The Rag Trade

My mum has always been good with a needle and thread and when she left school, her first jobs were in the textile industries.

Mum first worked for a company called Kayser Bonder in Biggleswade.  The underwear made by the company, was known throughout the world during the 1950’s and 1960’s and Biggleswade was home to one of its factories for 53 years. The letter shown below was sent to my mum prior to her starting work at Kayser Bondor. She was fifteen years old at the time.

Mum also worked as a sewing machinist for Skirtex undertaking piece work (a type of work which pays a fixed rate for each unit produced or action performed regardless of time) and at Electrolux as an armature winder, both in Luton.

The photo below was taken at Skirtex. Mum is stood directly behind Father Christmas, to the right of a woman wearing glasses, who I know was called Connie, because I met her once.  Mum tells me the women had a radio and would sing while they worked and I can imagine them singing along loudly and giving hell to any man who walked across their factory floor.


Later, mum made clothes for my sister and I and also for my dolls – I still have a bag full of them, seemingly unable to throw them away, even though I am now much too old for such things.

Then, almost forty years after mum began work with Kayser Bondor, she took early retirement and began making quilts. Turns out she is pretty amazing at it too and has won awards for her work. Mum’s quilts are displayed on her website below.


Mum and dad

My mum and was born in Biggleswade (sometimes referred to as Giggleswade in our family) in 1948.  Biggleswade is the home of Jordans cereals and at one time it was recorded that it had 52 pubs. (Mum has told me on several occasions that her Uncle Arthur once saw a ghost skating on Biggleswade pond … there may be a connection between the ghost and the number of pubs).

Mums parents were Ellen Brooker and Frederick Charles William Payne. Mum had two sisters who were twins – Pamela Ann and Freda, seven years older than herself but Freda died when she was only three days.

Mum spells her name Diane but on her birth and baptism certificates, her name is spelt Dianne.  The house she grew up in was known as a pre-fab and was one of more than 150,000 prefabricated buildings built all over the UK between 1946 and 1948 to rehouse ex-servicemen and their families or bombed-out people.  They were only supposed to last 10 to 15 years but many are still standing.

Mums first job was working for a company called Kayser Bonder in Biggleswade as a sewing machinist, she also worked for Skirtex as a sewing machinist and Electrolux as an amateur winder, both in Luton. As a sewing machinist she did piece work, a type of work which pays a fixed rate for each unit produced or action performed regardless of time. After having my sister and me, she worked as a childminder and later worked for Tesco and Mothercare. On retiring, she took up quilt making, something she had always wanted to do and it turns out she is amazing at it.

Dad was born in August 1944, the only child of my grandparents Louis Bowers Abram and Delia Eileen Clarke. When he was young dad spent a lot of time at airfields watching aircraft and was a member of The London Gliding Club in Dunstable. In his late teens he became an airport fire security officer, which was the starting point for 35 years as a fire/security officer protecting people, fine arts (including works by Leonardo da Vinci), power stations and research facilities. The roles were very active and often involved climbing vertical ladders of 90 – 100 feet.

Dad told me his earliest memory is aged three – four years old sitting on the tailboard of a removal lorry with a wire haired fox terrier, moving from a city side street house in Northampton to a bungalow in the Northamptonshire countryside, two miles from the nearest small town with open country side front and back. When he was younger he also enjoyed CB radio and later progressed to ham radio, studying with City and Guilds to obtain the required licence and becoming involved with local scout group who had a radio jamboree once a year.

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