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 seventh conversation for this project, we chatted with Maureen, whose family had worked in the textile industry for three generations, and were keen for Maureen to avoid the same fate!

Born in Hulme, Maureen’s great-grandmother, Elizabeth Holcroft, owned a dressmaking business on Chapman Street which produced ‘costumes and skirts and old-fashioned suits’; three of her 13 children helped with the business. The business operated for at least 30 years, closing in the late 1920s/1930s.

Maureen’s relationship with making clothes runs deep as she, her aunt and her great-grandmother all earned their living in Manchester’s garment industry at various points throughout the 20th Century.

Born in 1908, Edna Holcroft, Maureen’s aunt, continued the family tradition by becoming a skilled needlewoman, and prior to the outbreak of World War 2, was paid to create high-end embroidered clothing samples. After 1939, Edna was transferred to war work and as a pieceworker, she made pilot’s uniforms; a 6 year-old Maureen would help turn out the pockets Edna brought home to finish while they sat together listening to the radio in the evenings.

Edna continued to work in the garment industry after war ended and for a time in the 1960s made girl’s gabardine coats, being paid half a crown per finished coat. She carried on working into her 70s, and for most of her career earned a “pittance”.

Maureen’s own experience of Manchester’s clothing industry came in the 1970s when she worked for a short time in the office of a factory on the Dane Road Industrial Estate, in Sale, which produced t-shirts and jeans for Marks and Spencer and Littlewoods. The factory had a machine shop with approximately 12 machinists and one cutter. Maureen didn’t stay long and went on to have a career in industrial training, teaching and recruitment.

Maureen had wanted to be a dressmaker but her mother and aunt pleaded with her not to pursue a career in dressmaking because the pay and working conditions were so poor.  In an effort to persuade her away from the clothing industry, Edna bought Maureen her first sewing machine on the understanding that Maureen would try an office job. 

Maureen agreed though still learnt to sew, going on to make clothes for herself and her family and teaching her grand-daughters how to knit; she has regular mending afternoons and appreciates the spatial ability she has gained through sewing.

“I’d like to see textiles come back into this country, and I’d certainly like to see it locally because we’ve got such a heritage of it in this area, but not if we’re being made to work for nothing.”



The Kathleen Project, episode 7: In Conversation with Maureen

The Kathleen Project, episode 7: In Conversation with Maureen (full episode)

Thanks so much to Maureen 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.

Listen to all OF The Kathleen ProjecT Conversations

The Kathleen Project is led by Stitched Up and supported by Historic England.

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