Short and sweets at Rowntree Mackintosh

Location : Norwich

I left school in Loddon in 1970 and the reason why I went to Mackintosh’s was because there was a free bus service that picked up from Beccles then come through Loddon, Thurton all the way through. So that was a good incentive. Also I was going to go into hairdressing but that was £3 15p a week and at Mackintosh’s you earned £7.75. Well, £7 15 shillings in those days.

When I first arrived, all the new girls started on the Weekend belt, which was just doing a whole box of different sweets coming along the conveyor belt and you just put in the sweet like so …

Was that the Weekend variety?

That was indeed, yes. I did lime candy. That was pretty boring really. But the girls were good and for your first job that was ok. And then of course when we used to send it was an export you used to have to change the lime to lemon. I don’t know why, but they always did that for export. Perhaps they didn’t like green sweets, I’m not sure.

And then I went into the packing department – you always got transferred to different parts. And I went on to Gold Club, which was just a toffee type bar in a block and I started there just sealing the boxes and stacking on pallets. Then I went Mintola, Turkish Delight, and Munchies. That used to come through on the Jenson and the machine used to do the rest. Shake ‘em down and …

When you say shake them down?

Well, the machine used to shake. It used to then form however many sweets, 12, 13, and they automatically used to go down on a little belt and then the machine used to wrap them and there’d be a girl at the end packing them.

That was good fun really. I did enjoy myself at Mackintosh’s.

So the social life, if you like, on the packing side. Getting on with your colleagues.

Yeah, because we were all under about 20. And that was good fun. I was in that department all the time really, until I left in 1977. I did other jobs.

So when I finished on the Munchies I went onto the mini-eggs which used to run about six months a year. Toffee mallow and little toffee-type eggs. We used to have to do 46,000 in a day. We used to earn bonuses and such like. There were four machines, two girls on each machine, and I spent a lot of time on there. Same department, moved on to Quality Street; individually wrapped brazil nuts.

Of course they did an awful lot of stuff, chocolates and fillings. The belt used to run all the while with boxes of chocolates. In our department it was more individually wrapped stuff used to go out.

I worked all through when we used to have the IRA, the bomb scares. I don’t know how many times we didn’t end up going out to Chapelfield Gardens and sitting there for about two hours until the police come and make sure everything was alright and we started again.

So they targeted Rowntree Mackintosh, amongst others?

Yeah, they did quite a lot. I don’t know if Colman’s ever did but we did, and several stores – Marks and Spencer’s etc. you used to see all the girls come out. I should imagine they lost an awful lot of money, because they shut right down. Obviously you had to evacuate the whole thing, which was from chocolate being made from fresh, which is hot right down to where they chill it and to the girls who pack it on the end.

We spent a lot of time in Chapelfield Gardens!

And then in 1973 I met my husband and we got married. And then of course I lived in the City and I no longer needed the bus so I used to bike down from Lakenham down to Mackintosh’s. Used to come through the gate, with the police each end, just checking, security and everything.

In a factory like that, you weren’t allowed to take personal calls. Personal calls weren’t allowed. But occasionally, Dennis who was then our foreman, he had me in the office and said “There’s a personal call for you and I’ll let you have it this time.” And my husband phoned up and told me I was pregnant!

I didn’t know … I’d been and had the tests done. And Tony, where he worked at Colman’s, he had access to phones and we didn’t. He rang up to tell me I was pregnant with our first son.

And of course every Thursday you were allowed to buy the waste – the waste chocolate, which was either mis-shaped or end of line or something. I think we used to get about a two pound bag and it was 25p. You used to be able to pick that up every Thursday. Occasionally they sold other bits and bobs in the workshop, but mostly that was all around chocolates and that sort of thing.

The mechanics used to come on and mend the machines when they broke down. We used to have time and motion come down to make sure that we were doing as much as we could and that always used to irritate us quite a bit sometimes. Because if the machine used to smash at any time you used to have to clean the whole thing down before you could start it up again and run the chocolate through. Because it used to stick, it used to rip and that sort of thing.

Did they give you any training on the machine?

Well, you had an operator that would teach you how to do it.

. You worked your way up from packing the boxes at the end to actually packing the sweets and then to operating the machines. Of course the machines used to run from 8 till 5. We did from 8 till half past four, because of course ,we had to clean. Then the five o’clock girls used to come in till 10 and then the men used to come in from 10 till 7. So those machines were running 24/7.

So the men did the night shift?

The men did the night shift as well. They used to work on the machines as well as we did.

I think the thing you miss now in the City, you don’t get the smell. The smell when they used to make dark chocolate. Your clothes used to small of it, your hair used to smell of chocolate. You couldn’t get out of the way of smelling like chocolate. And all the City used to smell of chocolate. Of course, now that’s all gone. That’s such a shame in Norwich as a whole, to see all them things going.

Of course now there’s the Chapelfield Shopping Mall.

There is indeed. Watched that go up over the years. But the gardens are still there and you can get across to Chapelfield Gardens. The City’s changed an awful lot over the years.

And that’s the last job that you did?

Yeah. I only worked at Mack’s from 1970 to 1972.

That is very short and sweet.

Susan Moore (b. 1955) interviewed in Norwich for WISEArchive on 11th May 2015

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