Made in Lavenham

Made in Lavenham

Sunday, 30 March 2014


On the bubble bath/shampoo/baby-oil/baby-lotion lines, the ‘labeller’ would often be a carefully selected individual who had the necessary co-ordination skills to perform the task. The labelling job was quite difficult and involved precision timing if you didn’t want to get your fingers bashed by the labelling machine. There were only a few girls who were known as ‘labellers’.

One day the checker on the belt asked if I’d like to try labelling (presumably in the absence of a trained labeller at the time), so I jumped at the chance. However, the mechanical cap-tightener was the machine right behind where the labelling machines sat, and the girl on cap-tightening that day was clearly jealous that I’d been offered the job and not her. I started off well and managed to get the bottles horizontally into the labelling machine and out again (and stand them back on the belt, upright) without getting my fingers crushed, but within five minutes bottles were suddenly coming down the belt two at a time and with some of their caps unscrewed (if I hadn’t spotted them I’d have been covered with the contents as soon as the labels were stamped on). Obviously, this put me off my stride and even though I explained to the checker that it wasn’t my fault that bottles were arriving at the packing end without labels I ended up being moved to another section. That was my first, and last, time as labeller…

There was definitely a hierarchy and the poor soul on boxes was the one most likely to be at the bottom of the pecking order.

There was an elderly lady (Doris?) who did all of the cleaning / mopping up. A young, blonde girl (Daisy?) was also allocated cleaning duties at a later date.

Checkers were in charge of each belt. They wore navy overalls (the rest of us wore pale blue overalls).

Supervisors wore white coats.

There was an office with large windows overlooking the bubble bath and shampoo conveyor belts in the main hall at Riverside Works. This was where two female managers (one mature lady with curly hair and a younger woman with long, blonde hair) would oversee operations, and where you were called to if something was wrong.

Relatively few men worked in the factory, they would either be managers or would be doing all of the heavy lifting and mending.

I get the feeling that those who worked alongside old school friends and/or family members probably had a great time at the factory, especially if money wasn’t particularly an issue. However, for anyone who didn’t already know people there it might not been quite so easy. Some were lucky enough to remain in the same department throughout their employment, but others (like myself) were moved around quite a bit, making it difficult to make new close friends. Also, staff turnover was quite high so even if you did manage to make friends they often didn’t stay at the factory for long (no mobile phones or facebook back then, so keeping in touch once people left work was rarely an option unless you happened to live in the same village).

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