Marlene was the third generation of the Achaski family to work at Stanhill Ring Mill in Oswaldtwistle.
Her parents, her four siblings and her grandparents all worked at the mill at one time. She worked in the card room on the slubbing machines and remembers a few near misses. Like lots of workers, she carried a knife ready to cut herself or someone else free if they got caught in the machinery.
When her children came along, Marlene’s parents and sister helped to look after them so she could continue working. Without them she couldn’t have managed. Life was hard, and family was important. Later Marlene worked in sewing rooms in different mills and in hospitality, at the Senators club, but sewing was and is her first love. If she had her career again, she’d stay with the textile industry, but this time as a fashion designer.
This transcript has been edited for ease of reading. Click on the audio icon to listen to the whole interview, which was recorded over the phone due to Covid restrictions.
What my parents did they both worked at Stanhill on different shifts while we were all growing up…Well there were, I had three brothers and a sister and my mum and dad of course.
I was in the middle so there were two older than me and two younger than me.
CAREERS ADVICE AT SCHOOL AND FIRST JOB
All I can remember is them taking me round to factories to visit different factories and seeing if there was anything suitable there that we fancied doing. They took us to Highams in Accrington, Warburtons which was a similar sort of place. Ewbanks, gosh I can't really remember!
I was actually 14 going on 15, my first job, I worked at Highams. Sewing, hemming. I was there for about 12 months. I'm not right sure if it (my pay) were £8 or £11. It's going to be more like £8 isn't it…I'm not right sure. Because I didn't get to keep it, I had to hand my wage over. She (mother) gave me about £3 a week and I just spent it on, because I smoked, so it was cigarettes, going out. Yeah, we used to go to Accrington disco, can't remember the place it was called now, there was a new one opened in Accrington.
We'd go out with some of the girls that we used to go to school together, because we all lived close-like, local in Clayton. So yeah, we all used to go together, maybe meet one or two that lived in Accrington but yeah, we just used to go out dancing. Having a few drinks, you know!
Well it (music) was what was out at the time, which would be Sweet, there were all sorts going on at that time. It was just pop at that time and then I got into Slade and T-Rex and all that. I still like my rock and roll though because I were into rock and roll as well.
I just come home from work one day and then he (dad) just said to me you start next week at the factory and I said oh thank you very much. I was working there, my dad was working there. my sister, and my mum finished work for what reason I can't remember. Then there were just the three of us there. My Grandad had just retired from there.
Oh, my job well right, I worked in the card room on the slubbing machine. The first day I started there, there was a lad learning on the slubbing machines and I did tell you there were no males on, but there was. He learnt (taught) me as well, things because we were learning together so... and then I think we did about 6-weeks training and then we were onto the machines one at a time. Then it went up to 3 machines and then it went down to 2, and then I went on boxing for a short time. There's not a right lot to tell. It was just mainly work you know…it was hard work. Really hard.
It wasn't that tiring, it was just running around all the time, I mean you weren't just looking after the front of the machine, you were filling up at the back, keeping an eye on the front while they were still running and you're just constantly on the go all the time. Of course, if it was running nice and smooth it was great you know, you'd just stand there but it didn't happen very often, did that. And then there was all the cleaning of the machines. Some were constantly cleaning them, keeping them dust free, well as much as we could.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
Well on the slubbing machines, we would clean them while they were running so we used to lift these lids up and clean them while they were running. I got my hair caught in some rollers on the boxing. Luckily, I was next to the switch to turn the machine off, but I got my hair caught which could have been disastrous. Health and safety? There weren't none not really. You know we didn't have steel toe caps or protective clothing. I used to walk around with knives in my pocket. No, no health and safety, no.
I don't really know the cause of it, but they used burst into flames some of them, probably had gone wrong but we had to carry on working while the machines are on fire. We'd ring the fire bell and they’d come, and they put it out, but you had to carry on working on your other machines while all this were going on. So yeah, it was hard work breathing through all that stuff.
It was mainly piecework that we were on. That was paid cash, you know we used to get it in a little envelope every week because there were no such thing as putting it in the bank then.
I used to pin it inside my pocket so I wouldn't lose it and then take it home and pass it over to the parents. That's all I saw of it.
MANAGING CHILD CARE
Well, when I got married, I was pregnant at the time, so I wasn't working for long after I got pregnant. I think after about four or five months I gave up work. Lost like a few wages so...Then I found it hard work with just one wage coming in. Yeah, really hard…yeah (her first child) she was 6 weeks when I went back! because I went back on part-time work on the evening shift. I think I only lasted about 6-months after that..
I used to have to pass them (the children) over to my dad or my mum while my husband came home from work and he would pick them up and fetch them home. So it was like - you know we'd miss each other because he'd come off one shift and I'd go on the evening shift- and we worked around it like that. So it was difficult..
My dad he was quite a good bloke, hard worker. I was only little when it happened, and he was in hospital for a long time. He got his hand caught in a mixing machine. He could never clench his fist after that, just like half, but yeah they took him back on, gave him, I suppose you’d call them light duties now. He used to collect all the waste and put it back into the system. You know to rerun through. Yeah, they were quite good with him really, especially when they used to catch him falling asleep! On the job like. On the top of the bales! it didn't happen a lot but it did happen a few times like - he'd just have a quick nap like you know but he seemed to get away with it!.
They used to come round with a breakfast trolley and you just have your breakfast at your machine. You’d just have toast and a drink or unless you took your own sandwiches in, but yes, we used to have breakfast when we were on morning shift. And then lunch we’d have half an hour - got to stop for that. That's the only break that we actually got..
They didn't stop us from going to the toilet and having a smoke if we wanted to have a smoke as long as the machines were running and everything was alright, we sort of like got to do it that way. It wasn't too bad.
We had a canteen, so we used to go down to the canteen. The food was already ready so you just went in, got what you wanted and sat at the table and that was about it. You'd eat your dinner and back upstairs and back to work. Or we could nip down to the chip shop at bottom of Street and get chips and fish or whatever, you know..
WORKING DURING THE 70s
I think we were on a 3-day week weren't we. When we were working and the power went out, we used to have a clean-up and do what we could and then we used to go home if we knew the power wasn't coming back on again. As to pay, well I think the union paid us something and unemployment office. But then again you see I didn't get to keep it, because I had to hand mine over so... It didn't really affect me because I still got the same as spending money so...
it would have been about 73, 77, 78, something like that. Yeah, I went back sewing, because it's what I enjoyed doing and I worked there (Wills) for quite a few years. I was sewing curtains at Wills fabrics.
I was getting remarried, and I still worked there for a while and then I got pregnant and I was off with them and then I went back again in between having another child after that. And then I just packed in altogether and didn't go to work for a few years after that. You know, (until the children were) school-age. I've been all over! I've done sewing at different places.
I went sewing children's clothing, went sewing shoes, three piece suits, women's clothes, what else did I do... oh gosh bedding! ] I had a part working in a men's club for 2 years. I was counter stewardess there for 2 years and then I went working for Senators in Accrington doing sewing for them.
It was quite easy working... I mean in the 70s you could walk out of one job and into another and then go back to the place if you didn't like it. It was so easy then. It got a little bit harder as ... but I've always managed to find work. Today it's difficult but there's no manufacturers really around here. It was quite easy then but now no there's hardly anything left round here.
THINKING OF TODAY’S YOUNG WOMEN – WORKLOAD, CHILDCARE, INDUSTRIAL DISEASE
I think they've had it better because I mean the last job that I had sewing, it was just you'd sew and it didn't matter if you made 10 or 20, it didn't matter as long as you were working. But when I was working years ago sewing it was piece work, so you were at it constantly. You had to do it to earn your money whereas today they just work, and they get paid whether they make 20 or 10… so yes I think they have got it a lot easier today.
I think they have more childcare facilities now whereas we had to rely on parents or friends, neighbours, you know to look after your children. My sister once, we both looked after each other's children for a short time. I don't know I think it's easier now although it's more expensive now as well for them so no I don't know. I think it is easier for them today, because without them (friends and family) I don't think we’d have been able, well I wouldn't have been able to go to work. Yeah they were very important yeah.
I like my sewing you see so maybe I would go back into that but more fashion. You know like - I can't remember what it's called now designing clothes, I'd like to do something like that, or into hospitality. Cos I used to like working at the club like you know.
I mean I've seen quite a few accidents as well with knives, when you get wrapped round rollers, and you get people were rushing to get- you know cutting them off and they'd end up cutting themselves, so I've seen some bad accidents as well. They used to say you should have been more bloody careful! That's what they used to say! People didn't make claims back then like they do now. It was just something that we didn't do.
I suppose like with my dad's accident, I mean he got paid out with that, that was an accident but for something minor like that no no, we didn't used to bother we'd just get on with it. I don't know, are we too soft today? Oh, I don't know…and now I'm suffering with COPD
I mean I have been a smoker, but then…yeah yeah I seem to be … don't know, suffering, and my sister does and my mum did, you know we've all got COPD so... no it's something that we'll never know (if that was due to fibres from the mill work).