Summer Work at Beechams in Coleford 1965

From Chris Abbott

Coleford 5

I came across the attached, old and somewhat battered, photograph when sorting out some snaps recently. It is of a group of lads from Aberdare, some former and others then still current ABGS students, all working at the Beecham’s Ribena Factory in Coleford, Gloucestershire, in the summer holidays of 1965. I’m pictured as the lad with the long hair (my hippie days). I’m not sure of the name of the lad standing behind me. On my left is Lyn Evans. Bill Baldock is pictured in tee shirt and the hat typically worn by the chaps who operated the fruit presses at the factory. Seated next to Bill is Brian Morgan. The setting for the photograph was the pub (I’m struggling to think of its name - was it The Crown?) that was located close to the old Italian Prisoner of War camp that was our accommodation base.

Our work in the factory was according to a shift system. The pub was popular when we were off shift or as a late stop when dashing off the works bus, returning from the 2.00-10.00 afternoon shift. I recall that the landlord was named Stan and his wife was Iris. They treated us well - late nights being the norm. There was scrumpy – wicked stuff – and two or three locals who always tried to hassle us in games of quoits or darts.

Coleford was a summer working venue for many lads from ABGS, over a five or six year period. We were joined at Coleford by Irish lads, predominantly from the North, but some from the Republic too. I remember that at the time of the ‘troubles’, some of the Irish students finished work at the factory quickly to return home to their families. The mix of Irish and Welsh made for many interesting times. I remember a Michael Rooney who was a master (shark?) at poker, played on our iron beds, often by candlelight into the wee, small hours. The original Michael Rooney stopped coming to the factory after two years, but other Michael Rooneys followed. Apparently the job was passed along to friends, or perhaps sold as a good thing, but always with the name of Michael Rooney attaching.

As I remember, the attached photograph was taken during a typical night of celebration – lots of singing and jokes. There were some Americans in the bar that evening who took the photograph. They were impressed with our singing! I asked for a copy of the photograph, which duly arrived some weeks later. I’m grateful to them for the memory.

Steve Hammonds adds the following

The Beecham’s factory at Coleford was originally H. W Carter and Co before it was bought by Beecham’s. Some views and some details of the factory can be seen on the Coleford section of a web site called Old photos of Coleford and District. On that site I also found a reference to students being employed at the factory during the summer as early as 1957. On looking back it was a strange experience, working in a Ribena factory in the middle of the Forest of Dean during the blackcurrant season. I remember the three-shift system, being transported to the factory by bus about half-an-hour before the shift started, queuing up to clock in, having meals in the canteen at the oddest hours (especially at 5.30am before the morning shift while only half awake), the smells of the fruit pressing room, the din of the processing plant, the clanging and chattering on the bottling lines, and the cool quiet cold-store where I was lucky to work for both my trips in 1963 and 1964. The two chaps I worked with were Stan Brookes and Bill Price, and I couldn’t have had better company. They were always smiling about something, and they didn’t have a bad word to say about anybody as far as I remember, not even us students.

The camp where we were housed was near a village called Coalway about three-quarters of a mile from Coleford town centre. We had to catch the bus from Aberdare (probably Red-and-White?) and walk from Coleford to the camp carrying our bags. As Chris has said it was formerly an Italian Prisoner-of-War camp. The plan below is from a large-scale map published in 1960 which shows the foundations of the camp buildings together with the one row of huts still intact at that time. There’s also a war-time aerial view of the camp on the Coleford site here - Aerial View of the Camp.

Camp 1965

On the Coleford web site there are also references to a large memorial which was built by the prisoners during the war. It was called the Marconi Memorial. It was a ruin when I was there but I remember once exploring the ruin. It seems that it was a substantial structure which was knocked down in the early 1960s. There’s a little more detail of this memorial on this web site - Marconi Memorial.

Accommodation Blocks

Accommodation Block

There was accommodation available for those who wished to take advantage of it.

Lynn Parry Thomas, (also ABGS 1957-64), was a regular at Coleford from 1963-66,
and added ...

Chris is correct. It was the Crown at Coalway run by Stan and Iris. Mainly a scrumpy pub, it did serve West Country bitter and Guinness. We used to get regularly hammered on day shift and the rota days off. Happy DAZE!!! I recall two people at the factory, Mr Noote the personnel manager, and Edgar Hoare, the most feared day foreman. Remember the two different formats for the pallets containing the boxes of blackcurrants, if from kent they were stacked 4 by 10 high, if from Hereford/Worcester they were stacked 5 by 8 high. There was a constant flow of lorries day and night. Every day brought lorries of William Bengry of of Hereford (still going) and Richard Read of Longhope (also still going).

I also remember Malachie Collins from Belfast and Terry George who has a 3 wheeler Morgan Runabout!!!
(Ed. Lynn wrote this just a few days after he visited the factory in Coleford in February, 2015)

From Clive Richards (ABGS 1956-64)

Like to thank Chris Abbott for bringing back some great memories of my vacation job in the ’60s. Started working there in the summer of ’65 and carried on for the next two summers. My first job in 1965 was bagging up the dried remains of the blackcurrants after they had been pressed and the juice removed. I think they sold it as fertiliser to local farms. It was a boring job, but In ’66 and ’67, because I was studying for a science degree (Zoology) at Swansea University, they attached me and a couple of other students to the microbiology laboratory. It was much more enjoyable swanning around in a white lab coat, taking swabs from different parts of the factory and plating them up, to check whether they were contaminated.

I was always intrigued by the fact that they split the blackcurrant juice in two for storage (colourless volatile part and coloured part). Later in the year, when they needed it, they would then mix the two together in the correct quantities and bottled it for sale.

The cloths and slatted boards which were used to press the blackcurrants were cleaned, before being used again, by blasting them with hot water under pressure. The place used for this, with its high humidity and temperature was perfect for ... cockroaches. The walls, in fact everywhere was covered with them. I don’t think most of the students working there were impressed, but it was a great place if you were a zoologist!

As well as Antony Rooney, who Chris remembers, here are a few other Irish lads that might jog his memory:
Padraig Dinneen - Dublin
Declan Gilsennan - Dublin
John Brown - Blackrock, Co. Dublin
Brian Ennis - Glenageary, Co. Dublin
Malachi Collins - Killiney, Co. Dublin
David McKee - Ballynahinch, Co.Down
James Calder - Belfast, Co.Down

I also remember a couple of lads from Syria!
Ghazi Saleh and Mustapha Douesan

and a John Hanlon from Oxford...It was a very cosmopolitan place to work!

Padraig Dinneen slept in the bed across from me in our Nissan huts. When he was woken up at 5am for the morning shift, all you could see was his hand coming out of the blankets for his packet of Senior Service and lighter and then the column of smoke emerging from the blankets. Then, at last, he could face the day...!

Perhaps Chris remembers getting involved in a drinking competition (I think it was scrumpy but it could have been snakebite [1/2 and 1/2?] ). Whatever it was, Chris obviously didn’t like it, so half way through he just went outside and threw up the offending alcohol and just came back into the pub and continued with the competition! Never forgot it...!

Also remember the lads on our shift betting one of the Irish lads (I think it was James Calder) that he wouldn’t eat all the breakfast leftovers put on one plate...but he did.

One year we turned up at the factory to start processing the fruit, but the blackcurrants were going to be arriving a little late from Kent, so they had us weeding the areas surrounding the factory and even painting the kerbstones white. We thought we’d joined the army...!

If anyone else has memories of the summer work at Coleford to share please let us know and we will add them to this page.