Published on Tue Nov 15 07:50:00 GMT 2011
There was a time when Rothwell had five shoe factories – Butlins, Sarjeants, Groococks, Taylors and Avalon.
Jean Cawthorne’s parents Les and Phyllis Dines worked for Avalon, which had two bases, in Littlewood Street, known as the “top shop” and Cross Street, known as the “bottom shop”.
Mrs Cawthorne can remember visiting her parents at work and said: “I just used to wander in after school and sit with my dad or help my mum with the packaging, no-one thought anything of it.
“The ground floor of the Littlewood Street works was the leather store and the smell was unbelievable. it was very dark and spooky to a child.
“My father worked on the next floor in the clicking room and they used to have to put paper over the windows in the summer to keep the sun from blinding them.”
Les Dines joined Avalon when he left the RAF after the war and stayed there all his working life, working in the clicking room where he cut out the leather for the shoes.
Although presses were introduced later that could cut the leather, mr Dines always did the job by hand.
Mrs Cawthorne said: “He kept notebooks which recorded how many uppers, inners and such like he had cut because he got paid different amounts for different things.”
Her mother worked in the packing and despatch room in Cross Street, which also had the lasting and finishing rooms. she brought home stamps from the foreign orders Avalon received for mr Dines, who was a keen philatelist.
Mr Dines was also a keen gardener and had an allotment owned by Avalon.
Mrs Cawthorne said: “My grandad had one, too, and you could get to it through a gate in his back yard. We used to spend most of our summer holidays there when we were children.”
Mrs Cawthorne also remembers factory fortnight when the family went away to Cliftonville for a week.
She said: “We always went to the same place, using a Cooper and Buckby’s coach, which left Market Hill at 4am. it was always organised by the same man. because my birthday is at the end of July, I didn’t have a birthday at home before I was a teenager. in the end the bed and breakfast owners knew it was my birthday and would bake a cake for me.”
the factory owners also organised a day trip to London for the workers once a year, taking them for a cruise on the river or to Windsor.
Mrs Cawthorne remembers groups of children gathering outside the Cross Street works during Rothwell fair swapping cigarette cards, a popular collectors’ item at the time, something that had died out by the early 1960s. the Avalon factory had bike sheds for the workers, who all lived in the town and walked or cycled to work. mr Dines didn’t learn to drive, never seeing the need because he could walk to work and catch a bus or train to anywhere else he might want to visit. mrs Cawthorne said: “Most people worked in the town they lived in so they didn’t need cars. Not having one didn’t stop us doing things.”
The shoe factories were real family affairs, owned by families and employing husbands, wives, aunts and uncles so when they began to close it had a real impact on the town. Avalon closed in 1986, but accounts for the early 1970s show that is was already struggling to make a profit more than 10 years earlier.
Mrs Cawthorne said: “My mother, who had 20 years continuous service, was paid £2,000 redundancy. the closure affected my father and he never worked again. Some of the other workers retrained, one became a driving instructor, and some joined Groococks.”
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