Mr Herbert Keeble was born in about 1898. He was interviewed on 15 February 1983, when he lived at 1 The Bungalows, Mill Lane, Witham.
He also appears on tape 66.
For more information about him, see notes on Keeble family and Mrs Gladys Smith, nee Keeble, in the People category.
The original recording of this interview is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or 033301 32500.
[???] shows words that are not clear enough to interpret and so have had to be omitted.
[?] after a word shows that its interpretation is not certain.
Later explanatory additions by JG or the transcriber are in square brackets [e.g. explaining locations etc.]
Mr K: Well, there’s such a variety of subjects and alterations and different people and so on. (Q: You probably remember so much.) The reason I’m at Witham is, The Cromer Express, happened at Witham on September 1st 1905. And my father was a railwayman and the man here at Witham, name of Pryke had to take the blame because of the track was our, according to evidence, of course they wouldn’t today because Unions wouldn’t allow it, but I mean, anyway, he was dismissed and my Dad put in for the job. We were living at Fordham, that’s about three miles from Marks Tey (Q: Yes.) and we moved to Witham on the first of April 1906, I was a boy of eight then. We lived in, when we first came, old grey houses just at the top of the Valley coming down this way and we lived in the end one for about twelve months. [Probably 8 Guithavon Valley] Well, at that time of course there were no houses in Collingwood Road and right at the corner where the bungalow stands now near the Oak, was a footpath which led across to All Saints church. (Q: I never knew that.) The only houses in Collingwood Road were, Collingwood House (Q: Yes.) and on the other side, Bygrove, I think it is, I believe Doctor Foster lives there now. That’s all the houses there were, the rest was meadow land.
Q: And so how many were there …?
Mr K: The population of Witham at that time was, including the farmsteads dotted around, was in the region of four thousand.
Q: And were you a big family ?
Mr K: Yes, we were eleven. (Q: Goodness !) Most of them have gone now, I’ve got two brothers and a sister alive and myself. I’m the oldest. I’m not the oldest son of the family but I’m the oldest now.
Q: And where did you come in the family originally ? Were you nearly the oldest or …?
Mr K: No, I was fifth. (Q: Really ?) Halfway. (Q: Laugh.)
Q: That was a lot to get in one house wasn’t it ?
Mr K: Yes, of course there were, in the house down there, there were three, four, five bedrooms, you see, because there was the cellar and ground floor, then the upper floor and then there was the attics back and front. (Q: Oh I see.) Then we moved from there because there was no garden or anything at that time on that property (Q: No.) and so we moved to Church Street. And then my older brothers then were all railway men and they were moved about and so on and so the family wasn’t so big, at least not at home. Then my sister went away.
Q: Did your father do quite a bit of gardening then or …?
Mr K: My father was a very keen gardener and when we went to Church Street [number 53], there was a very nice garden. Fruit trees and so on and that appealed to him and I stayed there till I married. (Q: Really ?)
Q: Because I know your brother Alf that lived in our house, where we are now, he was a very keen gardener wasn’t he?
Mr K: Yes, I used to be when I was able to do it.
Q: What did he do on the railways, your dad?
Mr K: He was on the permanent way. He finished up as a permanent way inspector. He spent his whole life practically. Well, actually, he worked for his father. His father had the village post office and bakery and all the rest of it and there were two other brothers living there and my dad was the oldest and he, I dunno, didn’t get on with his dad or something anyway he left that business and struck up on his own and joined the railway service. Yes he finished up as a permanent way inspector.
Q: Would he have to work long hours or …?
Mr K: No, no, not only when he got the better job. Of course, those days I mean they worked from six in the morning till half past five at night. That was a more or less. When I started work in 1911 I worked from eight in the morning till eight at night. (Q: Really.) and one o’clock on a Saturday.
Q: Where did you start then?
Mr K: I started at Pinkham’s and that started in, I’ve got a book on the history of the company (Q: Really ?) and it started in a cottage [4 Albert Road] at the Temperance Hotel. I don’t know what it is used for now, right opposite the station. There’s a cottage there and that’s where it first started. Then they went down the road lower and took on two other properties [13 and 14 Albert Road] and then the first factory adjoining the railway was built in 1912. We went into there then. I’d been with the company a year then. I was with them for 53 years. (Q: Were you really ?) Except for the three years I was in the Army in the First War. (Q: Course, yes.)
Q: When you started in which building were they in then ?
Mr K; In a cottage. (Q: You were actually in the first place then were they?) There were about four or five girls then and I was learning to do the cutting you see. (Q: I see.) Cutting the gloves out into shapes and I joined the Army in 1916, when I become eighteen and then I started back again and finished up director of the company. (Q: Goodness !)
Q: So you really worked your way through didn’t you?
Mr K: We had our business worries and troubles in the 1930s. (Q: Of course.) We had the same recession that we’ve got now.
Q: When did Pinkham’s stop ?
Mr K: 1965. (Q: Oh, that recently?) That’s when …
Q: Because I’ve spoken to one or two people, like Miss King you know, that worked in the factory, but you must go well back if you worked in the cottage as well mustn’t you? (Q: Oh yes.) Can you describe that a bit?
Mr K Can show you a picture ? (Q: Really ?)
[Clock strikes 12 !]
Mr K: There’s an interesting picture here you might like to look at. That’s Witham’s first fire engine after they had a manual. (Q: Good heaven.) That’s 1911. [JG’s photo M65] (Q: Isn’t that wonderful.) It was taken in the recreation ground at Witham. That’s their first engine. It was horse drawn, yes, two horses.
Q: Do you remember who the people are?
Mr K: Yes, I know them all. The Captain was a surveyor from the Urban District Council, man name was Perkins, (Q: Yes.) that was the man that kept the horses at the Albert, he had a number of stables there, you had a cab from the station instead of a taxi, you see, got them from George Ottley. (Q: That was him was it ?) Yes, that’s my wife’s father. (Q: What was his name?) Rice; that’s Duncombe, Corley[?], Kentfeld, Gould[?], that name won’t come at the moment but anyway I knew them all.
Q: How did you come to have the photograph ?
Mr K: Because of my wife’s father.
Q: I’ve heard the name Rice, yes. What did they, the Rice family do, a tradesman or something?
Mr K: He was in the building trade. (Q: Yes, that’s right.) He was associated with …
Q: So this was the thing you had to em? (Mr K: He had that and I’ve kept it in the family you see, since I lost my wife.) Do you know how this worked, Did they have to pump it up and down by hand?
Mr K: Yes, you see they’ve got the basket at the end of the. No, no, that’s the first one, that’s not the hand pump. (Q: I see.) That was the first one they had without (Q: Aha.) but of course, not as you have them today – very amateurish.
Q: That’s wonderful isn’t it.
Mr K: Here’s Witham some time ago. (Q: Oh yes.) You’ll have seen that one before. (Q: Yes, that rings a bell, there was a chemist there.) How long have you been in Witham?
Q: Since 1966. Because we moved in when Alf moved out. Oh that’s a nice book isn’t it.
Mr K: This is an interesting, I’m just trying to find the pictures of the, that’s a sort of, that’s the story of the lamp. [Pinkham’s] It’s most interesting reading if you’d like to have it.
[discussion about borrowing photo and book, not noted]
Mr K: As the story goes. That’s the founder, [Mr Pinkham] (Q: Yes.) Fine man. Chairman of the Witham Urban District Council for twenty-one years. (Q: You knew him well I expect?) Oh yes. I never met a straighter man or a more truthful man. [looks at photo of Albert Road house, probably number 4] (Q: Oh goodness, it really was just a house then wasn’t it?) Oh yes, only a house.
Q: How did you get the job there, do you remember ?
Mr K: Well my sister, there’s quite a bit in there about my sister, (Q: Mmm.) she was working there and they wanted a boy, sweep up the floor, you know, do anything [laugh] And of course, in those days, there was no labour in Witham you see. There was, the only employers of labour other than shops, they employed more men, there were no women really, and Cooper Taber’s, the seed people employed a few, and Cullens and there were no other employers of labour in Witham at that time because Crittall’s didn’t come you see. And that’s all there was. So if there was a job going, and that’s how I started, and continued. (Q: Sweeping the floor?) Yes, yes I swept the floor.
Q: So, presumably when you started learning the cutting, that was promotion ? (Mr K: Oh yes.) So how did you come to get on to that ?
Mr K: Oh, dear. When the War started in 1914 the man that was doing it joined up (Q: Mmm.) I remember him, the London Royal Fusiliers, London battalion and of course there was only the old Guv’nor left and myself so I had every opportunity and then I, when I came back from the War in 1919 then I went through the whole business, including being on the road selling and that. From London to Glasgow.
Q: Were you ever actually an apprentice ? (Mr K: No.) How did you learn how to do the cutting?
Mr K: By the old Guv’nor. (Q: And did he used to do it himself.) Yes he was the one that started the whole business you see, he knew it. Because he’d been taught as a boy at Torrington in North Devon. That’s where they came from you see. (Q: Yes.) To Witham. He came to Witham to take over the agent of the Liberal Party for the Maldon Division it was then, and he came here as the agent and then when he got here he knew the glove trade in Devon because that’s really the centre of the glove industry was, down the west and he started here with his little … It tells you all the story there when he bought his first piece of material.
Q: So when you went he’d really only just …?
Mr K: He’d only just started. They were all girls then. (Q: Yes – and so the girls …?) They did the sewing you see.
Q: So was that quite skilful work, what you did?
Mr K: Oh, glove making. I mean you can appreciate its really a fine art. (Q: Quite.) You see, even stitching it together you see, if you took too big a seam then it wouldn’t be the size it was intended for. (Q: I see yes.) I mean if you were making a glove of say, size seven and you took too deep then it wouldn’t fit a seven hand would it? (Q: No.) it would be a six and a half or a six even you see. (Q: Its very exact isn’t it.) You have got to be absolutely exact.
Q: So, did you have patterns to cut from ?
Mr K: Oh yes, and they were cut by steel knives. They were within a thousand parts of an inch, they’d got to be you see. (Q: Was it a machine?) They were pressed out by a press used to have a pressure block about two inches in depth and it was put on there and then you put the knife on to the fabric and you put it underneath a press and the press pushed it down and you took the knife off and there was your glove.
Q: So even when you started up here he had the presses did he?
Mr K: Had one press, you had to buy them you see, had one press and it wasn’t driven by the machinery or anything, it was all hand and you swung it round you see and back again. There was no automation or anything like then, not in those days.
Q: And the girls that were sewing them ?
Mr K: Yes, they had little machines, about half the size of that. (Q: Really – like sewing machines?) Yes. Special, they were made by Singer people. They make machines for every industry and trade there is I mean, all sorts, buttonholing, machines that sew on buttons automatically, leather trade, fabrics.
Q: So when he started up right at the beginning how did he sell the gloves at the beginning ?
Mr K: He had to go to London to get an order from the London warehouses you see. (Q: I see.) All done through the London warehouses. It wasn’t done direct to the retail trade. (Q: I see.) Those days I mean, there was nothing under the counter sort of thing, you’d got to sell it to a wholesaler and of course the retailer went to London, or the traveller came from London and sold him the gloves. (Q: Mm.)
Q: And Mr Pinkham would do that at the beginning would he?
Mr K: He started to go and see the wholesale people you see, go with samples in a case and so on and the colour cards and so on. What colours were available in that particular style of glove you see. And you’d have two seasons, Spring and Autumn you see. In the Autumn time you were making Spring goods and vice versa. You see in those days the Spring trade they’d want in the warehouses by the end of January anyway.
Q: So he’d be off out quite a bit would he then ?
Mr K: No, he hadn’t got the output you see. It built up as time went by. (Q: Yes.) No he hadn’t got the output. I mean the output from a few girls wasn’t much? (Q: Quite.)
Q: He lived there as well at that time?
Mr K: No, oh no, that was an empty house, and he rented it, like you might take a house. Instead of living there he got permission to … (Q: So did he …?) They weren’t so fussy in those days. You couldn’t do a thing like that today, could you ? You’d be in trouble with the authorities.
Q: And did he use the whole place then ?
Mr K: No, we only used the, there were two cottages there. We used the second one, if I might say so, going down the Albert Road (Q: Is that this one, you are talking about or the big …?) No that’s not the big one. If you go farther down the road, there’s two tall ones, well we took one of those when that became vacant and then the other one became vacant so they made that, that had below ground level and that was four. So they cut a hole in the bottom one so you could come down one, through the hole, and up the other house you see. [13 and 14 Albert Road]
Q: What, down the cellar? Because I know someone that lives in one of them now. I must tell her about the hole in the wall.
Mr K: Yes, and that’s when we vacated those and the factory was built and we occupied that in October 1912, the first one [1 Chipping Hill]. (Q: So when you had the two?) The second one was built of course, after the Second War.
Q: So when you had the two houses that was still quite big then wasn’t it? (Mr K: Yes oh yes.) Did they have more people there?
Mr K: Yes, and that’s why the larger premises were taken and then they were not sufficient for the amount of business that was coming in so … (Q: So it built up quite quickly then?) So we had the factories built you see. And they contained the cutting and the sewing and the finishing and the despatch and everything then you see.
Q: So when you were in the two houses did he live there at all?
Mr K: No, he lived in one of the houses that were built, nearly opposite the entrance to the bowling green. [Collingwood Road] There are two houses, Houghton House was the name of them, Verbena, and I think next to that it where the Congregational Minister lives. (Q: Yes.) That’s where he lived.
Q: So he used all those two buildings for work?
Mr K: Yes, all the houses for the purpose of manufacturing.
Q: So he got on very quickly then didn’t he?
Mr K: Oh yes. (Q: And were you still cutting when it was in the …?) Oh, yes, I was cutting right up till the time I went and then when I came back. When I went there were four or five cutting. (Q: Really ?) Yes and when I came back, I just polished my cutting up and then I went through the rest of the, the machines and how to make them and how to finish them and then I finished up. During the War [Second] I was out on the road quite a bit. Then you see we had over four hundred people doing it outside, out workers, (Q: Really ?) making gloves by hand yes, had four hundred altogether. We had depots.
For an illustration, you undertook to distribute at your house, you undertook to accept and distribute the gloves to the women who would come and get them to make them. And when they brought them back, you would satisfy yourself that they were all right. And you would pay them the price for the job and then you’d be paid by commission. (Q: Uhuh, goodness, interesting.) Oh yes we had them all over the place.
Q: That was not just Witham then ?
Mr K: Oh no, I used to go round and visit the people, where were we, we were at Braintree, Maldon, Wickford, Rayleigh, Chelmsford. We had depots all over, even out at Clacton.
Q: So you had more made that way than in the factory would you say ?
Mr K: Well, you see, they were made entirely by hand. (Q: Oh yes, I see.) Same principle but at that time it was very fashionable, I daresay there’s an illustration in there of hand sewing you see, that’s on the outside of the glove. (Q: Yes, there’s something there.) No, that’s done by another special machine. [laugh]
Q: Its hard to expect you to explain it all in two minutes isn’t it. Well the people at home didn’t have machines at all ?
Mr K: Oh no. [Looks through booklet] There’s a hand sewn glove. (Q: Yes.) You see the stitching visible on the outside. (Q: Goodness, its still very regular isn’t it?) Oh yes, it was no good having one an eighth of an inch and another one a sixteenth. They’d all got to be the same. People who did that sort of work they’d really got to be needlewomen as you might say. They’d got to like needlework and they’d got to be fairly accurate. I mean it wouldn’t do for well, people couldn’t do it if they… You’ve got to have the inclination and the ability to be, well like you get embroiderers don’t you. People who embroider altar cloths in church and all that sort of thing.
Q: Did they have any special training at all? How did they …?
Mr K: Yes, they had some, a few pairs to practice on if you might use the word. Of course you had lots gave it up because it was pretty close work but if they could do it I mean they were, well, in those days, it was quite a bit of pocket money for them. (Q: That’s right, yes.)
Q: So people would do this who had families or that sort of thing ?
Mr K: Yes, or you could have people, well, like yourself. If you were not active in other things, the children gone out for the day, what am I going to do this afternoon, well then pick up the gloves, same as you might pick up any other garment, or like picking up your knitting as it were.
Q: Did people have to do regular amounts a week or could they …?
Mr K: Oh no, no, there was no set time. One naturally didn’t expect them to hold them for weeks, (Q: Right.) because the gloves they made were orders and had got to be done to get out at a specified time. Only they got, they’d make say, twelve pairs in the week, some of them hadn’t got that amount of time, they might make only half-a-dozen. That’s why we had to have so many workers. The person who was running the depot, it was up to her to get all the work if she could, they were generally amongst friends and so on, you see. Acquaintances and so on because the more work that she got, the bigger production she got, of course the bigger her commission was.
Q: So would the person who was running the depot, would she be making as well or just doing distributing ?
Mr K: Well, she could make herself if she wanted, probably did, I think, in fact know some of them did.
Q: That was really quite em … There wasn’t really much else …
Mr K: There was nothing else in Witham in those days. I mean I don’t think for a moment people would do it today. (Q: Don’t you, no.) No I don’t, I mean people are more active and there is more going on and people can go out to work part-time or full-time. In those days, you see, except during War time, in was unheard of that women went to work. (Q: Right, yes.) Well, I remember when a girl married, I say a girl, a girl married, well take my own wife, she never went to work any more then. (Q: No, no.) No, it was custom, or understandable, that the man kept his wife and she did the work. She hadn’t got any washing machines or any of that sort of thing [laugh] no hoovers and …
Q: If you had girls in the factory. When they married, did anybody ever stay ?
Mr K: There might have been occasionally but it was very seldom. I mean they married, and there was a little family soon after really and then of course there weren’t any babysitters or anything like that. (Q: Quite, they had their hands full, didn’t they.) It’s entirely different now.
Q: Your wife went out to work before she married did she?
Mr K: Well, she did but her mother died tragically and there was three, four, younger than her and she was not eighteen, she worked with me, that’s how we met. Her mother died so she had to stay at home and become mother (Q: Yes, of course.) and look after the family. So of course she didn’t go to work any more.
Q: But when she was working she was working with the gloves, was she ?
Mr K: Yes, that’s where she started, that’s how I met her. Yes, yes, that’s right, mother died in 1915 that’s right, and then of course I went away in 1916 and we wrote to one another and I came back home in 1919, but her sisters and that hadn’t grown up so I didn’t marry till 1925. (Q: Right – waiting for the …) Yes, waiting for the family to, couldn’t do anything else because (Q: Very hard.) I mean she felt it was her duty and I wouldn’t have done anything else. (Q: No, no.)
Q: You have grandchildren now, you say and you had children ?
Mr K: I’ve got grandchildren and great-grandchildren. (Q: Really ?) Yes I’ve got four great-grandchildren. (Q: Ahs – Are they still round these parts?) Yes.
Mr K: Oh yes, they all come and see me. (Q: Good.) Yes I’ve got a grand-daughter coming in twelve o’clock. She works in the town and she comes down here and has a sandwich and a cup of coffee. (Q: Yes, it helps doesn’t it.) We seem to have talked all about my life. There’s a lot of, I mean as far as Witham itself it has completely changed. I mean where you are living there were cows grazing on that when I was a boy [Chalks Road] (Q: Mmm.) and where Hurrell’s garage is it was a farm. [corner of Braintree Road] There were no houses in Chalks Road at all, not your side. And none of those bungalows. Opposite where you live was all waste and meadowland, well not waste but …
Q: Whereabouts were you in Church Street yourself?
Mr K: 53, its up on the left hand side not far from where that chapel stands now. The house is still there. (Q: Is it?) But there were some little cottages and they pulled them down and some mission, chapel stands there doesn’t it? Next to that was a big barn and store cattle and that in. Then there was nothing else till you got to the crossings. (Q: Really ?) No houses up there except those on the right. There’s terraced houses up there. Yes, there was nothing else. Went over to the crossings and the Cherry Tree pub was there. Then if you walked back to Witham there was nothing at all. Not a house. There was no Cressing road nor Rickstones Road. (Q: Not at all ?) Oh, no there wasn’t. Well you can imagine, the whole population before the War I think it was in the 1911 election, the population hadn’t reached 4,000. (Q: Really ?) Now I think its about 24,000 isn’t it?
Q: Something like that, yes. It’s the same all over Essex isn’t it. It’s London I suppose, because people wouldn’t go up to London to work then really would they I suppose?
Mr K: Oh no, there were a few but very few. Well you had to go by train you see there were no motor cars. Wasn’t half-a-dozen motor cars in Witham. [laugh] You see the Avenue. Have you ever seen the photographs of the …?
Q: With the big trees ? (Mr K: Yes, that looked lovely.) Could you go in there at all ?
Mr K: The Avenue was a thoroughfare. The Constitutional Club and offices I think at one end [Conservative office probably] well that where one of the employees of Laurence, and the other people lived at the back of the house, the gardeners and so on. Because he owned all that.
Q: So did you go to school in Witham?
Mr K: Yes, I finished my schooling in Witham. Yes, I went to the National Schools in Guithavon Street, you know before they pulled them down.
Q: Yes, and then you left when you were how old? (Mr K: Thirteen.) Really? And then you went straight to Pinkham’s ?
Mr K: I was thirteen years old then. (Q: Imagine them doing that now.) You could leave at thirteen if you had a job. But you had to leave when you were fourteen whether you had a job or not. (Q: Yes.) Fourteen was the maximum and I was thirteen. Most boys got it because they were errand boys and boys for the paper round and you know. There wasn’t the quantity leaving you see. Only, well I don’t know how many boys there was at that school, could be perhaps fifty to seventy. But there was a school in the Maldon Road and there were not so many, not such a bit school. That took all the population. (Q: Yes.)
Q: So what would you have done do you think if you hadn’t got this job at the glove factory ?
Mr K: Well, I just don’t know. I just don’t know what would have happened to me if the Cromer Express hadn’t happened. I wouldn’t be here in Witham. I’d have probably been in Colchester. Life twists so doesn’t it? (Q: Mmm.)
Q: That was quite a tough job for a boy of thirteen though I should think ?
Mr K: Eight in the morning till eight at night
Q: Yes, did you enjoy it do you think ?
Mr K; Yes, yes, well I didn’t know anything else. (Q: No.) And that’s all there was. I mean there were large families. Well, every household was a large family. Very seldom you found say two or three I mean it was generally eight or nine or something like that.
Q: So your wages, did you take them back to your parents then ?
Mr K: Yes, half-a-crown a week, that’s what I started, half a crown a week. When I had been there a month I got sixpence rise because I’d been a good boy. [laugh]
Q: That was when you were sweeping the floor still was it?
Mr K: Well, I did everything and you know, course the floor didn’t need sweeping much because the premises weren’t big enough. (Q: Yes.) No, I did all sorts of little jobs that had to be done, chiefly in the cutting department. We used silk, pure silk then, gloves that were oh thirty inches long. They used to come right up to the, made of pure silk. You only wanted to [???] that and find them on the floor and you were in trouble for a long time. (Q: I’ll bet, yes.)
Q: So as it got bigger I suppose it had to be more organised. Did he have people in charge of the girls as well ? (Q: Oh yes.) How did it work ?
Mr K; As you got bigger you had a man in charge of the cutting department, (Q: Yes.) the foreman like, an experienced man and then the same by the machinists. You’d have a person, manageress, call her what you like and she would be an experienced person and all she’d got to do was to walk around and see that the job was being done properly. (Q: Yes.)
Q: So would they be people who had done the work first ?
Mr K: Oh yes, previously. They wouldn’t have been, you’d got to have experience. Well you would in anything really wouldn’t you. But of course in manufacture. It wouldn’t be any good me going into Crittall’s and saying whether a window was right or not. [laugh] No, those people were experienced and people with some ambition to be other than just a machinist.
Q: So what happened if they thought a thing wasn’t being done …?
Mr K: Well then that was their job to tell the girl to put it right. If she’d got a slipped stitch or anything like that you see, which machines are quite capable of doing. (Q: Yes.) Then of course you had a sewing machine mechanic as well. (Q: Ahah.) Virtually it built up. We had three sewing machine mechanics .(Q: Quite.) My brother Sid, he was foreman of the cutting department you see. (Q: Oh, was he?) I suppose we had at one time twenty …
Q: And they were all men always were they ?
Mr K: There were one or two women in it but the majority of them they did the menial tasks, like the women did the, the men’s work was done by men. (Q: Yes.) Of course the method of the cutting and finishing and despatching of course it all came as the advancement in the trade.
Q: And so there’d be a manager. These were sort of foremen and forewomen we are talking about aren’t they?
Mr K: Yes, and then I became Works Manager and they were responsible to me you see. (Q: Yes.) And then I took on, stayed and took on production and organised the production of everything you see.
Q: Yes, that was a responsibility wasn’t it ?
Mr K: Yes, because you see I’d got not only, we had a factory during the War at Dagenham and at Chelmsford and then after the War we had one at County Durham [Second War]. And I was responsible for production at all of those factories you see. Left people in charge there but as far as the production management. Then when the old Guv’nor died, the photograph you saw there, I was elected to the Board. Because I’d been with the Company then forty years. (Q: Yes, quite.)
Q: Well, they must have. You got on well with them then did you ?
Mr K: Yes, well, you see others that came in and sons came in and so on, but of course they hadn’t got the experience that I’d got (Q: I see.) and they’d got no more experience that you would have had if you’d have walked in you see. (Q: Right.) There’s no doubt about it a wealth would have had if you’d have walked in, you see. There’s no doubt about it that a wealth of experience is the finest thing anyone can have. (Q: Yes.)
Q: But they had jobs in the factory did they when …?
Mr K: Oh yes, they came back and well, I came off the road you see, they put two of them, when I say on the road, as travelling [???]. During the War when I had to do that I had to leave the production side to somebody else. (Q: yes.) Of course we were doing, lets see, seventy-five per cent of our stuff was Government of course in the War. Used to make airmen’s silk gloves with the linings and mosquito gloves for those out in Africa and so on.
Q: So that was quite a prosperous time for the factory ? But Mr Pinkham, the old man, knew the jobs then from what you say. You say the young ones didn’t have the experience but the father knew what to do ?
Mr K: The man what started it well, he died in 1938 and his son took it on. (Q: Yes.) Well I was referring to his sons. They were younger men you see. None of them had been in the business before and the, the oldest one, yes he joined the Air Force, become a Group Captain. Did a lot of bombing in Germany. The other one was in the Intelligence Corps and the other one was, um, anyway he went to Arnhem, one of the fellows that jumped out the, Red Devils or whatever they call ‘em. But they all come back into the business as they got demobbed but they were lacking experience obviously.
Q: But their father, the first one’s son, was he in the business as well ?
Mr K: Oh yes, the old man, who started the business. (Q: Was William?) Was William. Then he had a son and a daughter. The son’s name was Leslie. Then Leslie had three sons and these were the three boys that came into the business after the War. (Q: But Leslie was in as well?) He was in when I was at the beginning. (Q: Oh really ?) He was a couple of years older than me.
Q: So did he work his way ?
Mr K: He went to London and got into the wholesale warehousing and learned all that. Then he went to Germany before the War because Germany was our biggest competitors and they were far more advanced in the manufacture and he went over there for twelve months and did a bit of poaching if you know what I mean. [laugh]
Q: What way did he do that?
Mr K: Well, got into the factories you see and found out their methods. You see they were able to manufacture in that country cheaper than we could produce things. That’s why they brought in the Protection of Industries Act. What they are talking about doing now. Well they did it then in certain trades, (Q: I see.) because the German, after the First War, the German Government were subsidising you see, anything, the toy trade was another big thing made in Germany and textile trade you see, they were subsidising the manufacturers. It all goes back to politics.
Q: It’s funny how it comes round again isn’t it ?
Mr K: They were getting English currency which of course the mark wasn’t worth anything, only you could paper the room with them nearly. [laugh] They were getting back after the War you see. They wanted English currency, any currency other than their own. (Q: Yes.)
Q: So how did Leslie go about finding out what they were up to do you think?
Mr K: Well, he got a job in one of the factories you see. Got a job and then left that and went and got a job in another factory.
Q: Did he speak German ?
Mr K: Oh yes he learned to speak German. He’d got to because they didn’t speak English. Nowadays German and French is no barrier now is it. At that time of course it was quite an experience. Now I mean people go all over. My son went to America six weeks ago, comes home tomorrow. He’s been down to Florida for his company. Yes, been gone six weeks.
Q: But that long ago it was quite enterprising wasn’t it ?
Mr K: Oh yes, people didn’t go to Spain for a holiday or to France even.
Q: They still gave him a job in these factories ? Do you think they suspected he was coming to pinch their methods, or how did he go about it ?
Mr K: Well, I believe, he’d be clever enough to avoid that. I dare say the language barrier helped him a great deal because they didn’t understand him and he didn’t understand them [laugh] It tells you all about it in that book. (Q: Does it, yes.)
Q: Did he ever actually work at cutting or things like that ?
Mr K: Oh yes, yes he did. He went through it same as I did. (Q: Yes.)
Q: Were any of the wives and daughters in the business, the Pinkhams ?
Mr K: Only this Leslie’s sister. She, you’ll read about it, she married, quite late really married a man, a Scotchman. She was in the business, as her mother was. He mother was in, if you read that, old William’s mother [meaning wife? ]was in it. That’s the story of the lamp. That is the lamp that she used before she ever came to Witham. She knew how to make gloves, you see. She’d worked as an outworker in Devon. Torrington I think it was. It’s not far from Barnstable, North Devon. (Q: So they worked in the factory?) She worked in the factory, oh yes, all those houses and everything. She was in charge then. She knew it all you see and she was the one that taught the girls as they came.
Q: Then Leslie’s wife was the same. (Mr K: No.) His sister, I mean you said she …?
Mr K: Yes, until she married and went to Scotland. Yes she was in the business. Well, it was a family affair and no one was fussy what they did, they did what wanted doing.
Q: So she actually went into the factory did she ?
Mr K: Oh yes, she spent a lot of time, well, all her time practically.
Q: What did she do, was she …?
Mr K: Well, she did everything. She was practically able to do anything that was wanted. She did most of the clerical work at that time. (Q: I see.) What wages there was to do, you know.
Q: I suppose as it got bigger, ordering and keeping track on what you made and that …?
Mr K: Oh yes, then we had big office staff, to finish up with, you see.
Q: Did the girls in the factory get paid by the week or by how much they did …?
Mr K: They were on piece work but they were paid weekly. They were on piece work but all that they did entailed quite a bit of clerical work you see, different operations had different prices. Because you didn’t make the glove right through. You only did a part of it. You might just sew in all the thumbs and then you’d become efficient and speedier you see. (Q: Yes.) And then another girl would do another part of it and another girl do another part you see. One girl would make the buttonholes and another girl would be on the buttoning machine and so on you see. And then they’d become efficient at that particular …
Q: But it would be a job to keep track of what they’d done to pay them that’s what I was thinking.
Mr K: Oh, no, no. That was all given and booked out to them you see. (Q: Oh I see.) You endeavoured, who was in charge, to give that person sufficient work for the day you see. Save her getting up and going and getting more and that’s how it was done [???] That was the system.
Q: And did you have to see to that side of it part of the time or …?
Mr K: Well no, My job was to see that we got enough business to keep everybody busy and to see that the stuff was going through the factory and coming out the other end at the time it was wanted by the customer. (Q: Yes.) If you got orders say in November for January twentieth delivery you’d got to provide yourself with materials, raw materials, cottons to sew it with, get it cut and into production, getting it through the finishing department. Well, the same as they would in any other industry, whether it was steel or anything.
Q: You were quite young when you started doing that side of it were you ?
Mr K: No, not till I came back from the War.
Q: Well, even then you weren’t …
Mr K: Well, no, about twenty-five. Of course it wasn’t so big then, it grew but by the time I was forty I mean it was …
Q: So you weren’t really so much in charge of the people in the factory, you had to tell the …?
Mr K: Yes, I engaged all staff. Well I’d got an office you see whereby I had complete view of the whole floor of the factory. (Q: I see.)
Q: So you were doing that as well as ordering …?
Mr K: Well, I didn’t interfere with the charge hands or the forewomen or anything. They came to me if they’d got difficulties. (Q: Yes, of course.) You couldn’t take the authority away from them otherwise it wouldn’t have been worth giving it to them. (Q: No.) You couldn’t possibly let them down. Never let them down. If they had trouble, as you always do, whatever you are in there’s always some trouble go to be sorted out. Well, if they couldn’t sort it out themselves, they’d come and see me.
Q: So, were there a lot of problems ?
Mr K: Well, there are problems. I mean people get discontented as they do today. [???] people are discontented. (Q: That’s right.) It doesn’t matter what … when you get people together there’s always bound to be some difficulty and so on. Someone is either jealous of the other one, or they’ve got a better job than they have or there’s something. Where labour is concerned there’s never a constant flow. You think everything is having a wonderful day and then all of a sudden the balloon bursts somewhere.
Q: So that was quite a job and you had to sort it all out did you ?
Mr K: Yes, sort it out you know. Never had any strikes or anything but I mean you might be doing a job and you’d say well I don’t think this is fair. I don’t think I’m being paid fair for this particular operation. I can’t earn my money on doing that I could if I was doing that. All those sort of things as well. Well, you’ve got to be fair and just and say well, how long does it take you ? Then you go along and time it you see, and say you were perfectly right, it isn’t fair and [???] increase the price of that particular operation. As you always did, if someone went on to something new, something they had not done before then you always did put them onto time work for a time until till they became efficient.
[Clock strikes 12 chat about visitor coming, not noted]
Q: Was it a very popular job? Did you have a lot of people wanting to be taken on or …?
Mr K: Well, no it was a job. If you don’t like needlework, you don’t do it do you ? (Q: No.) I mean you might like needlework, you might like knitting, (Q: Mm.) but certain people just simply hate it. Well then them sort of people, you didn’t get their labour because, after all, it was a concentrated job you see. I mean you sit at a machine all day long, sewing and doing the same thing, that’s not everybody’s cup of tea is it ? (Q: Mmm.)
Q: So you had quite a lot try it you think and then …?
Mr K: Oh yes [???] and they just simply went and you couldn’t do anything. Well they wouldn’t have been any good to you. I mean you had a lot, I mean you spent money trying to train them and so on and that’s the natural thing. I mean you get people go and then they’ll come back again. Its like that in every business.
Q: But you always had more coming or did you have to advertise for people or how did you get them ?
Mr K: Well, everybody in Witham knew it. Population wasn’t so great. I mean up till, when we had the influx of the building, [???] immediately after the war, 1945-46 I mean there wasn’t all that number of people in Witham then. (Q: No.) We hadn’t got any of these estates.
Q: So people would just turn up and ask ?
Mr K: Yes, I mean they were local girls, really. And you’d probably have three or four sisters working together because they were that way inclined. (Q: Yes.) Other girls, as I say, my wife, loved needlework embroidering and doing everything. Now her sister hates sewing on a button even. My wife had a machine and everything but she wouldn’t … Its just the nature of people. (Q: A knack isn’t it?) There’s jobs in all our lives we wouldn’t want to do isn’t there? I’m sure, with your husband, I mean there’s lots of jobs he’d have liked but lot of jobs he wouldn’t have wanted. (Q: Yes and me too.)
Q: Yes, but you enjoyed your career ?
Mr K: Yes, I’ve enjoyed my life I’ve been a very fortunate man. I’ve had good times. I’ve had bad times, but I try to forget the bad. We were married fifty-three years.
Q: Where did you live when you were married ?
Mr K: We lived in the terraced houses along Mill Lane [number 15] and then we moved and lived in a house in Hatfield Road [Wendlebury]. We were up there a long time. It had a big garden and it was one of the first built and it wasn’t very modern and so on and so we came down here when I retired and had this little bungalow. (Q: It’s nice.)
Q: It was a fair way to go up to the factory from Hatfield Road wasn’t it?
Mr K: Well, no, sometimes I used to walk, sometimes I used to cycle. No, I didn’t …
Q: What did you do at lunch times at the factory ? Did they …
Mr K: Oh went home to lunch, the majority of people. (Q: Really ?) Those that had any distance had an hour and a quarter and those who were near had an hour and then we had girls come from outside and we created a little canteen and they brought their own food. We never served food, they could make themselves a cup of tea and eventually it came that everybody had a break and went to the canteen and had a cup of tea in the morning and then in the afternoon. Well, that’s what’s done now in all places. I mean it wasn’t years ago. I mean years ago they didn’t have an annual holiday. (Q: Quite, yes.) Now of course they have four or five weeks according to service.
Q: So the girls wouldn’t have a holiday ?
Mr K: Oh no, I mean if they had a holiday well, they weren’t paid. Nobody was. It wasn’t only in our trade, it happened in all industries. I mean if a man was half an hour late getting to work he got it stopped. (Q: I suppose so.) They did that even at Crittall’s when Crittall’s first started. (Q: Yes.) Then if he was persistently late he got the sack. (Q: Mmm.)
Q: Did you have to sack many folks ?
Mr K: No, I only sacked one man in my life. And I gave him lots of warnings. That was the only man I ever sacked in my experience.
Q: You must have been very tactful then.
[Chat, not noted]