The ‘Tick Tock’ clock factory in Ystradgynlais – closed 1999

I lived in Ystalyfera from 1981 until 2017, when the landslip forced me to move – to the Lampeter area.  We ‘evacuees’ found out the decision of the Tribunal during the last week – a group of my former neighbours had tried to overturn Neath Port Talbot’s evacuation notice – and failed.  Not surprising when half my garden went down the hill, along with the sewage pipes!  (If you want to find out a bit more about the landslip please see my post on julzcrafts.com here, and on the BBC news website)

Oddly enough, it finally feels like the end of  an era, and whilst searching for the most recent coverage of the Tribunal Decisions, I got side-tracked to this wonderful post about the ” clock factory at the very heart of valley communities for decades and was still going strong, down the road, when I lived there, and I watched it slowly die!  So as a tribute , and as a reminder of my time in the Swansea Valley, I thought I’d copy this post here!  Read it for the sense of Valley Life, before all the tribulations, and the closing of the mines, that finally killed off the community in the valley.

You can find the original, written by  Geraint Thomas and published on 10 April 2018 at

https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/fondly-remembering-tick-tock-clock-14512221

Fondly remembering Tick Tock, the clock factory at the very heart of valley communities for decades

The factory, which was actually called Anglo-Celtic Watch Company, was once home to more than 1,400 workers and was virtually a town in itself

A worker at the former Anglo-Celtic Watch Company factory (Tick Tock) in Ystradgynlais (Image: Marc Phillips)

As is the Welsh penchant for nicknames, the Anglo-Celtic Watch Company (an arm of Smiths Industries Ltd), in the Upper Swansea Valley, was known locally as The Tick Tock.

Set up following the Second World War, the factory, in Glanrhyd near Ystradgynlais, produced and exported around 30 million watches to countries all over the world before of a change of direction in 1980 saw a new name of Lucas SEI and a switch to making car components.

Sharing the site was a sister company called the Enfield Clock Factory that specialised in striking clocks, including pendulum time pieces.

At its peak The Tick Tock employed more than 1,400 people from throughout the valley with many school-leavers gratefully accepting sought-after apprenticeships and it was common for sons and daughters to work alongside their mothers and fathers.

Many of the workers met their future spouses on the factory floor and with its own social club and sporting teams it was just as much a community as a place of work.

Sadly time ran out for the main factory and it closed in 1999 — resulting in hundreds of redundancies — although the company still has a small base in the town operating under Sumitomo electric wiring systems Europe Limited.

The disused factory was demolished in 2011 and a Tesco superstore now stands on part of the site.

Work has also begun on a new pub restaurant that is rumoured to be called, quite fittingly, The Tick Tock.

At the time of its closure the then Secretary of State for Wales, Alun Michael, said: “The Tick Tock factory made a remarkable contribution to the economy of the Upper Swansea Valley and enriched its community spirit and its cultural life.

“The fact that the factory’s products have been sold all over the world is a tribute to the dedication and skill of all those who worked at Ystradgynlais, and to the high standards which they set and achieved.”

Women made up the lion’s share of the assembly line (Image: Marc Phillips)
The watches and time pieces were seen as amongst the best in the world(Image: Marc Phillips)
The factory gates saw over 1,400 workers flock in and out at its peak (Image: Marc Phillips)
The work on the assembly line required good eyesight and lots of concentration (Image: Marc Phillips)

The History

Local historian and former engineer at the factory, Mansel Jones, said: “At its height the Anglo-Celtic Watch Company was the largest watch manufacturing factory in Britain and one of the largest in Europe.

“Work in the factory started in August 1946 and it was opened on March 15, 1947. It was located on the old Ynyscedwyn estate on the outskirts of the village of Ystradgynlais, in the old county of Breconshire. It was on the main Swansea to Brecon Road, 14 miles from Swansea.

“During the years of 1946 to 1980 more than 30,000,000 watches were made, and were exported to 60 different countries across the world. The Anglo-Celtic Watch Co. Ltd was unique in that it was at one time the only company in the world to produce a watch from raw materials to the finished packed product.

“The only bought-in parts being the hairspring and crystal. Switzerland at that time was producing parts for watches in factories and local cottage industries, which were then assembled in Bern. Australia were later to establish a complete watch factory under one roof.

“The number of employees at one time was 1,420 (28% men and 72% women). These were recruited from these valleys: the Swansea valley from Morriston to Abercrave and Cwmllynfell; the Amman valley from Brynamman to Ammanford; and the Dulais valley from Seven Sisters to Neath. Public transport was available to convey all employees to the factory by 7.30am and to return at 4pm from Monday to Friday,” said Mansel.

“The company operated an extensive apprenticeship training scheme for boys drawn from local schools. Since 1946 a constant flow of apprentices had been maintained in order to ensure the availability of skilled men for the precision nature of the work.

“An extensive welfare programme was maintained at the works, which covered Sickness Benefit Scheme, Pension Schemes and a Social and Recreation Club, appropriately named the Tick Tock Social & Recreation Club. The clubhouse was situated on the Ynyscedwyn estate in beautiful surroundings of parkland. A secretary and an executive committee organised the sporting activities, concerts and so on. There was a large canteen which could accommodate more than 800 people seated, and provide a three-course meal three times a day for each of the three separate shifts. The canteen was also used for social functions.”

The Workers

Meriel Leyden, from Clydach, shared her memories of working in the Tick Tock for more than two decades with Catrin Stevens for the Women’s Archive of Wales Voices’s Voices from the Factory Floor project in 2014.

She started as a 21-year-old in 1955 and recalled that no qualifications were needed but she had to pass an eye test as good eyesight was required because many of the watch parts were small.

She confirmed that the place had “a strong community spirit” and added that she was made to feel at home because “most of the others girls spoke Welsh”.

Amongst her recollections she said that they were quite strict in the factory. The workers weren’t supposed to talk and the foremen and charge hands would be back and forth. There were no radios so a group of them would sing songs such as Calon Lan and carols at Christmas time.

They were given half an hour for lunch from 12.30pm until 1pm, when they would go to the canteen. There was a break at 11am but they would remain at their benches for it. In the summer they would sit outside the factory at lunchtimes.

Tea would be brought round for their break but there were many workers so some brought their own flasks in. Eating at their work stations was forbidden because the crumbs might get into the watches, although some workers sneaked in things to eat.

She said: “When you went out at night it was comical, once the bell went, well … nobody walked – they all raced out to catch the bus but had to clock out first. We were like animals coming out of the zoo!”

But she enjoyed her time there, adding: “I wouldn’t have finished then if they hadn’t closed down. Oh, the sadness, because many people depended on it, in this area, depended on the place.

“The company, the camaraderie and the money, of course. Mind you, I’d come in some days and think, gosh this is going on and on. We’d all get fed up from time to time. But it was the company, the Welsh, I think if I’d been in a factory down in Swansea or somewhere, I don’t think it would have been the same.”

Another employee at this time, Moira Morris, said: “I remember, if anyone of the girls was getting married – we all dreaded it. We were dragged in, into the toilets, and we were dressed up. Well, the confetti came out next.

“It went down the tights and all the clothes. And then they made us a head-dress and a veil. And then they got hold of a bucket, and cleaning materials and a mop. Then we had to walk back and fore as the girls sang Here Comes the Bride and I’m Getting Married in the Morning.”

The factory was sited in Gurnos, near Ystradgynlais (Image: Marc Phillips)
The factory served several roles and under several names in its time (Image: Copyright Unknown)
Job losses came despite a passionate fight to save them (Image: South Wales Evening Post)
The main factory stood abandoned for a while before being demolished(Image: Marc Phillips)
The sad shadow of its former self (Image: Marc Phillips)
Gone but not forgotten (Image: Marc Phillips)
Former Tick Tock employee Marc Phillips, who worked at the factory for 14 years in the 1980 and 90s, said: “The Tick Tock had a large catchment area of employees from the Swansea, Amman and Neath valleys. Whole families worked there — mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, as well as cousins, nieces and nephews.”

The 52-year-old explained that workplace romance was not uncommon.

He said: “Quite a few people met up and got married there, a popular date in the calendar was always the Mr and Miss Tick Tock dance where a few romances started.”

One employee, Andrew Morgan, who is still working for the company in its newest incarnation, said: “I joined as an apprentice straight from school in 1982, when I was 16, and I’m still there now at 51.

“It had moved away from clock-making when I joined – the clock-making started to go down hill when digital watches came in. I hear that they used to give them a pocket watch when they retired; having made them every day of their working lives you’d think that was the last thing they would have wanted but they were worth quite a bit back then.

“It was a happy place to work, a community all of itself. They even had their own magazine, called Lucas Leads, with news and on the back pages was the sports from the different teams – they had rugby, footballs, bowls and even fishing.

“There was a social club and they used to hold Miss and Mr Tick Tock pageants, a lot of people met their partners there.

“Everyone from the valley used to work there, from Seven Sisters, Abercrave, Ystradgynlais, Ystalyfera, Cwmtwrch, Pontardawe, Trebanos, from all over.”

Timeline

1947-1968 Anglo Celtic Watch Co & Enfield Automotive Clock Co were occupying the site, either owned by or taken over by Smiths Industries.

1980 The clock and watch activity ceased but Smiths Motor Accessories (Vehicle Instrumentation) who had occupied part of the site from 1968 took over the whole site.

1983 The SMA business was sold to Lucas Industries.

1987 Lucas Rists occupied part of site for manufacture of PSA / RSA harness.

1989 Joint venture – agreement in principle set up between Lucas Industries, SEI and SWS. 70 /30 split (70% Lucas).

1989 Remainder of Instrumentation Business transferred to Caerbont,

1990 Joint venture known as Lucas SEI Wiring Systems Ltd established for production of electrical wiring systems.

1992 Manufacturing facility set up at N-U-L (Rists factory) for Toyota Carina business

1992 Production commences of Honda Synchro harness at Neath factory

1994 Lucas SEI opens site in Sunderland for Toyota and Nissan business and closes facility at N-U-L producing Toyota Carina (Rists factory)

1995 Increase in shareholding by SEI/SWS to 50% after Components Business included within JV, still under management of Lucas.

1996 Lucas merges with Varity group and become Lucas Varity

 1999 Lucas taken over by TRW April 1999……….1999 TRW completed sale of balance of LSEI to SEI/SWS July 8, 1999…………1999 Engineering and some admin staff moved from Wind Road factory to smaller site at Woodland Business Park in August 1999, after closure of factory at Wind Road.

2 thoughts on “The ‘Tick Tock’ clock factory in Ystradgynlais – closed 1999

  1. Thanks Julz for an interesting article telling the history of the watch factory. Is there still industry in the area or has it all disappeared.
    Bet you still miss living there 😊

    Like

    1. very little – a cluster of small engineering businesses – various schemes were tried to encourage small businesses, but it did not do more than employ a few people. There is now a Tesco Supermarket on the site of the old factory, which, nice as it is to have it in the middle of the valley area, has had the effect of closing many of the food related shops ….

      Like

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