30. Crittall’s metal window factory, part 2

 

The Braintree Road frontage of Crittall's factory. Taken in 1991 when the factory was empty and awaiting demolition
The Braintree Road frontage of Crittall’s factory. Taken in 1991 when the factory was empty and awaiting demolition

In my last article, I wrote about the history of Crittalls metal window factory, and about its immense importance to Witham in so many ways. Now I shall pass on a few memories provided by old Witham residents.

George Hayes was born in 1904, and started working at the factory in 1920 when it opened. He remembered the extra facilities. “Every day somebody had to go out to the company dentist. They had enough to keep him busy.” George’s wife Doll “had her first teeth made at Crittall’s”, and it was “the best set I’ve ever had”. As Albert Poulter said, “The Crittall’s story is one, as you know, that the old man Crittall was the Democratic Socialist, who thought about conditions and men having their hair cut at work”.

It was mainly the new standard windows that were made at Witham, but there were also “specials”, for large and imposing buildings, which for many years were the responsibility of Alf Baxter, born in 1900. He spoke of “special ones down in Kent. You can still see them now. About seventy foot high”. And he and his wife Elsie “went to a hotel on holiday one time. And we went through into the lounge and he said – ‘One of my windows!’ And there was this bay, the whole end of the house. Right the way round, from wall to wall.” At one time, Alf was the only man on this work. He recalled the manager saying “‘We ought to do something about this. Supposing Baxter were to die in the night, then where would we be?’”

Fred Cook, born in 1908, had a remarkable career, rising from “boy” to Assistant Works Manager. At the age of 14, he went to Crittall’s from school, being a “quick writer”. He started at writing labels, and then in about 1930, after several other jobs, he was made sole operator of the new and unnamed art of time study. As he told me, “they give me a watch and said here you are, you go and time them people in the shop. And I’d got no idea”. But thirty years later “I’d got about ten or twelve people under me. They were doing all the work and I was more or less the boss of them. They were employing at the time about eight or nine hundred men.” Of course it was an unpopular job. As he said “They wanted to shoot you, you weren’t liked at all.” He was made Assistant Works Manager for eleven years until he retired.

A version of this article appeared in the Braintree and Witham Times in May 2013

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