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Recorded Memories


O'Rouke Sisters Interview. December 2000.

Three London Girls: Working life at the Argee 1940-1974 ‘Pierre made heaps of difference here, he was a wonderful man’

‘We used to work with our coats on…being so cold in the factory it made you hungry…went across to bakery shop – we used to get big lumps of cake, it was grand’

The sisters are Alice, Lynne and Em. Alice was born in 1916, Lynne in 1920 and Em about 1923. During interview the sisters continue to look at photos and every now and again interrupt to talk about the various people they recognise -

Leon Gildersgame, Pierre’s brother, ‘he went to America’…’nice looking girls’…’a photo of the 21st anniversary’…’here’s Alice (Lynne and Em) we were in the forces’…’this party they’ve got their friends with them’. A lot of the Argee dinner and dances were held at Earl Shilton Working Men’s Club, now demolished. The girls came up from London on 7 December 1940. It was a ramshackle building and Lynne and Em spent 3½ years in the air force from 1942. Alice because she was an experienced machinist was kept on at the factory

A lot of young girls worked at the Argee, ‘this was the starting place for the whole area - ‘trained them up to do the machining’.  Daughters followed their mothers into the Argee. If a girl was good then they were encouraged to stay.  Some girls ‘couldn’t learn’.  Alice felt at times that she may have sounded like a ‘battleaxe’. The factory had been in existence in London and because of the war was relocated to Earl Shilton.  The three sisters wanted to stay together and came up to the Midlands with a group of girls from the London factory.  The other girls eventually drifted back to London, ‘they liked a bit of life and there was nothing here…we weren’t like that, we weren’t gadabouts’.  The sisters didn’t feel they were liked when they first came up - foreigners…made fun…not speaking the same way - ‘mash a cup of tea’ and we used to ‘make it’. The factory did government work. The building looked like a barn - draughty, ‘like a prison’.  It had been a paper mill at one time and they were told, ‘you won’t last five minutes there’. 

The young girls who came to work at the Argee at 14 had a good training, ‘Pierre made heaps of difference here, he was a wonderful man…he made it a nice factory’.  They remember the factory was very cold and they worked in their coats.  They took sandwiches to work with them but because of the cold they ate their sandwiches before lunchtime and would go to Best’s bakery for ‘great lumps of cake’.  Some of the young girls who came to work at the factory travelled from Carlton, Market Bosworth and Heather. In the war years they did overalls for the ATS and slacks for the WAFS, ‘hard work against the dainty work we’d been doing…you imagine fancy little bras against the heavy work…the khaki material had to have bigger needles in the machines’.  After the war they started manufacturing for Marks and Spencers and they wanted quality, garments would be sent from London and a pattern would be made and sent back to London.  A bra would always start as a size 34 and could go up to 44.  About 500 dozen of one style would be made and then another style, ‘you had to sort out the girls for a particular operation, ‘no one did a complete garment, it was all in parts’.  It could be a challenge choosing different girls to do certain operations, ‘why me’. There was an outing each year.  The first outing that Alice remembers was a trip out to Ashby Parva to watch ‘Mr Pierre ride his horse’. They had a ‘terrific storm’ and sheltered in a barn.  They also had a New Year party every year.

Alice commented that ‘[you] couldn’t have a better boss anywhere. The factory was renovated by Pegg’s builders and ‘they brought factory up to scratch’.  The sisters left in 1974.  It was an unhappy time for Alice and it ‘broke my heart’.  Alice was very strict and was disliked by some and appreciated by others and would tell girls ‘by the time I finish with you, you will be able to go anywhere…some [girls] very versatile’.  But Lynne and Em felt that they suffered because of Alice’s strictness.  They went home (family home in London) once a month and used to ‘groan’ when they saw the church steeple from the A47 ‘because we were unhappy’.  But now they like to see the church steeple on their approach to Earl Shilton along the A47.  Over the years the sisters made ‘ever so many friends that worked in the factory’.

Sister's Interview No1.
Run time 26 minutes & 16 seconds.

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