Simplicity comes to Blantyre

Only a year after the High Blantyre Industrial Estate opened, a new type of industry arrived at the factories in 1947 in the form of Simplicity Patterns Ltd of London. This proved to be a wonderful source of employment for many people in Blantyre, both women and men alike. Indeed, the timing and arrival of this company co-incided with the struggles the last few collieries were experiencing, so it proved a means for those miners worried about redundancy to continue being employed in the area.

1955 John McQuire Simplicity Patterns BlantyrePictured is ex miner, John McQuire operating one of the hand saws which cut the clothing patterns.

Before the Second World War, Simplicity imported all their requirements from Canada and America. The outbreak of hostilities however necessitated home production of the patterns and of course post war economic legislation was primarily driving the re-building of the British Economy.

The new patterns in this factory had dressmaking instructions printed on the tissue pieces. Experience concluded the system cut sewing time by one third, ensures greater accuracy and made the patterns easier to use.

The factory at High Blantyre was fitted with the most up to date machinery for mass production. The company at the time announced that the business would depend upon the quality of the produced products and being able to further reduce prices, including finding all the necessary raw materials. The productive capacity of the new Blantyre plant alone surpassed the entire pre war business annual output! To engage local people even more, the company staff visited schools and domestic colleges delivering lectures and presenting fashion shows. Almost every house in Blantyre had simplicity patterns and catalogues. Schoolchildren were also taught how to sew against the patterns, effectively training the next generation in advance.

High Blantyre girl Hazel Meldrum added, “My father was employed by Simplicity patterns, as a lithographic printer. He was recruited at a Trade Union meeting in Glasgow about 1955 as I understand it two or three men came down from Aberdeen. Simplicity arranged for them to get a choice of accommodation for their families, eg pre fab in Blantyre, flat in East Kilbride or a 2 bedroom house in Larkhall, he chose the Larkhall house. The company seem to have sponsored and paid for Christmas Dinner dances, somewhere I may have a programme .  I believe that there was a strike in 1960 or 1961  which lasted a least a couple of weeks, as my dad had to sell his car . He left the company in the mid 1960’s to become a full time Trade Union official.

By the late 1970’s, competition in retail clothing was having an impact on Simplicity. In October 1979, the management of the firm announced a reduced of 70 staff members, forced to take redundancy to make economies and efficiencies on their accounts. At the time of the announcement, staff in total numbered 464 people, many of them Blantyre folk.

Workers were informed on Friday 19th October 1979. The announcement was the single largest jobs cut in Blantyre since the closure of the nearby Rolls Royce Factory in 1976. The streamlining was meant to protect Simplicity, but with rising costs and a depression in the market for the type of clothes manufactured, the writing was on the wall……

From “Blantyre Explained” by Paul Veverka (c) 2018

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