Pin Girls Pick Up 5p a Week
Today, the Old White Hart in Newark Market Place is the premises of Nottingham Building Society, but for many years, long after it had ceased being a public house, it was owned by one of the town’s most notable and respected businesses – Bainbridges.
John Cotham Bainbridge, draper, mercer and funeral furnisher, bought the Old White Hart in 1867, in which year he was also Mayor of Newark.
The long glass third floor frontage provided an excellent light interior for dressmaking, and here Bainbridge employed girls – often apprenticed as young as 14 – as sempstresses and milliners. This week’s photograph shows the sewing room staff at Bainbridges in about 1915.
Sitting in the middle of the front row is Annie Atkinson, mother of Mrs E.M.O’Connell of Mercia Road, Newark. Although her mother died in 1980 aged 81, Mrs O’Connell clearly remembers her speaking of her time at Bainbridges.
“The girls all had to wear navy blue serge skirts and white blouses,” she said. “Things were pretty strict and the girls were under orders always to address each other as Miss while at work.
“The hours were long. They worked from eight in the morning to eight at night on weekdays, and sometimes to as late as 9.30pm on Saturdays. Even then they were allowed to close only if there weren’t any customers left in the shop.
“In those days people were paid midday on Saturday and so shops and the market stayed open much later. Still, although they worked late, the girls didn’t have far to go home – most lived on the premises.”
Lodgings were provided behind the shop in the range of buildings that extends along the right hand (west) side of the White Hart Yard. In 1881, the census notes that Bainbridges employed a total of 59 workers (18 male and 41 female), 21 of whom lived on the premises.
These residents comprised the manager, William Frederick, a housekeeper, a domestic servant, three saleswomen, two milliners, one mantle maker, five drapery salesmen and seven apprentices.
The milliners and sempstresses were skilled workers engaged in fine hand sewing and smocking on blouses. Apprentices, on the other hand, began their training by doing menial tasks.
When Mabel May Sooby (second from left, standing, in the photograph) began working at Bainbridges aged 14 in 1908, her job was picking up pins for 1s (5p) a week. By 1915 (when this picture was taken) and Mabel was 21, her wages had risen to 7s 6d (37 ½ p) a week.
During the first world war, Bainbridges undertook important sewing for the Army. In August 1914 as the girls sat working on the third floor, they watched the Sherwood Foresters assemble in the Market Place below before setting out on their journey to the Front,
Charles and Frederick Atter
Frederick had been mayor in 1900 and, in the latter part of the 19th Century, had become involved in property development. In 1897, he and his brother acquired the lease of the newly-built Arcade from the Duke of Newcastle.
The Atters tenanted the Arcade with fashionable retailers of the day, eventually buying the lease outright in 1929.
Neither, however, lived long enough to realise much of a return on their investment. Their deaths in the early Thirties signalled a change not only for the Arcade but also for Bainbridges.
In 1932, the shop was taken over by Mr and Mrs Rowell who continued in business as Bainbridges until 1968 when it was sold to the Brotherton Group.
A year later the group opened a chic fashion shop, Noel West One, under which name it continued until 1972, when it became Low Price Fashions.
By 1975 the GOAD retail maps show the premises as vacant.
Nottingham Building Society took over in 1979 and continue in the premises to date (2015), bringing up to date the fortunes of one of Newark ’s best known and most treasured historic buildings.