Many people will remember Warners factory based off Grange Lane South in Scunthorpe, the building is now the home of Ashby Bowl – a 12 lane ten-pin bowling alley and social bar.
The factory was initially run by Gordonia Debrette, a Nottingham-based maker of women’s underwear.
The new Scuthorpe factory, designed to provide work for 250 staff, was open in April 1969 at a cost of £100,000 – the building contract going to Grimsby based Wilde and Williams who completed the construction in 13 weeks, three weeks ahead of schedule.
Sir Christopher Chataway – best known as pacemaker when Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four minute mile in 1954 – performed the opening ceremony. Sir Christopher, an MP and government minister, who was a personal friend of Otto Alder, Gordonia Debrette’s chairman and owner, congratulated Scunthorpe Borough Council for the vigorous way in which it had sought to attract new industry.
He said the council had given a great deal of help to Debrette in opening the new factory and thanked the Mayor, Councillor Alice Cropper, who was among the guests at the ceremony.
Debrette was one of the first companies to answer Scunthorpe Borough Council’s calls for additional factories fro the town. It had initially moved to a site on Midland Road in 1966 and then Winterton Road.
The company’s managing director, Mr A L Burnham said, “If more companies knew of the reception we have had they would be leaping to get into Scunthorpe.”
He praised the skills of Scunthorpe’s female workers, “They are most excellent hard workers and very receptive, we are well satisfied with all aspects of Scunthorpe” he said.
Otto Alder, who had other interests in property, finance and merchant banking, said the new factory would constitute an important part of Debrette’s manufacturing chain adding, “we believe this factory will be on of the most productive in the group because the women here are very industrious and conscientious.”
Following the opening ceremony, models from a Nottingham agency paraded in a selection of Debrette’s garments.
The company wasted no time in recruiting new workers, launching a vigorous campaign which pleased the town’s industrial development officer, and Alderman Leslie Hornsby, chair of the council’s new industries committee.
In June 1971 is was reported that Gordonia Debrette was to take on an additional 50 machinists, Iris Tudhope, who had been with Debrette’s in Scunthorpe since the beginning, was appointed factory manager.
The follow year increased orders saw more workers needed and a training section was established to allow school-leavers to join and become joined trained machinists.
In autumn 1972, Gordonia Denbrette became part of an American organisation, Warnaco, which announced plans to expand the size of the Scunthorpe factory, through its British subsidiary, Warner UK Ltd.
In 1976 the firm took on an extra 20 women when Warner UK won the sole contract to supply a new bra for retailer Dorothy Perkins.
Factory manager, John Copley said, “It’s a new line for us, we are the sole manufacturer of this bra and we are making it under contract for Dorothy Perkins.”
He added, “as far as I can see, the future looks very bright.”
Most of Warners production was then aimed at the contract market, including British Home Stores and Pippa-Dee, it also supplied store groups including Asda and Sainsbury’s.
In July 1987 it was reported Warners UK would be taking on 30 more workers having just opened new £80,000 extensions which included new micro-processed controlled machinery. Local councilors and officials were given a tour of the factory and the Managing Director of the company, Nigel Howland, said this had been done to thank them for their help.
At this time Warners employed 210 people in Scunthorpe and undertook work for names including House of Fraser, Harrods, John Lewis and Selfridges. About 40 per cent of local output went to export.
The closure of the factory was reported in April 1994.
A review of the manufacturing capacity at the company’s four UK sewing sites had already earmarked the closure of the Scunthorpe factory by bosses at Warner UK with a date set for before June of that year however it was closed weeks ahead of schedule after orders had been complete.
Many at the factory were in tears and were too upset to speak as they left for the final time. One woman said, ” I’m devastated. I’m 56 years-old and I’ve worked here for 17 years, there’s no chance I’ll get another job at my age.”
A company spokesman said, “The staff have been wonderful, it’s such a shock to them that we are going to close.”