Jensen’s Top Valeter | Maud Pritchard
“No one could clean a vehicle like Maud, her attention to detail was phenomenal, and how she cleaned glass was something from a magicians act – you just didn’t know there was glass there !” John Page – Technical Service Representative, Service Department, Jensen Motors.
Jensen’s Top Valeter | Maud Pritchard | Early Years
Maud Eaglestone was born 7th September 1923 in Eton, Liecestershire. Her parents moved to Smethwick in the Midlands, not long after she was born. She attended Holy Trinity School in Smethwick, and left school in 1939 at the age of 16.
After leaving school Eaglestone went to work for Millys Taylor’s in Smethwick, and quickly learnt the skill of sewing button holes by hand on men’s suits.
Just a year later, and Eaglestone was asked to work at the Smethwick-based company, Birmid. The move was a part of a major move of personnel into war-work. Birmid, were specialists in making aluminium parts for planes along with cases for munitions.
In fact, Birmid was one of the first aluminium foundries in the country, and established a reputation in the burgeoning motor parts industry of the 20th century. The Company made the very first die-cast aluminium pistons in the world, and during the First World War it pioneered aircraft engine casting. In 1920, Birmal merged with the Midland Motor Cylinder Company, creating the name Birmid.
It was during the time Maud Eaglestone was working at Birmid, that she met her husband Geoffrey Pritchard. He had joined the RAF, and worked with the ground crews on airbases.
An accident had taken place during 1944, which involved a hand grenade exploding near to Pritchard. He suffered severe chest injuries, and was hospitalised. When he finally left hospital, he was allowed to be released from RAF duties, and managed to get a job at Birmid doing light labouring duties.
Romance blossomed, and the couple married at St Albans Church in Smethwick on 7th August 1945. After the couple were first married, they lived at the back of her sister’s jewellery shop, Horobins Jewellers, in Smethwick. Their daughter Joyce was also born there.
In 1956 the Pritchards moved to 83 Kelvin Way, West Bromwich. And this is where Maud Pritchard lived for almost sixty years, up to 2016. Although she had a daughter to look after, Pritchard still managed to take on a variety of part time jobs around West Bromwich, including working at a press and stampings factory.
Jensen’s Top Valeter | Maud Pritchard | A Job At Jensen Motors
Maud Pritchard started work at Jensen Motors in 1966. Production of the Austin Healey 3000 was at peak levels, with Jensen Motors operating Healey production with a four-line assembly track, and four- line paint bay.
There was already a so-called girls gang working on the Healey 3000 line, and Pritchard joined them as an Assembly Worker.
The existing girls gang was made up with Helga Burford, Inga Churms, Tina Watson, and Stella Skinner. All of which lived on Kelvin Way itself, looking directly onto the factory. Or in the case of Tina Watson and Stella Skinner, in the street behind.
As their names implied, Helga and Inga were both German, Clive Kendrick remembered them well,
“As far as I remember, Helga and Inga came over from Germany just after the Second World War, having married British soldiers that had been stationed in Germany. I know Helga certainly did. Her husband was Jimmy Burford, and he worked at Longbridge. The couple had two daughters, and they both worked at Jensen, with Maureen working in the Trim Shop, and Iris in the offices.
Both Helga and Inga were good friends, with strong German accents, and always lots to say. They smoked like troopers, and would easily do 40 Embassy a day. In fact, out of the gang of girls, Maud was the quietest, she didn’t smoke (as I was aware), and always seemed to work harder than the others.”
Pritchard tells us how she ended up getting a job at Jensen Motors,
“We lived at 83 Kelvin Way, on one side of us was Susan Churms, at 85 Kelvin Way. She was the sister-in-law of Inga Churms. Then on the other side, was Betty Kennedy at 81 Kelvin Way. Well, Betty got a job at Jensen Motors, but after just one week, she turned round to me and said she didn’t like the job, and was leaving. Betty said, would I like her job. So I went over and had a chat with the foreman, and got the job.”
Gordon Wrowe was the line foreman on Healey 3000 sub-assembly, he would have interviewed Pritchard. Although during this period of piece-work, staff were often brought in when needed, and like-wise laid off when work went scarce – as such interviewing was also quite informal. Wrowe would have outlined to Pritchard what the work would entail, and she would either say that’s fine, or it’s not for me. Pritchard accepted the job and joined the other four girls as a part of the girls gang.
Working together on cars as they came along the track, Pritchard’s job consisted of assembling the wipers and wiper motor, fitting the Smiths heater assembly, first checking its fan operation on a battery. Other work included the fitting of interior parts such as a speaker and radio console,(if one was being fitted), and screwing on the metal demist slits to the top of the dashboard.
Although various jobs could be shared, each girl would tend to do the same procedures to each car. It made sense, as the procedures would become second nature, and as such they would get through more cars.
One has to remember, this was an era of piece-work, so everyone was paid for the amount of units they fitted in a week.
Each Friday, before 2.00 in the afternoon, the gang would complete their piece-work cards, which were checked by their foreman, and sent to accounts. Each girl’s wage, within the gang, would be a fifth of the gang of five.
Clive Kendrick had started at Jensen Motors as an apprentice, and had been dropped into each section to the learn the ropes. At one point, he was apprenticed to the girls gang,
“The five girls were all local, Maud was the last in joining the others. I would be shown each job they were doing, and would learn how to do it. As the apprentice, I would also be sent off to bring them more parts if they were running low.
It was also down to the apprentice to go and make the teas, and to bring any food wanted from the canteens. Being teaboy had its merits, it was tradition at the factory, that the workers would give the ‘teaboy’ a bit of change for their trouble, and the gang would obviously pay for any milk, tea.
I had made myself a large aluminium tray, nicely crimped around the edges, and would run off to one of the water boilers to make the teas for my gang. If they didn’t bring in their own sandwiches, and wanted something from the canteen, I would go and get that as well. As an example, I remember egg on toast was 4 1/2d in pre-decimal money. That was pretty reasonable even then”
Kendrick also remembers how piece-work had its moments,
“Everyone on piece-work was trying to get through as many processes as possible, in the shortest time possible. It stands to reason, as each process completed added to your week’s wages.
Tina [ Watson] and Maud [Pritchard] always worked quietly, getting things done. Helga [Burford], and Stella [ Skinner] would be a bit more vocal, and then there was Inga. She was a bit hot-headed, and was always trying to complete processes at a 100 miles per hour.
I remember one day, when Inga was fitting steering wheels (this was later on when she was working on the Tiger production). She was trying to do it so quick, that she wasn’t getting the splines to match up.
Next thing, she would start swearing in German (well I guess it was swearing, I didn’t understand German, but looking at her face, it was definitely swearing).
Then she would shout out to the line foreman saying the steering wheel wouldn’t fit. Obviously it would fit, it was Inga trying to work too fast. She was always shouting at the line foreman saying something was wrong, but generally it was her trying to work too fast.”
By 1967 the Austin Healey contract was coming towards the end of the line, and with the Sunbeam Tiger work also having finished, and the P1800 contract a distant memory, work was becoming thin on ground.
The CV8 production had never been on the scale to keep the current number of workforce fully employed, and the new Interceptors were still being built in Italy.
With a down-turn in work, some of the Austin Healey 3000 assembly workers would end up being laid off. Of the girls gang, only Maud Pritchard remained.
The other four girls, Burford, Churms, Watson and Skinner had either managed to find jobs elsewhere, or were laid off.
This led to Pritchard being moved across to the Fibreglass Department, where she worked alongside Jessy Poutney. Meanwhile, there were major management changes afoot.
The bank behind Jensen Motors were not particularly happy with the progress of the Managing Director, Brian Owen. So he was asked to leave, and they put in place the famous American turnaround man, Carl Duerr.
Pritchard remembers the entrance of the new boss,
“unlike the previous boss that we never saw, the new boss, Carl Duerr, was always around on the factory floor. He would come into our section, say hello, and ask how we were doing. We really felt he cared. In fact, most of us girls thought that he was a very handsome and glamourous man.”
Jensen’s Top Valeter | Maud Pritchard | Valeting
As Interceptor production was brought from Vignale in Italy to West Bromwich – and was increasing month in month out – both Maud Pritchard, and Jessy Poutney were moved from the Fibreglass Department, and put on cleaning cars.
To the reader, this would seem like something of a demotion, but it has to be looked at in context. Jensen Motors typically moved their workforce around if jobs in one area dropped off.
And, as much as work prospects were slowly increasing, jobs for women were still scarce. Drop into the equation the fact that the girls lived just walking distance from the factory, and that they loved the friendly atmosphere of Jensen Motors. As such, it is easy to see why they were happy to remain there, doing whatever job was thrown at them.
In fact the need for skilled cleaners / valeters increased alongside Interceptor production. This led to two further girls being brought in, Millie Shinton, and Ethel Carwithers. Both local girls living within walking distance of the factory.
In 1972 a new and enlarged Service Department opened just adjacent to the main factory. David Millard headed up the department, and a nucleus of service staff moved into the new building.
Although they had a labourer that would clean off the cars before they went back to their owners, and if he was around, the Company’s chauffeur, and driver, Albert Jackson, would come over to help clean and polish them.
But it was obvious they needed a dedicated cleaner / valeter. Someone that was capable of professionally cleaning the cars to a very high standard, ready for the car to be handed over to their owners.
As such Millard had Maud Pritchard brought over from the main factory in 1973. She was the only woman working in the Services Department. Within the Service Department, Pritchard had her own car-bay, where the car came to be fully prepared by her, and made ready for collection or drop off to the owner.
Pritchard remained as the valeter / cleaner at the Service Department between 1973 and 1976.
Jensen’s Top Valeter | Maud Pritchard | A Move To Jensen Parts & Service
When Jensen Motors closed its doors in 1976, Pritchard was one of the staff asked if she would like to carry on doing the same job at the newly created Jensen Parts & Service. She jumped at the chance.
Pritchard retired aged 60 in 1983. However, Ian Orford, the Managing Director of Jensen Parts & Service, took it upon himself, to pop over the road to 83 Kelvin Way, to see if Pritchard would like to come back part-time.
It didn’t take much prompting, and Pritchard returned to Jensen Parts & Service, working there for a further seven years. In 2016, at the good old age of 93, Maud Pritchard finally sold 83 Kelvin Way, and moved in with her daughter Joyce. She died peacefully on 25th August 2021.
Jensen’s Top Valeter | Maud Pritchard
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Clive Kendrick, former Assembly Worker, Jensen Motors | John Page, former Technical Service Representative, Jensen Motors | Maud Pritchard [nee Eaglestone], former valeter, Jensen Motors | Joyce Bradley [nee Pritchard].
COPYRIGHTS: Maud Pritchard | Joyce Bradley [ nee Pritchard]
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