Susan wanted to be a florist when she left school and started work with Eastons, a large chain of florists with outlets across the NorthWest. Her interview was short and to the point – she was asked what 9 x 8 was, she said 72 and that was it!
Later she went to work at GEC for £18 a week. The hours were long but that didn’t stop her enjoying her leisure time at places like Black’s Club in Blackburn Road, the disco on Whalley Road and the Cavendish Club in Accrington. There was also an annual outing to Marton Grange for a darts and domino event.
Susan worked at many other local factories: XL Crisps, Platts, Associated Dairies and Rists before realising her original ambition of opening a florist shop on Whalley Road, which she called Blossoms. Sadly, when the one-way system was introduced, the reduction in passing trade affected business to the point where the shop was no longer viable, and Susan shut up shop.
Susan finished her working life at the Swan Hotel which was Accrington Police Station’s local. Looking back over her career, she remembers being able to walk out of one job into another and thinks that there are fewer opportunities for today’s young people. Her guiding principle throughout life was that “if you can’t afford it, you don’t get it”. That ethic was instilled in her by her parents and she has brought her girls up in the same way.
This transcript has been edited for ease of reading. Click on the audio icon to listen to the original interview, which due to the pandemic, was recorded over the phone.
My name is Susan Freeman and my date of birth is 28.4.1950.
My parents- my dad was a wood machinist at Ibbotsons in Blackburn and my Mum worked at Grange Mill. That was on Grange lane in Accrington, in the weaving shed. I lived on Willows Lane in Accrington and I had one sister. She was younger. Yeah, I liked school. I was good at maths, good at reading, I still love reading to this day. Art (too). I weren't keen on science and geography and that sort of thing.
My parents gave me a sort of choice about what I wanted to do. When I said I wanted to be a florist, seemingly that were what my grandad had wanted my mum to do and I never knew that. He had always wanted my mum to be a florist and when she left school, she went in to confectionery.
(Susan’s first job was at Eastons, a large chain of florists with outlets in the NorthWest.)
I was 15 (on leaving school) and (At my interview) he just asked my name and explained that it wasn't all sweet and they would be some dirty jobs and then he just asked me what 9x8 were and I said 72 to and he said right you can start. And that was my interview!
I left that job because we got new bosses. My original boss had to sell the shop because he got skin cancer due to the pollen from chrysanthemums and the ones that took it over, they had a few shops but they only liked young girls working there so most of us, when we got to 20 and all, they just wanted an excuse to fire us off basically. There used to be 20 of us works there, and I think they got it down to five working over 2 shops.
But whilst I was at the florist’s I got a letter from the careers office which said they wanted a meeting with me at a certain time on a certain day during the week. So, I went into work and told my boss that they had asked me to go and see them, so he gave me time off to go and see them. When I got there, they just said were I happy with my work, because there were plenty of jobs going at Woolworths. And when I told my boss in the flower shop, he went absolutely mad! He just went crackers! "Why would you stand behind a counter when you can learn something?" and then he rang them up I believe.
I got one (another job) the next week and started the week after. That was at GEC. We were making components to be used in the telephone exchanges. It would be 1970 when I started at GEC, so obviously I knew things (about women's rights) were going on but from the job I'd just come from where I was earning roughly £9 a week, I went to work at GEC and my wage was over £18 so I thought I'd landed really well! As far as I was aware, yeah, bviously managers and further up you went the more pay they got but they weren't doing the same job as us then so...
Men did a lot of ratcheting with machinery, (they'd be) foreman, manager... Most of the top jobs were men. There was a (trade) union but I don't remember there being any disputes when I was there. I can actually remember where that photograph was taken, and I've tried to find the newspaper cutting and I can't find it anywhere. But I seem to remember it was taken in like an office and a backdrop was put up behind us, I think it was actually done on the premises.
At that time it was 40 hours a week but in leisure time, we were mainly going out dancing. There were places in Accrington to go and there was Blackburn and Burnley, Meccas, there were Black's Club on Blackburn Road, we used to go there sometimes on a Friday. Then there were the disco on Whalley Road which sometimes we went on Saturdays, but there were plenty to do at that time, not like today.
Once a year we used to go to Marton Grange for a darts and domino presentation for the Accrington area and we didn't leave there while turned 2am and I'd be on the bus at half past seven the following morning to go to Blackburn. So that was quite hectic, but my dad always used to stand at the bottom of the stairs and shout "If you don't go to work you can't go out tonight!" Better than any alarm clock were me dad.
When I worked in the flower shop there used to be shops underneath it and I used to work in there sometimes. What happened there were, we used to see the bands going up to set the things up in the Cavendish, which was literally next to us, for them to go up and get in rather than go to the car park. So, it wasn’t a matter of -I might just have been 18 when I went (to the Cavendish) I knew the manager so that helped!
We used to have local bands like from Liverpool, and a lot of them like The Merseybeats, they had a different name when they were at the Cavendish to what they had when they were famous. I saw them going in but the ones that I saw live at that time were the Foundations, Billy Fury.
Yes you got sick pay I think it was 3 days before you became eligible for sick pay. And you had to have a doctor's note as well for that, but if it was just a day, then no you didn't get any pay for it.
He (my husband) was quite happy for me to work. Then when I had my eldest daughter in ’73, obviously I had my maternity leave and everything and then when I went back to work, it was part time, maybe 3 hours a day, something like that, and it was only at bottom of street anyway, wasn’t like it was taking me a long while. I was still on maternity leave when my husband had a road accident on the way to work, so he was off work, he broke his leg in two places. And he couldn't stand so he was off work sick and my grandma was looking after the baby while I went to work. There was no way he could manage, and it wasn't fair on my grandma to do it who was in her late 60s at that time so it was a matter of what was easiest if you will. (giving up work).
And then when I went back to work (at Associated Dairies) it was like part-time. Maybe 3 hours a day something like that, it was only at the bottom of the street anyway, so it wasn't like it was taking me a long while. My grandma only lived around the corner from Associated Dairies and I worked afternoons so many a time I'd walk down, drop her off at my grandma's and then pick her up after work. [I think I were only there about 12 months and then they moved the fruit juice which I was on, they move that to another part of town, well the country actually. I think they moved it to Yorkshire and that's when I got to my full-time job at Platts.
It was all engineering with Platts, and women were mainly doing work that was - how can I put it? It wasn't actually the heavy stuff, but it was little things that they needed for the end product if you will. So, women were doing that, and a lot of the work was heavy, heavy work so that's what the men were doing.
I always found it fine. Of course, there were the odd one that could come out with something nasty and then they'd realise they'd said it to a woman and would come back and apologise. So, I never found any problems with it. The one (dispute) that I do remember was when they did go on strike and walked out but that was just after I finished. I had just finished there, and I can't even remember what it was about.
The one thing I do remember was that one of the men from a different shop floor to what I worked on, there were two of them that decided they were fed up and just streaked around the building, just covered their faces up so that nobody knew-well they thought nobody knew who they were - but of course! But they stripped completely naked and went around what is now the Globe Centre. I think they were only out for about 3 days and then it was resolved, so they went back to work.
I left Platts to have my second daughter and then I started at XL Crisps on evenings. I had no problem (with childcare) because my husband, he was usually doing the early shift which finished at 2pm so he was home and I used to go down and catch the free bus on Union Street in Accrington. I used to get the free bus there and we had a free bus back as well so... there was only one night when he used to come and pick me up and that was Thursday but he was home for 2 hours before I actually went to work.
We used to get cheap crisps and things like caramel biscuits, Wagon Wheels, because they were all part of Burton's Biscuits firm. I think that's in Blackpool now. But there's no XL Crisps (now) - they've gone. We used to get them reasonable, so I used to bring back 4,5 bin bags, bin bags size, home, of cheese crisps every week. So that was when my husband used to come and pick me up on Thursdays!
It was so hot in there because you had the cookers, you know the fryers and everything and then you had all the machinery that was …everything came through from where it was cooked, everything came through and then it were bagged so there was heat coming from the machines where they were bagged and then the boxes. You are packing them 48 packets to a box, so it was a really really warm place to work in. So, that were why a lot of us didn't wear t-shirts underneath because you were warm enough. They were nylon overalls which are warm anyway… so we didn't wear t-shirts, so on the Wednesday we were all called into the canteen before we actually started and were told to wear a T-shirt under because we have to hand over our overalls in the day after.
I was in the union and on Wednesday night they said to go in Thursday with T-shirts under our pinnies because that was our last shift and we had to hand our overalls in. So I didn't think that were right, so I got in touch with the union in Manchester and when I went in on the Thursday , the representatives from USDAW Union had been into the factory and the shop steward from the day shift, he was waiting for us coming in to find out who had told them. But we all got, depending on how long they've been there, if you'd been there 2 years’ I think you got 3 weeks’ pay in lieu.
I went to Rists then -mainly moulding. I was shop steward there, shop steward, and health and safety representative on the top floor.
There were a lot of silly disputes if you will, like for instance one girl had been on her holidays and her husband won a competition, so he went back at the end of the season for the finals if you will, and his picture was in the local paper and she’d put a sick note in for a week. She had managed to get a sick note. Of course, the bosses had seen that she were actually at this holiday camp! which were a bit silly! If anybody was off sick for any length of time, then I used to go and see people at their home. I used to go out with the foreman and try and find out when they were coming back and things like that. I had to tell them how to get extra welfare if they needed it.
When I started there at first, I really enjoyed it but with things, like conditions and things like that they brought in after, it was hard work getting up to go. It ended up like that, so that's when I left and opened my own business. [00:28:37] It was a flower shop. [00:29:02] My husband and his friend, they were going, when they had finished work and got home 2 o’clock ish, they were going painting and putting benches up inside for me to workout, things like that. And then trying to get away before I had finished work and the bus from Rists just getting into town, so they were trying to get away so that nobody actually saw them!
They (Rists) didn't know I was opening a shop until the Friday when I finished. It was alright mainly. I mean with the girls that I worked with and, I don’t know, the supervisors and foremen just seem to keep out of my way that day! It (the shop) was called Blossoms and it was at the bottom of Whalley Road. It was going fine actually until in their wisdom somebody decided to change all the road and they made it one way and it was one way coming from the hospital into town. So that stopped all my trade- the people going up to the hospital. Before that they basically stopped outside the shop, bought some flowers to take up to whoever they were visiting, but of course once they changed the one-way system and put that into place, they weren't able to stop. They’d to go all the way around on Eastgate, so it bypassed my shop really. So it was getting hard work to make it pay really.
I was just on the market shopping and Barry Walker asked me if I wanted a job, so I ended up working on the market on a fruit and veg stall. I worked there for about 18 months I think and then I started work at the Swan Hotel (opposite the police station) and I was there until I retired basically.
They were quite a few (female police officers) and quite often they used to, their shift was finished just after 2 and quite often a few of them would come in and have their orange juices, their lemonades and what have you, have a talk, let their hair down for 5 to 10 minutes and then they'd go off home. So, there were a few came into The Swan. They were treated with respect. Nobody feared them and you got to know them, and you were on first name terms with quite a few of them. Then we just like any other customer even though you could tell they were police because we saw their white shirts on, they’re taking their ties off but...yes they were treated just like anybody else.
We brought our girls up with the ethic that if you can't afford it you didn't get it. So that was the ethic that my parents instilled in me - if you couldn't afford it you didn't get it until you could. None of this I will use my credit card to pay for a holiday and pay it after. There was none of that - we saved up for everything. That's all because we had that ethic instilled in us - we didn't get into debt. Obviously you’d your debt with your mortgage but you knew you’d to pay that off every month so that's what you did but I don't think they have, I don't think there the same opportunities as when I were younger in my teens. I could walk out of one job and into another and there's no way you can do that now. It might sound a bit silly, but no, we never missed having holidays and the girls haven never missed having holidays when they were growing up so no, no really, it's been a good life.