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Silk mill a model for treatment of its working force

PUBLISHED: 12:30 09 February 2018 | UPDATED: 12:30 09 February 2018

The badly-damaged Great Yarmouth silk mill of Grout & Co after a German air-raid in 1941. Picture: OFFICIAL RECORD

The badly-damaged Great Yarmouth silk mill of Grout & Co after a German air-raid in 1941. Picture: OFFICIAL RECORD

Official Record

Attendance at a wide variety of events is routine for provincial journalists but throughout my decades in the profession, I never went to a soirée! Evening gatherings a-plenty, yes, but none had that French word on the invitation.

Firemen tackling the 1941 blaze at Grout's. Picture: OFFICIAL RECORD Firemen tackling the 1941 blaze at Grout's. Picture: OFFICIAL RECORD

I have before me an invitation given a century ago to Miss Violet Burgell, an employee of silk miller Grout in Great Yarmouth, to its Victory Soirée in the Town Hall “to celebrate the cessation of hostilities” - the Great War, not an industrial dispute.

Speakers there recalled the company’s past achievements, emphasising Grout’s progressive policy, interest in staff welfare and the cordial relationship between employer and workers.

“Most of the goods manufactured now at the commodious factory on St Nicholas’ Road are quite different from what they were some years back, when nothing but black gauze graced the many looms,” the gathering heard.

“It would indeed surprise many to see the very beautiful and exquisite fabrics which are now turned out, all reflecting considerable credit on the workers. To achieve such results, much of the old and out-dated machinery has been gradually scrapped and replaced by the best and most modern models that it was possible to obtain.”

Party time: Grout's staff and guests enjoying a buffet-dance in 1974. Pictures: MERCURY ARCHIVE Party time: Grout's staff and guests enjoying a buffet-dance in 1974. Pictures: MERCURY ARCHIVE

Products were made from start to finish in Yarmouth, no longer passed to other Grout works for completion. During the war, despite anxiety over the loss of men enlisting and the supply of raw material, the factory kept in full production, management supported “by staunch and loyal workers, ever ready and willing to do their level best in the furtherance of the company’s interests.”

Now, post-war, the company had to stay alert to foreign competition, especially when unfair, so English workers could earn a decent living in good conditions without being cut out by Japanese and Italian workers. Future success depended on staff working together with maximum efficiency - the directors were responsible for providing the best machinery, the workers for producing work of the highest quality in maximum quantity.

The board felt if the workers made such an effort, they ought to share in the company’s prosperity, so intended introducing profit-sharing - half to employees, half to shareholders. It was suggested two-thirds of the staff’s half should be distributed as a cash bonus, the rest going into a pension fund to help those having to leave work before receiving the old-age pension.

Profit-sharing would not interfere with ordinary demands for fair wage increases which would be talked over between management and staff “meeting as friends, not enemies.”

Party time: Grout's staff and guests enjoying a buffet-dance in 1974. Pictures: MERCURY ARCHIVE Party time: Grout's staff and guests enjoying a buffet-dance in 1974. Pictures: MERCURY ARCHIVE

Soirée-goers were reminded that outgoing managing director F J Farrell had established a staff sick club and convalescent fund, set up a social welfare department, helped them to form a union, and suggested a works council to settle grievances. Also, there was a reduction in working hours and a summer holiday.

Grout’s new chairman, C S Orde, said staff had done their duty throughout the war, working their hardest and producing most beautiful fabrics in maximum quantities. By so doing, they had served their country in the same way equally with those who went to fight.

Mayor Arthur Harbord praised the harmony between management and work-force, highlighting the “enlightened policy” which had improved conditions for the staff, something he hoped would be an incentive to other local concerns to follow Grout’s example. Yarmouth was proud of this big industry in its midst.

The employees presented Mr Farrell with a gold cigarette case and matchbox bearing his monogram and the message that it was a mark of respect and esteem from his employees.

Grout’s occupied land off St Nicholas Road from around 1800. The factory suffered fires, the worst in a 1941 air raid.

According to John McBride’s Great Yarmouth Diary, in 1967 it was renamed Pinehurst Textiles, moved in the mid-1970s to the Harfrey’s industrial estate but in 1996 finally closed down as bandage-maker Smith & Nephew.

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