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Article written by Godfrey Bigley, submitted 2010

My Time at Hart & Levy’s
Burton Latimer Factory

My first job after leaving school in 1965 was in the wages office of Hart & Levy’s clothing manufacturer’s factory in Bakehouse Lane, Burton Latimer.  It was situated on the left hand side (when walking from Kettering Road) of Bakehouse Lane, next to the cottage which is number 1 Bakehouse Lane.  The factory was known as Gladstone Works.  The factory manager was Eddie Knighton, and a Mrs Mable Wheeler from Kettering who started at about the same time as me was the Senior Clerk.  Previously the office had been run by a Miss May Jackson who had just retired following the death of her friend Miss Eva Stokes with whom she lived and who was also her assistant in the factory office.

At the time I joined the company it was owned by John Barran Limited (which was part of the Austin Reed / Chester Barrie Group) The head office was in Chorley Lane Leeds and the Director responsible for the Burton Latimer, Finedon and Thrapston factories was a Christopher Thornloe who was based at the Leicester factory in Northampton Street.   His family originally owned Thornloe and Clarkson’s (who also at one time had a factory in Burton Latimer), Hart & Levy having acquired Thornloe and Clarkson for their Beau Brummel trade mark.

The factory at that time consisted of two machine rooms. The middle room on the first floor made blazers (mostly for the Littlewoods Catalogue) and standard navy, black, maroon and green school blazers, children’s duffel coats and adult Reefer Jackets under the Beau Brummel trade mark.  (I purchased one of these Reefer Jackets and it served me well during my motor cycling days).  Win Sawyer was the supervisor for that floor. The cut work was also ‘fitted’ on that floor by Arthur Miller (who was also the Organist at the Parish Church.)

The top room on the second floor made blazers for shops selling blazers for schools who required special colours, and or binding or cording, Gertie Chamberlain being the supervisor.  This floor also housed the sewing machine mechanic’s workshop - the mechanic being an Arthur Weston from Rothwell.

Both the middle and top rooms had long benches of sewing machines all of which were belt-driven from shafts running underneath the benches and powered by a large electric motor.

The ground floor was the press room, (Jack Chester and Sid Baish) and a small warehouse which held the finished goods ready for dispatch to the Leicester factory prior to being sent to the customers.  The buttoning machine (Connie Harlow) and the final passers (Flo Buckby and Madge Sanderson) were also located in that room. The coke-fired boiler was situated behind the press room. The boiler man / caretaker was Geoff Clements, who subsequently left and went to work for Weetabix, and was replaced by a Horace Lorriman. The offices were also on the ground floor.  Built onto the side of the factory was a canteen which also provided meals for visiting officials to Barclay’s Bank’s Burton Latimer branch.  The cook being a Marjorie Northern.

The work was all cut at Leicester and the van came every Wednesday and Friday bringing bundles of cut work and taking back the completed garments.  (On the other three days the van went to the Nuneaton factory).

My job was mainly to check the piece-work tickets. These were slips of paper about half an inch by one and a half inches and each garment had a ticket for each operation.  I also had to work out the time worked from the clocking in cards - no computers! Mrs Wheeler and myself were responsible for calculating the gross pay, and each Monday we had to post off to the Leeds Office the pay roll for the week ending the previous Friday, so that they could do the P.A.Y.E. on the Tuesday and post it back to us so it arrived on Wednesday so that we could prepare for paying the wages on Friday.  After helping to bag the wages and taking it around the factory it was then a walk to the post office to get the National Insurance Stamps, and Friday afternoon was spent sticking the stamps onto the cards.  It should be noted that apart from Christmas time the pay roll was always received back on Wednesday morning‘s first delivery.  Could we rely on the Royal Mail today to provide such a service?  I also had to issue and re-order from the Leicester factory the cottons and buttons.  The most important task I had each day was to switch on the radio for a program ‘Music While You Work’ on the BBC’s Light Program and to switch it off as soon as the program ended because the next program had a lot of talking in it and it was deemed too dangerous for the machinists to listen to talking on the radio.  (This was before the days of the Health and Safety at Work Act)

Between the office and the first and second floor there were two speaking tubes.  The toilets were in the factory’s rear yard and not connected to the building.  On the front of the building was a metal fire escape.

After I had been at the factory for about two years the first upheaval took place.  Following the sale of the Leicester factory the canteen was transferred to the vacant part of the top room and the former canteen was transformed into a cutting room, with the Cutters being brought from Leicester each day.  The machine room was downsized and moved to the top floor (with some of the machinists being made redundant) and the long benches were replaced by individual machine stands.  The middle room then became the warehouse from where the garments made at the Burton Latimer, Finedon and Thrapston factories were dispatched to the customers.  At this time the Littlewoods’s club catalogue started to decline and their reduced orders were replaced by export orders and tartan blazers made for the American and Canadian Markets.  The only shops in Britain which sold theses tartan blazers were the Scotch House Group.  This reorganisation saw a change in my job as I was transferred from the wages office to the warehouse to do the export documentation, my job in the wages office being taken by a Barbara Hancock.  At about this time Mrs Wheeler retired and was replaced by a Phyllis Groom from Kettering. During the reorganisation the speaking tubes were replaced by an internal telephone system. The warehouse and dispatch operations were now managed by Arthur Manton, who had been transferred from the Leicester factory.  Also Christopher Thornloe moved his office to the Burton Latimer factory, travelling each day from his home in Bilsden which is in Rutland.  He brought his secretary Pat with him but she did not like travelling from Leicester each day and resigned and was replaced by a young lady from Rushden - Denise.

Soon after this reorganisation the Burton Latimer, Finedon and Thrapston factories were transferred over to the Leader Brothers and the name changed to Pied Piper Childrenswear.   Whilst the pay roll was still processed at Leeds, most of the control passed to the Leader Brothers' offices in Lawrence Road, Tottenham, along with the sales and design functions.  There was a dramatic change in the style and type of garments produced.  With the exception of the specialist blazer trade, blazer production ceased.  In their place, manufacturing turned to high quality children’s overcoats for the American markets and trendy type children’s wear for the ‘quality’ children’s wear boutiques.  It soon became obvious that the cutting room was not large enough to cope so the warehousing and dispatch operations were transferred to the London office.  The cutting room was transferred to the first floor and the old cutting room became the holding warehouse before the garments were taken to London for dispatch to the customers.  To get the bales of cloth from the ground floor cloth room to the first floor cutting room John Turner of Arthur Turner Electrical Contractors was employed to install an electric hoist which had a large wooden box which had runners to stop it swinging about and not going through the hole in the floor.  Christopher Thornloe was made redundant, Eddie Knighton retired and Ted Kilworth was transferred from the Nuneaton factory as the manager, Ted living in and travelling daily from Birstal (Leicestershire).  The senior clerk in the wages office also retired at this time, and I returned to the wages office in her place, assisted by a Barbara Hancock. 

This new set up only lasted for about eighteen months before the Burton Latimer factory was closed down and the Finedon factory sold to the Kaycee Clothing Company. I can’t remember what happened to the Thrapston factory.

I went to work in the costing and wages office at Kaycee and stayed there until it went into liquidation.  By this time I had had enough of the private sector and went to work at Wellingborough Council where I still work, albeit part time now (March 2010).  By a strange coincidence one of my colleagues at Wellingborough Council is the great nephew of two of the ladies who worked in the top room when I first went to Hart & Levy’s - Dora Rickards and Maud Atkins (formally Rickards).   There were quite of few of the employees in the factory who were related to each other.  It is also worth noting that both the managers at the Finedon Factory came from Burton Latimer, firstly Frank V Hendry and when he retired, Ivor F Whiteman.

The factory was subsequently sold after standing empty for some time and had several owners until it caught fire and burned down.  It was then demolished and houses (numbers 5 & 7 Bakehouse Lane) were built on the land.

Godfrey V. Bigley, March 2010

Click here to read an overview history of the firm of Hart & Levy


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