The Bauble Factory, Saltney.

Continuing my walk through Saltney.

Here’s the High School: St David’s.  And then St David’s Terrace: one of the earlier streets of houses: the west side a row of red-bricked terraced cottages then more modern semis opening out onto the pavement.  

It used to be cinder.  Across the road, slightly later, the builder William Foden constructed houses with small front gardens. The street ends at the railway track.  During the war, there used to be a path that ran from the end of the terrace to the river. It was lined with Nissen huts.

Aerial photography form 1971. St David’s Terrace in yellow, Saltney High Street in green, railway line in red, river Dee outlined in blue.

It was here (between the red railway track and the blue river) that two Czechoslovakian refugees, Mr and Mrs Greatzer, set up their glass works at the end of the second world war.  They made glass baubles.  The sort I remember coming out for the Christmas tree: some of them were complete globes others were hemispheres with the flat side embossed and decorated with many colours. These, according to Helen Whitmore in Saltney Local History’s second publication of 1989, were called ‘reflectors’ and for a long time they were my favourite because I thought they revealed the bauble’s complicated innards.

I bought a box of these glass baubles in a recent Christmas Market at Chester. They are still in their box like cherished jewels. I’m too afraid to put them up because I have another memory: my mother sweeping us all away when one of the baubles fell from the tree, and her frantic call to watch our feet, because those globes were fragile and would yield a mass of sharp splinters rather than any interesting interior. My mother bought our Christmas baubles from Woolworths: little did I know then that they probably originated in St David’s Manufacturing Co Glass Works, Saltney.

The baubles were made from sections of glass tubing, sealed off and blown into spheres. The ‘reflectors’ were reheated and pressed into a patterned metal mould. They were silvered ‘with acid’ dripped into the stem and then shaken in hot water, and a coloured varnish applied. Women like Helen Whitmore used to be paid 5d an hour for cutting off the stem, attaching a clip and then packing them into boxes of twelve assorted colours. In the 1950s they were painted with patterns and the firm branched out into tinsel.              

In St David’s Terrace they ‘did the stars’.  Tea chests of 6-inch lengths of tinsel were stapled together with a star in between.  It was not well paid, but a useful source of income for young mothers at home with children. In the factory itself, the ‘married ladies were laid off about November and called for again in March to start work for the following Christmas’. This was life for women in the middle part of the twentieth century, and they were sad when the works closed in November 1970. ‘It was a dirty old place, we didn’t make a lot of money, but we had all been very happy working there’.

Today the area is part of the Chesterbank Business Park. The Nissen huts are gone. All that remains are old walls, waste land, and gleaming metal sheds: the current occupiers of an area with a long and complicated industrial history.

Published by claredudman

Writer of historical fiction and non-fiction.

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