I am Stafford born and bred, I lived in Young Avenue and went to Holmcroft Infant School, then Corporation Street Girls School and finally Riverway Girls School. I left school at 15 years old and began working at Lotus in the printers for £1 5s a week, but I saw a job advertised in the Stafford Newsletter for women polish workers at Evode in Glover Street for £1 10s a week so I went for the extra money. Polish packing was really the only job that women were allowed to do.
Evode had not long moved back to Glover street from the Turnpike Hotel. Reg Moseley, the Forman interviewed me, there were no Personnel Managers in those days if the forman didn’t like the look of you he didn’t set you on. Janet Allen (my future husbands cousin) and I went down for a job and we were set on the next day, there was no training as such, you were thrown in at the deep and learnt by your mistakes and boy did we make some mistakes - it was extremely hard work.
They made one copper of polish a week. It was made by two German ex-prisoners of war, Rainer Gehab and Helmut it was made with beeswax and paraffin wax which were melted down in a great big copper boiler and we spent a day ‘tipping, if it was your turn to tip I am not kidding you, you got as high as a kite on the hot solvent fumes, especially when they were hot. The polish was filled from the copper into a jug then poured into May Swinsens filling machine. May used to go along the tables pushing this machine singing all the time, she would sing ‘Roses of Picardy’ for hour at a time. I recall all the rubbish which used to be shoved under the tables bits of string and wire and dust everywhere. We would lid the polish and then pack it and do all sorts from 7.45am until 5.00pm we also worked on Saturday mornings. There was a radio which we had on while we were working and we used to listen to ‘Mrs. Dale’s Dairy’.
I even worked nights in the summer when it was really hot and the polish wouldn’t set they had blooming old fans to try and cool the polish it was a wonder we got any work out. I believe it was the summer of ’51 when it was very hot, I was under age and should not have worked nights but it was a case of come in or you’d lose your job. Mary and Nellie were asked to work nights and Janet and I were also asked to come in, we were only 15 years old but Reg said “No messing - you girls must come in too” Sometimes you’d work all day Saturday, but you never worked on Sunday.
We used to count the tins of polish in gross (144 tins) and then pack them in a box, we’d load and unload the lorries and when Metal Box came in Reg would say “come on girls” but the tins sometimes had just been thrown in and if they were uneven they would fall over so we had to be really careful.
The polish when it had been filled into the tins would cool and we had to put the inner into the tin poor Chris Dodd was threatened with the sack as she could not keep up with the others girls, Mr. Peake had her in the office and said he’d give her a week to make up, or that was it, after that, boy she was quick, she was quicker than us!!
We would sit of the Glover Street factory opposite the decks were would drink our tea and eat our lunch, we had an hour for our lunch, we used to embroider, Chris Dodd used to do a lot of cross-stitch and Nora used to knit, one girl could knit left-handed. We had a free cup of tea in the morning and one in the afternoon, Nora Nicklin made the tea for us, there was no canteen or other facilities, but there was a cake shop nearby, Taylors, and one girl (just one girl only) was designated to go and get the cream cakes, there were no sandwiches, just cakes. Other than that we had to wait until we got home at night if we were hungry. There was a driver who used to deliver from Carless Cappell in Ellesmere Post, he’d bring the white spirit to make the polish, and he would stand on the steps and talk to us, he was mad on Chris Dodd.
In the winter the windows were broken and we had to put old sacking up to the windows to try and stop the draughts, May used to wrap old sacking around her, it was a freezing cold hole in the winter and then in the summer too hot and you’d sweat your guts out.
English Waxes had ‘By appointment to her majesty the Queen’ written on the inners. I felt so important when I put them into the tins. I bet the Queen never saw a tin of polish let alone ‘Cardinalled’ her kitchen floor! (Cardinal was a rival brand of polish but red tile polishing the floor was generally known as Cardinalling) The tins used to come in Old Tate & Lyle Sugar Company boxes with a picture of a magnificent lion on the front, and the word ’From strength comes forth sweetness’, I used to look at those boxes for hours!
We did a tin of Dove polish which contained a whole pound of polish, that used to sell like hot cakes. You were allowed a polish ration each month a tin of lavender polish and a tin of black shoe polish, but you pinched it anyway lets face it if you needed a tube of shoe polish you just put it in your handbag - it wasn’t missed, no-one said anything, it wasn’t pinched just for the sake of it but because you needed it - and with brothers I needed black shoe polish!
At the end of each day we were supposed to have 5 minutes at 4.55pm to wash our hands, but is we were busy we didn’t get it. We used Rozalex a gritty cleaner to clean our hands but mainly we just dipped our hands in white spirit. The floors were swept on Saturday between 11.45 and midday 15 minutes to clean the place up it was really a lick and a promise!! The air was thick with dust and people swept and picked up all the pieces of string and wire from under the tables, but by Wednesday it was as bad again. There was no such thing as Health & Safety, it never had chance to go out of the window as it never came in through the door!
There was a rough track down Glover Street and we had to jump over the puddles to get to work and in the winter it snowed and we used to slip over. The factory used to flood something awful the stacks of tins and lids would have water half way up them and Reg would make us wade through the water to get the boxes production was never stopped “Stop being mardy and get in there” he used to say we would go home soaking wet.
One day Janet and I were carrying a tub on red tile polish and we fell over spilling the lot, it went everywhere. Reg sent us both down to Wilkinsons to get new overalls we had to walk down as we were, all covered in red polish I shudder to think what people must have thought when they saw us! We had to take our skirts off and work in our petticoat pants and new overall for the rest of the day. Overalls used to come back from the laundry on the Stone Road every Monday, but to be honest they came back in a worse sent than they went. The came back in a wicker basket we used to embroider our names onto our overalls as they all came back together and you either got someone else's or they got yours, - not that they were all that glamorous!! One Monday the basket came back and May checked them, they had not been washed so she sent the lot back, so for 3 weeks we had no clean overalls, we had to go to and from work in our overalls, there were no changing rooms, and my mother would not let me into the house in my overall as the absolutely stunk to high heaven!!
There is a sentence which still sticks my mind:-
Joan and Joyce were filing out polish and Joan said “I think I can small infirmary stew” Joyce said “I think it’s me!!” We worked so hard we really poured with sweat.
Margaret Cooper was the first to label and fill out Evo-Stik, it was a new product and it had just half of the end of a table to be filled on. It was made in a barrel and then it was brought over to the table to be filled, there was just a stick to turn the bung on and off, no tap as such, and many a time the stuff was spilled from the barrel. We used to label the tins with a latex.
We made some good products, Snow-White for canvas shoes, jar and tins of polish, there were no mastics in those days, they weren’t made until Mr. Vohralik.
On Thursdays we would get our pay packet it was brown with your name on the front. I got £1 10s a week, 2d was paid to the blind and 1d to the N.S.P.C.C.. I asked Nellie what 2d for the blind was for and she said it was for the curtains, I, daft as a mop, believed her!! Because it was paper money the pay packet was quite light I gave my mother a £1 a week. If you had a rise, usually about a shilling a week you would go and thank Mr. Dale in the offices. There was no sick pay, you got a wage for a 48 hour week if you worked less hours, your pay was docked, but you never got any extra if you worked over. The wages were awfully low for what we did but compared to others in the town they were quite good. You’d never be a millionaire!!
There were no unions to stand up for you and if you ever did go to the supervisor, he’d just say “stop winging and get back to it” I’m quite sure Reg would have booted pour backsides if we ever told him we’d been bullied, he may have been small but he stood no messing. Sometimes the humour and banter got very near the knuckle, if we had today's laws on sexual harassment then we’d all be in court, it was just a laugh, rather like a ‘Carry-on’ film and everyone had a nick name, it was no use saying don’t call me that because they would say it all the more but if Reg called you by your nickname then you knew that you had done something wrong!. We were never called by our first names and anyone above your station was called Mrs. or Mr., Nellie was Mrs. Tinkler, May was Mrs. Swinsen. We used to call Joan Emburton ‘the painted doll’ as she used to put make-up and rouge on so thickly!!. Johnny Forman was a Director, we girls were kept in our own class we never spoke to him unless he spoke to us first and if Reg saw you speaking with him he would send you back to work.
We had a girl called Marisha working with us she was a Polish girl and her husband worked in the Adhesives Department. The Polish workers lived at a camp in Little-On, we went to dances at the camp and they made us really welcome they had little Nissan huts with blankets separating areas for families. I met more Polish girls at Lotus when I worked there later, than at Evode, they appeared strange to us, we had never left the street, let alone the town and here they were living in another country. The were the same as us really, but they ate different food. We had to work hard to keep up with them!
The nearest pubs to Glover Street was the Plume of Feather, and the Elephant & Castle, but Evode were very strict on drinking, no ifs, no buts, if you were drunk you were sacked. If someone was sacked you kept your mouth shut in case they sacked you, but you could always walk into another job in those days. If you didn’t feel up to going to work in the morning your mother would make you get up and go, and if you had half a day off she say “if you can sit there you are fit for work” and off you’d go it’s a wonder we ever survived! We’d get more than our quota of work out, believe you me, it was very hard work but DR Simon was a lovely chap, he’d been in England for some years, and they interned him during the war which was sad, he would come round each week, he never just swept through the factory he would stop and talk to everyone individually he must have been tired out by the time he got to the end of the factory!
One day Dr Simon was walking through the factory smoking one of his cigars, (he always had a cigar) and there were clouds of smoke and fumes around him, well smoking wasn’t allowed in the factory. Someone shouted - Dr. Simon, YOU’RE SMOKING” he was quite embarrassed, “Oh oh oh” and he went outside and stubbed it out straightaway.
We would knock off work absolutely wrecked, and then we had had to walk home as we could not afford a bus, and it was a certain law that if you were going out that night you had spent the day on black shoe polish, which got ingrained in your hands, you never wore anything decent to work. Janet and I bought a bike each from Stan Phillips shop on Marston Road, mine cost 2s 6d a week and Reg Moseley stood and guarantor, he said don’t you girls let me down. We didn’t. Dan Wojtulewicz bought a pram and Reg guaranteed his loan but Dan fell behind with the payments and the bailiffs went to Reg’s house.
Reg Moseley had us all in the office one morning, we always went there when there was trouble. Someone had polluted the River Sow and the fish had died, he wiped the floor with us the only person who was allowed to pour things down the drain was May, and we knew it wasn’t her. DR Simon was taken to court was fined a lot of money, we were watched a lot more closely after that. The river was spotless then, today you could put white spirit in it and it would clean it!
May was off sick one day and someone else filled out the polish and spilled some, they were always running out of rags, I remember Nellie bringing rags in, if you ran out of materials you bought your own in. Another time, poor May had an upset stomach, but before Reg would let her go to the chemist, he went off to find something, in the meantime, Clive Davey from the laboratory made a potion up in the lab and gave it to May to drink, she sniffed it and refused to drink it. Next thing the ambulance bell was ringing and Reg came rushing in, Clive had drank the potion and had been rushed off to hospital!! All May needed was a Rennie. In those days you either got over it or dies!!
We did the pageants in the summer I was on Primrose Hill and Paradise Isle, Myra Davies called at my house one Sunday and we went down to Glover Street and sat on the sacks for hours pinning the rosette. On the Glover Street gang I was dying to go to the loo an there was a 56 gallon drum on the float which we all used to wee in, what with all the beer it must have stunk!! One night, before the pageant, Reg sent Janet and me for a box of lids, all of a sudden a gorilla stepped out from behind some boxes, well, we just dropped the and ran. The lids went crash, bang wallop everywhere, Reg said “what are you girls doing?” - “Oh Reg, there’s a gorilla--” he just said “get back to work, gorilla my arse” Reg knew there was a gorilla there and had sent the youngest down there, the gorilla chased us all down the polish before taking off his mask, it was Eddie Newman. I was shaking for days!! Reg made us go back and pick up every single tin lid, there were thousands of tiny lids everywhere Reg said “If the Old man saw this” - that was a threat, DR Simon was called the Old Man.
There was one time, the day before the pageant and Reg said “work tomorrow morning girls” and Ethel told him no way, when Reg asked her why she would not come in she replied “I have to wipe my shoes, wash my hair and do under my armpits for the pageant” you never spoke to the forman like that, and do you know, she didn’t come in the next morning - my husband still says this today when going up for a shower!
I had never been out of town, the farthest I’d been was to the Odeon, and one year we went to Blackpool to see David Whitfield in the Winter Gardens he used to sing Carramia-mine. We walked to work with our suitcases, we all changed in the toilets, there were suitcases stacked everywhere then we carried them to the station and then to our boarding house at Blackpool, they were stuffed with all sorts of things to take with us. David Whitfield was wonderful, all the girls were screaming at him. He was only a little bloke, a bricklayers labourer nothing nice about him really except his voice.
We had pin-ups of David Whitfield, Ronnie Hilton all around the walls in the factory, and when people went to the seaside they would bring back really saucy postcards and pin them onto a door. The door was covered in these cheeky cards and the drivers would always stop and read them. Someone would daub Evo-Stik on the wall and anther pin-up would go up.
We started a social club at the Albion Pub in Peel Terrace Nora Nicklin helped get it organised, but Dr. Simon gave the money for it, we used to meet in a room at the back of the pub up some stairs and have a drink and a chat and play cards. We had Christmas parties at the Swan Hotel I went to 3 of them. As numbers of staff increased, they started to go off in their own sections but at Glover Street we were like family and we used to have one big party, (The Polish lads were always separated they kept themselves to themselves, you could go and visit them in their factory but they would never come and see you, we mixed well with the German ex-prisoners of war there were some Italians too, Gino Serino, Alf Dellicompagni - I can remember Alan Smith starting work aged 15, he was a thin pasty boy!) At Christmas we finished early at lunchtime on Christmas Eve, but we never went until Johnny Forman wished us individually Happy Christmas, DR Simon used to come round to and wish us the best. In later years at Glover Street, Johnny Formans message was relayed over the tannoy. John was a tall thin chap, who used to spit when he spoke. His secretary was Shiela Dennis gosh she could rattle the typewriter, it was a wonder she didn’t wear it out! She was a good worker.
Mrs. Wood worked in the office she was a little dark haired lady with very highheels she married Elias Peake and they lived in School Lane, then had a bungalow built in Bury Ring. May fancied Elias occasionally he’d walk her home and there were jokes about that. She lived in Alliance Street and she said one morning there had been a heavy dew in the morning, well, that got turned around and made into a joke.
A gang of about 10 of us went to Wolverhampton I had long black hair and when I got there I had my hair cut. I had an Alma Coogan haircut. (Alma Coogan was a singer who was known as the girl with a laugh in her voice, another heroine was Katy Boyle everyone wanted to dress like her well you have the Spice Girls today, these were our idols). My sister Margaret had her hair dyed blonde I also had my ears pierced which was considered a bit ‘racy’ for girls in them days. - I can see our mothers face when we walked through the door “what the heck do you call that?” My sister replied “suicide blonde” mother said “I’ll give you suicide blonde you can both stay in for a month” and we did, we daren’t defy her!
If you went to a dance or out with a lad it was the talk of the factory. When I stared courting Roland who worked in the adhesives building at Glover Street we went to the Picture House, when I asked him where we were going the next night he said “The Sandonia if you have got any money!” Well his 5s pocket money had gone. I’ll never forget Roland asking me to get married, one day I told him I was going to town to buy a twin set he said you can’t buy a twin set you need to save up to get married and I need a new suit I was dumbstruck so that was my proposal from Roland!!
We got married in 1956 on the Saturday at St. Johns Church in Bedford Avenue, Eric Nixon took me to church in one of his taxis, it was a bit dilapidated (Eric died tragically young there was another bloke called Derek Stanniforth only a young chap his parents owned a chippie in Stone he used to come in by motorbike and one day he got killed by a lorry) We didn’t have a honeymoon we were back at work on Monday. DR Simon came through the factory, he said he hadn’t realised that we had got married on Saturday, and if I popped up to the office later there was a present for me. He gave me a £5 note I though that my ship had come in. We bought a rug and a pair of blankets. He then told my husband off for not telling him that we had got married and he told him there would be something in his pay packet for him. He had a 6d pay rise. Joan Emburton organised a collection and I bought a canteen of cutlery.
When we were expecting our first child, Roland had to go to town and sell his Triumph Thunderbird 650cc blue motor bike to buy a pram, he got £100 and we bought a “why worry - Wheeler Windridge pram” then for £30 bought a 1936 Daimler car. The pram lasted for my first three children. Our first home was at Parkers Croft on Wolverhampton Road it was a 2 up, 2 down house with no toilet or water, it cost £210 and we paid £1 a week to pay it off quickly. We then moved to Railway Street and when we moved on to Peel Terrace we put the house in Railway Street up for sale for £1,000 but the council had put a demolition order on the whole of Castletown, and we only got £800, the houses are still standing there today. The house in Peel Terrace cost £2000.
When Evode moved to Common Road, they built Jack Hesps house first, the brick kilns were still there, but I never liked Common Road as much as Glover Street, and once the manufacture of polish finished that was it really. They deployed you to other areas I went into Evo-Stik then into Mastics when it first started, and also did some of the polishing cloths. I remember Ken Bailey making a product called Rich-a-Fix on the Common Road he had a type of concrete mixer into which he would put reclaimed tyres and solvents, you would see the vapours rising from the machine, Ken would start off the job whistling but after half an hour he was singing at the top of his voice with the fumes!!
I never fell out with any of the girls in all my working life, I got on so well with Nellie Tinkler, we were like mother and daughter she was a lovely, lovely friends and I can honestly say I really enjoyed working at Evode. When DR Simon died is was as if Evode had ‘packed-up’ They made marvellous products, but it wasn’t Evode anymore. I left when I was expecting my first baby, David, young mothers didn’t work and there was no facilities to look after the children. Over the years I had my hands full with my family but when Graham was 10 years old I went back to work at Lotus and stayed for 25 years, that was as lovely as Evode.
Just recently I have been contacted by the Personnel Manager from Lotus they have located the old war memorial plaques from the Lotus factory and they are going to install them in the corporation Street School, and I have been invited to the dedication Service.
It would be wonderful if we could have some sort of reunion and see all the old faces again I’d love to see Nellie again. - Maybe we could organise something ourselves, my husband says that as we all get chatting about the old times it would trigger off lots more memories, and if there were tape recorders around we could capture more memories!