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A very dirty job

So far I’ve interviewed four volunteers working at the Museum and I’m in the process of writing pieces for the three people I met who worked in design studios. I’ll post them when they’re finished and checked for accuracy with the people who inspired them. In the meantime, I’m on the lookout for stories and writing by other people, and Melvyn Thompson (mentioned in my first blog post) has sent me a poem he wrote which neatly sums up some of the many jobs associated with carpet manufacture as well as the way whole families were involved. You’ll find it on the Your Stories page.

Here now is a piece which came from one of the interviews I did last year at the Tulip Tree Centre, funded by the Kidderminster Educational Foundation.

A very dirty job
for Constance Hockley, born Evans 1922

I worked on doubling. Some called it twisting. Near where we worked was a big shed where all the sheep skins were. We used to call it the Woolly Hole! It did smell! It was a very dirty job and your clothes smelled of sheep! When I got home my husband used to say, “Don’t sit by the fire till you’ve took your overalls off!” He used to work in Preedy’s where they sold tobacco. So he smelled of tobacco and I smelled of sheep! It was a dirty job because you were saturated with oil. Shoes! You couldn’t keep up with shoes because the oil rotted them – you had to keep walking up and down oiling the parts.

They were massive machines we worked on and if there was a problem you were all right if you got on with the electricians and fitters so they’d come to see to it straight away so you could start again. You were always relying on somebody else.

It was hard work because you were working to the machine all the time and the more you could turn out the more money you got. A doubler had to work with a reeler, and if you’d got a good reeler who could reel them off fast you were all right. But it didn’t always work like that. When I was at Greatwich’s, the reeler wasn’t keeping up with me and I lost my temper with her. As I’m doffing the bobbins she was supposed to put them on a reel and reel them off into skeins. Well she didn’t reel them off quick enough. That meant that the bobbins were piling up so you lost out. Oddly enough we earned more when there were less of us than when there were more there. If you’d got a good reeler who could reel them off as fast as you doffed them you had a good day.

2 thoughts on “A very dirty job

  1. Hi Heather,
    Interesting reading. It certainly was a dirty job dealing with fleeces. It was also highly dangerous because of the ticks and various micro organisms which were often present. From what I remember in the 1960s and 70s, hardly a year passed when there wasn’t at least one death of a worker due to anthrax. No matter how well the skins wee treated, spores in particular could lie dormant for months. Again, if my memory serves me rightly, fleeces were imported as well as ‘home grown’. Animal health in so many foreign countries was not up to our standards.

    Roger Noons.

  2. Thanks, Roger. That’s new information for me. Do you have first hand knowledge? Of course one of the reasons Kidderminster was such an ideal place for the carpet industry was because there were lots of sheep!

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