Lancaster nostalgia: Standfast & Barracks

Standfast staff thought to have been taken during the 1930s.
Standfast staff thought to have been taken during the 1930s.
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In this week’s nostalgia Louise Bryning looks back on staff memories at Lancaster’s Standfast & Barracks.

Memories of working at one of Lancaster’s largest industrial sites are recalled at the City Museum’s current exhibition.

Robert Palmer, right with Jimmy Verden clearing floodwater away from Mrs Mayer's bungalow on the Standfirst site, believed to be in the 1950s.

Robert Palmer, right with Jimmy Verden clearing floodwater away from Mrs Mayer's bungalow on the Standfirst site, believed to be in the 1950s.

Behind The Wall, which runs until May 1, reveals the hidden story of the Standfast & Barracks site in Caton Road.

Although the site began life as a carriage and wagon works and became an internment camp during the First World War, for more than 90 years it has been a renowned fabric printing company.

To discover what it was like to work there in years past, Mirador – the Lancaster based arts and heritage company which initiated Behind The Wall – held a community history day.

Staff reminiscences were recorded by history students from UCLan in Preston and will be kept at Lancashire Archives but some can be heard by visitors to the exhibition.

Robert Palmer at Mirador's community history day.

Robert Palmer at Mirador's community history day.

One former worker whose family connection to Standfast goes back longer than most is Robert Palmer.

His father, Charles, was originally employed by Morton Sundour, part of the Standfast group, in Edinburgh but in 1941 was one of many staff from Scotland and Carlisle who were asked to move their families to Lancaster so the factory could meet the demand for blackout material and camouflage produced there during the war.

“My dad was a jigger in the dyehouse which was a very wet, horrible job,” said Robert.

“The pipes were hot and there was so much steam you couldn’t see each other.”

A display case at the Behind the Wall exhibition including many artefacts loaned by Robert Palmer. Picture by Darren Andrews.

A display case at the Behind the Wall exhibition including many artefacts loaned by Robert Palmer. Picture by Darren Andrews.

But that didn’t stop Robert following his father into the firm where he worked as a joiner from 1951-1975.

“Standfast was known in Lancaster as the family firm,” said Robert.

“It wasn’t as big as Storeys and Williamsons. It felt easygoing and I like to think this was the Scottish influence.”

The company organised OAPs parties, a field day on Ryelands Park and other functions. It also had its own cricket and football teams.

Staff were represented by several different unions on the site and Robert, who was a shop steward, always found management reasonable.

However, like many of Lancaster’s major companies, Standfast went through turbulent times and Robert himself was made redundant in 1975 so his father left at the same time after 47 years service.

One former employee who remembers her time at Standfast for different reasons is Sandra Cavanagh who worked in the design studio from 1970-78.

“The seventies were difficult times,” she said.

“There were always redundancies going around the factory.”

But this was also a decade of great change for women workers with the introduction of the Equal Pay Act which Sandra called upon when she and other women in the design department discovered that a new male recruit was receiving more pay than them.

The seventies was also the decade of the three day week, remembered well by Richard White who worked in production and the commercial arm of Standfast for 28 years, becoming chief executive from 1984-87.

“During the seventies the factory was not performing well,” Richard said.

“In the eighties, printworks in the north west started to close but Standfast kept going.

“It had a very good reputation for design throughout the country and abroad. I went to America to sell Standfast and people there even knew about the firm.”

Lancaster’s other major employers Lansil, Williamsons and Storeys closed but Standfast survived and continues to thrive.

For more information on Behind The Wall, visit www.miradorarts.co.uk.