Harlesden: Heinz factory worker - it was like family’

Francis Oates, from Willesden, worked in the bottling section for 23 years until the Heinz factory in Harlesden was closed down, writes Georgia Graham. To him, like many long-term employees, the factory was more of a way of life than a career. He said:

Francis Oates, from Willesden, worked in the bottling section for 23 years until the Heinz factory in Harlesden was closed down, writes Georgia Graham.

To him, like many long-term employees, the factory was more of a way of life than a career.

He said: "Working at Heinz's wasn't like a normal job - you didn't do it for the money. It was like a family.

"You were surrounded by mates who worked there for years and years. I spent my evenings with them too and on birthday's we'd all go for a pub crawl."


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Oates said: "My dad died in June 1991 and my mum just gave up from there. She passed in 1993 and during that time it was the people at Heinz that got me through. My friends and the managers, everyone, looked out for you.

"I worked there for 23 years. I was 48 when they closed the doors and it was sad. When I walked away from the factory for the last time I have to be honest, it broke my heart.

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"If they hadn't shut the doors I would have been working at that factory until the day after I was 65."

Robert Russell, also from Willesden, worked at Heinz for 29 years and was secretary of the football team.

He said: "We whined about getting up on a January morning working for a manager straight out of university who doesn't understand your work, but I loved it. It was in my blood.

"It was a completely different world up in Harlesden in those days. There was a stream of men in the morning walking from the station to the factories.

"All the big names Wall's, Guinness and then Heinz.

"We played football every lunch hour, unless it was snowing. If you liked your football you played with the people you worked with and I was on canned goods labelling. They had proper footabll pitches and there would be 30 or 40 guys playing in three or four games.

Football was not the only leisure activity available at the factory.

Russell said: "There was also a rifle range, bowls and cricket and in 1974 we got a bar. It was right out of the way and the cheapest in the area so you could have a few late nights.

"I used to go after football on a Saturday.

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