City factories made the shirt on your back
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GLOUCESTER’S shirtmaking industry thrives to this day. Turnbull and Asser shirts are made in the city, sold in the most exclusive gents’ outfitters and worn by A-list celebrities.
But the origins of shirtmaking in the city date back at least to 1882 when The Gloucester Shirt Company was founded in Magdala Road.
The firm was started by Mr HTTT Higgins and by the early years of the 20th century employed a workforce of over 200, the majority of them women.
During the Second World War, production switched to military uniforms.
Another well-known name in the trade was Seaward’s, which had a factory in Alfred Street.
Seaward’s didn’t actually make entire shirts – they just manufactured the cuffs and collars, both of which were detachable items held to the body of the garment by studs that were as uncomfortable to wear as they were time-consuming to put in.
In the 1930s, the girls who went to work at Seaward’s after leaving school at the age of 14 were paid on a piecework basis, receiving the princely sum of two shillings and twopence (14p) for each gross (144) of collars they stitched and turned.
Just before the Second World War, Seaward’s went bankrupt and was taken over by John Crompton’s of Swindon.
Production then switched from cuffs and collars to Army uniforms and working in teams the women completed a battledress jacket at the rate of one every 15 minutes.
Mondays to Fridays the girls clocked in at 8am, stopped for lunch at 1pm, started again at 2pm and finished at 5.30pm. It was compulsory to work from 8am until 1pm on Saturdays.
For this 47.5 hour working week the girls were paid 30 shillings (£1.50).
Crompton’s also made uniforms for the Great Western Railway.
The change from making delicate cuffs and collars to serge military uniforms took its toll on the women workers, whose fingers became red raw.
They complained, but the management pointed out that this was wartime and contracts had to be met by strict deadlines.
By way of small compensation, each worker was given a bowl of alum in which to soak their sore fingers, with the vague promise that this would harden their skin.
Gloucester Shirt Co, Magdala Road
Sean Connery as James Bond being measured for a Turnbull and Asser shirt