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Marlene HeapBorn 19th August 1954


Marlene was the third generation of the Achaski family to work at Stanhill Ring Mill in Oswaldtwistle.

Her parents, her four siblings and her grandparents all worked at the mill at one time. She worked in the card room on the slubbing machines and remembers a few near misses. Like lots of workers, she carried a knife ready to cut herself or someone else free if they got caught in the machinery.

When her children came along, Marlene’s parents and sister helped to look after them so she could continue working. Without them she couldn’t have managed. Life was hard, and family was important. Later Marlene worked in sewing rooms in different mills and in hospitality, at the Senators club, but sewing was and is her first love. If she had her career again, she’d stay with the textile industry, but this time as a fashion designer.


This transcript has been edited for ease of reading.

Click on the audio player to listen to the whole interview, which was recorded over the phone due to Covid restrictions.


My dad, he worked at Rothwells, he were welder at Church, me mum, she worked in the factory next door, weaving. My dad carried on as a welder more or less throughout his life, and my mum bought a shop, and it was a typical old- fashioned grocers’ shop. We sold everything and we had a wonderful childhood.

I had a fabulous childhood, right lovely and free, nice and safe. We hadn’t a lot of money, but both my mum and dad worked so we always had lovely food on t’table and I thought we were a bit posh and all. We were the first ones to get a television in our street, so all the neighbours used to come round and sit around t’telly. And I can remember we were first as well to get a record player we thought we were very modern with that and just had a fabulous childhood. Never really went hungry.

No I did not like school. I realise now, after all these years, I have ADHD and that’s why I couldn’t concentrate at school. The only things that I liked at school was English, and in my secondary school, it was, I liked cookery and sewing, oh and I liked sports. My favourite was rounders, used to love rounders, but apart from that lack of concentration, daydreaming. My mum used to take me to school to see how I was doing, and my teachers used to say they’d get mad at me because they could see that I’m intelligent but the concentration is lacking. So I can know the symptoms now, because I have a son with ADHD, and when I look back all through my school, I had all the symptoms as well of ADHD, so that’s really why didn’t learn anything.


(Career options were) the factory, shop or in an office and that was it. I left at 15 on the Friday, and I started at I think it was called Elgins underwear sewing factory in Oswaldtwistle, and I was sewing underwear, making knickers. I only lasted a week because it was horrible, oh I didn’t like it. I don’t like -we’d to sit at a machine all day -and that’s one thing I don’t like is that, to be stuck sat down in the same place all day. so I left after a week.

I got pulled into office because I got bored and I used to sew about 4 pairs with no crotches in, so I got pulled up for that, me and my friend, and we just used to make all different shapes out of knickers. And I think they made bras as well and we just used to use them as slingshots so they got me in the office, and this was only the first week and they said you can’t behave like that! and I said I’m sorry I said, but I don’t like it here anyway so I’m leaving. And with that I left!


She(mum) used to go every Saturday night to Queen’s Bingo at Church and me and my sister, we’d just come home from a night out, we’d been down t’Blackburn, been to t’Mecca for a night out and we just got off t’last bus and just walking home and we went “Hang on is that me mum outside?” and it’s gone midnight, and she were playing The Beatles! Hard Day’s Night album and we went “Mother, what you doing?” and she says, oh she says “I was waiting for you to come home. I’ve won jackpot at bingo!” “Oh we said, great how much?” and she said “£400!” and I think it were £80 for house as well which was a lot of money in them days.

So, with the money that she got, (she bought) next door greengrocers selling everything. You could get a bag of spuds down to a pair of plastic baby knickers they sold everything. So she bought it! So she said do you want to come and work in the shop with me, and I said yeah, so that’s where I worked with my mum.

Had a smashing time and it was doing well, was the business, so we went to Church Council Offices because next door’s house came empty and my mum said, I think we’re going to turn it into an off-licence as well, expanding. So we went to the council offices to ask about it, and that’s when they dropped the bombshell that all of Church was coming down, all of the shops in Henry Street, Church, all the lot of them were coming down, and also besides that, I’m not sure whether it was Tesco’s or ASDA, opened for the first time on Blackburn Road.

So it was a double barrelled you know. Lots of customer started going to the supermarket, other people started moving up and away, because they knew that all the houses were coming down, so if eventually we had hardly any customers left, so that’s when I left.


My sister had just started at Mullards (TV assembly plant in Blackburn) and she showed me her first week’s wage packet and I went wow!! because I was only on £5 a week at the shop for spending money and what have you and my sister were on a lot of money. So with that, I went straight to Mullards then.

Big place it was, in our department, we made all the insides for televisions and radios, very intricate work that had to be done, so we were sat working through binoculars, looking down into binoculars. Because it were very intricate work. And in Mullards, it were called an “M” hour and it was, the minimum that you could do, it were like a form of piece work, you could stop at 74 “M” hour or you could go up to 80 and then 80 an hour, you would be speeded up and you got paid good money for that and then you could go another “M” up to 85, which you had to really be fast and 90 was your top one. And every time that you went up, you got more money. So it was like piecework and it were great. And you had a doctors, nurse, we used to have a fantastic canteen, all freshly made food every day. They used to put fashion shows on there in the canteen for us, discos, days out from, with, the club, they used to just go everywhere with it, it were a fabulous place to work were Mullards.


And all the buses that come, they came from Bolton, all over, to work at Mullards, ‘cos it were a big place. And it were just fabulous but the downside were the dirty foremen that worked there on our department. You looked through binoculars sat on a chair, so 40 of us were in this machine doing this intricate work and the foreman used to come right up the back of you and start rubbing himself against you and we just felt so, so uncomfortable about it. We always used to get up and make an excuse, going to the toilet, when they started doing that. Tried to complain about it, was told that they’re only having a bit of fun.

And it was on another department, I think he (male colleague) has gone into the snack bar and one of the girls were at the snack machine and he wrapped himself around her and touched her boobs and everything. I think this was about 3 times and he’s been warned, and I can remember that the Union did get involved and he got t’sack.


Yeah, I worked at Fenegar (slipper factory) in Blackburn and anyway every break, every morning the toast lady would come round with a trolley, put the kettle on, put the brews on, you know underneath she’d have massive piles of toast and by the time it come it were always cold, so we told the union girl, Barbara, and she warned them twice. She said “Look you’re doing the toast too early and it’s coming round and it’s all cold and soggy. Will you make it so that you don’t make it as early?”

So they didn’t do owt about it so she told them again. Nothing happened again. So all 30 complaining so she says “Right that’s it!” climbs on the desk, that’s what they used to do, the union back then, climb on top of the desk so everybody could see them and hear. “Right, sisters, brothers!” cos men worked there as labourers but it were all women that were mostly there. “Right sisters! brothers! I’ve repeatedly warned them about this cold soggy toast and we’re not putting up with it any more! so down your tools and sit down!”

So she went and told t’company and after that it’s lovely and warm! People power!


I worked at Ewbank. I didn’t work on the conveyor belt where they made Ewbanks, they called it, I was up in the new department, and what we did up there, we painted wall can openers. They were then the newest thing that came out, the wall mounted can openers. So what we used to do, we used to put them through a big paint machine, and it sprayed them white and then they came out at the other end and then we used to take them off and then they’d go through to inspection to make sure that all the paint was on correctly and there were nothing wrong there.

Oh God it were hot in summer! Cos they were big ovens that were drying the paint and it was so easy to jam it, so in the really really hot days it was a right temperamental machine and we just use to get a piece of summer and jam it and it would just go erk-erk-erk! And it would screech and all and we used to say to foreman ” Michael it’s having a funny turn!” “Oh alright, go and get a brew,” so the canteen, it were just across the road from our building so we’d just go and get a brew and sit outside and have a cigarette and a brew. And of course ‘cos we’d done it! (caused the machines to jam)

My 21st was while I was at Ewbank and at dinner time, there was a little pub, and I can’t remember the name of it, right across the road, everybody used to go. Friday, when they got paid. We used to go there and have a drink and a pie, anyway it were my 21st so I got dragged up to the pub at dinner whether I wanted to go or not. And it were very popular back in them days, we didn’t have cocktails nothing like that, so what we used to say, was “Right give me one of everything off the top shelf and just mix it all in a glass” and you were forced to drink it. So after that I was absolutely drunk, I was very very drunk after all that lot. So they helped me back into work, and I was sat down on this chair, one of the women says “Come and sit here with me Eileen” she says ” and pretend to do some work with me.” Well, I was just falling all over and then next thing, to labourers got a hold of me and put me on this forklift truck -tied me to it and set it off so it went up to t’ceiling! And I was just hanging up at the ceiling! Hanging off this forklift truck and they’re all singing happy 21 today to me! one of the bosses come round and says get her down off there NOW! And they just got me down and he just says to me “Go and get some coffee down you!” and I just went to the canteen and were just drinking coffee and I didn’t do no work at all because I were in no fit state. But I weren’t pulled up for it or nothing like that.

Fairly repetitive was the work which women did back then. we were served with all the repetitive work but that’s (pranks) how we got through it.

This was in the next department down and it was called the belt-it was a long conveyor belt where they assembled the Ewbanks and then there was a labourer at the bottom called Johnny 7. He was always on about the size of his manhood and oh, he’s been with a different woman every night sometimes two, and we just got a bit fed up of it. So one day they just put him in it’s like a wheelie bin thing that they use to put old stock in with wheels on it, and they undressed him so he was stark bollock naked and they took him into the spray painting part where it sprayed the Ewbanks different colours. So the paint that was on, it was bright blue and they hooked him onto one of the hooks that the Ewbanks went round on and painted him blue. And he came off and I daren’t have a look because everybody were laughing. It was hilarious! he came off and they just put him in a trolley and they just run him around the factory. But they weren’t brung up for it, no because, as long as the work got done, that’s all about. As long as that work got done, then you could have a laugh and everything. Because the work got done.


Yeah yeah yeah I left there at 10 o’clock, Giron Freres, walked it up from factory bottoms up there to Rists Wires and yeah, started at dinner. They had an overall ready for me. They were just desperate! desperate for women you know! Can you start now, can you start now?! Yeah yeah right and while they were there ready with overalls! and we just took it all for granted you know.

Yeah yeah yeah I left there at 10 o’clock, Giron Freres, walked it up from factory bottoms up there to Rists Wires and yeah, started at dinner. They had an overall ready for me. They were just desperate! desperate for women you know! Can you start now, can you start now?! Yeah yeah right and while they were there ready with overalls! and we just took it all for granted you know.


They were advertising for workers at GEC in Clayton…so I went for the interview and I just went into this office, and this foreman started talking to me what experience have you had? blah blah blah. So I said I worked at Mullards and what have you, and oh, he says that’s great, because I think it were a bit similar to Mullards were GEC, and he said just one thing before you start, he says, just go in that room and wee in that bucket. So I said alright, never thinking, never give it a second thought, just thought oh, this is a bit odd but anyway, I went into this room and it weren’t even a bucket it was just an old battered aluminium tin! It looked like a, I don’t know, it looked like lads had been having a game of football wi’ it, it were all battered. So that were it, I just weed in it and took it into t’office and he took it off me, and he just said can you just wait there. So I just sat down and waited, and he came out and he said yeah he said you’re not pregnant. You can start. So that were it!

No it weren’t normal but it was, I don’t know, I just thought this is a bit weird and I think I asked him oh, what do I have to do that for? and he said see if you’re pregnant, and I says oh, all alright. So with that, I just went and did it. And he went in and did this test and said no you’re not pregnant so you can start right away.


It were just the old-fashioned way of working, just women and men, always in charge, the men were always in charge. I think the only woman that I remember that was a supervisor a lady at Rists Wires and Cables but apart from that, all supervisors and everything they were all more or less all men.

It was very slow. I think it started in the 70s, we started speaking up for ourselves more. We weren’t willing to put up with like dirty old men rubbing themselves up against us, which they used to, they used to touch your bum, all the old fellas did, touch your bum, pulled you against them and squashed your boobs into them, and we started saying “oh, do you mind?” and “get off me you bloody perv!” and that’s what we started saying “get off, don’t touch me you dirty perv” and they stopped doing it eventually.

Not all of them, the elderly men, they carried on but their hands- we just used to slap their hands and eventually it came in that they hadn’t to do it. I think it was when they went for an interview and they were told that you hadn’t to touch any of the female workers or else you’ll be in trouble. I can remember that. And very gradually, women started getting proper supervising jobs- coming up a little bit, not a lot, not a lot, but we started to have more of a voice and to start sticking up for ourselves more you see instead of just accepting. It were like, “I’m not prepared to do that anymore.”


worked at Rists Wires and Cables in 1976 which was the hottest summer on record and all the room was, it was a massive room, but all the room were full of glass, little glass windows everywhere and I’m not sure whether there was glass in the roof as well and it was hard work at Rists Wires. I were on, it were called boards, and I were putting all wires around the boards, we used to make the wiring for Ferguson Massey machines for farmers and it were piecework and this day, it was just unbearable. It had got to 86 (degrees) and I think 90 was when you could down your tools, so it’d got to 86 and the supervisor, she was called Whippet because, I’m sure there were 3 of that woman, everywhere you looked she were there. She was just up and down like a whippet, even in that heat. You couldn’t get away with a thing. If you were walking away from your work, “Oi, where are you going?” “To the toilet”. “Yeah well don’t be long” and she just knew- everything, she had eyes all over, her! So she’d just been down where the big thermometer were. We had a massive thermometer on wall and we’re all shouting, “Go on what’s the heat now?” And they said, “Nearly 87” and we’re all like “Oh God, we can’t work in this!” and they brought round these big blowers, they just looked like bombs from World War II, just the same shape as a bomb, and put them at the top of the aisles where we were working to blow the cold heat down, but it was just useless. And then they came around with glasses of lemonade and lime, they said it will cool your blood down, but I reckon it’s not working.

So anyway we waited for Whippet to go past the thermometer and she went into her office and we were all “Right come on we’ll do it now!” so we just kept running over to the thermometer with our lighters, because everybody smoked then, and just lit the lighter under the thermometer and somebody else would run over and do it and then it hit 90, and so, I can’t think of the name of the union it were a man, so somebody shouted it were Harold or summat, “Harold! it’s 90!” “What?! I’m coming over!” so he come over and he said “Right!” on the desk, he climbs up on the desk, “Right! workers, brothers, sisters, you can’t work in this, it’s 90 degrees so we’re stopping working.” so we just all downed our tools and we knew we wouldn’t be making the money because it were piecework but it was just that hot that we weren’t bothered. So we just downed our tools, walked out and went into the working men’s club next door and just all sat outside with a pint of lager, so that was that and there was nothing they could do about it.

Ooh no, no maternity rights. When you left that was it. You didn’t get any, there were no maternity stopping off, there were nothing like that, once you were pregnant and you weren’t fit to work anymore then that were it really.

(I worked) until I was about 7 and 1/2 months pregnant. When you got pregnant-you were sewing slippers so my belly couldn’t touch the machine anymore, I was too big I couldn’t do it, I mean they always found you another job, so what I did, they just set me down on inspection and you just sat down all day checking that all the slippers were ready, that there were nothing wrong with them and they were ready to go out, you know, put them in boxes. They didn’t just throw you out or nothing when you were pregnant, they always found you a suitable job, you know, and I was about 7 and 1/2 months before I left yeah but there were no maternity leave or anything like that. Once you left, that were it, you’d gone.


I just worked across the road. Where I lived in Mill Hill Blackburn, there was a little job come up at Mill Hill Club , Working Men’s Club and I took my son to work with me in the working men’s club, he was in the pushchair and I just took him with me. There were three of us just working there, cleaning and it was just suitable. It was a bit of extra money and nobody said anything, I just asked the boss, I just said is it alright to bring Scott? because he lived next door to me, did my boss in the men’s club, “Is it alright to bring child with me?” and he said, “Of course it is yeah.” So I were able to take him with me to work. So I’d no childminding to pull out for anything and it was just smashing and it was suitable, you know.

He (my husband) says it (working) were entirely up to me. I didn’t need to, but if I wanted to it’s entirely up to me which I still wanted to do you see, I still didn’t want to be stuck at home all the time. So I just got that job and it was smashing, it just fell in with the kids at school and I had Scott with me and that were it you know.

GGod I’ve had some jobs… I’d had enough of working in factories so I started working in shops then which that would be about 1984, when I started working in shops, so things had changed then. I didn’t know of any other factory work because I never went back to factory work, I just went working in shops, catering, lots of cafe work which I enjoyed, so things had changed by then you know and it was a different environment working in a shop as well, than a factory.


They (women today) have got a voice today. There’s no way they’d put up with anything that we put up way back then would they. It was just, you just did what you were told and got on with it where nowadays there’s no way, with how things have changed- for the best I’m glad to say. Everything then, it was men, men, men, and women you do this, you do that, so do what you’re told, don’t answer back and just get on with it. Whereas nowadays, I mean there’s no way with what it’s like now, I mean a guy come round – if you were sat there doing your work and he started pressing himself against you -that would be it, it would be instant dismissal, whereas back then you just sat, it was just accepted, it was just, it was just the way of the world and we didn’t like it, but it was just like, like it were normal. It weren’t normal, it was horrible and it was cringing but we just like, we didn’t say anything and just got on with it.

Well, it’s a different world now isn’t it. Look at the opportunities they have now. I mean, back then if you didn’t pass the 11-plus at school well that were it. You just went to school, you weren’t really bothered with the teachers, if you wanted to work then you worked, if you didn’t want to work then… I were always getting the cane anyway, for not doing it, not behaving at school, but it’s such a different life now for women. It’s just fabulous what they can do, well the world’s their oyster nowadays isn’t it with women, it’s fabulous but it’s just a pity that what comes with that is the jobs. I mean the jobs that we had back then, it was just fabulous, it were Buy British!

Oh, that’s another thing, when I worked at Mullards, there were always gangs of Chinese men in white coats and all bosses around them. And they were always coming round and they were showing them what to do, what we did at Mullards, all these Chinese, and I told my mum, “Do you know Mum, I don’t know what they’re doing all these Chinese, but nearly every day” I says “there’s gangs of these Chinese men coming round and all the bosses just showing them what we do and how we make things.” and my mum said “That’s the worst thing they could do,” she said “they’ll take our technology and they’re showing them all our technology and they’re taking it back to China” and she said “it’s not good is that, they shouldn’t do it” and she were right, weren’t she and of course they took all that knowledge back to China with them didn’t they.


You see there’s no unions now and I watched a documentary the other week and I thought oh how awful, you see things, even though what you can do now is fabulous for women, they can do what they want now, but I watched a documentary a few week ago and somebody had gone, it were like a whistleblower, and of them had pretended to start work there at Amazon. And they had a camera on them, and they pretended to work there and how the workers are treated, was absolutely disgusting.

They had a timer on their wrist did the workers and they’d pick like an invoice up, and say it had like 4 pair of tights, 4 ornaments, 3 other things, all different things, and they’d a certain amount of time to put them into these boxes, for this order but if that item wasn’t there, they had to go to a massive warehouse and look for this order and all the time, as the order was supposed to have finished, they were looking for part of that order that wasn’t there, and all the time, this thing on this young lad’s wrist kept on going, it kept beeping beep beep! you are behind! you should have finished, you should have finished! and yeah he had this meter on and because he hasn’t done that order in the time, it should take 4 minutes to do that order, because the order wasn’t complete, he’d to go and look at this massive warehouse for the item that was missing, this meter was on at him all the time and it was telling him all the time “you are out of time! you are out of time! get that order done! get that order done!” and if you didn’t get the order done in a certain time you got pulled up in the office.

There were nothing like that when we were working. We wouldn’t have put up with that, there’s no way on this earth. Would we have put up with that? No! It was up to you. You weren’t forced, you were given like an amount, but of that amount if you wanted to work harder and work harder it was a reward, you know because if I do so many of these today day, I’m going to get so much and then all that you’d got, it also went on to your holiday pay. So your holiday pay went up as well which was great. The more that you did, the more holiday pay that you got so when we got our holiday pay in July, with our holiday pay from what we worked, it paid for a fabulous holiday!

There was the incentive there you see to do it. Whereas now I was absolutely gobsmacked at Amazon when the poor lad had a timer on his wrist and he was being beeped all the time. Imagine the stress!

There was the incentive there you see to do it. Whereas now I was absolutely gobsmacked at Amazon when the poor lad had a timer on his wrist and he was being beeped all the time. Imagine the stress! But you see, there’s no unions now. There’s nothing. If there was a strong union at Amazon that came in – there’s no way would he be allowed, would the company be allowed to get away with what that lad had to do. All these beeping alarms on their arms, telling them to go faster. Oh, I was shocked, I were and I thought why are they putting up with that? Why don’t they do something about it? It’s just a shame that somebody can’t get the unions going again. It only takes one to get one strong union going.

Can you imagine back in the 60s? We’re having a meeting. You’re all going to start on these zero contract hours. There’d have been ructions in the streets! Fabulous that it’s gone forwards, that there are the opportunities for women but it’s non-existent for your rights and everything nowadays – men and women. There’s just nothing there for them is there?

It hasn’t changed for the better I’m afraid. No way. Take me back to the 60s when everything was fabulous!