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I still have my 1938 dancing shoes I bought from Wolverhampton factory

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: March 25, 2014

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RE your articles on James Baker shoe factory, Wolverhampton in The Bugle (February 27 and March 13 editions).

I was employed there from the age of 14 until the outbreak of war which took me away. Although at my age of 94 I have strong memories of happenings during all my life and my lifetime at James Baker's, including the people I worked with.

The factory was actually operating on short time hours except on some occasions when extra productivity was required. But most of the grown-up operatives were on piece work, and the money that they earned was quite good. One of the employees was a man named Joe Leach who was the uncle of Cary Grant, the late film star.

He lived at Stafford and travelled to his employment at Baker's where I think his work was cutting out the shapes of leather for the uppers. He was allowed one day off a month to go to Bristol to collect the rents from property that the Leach family owned.

On the outbreak of World War Two most of the eligible people were called up to the army or to work in factories on war requirements. Two employees lost their lives, Ben Roden who was a Sergeant and Ronnie Smith who was a Corporal. The factory had about 36 retail shops throughout the country, two in Wolverhampton.

I started dancing in 1938 and I purchased a pair of patent shoes for dancing at Wolverhampton Civic Hall and St Paul's Church Hall in Wolverhampton from the shop, priced 9/11d in old money. Although more to the pity, I am now unable to use them but I still have them and they are in good condition.

Employees I remember: Herbert Haselock, Harry and Jimmy Griffin, Fred Bold, Harry and Albert Cowell, Bill Davies, Harry Tibbetts, Don Bentley, Norman Collins, Mr Howell & Son.

Fellow boy pals: Jack Teeft, Ernie Boucher.

Les Woodbridge (served in the Navy), Bill Ashley, Ken Adey, Jimmy Stanley, Fred Banks, Fred Arnold, Lenny and Wilf Richardson. Mr Lea was foreman of the main production department. Mr Allen was foreman of the finishing shop, of which an employee was Ike Emery and A. Pearce.

During a German bombing raid on the area, incendiary bombs landed on the factory and caused fires but employees who lived near came to help and all the fires were put out. In appreciation, Mr Douglas Baker, who was company chairman, rewarded them all with a sum of £25 which was about 7 weeks' wages.

There was a repair shop in which shoes collected from the shops throughout the country were repaired. There was a resident caretaker who lived on the premises in the house, which is still there. His name was Mr Garnett (not Alf).

Up till the late 1930s it was all male employees on the main production area on the ground floor, and female staff were employed on the upper floor. I do not remember much about the women employees but two that I recall were the Witherington sisters.

James Taylor,

50 Edge Hill Drive, Perton.

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