Friday, 21 December 2012

Flawns of St.Ives

Starting this project sparked an interest in where my mum worked before she married my dad. 

I knew that she was a seamstress and was very talented as she made a lot of my clothes when I was growing up and even made two ballgowns for one of my sisters (who's 10 years older than me). Sadly, my mum isn't here to ask anymore - so at a recent family gathering I asked one of my uncles (he has a very good memory and has lived in St.Ives all his life). And he told me that my mum worked at Flawns, a famous clothing factory as a seamstress after leaving school at 16 and until she married my dad in 1961. 

I asked my dad what he remembers and he seemed to think that my mum enjoyed working there and that they made clothes for Marks and Spencers - but I wanted more details.

I googled the name - but couldn't find anything, other than the fact it was on Porthmear Road and now, in it's place, there are a lot of smart flats. So my uncle suggested I contact the St.Ives Archives. I sent them an email a few weeks ago and was contacted by one of the volunteers called Maggie, who said they did indeed have a file on Flawns as it was a very important employer! And if I liked she would copy what information they had! 

Yes please I said!

Today a large envelope arrived in the post! So exciting!

I've only skimmed through the information so far but Flawns was actually part of the John Lewis Partnership from 1947 - 1963 and they made clothes for the 'Jonelle' range (the John Lewis own brand). Including 'can-can skirts' and silk dresses which apparently cost as much as 10 guineas. That's about £10.50 in new money - which would have actually been a lot of money in the 1950s.

The envelope of photocopies that arrived today!

There is also this amazing picture taken I think in the 1940s, so before my mum worked there - but it just fascinates me! And isn't that dissimilar to a photo I took of the sewing room at UWE when I was there the other week. 

Flawns in the 1940s (I think - there is no date on the photo)
UWE sewing room
One photo - of a works do - appears to have my mum in it so I'm going to ask for a proper photograph copy of it, I'll ask one of my aunts - as she worked there the same time as my mum and I think she is also in the photo. 

According to some interviews with people who worked there - it was a fun place to work, 'as the radio was usually on so they could listen to music as they worked' and one article in the St.Ives Times & Echo dated December 11, 1959 describes how busy they were making 'can-can' skirts that year:

"The manager of Flawns, Mr. Glyn T Jones says there is so far no sign of the gay and delightfully provocative can-can skirt losing its popularity - next year the factory will make a lot more! Can-can skirts are worn for dances, parties and many other carefree occasions  winter and summer. Some girls wear two and even three of them at a time, according to the girls of Flawn's' who themselves know how to wear pretty clothes - as well as make them."

Love it! (although does it sound a tiny weeny bit patronizing? Or is that just me?)

I'm off to a carefree occasion tonight (the pub), sadly lacking a can-can skirt.  

There is also reference to a John Lewis Partnership 'gazette' which features Flawns in an illustrated account called 'Fish and Fashion' (the factory used to be a fish works before it was converted) printed around April 1955 which I would love to get my hands on! So will contact John Lewis to see if they have a copy in their archives.

And apparently there was also a very famous silk factory in St.Ives in the 1930s called 'Cryside Silks' which warrants some investigating. I had no idea St.Ives had once been a hub of fashion design!

Also, as a result of my query about Flawns to the St.Ives Archives, Maggie told me that...

"We have been inspired by your request to think about doing a display of St Ives textile/clothing firms, and trying to jog the memories of those older people who worked at Flawns. Part of what we do is to record memories like that. I will let you know if it happens."

That is pretty exciting too!!

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