The Dye House and the Grocery Business (2010)

Location : Leicester; Ireland

I was born in Leicester and the date of birth was the 11th of October 1920. I went to school in Leicester. Father worked in a theatre, the Theatre Royal in Leicester, as an electrician, and my mother was a housewife. I did have brothers and sisters.

What was your first job?

First job was at Wolsey Limited and I worked in the textile laboratory.

And what age were you?

I was age 14.

How did you get this job?

Well, my brother and sister worked for Wolsey – that's how I got the job, really. Went to work at the same place as them.

How did you get to work?


It wasn't very far from home?

Not very far from home, no.

And were you living at home at this point?

Yes, oh yes.

Can you describe the job and where you worked?

Well, it was mainly looking after the laboratory and doing odd jobs, sample dying. I couldn't say what made me decide to work there – you've got to work somewhere in those days! (Laughs) You didn't choose so much. It was when you could get a job. So that's where we got to.

Were you given any training for this job?

Well, you just learnt while you were doing the job.

And how long did you work at this job?

Roughly … six years.

Where did you eat? You went home for food.


You just nipped home? That's handy, to save money.

The jobs after this, well …

The war came?

I was called up in 1940 and for six years in the forces.

And did you train then as a wireless operator. Is that sort of training, in a way?

Wireless operator/mechanic I was, yes. There was training for that.

So when you left, did you think of going on with that, or …?

I went back into the textile trade.

And I worked for many years … oh … trying to think about that … say for nearly 20 years I suppose. As a dyer.

That was as a dyer?

Yes, various firms, I couldn't possibly tell you how many.

There were a lot of textile companies at that time.

Then I was in business as a grocer, till I retired more or less.

What hours were we expected to work? Well, everybody was in those days on a 48-hour week, I would say most people worked.

Eight till five?

Eight till six, a lot of places did after the war. I mean later on I didn't work those hours because I got more or less into management more, you might say. So I used to go in at about half-past eight to nine. They were the working hours in those days. I would say when I was at home and the house was rented I would say people would pay about 10 shilling a week rent. And whole streets were rented, more or less, owned by landlords and people rented their houses, they didn't buy their houses in those days so much.

Can you remember how much you were paid, approximately, when you first started.

Ten shilling a week was the normal starting wage, you know. That was quite normal.

And so you'd pay your mum …

You'd get two shilling or something like that.

I see, you'd hand it over to her and she'd give you something back.

You used to get half a crown …

You'd get half a crown, yes.

There was a lot you could do with that as well.

The grocery bill – I couldn't tell you because … what was our grocery bill usually like? It went up and up and up, yes. I don't know what it used to be but it wouldn't be that much because people hadn't got that much money.

About ten shillings.

I would say something like that, yes.

My health was reasonably good, I would say…

But didn't it affect you in the end, the textile trade? Isn't that why you finished. Or was it the climate where you were living?

No, it was that I just got some mad idea I had had enough of it.

But you had asthma, though.

No, it had nothing to do with the textile business.

I thought maybe it was, the dyes and things.

So what did you like about your job in the textile industry? Was it just that you stayed with it because you started in it and it was a job?

It was always something different to do, and quite a bit to learn. But in the end I had had enough. (Laughs).

How much time off did you get, and what did you do to relax? Well, let's start with when you just started. You worked long hours, so did you go out much in the evenings?

I used to go to the Technical School a couple of nights a week. Doing dyeing, it was a City and Guilds course.

For the work? Training to get on in the industry?


So you did that a couple of nights a week to get City and Guilds qualifications.

And played games, you know. In the summer you might have a game of tennis or something like that. You played games anyway. And in the winter you might have a game of football, cricket in the summer.

Did any of your friends and family work there?

The family worked there. Some friends did, yes. Do I see any of these people? I see the family, yes.

They weren't all that pleasant places to work, dyeing.

[Contributor's daughter] Well, I can remember visiting you in Ireland – you must have driven me to and from work. I can remember the smell of it, the horrible smell.

Yes, but that was part of industry in those days. Health and safety wasn't so up to scratch as now. The old mills were quite basic, you might say. If you went into a mill now and saw … it was very very noisy, most textile mills. Although a dye house would be quite steamy and hot, other parts of the mill might be doing weaving, for instance. Very noisy. Preparing yarn, carding, all very noisy things. So it did affect people's hearing that.

Are there any particular smells you associate with it?

Well, most dye houses used some pretty potent chemicals, like pyridine and things like that. They weren't very good to inhale.

What was the temperature like?

Well, pretty warm … steamy.

[Later, the contributor added the following text:]

Dyehouses in the early 1930s were very wet and steamy places before extractor fans and relied on open louvres in the roof. The dyeing process involved materials being immersed in large vats of boiling water and moved manually; this is now done mechanically. Fabrics are moved by winches, hosiery and garments by paddles, circulating pumps for yarn.

Very toxic materials are used in the dyeing process, e.g. sodium hydroxide, beta naphthol, sulphuric acid, pyridine and other solvents. Protective clothing must be worn when handling them.

Dyestuffs are mainly in the form of powder and are weighed out carefully in an enclosed dyestore, Otherwise materials in the dyehouse would be contaminated.

Well, unless you want to say anything about the grocery trade. I can remember when you started up the old shop.

It was a country place.

I can remember the sacks of flour …

[Additional text:]

Counters on sides and back of shop, all the provisions were on shelves behind the counter and customers had to ask for and be served. The shop assistants had to know all the prices and add them up, writing on the paper bags. The front windows had a display of provisions. Blinds were drawn when the shop closed, and also when there was a funeral at the church on the opposite side of the road.

Some of the things, prunes and things like that we sold… Biscuits came in big tins. We sold those by weight when we first went into the shop. It wasn't self-service then, it was a shop with big counters round, so you had to know the price of everything in the shop. Being a country sort of shop, you had a lot of accounts and a lot of deliveries to do. People used to pay monthly. Eventually we decided to go self-service and just do cash trade, which was quite a new thing then, for a small shop. It wasn't all that popular with a lot of people, but we made a living there and you worked to make a living. You didn't make a lot of money, it was to live, really. But eventually, as you know, we went into a bigger supermarket type place and it didn't work out very well, so after a few years we finished in the grocery trade and I worked at BNFL [British Nuclear Fuels] for ten years.

And how did that compare to working in the other things you'd done?

It was just a job to do, it wasn't something that I went overboard on, you know. I used to go on a day course there, to Carlett Park. It was more or less a general operator's course. You could be operating – you'd get training in for instance for oil drilling and all sorts of things like this. It was a general operator's course. That was the interesting part really for me, I learned quite a lot about things general things. But I did nearly ten years with BNFL before I retired. And that's it really, that's my working life.

We got a small pension from it, but that's it.

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