Reunion: Former Leeds office colleagues back together after half a century

Reunion: Former colleagues at Leeds' Van Den Bergh office.
Reunion: Former colleagues at Leeds' Van Den Bergh office.
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They were close-knit colleagues who became lifelong friends over the course of their careers.

And women who worked together at Leeds’ Van Den Bergh sales office more than 50 years ago were reunited yesterday, as they re-lived memories of times gone by.

Reunion: Former colleagues at Leeds' Van Den Bergh office.

Reunion: Former colleagues at Leeds' Van Den Bergh office.

The reunion was held at the Becketts Bank Wetherspoons in Park Row, just streets away from their former workplace at First House in Aire Street.

Van Den Bergh once employed more than 200 people in Leeds city centre - who were all women except for a handful of men working in managerial roles - from the 1950s until the office closed in 1981.

Many of the women, working in administrative jobs, started at the nearby Hudson and Knight office before moving to the sales office of Van Den Bergh, a company that manufactured margarine and cooking fats.

Among those to attend the reunion yesterday was Maureen Swallow, who started work aged just 15.

Patricia Crumpton.

Patricia Crumpton.

Mrs Swallow, 72, from Rothwell, said: “It’s lovely to see old friends.

“It brings back memories of working together. Some people lost touch over the years.”

She started at Hudson and Knight alongside colleague Margaret Tyson, now also 72, and the pair moved to Van Den Bergh together.

They worked there together until 1969, when the women both left in the same year to have children, aged 24.

Mrs Swallow, whose first wage packet was £3 and 14 shillings, said there were perks to the job in the 1960s.

“We used to take it in turns to have people do each other’s hair in the toilet before the night out,” she said.

“And we used to have files that we were working on, but we would put reading books inside them for when we were bored.

“I have had jobs since that which were a lot worse.”

The women used to go for “dinner dances” at the nearby Metropole Hotel, in Leeds city centre, after work.

The company’s city centre office shut in 1981, when around 50 people were made redundant as Van Den Bergh centralised its operations near Brighton.

Jean Turner, now 80, worked at the company from 1953, and was among those who were let go when the office closed.

She said the friendships, rekindled yesterday for some after decades of losing touch, were a big part of the job.

“We had a wonderful social life,” Miss Turner, from Cookridge, said.

“We made life long friends.”

The reunion was organised by Rosalind Bell, 71, a former ledger clerk who worked at the company for 14 years until its closure.

She sent letters out to former colleagues in the hope of seeing familiar faces.

Others who attended the event included Diane Baker, now 69, who started work at the company in 1964.

Mrs Baker met her late husband through colleague Linda Bromby, 73, who was also at the reunion yesterday.

“We used to go out together and then Diane ended up meeting my brother,” said Mrs Bromby, from Bramley.

“They got married and we have been sisters in law and friends ever since”.

‘They wanted to replace me with a machine’ - meet Patricia, the office tea lady

While many women at the company worked as clerks, Patricia Crumpton’s role was entirely different.

The Van Den Bergh office’s tea-maker, she was always on hand to provide warm refreshments for her colleagues and managers.

Mrs Crumpton, now 83, worked at the office, ferrying tea on trays and trollies, until its closure in 1981.

“I was the tea lady - I just made tea for the office. I loved it.

“And I can still make a great cup of tea.

“They wanted to get rid of me because they said they thought about replacing me with a machine.

“But I said, ‘don’t you dare!’.

“And they never did.”

A demanding job, Mrs Crumpton said she could make as many as 50 cups of tea for staff during a shift.

She enjoyed the reunion, and said it was a chance to relive those memories of working together.

“It’s fantastic, everyone getting back together like this.

“I didn’t think anyone would recognise me.”