The BBC Radio Gloucestershire breakfast show presenter on his own old grey whistle test
And so it came to pass: bringing the Holloway whistle back to Stroud. This moment had been in the planning for months and then, just before 8am at Brick Row in Stroud, we had a steam engine, the owner of the whistle, a cast of former workers, TV crews, people positioned around the Stroud Valleys to monitor how far away it could be heard and a nervous radio host wondering what could possibly go wrong?
Thankfully nothing. It was heard as far away as Edge, Painswick, Eastington, Whiteshill and Rodborough and the memories and emotions it brought back flooded the airwaves.
It all started with my love of the hooters, whistles and sirens that used to resound across the Cotswolds from Lister Petter in Dursley, to the Gloster Aircraft Company in Brockworth, to the Northern United siren near Cinderford. The Holloways clothing company had a steam whistle which Faye Woodward just happened to have on her mantelpiece. Her Dad worked at the factory and was given it as a leaving present. Her abiding memory of her father was the daily routine of joining him at the factory every evening and her treat was to sound the whistle to announce it was the end of the working day. With the help from the team at Spirax Sarco and their stream propulsion expertise, we got it going again at their base in Cheltenham. Now it was time to bring it back to the site of the factory in Stroud and wake up the Five Valleys again.
The sub-plot to our noisy adventure was the wonderful stories and characters we unearthed in the making of the show. The company came to Stroud in the mid 1800s and was famous worldwide for many innovations. They were the first to use steam for the manufacture of clothes, the first off-the-peg manufacturer of clothes (previously, your items would have been made-to-measure by a tailor). George Holloway thought of himself as a philanthropist. His theory was if you looked after your workers, their loyalty and hard work would reap rich rewards. He was the first to introduce a system of sick pay and a lump sum payment at retirement way before we had any notion of a benefits system. This was the beginning of The Holloway Friendly Society which is still going today. He also introduced the first rent-to-buy scheme acquiring over 70 cottages in Stroud and renting them to his workers. If they paid a little extra than the going rate they got to own their home.
The best bit by far was meeting many of the workers who all seemed proud to have been associated with Holloways. I recreated the 1950s bus journey into work from Chalford with Margaret and Shelia who were just 15 at the time. They behaved very badly on my coach with deeply indiscreet stories about the bosses they didn’t like, the boys they fancied and the lunchtimes they spent eating chips in Stroud when they should have gone to the works canteen. I also met Iris and Peter who met at the bus stop outside the Sub Rooms and this year celebrate their 60thwedding anniversary. It all started with Faye and her Dad and to see the look on her face when she heard the whistle sound again in the exact spot she used to go every evening with her late father made all the work, worry and stress worthwhile.
The Holloway whistle returns to Stroud
with BBC Radio Gloucestershire’s Mark Cummings