West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Memories and Recollections




Emily Money worked at Wilkinson’s from 1935-1939. Emily loved factory life and affectionately recalls the excitement of being sixteen.

You know what they say about factory girls having a hard life but I loved it. There were seven if us girls round a table and we did have some laughs, chattered all day. Somebody would hiss "Sshh!, Mr. Baxter’s coming!" and we’d all go right quiet then crack out giggling soon as he’d gone. Friday night when we got us wages, the whole gang of us would run up into Woolworth's for silk stockings, sixpence a leg. Man used to give me two shillings pocket money out of me wages, threepence went on spice, a shilling on stockings and ninepence for pictures. Saturday night we’d all go out with the lads to the Crescent or the Premier.

Alice, my big sister, worked at Wilkinson’s and we used to help her out while we were still at school, me and my twin, selling Pontefract Cakes in the Park, sixpence for one of them green tins.

When I left school I started work at Featherstone’s hat shop but that were only five shillings a week, not enough money for me. Our Alice said: "Come down to Wilkinson’s, they might set you on." I had to see Mr. Harrison, the manager. Soon as he laid eyes on me he said: "Are you one of the twins? Haven’t I seen you in the Park?" They started me straight away.

I was put on rolling and packing laces. There were tables all round the room, which left the middle to put all us boxes we’d packed in. The old lady who did the pipes sat at a table on her own. You’d a big pile of laces on table in front of you. If the strippers had got them off the board at the right time they were lovely to roll. If they were left too long they would stick.

You’d get two laces, fold them in half and in half again, then roll them and put a little label, a coloured band of paper, round the middle, just like real shoelaces. You’d pink coloured paper and blues and yellows. We’d pack three dozen in a box, put greaseproof on top and a little card. We packed juice sticks as well, that was Spanish with a bit flattened at the end and Wilko stamped on it. At Christmas we did novelty boxes with six each of different kinds of Spanish in. There was rolled braids, they were treadled on a machine, and pipes with red non pareil on the end, that’s little sweet balls, to make them look lit up.

When they were busy I’d be put on glazing. You’d get a handful of sticks, dip them in the warm liquid in a bowl in the middle of the table and then stand them in racks like wire netting, each stick ina separate hole. We got the glaze all over us, us hands were in a shocking state. You’d buy a lemon to whiten your hands when you were going out.

Spanish was liquorice mixed with treacle and molasses but Wilkinson’s kept the recipe secret. Wilkinson’s made soft Spanish, we always reckoned it were nicer than Dunhill’s. The most skilled women did the Pontefract cakes. You’d to know just how much to nip off, and they could stamp them like lighting. We had overalls and pinafores, brown with green collars and cuffs. You’d steep your smock overnight in cold water and it’d turn the water all brown. You couldn’t wash them in with other clothes as they’d leave a stain. WE’D white hats, you had to cover your hair up. We used to tuck and sew them at the back and add a bit of trimming to make ourselves look beautiful. Otherwise the hats stuck up all round and looked awful.

There were always laughs with new girls.

"Go down and see Joe in the boiler house, will you, and fetch us a bucket of steam."

"Don’t be so silly," I said. They didn’t catch me.

The most exciting time was the fancy dress competition. It was the annual Christmas dance and Mr. Baxter said there’d be fancy dress and he wanted volunteers to advertise liquorice. Our Alice was right full of ideas. She said to Mr. Baxter, "My sister’ll do it if you agree. I’ll get her up as a Hawaiian girl."

Mr. Baxter agreed so Alice got started. She made a hula hula skirt out of Spanish, all braids attached to a belt, sewed then on a sewing machine. "What about top?" We didn’t know what to do.

"I know, I’ll make it out of plug." That was glazed pieces of Spanish. "I’ll cut a butterfly shape out."

"I’m not wearing that next to my skin, Al, when I get warm it’ll all stick."

"All right then fusspot. Get a pair of old gym knickers, navy ones. I’ll cut a piece of them to same shape and you can put that underneath. It’ll give you a bit of padding anyway."

So the bodice was made of plug. It had Wilkinson’s Plug stamped on in medallions all over or! We made earrings out of plug too and fastened them with cotton hung over me ears. Then we used sherbert dabs for round me neck.

"I don’t want any round me ankles, Al"

"You do, you do. Get on. Leave it to me."

I wanted slippers or sandals on my feet but Alice wouldn’t have that. "You’ll take effect away altogether." I had to have me hair all fuzzy wuzzy. Alice did it with Mam’s old curling tongs. Then she stood back to look at me.

"There’s summat missing."

"I can’t see what," said Mam. "There’s no room to hang any more on her."

"I know what it is. Get cocoa tin out, Mam. She’s got to be a dusky maid."

The competition was held in Pontefract Town Hall. I were right nervous. Alice had me practising the walk.

"When you come on, get your hands on your hip and sway your hips like this. And smile, for heaven’s sake. Look like a winner, don’t look so glum." I were terrified, lips clenched.

We walked round the dance floor several times so everyone could get a view. I wouldn’t have liked to have all boxes on, that was what most of the other fancy dress girls had. Every time I walked past the balcony, a shout went up "Yes! Yes!" All me friend’s were yelling and clapping. Eventually the judge got up.

"We’ll have Miss Skidmore because she was the most original and the best dressed." We did laugh at that after, best dressed. Truth was I hadn’t much on!

The prize was a right big basket with Heinz 57 varieties in, one of each. Me Mam had that. And a green trinket set from Bagley’s – our Alice had that. It was all buzzing and chatting in the Hall because I’d won. All the young lads started grabbing the strands off me skirt and eating them. I’d only about five or six braids left on me as I came down Town Hall steps. Just as well I’d black knickers on! The boss was a bit put out with that and said I shouldn’t have let the lads do it. How could I have stopped them I’d like to know.

Three weeks later Mr. Baxter got me to put costume on again to go and have a photo taken at Maud’s. Alice had to get a whole lot more braid to replace the bits of skirt that’s got eaten!

Emily Money

'Liquorice' by Emily Money, is reproduced from 'All In A Days Work - Wait While I Tell You No.2', edited by Richard Van Riel and published by Yorkshire Arts Circus.  It is reproduced with the permission of Richard Van Riel.


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