Wearside clothing workers have reunion plans all sewn up

The rear of the Drill Hall can be seen in this old photo of Castlereagh Road - courtesy of website east-durham.co.uk. The hall became Barran's Clothing Factory in 1958, but was mostly destroyed by fire in 1986.
The rear of the Drill Hall can be seen in this old photo of Castlereagh Road - courtesy of website east-durham.co.uk. The hall became Barran's Clothing Factory in 1958, but was mostly destroyed by fire in 1986.
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Former staff from an East Durham clothing factory have the bonds of friendship all sewn up.

Dozens of ex-Beau Brummel workers are expected to attend a reunion at The Knack Club, Seaham, this Friday - ten years after many were made redundant.

Staff at Beau Brummel pictured before the factory closed in 2005.

Staff at Beau Brummel pictured before the factory closed in 2005.

“The people who worked there were real salt of the earth. The camaraderie was second to none - you could rely on each other whatever the situation,” said organiser Val Roberts.

“It’s been a while since we had a get-together, and time marches on. I wasn’t sure if there would be much interest, but I’ve already got 130 on the list so far.”

The origins of Beau Brummel in Seaham date to 1955, when John Barran Limited opened a clothing factory in the town. Success came quickly and, three years later, it moved to the old drill hill.

By the mid-1960s the company was trading under the Beau Brummel name and, within just a few years, it had three local factories - two at Tempest Road and one at Dene House Road.

Sadly, beau Brummel is the forgotten industry of Seaham. The firm never gets mentioned in any histories of the town. People don’t realise it was the largest employer in Seaham after the pits closed.

Reunion organiser Val Roberts

“The drill hall at Tempest Road was a design, pattern and cutting room, while the old chapel in Tempest Road operated as a trouser sewing, pressing and finishing unit,” said Val.

“The third facility, at Dene House Road, was a sewing, pressing and finishing unit. More than 300 people - mostly women - worked across the sites in the firm’s heyday.

“Generations of the same families worked at Beau Brummel. People started straight from school and stayed until retirement. Most people in Seaham had a relative employed there.”

High-class schoolwear - initially for Marks and Spencer, but later for Harrods and private schools across Europe - was produced by the Beau Brummel staff for decades.

Initially, the garments were individually cut by hand before being sewn by machinists but, as the years passed, more and more of the work became computerised and high-tech.

“I joined at 15, straight after leaving school, and got a job as a garment ticket typist - each piece of clothing had to have a label which was individually typed,” recalls Val.

“All the girls used to wear pink overalls, and there would be a stream of pink overalls down Church Street each Friday - when they all went off to spend their pay packets.

“The textile trade was always a traditional industry in County Durham. The heyday for us was the late 1970s to early 1980s. Many women were the breadwinners for their families during the 1984/85 miners’ strike.”

A blaze destroyed the old drill hall in March 1986 but, within days, Beau Brummel set up a temporary unit at Peterlee - allowing cutting operations to proceed as normal.

A new premises in Tempest Road was constructed the following year but, less than a decade later, the business was put up for sale - and it went on to change hands several times.

The final Seaham-based Beau Brummel factory closed its doors in 2005, and today only an administration centre remains in the town.

“It was a very happy place to work, and we produced very high-quality goods - from school blazers to trousers and overcoats,” said Val, who worked her way up to personnel manager.

“Sadly, it is the forgotten industry of Seaham. The firm never gets mentioned in any histories of the town. People don’t realise it was the largest employer in Seaham after the pits closed.”

A disco and buffet are planned for the reunion this Friday, which starts at 7pm. Tickets are available in advance at £5 from Val, or can be bought on the door.

“Anyone who ever worked at Beau Brummel over the decades is very welcome to attend,” she said. “We’ve got people of all ages who have signed up to come along - the more, the merrier.

“Sadly, we have lost some of our ladies over the years, but at least the reunion will give people the chance to catch up with old friends and relive some good times.”

* For further information on the reunion contact Val on 581 9941 or mobile 07720 642255.