“It was just our life, there were so many factories”, are the words one visitor used as she began to tell me her memories of Nuneaton factories at our recent Hands on History event on the subject.
In preparation for the session, it was exactly this, the multitude of factories, the variety of products manufactured in Nuneaton and the overriding sense of the hard work and enterprise demonstrated by Nuneaton men and women, that struck me as fascinating and deeply important.
To provide an impression of the number of factories and the variety of products manufactured throughout Nuneaton and Bedworth in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, I have listed those which I happened upon in preparation for the session:
Tansey’s Needle Factory, Corporation Street, needles for the hosiery industry
Courtauld’s Mill, Marlborough Road, rayon yarn
Toye, Kenning and Spencer, Bedworth, fraternal regalia
The Elastic Web Works, Attleborough Green, elastic webbing
Sterling Metals, Marston Lane, castings for the textile and motor industries
Nuneaton Flour Mill, Mill Walk, flour
Hall & Phillips, Abbey Street, hats
Alfred Connor & Co Ltd, Fife street, cardboard boxes
F.H.Biddle Ltd & British Trane Co. Ltd, St Mary’s Road, heating and ventilation equipment
Stanley Bros, Swan Lane (now Croft Road) bricks and building features and materials
Franklins (formerly Slingsbys & Sons), Attleborough, silk weaving
Moorhouse & Sons, Seymour Road, jam
Luckman & Pickerings, Leicester Street, Bedworth, hats
Fielding and Johnsons, Anker Mill, wool
Union, Wool and Leather Company, Vicarage Street, leather
Finn Shoes Ltd., Weddington
Listers, silk throwing, velvet weaving and dying, Park Street
Hall and West, Abbey Works, boilermakers
The Reliant, Queen’s Road, clothing
Jip Snuff, Attleborough Road, medicated snuff
The George Eliot Sauce Works, Bridge Street, Chilvers Coton, sauces
Nuneaton Co-operative Dairy, Merevale Avenue, milk
Intalok, Caldwell Road, spring seating and mattresses
Closiers, Avenue Road, shoes
Clear Hooters Ltd., Alliance Works, Leicester Street, Bedworth, car and motorcycle horns
The Abbey Hosiery Mills Ltd, Avenue Road, hosiery
Haunchwood Brick and Tile Company, Stockingford, blue bricks and tiles
Robinsons, lingerie and underwear
Midland Sheet Metal, Chilvers Coton, car bodies and sheet metal work
Judkins Ltd., Tuttle Hill, roadstone and railway ballast
Premier Stone, concrete goods
Jees & Man-Abbells, roadstone and railway ballast
Smith’s Ribbon Factory, Arden Road, Bulkington, ribbon weaving
Silk woven picture of Anne Hathaway’s cottage by Franklins
The exploration of Nuneaton factories evoked enlightening conversations with visitors. One visitor told me most Nuneaton families had members who worked in the factories, with men tending to work the day shift and women, the so-called twilight shift. In fact, the visitor’s mother had worked the twilight shift at Alfred Connor & Co Ltd. making cardboard boxes and jigsaw puzzles whilst her late husband and his two sisters all worked at Finn Shoes in Weddington.
Most factory workers were paid piece work, which as the term suggests is work paid according to the amount produced. This, one visitor emphasised, meant that factory employees worked hard for their pay. It was also highlighted to me, that there was an abundance of factory jobs available in Nuneaton. One visitor explained that after collecting weekly pay on a Friday, a worker who was unhappy with their current factory could very easily get a new factory job the following Monday morning.
Stanley Bros Brick Stamp
Working in factories was potentially a dangerous occupation, as stories shared at the session revealed. One visitor recalled an incident from her time working as a nurse in Casualty, in which a female factory worker from Intalok, a mattress factory based in Caldwell Road, came into the hospital with a bed spring “right through her hand”. The injured lady, was apparently anxious to return to the factory to finish off her shift after receiving treatment. Another similarly gruesome story, that one visitor recalled being told by her mother-in-law, who worked at Moorhouse & Sons jam factory, involved a factory worker being badly burnt by hot jam.
In preparation for this session, one of the connections to emerge that I enjoyed finding out about also relates to Moorhouse & Sons jam factory and additionally, to the entertainer Larry Grayson, who lived in Nuneaton for the majority of his life. Along with character inventions such as Slack Alice and Everard Farquharson, Larry Grayson also created a character called Apricot Lil, who worked at the jam factory in Nuneaton. In an interview televised on Anglia News in 1973, whilst Larry was performing in Skegness, he spoke of Apricot Lil and others from the jam factory in Nuneaton as follows:
Larry: Apricot Lil’s here you know. As a matter of fact they are all here from the jam factory today. It’s a treat and they’ve all come up and they’re coming in second house tonight.
Interviewer: Where did those characters come from?
Larry: From the jam factory…there was a jam factory, a very famous jam factory in the town where I live, Nuneaton, and all these people used to go to work there and I knew a lot of people there and they used to talk about them, and they’d say, “have you seen her again…Lil, y’know, her on the apricots, Apricot Lil.’
Larry Grayson released a song called ‘Apricot Lil’ on his 1972 LP, ‘What a Gay Day’, which included the lyrics: “Apricot Lil is the fruitiest girl in town/The jam factory’s sweetheart who never stands still.’
The Union Wool and Leather Factory, which stood on the current site of Sainsburys, was recalled by visitors from their childhood as emitting strange smells. However, one visitor recollected a pleasanter experience of going to the factory to choose a sheepskin coat for herself in 1972. She shared that she was able to choose the colour, style and fastenings for the coat, which was then made for her.
Needles for leather work
Whilst remembering Nuneaton factories, it feels important to mention Courtaulds Mill, which was located on Marlborough Road and manufactured rayon yarn. Designed by Harry Quick and built in the 1920s, the factory had an impressive clock tower that graced the Nuneaton skyline. The chiming of the clock was a significant and memorable feature of Nuneaton life. Even after the closure of the factory in the 1980s, the Gillet and Johnston made clock was kept going by its faithful caretaker, Harold Lapworth. In an article published in the Nuneaton Tribune, 1st February 1990, Harold Lapworth said: “I have lived 60 years within the sound of the Courtaulds clock”. One visitor to our Hands on History session also expressed the impression made by the Courtaulds clock, in her own words: “Of course, I must mention Courtaulds. The clock could be seen and heard all over Nuneaton – sadly missed”.
Nuneaton Factories objects with model of Courtaulds factory (centre)
Thank you to all the visitors who participated in the Nuneaton Factories Hands on History session and a special thank you to those who shared their memories of Nuneaton factories with us. Please feel free to share your memories of Nuneaton factories in the comments section. It would be wonderful to hear any further memories related to Nuneaton factories.