Sandra, a rose among the stem shop thorns

In the days when manufacturers manufactured in Medway, there was work for many — and not just engineers and artisans.

Some of the more intricate work was judged as suitable for — gasp — women workers. It gave the young ladies something to do before they got married and the management didn’t have to pay them as much as the men. Their nimble fingers, well-practised in knitting, embroidery and other womanly skills, meant they were probably quite adept at wring. Or so the theory went. Sandra Church can disprove that theory.

Sandra had been a shopgirl at Matthews’ shop in Mount Road, Borstal (mentioned here).

She writes: “After my time spent working at Matthews’, I had the dubious pleasure of working at Thorn-AEI at Rochester Airport from 1969 to 1977. Thorn manufactured television sets. I began my factory career working in the stem shop, bending wires into different shapes to fit into glass valve casings that were installed into the backs of televisions to help produce the picture.

“I was 16 years old and sat next to a lady who was the fastest stem wire bender in the whole factory. I, on the other hand became an absolute disaster. I worked there for eight months. To earn any bonus you had to earn 85 per cent efficiency. I, in eight months earned only 68 per cent. My problem was that every time I had to use the tweezers to bend the wires I had to wait for five or more minutes for the goose pimples to calm down on my arms.

“One day my boss, Harold, said to me, ‘Do you know what time the next Cookham Wood bus leaves?’ “‘No,’ I replied. Harold said, ‘Well you’d better find out because you’re going to be on it.’

“My friend, the fastest hands in the stem shop, saw how upset I was and arranged with someone she knew who was the boss of another section to try to get me a job somewhere else.

“I was lucky he managed to get me a position in the payroll department. I started in the post room, which I loved. I was then taught how to use the switchboard which was brilliant and I would still love to do today. This was followed by a bonus clerk and a comptometer operator. How many of your readers would know what that was, eh?”

Well I do. I saw them when I worked in my school holidays at nearby Marconi’s, as it was then called. A comptometer was a huge mechanical calculator, made entirely superfluous by electronic calculators invented by Clive Sinclair. Sandra suffered the same fate. Her department was made redundant in 1977.

“It was so sad,” she writes. “One week we were saying goodbye to all the line managers and the factory workers and a few weeks later it was our turn. I have great memories of Thorns. I still have my mum’s black and white telly up my attic that has the stem valves and tube made at Thorns. I also have my small record player that I bought from the factory shop for £25. A small amount of my wages was deducted each week to pay for it.

“I wonder how many of your readers remember their time spent working at Thorns? Pete Hewson from the pop group Chicory Tip worked there for a while. Their hit was Son of My Father.”

I remember it well. And Chicory Tip are still, after a fashion, playing.

 

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