Working Life

Salt making was a major industry in South Shields for around 400 years and was one of the major factors in the growth of the town.  In the late 1600s and early 1700s glass making and chemical manufacturing became important and eclipsed salt making in 1700's as major employer. Ship building also rose to prominence in the 1700's. There were many docks, wharfs, quays, boatyards, repair yards, shipbuilding yards and timber yards. In the 1950's shipbuilding stretched along the coast from John Redhead and Sons in Temple time to Brigham and Cowan Ltd docks in Wapping street. 

 Coal mining was another important industry in South Shields from 1800.  Coal mining had provided employment since 1805 when the first colliery was opened by Simon Temple followed by St Hilda's in in 1810 (until 1940) . Harton Colliery opened in 1844 (until 1969) at West Harton and Westoe Colliery in 1909  (until 1993) on the side of the old Bents House, the house itself being used as offices.

After second world war many people especially women were employed in clothing factories. S Newmans new factory was opened in Commercial Road and made Slenderella lingerie and slumber wear. Mary Harris on John Clay Street made exclusive gowns and clothing for Marks and Spencer's, there was an Eskimo slipper factory in Taylor Street  and Prices and John Colliers on Western Approach made men's clothing.

John Colliers

 John Collier was a British chain of shops selling men's clothes.

Founded in Leeds in 1907 by Henry Price, the chain expanded to over 399 stores across the country, most of which traded under the Fifty Shilling Tailors brand.

In 1958, the company was sold to UDS, which renamed it John Collier.

The factory opened in the 1950's in South Shields was located on Western approach and was closed in 1976 when the company amalgamated into the Burton Group.

Memories of working at John Colliers

Doris worked at Colliers for 3 years starting in 1963 until 1966 when she left to have a baby. She returned in 1973 and left in 1974 to have another baby.

The factory was separated into two parts jackets and trousers. Doris worked on trousers.  There were 3 units x,y, and z. Doris was on Z and her foreman was Gerry McCrystal who always seemed to be rushing around. Everyone was on piece work, you were paid by the dozen, extra was paid for vents, extra for checks etc. Individual jobs were known as specials having a big label on the front informing you of all the customers requirements. Other work came in bundles of 12. Work started in the cutting room where the jackets were cut out and shaped and all wrapped inside together then it went on to the divider who put the jobs together e.g. pockets, sleeves, collars and so on, Work started at 8 o clock and finished at 4.30 or 5 o'clock. 

Work could be a lot of fun, people were forever playing jokes especially new starters, sending them for a bucket of steam, a long stand or tartan thread. Quite often when they were leaving for home they would find they couldn't put there coat on as some bright spark had sewn the ends of there sleeves together. 

On occasions when the school leavers came around and if Mr McCrystal would be called away from showing them round the factory, my friend would drop her false teeth and say in a totally gormless voice oh look at that, it amused us much more than it amused them. When someone left to get married they would take there coat and decorate it with rude poems and rags and a big L on their back, a piece of net was found for a veil and a cauliflower for a bouquet they looked crazy!

I made lots of friends at Collier and some I am still in contact with today. They were happy days!

Pictures of John Colliers

The pictures below show the factory closure party in 1976

The pictures below show some of the staff from John Colliers on work outings.

Wrights Biscuit Factory

 Wright's Biscuits were established in 1790 by L Wright & Son at Holborn in South Shields to produce ships' biscuits. After a fire in 1898, completely new buildings were created at Tyne Dock. In the 1930s they implemented intensive factory methods for production and became a national supplier of biscuits, cakes and groceries as well as a leading employer for Tyne and Wear.

Children's illustrator Mabel Lucie Attwell created the Wright's logo, a curly-haired boy called Mischief.

The organization became a public company in 1936.  In 1962  Wright's Biscuits bought Kemp Biscuits from Scribbans. By 1966, due to the losses by Kemp Biscuits Ltd, the growth of Wright's Biscuits was hampered.

In 1972, United Biscuits took over Wright's Biscuits, Kemp Biscuits Ltd and Carr's Carlisle making it part of the giant Cavenham Foods group. In October 1972 the company was put into administration and the factory finally closing in 1973.

The factory was reopened in 1975 under the name of Lowe's for the production of dog biscuits. This ran until 1983 at which time the factory and the chimney (a landmark for Tyne and Wear Dock area) were demolished.

Many girls leaving school would work in Wrights. Wages for a girl of sixteen years was 11 3/4 d (5p) an hour, seventeen years 1/0 pence an hours and at 18 years 1/5 pence (8p) an hour.