The Jewel Factory was based on Tachbrook Road, Royal Leamington Spa, where all kinds of jewellery and other items made of precious metal were manufactured.
Moving to Leamington
The firm was established in Birmingham in 1850 and moved to a new purpose built factory in Leamington in 1919/20. The move from Birmingham was to take advantage of special concessions offered by the former Leamington Borough Council after the First World War to firms willing to come to the town, and so bring jobs to the area. So when I started working there in August 1974 it had been in the town for over 50 years. It seemed like everybody you spoke to locally had either worked there or knew somebody who had worked there. Plus most people owned something that had been made there. Working there was like being part of a family. There was a more or less equal split of male and female employees whose ages ranged for us 16 year olds just out of school to people in their 80s who had been there since the 1920s.
One of the things that seemed really strange to me was hearing gold referred to as scrap. To me scrap was bits of old and useless metal, which of course was exactly what these were, except they were bits of gold and silver! Every bit of scrap was collected, no matter how small. The sandpaper we used to prepare items for polishing was collected and then burned, along with the dust from the floor, to recover any precious metal that might be present. Plus when we finished our shift we had to wash our hands in long sinks. All the waste water from these sinks went into what was called “the sump”. This was a filter bed that captured any particles of precious metal that may have come off our hands and gone down the sink. Unfortunately, when I started there, the firm’s best days were behind it. It was no longer a family firm, being part of the jewellery division of Caledonian Holdings Ltd.
A shrinking workforce
As the 1970s progressed things slowly went downhill. Ours was the last group of apprentices to be taken on. All employees of pensionable age were made to retire, plus when people left they were not replaced. So the workforce slowly shrank from around 350, until by January 1982 the workforce was less than 100, and there was still not enough work for us all. So it was no real surprise when on 14th January, 53 of us were made redundant. The factory struggled on but by November it had closed down, a very sad end to an old and respected business.