A Woman in a Man’s World (2009)

Location : Boulton & Paul Ltd, Norwich

The contributor was interviewed with her sister, who worked for a time with her at Boulton & Paul's and who occasionally took part in the interview.

I left school at 15. I left school on a Friday, and on the Monday I started work and trained to be an upholsterer. I went and I had to make pillow cases, and there used to be a young boy up there, ‘bout my age, and he used to fill ‘em with feathers. We used to do that, and then I got promoted to help to make the curtains – sewin' – and I got 12/6d a week.

Int: So where was this?

It was Trevor Page's. It's not there now. It was in a little building, three-storey building it was in Muspole Street. The building is still there, but I don't know what it's used for now. And I bought myself a bike, which I used to pay 5 shillings, I don't know whether that was a week or a month, but I know I earned 12/6d. And I don't know how long I was there, maybe about 9 months.

Int: What were the hours like there?

I think it was about 8 till 6.

Int: And breaks?

I can't really remember about the breaks but I suppose we must have had some breaks.

Int: And was it a big company?

No, just small, there was only just a few of us working there. I think there'd be about four, and there was a little old lady, she was a spinster, who was in charge. Bossy little old lady, how they used to be! And bein' as I was the young one, I think there was another girl a bit older than me and another elderly lady.

Int: So was it OK? I mean for a youngster that's quite an odd way to start.

Well you know they came round when you were at school asking you what you would like to do, what you were interested in, and of course what I was interested in was sewin' and things like that. And I got on quite well ‘cos she put me onto making the cushions and doing the welting and things like that.

But then I wanted to go out and my friends were earnin' more money than me in the shoe factories, and I'm afraid I've always been a little bit where the money is to be earnt I would go. So I left there, which maybe I regret doin' in later life, because I was at Trevor Page's as an apprentice, you see.

Int: So you didn't finish your apprenticeship?

No, no. I wanted to go where the money was. And I went to work at Bally's shoe factory on Tombland, which was there then. And I went in to be what they called a swansdown backer, and tracer. So I went there and of course we went on piece work, so I earnt more money. I can't really remember how much it was.

Int: And this would be in the 19 . . .. ?

Talking about . … 1948 / 49. Worked there not too long, because I met my husband and I got married when I was 17½, and had my daughter and then I had one or two other jobs. I worked down Carrow didn't I, on the tin shop, but I didn't care for that very much.

Int: Why not? What was wrong with the tin shop?

Mmm … It weren't very nice working conditions there, and we worked …

Sister: Noisy, wasn't it?

I weren't in the noise. We worked right at the top and we were making these tin lids on a machine. It was sort of a new thing and the more you done the more you got more money. But they were never satisfied. That was always "More" and "More" they wanted you to do.

And then I had a chance to go to work at Boulton & Paul's. Somebody in the office said about this job at Boulton & Paul's. By then I'd got my daughter and we'd got a house down Tuckswood, and, as I say, got this job, and first of all I went there as a carpenter, making tables and things. They ran out of work one time and they were started making window frames and that, and they had to be primed. So ran out of work on the tables, so they put us into another place paintin' these window frames and things. Well, I really enjoyed doing this. It was primin' the window frames, and the girls we just wore an overall, and we used to wear sacks round us. We used to hand prime, and I got so that I really enjoyed doin' this, so when that come back and we had more work in the carpentry bit, I said no, I wanted to stop where I was. And I think I must've worked on there fifteen years, paintin'.

Int: So you say you wore sacks. Did stuff like Health & Safety come in later on?

(Laughs) Ooh, there weren't no Health and Safety! We wore these sacks round us till there was so much paint on them they nearly stood up on their own! (Laughs) There was paint everywhere really!

Int: And you were breathing that in as well presumably?

Oh yeh! This is why they think I'm having a problem now.

Sister: They did have extractors. And later on we had blood tests done.

Oh yeh. But that was later on when they done that. When I first went there there weren't none of that. I mean, what we used to do, we used to have trestles and you'd paint it and you'd tip it up on the trestle. Some of the frames were quite big. Big frames, and you used to tip them all up on the trestles and you'd be right over the top of ‘em paintin'. We used to work 8 till 6. I can't think of the wages, but we earnt good money.

Sister: But not as much as the men, did you?

Int: So you mean for the same job, less than the men?

Yeh, that's right.

I worked there 32 years altogether.

Int: They've got a good reputation. They were a good company to work for, were they?

Sister: We were happy there.

Well, as I've said, of all my years, I was happy. If I had my life again I would do the same again.

Int: Did they look after you then, like when you were sick?

Oh no, no. But then they'd take so much of your money out each week and that give you a stamp for your holidays. But the atmosphere was good. Most of ‘em were men, you see, there.

Sister: When I went there was just 16 women, that's all .

Well, I've been there when there's only been four of us. I was thinking about it this morning. During the summertime when they were busy the room'd be stacked with frames, and all of a sudden well we'd get more girls comin' in. And then in the wintertime there was hardly any work comin' through. The carpenters'd be there makin' them up and they'd come through, and we'd all be there waitin' for a frame to come in and sort of have the jobs to do there.

Int: So were the men Ok to you? Was there what modern women would call sexism?

Well, yeh, there was a lot of that (laughs). Definitely! Oh yes, definitely!

I would say I was really lucky that I've been down there and there's only been four of us left, and I've never ….. I was always last to leave. I was never made redundant. Say there was 10 girls there and 6 had got to go, I was lucky, I was always the one . .. I don't know why.

Sister: Because you were a good painter. They didn't want to get rid of her, my goodness me!

If there was any special ones to do and they didn't want the sills … specially when we done door frames and things like that, and they didn't want the sills messed up, I'd get the job. We'd be workin' alongside men as well. What else can I say? I done that for quite a long while, didn't I? As I say we had some good times.

Int: Did you make friends?

Oh yes.

Int: Mostly with the other women?

Yes, mostly with the women

Sister: And with the men who worked in that bay, Gerry & Michael. You got on well with them – because she was a good painter they respected her.

Oh yes, Gerry E, Michael T and Nicky T. There was one bit in there, we used to call it the hole in the wall. And it was so funny! They had some labourers like you always do . . and we had some younger girls came there, sort of bit of a dolly bird, and we had one or two labourers, well they ain't goin' to help us old ones! (Laughs) Well, we had three old boys work there, we had Frank P, littl'ol' Georgie B and Herbert W. They were my three. I mean they were all elderly men and they were really good ol' boys, and they'd been there ages. And they would help us, and they were always ready for a laugh! Well they would torment us!

Sister: What about Frank P when he use to nail our gloves to the trestle? Come back from your break, and one day I had a big spider in my glove! (both laugh) Put my hand in and ooooh! That was the fun! That was like that weren't it?

They would torment you and do all the things!

Int: And was it them who taught you? I mean did the company train you or did they put you in there and the guys train you?

Well, no, you just learned how to do it. We used to have to knot ‘em, and sometimes we had great big bays like this to do, and we used to have to turn ‘em over. And most probably you'd get two of you to stand, and we used to have to knot ‘em to start with, and then we used to put this primer on, you know. We sort of picked it up, didn't we?

Sister: Hard work, wasn't it, but there was just something about the company . . . a nice company.

And then, you see, we used to have time to do it sort of on a bonus thing. So he'd come and give us a ticket for a hundred 3-lights, and when I first started we used to get 50 hours to do a hundred 3-light frames. That's half an hour a frame. I could easily paint one of them in a quarter of an hour. So they used to give us a bonus, but we never used to bother about doing them in that time because we knew they would come cuttin'. Say we were making 25% we were happy to do it in that time. But then we found there was some newer girls came in and they used to think "Oh yeh, we'll do it quicker" and then they gradually cut it and cut it. So in the end we were lucky if we got twenty minutes a frame.

Sister: But they use to come in and, as you say, do it quicker, but the frames used to have all runs, and they spoilt it.

Int: So wasn't anybody supervising?

Sister: Yes, the foreman used to come round and see these runs, but he had an eye for the young ladies, you see, so they got away with it!

Yes, definitely! And it was nice ‘cos of the tormentin'. A little while later – I was there several years before my sister came – and then we was working together and we had George L and he was our foreman. And they used to come and give these tickets, you see, and we hated doin' door frames, but we all had to take turns in doin' ‘em.

Int: What's wrong with door frames?

Well, you never earnt the money on ‘em .. . They were a borin' job and you couldn't make no money on ‘em so nobody liked them …. So he'd give us a hundred doorframes to do, you see. Well, you knew you had to do ‘em. And then you'd say "Can I have another ticket George". And of course he'd really torment me, you see. He'd come along and he'd say "Here y'are. Here's your ticket". He'd walk away right quick, and I'd go and pick it up. And he'd give me another hundred doorframes. Well, I used to put my parts on!! (Laughs) In the meantime he'd wink at my sister and he'd hide another one beneath, your see! (Laughs)

Sister: But she could always stick up for herself I can assure you!

Afterwards it began so I knew really.

We used to have outin's to Southend and places.

Sister: It was all in this country, weren't it?

Yes, we used to have our days out. We used to have good fun. We used to stop at a pub on the way home and we'd have a drink. We'd all be on the floor rowin' up the river and all them . . .you know! (Laughs)

Because they don't have factory outin's now … well there in't no factories!

And then, of course, afterwards the hand paintin' stopped and they put on what they call a mechanical dip that done it all. And of course they had men work on it then. It was like a big tank. And then gradually the women all went and there was hardly anybody left of the women then.

And then (speaking to her sister) you went onto fittin's first before me, didn't you?

Sister: Yes, we used to put the handles and that on.

So I kept in the paintin', and then most of the women went and then I went out into the fittin' bay, into the carpentry side. And we used to work on a great big line and we used to put the fittin's on the windows. And the old pump screwdriver we used to have to have, and a bradawl to make the holes.

Int: And was that OK after you'd been doing the painting? Did you like that as well?

Yes, that was all right. I liked that.

Sister: The money was good again (laughs). That's how I built my house, because I worked hard and every penny I earnt. .. That's how we built this bungalow, me and my husband, ‘cos we worked hard. But that's why I liked Boulton & Paul's. I enjoyed it, but I liked the money!

But I preferred the painting you see because I'd always done it. But then when the paintin' finished, all the girls stopped the paintin', that was all done through the mechanical dip then, but I worked doin' the paintin' nearly to the last. And then I went out onto the joinery side of the carpentry and I went on the line doin' the fittin's.

Sister: When we were doing the painting when I first went that was all lead paint, but in the end they took the lead out. But that was not so nice to paint with. It was harder, didn't go on like the lead paint. But we used to have a blood test, the latter part of the time. There was one person she had to leave because she was absorbing too much lead into her blood – I remember that. But that was the latter part of the time.

Int: So what kind of date are you talking about?

Sister: Early ‘60s, ‘60-'65.

Then I went on to doin' the fittin's and to start with, when I first went out there, we used to have a template and we used to have to make the holes with the bradawl and then use a pump to put the fittin's on. Well then, after a little while we had air pressure put on, so in the end we had a gun to make the holes, and a gun with air pressure, so we had the pump.

And then over time they made the kitchen units, and I have worked over making kitchen units, but I weren't over that side very long. I was nearly always on the sash and I had a place where we used to do other bits. We used to put the beadin's in the windows and things like that. But I worked up on the fittin' bay for several years, didn't I, with Doris. Doris and I worked together.

Int: What sort of wood were the windows made of?

Just ordinary soft wood. They used to have hard wood sills, but that was soft wood, the white stuff.

Sister: If someone ordered it then that would be an order with hardwood sills

But otherwise that was ordinary sills, but of course they don't make the window sills like that now. But Doris and I worked on there and we used to have this long bench, and we used to have two labourers work for us.

Int: So you're in charge of the men by this time?

Me?! No! (laughs) But Doris and I, we used to be on one side of the bench and we'd have carpenters on the other side doing exactly the same as what we did. I mean we had to keep up with the men.

Int: Did they get paid more than you did?

Yes, they always had. Right to the end they were still getting more. Oh yeh, they always got more than us.

Sister: They had an apprenticeship didn't they?

That's what they used to say. But how we got paid actually was: Say the carpenters got

£5 an hour and the labourers got £4 an hour, we had £4.50 an hour. We were in the middle. That's how that was always done.

And we used to have a labourer. They used to go out and they were given a job. Say we had a hundred 2-lights to do, they were all stacked up in one area of the factory, and they would have to bring them round to us and then the one who worked that end would have to put them on the bench for us and then push ‘em down. A 2-light one, we would get about ten of them on our bench. A 2-light one is about four foot wide with two fanlights in one frame.

Int: It's quite heavy manual work isn't it?

Yes, very! Especially when we were doin' the paintin'. And especially when the labourers had a think that they weren't going to do anything, so that we used to have to put ‘em on ourselves.

Sister: That was the main bugbear there. They resented the women because we used to get that little bit more money than them, you see. They would be awkward.

And even, you see, Doris and I were classed as carpenters, and our two who were helpin' us, they were our labourers. And they would only get – say we made a hundred per cent bonus – they would only get a percentage of our bonus. So whatever we made they got a percentage, you see.

Sister: But they always resented that.

Oh we had a lot of problems!

Sister: We used to get fed up and we'd go after the foreman and he'd come and he'd find ‘em up. Big factory, you see, and they'd hide up and keep out of the way. And they'd square them up, so that'd get better for a time . . ..

Oh the labourers got away with no end up there, because we'd be lookin' for a labourer sometimes. We'd done our line and we'd be lookin' for them and waitin' for them. And you'd go huntin' and there'd be stacks of frames and they'd be playin' cards or something in the stacks.

Sister: That was the worst thing about working there.

The latter part there got less and less women, and one time there was only four of us there. There was always a few of the carpenters didn't want to work with the women. Sometimes you see we worked in pairs. They didn't want a woman to work with.

Int: Did they say why? Was it just prejudice? Did they give a reason?

It was a male thing because they want to be somebody! Just say my friend Doris who I worked with, she weren't well at a time or not there, or she was away or something, they used to put a carpenter along-a-me, there would be some of them I'd say "I'm not working with them". You know, I wouldn't work with them. Either they were too ruddy slow or they would, you know, "I'm not working with a woman", that sort of thing, but more often some of them "Oh well I'll put so-and-so with them". Won't give the names! But they were too slow, and then I would say "I'm not working for a man!" (laughs) So there was always that little bit about it there.

Int: So was there a Union?

Oh yeh, we were all in a Union.

Sister: can't remember what it was called – General . . .?

I can't think of the name.

Int: And were they good in supporting you? Clearly not about the equal pay.

Oh no, never had the equal pay. But I suppose at the time that's how that allus was.

Sister: the reason I paid the Union was because if you had an accident .. . like an insurance. If you had an accident they'd help you with the claim, so you covered yourself like that.

Doris and I done this for a long while, and then they stopped putting the fittin's on that way, and Doris got made redundant, so that just left Mary and I there, so we were the only two, so we came off the fittin's and we were put down into the big shop. And we were put on beadin' for a while.

Int: What's that?

It's – how can I explain? – you have the sash and at the top we used to put a beadin' on like an air vent sort of thing.

Sister: Well some glass was put in with putty and other would have this beadin' round.

You'd have to paint the beadin' separately and the boys used to knock the beadin' in.

And then Mary and I, we used to make the sashes – that piece that you open, that's the sash. By then there was just Mary and I left in the whole factory. All the others were men. All the other women had left or been made redundant.

Int: So when are we talking about now – roughly?

(Looking at newsprint) This is 1986, but that would be a bit before then, maybe '84 / '85.

Int: So what have you got there?

This is one of Boulton & Paul's Bulletins, and we used to have them every so often.

And what happened with the sashes, we used to have a labourer and we had a batch to make up, and he would have to go out to all the components, which used to be brought in from Lowestoft, used to be cut up into the big things, and then we used to have the wood up to make the sashes. And we used to have them put on there (indicates a bench in a picture in the Bulletin) and then we used to have the glue and we used to have to glue ‘em, put the glue on ‘em. (Shows picture) This is Mary and I and he's the machinist where they . . . . How can I explain? We had four pieces a'wood, two longer ones and two short ones. On the top here was a tank all full of glue, and then one of us would glue ‘em up and put 'em on the thing, and there'd be a table and we'd bang ‘em together. We'd have to make ‘em all up on there and then they'd come down on a thing, like a conveyor belt, and we'd have to put ‘em in the cramps and cramp ‘em all up, and then with our guns we'd have to glue 'em all up. And then they'd come down here (indicates on photo) and then the boys would put ‘em in a machine and then they'd cut ‘em out for where what we used to call the butts to go in. So that they could put them on the windows. Mary and I used to do that.

And then Mary retired, so for two or three years I was the only woman left at Boulton & Paul's, working. And then that system packed up, so we had the big cramps, huge ones, and I used to have a labourer to do my gluin' and put them together, cos there used to come down the bit with the glue on, and behind me I'd have the big sashes and I used to have to put ‘em in. Look (shows picture) here's Nigel, and here's me and my cramp – I used to have a great big cramp at the back here. He had one here and mine was here. I nipped my finger in there – look! Thought I'd took the top of my finger off. And I done that for a year or two till we finished – what year did we finish? – that was 1986, and I was the only woman there for about two years doin' that. And then, of course, they closed us down. And I worked down there till they actual finished.

Int: So were you retirement age then?

No, I was 54. It's quite along time ago now int'it? Twenty year ago now.

And I used to have a labourer go and get all my components out and he was a little ol' monkey I had there with me last. You see he was there and he always wanted to see what other people were doin'. After Doris weren't there a young carpenter got to come and work with me. They said "You got to go and work with her" and, you know, like a boy, "No, I'm not doin' this". But anyhow they said "yeh", and in the end we worked so well together. We earned good money. He realised he was on a good thing workin' with me. He'd muck about for a little while but I said to him "Either you pull your socks up or you can get off".

It's the same with this young labourer, Stuart, nice enough lad, but he was a little ol' monkey. And then when we were goin' to be made redundant, they were closin' it down, and I think this was about November time, and we had lots of work, and they told us they were closin' us down, and the men "Right we're gonna go on a go-slow". And they wanted to get this work out and they said to us "Whatever you make in December, when you get made redundant that'll be the money you get, and you can earn as much as you . . . " Because we allus kept under that hundred percent because if you made over a hundred they come and cut your time. They were allus on cutting yer time. Time and Motion! So we allus tried to earn what we wanted, but, you know, be a bit careful. So they come to us and said "You can earn what you like, you can do all the hours you like." So of course I said to my labourer, Stuart, I said "Come on, Stuart", I said, "We'll have a good month". I said "We'll be here" – half past seven we were working till then, half past seven till half past five and half hour dinner – and I says to him "We'll start at time, we'll be here and no mucking about, we'll work really, really hard." And so he said "Yeh, all right". And, I mean, he did work with me. But before, sometimes, he'd go off and I didn't have no work, and I used to get my hammer and I'd bang on the old things and of course in the shop it'd roll there, and he'd be over there talking and of course all the boys – you can imagine all the rest of the carpenters and the labourers "She's a-callin' you, Stuart"!! (laughs) But we worked really hard. And I'm not gonna say .. .but I think after we'd worked that I had a fortnight off ‘cos I was knackered! (laughs) But we worked really hard so we earnt. … . worth my while when we got made redundant, yeh, because we had good redundancy.

But I missed it, so "Whatever am I gonna do? Whatever am I going to do? When that finish". But I worked there 32 years.

Int: So did you stop when that shut? Or did you do something else?

Oh, dear! (Everyone laughs)

Sister: She's still working!

The last few years I've been working in catering. I've been doing that now for a long while.

Sister: She's been doing like weddings and that .. . I allus reckon she should have done this years ago, because she's really good.

What happened . . . when I finished at Boulton & Paul's I thought to meself "I'll have a little break", and I weren't going to do too much, but I allus wanted to keep doing somethin' to earn me stamps to get me pension, you see. But the boy who was my labourer, after a month, he got a contract, a cleaning contract. So he came round to see me one day:

"M., what you doin'?" So he said "Are you going to come and help me with this cleaning contract?". Which I did. I think I done about 6 hours a day with him. We used to do the Rushcutters and High's Nightclub, 3 hours in each we used to do. Help people to do that for a little while. I done that for quite a while with Stuart. But then Rushcutters was closing so he lost the contract and then he got another one at Fyfes Bananas, but that was night times, and I didn't want to do the night times. So I stopped there with him doing that.

And then I went into Norwich Union doin' a little cleanin' job in the mornin's. And there I got friendly with people up in the special restaurant upstairs. And one day they says to me – two of them, the chef there and another one, they done outside catering as well in their spare time and they'd got this weddin' this weekend – so they said ""Will you come and give us a hand to like wash up?" So I went with ‘em. Always ready to earn a pound or two I am! (laughs) so I went with 'em and helped ‘em. Well, we were out on this field and when it came to washing up this day they had lamb, and hardly any water, hot water, and I was washin' up. Well, I had a bowl to wash all these plates up and there was so much fat in this … ooooh .. . there never were anything like! Anyhow I went with them several times, then I got friendly with . . her name is Andrea and she was a waitress there and her brother-in-law, Robert, was the chef upstairs. Never had really much to do with Robert at the time.

But anyhow things were all happening at Norwich Union. They were going to close this part of the restaurant down. It was all gonna go into the big canteen. So Robert and Andy started a catering business on their own. You know, going into it full time. And Andy said "Would you like to come and help us sometimes?" But I didn't hear anything from them for a little while, and I then I went into Magnet's sort of doin' a little cleanin' of the showroom. And then Andy called me up one day "Will you come and help us?" So I went there to help them, sort of in the kitchen, and that got from kitchen "Will you come out to outside jobs?" And I was going out there, helpin' to do things like that. One night we done a job in one of the big car showrooms. We were doin' this big dinner and he said "Do you think you can put a black skirt and that on tonight?" (laughs) So when I got there "You'll be waitressin'"! So I thought "Well I never waitressed before"! (laughs) And in the end I got into waitressin'. And it was silver service waitressin'. Used to go out and I got told how to lay the tables up and all this. And I was also helping him in the kitchen. But this one, Robert, he was the chef and I used to help him to do things, you know. We used to get the buffets all up. And then they decided they'd had enough after about 8 years. So they sold it out to Angie, Angela, so she asked me if I'd still go and help her, which I did. I transferred over to Angela and I went with her, and I found I was doin' more cookin' .. . (laughs) and more cookin'. So I worked for her for about 3 years and then she's had enough, met her boyfriend and got married, so she sold it out to Steve, another chef. So he said "Will you still help me?" So I got more cookin' (laughs) and more cookin' . . . . ..

Sister: With all her knowledge what she learned from Angie and Robert she's actually trained Steve.

Well he's a chef but he's not very organised. I drive the van, a big van. I go out and he load me up, and I go off and set all things up, and we do funerals and things like that.

I've now got you up till last November ('08). I mean we were really busy last year, really, really busy. And then last November we were workin' down St Mary's and had a bad storm one night and all up there got flooded where we were. And they had somebody in and all asbestos, so they closed all the unit down where we were workin', had our kitchens. So it was a bit horrendous. We had no end a'work and he had to buy a unit thing downstairs to work in. It was awful and it's pushed him into dire straits.

Sister: Hard workin' boy, isn't he? It's a shame.

So I've only done one job with him since Christmas. We done a weddin' and that's the only job we've done. Sayin' that, he rang me up yesterday, he's up in Wales "Can you give me the ingredients of our brownie, please". He say "All I can remember is that's a kilo of sugar". So I say "Oh just give me time to think ". But he say "I'm going to ring you in the mornin'. I've got some news." I say "Good or bad?" He say "A bit a'each". So what that is I don't know.

Sister: You see the Insurance wouldn't pay up

We got some bigger premises, but we had to take the ovens out, so he in't had the money to fix the ovens up and things like that. Extractor fans and things like that. So things in't been very good. Two or three weeks I in't heard anything from him. But in the meantime . . . (laughs) my friend Andy, her daughter have now got doin' a business. She's got one house and three flats, sort of lettin' them, sort of holiday places and for weekends down by the quayside. And they ring me up and say "Can you come and give us a hand to do these?" The other day I took these five big duvets and sheets and things, servicin'. Even some people can hire ‘em just for the night. Well then you got to go in and change and that, so I've been there doin' that.

Int: So basically you're still going strong?!

And I'm 76 in a couple of month's time!

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