Some memoirs of Mrs Jenny Atkins and Mrs Shirley Wallbank
These ladies were long-term employees of Gowllands Limited, who wrote these memoirs in January 2006.
Inspection Department staff in the 1970s - from left, Norma Bull, Shirley Wallbank, Richard Snashfold,
Doris Crouch, Jenny Atkins, unkown, David Reynolds, unknown and Janet Dekkers
Jenny Atkins writes:-
I went to work at Gowllands in the early 1960s on the recommendation of my sister-in-law, Doris Petch, who worked there [in the Packing and Despatch Department] for more than thirty years. I wasn't too keen after the first week, but ended up staying more than eighteen years, the latter twelve years with my good friend Shirley Wallbank [see below].
My first day my husband realised he'd left his front door key inside the house and needed to borrow mine. He telephoned me at work and arranged to come and collect my key. When he arrived, he was shown up to where I was working. "My goodness", he said later: "It's like something out of The Pickwick Papers!"
We worked in the Inspection Department where all the finished medical instruments, engineering sets, magnets, mirrors, dental probes, magnifiers etc were brought to us. We had to inspect and polish them, and, our main job, assemble the diagnostic sets with different instruments. My supervisor was Mr Arthur Diplock. [see illustration below].
Arthur Diplock with completed diagnostic sets ready for despatch
One of our many customers was UNICEF and we sent them many thousand of sets which went all over the world. My geography was greatly improved in having to look up on the map to find countries I never knew existed.
I had many happy hours there. My starting wage was was 2/6d [12.1/2 pence] per hour.
For very many years I rested my feet on a filthy old cardboard box. It happened that one year we were working on an order for Mexico which needed a lot of wooden tongue depressors, and there had been a mix-up in the previous year's stocktaking, and there weren't quite enough to complete the order [In those days, the sets cost five pounds or so, and the tongue blades less than a penny - and the order couldn't be sent off incomplete]. We searched high and low through the department looking for more but couldn't find any - until someone jokingly said "Look in your foot-rest box, Jenny" and, lo and behold, there were some more.
It seems strange to go past there now and see new houses where the factory used to be. But I am glad that Croydon Council called the new road "Gowlland Close".
Gowlland Close, Croydon, in May 2005
Shirley Wallbank writes:-
I started to work at Gowllands in 1970. My aunt Mrs Dorothy Potts had worked there since the War in the Machine Department, at the time when Egbert Gowlland was in charge.
I already had some experience of this type of work, as I had been employed for many years by the Ellis Optical Company Limited in Thornton Heath [see Nellie Smith's memoirs for the background to the formation of the Ellis Optical Company], and so I was placed in the Inspection Department with Jenny Atkins and Doris Crouch [also in the photo above]. We had to check the instruments, make sure that everything fitted together properly, that the lenses weren't scratched, that the chrome-plating was perfect, and so on. They had to be put in a case with a label inside, and the language of the label was determined by the country to which they were to be sent. We worked hard and did our best: I enjoyed it.
Whilst I was there we had a Three-Day Week [this was the confrontation between Edward Heath, the prime minister of the day, and the National Union of Mineworkers]. We had to work in the offices and other rooms, anywhere that could be heated using gas; and we worked hard to keep up the numbers of sets to be sent out - everyone did their best. [The staff worked extraordinarily conscientiously during this period, and production was very little affected].
I worked there for twelve years, and enjoyed it.
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