Listen to our latest conversation for the The Kathleen Project – collecting stories about Manchester’s industrial past, in the words of those who lived it.
In our third conversation for this project, we chatted with Ann.
Ann joined Raffles as a machinist at the age of 16 in 1976. Based on Bradford Road, Ancoats, opposite the Magpie Pub, the Raffles factory fulfilled contracts for coats and jackets for M&S, C&A and Debenhams.
Predominantly a pieceworker, Ann worked in the basement of the factory, working 8-5pm, Monday-Friday, with mainly female workers. Apart from some of the older women, who made an entire garment from beginning to end, each machinist was responsible for sewing a different part of a garment – Ann can remember finishing jackets with velvet cuffs and hand- and machine-stitching piping onto coats.
Ann’s bosses were keen for workers to experience the garment-making process from beginning to end, so, alongside finishing, Ann was able to work on the Phaff overlocker and use the Hoffman Press to press the seams of garments before they moved onto the next stage of their manufacture.
Work standards were extremely high, with buyers paying meticulous attention to manufacture – with such expectations, no-one ever produced work that was slapdash or shoddy and because of this, Ann felt proud when she walked through various shops and saw the garments she’d had a hand in making.
For the work she produced, Ann earned approximately £25 per week – out of this she paid keep to her mum, weekly bus fare so was left with barely £7 to spend on herself.
Despite this, Ann felt she was fortunate to work for Raffles – there was a great camaraderie with her fellow machinists and her bosses provided clean working conditions as well as a canteen, smoking room, air conditioning, paid leave – and even presented staff with their own pair of work scissors.
In 1982, after four and a half years working at Raffles, Ann, now married and 5-months’ pregnant, was made redundant, along with the rest of the 450-strong workforce; she did not return to the industry. Had she not been made redundant, she would have liked to have been a machinist who made the whole garment from beginning to end.
The Kathleen Project, episode 3: In Conversation with Ann
Thanks so much to Ann for sharing her story with us! If you know anyone who worked in Greater Manchester’s textile industry and would like to take part in the project, please do ask them to contact us.
The Kathleen Project is led by Stitched Up and supported by Historic England.