Thread Mills, Leisure, A Variety of Choices
A Variety of Choices
The company did play a large part in providing leisure facilities, and organising events for workers. Ann Lightbody summed up the reputation that the company had in the local area when she said that, “Coats was always famous for their sports, I mean, they had swimming way back, there was swimming, there was, I mean, the boys still have their, the men still have their golf thing.” Anne’s statement hints at Coats’ contribution to leisure in the local community, as well as the fact that people continued to meet up and participate long after the thread industry had left Paisley. Anchor Golf Club had been formed in 1952, and was actually independent until 1977, when it became affiliated to the Anchor Recreation club. Over the years, it attracted a large proportion of its membership from both the Anchor and Ferguslie mills. Swimming was an important way to relax after a shift, and formed part of a much broader recreation setting for mill workers. Ferguslie swimming club started in the early 1900’s, and the Anchor equivalent was formed around the same time. Both used to compete, with the first silver cup being presented by James Coats Jr. in 1909. Official competitions continued up until the late 1950’s, but the baths remained an important part of life for mill workers. Sadie Kilpatrick first started working in the Anchor mills, as a ‘doffer’, in 1938. She remembered how:
"I used to go to the baths, when I come off a nightshift, we used to go, what did you call that place, it was over in the Seedhill. It was a big, big, I think we called it the Rec, well they were all, there was badminton there, and there were, eh, there were cricket for men, and there was a beautiful big swimming pool."
Sadie was referring to the Anchor Recreation grounds in Blackhall Road, which was home to a variety of leisure and sporting opportunities for mill workers, and later, the wider local community. It would close in 1982 after the company stopped funding, but many respondents to this project had strong memories of the time that they spent here.
The Anchor Rec was used by Coats employees, and encouraged participation in a variety of sports, ranging from bowling, to cricket, to football. The company also had to make sure that it maintained the various facilities that it provided, and used employees to do this. Kenneth Donnaghy was one such employee, and he remembers having to do a variety of different maintenance tasks for the company, including keeping the tennis courts in good condition. “My first job in the morning on the rec was to brush the courts, up and doon, ye know, and you brushed the lines, and you whitewashed.” The company provided lots of facilities for staff, but the workers had to pay in order to participate. Billy Cunningham began working at Ferguslie in 1975, before being moved to Anchor. He recalled:
“when I first started in Ferguslie mills, they asked if you wanted to join Anchor Recreation Club. It was 50 pence a week, it was straight off your wages, you didn’t have to join if you didn’t want to. Eh, there was snooker tables there, there was a couple of football teams, there was a rugby team as well I think, there was a bowling green as well, eh, next to that. Being young and fit and healthy at that time I did play football. I did join the scheme, paid my 50 pence, went to a couple of training sessions, then got asked to play one Saturday. The team was actually called Anchor, we had two teams, one in the first division, one in the sixth.”
Billy was taking part in something that had a long, and winding, heritage. Football for mill workers can be dated back to around 1887, when Ferguslie Football Club was formed. The Coats amateurs would go on to win the West of Scotland amateur cup in season 1937/38, before disbanding, probably due to the war. In the 1960’s, it had reappeared, as Ferguslie Amateurs, winning a few cups in this decade before reforming as Coats Amateurs. Finally, the team that Billy joined were formed as Anchor Football Club in 1974.
Coats did make a significant contribution to leisure, especially in terms of providing infrastructure. It was important to have land first of all, as this then allowed the construction of buildings that could be used by the workers. One of the most popular pastimes was tennis, and the company had invested heavily in this over the years. In Ferguslie, the tennis club had been founded in 1886, and they played on courts close to Ferguslie Park Gardens. By the 1920’s, the company had built a clubhouse, and the tennis courts would be consistently well attended, especially on Saturday mornings. Lawn tennis was also very popular at the Anchor Recreation site, with teams formed back in 1923 and the ladies especially enjoying success in local competition. William McCance started working in Ferguslie mills in 1944, aged sixteen. He was a keen table tennis player, but also remembered fondly the Anchor Rec and being a member. He said:
“Anchor Recreation was for members, employees of the company, and I was a member of various groups, you see. I used to play table tennis for the team at that particular time, I played tennis, although I was not very good, but then, so far as the recreation, that was really good of the company, paying out the expense for somebody to maintain that building, as far as tennis goes, the company replaced tennis balls for eight courts twice a week, the two lots of new balls put out twice a week.”
It is clear that Coats invested in leisure, and as well as providing a benevolent service to workers, it would also encourage fitness, and ‘respectable pursuits’ after work, both of which were in the interests of employers as well as workers. However, some workers preferred to spread their wings, and not be tied too much to company-approved pursuits. Betty Le Vallois started in the mills as a message girl in 1944, aged fourteen. She remembered all of the different activities and pursuits on offer, as well as annual gatherings. She especially recalled that:
“they had lots of fetes in the mill, and you went to the recreation ground for these sort of things, well, they used to have table tennis, they had badminton, as I said, they had all the places you could go to anytime, but we were more wanting to get out the mill when we were young, to go dancing, go to cinemas or skating, ice skating.”
Clearly, while company-approved recreation was an attractive option for mill workers, the town itself had a variety of cultural pursuits that held their own attractions.