Tag Archives: Wills Tobacco Factory

Where There’s a Wills: Jean Jobbins’ memories

The younger lives of older members of our community often remain hidden when they can reveal so much about the person and about the world they have experienced, not least the Heaton of the recent past. It was, then, a pleasure for Heaton History Group’s Fiona Stacey to interview 96 year old Jean Jobbins and discover more about her long life:

The young Jean Jobbins ( née Thomas)

Jean (née Thomas), a native of Bristol, was born in 1925. When she left school at the tender age of 14 there were job opportunities in Bristol with Wills, the cigarette manufacturers, at the firm’s Bedminster works. Armed with an excellent letter of recommendation from her headmaster, Jean was offered an interview. Getting a job with Wills was considered a ‘cut above’. As Jean says, they ‘didn’t just take any old rubbish’. The questions she was asked in the interview felt quite hard to Jean: she describes them as ‘unusual’ but she answered as best she could and was offered a position, where she was taken under the wing of her supervisor, a Mr Bryant.  Jean remembers him very fondly. ‘He was a very nice and kind gentleman and always very smartly dressed’. Jean was given a sage green uniform with the Wills emblem on it which she says was very smart and she was ready to start work. 

Wartime

Jean’s working day began at 7.30am and her first job was in the stripping room which she hated straightaway.  She had to strip the tobacco leaf from the stalk. As soon as she had finished one stalk, she had to start on the next. Jean found that her hands got sore extremely quickly and when Mr Bryant asked how she was enjoying her job, she promptly told him that she hated it. He was surprised by her candour but gave Jean some advice on her technique which was of great help. She found the job a lot easier after that. She says she still hated it but her hands did not hurt so much. 

Jean had started work at the factory in 1939 so it was not very long before the second world war broke out.  The men left the factory and the women were required to take over their roles.  Jean was moved into the baulking room. This was where the leaves were sorted and graded and it was classed as a more skilled job, one that was normally done by men and attracted higher pay.  Jean did not class it as skilled at all but the women took great delight in pushing the men out of their jobs.  At this time, the atmosphere in the factory changed considerably: the women did not seem to be as much fun as the men had been and there was always an anxiety, over and above that brought on by the war, about what would happen to them once the men returned.

During the war, Jean had a supervisor called Grace. She was no Mr Bryant, and Jean did not like her much at all but she oversaw the women until the men came back. Jean was 20 when the war ended and had no intention of going back to the stripping room.  

Sure enough, when the men returned, Jean was asked several times to go back to her old job but she always refused, holding out for something better than the dreaded stripping room. And Jean’s determination and sense of self-worth eventually paid off with a position in the laboratory.  This involved taking the temperature of various pieces of equipment and monitoring them. Jean enjoyed this work and made some good friends there.

Social life

Wills provided excellent working conditions. Jean says the company pioneered workers’ canteens, free medical care, sports facilities, paid holidays and even a football team.  She remembers there were various societies: drama, music and luncheon clubs, along with dances, which she particularly enjoyed.

Once the men were back there was more fun again in the factory. Generally, there was not much mixing of the sexes but the dances were different. Jean had got to know one colleague, Ern, as she would pass him by during her working day.

She laughs that she thought his surname, Jobbins, unusual and found it amusing to change the name a little when she greeted him, partly because he looked so serious.  She would say ‘Good morning, Mr Giblet’ one day and ‘Good morning, Mr Goblet’ on another. She came up with a good variety and always with a twinkle in her eye in the hope he’d ask her for a dance at the next social.  Ern was a good dancer and not at all shy as he had been in the Royal Marines during the war. He played it cool at first, dancing with some other girls but once he asked Jean, they danced for the rest of the night.  Jean says they got on ‘like a house on fire’

Up North

Eventually Jean and Ern were married. 

Jean and Ern’s wedding, 25 February 1950

They were ‘living in’ with Jean’s parents when the opportunity came for them to move north with the promise of a house and a manager’s job ‘with prospects’ for Ern at the soon to be opened Wills factory in Newcastle. 

Grand opening of the Wills Factory on the Coast Road 1950. Ernest Jobbins is 3rd row, 2nd left.

Houses were in extremely short supply so it was an at attractive opportunity for a young couple. 

Jean’s family, however, were not so keen on her moving so far away so they told her she would never see a cow or sheep ever again, as they didn’t have them in the north-east!  But Ern and Jean weren’t to be deterred and, although Jean remembers that she was very frightened, her determination once again came to the fore and, with 12 other couples, they moved to Newcastle.  Everyone else chose to live in Kenton but Jean and Ern opted for High Heaton and were given a council house on the High Heaton estate, which Jean loved.

 

Jean and Ern in their garden at Newton Place, High Heaton

Nevertheless, she missed her family back in Bristol very much.  None of them had telephones. Jean recalls that they were for the rich not the ordinary folk so all communication was by letter. Jean would write to her parents on a Sunday; they would receive her letter the next day, write straight back and she would receive their reply by Tuesday. Swift service indeed!  Jean wrote to her parents daily and, if for some reason, she missed a day, a stern letter would arrive remonstrating with her but also expressing concern for her wellbeing.

Outsider

Jean encountered some hostility from local women when she arrived. She overheard some of them talking loudly about her at the bus stop, claiming that the incomers had taken jobs that their sons could have had and jumped the queue for council houses. Jean eventually tackled one of the gossips informing her that she would never be given a job at Wills, even if she wanted one, as they didn’t take people like her.  She never had problems with this woman again.  The hostility didn’t last long and although Jean felt very lonely at first, she quickly settled into her new life and made friends.  

There was some confusion too over the local dialect, knowing what scallions and stotties were, for example. But, in the main, Jean didn’t have problems with Geordie, although Ern never ever fully came to grips with it.

Of course, when they arrived, rationing was still in place and the women would eye each other’s baskets as they came out of Newton Road Co-op to see what they’d managed to get that day.   Jean remembers that one of her neighbours struggled to manage her coal rations and would often come to borrow some: a loan which was never repaid, she recalls with some amusement. 

Nights Out

For entertainment Jean and Ern would go to the Lyric cinema (now the People’s Theatre) every Monday night.  Jean remembers seeing one particularly bad film and, as they were leaving, the manager asked if she’d enjoyed it.  She was more than happy to tell him that she had not, much to his surprise.  There was no television so Jean and Ern also went to the Flora Robson Theatre weekly, either on a Friday or Saturday night.  She also enjoyed night classes at Cragside School, taking up needlework and art. And she joined High Heaton Library.

Social at Wills, with Jean and Ern on the left

Family

Eventually Jean and Ern’s daughter, Ruth, was born and their family thoroughly enjoyed their visits from Bristol, usually in August.

Jean and baby Ruth

They particularly enjoying trips to the coast and discovering that there are cows and sheep in the north-east after all.  Jean, Ern and Ruth would spend Christmases in Bristol and, on visits at other times of year, Jean remembers that Ruth was terrified by the intense west country thunderstorms, which often went on for hours.

Jean doesn’t feel it would be any easier today to move so far from family, but feels that her strong character and determination stood her in good stead. Her father had gone to Canada as a very young man before returning to Bristol to work on the railways and she thinks she inherited some of his pioneering spirit.

Throughout her life, Jean has demonstrated a sense of independence that many of us may find surprising in an era when women did not enjoy the same rights as men, and she comes across still as someone who knows her own mind. Her advice to young people today? ‘Stick to what you believe in.’

Acknowledgements

 Jean Jobbins’ story was told to Fiona Stacey of Heaton History Group on 20 February 2020. It has not been published until now because Covid restrictions meant that the content could only recently be checked with Jean. Fiona would like to thank Jean and her daughter, Ruth, for giving her their time and patience whilst recounting this wonderful story. All photographs are published with the kind permission of Jean and Ruth.

Jean and Ruth, Christmas 2019

Remembering the Coronation through Wills’ employees’ eyes

Heaton History Group member Michael Proctor is currently clearing his mother in law’s house after she had to move into care earlier this year and came across some interesting records from the WD & HO Wills factory. He writes:

Both my mother in law, Jean Jobbins, and her late husband, Ern, worked for WD & HO Wills in Bristol, before moving to Newcastle when they married in 1950 to help set up the Newcastle factory on the Coast Road. They were among a number of key workers who made the move north in order provide the new factory with the essential skills to get off the ground.

Wills Factory Exterior

Wills Factory Exterior

Ern was a store keeper and Jean worked in the lab, doing quality control work on the product. In line with the times, Jean gave up work after they married to set up home in a council house on Newton Place, High Heaton, so never worked at the Newcastle factory, but Ern continued to work there until his retirement.

Among the treasures I found were a number of bound copies of the Wills’ staff magazine. Sadly they all dated to the early 1920s, while Ern would still have been a schoolboy and Jean wasn’t born, so it’s anyone’s guess how they came by these treasures. As the Newcastle factory opened in 1950, the magazines obviously don’t mention it. What they do though is paint a vivid picture of life for Wills’ employees. There are reports on a whole range of sports and social activities, works outings, children’s parties and births marriages and deaths as well as diverse range of articles penned by Wills’s staff including accounts of foreign holidays and articles on the development of banks in Glasgow and the history of No 53 Holborn Viaduct (in three parts). The articles complement what we have been told about life at Wills’ Factory on the Coast Road by former employees, Olga Jackson and Laura Young.

Wills Factory stage in the canteen

Wills Factory stage in the canteen

What I also found though was a special edition of the magazine produced to commemorate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on 2 June 1953. Interestingly, the report of the coronation is written primarily through the stories of employees of WD & HO Wills who took part in them.

WillsCoronation1

Willsneedlework

The report of preparations for the day and the actual event is told by D Tuckwell and NK Hawkes from Bristol and A Anderson from Newcastle, all members of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, whose role on the day was to line the route of the procession. They can be clearly seen in the pictures of the procession. Not surprisingly, with a name like A Armstrong, I’ve been unable to identify the individual, but their accounts of the weeks leading up to the event and the coronation itself make interesting reading. The story is told primarily by NK Hawkes.

On our arrival at Chatham Barracks on Sunday 24th May, it was made obvious that there was no time to be lost in preparing for “C” Day. Our training during the next seven days consisted of “square bashing” and “Operation Coronet”, which entailed such things as standing perfectly still for what seemed days and presenting arms to an old Ford car with a crown on top and, on one occasion, to a corporation dustcart. In spite of many comments, we found all of this to be to good purpose.

We moved to Clapham Deep Shelter on Sunday 31st May, and at dawn on Monday about 5,000 naval ratings were disturbing the peace of Clapham preparing for a full scale rehearsal. Leave for ratings in the afternoon found us in London inspecting the Coronation route, in particular the places where we would be standing the following morning. Already potential spectators were four deep along the route, making themselves as comfortable as possible in the inclement weather. The genius of some was amazing to see. Lean-to shelters, made of paper, waterproofs and so on, gave little protection from the weather, but everywhere one felt the mounting excitement as the hours ticked slowly by. And so to bed!

The dawn of “C” Day found us “ship-shape and Bristol fashion”, ready to em-bus at 6.30. From Clapham we moved in convoy to the Victoria Embankment. On taking up our positions for route lining duties we were cheered by a mass of thousands of schoolchildren waiting eagerly to see their Queen.

Now the hours of work at Chatham paid off. The correct salutes and acknowledgements were made in their proper order to the Lord Mayor of London and his Lady, to all fifty cars of the foreign representatives, to our Prime Minister and those of the Dominions, to the Princes and Princesses of the Blood Royal, and the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, looking radiant and happy, and finally, to the person all those children had waited so long to see, our Queen, with her escort of Household Cavalry.

After the Queen passed on her way to the Abbey, we reformed and marched to new positions in Whitehall. Then the rain began – and did it rain! With a 20 mile an hour wind behind it the rain swept down Whitehall damping everything but the spirits of the waiting thousands. We, and they, stood in silence listening to the impressive ceremony being relayed from the Abbey. Raincoats were soaked through, hats were ruined, but no-one moved to seek shelter, which for some was no more than yards away. In this setting we ate our dinner, an operation which was executed with something of the clockwork precision that had been apparent throughout the proceedings.

The Abbey ceremony over, the marching columns of British and Colonial troops began to move. Swinging down Whitehall accompanied by massed bands, the colours of the many different uniforms blending together, they made, en masse, an unforgettable sight, one that made all the hours of preparation and standing in the rain more than worth while. How the crowds cheered. We took officers’ sword movements as our words of command as it was impossible to hear shouted orders above the noise.  The columns seemed endless, but all good things must come to an end, and the passing of the Golden Coach, bearing a radiant Queen and her proud consort, made a fitting finale to what, to us all, will be a day always in our memory.

WillsCoronationLondon1

WillsCoronationLondon2_edited-1

The cheering died away, and as the last horse and rider disappeared from view we reformed for our march back along the Victoria Embankment. What a different picture we presented now, in rain-soaked uniforms white with Blanco from our caps that had become mere shadows of their former selves, and with spotless white fronts now blue with dye! But for all that we were a proud and happy party because we had shared in what must surely be the greatest day in our generation, the day of the crowning of Elizabeth II.

The commemorative magazine then goes on to report on the Queen’s visits to Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Spithead review and reports on how the coronation was celebrated in Glasgow, Swindon, Bristol, Southern Rhodesia and Newcastle, where Wills had factories.

The report from Newcastle was written by a Mr DF McGuire, who I’ve identified as Donald F McGuire of 22 Glastonbury Avenue, Jesmond. Interestingly, my wife remembers Don McGuire, who was a senior member of the Personnel Department at Wills’ as he gave her several summer jobs at the factory. He is perhaps better remembered as the founder of the Friends of Jesmond Dene and is commemorated in a plaque by the visitor centre.

His account of the Newcastle celebrations follows:

In this brief account an attempt has been made to show how the Geordies demonstrated their loyalty to and affection for the Queen.

For a week and more before Coronation day, street and house decorations were being put up, transforming normally dull streets and houses with their unaccustomed colours. Great commendation must go to the Transport Authorities for their specially decorated buses, resplendent in gold and emblazoned with coats of arms, which caused great joy in the juvenile population.

The weather, alas, seemed determined to put an end to such frivolity, and Coronation Monday brought grey skies, cold winds and rain which increased in intensity during the day itself so that all outdoor parties and functions had to be hastily moved under cover. There is no evidence, however, that this in any way spoiled the enjoyment of those taking part. The large bonfire on the Town moor was coaxed into life before a large crowd, and the official firework display was not wasted.

WillsNewcastleCoronation

WillsNewcastleCoronation2

Smiths Crisps Coast Road

The Building that is now Crossling’s on the Coast Road, decked out for the coronation

On Saturday 6 June, the main event, the Lord Mayor’s show, was held in summery weather and was witnessed by a crowd estimated at half a million people. The Show took the form of a historical pageant illustrating the various aspects of English life in the four centuries separating the reigns of Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II. Some of the more outstanding exhibits were: – the Elswick Battery Field Gun of South African War fame, accompanied by veterans from that war – the enthusiastic rendering of Tyneside’s own anthem, the Blaydon Races, sung by appropriately costumed race-goers in the most ancient of vehicles – the soldiers of Marlborough and Wellington and the Dragoons, the well designed tableaux entered by local industrial concerns, and the mechanical exhibits of the Public Utility Services.

One must not, of course, fail to mention the Service contingents whose bearing and turnout, conspicuous in the marching Wrens, were up to the high standard now taken for granted. The whole procession was one that will long be remembered not only by the Young Elizabethans who witnessed it, but by some Older Georgians and Elderly Edwardians as well.

The Wills’ magazines provide a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the company’s staff. The earlier magazines will shortly have a new home with the Bristol and Bath Family History Society, where they will be a valuable resource to local history researchers, but the Coronation edition will be staying with me as a fascinating record of the event.

Can you help?

If you know have memories, anecdotes or photographs of the Wills Factory or of the  Coronation relevant to Heaton , we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Michael Proctor of Heaton History Group.

 

 

 

Quarter Century of Women Priests in Heaton

On 12 March 1994, the first 32 women were ordained as Church of England priests in Bristol Cathedral. And just a few weeks later on 8 May 1994 , at Newcastle Cathedral, the first group of women from the Newcastle diocese were ordained.

Among them was Rev Joan Dotchin, a curate at St Gabriel’s Church, Heaton. Joan went on to be the vicar of the Church of St Mary The Virgin, Willington, followed by Willington Team Rector, honorary canon of Newcastle Cathedral and then vicar of St James and St Basil in Fenham.

A week later a further group of women were ordained including Rev Mary Chapman who had been a deacon at St Gabriel’s for several years. Formerly a teacher at Heaton Manor, Mary was chaplain to Wills Cigarette Factory and the John Lewis store.

St Gabriels women priests Joan & Mary

Joan (left) and Mary,  among the first Church of England women priests

In subsequent years several more women from St Gabriel’s became priests, Rev Sheila Auld, Rev Kath Batte and Rev Jenny Lancaster.

St Gabriel’s had been at the forefront of the discussions about the ordination of women for several years before this. The vicar at the time, Rev Michael Unwin was a member of General Synod (the Church of England’s parliament) and spoke of the essential and appreciated role that Joan and Mary had played in the parish before being ordained.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Robin Long, Heaton History Group.

Can you help?

If you know more about this story or have photographs or anecdotes you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Working at the Wills Factory

The Wills Building was voted Heaton’s second favourite building in our recent poll. It’s now a smart, residential apartment block but until the 1980s housed a cigarette factory. We’ve interviewed two former workers to get a feel for what it was like to work there:

Olga Jackson (born 1935) initially worked in retail at C&A in the centre of Newcastle but her love of Newcastle United forced her into an early change of job where she didn’t have to work on Saturdays. Here she describes the amazing social life at Wills and the inauspicious circumstances under which she met her future husband:

This photograph shows the stage in the dining room where Olga’s drama group put on plays:

Wills Factory stage in the canteen

Wills Factory stage in the canteen

Thank you to John Moreels of Photo Memories Organisation for permission to use this photograph from the Ward Philipson collection.

Next Olga describes how cigarettes were made.

Although Laura Young (born 1936) was born in Heaton at 7 Sackville Road, her family moved to the West End when she was a small child. Her father, grandfather and cousins all worked at the John Sinclair tobacco factory on Bath Lane. She joined them when she left school but when that factory closed in 1953, she, along with many other John Sinclair workers, went to work at Wills. Here she describes how finding an alternative to the long bus journey home led to her meeting her husband.

This photograph of the outside of the building is reproduced by kind permission of the Amber Films and Photographic Collective:

Wills Factory Exterior

Wills Factory Exterior

You can see more photographs of the Wills Factory, taken by Isabella Jedrzejczyk just before it closed in 1986. here.

Olga has a collection of Wills memorabilia which she hopes to bring to the Heaton History Group members’ night in November.

Many thanks to both Olga and Laura for giving up their time to be interviewed and for giving us permission to use extracts here and in any future publication and to deposit the full recording in a local museum. If you or anyone you know would be willing to talk to Heaton History group about your memories of Heaton including schooldays and play, work and leisure or living through World War 2, please get in touch with Chris Jackson – chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org. We’d love to collect more memories.

Heaton’s Lost Burn

The Ouseburn is a familiar and much loved feature of East Newcastle which, for much of its course, forms the boundary between Heaton / High Heaton and Sandyford / Jesmond. But how many of us knew that another burn once meandered through the township? Until recently, historic maps provided the only readily accessible documentary evidence of the stream. Recently, however, aerial photographs, which really bring the lost landscape to life, have come to light. They were taken in the 1920s before the building of the North Heaton bungalow estate and are reproduced here courtesy of English Heritage.

Wallsend Burn 1

View looking East towards Wallsend

This first picture clearly shows the tree-lined burn on the bottom right. You can estimate its position relative to today’s streets by reference to the railway line, the cemetery wall on the left and the original Coast Road running through the picture. There are few signs of any buildings but football goalposts can be seen just north of the stream. The furthest of the two treelined roads this side of the railway line is what is now Benfield Road.

Wallsend Burn 2

View from West of Chillingham Road

This photograph was taken on the same day, 20th October 1927. Older Victorian houses on Chillingham Road can be seen in the foreground. They still stand today, the block with Solomon’s Lounge Indian restaurant at one end and a dental practice at the other. Opposite this row is Norwood Avenue, again still standing. Music dealer J G Windows was living there when this photo was taken. The houses nearest the present Coast Road were demolished when the road was widened.

The walled Heaton and Byker Cemetery is clearly visible on the left and in front of it what look like allotments (but please get in touch if you know better) where Hilden Gardens is now. Not only were the bungalows south of the Coast Road not yet built – they followed in the 1930s – but neither were the post-war Wills factory or Crosslings (formerly Smiths Crisps). There is, however, a house and possibly some farm buildings in the middle distance on the right. Judging from where Benfield Road meets the railway line, they could be round about where Danby Gardens meets Redcar Road or Debdon Gardens?

We will feature more aerial photos of Heaton and High Heaton on this site over the coming months but in the meantime you can see some in the Old Heaton Group on the Britain From Above website. You can add comments and point out features of interest.

Historic boundary

Thee is plenty of evidence from estate plans that the burn once formed the northern boundary between Heaton and Benton.

Heaton Estate Plan showing the burn to the North East

Heaton Estate Plan showing the burn to the North East

Compare the shape of the burn as depicted in the plan with that of the photographs. The fields immediately to the south of the burn were at this time (1860s) called Benton Nook (the field furthest North East), Little East Close and Little West Close. Further back still, Little East and Little West Close were one big field, known as Well Close. You can access 18th and 19th century estate plans, which show the field names of old Heaton in both Newcastle City Libraries (Local Studies) and Northumberland Archives at Woodhorn (Ridley Collection). Some of the field names are particularly evocative: South Spanish Close, East Hunny Tacks, Horse Boggs, Bull Sides and, beloved of many Geordies, Great Night Close, to name but a few!

So which burn is it?

The stream is Wallsend Burn which, once it leaves Heaton, is unculverted most of the way from Wallsend Golf Course, across Richardson Dees Park to the Tyne at Willington Quay, just west of the pedestrian tunnel. It’s not a long watercourse – we aren’t sure but it seems to rise just north west of Heaton and Byker Cemetery – and neither was it wide but in times past our small river will have been an important resource for local people, it has played its part in the history of Heaton for thousands of years and presumably still flows beneath our feet. Please let us know though if you think differently or can provide more information about the burn or the history of this area. There’s definitely more research to be done!