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Recorded Memories

Betty Knights Interview. January 2001


Working as a flatlocker at Jimmy Bennetts and the Manchester from the age of 14 to 74:

‘Flatlocking – loved it, I just enjoyed doing it…I should love to have a go now!’

‘Overlocking was cheaper than having them flatlocked…only got two cottons, not got nine threads…

Betty was born in 1923 and started her working life at the age of 14 after Christmas 1937 at James Bennett Ltd. At this time the firm made underwear and Betty’s job when she first started work was cutting the ribbons for vests and after about a year she was taught to use the picoing machine – this did the fancy edges round the vests and it was only after two years that she was allowed to learn the flatlock machine.  Flatlocking was a skilled job – ‘we had to work up to it, not like today when they are put straight onto machine’.  The flatlocking was one of the hardest jobs and it took time to learn. She worked as a flatlocker most of her working life, eventually retiring at the age of 74 from Manchester Hosiery.  She continued working on a part time basis for Manchester Hosiery after retirement age but flatlocking was dying out and whenever there was short time in the factory she would be laid off.

Betty loved her job as a flatlocker and commented while we were chatting that she should like to ‘have a go now’.  The flatlock machine used nine threads – four yarns, four cottons and one silk thread.  The four yarns and four cottons sewed a straight seam and the silk thread wove itself in and out.  Examples of flatlocking could still be seen on vests sold at Peacocks at the time of the interview.  While flatlocking the machinist didn’t sit straight at the machine but at an angle and an ‘arm came out’. 

During the war Betty worked in munitions where she was involved in making 20 mm cannon shells for spitfires and was married at 19, her husband was in the air force and when her son was born she stayed at home to look after him until he started school. 

Betty started school at the church school on Station Road and then went onto the council school, Holliers Walk, and while there she spent one day a week at the technical college and Mr Bailey had tried to encourage her to train as a designer, but at the age of 13-14 she wanted to work.  Looking back she wished she had.  She remembers feeling nervous when she first started work -  the hours were long - 8 o’clock to 6 o’clock and she remembers going home for her dinner.  The working day has become more flexible over the years – some operatives starting work at 6 o’clock and finishing at 3 o’clock.  She mentioned that the girls at the Manchester now ‘have to do anything and not much flatlocking’.

She was asked to go back to Bennett’s by Vera Bennett and Betty’s mum looked after Michael when she did go back to work.  The only reason for leaving Bennett’s was that they changed production to making outerwear and Betty wanted to continue working with underwear as a flatlocker and finished at Bennett’s on the Friday and started work at Manchester Hosiery on the Monday.

Both Bennett’s and the Manchester she found ‘happy’ places to work.  The Manchester, however did change over the years and ‘wasn’t such a happy place in the last years’.  She referred to Manchester Hosiery as being very old and originally run by ‘old Mr Wade’ followed by his sons and then his grandson who sold the company – ‘we thought it [Manchester Hosiery] would close times’. 

While looking at photos she spoke about her family involvement in the hosiery – her aunts Doris and Florrie both worked as menders at Bennett Bros, her father was a commercial traveler for the company and she mentioned her aunt Florrie who at the age of 96 was still able to get out and about.  Betty’s own mother died at the age of 93 and  her sister Doreen Marvin (interview included on website) who worked as a welter.

Since retirement Betty has taken up embroidery and tapestry work but had always sewn and knitted and made her own clothes commenting that when her son was born the clothes she had made for him were very similar to the ones worn by Princes William and Harry

Betty's Interview No1.
Run time 22 minutes & 59 seconds.

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