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We are very grateful to the following people (June Allen, Colin Grant, Joyce and Terry Noon, Aileen Wiltshire, George Wootton) who lent us these photographs which were used in an exhibition in July 2009. We would be very pleased to hear from anyone who can tell us more about the photographs or about the factory.
Originally Black and Drivers, this hosiery factory was founded by Herbert Driver who originated in Warwickshire and Henry Black who was a builder from Barrow. It is not certain why and when Herbert Driver moved to Leicester but the general consensus is that the Leicester factory came first, then the Barrow factory in the mid 1880s after which the Sileby factory came into being. Henry Black seems to have involved himself with the social life of the village in particular he played cricket for Barrow and his wife was involved in charitable work in the area collecting for the Whitwick mining disaster fund.
MEMORIES OF LILY HOLMES, LOUIS SHARPE & MAY JAMES
In an interview for the Leicester Oral History Archive, Louie Sharpe and Lily Holmes recall working at Barrow Drivers in the early part of the 20th century from the age of 13 firstly as checkers then running 7 machines in the Imperial Room. At that time it seemed very primitive. Working hours were 6am - 6pm usually with a break at 4 pm for a tea. They worked 2 hours on Saturday mornings during which time they would have to clean their machines with the steam hose. At the end of their working career they were running 8 machines for £3 per week which, they considered, was quite good for that time. Veronica Brown remembers her Mother, May James telling her that she was also 13 years when she joined Drivers. As soon as she finished school she took herself down to see Charlie Holmes at the factory who gave her the job of runner-on and afterwards as a linker. Every morning the foreman was posted at the gate clock watching and the gate was closed dead on 6am so woe betide anyone who turned up after that time. She remembered her sister climbing over the gate on a few occasions after getting up late but she never attempted the manoeuvre herself. A lunchtime break of just over half an hour was allowed and she ran all the way home and back. She never liked cleaning the machines and tried to get out of the job one weekend by waiting in the storeroom until she thought that everyone had left. No chance when she emerged Mr Holmes was waiting to remind her that she had not completed the irksome task. Needless to say she did not try that on again. However she carried on working at Drivers until Veronica's sister Elizabeth was born in 1936.
MEMORIES OF COLIN GRANT
For many years Frank Darby was manager at Barrow Drivers with his brother Cyril running the Sileby factory. Colin remembers starting in 1950 at the age of 15 years in the Packaging Dept with Charlie Holmes in charge. He recalls the pigeonholes where the stockings were placed being covered with brown paper to protect them from snags. He carried out his National Service in the Air Force and returned to Drivers working in the Silk room in charge of the shifts for full-fashioned and fine gauge hose. The office was based in the South End section of the factory. Edgar Collyer was manager over this section. The machines were Hilcher with 32 heads and Mellor Bromley with 4 heads in sets of 6 various gauge. When silk was used in the production a constant temperature of humidity had to be maintained so that the machines operated properly. How did people work in those conditions? The trade name of the stockings was Fortifax and Grenstock and a famous customer was the late Queen Mother. The Air Force also purchased their stockings from Drivers. Another unusual feature of the factory was the two houses in the yard: the Collyers living in one and Ted Clarke of the village living in the second. Colin also worked in the Finishing Room under Richard Bennett. Eventually the machines became fully automated. They were Kalio set up by an American Machine Erecter and the use of nylon came in during the 1950's. Socks were produced at the Sileby factory and then sent back to Barrow for the tops to be knitted. Joyce Noon also remembers George Watts delivering outworkers socks for separating and collecting the next day. This was in the early 1970s. George lived in Melton Road and although his daughter Rosemary has sadly passed away his son-in-law Trevor Allen and son Robin still live in the village.
THE CLOSURE OF DRIVERS FACTORY
People in the village are not too sure as to when Drivers actually ceased production as the building was broken up into units with Coates Viyella taking over and sock production moving to Byfords in Leicester. A suggested date was late 1970s or early 1980s. Elsie Pagett recalls a few of the workers travelling to Byfords to work but they never really felt at home and pressure of family life, particularly when it came to collecting the children from school, forced them to return to Barrow. It is believed that Coates Viyella finished operating in Barrow during the 1980s. Villagers were delighted when it was announced that the frontage of the factory would not be demolished but would retain its historical facade. Part of the units is now used as a base for the District Nurses.
ELSIE PAGET’S MEMORIES OF DRIVERS
As a small girl in the village I was aware that the large stone building in Sileby Road was ‘the factory’. It never seemed to be referred to as Drivers. People who worked there worked ‘down the factory’. By then I am fairly sure it was H L Driver. Later on if you were lucky enough to know someone who worked there you could get nylons cheaper. I did have one pair-my Sunday School teacher got them for me.
Working for Drivers came much later, after I was married and had four small children. They had started making what I think were called ‘slipperettes’; they had a crocheted edging round the top and a button on the front and, I think, this was mostly done outdoor. I enquired about doing this and was given a few dozen to do but told at the same time this was coming to an end. What I didn’t realise was that a dozen was actually twenty four. Crocheting round the top was not so bad but after sewing on all those buttons I was glad that she said there were no more.
Later on I took a temporary job in the Sales Office which lasted from September to Christmas, then I was able to do outdoor work again. It was a regular sight to see the lorry going round the village dropping off the bags of work and picking up those that had been done. Some ladies who had previously worked indoor had linking machines at home, but I think it was mainly cutting and turning. It was a handy way to supplement the family income both for young mothers, who could be there for the children, and older ladies who could do it to suit themselves and not be tied to a set time.
I was then asked if I would like to do school hours back in the Sales Office which was all right except when the children were ill-so I applied to go in the factory where if you had to have time off the work was just spread out among the others. I found I quite enjoyed it and was sorry when the word went round that the hosiery side of the business was to be transferred to Byfords at Leicester. There were to be no redundancies as everyone would be able to go by special bus to Leicester. Several, like myself, decided not to go because of the problems it would cause if needed at home. Of those that did go I think several soon looked for work nearer home.
At that time I think the knitwear side spread out but it did not seem long before that had also closed down and the new building has of course been demolished, but it is good to see the original building serving a useful purpose.
What I have forgotten to mention was that I am pretty sure that when the new art was built it left two houses within the factory premises. I can’t really remember what happened to these or whether they were still lived in with the factory around them.
One incident I recall from my time at Drivers was when the children were at home because there was no heating. The school knowing the fuel was running out had got some homework ready. Part of this was general knowledge questions. These were not too difficult for them to find the answers, but one had us all stumped. It was ‘What are Mother Carey’s chickens?’So I asked a friend in the office at Drivers if she knew; no idea, nor did any of the others know, but later on came back the answer: ‘The young of the albatross’. It came from a man who worked at the far end of the warehouse, it seems that the question had been passed round.