In the 1950s, most men in industrial areas worked in factories. The older members of the workforce would have started work at the age of 13, and spent most of their life working at least a forty hour, five day week, often plus Saturday mornings. After such a life, retirement often came as a shock, and some people found it difficult to adjust to a life of leisure.

The 1946 National Insurance Act introduced a contributory state pension for all, which was paid to men from the age of 65, and to women from the age of 60. The scheme began to operate in 1948. Although many employers insisted that staff had to leave when reaching retirement age, this was not the case at Rubery Owen, where older workers were well looked after. Many chose not to retire at retirement age, but continued doing their job as long as they could. Some jobs required hard physical effort, and so were unsuitable for the elderly. Wherever possible the company found them lighter work, so that they could continue at the factory, until old age took its toll.

Most industrial towns had a Sons of Rest, where retired male workers could socialise, and pass time away. Each had its own small community who met for a cup of tea and a chat, or to play a game of cards, dominoes, or darts, and occasionally go out on day trips to places of interest.

Sir Alfred Owen was president of the Sons of Rest in Darlaston and felt that it was not really meeting the needs of the elderly. While at work, he was presented with a list of the over 70s at the factory, and asked what was to be done with them. There were not enough light jobs available, and they could not cope with the high physical demands, and the speed of operation in the workshops.

He came up with a novel idea, a sons of rest workshop, where members could work at a slower pace than in the factory, carrying out light work, which would give them a sense of purpose, and the satisfaction of a job well done. They would also receive a small wage which would supplement their pension.

Two wooden buildings were erected end-to-end in a corner of the 14 acre Rubery Owen sports ground at Bentley. Each building was 60 ft. long by 20 ft. wide. Initially the interior consisted of a small workshop and a larger rest room, with games, tables and armchairs. As the project progressed, the rest room was made smaller, and the workshop enlarged. There was a maximum of twenty two members, who were known as ‘sons’, a foreman, and a warden. The first foreman, Sam Checketts had originally been a superintendent in the factory, but because of his age, had moved to a lighter job in the tool room. The first warden, 75 years old E. Fraser-Ryder had previously been the senior sports organiser, before which he was a headmaster, and an all-round sportsman.

The official opening of the Sons of Rest workshop in August, 1949. In the centre is Mr. A. G. B. Owen, Mr. John Beddows, and Mr. Harmer Nicholls, Chairman of Darlaston Urban District Council. From the autumn 1949 edition of 'Goodwill' the Owen Organisation's staff magazine.

The Sons of Rest was officially opened in August 1949 by Mr. Harmer Nicholls, the Chairman of Darlaston Urban District Council. On Thursday 8th September the BBC arrived with a recording van, and Leslie Cargill of the Midland Region interviewed some of the sons. The new establishment was expected to pay its way by obtaining outside orders for short runs of metal objects, and by supplying the company with much needed small and awkward parts.

The eldest of the first group of sons was 82 years old John Beddows who had worked for many years in the main factory. Other members of the sons included 72 years old Bill Critch, who had worked in the structural engineering division for forty five years, and 72 years old Caleb Ludford, who had worked for nineteen years as a skilled jig-maker. Then there was Elijah Bradley, also 72, who had twenty three years service, Sam Checketts, again 72, with seventeen years service, 71 years old Charlie Griffiths, and Sidney Trow, and Bill Eaton, both 70.

John Beddows at work in the factory, doing a hard physical job that was not really suitable for someone of advanced years.

From the Christmas 1949 edition of 'Goodwill' the Owen Organisation's staff magazine.

John Beddows signs in at the start of a day at the sons workshop, full of enthusiasm, and eager anticipation of the day ahead.

From the Christmas 1949 edition of 'Goodwill'.

Mr. A. G. B. Owen chatting to Enoch Ratcliffe in the rest room.

Enoch was an ex-works policeman.

A group of the sons.

Back row left to right: Jack Pursalt,
Bill Critch, Bill Cox, and Bob Tilley.

Middle row left to right: Charlie Griffiths, Frank Dark, Harry Taylor, and John P. Rainsbury.

Front row left to right: Joe Baker,
E. Fraser-Ryder, and Sam Checketts.

Tea time in the workshop. Twice a day the warden,  Mr. E. Fraser-Ryder came round with refreshments. From the Christmas 1949 edition of 'Goodwill'.
The sons were all skilled men, with vast experience and expertise, in widely different areas of production. There was a prevailing feeling of belonging amongst the sons. They greatly enjoyed their time in the workshop, and were always bubbling with enthusiasm, contentment and happiness. Something that was rarely found in the factory.

They were extremely conscientious, and ensured that anything produced in the workshop would be made to the highest standards, which helped to assure the profitability of the project.

The sons were never late, and couldn’t wait to start work at the beginning of each day. Theirs was close-knit community in which they eagerly undertook the most menial of tasks. One of the sons spent most of his time in the workshop carrying out assembly work and filing. The remainder of his day involved scrubbing and cleaning the floors, dusting and polishing the furniture, and cleaning the windows.

One of the sons carried out precision drilling, another was an assembler and cold riveter. Another had learned to operate an electric sewing machine, and spent his time producing many types of industrial protective clothing, jeep hoods, and car seat covers. Another of the sons, the workshop manager, produced the technical drawings, and helped to find the outside orders that funded the project. The sons greatly enjoyed the challenge of producing a prototype, and ironing out any problems.
Mr. A. G. B. Owen giving his opening address in the rest room. From the autumn 1949 edition of 'Goodwill'.
One of the sons hard at work on the sewing machine.

Courtesy of Tony Highfield.

      Bill Cox on the sewing machine.
Frank Dark making cable clips.
             Lunchtime in the rest room.
An enjoyable lunchtime chat.
                    A welcome cup of tea.

A busy day in the workshop. Courtesy of Tony Highfield.

The other half of the workshop.

Courtesy of Tony Highfield.

Some of the varied tasks that were carried out daily, from the filing of small components to cutting timber.

Courtesy of Tony Highfield.

Two of the drilling machines in operation.

Courtesy of Tony Highfield.

Filing and assembling small components.

Courtesy of Tony Highfield.

Sam Checketts (left) being interviewed by Leslie Cargill the BBC commentator. From the autumn 1949 edition of 'Goodwill'.
All kinds of articles were made in the workshop including jigs, tools, and fixtures, all demanding a high degree of skill and craftsmanship. Items were fabricated in metal, wood, and plastic.

Products included small items such as heavy duty electrode holders, and earth clamps. Larger items included tubular steel hammock beds for nurseries, and two hundred agricultural seeding units, each 8 ft. 6 inches long, and weighing 2¾ cwts. They were built at a competitive price, on a strict monthly delivery schedule.

                Carefully drilling a hole.
John Beddows inspects a newly-made component.
The sons’ lunch break began at 12 o’clock. They would settle down to a sandwich and a cup of tea, followed by reading a newspaper, a game of darts, or cards, or maybe a snooze. There was often little conversation.

At 12.55 p.m. they would promptly finish what they were doing in order to return to their bench or machine by 1 o’clock sharp.

Leslie Cargill interviewing some of the sons in the workshop. From the autumn 1949 edition of 'Goodwill'.

The sons’ social activities were limited to a day’s outing in the summer, and a lunch and tea at Christmas. It was paid-for from the profits of the rest room, a donation from the three managing directors, and a weekly subscription, to which each son contributed. The rest room profits came from the daily two cups of tea, costing one penny each, which were prepared and served by the warden.

Sir Alfred Owen was a deeply religious man. Every Good Friday, the sons were expected to join him at a morning service. They rarely saw the managing directors at other times, other than the Christmas tea party, which they always attended.

John Beddows at work in the workshop, and carrying boxes containing components from the main factory, that had to be finished off. From the Christmas 1949 edition of 'Goodwill'.

They had a steady stream of visitors, who inspected the sons’ daily routine with interest. Initially the scheme attracted a lot of publicity and so callers arrived from various newspapers and publications. When this activity died down, representatives from other manufacturing companies, from much of the world, came to evaluate the scheme, and consider the possibility of setting-up their own sons of rest workshop.

Visitors were always well looked after, and numerous names appeared in the visitors’ book. A regular visitor was the group chaplain. He used to sit in the quiet rest room to answer his correspondence.

                       Bob Tilley at work.
Charlie Griffiths and Sam Checketts.
The sons of rest workshop was a great success. It added a sense of purpose to the lives of the sons, and kept them active in both mind and body.

It equally served the factory well, providing small components that were essential, but difficult to make.

Home time, after a rewarding day. From the Christmas 1949 edition of 'Goodwill'.
A later view of the workshop. Courtesy of Tony Highfield.

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