Susan recalls working on iconic confectionery at Rowntree Mackintosh in Norwich while the smell of chocolate permeated the city.
Starting on the Weekend belt
I went to school in Loddon and left in 1970. I went to work at Mackintosh’s because there was a free bus service from Beccles, through Loddon, all the way to Thurton, which was a good incentive. I had thought of going into hairdressing which paid £3.15 pence a week but at Mackintosh’s you earned £7 15 shillings a week which was much better.
All the new girls started on the Weekend variety belt which was just filling a whole box of different sweets coming along the conveyor belt. It was pretty boring really but the girls were good and it was okay for your first job. When the boxes were for export you had 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!
You often got transferred from one department to another, and I went into the packing department, and then on to Gold Club which was just a toffee type bar in a block. I was sealing the boxes and stacking them on pallets. I then went to Mintola, Turkish Delight and then Munchies which came through on the Jensen conveyor belt and the machine used to do the rest… shake ‘em down. The machine used to shake the sweets into clusters of 12 or 13 which automatically went down a little belt, the machine would wrap them and a girl at the end would pack them.
The social life was good because we were all under about 20 and it was good fun. I was in the packing department until I left in 1977. When I finished on the Munchies I went on to the mini-eggs which used to run for about six months a year. They were toffee mallow and little toffee-type eggs. We had to do 46,000 in a day and we did earn bonuses. There were four machines with two girls on each machine. I spent a lot of time on there. I moved on to Quality Street and individually wrapped brazil nuts. They did an awful lot of chocolates and fillings. The belt used to run constantly with boxes of chocolates. Our department dealt with more individually wrapped stuff.
Every Thursday you were allowed to buy the waste chocolate which was either mishapen or end of line or something. We used to get about a two pound bag for 25 pence. Occasionally they sold other bits and bobs in the workshop but it was mostly chocolates.
Working on the machines
You worked your way up from packing the boxes at the end to actually packing the sweets, and then you would be trained to operate the machines. They would run 24/7 and we worked on them from eight till half past four and then we had to clean them. The five o’clock girls worked till ten at night and the men worked from ten till seven in the morning.
When the machines broke down the mechanics would come in to sort them out. We had time and motion checks to make sure we were doing as much as we could, which would always irritate us because if the machine broke down you had to clean it thoroughly before you could start it up again and run the chocolate through. It used to stick and rip and that sort of thing.
When we had IRA bomb scares I worked all through though I don’t know how many times we ended up sitting in Chapelfield Gardens for about two hours, until the police had made sure everything was alright and we could go back to work. They targeted Rowntree Mackintosh quite a lot, and several other stores including Marks and Spencer’s. You’d see all the girls come out. I imagine we lost an awful lot of money because they had to completely shut down the whole process from fresh chocolate, which is hot, right down to being chilled and then packed by the girls at the end. We spent a lot of time in Chapelfield Gardens! I don’t know if Colman’s was ever targeted.
Married life and a very special phonecall
In 1973 I met Tony and we got married, and, as we lived in the City, I no longer needed to get the bus so I cycled from Lakenham to Mackintosh’s, arriving through the gate with security police each end. You weren’t allowed to take personal calls in the factory. However, once, Dennis, our foreman, called me into the office and said, ‘There’s a personal call for you and I’ll let you have it this time’. My husband, Tony, had phoned up and told me I was pregnant! I didn’t know. I’d had tests done and Tony, who worked at Colman’s, had access to the phone and had rung to tell me I was pregnant with our first son. An unusual way to learn the news!
Chocolate in the air
I think the thing you miss now in the City is the smell, particularly when they used to make dark chocolate. Your clothes used to smell of it, your hair used to smell of it. You couldn’t avoid smelling like chocolate. The whole of the City of Norwich used to smell of chocolate. Now that’s all gone which is such a shame. Chapelfield Shopping Mall is on the old site. I watched it going up over the years but you can still get across to Chapelfield Gardens. The City’s changed a great deal since those days.
I was only at Mackintosh’s from 1970 to 1972 and that was my last job as I stopped working to look after our two boys, Christopher and David.
I did enjoy myself at Mackintosh’s. It was good fun really.
Susan (1955-2018) was talking to WISEArchive on 11th May 2015 in Horsford.
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