles and put them into cartons. That’s what happens now you know but when I worked there it wasn’t like that, it was just starting to go like that when I left it.
And did you make friends at work?
Yes, I had a lot of nice pals there.
And did you socialise with these friends?
Yes, some of them, yes.
What sort of things did you do together?
Well, we used to save up and have nights out every now and again. Every two or three month we’d have a night out.
And what did you do on a night out?
Organised a wee get together.
Would this be in a pub or somebody’s house?
Somebody’s house, aye, or a pub, go for a meal.
In Paisley? Where would you go for a meal?
There was different places, aye, can’t remember the names of them, different restaurants in the town.
But this was something you had to save up for?
Aye, saved up for them.
It was too expensive?
Somebody looked after the money every week, it got put aside and that paid for the meal.
Can you remember how much you used to earn? Was it considered a decent wage?
It was, it was considered a good wage then, aye.
Were the thread mills still working then?
Yes, but winding down fast, winding down really fast.
This was in the sixties?
There weren’t much left to the thread mills. There was two thread mills, there was one in the middle of the town, and there was one at the west end of the town. The one at the west end of the town was called the Cotton Mill and the one in the middle of the town was called the Finishing Mill. The one at the west end of the town, it closed down quick, and the one in the middle of the town was kept for fancy goods, like embroidery threads, things like that you know? But Courtolds took it over and it’s all luxury flats now.
Is it?
Yes. It’s right bang in the middle of Paisley. You know where the Abbey is? That’s where it is.
Nice place.
Uh huh. It’s all luxury flats now.
But the whisky bonds are still going, aren’t they?
No, the whisky bond in Paisley – Grant’s – isn’t there anymore. No, it’s closed down and it’s all fancy houses now. It’s a housing estate now. But the Girvan branch is still there, and the Dufftown branch is still there. As far as Chivas concerned, I couldn’t tell you any more about Chivas. I don’t know what they’re doing now at all. I think it’s still there but I’m not sure.
Do you still know anybody now that you used to know at work? Have you kept in touch with anybody?
No. The girls I worked with have all retired now. The girls I worked with in Grant’s are all retired now.
Did you keep in touch with them before you retired?
I did up to a point. There’s one girl we still exchange birthday cards and Christmas cards with but quite a few of them are dead now.
Was there anyone else like you who became ill because of the job?
Yes, there’s quite a few according to what I’ve heard through the grapevine. Some of them have got walking sticks.
So similar injuries?
Back injuries, just through the work. Arthritis and osteoporosis and what have you.
So you never went on to claim compensation from the company?
No, I didn’t.
You just got the hand out you were given when they paid you off.
Mary, we were talking about your conditions of work. I remember you telling me once that it was very damp. Can you say more about that?
It was damp caused by breakages, bottles breaking. Your feet’d be wet.
With whisky?
Why did the bottles smash?
Maybe something went wrong with the machine or maybe it was a misshapen bottle that didn’t fit into the machine properly, you know? That’s what happened, it went *kkch* just like that and the bottle smashed. I remember one time, I got glass in my eye and I just remember two of the supervisors just grabbing me and taking me to the eye infirmary to get my eyes washed out. I’ve seen quite a lot of accidents in the bond.
To do with broken glass?
To do with broken glass and other things. You know, people losing their fingers in the machines, losing bits of their fingers in the machines.
This is women?
So the health and safety wasn’t very good?
Were there any guards on the machines or anything?
There were guards on the machines, but they weren’t adequate. I’d say they weren’t adequate.
So when a bottle broke, was it cleared up?
It wasn’t cleared up right away. No. If the work was coming fast and furious, the bottles would be smashing left, right and centre. You had to shout “Belt off! Belt off!” as loud as you could for someone to press the button and stop the belt. But in doing that the belt through from the cabin store had to stop as well because that’s where the bottles were coming from which meant that there was a big pile up so there was bottles breaking all over the place.
And you were expected to just carry on, there was no way you could leave the belt?
You just had to stop, just stop you know? Sometimes you were trying to grab bottles.
Supposing somebody at the belt felt ill. What did they do then?
You just shouted for your supervisor and say “I’m not feeling well, get me out of here” and she’d put someone in your place. Sometimes the belt didn’t even get stopped for that. Somebody would just step in while the bottles were still coming down you know? While the bottles are still coming down somebody’s got to step into your place and take over your work, you know?
Did you ever get a chance to work in the office or do something different in the bond?
I never thought about it you know, I never thought about it.
They never offered you that when your health was getting bad? Instead of working on the machine?
No. No. No. They just wanted rid of me. I couldn’t do what they wanted me to do so I was no use to them, you know?
And how old were you when you left?
That was 1984. I was nearly 50. 49.
So that was quite young really wasn’t it?
You said you were earning quite a decent wage in the bond?
It must have been about £60 or £70 a week. That was a lot of money then.
That was in the seventies?
And how much rent did you pay roughly, can you remember?
Ooh. (Laughs)
Did your rent and your groceries take most of what you were earning?
You were saying before if you wanted a night out you had to save up for it for weeks, even though you were earning quite a decent wage.
Aye. Remember we had two children you know.
And your mother looked after the kids ‘til they went to school.
Aye. Well the school was just round the corner and my mother just lived across the street. So Alan had already started school and I think Robert only had a year to go before he was due started school so it wasn’t like she was hampered for a lot of years by them.
And what did they do in the afternoon when they came out of school?
They went to their Gran’s.
And then you would pick them up from their when you came out of work?
Could you say a bit about what your husband Tom was doing, what sort of work he did?
He was at Babcock’s at that time.
What was he doing there?
It’s a term, we call it red leading. Red paint. Everything in Babcock’s is big turbines, big pieces of machinery and they get painted with what they call red lead.
So he was doing that for several years?
Aye. He was in Babcock’s quite a while.
So this was in the sixties?
So, how many years did he work at Babcock’s do you think? Five, or six, or seven?
Now I come to think of it, he wasn’t at Babcock’s a great deal of years. He got a job in Chrysler opened up and he went to Linwood.
When was that?
I can’t just remember but he was in Chrysler up until 1980.
So he went to Chrysler when they first opened in Linwood? Or when it was taken over by Chrysler’s?
Aye. It was called Pressteel at one time, then Chrysler took over.
And what kind of work did he do there?
Er, I think the term’s spot welding. I think that’s what the term was.
Was he trained to do that or did they train him?
He learned it.
And did he change his job over the years he was there?
No he was there as I say til 1980 and then it closed down and he never worked after that.
How old was he in 1980?
46. Not much older than that cos I’d been working for a good four years after that. He lost his job.
And you were slightly older than him right?
3 months, just.
You said when you were married first he had several jobs you said before he started at Babcock’s.
He was working at Kirkpatrick’s, now Balfour Beatty, just navvying.
He did a lot of erecting telegraph poles, didn’t he? Often working in quite isolated areas.
That’s right, out in the country. Aye.
So was he away for long periods of time?
It was a day job, he was home every night.
Then what did he do?
He left there was when he went into the Calor works. He got paid off at the Calor works.
What work did he do at the Calor work?
He worked in the paint pigment section called the Blue Bolt, which were a nasty job.
Why was it nasty?
They made pigments for paint, it was like a blue powder that they made the paint with and it went onto their skin. When they came out of these paint pigment places they had to shower with paraffin to get the paint off their bodies. I had to change my sheets nearly every night. You should see the shape of his body and the sheets were blue, the sweat coming out of his body.
And did people get ill that worked there?
The six fellas that worked with him are all dead.
And they died quite young did they?
Was it ever proved that it was to do with the work?
I don’t know, I haven’t a clue.
But you can’t help but think that it was. So was he glad to stop work there?
More or less, yes.
And then after that he started work at Babcock’s?
He started at Babcock’s, and then from Babcock’s he went into the car factory and then he stopped working all together.
And when did he become active in the union?
He was in the union when he was in Babcock’s.
What union was this?
Transport and general.
Why did he become active?
For conditions, for better conditions.
What did he think was wrong with the conditions?
Not getting enough time. There was always time and motion men there.
This was a production line again?
How successful was the union in changing things?
It was quite successful. He did a lot of fighting for them and men trusted him, you know?
So how many years was Tam a shop steward for? Roughly?
I can’t remember.
About ten years maybe? Did he become a shop steward as soon as he went to Chrysler or Babcock’s?
No. He became a shop steward in Babcock’s and it was shortly after that he left Babcock’s and went to Chrysler and he was there a good while before he became a shop steward. I honestly can’t remember how long, a good long while.
Did he have friends at work who you knew too? Did you socialise with his friends?
Sometimes, aye. Chrysler had a club, a social club and we used to meet up with some of his work mates and their wives at the club.
How often?
On a Saturday night. Not every Saturday night, couldn’t afford it every Saturday night, just an odd Saturday night.
And was it good at the club?
Yes it was.
What sort of thing happened there?
Well they had a wee resident band there, so we danced and had a drink. They held special nights, special dance nights, you know at Christmas and Halloween. They were nice people.
And was the drink cheaper there?
I think it was, aye.
So it was subsidised by the company?
I dare say it would be.
Eating and drinking at work.
I’d have my breakfast at the house before I went to my work, and I made my family a breakfast before I went. I’d get up early.
What time did you get up?
I used to get up at maybe 6 o’clock in the morning, maybe before, and made sure that they were OK and had the pieces to take with them.
That was Tom and the boys? They took pieces with them to school?
Aye I made them pieces and that you know. They had their dinner at their gran’s and school and I was sure to make a good dinner the night before so there was a good dinner every night. When I was working I had my dinner in the canteen.
What was that like?
It depended on what was on the menu. Sometimes it was good, sometimes it wasn’t so good but I always made sure I had a good meal in me. Food to me was very important at that point. There wasn’t a night where I wouldn’t comeladened with message bags.
So when did you do your messages?
At night when I came out of the factory. I went into a supermarket on the way home, prepared the meal for the next night.
So you were always a day in advance?
Always a day in advance.
You lost no time, so when you were home you could get them fed as soon as you got home. It was a hell of a job wasn’t it?
It was. Washing and ironing clothes two or three nights a week.
So when did you get any rest?
What’s that? (Laughs) I’d crawl into my bed at midnight.
You had no trouble sleeping then?
Did you work on Saturdays ever?
Overtime yes, on a Saturday morning and if there were Sundays going I took them, you got double time for a Sunday.
Were there ever times where you were working 7 days a week?

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