Ruby recalls ‘happy days’ of the Londonderry factory workers

Former factory worker Ruby Jordan (90) has suggested moving the planned Factory Girls sculpture to Carlisle Circus.
Former factory worker Ruby Jordan (90) has suggested moving the planned Factory Girls sculpture to Carlisle Circus.

Former factory worker Ruby Jordan recently called for the long-awaited Factory Girls Sculpture to be situated within the once bustling industrial heartland of Londonderry at Carlisle Circus.

At present, it is proposed to erect the artwork - dedicated to the thousands of shirt factory workers who powered the local economy for decades - at Harbour Square behind the Guildhall, but Ruby’s suggestion has been well received among local people.

Ruby Jordan in her youth and (right) with late husband John.

Ruby Jordan in her youth and (right) with late husband John.

Ruby was the youngest of five children and has fond memories of growing up at 5, Albert Street in The Fountain.

Her father had fought in World War I, while Ruby’s mother herself had worked in Tillie and Henderson’s Factory and then at W. J. Little’s Factory in the Waterside.

“There was nothing else, especially in the Hungry ‘30s,” she said. “My granny and aunts were there, they all looked after each other in those days,”

Recalling those childhood days, Ruby said: “We never left the street, we were always playing or singing or chasing. We used to do wee races round the square and my aunt Lizzie would give you a h’penny if you won. We had a wee tuckshop called Granny Riley’s and we used to go in there and get five caramels for a h’penny. We were always very happy. We used to go out the road and out The Bolies and race up and down the mounds and take a wee picnic - actually it was only a bottle of water and you get lemonade powder, these wee cubes. And we played on the Walls too, ‘I Spy’ and stuff.”

Ruby was a 13-years-old pupil at the Cathedral School when the Second World War broke out. By the following year her working life among Londonderry’s factory girls had begun. “I went into Hogg & Mitchell’s off William Street but I didn’t like it,” Ruby noted. “It was clipping and I was bored stupid. I remember when I started it was ‘7 shillings and 6 pence’ a week and somebody said that’s 25 p now. I remember my father saying, ‘I’m going to come down and meet you and help you up with it, with a donkey and cart!”

Ruby’s sister, meanwhile, worked in The Star Factory and was able to get her a start there. “I was a marker in there and I was also the message girl, or if they worked in, I had to go up to the chippy, Duffy’s at the head of Ferguson’s Lane, or up to get special collars.”

Ruby recalls her time at The Star as “happy days.”

“We had ‘Music While You Worked’ from 10.30 am and you sang along to that. We sang Irish songs and everything. We sang all the songs during the War, ‘In The Mood’ and ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’.

“I had more friends than enough, we went about together, we walked the town together, we went dancing together, we had no money together.

“It was all good fun. We used to go to all the wee dance halls and walk the town. You never see anybody walking the town now. The boys and girls all did it. We all mingled together, there was no sort of ‘he’s a Catholic’ and ‘she’s a Protestant’.

“There was so many dance halls then. We went to the Britannia Hall and the Richmond up in Rosemount, and the ‘Crit’ (the Criterion), the Corinthian, and dance halls in the Waterside. If you hadn’t the money and you walked the town you used to say, ‘C’mon we will see if we can get in at the last dance.’

“There were clubs to get your hair done and things. In the factory you had a thing called ‘Tiddlywinks’ and you paid in every week and then when it came to the summer you lifted it and got the money for holidays.”

In 1952 Ruby married Stockport native, John, who was in the navy stationed at Sea Eagle. The couple had met when John came in to ‘The Mem’ one night and asked Ruby to dance.

“And that was it,” she recalls.

Ruby continued working in the factory after getting married, but the couple were to move to Gibraltar and then England.

Years later they returned to Londonderry with their four sons, David, Paul, Michael and Sean, after John secured a job at the North West Technical College.

For Ruby it was a chance to catch up with her former colleagues. “We used to go over to Deehan’s and have a bit of craic with them on a Saturday night. We still sung and one of them played a mouth organ.”

Ruby said it was sad now to see little trace of the bustling factories around the Carlisle Circus area, adding that she hoped there would be progress on the art work project soon. “It’s been a long time now,” she concluded.