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Walsall memories of tea lady Miss Florence

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: August 26, 2014

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IN factory life in the 1960's, the 'tea break' was an important interval from the hard toil of the work in hand.

If one started at 8am the break did not come up until 10.30am. This was the only break of the morning. Of course, if you were thirsty you drank tap water.

At Jabez Cliff, Walsall, a leather factory where I worked in my early days, the tea was made and served by Miss Florence Newton, who was in her 80's.

She had originally worked as a hand stitcher, and as she got older, her fingers were not as nimble for her to continue her stitching work and so she made the tea.

However, she still dressed in a brightly coloured pinafore and a nylon head scarf which covered her beautiful silver hair.

Miss Newton called Sir Cliff, the owner of the factory "The Master," a reminder of the Victorian era in which she grew up. This subservient attitude was the norm in certain leather workshops in the 1960's.The tea was served from a giant brown teapot with steam gushing out from its long spout. The mugs of tea were brought around to all the workers who took tea at their work bench. With my steaming hot mug of tea I had marmalade sandwiches wrapped in the paper which the bread came in. The sandwiches were kept fresh without any plastic containers creating additional cost.

We had only one mug of tea each, the washing up was done for us by the tea lady. Looking back if you were on piecework you did not have any time to waste as "time was money."

There was also a tea break in the afternoon at 3.30pm or so, but this was not as important as the morning one. One reason for this was the fact that the rate of productivity was highest between 3.30pm and 4.30pm.

This was due to the body being warmed up and output was higher than in the morning.

The tea break was a service paid for and run by workers costing a few pence per week and developed into a traditional English custom.

Michael Doyle,

26 Bernard Street,


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