Glovemakers: The Jefferies and Reynolds Families

Nora, the sixth child of Albert (1871-1958) and Sarah Reynolds (1871-1956) of Pound Street and Lyme Avenue, Warminster, was born 13th February 1908.

Five of my family worked for the Jefferies family at one time. Alfie Jefferies was a Westbury man. He and his younger brother George were sons of William Jefferies who lived in Fontainville House in the centre of Westbury. The house was demolished about 50 years ago to make way for the new High Street. Alfie had a glove factory in Fore Street, Westbury, where my eldest brother, Alfred, was a cutter, cutting the leather tranks (rectangles of leather cut the right size) ready to be webbed (cut into the pattern of a glove). My elder sister Lilian was a hand-glover and a machinist and my brother Maurice was a cutter. Later my younger brother, George, became a cutter too.

My sister Lilian made hand-sewn gloves at home for Jefferies’ before the Warminster factory started up at Wootten Lodge, Weymouth Street, (where Wymaway and Warminster Gallery are now.) She was one of the first girls to be taken on as a glove machinist there, but she was more used to our mother’s trade of tailoring and dressmaking than gloving, so after only a short time she went to work at the Silk Factory, but carried on making hand-sewn gloves in the evenings to make extra money.

My brother Maurice worked for Jefferies’ at Westbury from about the age of 16, eventually becoming foreman of the cutters at Warminster. Later in the 1930’s Maurice went to work with Alfie’s uncle, Chester Jefferies, who started up Chester Jefferies Ltd. with Gilbert Pearce, another Westbury man. Maurice had married a Warminster girl, Wynne Northeast, and they set up home in Worcester. Later they returned to Wiltshire and Maurice started up on his own employing a few cutters in a shed in Alfred Street, Westbury. During the second World War he made gloves for officers in the services and was exempt from joining up. After the war he moved his business to Sheep Street, Devizes, outgrew that premises and bought the old Vicarage in Potterne. His company, called Reynolds and Kent, expanded, and he opened a branch in Westbury. Maurice and Wynne sold the business when they retired.

My brother George worked as a cutter for Jefferies from about 1925 until he died in the 1940’s, after heading a ball awkwardly in a football game. He was married to one of the glovemakers, Louise Shepherd from Warminster.

I left Minster School at 14 in 1922 and went straight to work at Wootten Lodge. I was taught first to handsew gloves on the ground floor and was paid 5 shillings a week. As soon as I had made 4 shillings and eleven pence worth of good gloves in one week I was moved upstairs to be taught to sew prix seam gloves on a machine by a Miss Chapman from Westbury. Once trained I earned 2 shillings and eleven pence for each dozen pairs I made, but we had to pay for all the thread we used at 5 pence per reel and you could use 3 reels in a week so that meant one shilling and threepence docked from your wages. At dinner time I would go home to Lyme Avenue for a cooked dinner prepared by my mother, and have to run all the way back to Wootten Lodge to avoid being late.

As a youngster upstairs at Wootten Lodge I was asked by the older girls to go out into the town to get some cakes for them. This was not allowed so they fooled the bosses by wrapping some old cotton reels up in a brown paper bag to look like a bottle, then, clutching the bag, I was to ask to be allowed to go to the chemist for some medecine. Permission was given and off I went. The girls, who were waiting at the upstairs window for my return, lowered a length of string for me to tie to the bag of cakes which they hauled up through the window, leaving me with my bag of ‘medecine’ to take inside. That was a caper!

While I was at Wootten Lodge the Prince of Wales, Prince Edward, paid a visit to Warminster. We girls were very excited as we were allowed to watch from the pavement as he was driven up Weymouth Street in an open-topped car. The car stopped at the top of the street, outside a men’s outfitters where he was presented with a half a dozen pairs of Jefferies’ hand-sewn gloves made by Violet Pearce of Marsh, Warminster.

Some years after, when the Alfie Jefferies’ glove business outgrew Wootten Lodge, we moved to a new single storey brick factory on land off Station Road, Warminster, (now Dents.) The cutters were at one end and the machinists at the other. I and Gladys Pinnell were in little cubicles making sample gloves when a carpenter from Butchers the builders came to fit up some shelves to store glove linings overhead. The carpenter was John Ingram, known as Jack, who I later married. By a strange coincidence Jack’s father, Sidney Ingram had been a cutter at Jefferies’ Westbury factory, he had also been the union representative for both factories.

A rival glove company called Holman, Byfield started up in East Street and, as they were paying better wages, five of Jefferies’ experienced girls left to work for them. There was a bit of a furore about the situation, as Alfie Jefferies had trained these girls and now ‘Byfields’ were getting the benefit. Later we heard that ‘Byfields’ were somehow prevented from poaching any more of Jefferies’ staff, but we didn’t know how.

When I was about 22 in 1930 I started teaching the younger girls how to machine gloves. At one time I had 13 girls learning in one room all at once. I didn’t enjoy it very much, by the time I had seen everyone, the first ones were usually in an awful pickle. I remember once we had 7 girls coming in from Frome alone to learn gloving as the business was expanding and that’s when another new building was added.

I left Warminster when I married Jack Ingram in 1935, as Jack was working in Ashford, Middlesex by then. Times were hard in the building industry in the 1930’s and work was hard to come by. I carried on working for Jefferies though, taking my gloving machine with me to Ashford. They would send me parcels of leather cut ready for sewing and I would post back the finished gloves. My pay would arrive in the next parcel with the leather.

We had been in Ashford less than a year when Jack’s uncle Charlie, who had been Maintenance Engineer at Laverton’s Cloth Mill, Westbury, died and his job was offered to Jack. So we came back to Westbury to stay with Jack’s mother in West End, bringing my machine too. Jack’s mother had also been a home glove machinist for Jefferies’. When she was widowed in 1921 with three young children to support she had worked at glovemaking late into the evenings for a long, hard time to make ends meet.

My machine moved again to Bratton Road Westbury in 1937 and again to Station Road Westbury, when we moved into our new bungalow in 1939, just as war broke out. Besides machining I also taught glovemaking at home, until my daughter was born in 1945.

Note: During research on wills in WSRO Trowbridge I came across a will for a Robert Reynolds of Warminster, dated 1626. He was a currier of leather! The Jefferies family have been glovemakers since 1820. A.L Jefferies Ltd. were taken over by Dents in 1936. Chester Jefferies Ltd. still make gloves at Gillingham, Dorset, the firm is now entirely run by the Pearce family. Reynolds and Kent Ltd. gloves are still made today at Westbury.