Working at Nicholsons

Ann McBride


Fleetville Memories from Ann McBride (nee Constable) over 60’s!

First associations with Fleetville would come from my family living in Camp Road from the 1840s. They were labourers and farmers who worked at Beaumont and Beastneys Farms, the latter being on the land where Hill End Hospital was built, now pulled down of course.  They lived in small cottages where a lot of the women would be straw plaiters which was a great boost to their income as most were bringing up large families. Again, these cottages, known as the dolls houses because of their size, are gone.

Their son Jonah my great grandfather married Ellen Eastall in 1865 and moved away, as did most of the family, to Lattimore Road, where, my granddad George was born and lived most of his life. One of Jonahs brothers, William, was for a short time landlord of the Crooked Billet in Colney Heath.  The family are mentioned in a booklet about the streets of St.Albans by Tony Billings and in another about agricultural workers by J. Hulks.

From there we jump a few years to around 1948 when my father, also Jonah, (sometimes known as John or Jack) worked at Peaks Coats as van driver/chauffeur. His other duties were looking after the Peaks sports ground in London Road.  He moved then to the Sphere Works to join my Uncle Jim who also worked there.  It was a place, I remember, that smelled of machine oil and metal. They held good Christmas parties for the children and we would go home with an orange, some chocolates and a gift from Santa.  My dad had to collect mine as I am sorry to say Santa always made me very nervous!  Opposite the Sphere works was Campfield Press and The Salvation Army Musical Instrument makers.

I attended (Beaumont) Sandfield School for girls in Hatfield Road, cycling from where I lived in Marshalswick. We spent our pocket money at the sweet shop opposite where most of the shops along the road were family businesses apart from the Coop.  I went to ballet classes in the hall of St.Paul’s church further along Hatfield Road.

Clarence Park was the place for walks, for school sports days, to play on the witches hat and rocking horse, and as we got older, to play  tennis and to watch  the Showbiz 11  football match against St.Albans; the team my family always supported.

I left school at 15 in 1961 and went to work at Nicholson Coat Specialist in Sutton Road for just under a year. I was employed as a junior clerk in the order/stock office. The wage, I think,  was £2.10s paid weekly when I started there, when I left I was earning £3.

We signed in on a work sheet in the wages office; the hours were 9 – 1 and 2 – 5. Our offices faced onto Sutton Road at the front of the building.  Behind us was the main workroom where the garments were made. At the right of the factory was the despatch department and upstairs the cutting room and canteen. There was not much noise, just the hum of the sewing machines and general chat of the workers.

Obviously it was an old building and by today’s standards, very old fashioned, with each office having its own room; not open plan then. There was heavy furniture; the walls etc. were painted green and cream, there were wooden floorboards and narrow stairs. There were four in my office where my boss and his colleague had a desk. I sat at a sort of bench facing the window.  My duties were to record all the orders that came in for coats into ledgers; all by hand then of course.  After that I made out work cards for them. Each garment, whether it was a normal or special order, had its own card and number so it could be traced anywhere in the factory.  Nicholson had a small admin work force of about 16.

We had a canteen for coffee and tea breaks but although there was a kitchen, lunches were sent from the canteen at Marconi.   We had a Tuesday evening social club, and annual dances, I think, were mainly held at Watford.  My time there was happy and I have good memories of it.  I don’t remember feeling like a schoolgirl; I started there three weeks after leaving school but felt part of the team.  My own boss was a very kind man and we missed him when he became quite ill.

After Nicholson I went to Marconi Instruments Ltd. in Longacres where my father also worked having gone there from the Sphere Works at the Camp, this was in 1962 and I stayed there until my marriage in 1968.

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