Stocking trade meant so much to Shirley
SHE spent nine years making and modelling beautiful bespoke corsets for the rich, and they were the happiest years of her life. Shirley Green, 67, was born Shirley Hickling in Letchworth GC and worked for the Spirella Corset Company, on Bridge Road, from
SHE spent nine years making and modelling beautiful bespoke corsets for the rich, and they were the happiest years of her life.
Shirley Green, 67, was born Shirley Hickling in Letchworth GC and worked for the Spirella Corset Company, on Bridge Road, from 1954 to 1963.
She said: "They were the best years of my life. Everybody was so friendly. We all helped each other and if we had a difficult job, others would lend a hand.
"In the main, we were very, very happy and Letchworth was a lovely area to live in."
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Spirella was founded in 1910 by William Wallace Kincaid, and moved into the Spirella Building in 1920.
It continued production of custom-made corsets until the 1970s when demand slowed and eventually the company closed.
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The building was also known as Castle Corset or the Factory of Beauty.
The company was extremely important to the town's economy as one of the biggest and most influential employers, particularly during the 1920s to 1940s.
Around 2,000 people are said to have been employed there.
Shirley said: "It was a massive place so it was alive with
noise when the machines were going.
"We used to have the radio on and we would all sing along. The windows were open in the summertime so I imagine the whole of Letchworth could hear us."
The Spirella Corset Company only made customised corsets and none of its products were sold in the shops. Instead, corsetieres were sent to customers' homes to take measurements and specific order requirements.
Shirley said: "You would be measured very minutely and you would pick out the colour and the style and the finished product would be absolutely stunning.
"Being made-to-measure, the corsets were rather expensive but you couldn't have had anything more perfect.
"I couldn't afford to buy one because it would have cost me two weeks wages."
She continued: "They usually employed men to do the cutting because they had to use these horrible knives.
"Women had to be measured, the material had to be cut, tacked and sewn. It was quite a process and the inspection control was very strict."
The Spirella Corset Company made garments for the rich and famous, including Marilyn Monroe and Mae West.
Shirley remembers being shown three finished corsets for Marilyn - a black, a white and a peach one.
She said: "I'm sure she wore the black one in The Prince and the Showgirl - a film she starred in with Laurence Olivier.
"The making of the corsets was a secret at the time and we were only shown the finished products when they were brought round and we were told what they were for."
As she contemplated her past, Shirley said: "The system itself was so different to what it is now. If you were a long time in the toilet you would have your money docked. But then you respected people who made that decision because it was good management. They ran a tight ship."
When asked what her favourite part of her job was, Shirley didn't hesitate.
She said: "The modelling was the highlight and we had a fantastic time.
"If you can imagine doing a job that you love and getting the hotel and everything paid for, there can't be anything better.
"We modelled everything from sports wear to evening wear.
"We paraded around and then we took off our dresses to show people what we had underneath."
Shirley went on tour all over Great Britain, from London to Scotland, with four other girls.
She was the youngest, at just 16, and modelled in front of audiences that included mayors and duchesses.
When asked what she liked least about her work, Shirley struggled to come up with something.
She said: "I don't honestly know. I think maybe the heat in the summertime, but then you had to put up with that anywhere you worked."
As she reminisced, she said: "The memories I have got are absolutely amazing. I wish I had a film of it.