Workers' memories of Newman Industries

March 02 2020
Workers' memories of Newman Industries

Yate & District Heritage Centre: As the exhibition on Newman Industries continues, David Hardill highlights some of the memories of workers which have been recorded as part of the centre’s oral history collection.

AS I listen to the Newman Industries-inspired oral history in the galleries as part of our current exhibition, I am reminded how much rich material there is in these interviews and indeed, how much more there is still to collect in this respect.

Oral history has a significant role in local history and to do justice to the richness of our collections, I can only recommend people to come and listen to them at Yate Heritage Centre.

There are wonderful descriptions of parts of the factory, but it is often the descriptions of workers and management which prove to be most memorable and quotable.

Newman’s was a family firm and many workers felt great affection towards it, but there were strict divides between the shop floor and the office.

Here are a some examples from our collection:

It was terrible when you think about it; anyone above charge hand was addressed as “Mister”. When we had a firm’s annual dance, the firm’s directors they had their own bar and the riff raff had their own bar.”

Roger Withers, Toolroom, 1960s.

You had to be careful, these days you can sit with your boss, but not then, there was a definite divide. We wouldn’t have approached him, if we had anything to say to him, it went via the typing supervisor and she would decide whether to bring it up.”

Pam Withers, Offices 1968-71.

A traditional divide operated between the white collar offices and the blue collar shop floor:

I have to say there was a kind of a distinction between the factory workers and the office workers. It sounds awful when you say that, because my husband was a factory worker as well, but there was a kind of a division and he’d didn’t really have much to do with them – the guys in the office, office parties and things - but you spoke when you were spoken to. You didn’t really go in there, in the factory, in the individual shops, unless you had to.”

Pam Withers.

The idea of a family firm stemmed from AJ and Hedley Newman. They both lived locally for many years, with AJ at Lawns House and Hedley at the former rectory site off Church Road. Between the 1930s and 1960s, both men paid regular visits around the factory.

As a local teenager, Ralph Conibere recalled the Newman family in the 1940s:

If you seen Hedley or AJ about, you know, when I was a kid, you used to jump. They never used to say anything, they used to look at you: they were top, you knew your place, right down the bottom when these people were about.”

Older workers at the foundry were equally cowed by AJ:

AJ Newman would strike terror into you, beetled brows, if he leered at you, you turned to stone.” Don Jardine, Iron Foundry 1950s/60s.

AJ Newman (pictured below with wife Frances on the liner Queen Elizabeth in 1956) was respected and feared in equal measure. It was not unknown for him to sack contractors on site who didn’t even work for Newman’s.

AJ and Frances Newman

Picture: J Penny.


March events


Until March 24: A Celebration of Newman Industries – history of the electric motor firm of Yate, which dominated much of the area’s social and economic life through much of the 20th century. The display will feature much of our collection of artefacts, images and documents from the company’s heyday. Funded by Richard Newman. 

March 18, 7.30pm: Yate Archaeology Group. Prehistoric Sites around Bath, with Luke Scoging. £3 admission or free for members of Yate Archaeological Group.

March 21, 10.30am-2pm: Archaeology Finds Day. Bring along your archaeological or historic artefacts to be identified. The Portable Antiquities Scheme will be on hand to answer your queries.

March 24, 7.30pm: Yate Lecture Series – The Berkeley plantations in America, 1619-1622, with Philip Ashford. £2 admission or free for Friends of YHC. Funded by the Friends of YHC.

Main picture: Hedley Newman (centre), Harold Cheeseman (front, right) and Poole Court office staff.