My Working Life began at Bournville

By Gladys Jones

Following one of my Mom’s cooked breakfasts of porridge, toast, bacon, egg, tomatoes and black pudding. I left the cottage in Spies Lane to begin my first working day, 8th May 1939.

I set off at 6.50am, along Spies Lane into Ridgacre Road to catch the number 9 to the Kings Head. I crossed the Hagley Road (only a few cars around in those days) to Lordswood Road to catch the number 11 bus to the Cadbury’s factory at Bournville.

Kings Head
Kings Head in 1935

To begin with I had to have a medical and Dorothy Cadbury performed that. Her expression was “ Your mother must have had a struggle to get you here!” I almost agreed and said, “At 3½d return on both buses each day it was a real struggle”.

If an employee arrived early at the dining room (single sex only) you were entitled to a cup of cocoa with two biscuits or a slice of bread and butter – all free of course.

The job was four days a week, 7.45am until 5.30pm each day. One day in the week was spent at Continuation School, which was very enjoyable and interesting. Mr. Bews taught us there.

The first four days was “Introduction to the World of Work”. Learning about all of the rules and regulations. For example: ‘No swearing’;’ No running’;’ No singing’; ‘No high heeled shoes’ and definitely ‘no make up’, the reason was that the chocolate may pick up the smell.

So now we knew our place in the workplace. On the final Friday we were placed into small groups, then escorted to our future departments. After a few weeks we would change sections until we had been to all areas of the factory. This meant that at a moments notice we were able to work in any department. Once established, and whatever age, you became a “Cadbury Girl”, capable of a thousand trades within this large factory. Everyone was regarded as expendable.

We were taught lots of ‘Dos’ and many more ‘Don’ts’ and to always be polite and courteous, having good manners. Always be with clean hands and hair, which was to be worn short or in a bun. Shoes should be flat and laced with no bare legs. High heeled shoes to be worn only at parties because they upset the body posture; this would lead to reduced work and remedial work being undertaken in the gymnasium.

The daily breaks were standard, ten minutes in the morning and afternoon with a one hour dinner break which could be taken in the Terrace, south east, Men’s, Youths and Main Dining Room. The menu consisted of soup at 1d; main course at 6d; 8d or 1/- and then a pudding at 2d or 4d. Everyone ate the food at tables with blue linen tablecloths. The Terrace had white linen for the senior management. The directors had a wooden lined large room over looking the men’s recreation ground and they had waitress service.

Gladys outside pavilion
Gladys Jones outside Pavilion in 1957

On one of the walls in the main dining room was a heater with shelving. The workers could place a basin containing a home cooked meal on the shelf, first thing in the morning, to collect it hot at dinnertime. After half an hour we would go for ride on one of the four swings outside the girls’ pavilion. In stead we could knock a few balls up in the tennis courts.

Tennis Courts

After the lunchtime session, you must turn your check number, this was a coloured disk. Of course in later years it was a clocking-in and off machine.

Cadbury Baths in 1902

Before dinner, you could swim a few lengths of the baths. For the males ‘instructional bathing’-(no costumes) or for the girls woollen costumes. After a swim you could have a hot bath or shower. The hair was usually quite long and to dry your hair you stood under a tube, press a button and hot air would arrive, this we were told came from the plant room. The tubes were like cocoa tins, about eight of them. The baths were used for many things such as Swimming Galas

Swimming Gala
Swimming Gala in 1948

Gala Poster
Gala Poster

The baths were open to the general public in the morning and afternoon and ending with a light meal in the dining room. They could also have a tour of the factory that ended with a film of Cadburys that took place in the concert hall.

The tours consisted of a tour around the factory and the gardens followed by a tour around the village in Cadbury’s maroon coloured coaches. The village was beautiful with tree-lined roads.

In the factory and offices the work was hard and very fast with pay only 4/- for the first few weeks. After that on to the factory floor for “piece work”. The work was to fill chocolates on a fast moving wide belt that the older girls didn’t pack fast enough. The job was to hand fill crème centres with different makes of jam. Other crème centres were made by a ladle of hot jam into a metal funnel and then with a wooden mallet drop a blob of jam into another flavour of crème cup. If the jam missed its aim it was scooped up and used again. No payment for mishaps. At the end of the afternoon wash all utensils; scrub the tabletop and floor. Clean the bucket, brush and floor cloth, and then wait in a queue to check in or out. The check was like an old penny with a hole at the top, yellow for in and red for out.

‘K’ Block top wrapped dairy milk Neapolitans, most of the girls were about 14 years old, they must all have become deaf in later life with the sound of the heavy machines. I think ‘A’ Block finished hard covering the chocolates with hot chocolate from steel basins that were heated by gas below. ‘Y’ Block was where the first term girls worked. Nuts and raisins came down a steel shute from above and the girls had to look and listen for stones and foreign matter-so boring.

The ‘Cocoa Block’ weighed quarter and half pounds of Bourn-Vita. After six weeks the machinery clogged so production stopped while the girls cleaned the machines with boiling water. “No Pay!” –“No Production!” Payday was each Friday morning. The forewoman collected a large metal wire container with a wax seal. Inside were small round metal containers with your own check number stamped on the top of the lid. A quiet queue of girls of all ages filed to the forewoman’s desk, which was raised so she had surveillance at all time over the workforce. You took your money not forgetting to say “Thank you” and then checked the contents. Freedom for an hour, down to the firms chocolate shop for the weekly purchases.

Produce in the 1930s

When your day’s work was complete, the dining rooms were open serving light meals at very modest cost. Afterwards you could attend the many educational classes that would help with getting you ‘promotion’. Also sports facilities were on offer, athletics; swimming; diving; life saving; tennis; hockey; cricket and of course football. All sessions were of course single sex. But twice a week the males were allowed to cross the bridge from the men’s recreation grounds to the girls’ grounds for half an hour, with a couple of charge hands to watch over everyone, of course. Classes would be started with only a few pupils. Inside the factory males and females did not associate with one another-not allowed.

In the evening when you went home, all passages entered ‘The Crush Hall’, where all the girls met at once running along and down a flight of steps into the ‘Dressing Room’. A numbered steel coat hanger for your coat, a hook to hang your mackintosh, a wire cage to place your shoes and a steel contained in which was placed your umbrella. These had warm steel pipes above and below, so you went home warm and dry.

Up another flight of stairs into a throng of girls running for the number 27 or 11 bus. The last part of the journey as you board the number 9 for home, arriving about 6.30pm. A lovely walk around “Our Field” at the back of the cottage and then later up to bed, kept warm by that cloth covered brick off the fire, it will be an early start in the morning.

Ed’s comment-Thanks Gladys, as usual another story told from the heart. Anyone else with work memories to tell? Did anyone work for one of Birmingham’s large companies?

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