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Extract of an Interview with Mrs Lowe

Mrs Beryl Lowe was born in 1929 in Lower Shelton. From a family of 11 children, her father worked as brick worker. Her grandmother used to make lace. She made all the collars for Braggins ( now Beales department store Bedford). In order to feed the family during the war years her dad had two allotment where he grew all the vegetables for the family.

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“Did you like school?

No, too much like hard work. I lost out, like a lot of girls. We never, with the war coming, we never got to the Secondary Modern at Stewartby. We lost out on that. No petrol to run us around. Then we went to work at the brickworks… at 14! Wages was the highest at the brickworks. My mum needed money with a lot of family… so we was put there.

What was the alternative?

Well, Bedford. You had to ride on a bike to Bedford and money was poor in the shops (as sales assistants).

Did you have a bicycle?

Not for years. Then we had to buy our own. We used to get picked up by lorry, you see. London Brick Company, Stewartby.

In those days, there was a recession on. How did you get jobs?

We took the place of boys in the army. They needed bricks to build more houses for after the war…

How did you arrange to start work there?

We had an uncle in the office, who made appointments for us.

How many of you children went to work there, eventually?

Five of us girls. The brother was in the army. The other was too young. Two were older, then there was my twin and I, then Gwen.

What was it like working there aged 14?

Very hard. Very tiring. 7.30am to 5.30pm. Half an hour for lunch. We had to have a break every so often, being girls doing heavy work. Quarter of an hour breaks every 3 hours or 2 hours. We had a break at breakfast and an hour at dinnertime (mid day). Mum made us sandwiches – cheese, egg, tomatoes, cucumber, lettuces, Spam (tinned spiced ham).

We worked on the presses (taking un-fired bricks off the conveyor belt). The eldest one worked driving a lorry. She chose to do that. She was married when she went. Her husband was in the army and went abroad. My aunt brought up her son up… while she worked.

It was hard work and cold… We got all the wind coming through and of course the bricks were cold, being clay. We tried gloves but it didn’t work. They got sticky with the clay. We used to lift them out of the press – 2, sometimes 4 when we worked on a quad – then we used to have to load the trucks, called bogeys – 500 on a truck, both sides of the press. Then the tram used to come along and take them on the drum to the chambers (the kiln).

They’re very heavy, when they’re green, aren’t they?

Yes, 7 lbs each. 14 lbs when 2 bricks; 28 when we had 4 bricks

What about clothing. Were you given any?

No, we always wore trousers. Warm clothes in winter… woollies. We had coats on and head scarves to keep the clay out and also to keep the cold out… you stood on concrete and your feet as well as your hands were so cold… we used to go behind the presses and get warm when we could… we were too busy mostly.”

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