Growing up in Neston


Neston Glove Factory

The glove factory in Neston was a place of employment for people from the village and surrounds. From records it seems Neston Glove Factory came into being around 1916. Employing up to sixty people at times, mainly woman, who only other employment opportunity was to, ‘go into service’. This meant being a live in servant to someone who could afford help with household chores, cooking, washing, etc. My mothers sister, Flo, spent many years in service mainly with a Doctor Spence of Melksham. She apparently was treated very well, even moving with the Spence family when they relocated to Leytonstone in north east London. ‘Going into service’ was the main and almost only employment option for young girls of the day. It was a matter of luck if they found an employer who treated them well or badly.

My mother and two of her sisters worked at the Neston Glove Factory for some years. My mother left to look after me when I arrived in 1942. When I was a little older my mother took on ‘outwork’ from the factory. This meant having quite a large treadle sewing machine at home supplied by the factory. Lots of my childhood memories evolve around my mother working on the machine surrounded by piles of leather gloves, the floor littered with cut off bits of leather. The factory supplied the pre-cut leather pieces that had to be sewn together to make the gloves, a task that required a fair bit of skill. It was hard work especially the lambs wool mittens which were very thick and hard to sew. The pay was not very much, you had to work a long time to earn a little, but the little did help supplement my fathers wage from the CAD (Central Ammunition Dump) at Spring Lane.

There was also an advantage of having your mum making gloves at home; the very strong cotton that was use to sew them together made excellent cord to fly your kite! Supplied on five hundred yard reels it was strong and light, the brown cord allowed the kite to soar to great heights!

I remember going with my mother to the factory to deliver the gloves she had finished. The driveway entrance had a wooden curved arch with the faded words Neston Glove Co on it. It was a noisy place with rows of women sat at long benches each working away at their machines. Power to the many sewing machines supplied by a steam engine which was housed at the bottom end of the factory next to a pond which supplied the water. A long revolving shaft ran the entire length of the building at ceiling height with wide flapping belts delivering power to the rows of machines  below. I imaging safety was not a great consideration as it would have been very easy to catch a hand or finger in the belts as they turned the flywheels. Steam of course gave way to electrical power but the pond remained there for years. Sadly one of the supervisors took her life there, her body was found in the pond too late to be revived.

The factory finally closed in 1965 after many years making a variety of gloves and lambswool mittens, etc. The premises were taken over by Westrop Engineering Ltd. A company I think started by a Mr. Brixey who originally worked at Mendip Engineering at Atworth. One of the directors and also part owner was John Methuen. I worked there for a time in the stores department initially. It was a light engineering company, the rows of sewing machines had given way to lathes, capstans, milling and grinding machines, etc. It manufactured metal parts for various companies and also had an electrical department manufacturing switch gear and other electrical items. Later it won quite a large contract to manufacture Azimuth Circles for Sperry Gyroscope in Stroud. Azimuth Circles are use on ships and sit on top of the ships compass to allow the navigator to measure angles of objects in the sky. They had to be made to quite a high tolerance, funny to think such a thing being manufactured in little old Neston.

While at Westrop myself and Walt Long who was the van driver and store hand were tasked to build a rack from Dexion to house the many lengths of steel and brass rods held in stock (Dexion was angle iron with lots of holes, very much like Meccano). When finished it was quite a structure and we were very proud of our achievement. John Methuen came in one morning and cast an eye over our work, he pointed out one upright that was slightly out of plumb. We assured him it was OK and didn’t effect the strength of the structure at all. He said, “No it may not, but it offends my aesthetic eye”. So we had to fix it! We thought that a little hilarious and used the phrase afterwards to describe anything that wasn’t quite lined up! John was a nice enough bloke, he could often be caught in his office counting Benson and Hedges cigarette coupons which he kept in the top drawer of his desk, we thought it a little unusual, but why not.

I spent quite a few years there, odd in a way to work in the same building as my mother did when it was Neston Glove Factory all those years before. I also met my future wife there who was employed to do the wages.

The factory was eventually bought by a company from Wales called CDL Investments, they kept it going pretty much as it was. It was only later that we found out it was really bought for its tax credits, having made a loss for several years as  Westrop Engineering. The new company had several other business’s including Bristol Diecasting which made the mechanisms for fruit machines and Gwynevere located in the old Bath & Portland offices in Moor Green opposite the end of Jaggards Lane. They made brass light fittings and burglar alarms. Gwynevere and Westrop Engineering eventually amalgamated and the brass lighting business was moved to Westrop. It was then run by a Mr. Walsh, he was an ex RAF officer and still sounded like one with a cultured accent not unlike Captain Manwaring in Dads Army! We nick named him ‘The Wing Commander’. Very shortly after he arrived he gathered us all in the bungalow that is in front of the factory. He started by saying, “Now look here, I want you all to know I’ve got nothing against young people, I do know what it’s like to be young, the difference may have been that when I was young I had a Spitfire strapped to my ass”. We thought that comment hilarious at the time and it was really difficult not to laugh.

Westrop continued for a while until the tax benefits ran out and it was forced to close. I remained with them until the very end driving the Ford Transit Van to London and other places delivering the last of the lighting items. It was a sad end to what was a very long run as a factory going right back to 1916 when it opened as Neston Glove Company.

Had I not worked there I would not have met my wife who is Australian and probably not wound up in sunny, remarkable Australia. I am not alone, a number people from Neston have wound up in far flung places like the US and Canada. Like myself I am sure every one of them still has a very soft spot for Neston.