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Courtaulds' missing chimney and other rayon firm recollections

By Black Country Bugle User  |  Posted: January 31, 2008

Comments (6)

GEOFF Alford of Merry Hill in Wolverhampton has written us the following after seeing a recent series of items on a Wolverhampton firm which has had quite an impact on his life. Geoff writes:

"I am just writing to say how much I enjoyed your recent features on the Courtaulds factory in Wolverhampton. However, when I saw the headline 'Bringing down the three stacks at Courtaulds' in edition number 803 my first thought was - Wrong. Although still just on the right side of 60, was my memory on the way out? My immediate thought was that there were four stacks. I asked an old school friend who lived near the factory and he straight away said three, and referred to the name 'Three Sisters' as recalled by Malcolm Evans in the article.

"It occurred to me that I have a copy of a book called 'Whitmore Reans', compiled by Anthony Rose. There are several photographs of Courtaulds' Dunstall works in it, one of which is an aerial shot of the whole site and surrounding area. It clearly shows four stacks, although in fairness to Malcolm, I assume he was probably only involved in the demolition of the three as mentioned. These were grouped together, in the centre of the works, with the fourth, smaller stack being located in a more north-westerly position nearer to the canal and the boundary with Dunstall Racecourse.

"I was quite relieved to see my memory was still intact. I can only assume that the samller stack was maybe flattened at some time earlier, perhaps as a test before the big ones went. So Malcolm, we were both right.

"I would also like to take this opportunity to share my memeories of Courtaulds with you. My father, Gordon Alford, worked at the factory for 23 years, starting around 1950, and was there until its closure in 1973. He was a foreman in the spinning department, working a three shift system. The morning shift was from 6am to 2pm, the afternoon shift was 2 till 10pm, and the night shift from 10 to 6am. The factory never shut down and so the shifts included weekends and Bank Holidays. Dad being at home for Christmas dinner was a special occasion indeed.

"We lived in a terraced house in Craddock Street, and the back gardens backed onto the factory. The large stack was right in line with the garden and the others were all visible. I recall Dad telling me it was 365 feet tall, one for each day of the year. Almost all the houses on our side of the street belonged to Courtaulds and were rented out to their employees. Mom and Dad lived in Dudley when they were first married and he travelled to work on three buses each way. Around 1955 a house became available in Craddock Street and so we moved to Wolverhampton. I was about six at the time. Employees in the street consisted of office staff, managers, carpenters, painters etc. Some of the names I can remember were Jack Dalton who lived next door, Bill Davies, Geoff Page, Les Farnsworth and Mr Ford. Other people who Dad worked and was friends with included Jack Hyde from Sedgley, Bill Waddle, Rob Porter, Joe Ecclestone, who taught Dad to drive, and Bill Griffiths, who I still keep in contact with. Bill now lives in the Stafford area and I have saved all the Bugle articles on Courtaulds for him for when we next meet up. A present neighbour, Theresia Blest, worked in the Coning Department and recognised several people pictured in the earlier editions. He late husband Ken worked in the laboratories. Both worked for the company until its closure.

Classmates

"I attended St Andrews Junior School, which was adjacent to the works intrance in Gatis Street and Courtaulds Sports and Social Club. Many classmates were sons or daughters of Courtaulds employees. The school held their sports days on the playing field. When I was a child, my friends and I would spend hours playing football or cricket ont he wonderful sports ground, while waiting for Dad to finish when he was on the morning shift. It had a fine pavilion, tennis courts, bowling green, football and cricket pitch and cricket nets. As I grew older, I regularly played snooker on the tables inside the club. I think there were four or five.

"I then moved to Whitmore Secondary Modern which had an entrance in Hordern Road, which was almost opposite the factory main gates with three stacks clearly visible. I vividly remember the lush, green, well-mown lawn and the large chestnut tree. In the autumn Dad always used to bring pocketfuls of conkers home for me. I remember the gateman, Bill Bates, featured in the 8th November 2007 edition of the Bugle; I also remember him at the Molineux when I was a regular in the late 1950s and early '60s. What a team they had then. Bill Bates was always a very smart and upright man. Home matches for the school football and cricket teams and some games lessons and practises were always held on the racecourse, in the massive shadow of the factory.

"Incidentally, Mom and Dad lived at that house in Craddock Street until they both passed away in 2004 and 2006 respectively. After the closure of the factory, tenants were given the opportunity to buy their properties, which Mom and Dad did.

"Returning to the demolition of the stacks, I remember going to see them come down. I think it was on a Sunday morning. My wife Sylvia, Mom and Dad and grandad Ernest Guest stood by the Gatis Street entrance and there were crowds of people. I have probably got some photos somewhere. We fetched Grandad over from Dudley to see them fall. I recall Mom telling me that when Courtaulds was being built in the 1920s, her father came over on several occasions from Dudley. Whether this was on foot, by bike or what, I don't know. He was out of work at the time and came to see if there were any vacancies being advertised. So, dear old Ernie saw the stacks going up and then coming down.

"Courtaulds was a big part of my family's life for a long time. It was a hub of our community, living by it and going to school, church and youth club, all within a stone's throw of the works. All of the people I know who worked there all enjoyed their time there and made lasting friendships, something which is sadly missing from society today."

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6 comments

  • Lloyd1970  |  July 27 2014, 2:53PM
  • Lloyd1970  |  July 27 2014, 2:53PM

    Whilst i am not as old to share the story of courtaulds i can tell you that i lived on Farndale estate when it was first built in 1979. This estate replaced the building on the left of the pic on the link beneath. You can see the 4th building in the background which is near to my old secondry school "Valley park" that closed in 93 & is now a school for naughty children. I attended Farndale primary school that was formerly known as St Andrews on the left side of Courtaulds main entrance. Gatis st adventure playground still exists & back in the day we would hang around there & the derelict buildings of courtaulds including the gatehouse,factories & the air raid shelters. Sadly none of these exist now as another estate has taken over the land ... many fond memories tho (y)

  • Black Country Bugle User  |  November 10 2012, 10:46AM

    I too attended st Andrews school and Whitmore Modern most of my family worked for courtaulds we to lived in craddock street.I remember Mr &Mrs Crowe I also remember a lot of people living in Craddock St and Whitmore Reans. I married a boy from Whitmore Modern we moved to Australia in 1972. I saw courtaulds stacks demolished on the news here in Australia small world aye.

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  • Black Country Bugle User  |  July 25 2011, 4:19PM

    Jst remembering a few of the names mentioned. Billy Davies was the works carpenter of the old school. He actually retired while I was seving my apprenticeship so it would be around 1976-77. Les Farnsworth's wife also worked there if I remember correctly. I think she worked in the canteen.

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  • Black Country Bugle User  |  January 22 2011, 12:54AM

    Hello Geoff, Just found this story and found it fascinating - I was born in Gatis St number 57, Sept '53. My parents rented rooms there from a war widow, her name was Mrs Seagrave, her sister lived next door and she too was a war Widow - Mrs Powell, I spent so much time with her, I called her 'Mom Powell. Mrs Powell had two daughters, one suffered from polio and was married to an army sergeant. We later moved to 8 Walpole St Whitmore Reans circ 1954/5, about a 10 minute walk from Gatis St. I initially went to StJudes primary, which I hated, then onto St Peter & St Paul Catholic school in Wolverhampton. My family immigrated to Australia late '67 where I still live. I used to play with a lot of the kids around Gatis St as I used to go back there all the time to visit Mom Powell - has some great times - I do remember the football and cricket fields and manicured grounds, but not much else, you know its quite possible we may have played together as kids, how strange is that? I have fond memories of my life in Wolverhampton and have been searching for stories such as this, thanks for posting. Can I sugest you go to www.lostwolverhampton.co.uk and have a look around there, really interesting blog site from a guy called Billy who has such fantastic knowledge of old Wolverhampton. I've book marked this page and will visit again for sure. regards David Kiernan

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  • Black Country Bugle User  |  September 12 2010, 7:38PM

    Hello I was really interested to read your article. I went to school with Mr Farnsworth daughter Karon and played with #susan Paige. My nan and grandad lived at 48 Craddock St and grandad worked at courtlands until he had to leave due to ill health. He was the Clubs warden for a while and nan used to make the cricketers teas. Yheir names were Jack and Alice Crowe. I would be interested to find out if you knew of them I went to St Andrews as did my brothers Peter and Stephen Gilliver >

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