Another factory in Westow Street

In 1965 I was living in Woodland Hill, Upper Norwood, and a young lady downstairs had just got a job with R J Hunters in Westow Street. They were at No. 67, opposite what is now Safeways. I had two small sons and my husband was on a low wage, so she suggested I went up there to see the Chargehand, Miss Massey, and she accepted me to start the following Monday.

When I started, the wages were £2.50 a week, which I spent on the children’s clothes. (My rent was £5 a week, but that was paid by my husband). The hours were 8 till 5, with two 15 minute tea breaks, and 45 minutes for lunch.

Hunters was a food-packing factory. The food packed included rice, pulses and dried fruit in one room, while in the other we packed the breakfast cereal – Alpen for Waitrose and Sainsbury’s. We had three machines to do this, but as there was (and is) no Waitrose in Upper Norwood, big lorries came to take what we packed, as well as to deliver the ingredients.

In the cereal room were three big machines, at each of which there was a lady sitting in front, who filled paper bags and then passed them on to the conveyor belt. There were three of us beside the belt, and I used a machine to seal the top of the bags. They then came back down the belt and I put them into a Waitrose box and put that into a machine to seal the top of the pack.

Another girl would weigh each box and then put 12 at once into a large carton, which she had made while the small boxes came down the belt. Seeing they were all coming down the conveyor so fast it was hard for her to keep up with making the large box and then filling it with the 12 smaller ones. She then had to seal the large filled carton, label it with the destination and then put it onto a pallet, which took about 25 of the large cartons.

When the pallet was full you called for “Mack” who would collect the pallet on his trolley and send it downstairs in the lift. As it was a food factory no smoking was allowed except in the canteen, where we went for our tea-break.

We also had a spice room where we packed the spices into bags destined for Bentalls in Kingston. In a small corner of the room they packed glace cherries, nuts and peeled dried fruit into 4oz. tubs, also for Bentalls. Upstairs there was a room where three men used to break up the raisins, already stoned, which arrived from abroad squashed together in large cardboard containers. The men would mix the fruit with oil to separate it before putting it down a chute into the machine on the lower floor. Once packed the fruit went to the branches of Bentalls in London and Kingston, and other shops in Brentford and Kingston.

Unlike in Luke’s (see Review No. 140) our foreman Philip Laing used to move us around each day into different jobs so no one really got bored. There was also a bonus system so those who worked really hard did earn extra money.

By the time I left in 1976 I was working 8 till 6 weekdays, plus 8 till 12 Saturdays, and the extra hours were paid at time and a half on Saturdays, so by then I was earning about £70 a week after deductions. I left because I had moved to Acton and in my new job at Walls Ice Cream Factory there I could earn £120 a week!

Sylvia Small

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