• Wed. May 22nd, 2024

Memories of the Cowley car factories


Sep 26, 2022

THE Cowley car factories were often in the news for all the wrong reasons, with strikes, stoppages and walkouts.

The Oxford Mail regularly published stories and pictures of workers and bosses locked in disputes which slowed or halted production on the assembly lines.

But there were many more joyful occasions that the newspaper happily recorded in its pages.

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Among them were the presentation of long-service gold watches to employees at the car body plant, formerly Pressed Steel Fisher.

We were reminded of these times by Mike Spencer, who is the proud owner of one of the Everest watches, although he never worked at the factory.

He bought it from a jeweller’s in Norwich, where he lives, and wouldn’t dream of parting with it. On the back, it bears the inscription – ‘Pressed Steel Company Ltd, J E Nelson 1937-1962’.

Oxford Mail: Photo: Mike Spencer Photo: Mike Spencer

It appears that the watch was presented to J E Nelson when he became a member of the Pressed Steel 25 Club, an honour given to those who had completed 25 years at the Cowley car body plant.

The watch also contains another slice of history – Smith’s Everest watches were so called because they were made specially to mark Sir Edmund Hillary’s famous 1953 expedition to conquer Mount Everest.

Mr Spencer contacted Memory Lane in 2015 to tell us of his prized possession and he has now been in touch again.

He writes: “I am still very interested in watches. Although I am generally de-cluttering, I cannot bear to let this treasured watch go. I often wind it and I wear it on special or formal occasions.

“I noticed on the last occasion I wore it that 60 years have passed since J E Nelson, whose name was all but confirmed to be Jack, completed his 25 years’ service with Pressed Steel.

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“The quiet passing of this ‘minor’ milestone has prompted me to get in touch again.”

As we have recalled, the company would hold an annual dinner, often at the Randolph Hotel, at which the newest employees to complete 25 years’ service were welcomed to the 25 Year Club.

The managing director or other senior executive would present each one with a club pin and a gold watch. The dinner was usually followed by cabaret, featuring well-known local artists.

The 1968 dinner, for example, honoured 106 workers – 93 men and 13 women – who had completed 25 years in 1967.

The menu that year was prawn cocktail, tournedos Tyrolienne, apple strudel and cream, cheeseboard, coffee and wine.

Then there was cabaret featuring comedian and compere Felix Bowness, accordion player and singer Marie Hyde, dancers Ray and Jackie Penn, pianist Peter Williams, multi-instrumentalist Johnny Laycock and Tracey Miller, described as a ‘lovely TV and recording artist’.

At the 1964 dinner, 205 employees joined the 25 Year Club and at the 1960 event, 244 new members were admitted, showing that long service was a tradition at the car body plant.

Read more from this author

This story was written by Andy Ffrench, he joined the team more than 20 years ago and now covers community news across Oxfordshire.

Get in touch with him by emailing: Andy.ffrench@newsquest.co.uk

Follow him on Twitter @OxMailAndyF