I am sure lots of us would have loved to work in a pram shop, or factory, even for a short time, just so we could drool over the latest models and have an excuse to push one of them.
Living not too far away from Guiseley, Leeds, where Silver Cross used to make their prams I often come across people who used to work there, or knew someone in the family who did, and they enjpy telling me about their memories. I am fascinated with these stories as they are recollections from the people who helped make these beautiful prams, not stories from newspapers or magazines, but true stories from those who experienced them firsthand.
One lady wrote down the stories her mother used to tell her, which I want to share with you. This person worked at the Silver Cross factory during World War Two. She had to leave her job working in a woollen mill to help the war effort and was sent to Silver Cross to do munitions work, she often said how very sad it was seeing prams on one side of the factory and bomb carriers on the other! (Silver Cross learnt a lot from the enforced takeover of their factory for producing aeroplane parts and later were to cease using plywood for pram bodies and turned to aluminium instead as it is durable whilst still being lightweight). After the war ended this lady continued to work for Silver Cross and recalled how the workers were well looked after, there was a good canteen and various social activities, including an archery club which she was a member of.
The lady had nothing but praise for William Wilson, who she described as a tall, powerful looking man, “almost Godlike”. In his white boiler suit he was often to be found somewhere in the factory and was affectionately known as Mr Willie to his workers, whilst his younger brother Lawrence was Mr Lawrie. Those were the days when those who owned the company didn’t just sit in their ivory towers giving out orders, they wanted to see firsthand what was going on in their business and earned the respect of their employees for doing so.
As many of us know, Silver Cross prams were the “Rolls Royce” of prams and as each one came off the production line a white coated inspector checked over every part before giving it the okay. After they passed inspection each pram was individually hand packed then pushed up a slope in the factory which was known as “The Queen Mary”, they were then loaded onto the fleet of huge vans for despatch all over the country.
Royalty and celebrities were amongst the customers and this employee remembered Max Bygraves being taken on a tour of the factory, including the Light Press Shop where she was working, prior to purchasing a pram for his own child. She also remembered being there when a pram was made for Princess Grace of Monaco’s first baby.
Coincidentally, I was also talking recently to a man who used to drive one of the Silver Cross vans, he told me how each pram was carefully loaded into the van and secured before being taken on its journey to the retailer and, all the time he worked there, never had a pram damaged in transit.
He also told me that the design for one of Silver Cross’s pushchairs was first drafted out on the back of a cigarette packet in the local pub! A group of employees were “talking shop” and ideas for a new pushchair were being discussed when one man got out a pen and drew a rough sketch saying “is this the kind of thing you mean?” to the others. This design was in fact used for the Wayfarer pushchair!