In June the Newbridge Silverware factory in county Kildare opened to public tours for the first time in its history, allowing visitors an opportunity to watch dedicated workers craft fine jewellery and silverware.
Production manager, Cliff English, said: “The reaction to the tours has been fantastic. Visitors are often surprised to find out that the products are still made here often on pieces of machinery which date right back to the opening of the factory in the 1930s. “Such old production methods now run alongside more recent innovations such as computer aided manufacturing.”
The tour begins with a short audio-visual presentation on the history of the factory which has its roots in the days of the British Empire. At that time the town of Newbridge was a major centre for the rearing and training of horses to serve in British cavalry regiments. After Irish independence the cavalry barracks were closed resulting in many skilled metal workers who had previously produced weapons and horse shoes becoming redundant.
A committee, which included the leader of the Labour Party William Norton, was formed in the early 1930s to encourage local industrial development which could utilise the skills of redundant workers in the area. A group of skilled craftsmen from Sheffield, the largest cutlery producing centre in the UK, were encouraged to move to the town and some equipment was also sourced from the Yorkshire city. This group helped local workers develop their metal working skills towards the making of cutlery. In 1934, the Newbridge Silverware Factory opened and it has continued as key local employer ever since.
For factory worker Mick Dempsey, the tours are yet another innovation in a long history of change which has ensured the company has survived for nearly 80 years. “When I started work here nearly 40 years ago we only made cutlery”, said Mick, ‘Then we developed into jewellery production, initially utilising the offcuts from the cutlery manufacturing process. Now we are developing the focus on the craft that goes into these processes, it’s just another stage in the story of the factory.”
Anna Pachanonska, who was working on the jewellery finishing process when Liberty toured the factory, said: “It is a changed environment since the tours started. Work has been done to make the workplace a little quieter and there are displays to inform visitors of the work we do. “It is really good to see people take such an interest in our work and the skill that goes into it.” To buy tickets for the factory tour visit Newbridgesilverware.com/tickets or inquire instore.
This first appeared in Liberty paper in July/August 2019.