It’s all in a name: finding Jane Saunders

A couple of weeks ago, I published a blog about our recent exciting research findings at Newman Brothers. Thanks to the 1921 census, we now have a host of new stories to explore and relay to our visitors. One of those stories is that of Jane Saunders.

Black and white image of seated womanWe’d never heard of her until the census was published a few months back, which got us thinking how many more people are out there waiting to be re-inducted into Newman Brothers’ history. Jane worked at Newman Brothers from at least 1921 and celebrated her 80th at the manufactory in 1983. So, it’s remarkable to think that we didn’t know anything about her life until now.

However, it turns out her story was always there in our archives, waiting to be told. So how did we miss it? Let’s start with finding her in the census. In 1921, Jane listed Newman Brothers as her employer and her occupation is recorded as a ‘press worker’. She was 17 years old and most probably worked in the Stamp Shop or the Piercing Shop, cutting out stamped pieces of metal.

To find her again, we have to jump to 1939. In the 1939 Register, Jane is listed as a ‘viewer of screws’. Based on that job description, it would strongly suggest that Jane had moved on from Newman Brothers by this stage, but we needed further confirmation from her family to prove that, especially as the 1939 Register doesn’t list employers.

Fortunately, we were able to make contact with her relatives through Ancestry, and Jane’s nephew, Peter, was able to confirm that she was indeed working at another company in 1939; in this case, the well known ‘Guest Keen and Nettlefolds’ on Heath Street (with her sister, Catherine).

Despite the 1921 Census proving that she worked at Newman Brothers before this point, the name ‘Jane Saunders’ does not appear anywhere in our surviving written records.

In fact, the first time that Jane features in our surviving archive isn’t until 1965. But not as Jane Saunders. She is now Jane McGovern, aged 62. Jane’s nephew, Peter, was able to confirm that Jane returned to Newman Brothers on a part-time basis, working mornings, after she retired.

page from ledger
Page from wages ledger from 1965. Note that Jane is listed seven lines down.

After hearing this, I decided to look through our surviving oral history transcripts and found Joyce Green’s interview from 2007. I searched for ‘Jane’ within the transcript and to my surprise (and excitement), she was mentioned twice. Even better is that it seemed to corroborate Peter’s story of  Jane returning to Newman Brothers after her retirement. Joyce commented that:

“But you know, and then by the Christmas (1976), Dolly who’d run the works and given out all the work and overseen the orders, got the flu and said I’m not coming back. So, in the January I had to go literally out into that warehouse and start to work. Give the work out to the polishers, get all the orders together, and learn how to put things such as rings and roses, that I’d only every typed rings and roses, but I’d had no idea what went together.

But fortunately, I had an old employee that had worked at Newman’s in her earlier years and had come back after she’d retired from another job. And so, Jane was a really wonderful help to me because she was the one that I had to say:

“‘Jane will you make all these rings and roses for me because I’ll have to learn how to do it’. How to put them, wrap them, box them, put them together in the different patterns.”

People at dolly's birthday party
Dolly appears in the centre of this photo. It was taken in 1976 on Dolly’s 75th birthday. Joyce Green is on the immediate right-hand side of the image.

1976 was a challenging year for Joyce Green, with two directors dying within months of each other, but it was also evidently challenging because of Dolly Dunsby (who had worked at Newman Brothers since 1915) finally retiring at the grand age of 75.

Succession Planning is something Newman’s didn’t excel at and Jane McGovern appears to have been somewhat of a saviour for Joyce at a time when there was so much unexpected change. In fact, she seems to have been someone who made what was a turbulent period more manageable than it could otherwise have been.

We cannot separate her from the story of Joyce’s transition from office manager to director of Newman Brothers, or from the key year of 1976 at the factory. At a point when establised members of staff were no longer at the company, and with other staff sabotaging machinery in protest to Joyce (as a woman) taking over Newman Brothers, there was Jane McGovern, who by all rights should have retired, offering a helping hand and ‘just getting on with it’.

Jane cutting her cake at her partyWhen Jane celebrated her 80th birthday in 1983, it was held in the Newman’s Warehouse, as tradition seemingly demanded. Thanks to Jane’s family, we have a photo of her cutting her cake, with some familiar faces cropping up in the background.

It turns out that Jane remained at Newman Brothers for another five years after that until approximately 1988. She was 85 when she finally decided that retirement really did mean retirement.

Special thanks to Suzanne Hayes for her exceptional detective work (once again) and supporting our research, and also to Jane’s family for helping fill in the gaps and provide us with family photos. 

Sarah Hayes, Museum Manager

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One Response

  1. Amazing…she must have known Arthur Allen !
    Hope you ar all keeping well
    Look forward to visiting after too long not doing so
    Regards to all
    Bridget West
    Arthur’s granddaughter

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