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Memories of Working Life in Wincanton

Thursday 16 July 2015, 12:07
By Janet Fray

Gill D'Arcy with the three speakers, Gerald Box, David Young and Olive Moldram

Memories of Working Life was the title of a rather different style evening held by the Wincanton Museum and History Society on Friday 19th June 2015. Around forty people came to our meeting at the Memorial Hall, Wincanton, to hear a talk by three long-term local residents and Cow and Gate employees – Olive Moldram, Dave Young, and Gerald Box. They all spoke about their working life in Wincanton and were introduced by Gill D’Arcy.

Olive MoldramFirst was Olive Moldram, resident now of Penselwood. When Olive left school she worked for seven years (during the war) in a rather grand private house who also employed a chauffeur, maid, help, cook etc., and she much enjoyed her “upstairs-downstairs” time there. However, the gentleman of the house died and with him the grand lifestyle - thus her employment there came to an end.

At that time six buses went around the area picking up staff for the Cow and Gate factory in Wincanton, and Olive found herself taking a job there. As she said, this came as a very great shock to the system; the machines, the radio, the number of people around, and the noise – for nine hours a day.

Wonderful photographs and videos of the time were shown throughout the talk. We saw the Packing Hall, where Olive and the girls worked, incentivised by a bonus scheme – along with other photos of the Cow and Gate Enterprise.

Eventually Olive was appointed Supervisor of approximately 60 girls, as they packed and labelled the dried milk powder. Olive had good and happy memories of that time, which came to an abrupt end at 5 o’clock one Friday evening. Without warning staff were told they were no longer needed - Olive being one of them. As Olive said, “This meant no reasons given, no wages, no income, and, in those days, no such things as benefits or union support.”

With the stamina of that age group, Olive took it in her stride and for some years thereafter looked after her mother, who was in failing health.

David YoungSecond to speak was Dave Young, who came to the area around 1972 as a driver for Cow and Gate, which, at that point, had two factories. Within a radius of 25 miles, there were 825 farms (11 in Penselwood alone).

The photos and videos now moved more to the lorries, which showed how many people were employed driving, and the long line of vehicles that left the Cow and Gate complex in the early mornings.

In 1976 it was the National Dried Milk Scheme, followed by the 5-pint dried milk, but when this ended and, in 1981, quotas were introduced, the factory and the area were doomed – to use Dave’s words.

Last, but not least, came Gerald Box, author of books on the transport side of Cow and Gate. In 1970 the Churn Collection was in full force. Milk, of course, fluctuated with the time of the year, but the Milk Marketing Board always came first. This would mean that production of cheese paused until September/October time when there was a surplus of milk. Then the cheese production started again.

Gerald BoxGerald estimated that around sixty vehicles left the factory between 7.30 and 8.00am every day, making on average three journeys each. At that point, there were 39 dairies in London; now there are three.

During the 1980s Wincanton Motors was the largest transport company in the country. Modernisation gradually changed working procedures and now the whole industry is much smaller is Wincanton.

It added up to a fascinating evening, reminding us again of how much the patterns of everyday working life have changed for the people of the town, even within a single life-time. Gill did an excellent job getting all our speakers going, words flowed and there were many questions asked . A great evening.


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