Wednesday, 10 February 2016

City firm picks Dalton as heart of its empire

NIMBLE FINGERS: Working on a Singer sewing machine at the John Blair factory, Dalton, in May 1968 REF: 0252755

FIFTY years ago, Dalton was on the verge of becoming the trading headquarters of underwear firm JS Blair.

This is how the Evening Mail broke the news on November 10 in 1960.

It said: “A rapidly growing corset firm is transferring its headquarters from Manchester to Dalton and extensions to the existing factory here could mean employment eventually for 200 more local women and girls.

“The firm of JS Blair and Son Limited set up their factory at Anty Cross, Cemetery Lane, 10 years ago.

“Earlier this year they acquired the closed-down Cleater Street Methodist Chapel.

“The latter accommodates cutting machines and stock room but it is at Anty Cross that extensions will start early in the new year.

“These will give another 15,000sq ft or so of factory space.

“Managing director Ian Campbell Blair, whose family founded the firm in Manchester about 1876, said: ‘Dalton will be the home of JB Foundations from early December. Virtually the whole of the organisation will be here’.

“The cutting out of shapes for machining into bras, corsets and girdles will still largely be done in Manchester, though some of this work is being carried out at Cleater Street.

“The labour force at Anty Cross now is nearly 100, almost all women and girls sewing the cut pieces of nylon, elastics or coloured cloths into foundation
garments on modern powered machines. An important aspect of the factory is the training school.

“Here school leavers receive six to eight weeks’ instruction on machines in the basic sewing skills at full rates of pay before joining a team where they can earn incentive bonuses.

“Another 24 trainees are expected to be recruited soon.

“At Cleater Street the firm has put in a new floor and installed oil-fired heating and modern strip lighting in the old Methodist chapel, though under the terms of the transaction they are not allowed to supply ‘music while you work’ or other secular diversions.

“On the top floor careful planning has enabled 87 wooden fixtures to be squeezed in to accommodate stock.

“From these rows of shelves the merchandise is sent down a chute to street level for despatching.

“Mr Campbell Blair said: ‘The company is expanding very quickly with the change from the old type of rigid corset to the more modern foundations’.

“These are a far cry from the old stays that Blair’s used to make in the last century.

“In fact they have one or two museum pieces from the early days of the firm.

“Even more recently, before the 1939-45 war, the firm used to supply Guards officers with a type of stay fitted with a wooden busk – a sort of stiffener – to promote the correct rigidity of the spine when on horseback.”


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