Factory girls in a factory town

Derry was always known as a friendly city. Many's the friendship that was developed within the factory walls.

Friends Dora Hughes and Ruby Jordan will be forever known as"factory girls" in the hearts of all the people they know and worked with in Derry.

Although it has been many years since either of them worked in the many factories that were in the city, today they say they cannot walk up the town without bumping into old friends they sang the day away with while working in Derry's factories.

"A friend made in one of Derry's factories is a friend for life," said Dora. We had great craic. It was a long day but we always found ways to make the time pass quickly."

Dora and Ruby were both born and and bred in the Fountain Estate, and the pair, who have since moved to Jack Allen Court, revel in the fact that they are just a stone's throw away from the place where they spent happy days playing as children in the streets.

Ruby explained: "The Fountain was a different place then, it was a real community where everyone looked out for their neighbours.

"1 was born in 5 Albert Street where I lived with my parents and brothers and sisters.
"When my parents got married, like many couples in their situation they did not have money for a house so they lived with my Aunt Sarah. At that time Catholics and Protestants lived together in the Fountain with no problems.

"Everyone helped each other out. You could go out for the day and leave your front door unlocked in the knowledge that your home would be safe. No one was mugged, no one was ever raped and the elderly were safe. it was a lovely community."

"No one cared about religion in those days" said Dora. It was tough for men to get work and times were hard for everyone. Everyone was too busy trying to make a living and get by to worry about religion."

However the harmony that existed between Catholics and Protestants in the Fountain ended with the riots in 1921 when many Catholics left the area.

"It was sad for the people of the Fountain to see so many of their friends move," said Ruby. But it was one of those things.

At the time my mother and father were desperate to be able to have their own house so when a Catholic woman moved out of her home in the ear!y 1920s my mother was determined that she should have it.

"She went down to 5 Albert Street and put a chair in it, staking her claim, or maybe they would call it squatting these days. However, it worked because it wasn't long before they were allocated the house.
The houses in the Fountain were small but lovely. We had no sculleries in houses and the toilets were out the back.

"We all slept in the attic and on the winter nights it was absolutely freezing. In the mornings we would jump from the bed to the stairs because the ground was so cold and we didn't want to put our feet on it."Growing up the Fountain was heaven," said Dora. "There was always something to do. We got up the morning and went to the Cathedral school. After school we nipped into the house, threw our school bags into the hall and went out into the streets to play.

"We played until it was dark, hopscotch, tig and swinys. We hung ropes around the lampposts and put our coat on it to make a wee seat. Often we would go on to the Walls and play and on sunny days we went to Prehen and played on the grass and ate our sweets. Brandy balls were a real favourite."
Ruby recalled that one of the favourite things she loved to do was being taken to the cinema in the afternoons.

"Derry was just full of picture houses," she said. "Every day people would queue outside them to get in. We cheered them all, the baddies and the goodies!"

When Ruby and Dora turned 14, they both left school and got jobs in the local factories. Ruby became a clipper at Hogg and Mitchells and Dora got a job as a patent turner in Neely and Wilkinsons.
"My job was to iron the shirt collars so they would be ready to be stitched," said Dora. In fact I became one of the most popular girls in the factory because I had an iron. Every morning the girls would come in a line to me with their bread and butter and I would toast it for them.

"It really was one of the most delicious things that you could eat."

When not working one of Dora and Ruby's favourite activities was heading to one of Derry's dances in the Britannia, Corinthian, Memorial or Ashfield Halls.

"From the fox trot to the waltzes we knew all the steps," said Ruby. "They weren't hard to learn and the older people who attended the dances would take you on the floor and teach you the steps. It was very important to know how to dance because that is how you got a man.

"It was also very important to look good, During the war and rationing, dresses were very difficult to get hold of. Often we would walk down to Muff and buy our dresses there. Then we would all swap them between us."

"I had a real love of Japanese silk, said Dora. We would go across the border and buy it there. It was the most beautiful material. On our way back to Derry we would hide it in one of the prams we brought with us. We also wouldn't miss the opportunity to smuggle some butter and sugar back."
"The real joy of the war was the soldiers arriving and docking in Derry as they would bring presents for the Derry girls with them," said Ruby.

"The first time they brought nylons in the girls went crazy for them. At other times we simply pretended we had nylons. We would go and buy a bottle of fake tan from the chemists and then get a friend to draw a line up the back of our legs with an eye brow pencil. Then we added a touch of Californian Poppy perfume on to our necks and we were ready for the dances.

The girls just went mad for the men in uniform," said Ruby. "I think a lot of Derry men were very jealous of the attention the girls gave the soldiers.

All the girls loved it when a soldier asked if he could walk them home."

In fact, both Dora and Ruby got married to sailors who came to Derry.

Now living in Jack Allen Court, best friends Ruby and Dora admit that when they get together these days they can't stop talking about the fun they had as young girls in the city.

Recently Ruby celebrated her 50th wedding anniversary with her husband John. The couple have four children and ten grandchildren. Dora has two children and two grandchildren.

The pair are just about to start a computer course to learn all about word processing and the Internet which they hope will allow them to stay in touch with family and friends all over the world and maybe renew acquaintances with old friends.

Courtesy of Erin Doherty and The Derry Journal