A conversation with my mother-in-law, (aged 88) by Sylvia Bainbridge.
Q Which secondary school did you attend?
A Risedale; the classes were mixed and the building was new at that time, compared with Cambridge Street Junior School, which was an old school.
Q Which lessons did you prefer?
A Not spelling, otherwise the others were all right.
Q How old were you when you left?
A Just before my 14th birthday, which was in January 1928.1 left school at Christmas.
Q Did you have a job to go to?
A No, but I soon got one.
Q How did you go about getting one?
A The manager of the Mill would go in about 9 a.m. Girls and men would assemble outside the Mill until he arrived. If he wanted to employ anyone, he would pick them out from the group.
Q Which Mill was this?
A Barrow Paper Mill at Salthouse. Many people were out of work. When the ship docked from Norway, men went for work unloading the wood for the Mill. This was piled up in the yards at the back, and their job was finished.
Q So, you were chosen for a job…..
A I think I was chosen because the manager knew my grand-dad; he worked at the Gas Works nearby.
Q What did your job consist of?
A Paper that had been made from the pulp, was on big rolls. This was cut into different sizes according to the order being prepared. The individual sheets then passed into boxes, and our job was to ensure that the sheets were all exactly on top of each other in the box. The boxes were made of house bricks or wood, which we covered with white paper. The position of the bricks or wood was altered, according to the size of paper required for the order.
Q Did you have to count the sheets?
A No, we checked that all the sheets were perfect, that is, no creases or spots etc. as they passed into the box. We had a rubber thimble ( a small piece of rubber tubing) on our middle fingers which enabled us to grip the sheet as it passed into the box. When the box was full, we transferred the paper on to another table, as much as we could carry at a time, until the box was empty. Other girls, who earned more money counted the sheets by first putting so much into a fan, and then counting in 25’s until they had 500 sheets, which was a ream. This passed to a girl on the other side who parcelled it in brown paper. They were called “tie-ers up”. Each ream went on to a wagon and piled up. A man would take it away. Before Christmas we were always busy for good paper, for children’s annuals, was needed.
Q About how many girls did the same job as you?
A More than 100 were sorters like me, possibly 200. We worked at a long bench in a soil (spelling?) The soil was a massive room with benches across. There were two soils, divided in two, one half did the plain or matt paper, the other half did the gloss. At the end of the soils were the sorters.
Q Were you a sorter all the time you were there?
A Yes about eight years.
Q What time did you start?
A 7.45 a.m. and finished at 5.30 p.m. I think we had an hour at lunch time. We even worked New Year’s Day, and Saturday morning until noon. We didn’t have breaks for a drink; sometimes we sneaked one in, but we couldn’t stop work. We talked a lot with the other girls, but couldn’t stop working. If the boss appeared, there was a hiss from the girls, warning each other that he was about. One day I was doing the Charleston with my feet, (while still working), and the manager, Mr. Smith, saw me and apparently was quite amused. The soils were very clean to work in. Any reject sheets of paper were put on to £ table alongside and this went for cutting into smaller sizes. The young girls, starting as sorters, learnt on this.
Q Did you wear a uniform?
A No. Everybody wore an apron, made of a square of new sacking. When we needed a new piece we went in two’s to the storeman, who seemed to enjoy measuring us for the square of sacking we needed. The paper was sharp and could cut your clothes. There was a black list of those who didn’t do enough sorting, or who let reject sheets through. I was never on the black list, nor did I get a rise for sorting quickly.
Q What were you paid?
A We got ten shillings a week to start, then twelve shillings. The counters and “tiers – up” got a few shillings more. I was getting 26 shillings after being there eight years – better money than in the shops. I was there from being 14 years old till I was 22 years old. This was a week before I was married. I left. Most girls stopped working when they married.