Film ID:
YFA 4186

RENE SMITH INTERVIEW

2007

Visitor Tabs

Description

23rd February 2007 at Armley Mills Industrial Museum:  Interview conducted by KS2 pupils at St Bartholomew’s CofE Primary School, Leeds as part of the MLA Yorkshire funded “Back to the 50s” project.

Title: STARTING WORK

Hello children.  I’m … call me Rene, and I used to work in this mill.  I started in this mill in August 1941.  And I left in the March of 1948.  And then I had a break, and then I came back and worked a little bit again and then I left and I’ve worked at various mills since, but my first job was here and I really liked it, it was lovely.  Because working in the mill, it was a matter that there was a lot of open space, you weren’t on top of one another.  Because in them days, in industry, when I used to see people in sewing, they were all over the machines and they seemed to be on top of one another, but not in the mill, you had your own space.  If you were in weaving and you were in a mule gate, working in a mule gate, that were your territory.  You were there on your own and you could just do what you liked really within reason.  But then you always knew, that whoever worked at the side of you, or if they worked in a mule gate with you, you always had a friend there that would help you.  You never stuck fast, they were always really good work people.

Title: Why did you decide to work in the mill?

What you did, your mother or an aunt, anybody like that, would take you into the factory where they were working.  My mother worked in tailoring, so I went with her to see, but I didn’t like it because everybody seemed to be on top of one another.  There didn’t seem to be no space.  I didn’t like it.  I didn’t want to go into printing, I didn’t like that.  So I had an aunt that worked at this mill and she brought me.  As soon as I walked in I liked it, because as I say, there was space.  It were noisy, it were smelly it were dirty, but I liked it.  And so that’s how I came to work here.  And nearly everybody who worked in this mill had a relative of some description who worked here.  Be it a mother, a father, an aunt, an uncle, a cousin.  Because it was all one big family.

Title: TRANSPORT AND RULES

Title: How did you get to and from work?

Well I lived in Holbeck so we used to have to walk, which was a good 10 minutes, quarter of an hour’s walk.  We used to walk to the bottom of Armley Road and there used to be a public … um … public house on the corner there.  And we used to catch the bus there.  Sorry, the tram, there.  And we used to get off at the top of Pickering Street, walk down Pickering Street, down Canal Road and on that top lane.  And we used to have to be here before 7 o’clock.  And if you were late, the gates were locked and you weren’t allowed in ‘til breakfast time.  And breakfast time was half past eight ‘til nine.  And if you were there at half past eight they would let you in, but you got so much docked off your wage because you were late.

Title: What kind of punishments would you have if you got caught doing something wrong?

They used to call it ‘quartering’ you.  So if you were a minute late, two minutes tops, you got a quarter of an hour knocked off your hourly rate of pay.  So at the end of the week if you were late every day, that were a lot of money.  Because when I first started work, I used to get 12 and 6 a week [12 shillings and sixpence].  Turn that back into decimal!

Title: What was your boss like?

Ah, now then … [laughs] like bosses usually are, pet!
[Laughter]
It’s a matter that, if you were a weaver, your tuner – he was your boss, and he was god.  What he said, you had to do.  He didn’t come around bashing you, or anything like that, but he just told you what you had to do.  And if he said you had to do so much work, you had to do so much work, which were for your own benefit because if you didn’t do it you didn’t earn any money.  But apart from that, all is all, not too bad.  No, as long as you did your work, they never bothered you.

Title: HEALTH AND SAFETY

Title: Did you ever get any injuries at work?

When you were in the weaving shed, your picking arm was a deadly weapon, you always tried to steer clear of that.  But, sometimes if you lost your bit of concentration and you were just looking or talking to somebody or having a laugh and you just leant over it would hit you, there [gestures to head].
Now that [holds shuttle], is your shuttle.  That was your best friend.  You always kept that clean, smooth, made sure there were no splinters on it at all because that was the one that earned you your money.  If that didn’t throw across properly and it hit the box at the other side, when it were coming out again that would shoot out and that would hit you.  Usually it caught you on your arm, if you were lucky.  But we never had any disastrous injuries, no love, just near misses and a few bruises.

Title: What kind of clothes did you wear?

Usually black skirt, jumper or in the summer, a blouse.  It had to be something more or less dark because you got so dirty.  And it had to be something that were easily washed.  Nearly everybody had a black pinny [pinafore] that crossed over at either side and tied at the back.  But, if you were a bit ‘posh’ we’ll say, you wore a coloured pinny but they were few and far between.  And then when you were weaving, you always had a bit of [cloth] to put round, to clean your loom.  And also, you had a weft skirt which was a big long piece of cloth and you tied it round, and then you could gather it up, put your weft in and carry your weft about like that.

Title: WORKING CONDITIONS

Title: What kind of work did you do in the mill?

I first started off … when you first started in the mill you were ‘Errand Girl’, and you were everybody’s dogsbody.  Everybody used to send you to do errands and all nasty little bits of jobs that nobody else wanted to do. Then I went into weaving and I learned to weave.  Then I went into warping which is that [points to a warping machine].  And that is what you do to make the beams that go in the looms that make the cloth.  That’s what I did, love.  I did the weaving first, then I came and learned to do warping.

Title: How much were you paid?

When I first started, as I say, it was twelve shillings and sixpence, then … that were an hourly rate.  Then when you got to learn weaving you went on piece work, so that meant to say that every time you wove a piece of cloth you got so much money for it and that’s when you made your money.  And my first wage as a weaver to earn some money was one pound two and six [one pound, two shillings and sixpence].  You didn’t get paid for holidays then.  You used to wait while the week before your holiday an that were what were called your ‘bull week’.  So you tried to work a little bit over time and you tried to work a little bit harder to make up, so that you’d some more money, extra money, to pay towards when you had your holiday.  Because you didn’t get paid for holidays then, you know if you had any holiday, which was only one week in August, that was your annual holiday, was a week in August.

Title: What time did you start and finish work?  How many hours did you work?

We used to start at 7 o’clock on a morning, and we used to finish at half past five on a night and we worked Saturday mornings which, in total, was 48 hours a week.  Taking into consideration you’d half an hour for your breakfast time and three quarters of an hour for your dinner.

Title: DINNERTIME

Title: What did you eat?

You didn’t have no canteen then love, you didn’t have a canteen.  What you used to do … there used to be this little place outside that had a boiler.  And you used to go and mash your tea in there.  And we used to have a tin, what they called a mashing tin.  It was a long tin like that [gestures] and it had two ends.  And you used to put tea and sugar in one and tea and sugar in the other.  One was for your breakfast time and one for your lunchtime … Sometimes you’d have a polony sandwich and things like that because there was no boiled ham or anything like that because it was all on ration.

Title: When did you eat?

At breakfast time, you used to always have something at breakfast time because you used to set off that early on a morning you didn’t want a breakfast.  I didn’t want no breakfast at 6 o’clock or quarter to six in the morning!  So you used to have your breakfast which would most likely be a dripping sandwich or something like that.  Then at dinnertime then you’d have whatever, polony or potted meat or something like that.  Oh, and on a Wednesday and Friday the fish shop always used to open at the bottom and we used to have fish, somebody used to go out and get fish and chips.

Title: What is dripping?

When you get bones and things or you cook meat you always get some type of fat out of it don’t you?  That is your dripping.  And you let it go cold and then you used to put it on bread with a little bit of salt.  Lovely … And if it were pork, if it were pork and your mother had cooked a joint of pork, and you let that go, there were always dark or dirty coloured bits in it.  And that’s what you call mucky dripping and it’s lovely!

Title: FRIENDS AT WORK

Title: Did you have many friends at work?

Everybody was more or less friends because you were all doing the same job and you were all … were all … it were just like one big community.  Well we used to sit together at meal times and things and we used to help one another clean and just help one another in general.

Title: What did you do in your spare time?

Well you used to be cleaning your looms more or less, cleaning.  You didn’t have a lot of spare time love because think, we only had half an hour at breakfast time and in that time you used to have to fill up your weft, so that you weren’t spending a lot of time messing about.  And you must keep your loom clean, you must keep your machinery clean because if you didn’t keep it clean it wouldn’t run properly.

Title: What did you talk about?

We used to talk about all sorts of things.  What kind of pictures – there were no televisions then, so it used to be the topic was pictures.  What pictures we’d seen over the weekend, or where we’d been dancing.  We used to go to thre’penny … what they’d call ‘thre’penny hops’ at local churches and things like that, we used to go dancing and that’s more or less what we talked about, all things like that.  What we were going to wear, who had the nicest hairstyle and who had the nicest shoes, you know just general things you know?

Title: LEAVING THE MILL

Title: Why did you leave the mill?

Well I got married love, and we wanted to start a family, so that’s when I left.  When I had my first baby I left and then I stayed while my first baby went to school and then I went back to work.  Then I came back here, then I worked then until I had some more family and then I left, and then I’ve worked at different mills since.  And just before I retired I worked at Bradford, and I used to travel from Leeds to Bradford because all the mills had disappeared round here then.

Title: Did you like working at the mill?

Yes I did.  Some of my happiest memories are here, love.  Yes, it were dirty, it were smelly, but it were fun.

Title: ENTERTAINMENT

Title: What did you do on the weekend?

We used to just go to the pictures, go dancing.  On a Sunday, there were nothing, there were no pictures or anything on a Sunday, so you just used to have to go out for a walk or take a tram ride because there weren’t buses then, it were tram rides.  And listen to the radio, because there was no television.  So that’s how you used to pass your time.  Sunday night we’d most likely have friends in and have a game of cards or dominoes and such things as that.  You know party … well, not party games as such, but you know, family games.  Because as I said that were, what you had to do on a Sunday because there was nothing else, you know, there were no pictures and things like that.

Title: Did your children go to children’s day?

When you were in children’s day, the schools in Leeds always chose one person that they thought were going to be the person that would be the Queen.  And then you used to have to go to the town hall in Leeds and there were a panel of judges and then they’d judge whatever person that they thought.  And then when they’d picked the Queen from school, then they used to pick attendants from each different school. And then you used to have little groups and you used to learn to have a dance, probably a maypole dance or some kind of little dance like that.  And each school represented one part of that community.  And it were really a good day.  Oh, floats and everything … all done up.  In fact, everybody looked forward to it, it was so nice.

Title: Did there used to be swimming pools?

Oh yes, there used to be a lovely pool in Roundhay Park.  Right at the bottom … er … it used to be an open air swimming pool there.  And there used to be … there were quite a few swimming pools in Leeds but of course, a lot of them closed down.  You used to go swimming with school.  School used to have to take you once a week.  You used to have to go with school, swimming. 

(Did you used to go?)

Oh yes.  I could never dive.  I always jumped in!
[Laughter]

Title: FOOD

Title: What is your favourite meal and why?

My favourite meal is … erm … right nice stew.  Lovely stew.  Because it’s something that we were brought up with.  It’s something that my mother had, her mother had before her and everything.  It’s just one of those things.  It’s nice, it’s tasty, it’s easy it’s economical and it’s one of them things that you can do a lot of things with.

Title: Do you prefer meals now or then?

Oh I preferred them then.  [Laughter]  Yes, because then you didn’t … you just had plain, simple food.  Because, during the war … er, you see, you’ve got to think, during the war we were on ration.  You couldn’t go to a shop and say, ‘I’ll buy a pork chop’ or ‘I’ll buy a piece of meat’ or ‘I’ll buy some sausages’.  You couldn’t do that.  You know about ration books?  Of course, everybody had to be on ration, so therefore you used to be allowed some meat but that had to last you for the week.  So therefore you had to be very careful with what you did with your meat.  So corned beef were your staple diet really, during the war.  So that’s why corned beef has always been popular, because you can do a lot with corned beef.  Like, make a good meal with corned beef, you can make sandwiches with corned beef, you can have a salad with corned beef, you can do anything with corned beef!   Like you can with spam.  You can have spam fritters, spam this, spam that, you know … spam it!

Title: Is there any food from the past that you still like now?

Yes love, but when I tell you, you won’t believe me.  And that’s sheep’s head [laughter].  Haven’t you ever heard of sheep’s head broth? 

[No!]

[I have. I’ve had a taste of it]

Have you?  Well, your Grandmas and that will have heard of sheep’s head broth surely?  You used to make use of brains as well.  I told you, you wouldn’t believe me didn’t I?

Title: FASHION

Title: What sort of clothes did you wear when you weren’t at work?

Well, whatever were in fashion at that time, and what were in fashion at the time was … erm … you didn’t wear trousers, very, very seldom did you wear trousers because they were definitely a no-no were trousers for a girl.  You used to wear dresses that came about half-way [gestures mid-calf] what we called midi-dresses.  And we used to wear a lot of polka dots.  In summer, a lot of cotton because there wasn’t a lot of nylon then.  You see it was … cotton were the thing.  In summer, it was suits - like dresses, waistcoats and long tunic coats you used to wear.  Shoes, there used to be, like they have now, wedges.  There used to be a lot of wedges then.  And there were always little peep toe shoes as well.  And there were a lot of laces on shoes.  That were fashion, to have laces on shoes.  And you wore a lot of hats.  A lot of hats.  You didn’t, very rarely went out without your hat.  And of course, your handbag.  Oh definitely, you had to have a handbag. 

Title: Were fashionable clothes expensive?

Well yes, they were.  The price of a pair of shoes, a good pair of shoes with a red [inaudible] used to be 4 shillings and 11 pence.  That was a lot of money.

Title: Where did you get your clothes from?

Well, I don’t think you’d know the shops now if I told you because they’ll have gone.  There used to be a place called Etam’s which I still think which I still think there is, Etam’s but not Etam’s as I know … er … there used to be … Matthias Robinson’s, that were in Leeds.  Hitchin’s, that were in Leeds.  Lewis’s, Schofield’s.  Lewis’s were before, the oldest was Lewis’s and then Schofield’s they were always a big shop, Schofield’s.  And then there were various little shops, but they weren’t little boutique shops like you have now.  Because women’s shops were women’s shops and men’s shops were men’s shops.

[Not all mixed up]

They weren’t all mixed up, no.  And if you wanted a raincoat, you didn’t go to a gown shop or what they called a ‘gown and mantle’ shop, which is a dress and coat shop, you used to have to go to a proper raincoat shop which had wellington boots and things to put over your shoes, what they called ‘overshoes’ to keep the rain out. 

Title: HOBBIES

Title: What were your hobbies in the 1950’s?

That were when I had young children, so not hobbies as such really, just looking after the children, taking them to the park, taking them out at weekends and things like that.  But I always liked dancing.  We used to go dancing and we used to go to the theatre a lot when we could manage it.  We liked the theatre. 

Title: What were your children’s hobbies?

Getting up to mischief. [Laughter]

Title: FAMILY

Title: Did you play with your children & what games did you play?

We used to play games with cards, ludo, snakes and ladders, everything that we could play, we used to play.  And on a Sunday, Sunday morning, their dad used to take them out every Sunday morning.  Didn’t matter whether hail, rain, shine or blow, he used to take them out every Sunday morning and he used to make them walk for about at least an hour, hour and a half.  And if it were fine he used to take them to the woods and all like that.

Title: Did you have any pets at home?

We used to have a dog.  We had dogs.  We don’t like cats, but we used to like dogs.

Title: What were the dogs called?

Well, we had one called Lassie, and then we had one called Prince and then one called Scruffy.

Title: Did you have a family schedule & did the children help around the house?

No, no not really.  They used do errands.  Because you could let your children out then and not be afraid to send them to the shop.  But there weren’t shops like supermarkets, nearly every street had a corner shop so they used to shop at the corner shop, you didn’t go to supermarkets.  Which were handy because you could just say, ‘oh well I need some bread,’ and you’d say, ‘here you are, take this money and just go and get me a loaf of bread.’   And they’d just go down the street and get a loaf of bread.  I mean, when they got older, they were made to tidy their room up because if they didn’t there’d be a pile in the corner and I got fed up of seeing it.

Title: What does it feel like to be back here?

Strange, but nice.  When I walk in that door I can remember it as it was.  Looking down where the looms were, you looked straight down and you saw nothing but this big space with these machines with big arms flying around like this.  Noisy, but nice.  I’ve enjoyed it, coming back.