Life in a Factory - Ogdens 1949 to 1955 - as told by Mary Yates (nee Palmer)

Mam wanted me to leave school at 14, but they had just changed the rules so I had to stay a bit longer. My teacher was disappointed that I did not stay on to further my education but at the age of 15 I started my first job in Ogdens tobacco factory.
I can't remember exactly how I got the job, I think they had people go around the schools recruiting; there was a sort of interview and before I knew it I was starting on the Fancy Packing machine, room number six.
My family were thrilled I'd got this job; Ogdens was considered to be one up from the sweet factory Barkers, plus there was the added bonus of 200 free cigarettes a month which made me very popular indeed. That said, I didn't like their cigarettes; they did brands for the export market such as Robin which were not my cup of tea.
My uniform had a label sewn on it to say which room I was assigned to; Fancy Packing was quite a prestigious room to be in. The noise in there was overpowering at first, giant machines clattering away together. Our job was a to pack pipe and cigarette tobacco.There were six of us along a conveyor belt and you had to sit and weigh out the right amount of tobacco and shorts and put that into your dish ready to be packed by the machine. Shorts were a bit like a coarse snuff that went into the tobacco mix to bulk it up and make the required weight. If you got the proportions wrong your dish would be rejected. I got pretty good at picking up the right amount of tobacco, I had to, because if you didn't do it quick enough your dish would go whizzing past.
I was a very quiet and shy 15 year old; I would go beetroot red every time I had to speak to any of the male engineers who worked there but I was lucky that a nice lady called Mrs Morris took me under her wing and put me at ease. She lived in Butler Street and I would often go to her house for tea; I remember she bought me my first silver cross and chain.
After I while I graduated to the other end of the conveyor belt which involved feeding packages through the machine to be labelled. We passed the time during the day by telling pictures. This involved us recalling from start to finish movies we had seen the night before at the cinema. Sometimes this would result in lapses of concentration. On one occasion we were telling pictures and a girl called Marie Lynsky lost the top of her finger on a hook on the conveyor belt. She was the one with the injury but I was the one who fainted and we both ended up in the surgery!
The facilities in Ogdens were really very good for the time. The surgery was very well equipped; I remember having heat treatment there for pleurisy. The Doctor was known to us all as Dr Fear, he wasn't scary, but no one likes going to the Dr.
We had a canteen where the food was a bit like school dinners, but one of the best things was that we had music while we worked and occasionally concerts. Sometimes a band would come in, but we also had workers concerts. I particularly remember a girl called Hazel Carson who lived around the Curate Road area and she had a wonderful voice.
There was a social club and we had organised outings in a charra to various places like Burtonwood for dances or mystery tours which usually involved a pub crawl on a bus.
Although I was assigned to fancy packing, you would occasionally get sent to another room if they were short staffed. I would dread going to cigarette packing because I was useless at it and the cigarettes would go flying all over the place.
The best room for earning money was Stripping. This was piece work, but very tough. The girls would be sat on the floor and would literally have to strip the tobacco leaf from the stalk. They had protection for their hands, but this was not always particularly effective. You could always tell which girls worked in stripping by the state of their hands
I left when I got married, but I enjoyed my time in Ogdens- I think the pictures we have put on this site show that. I was jealous of my cousin Lil though; she worked in Barkers and would come home smelling of peppermints while I would come home smelling of ciggies.



By PaulaPage PaulaPage

This story was added on 21st February 2011

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