Page last updated at 16:45 GMT, Monday, 2 November 2009
Memories of a Shropshire Factory

By Sharon Simcock
BBC Shropshire

Workers at Silhouette's Cotton Hill factory in Shrewsbury

Thousands of people across Shropshire have memories of Silhouette - an underwear and swimwear company, once based in the county.

BBC Shropshire's Sharon Simcock went to meet the man who has helped bring the factory back to life in a new play.

When I was about eight years old I remember my mother taking me and my sister to the Silhouette factory in Shrewsbury. It was in the 1970s.

Our neighbour worked for the underwear and swimwear company and had invited us to an open evening. It was a night when women from Shropshire could go to the factory and buy reduced price garments - the rejects of the production line.

I remember small offices full of boxes of swimming costumes and bras - and women of all shapes and sizes stripping off in the smallest of side rooms to try on potential bargains.

It's a memory that came back to me when I went to meet Nigel Hinton. Nigel is a chartered accountant - but he's also the man behind a new play based on the memories of some of the thousands of Shropshire women (and a few men) who remember Silhouette.

The story of many of the companies is fundamentally down to the people who were part of the company and it is their story that I hope we can tell
Nigel Hinton

I met him to find out how and why he first became interested in the Silhouette story.

Nigel used to work at Hartleys, an electronic company - now also part of Shrewsbury's history (it went into liquidation in 1992). In 2005 he decided to write a history of Hartley's and set up the madeinshrewsbury website.

The site is an ongoing project, but is already a fascinating archive of several well known Shrewsbury companies including Hall Engineering, Rushworths, and now Silhouette.

Nigel's site doesn't just look at the history of the companies; it welcomes stories from the people that worked at the factories. Photos and video, equipment and merchandise have been sent to him by people with connections to the firms.

Nigel said, "When I started the website I was amazed at the response and the volume of information books and papers catalogues pricelists and other ephemera I received but when someone brought in a Taperiter I was stunned.

"The Taperiter used a very early metal cassette on a tape recorder system for use in offices as a dictation system years before Phillips brought out their plastic version."

Tom Blumenau OBE the former Chairman and Managing Director of Silhouette with Nigel Hinton
The Lobbenberg and Blumenau families set up the Silhouette company in 1887

His knowledge of the companies has grown as people tell him their memories and stories. He's passionate about the project - especially about the Silhouette story, which seems to have struck a chord with many others.

Nigel said, "The story of many of the companies is fundamentally down to the people who were part of the company and it is their story that I hope we can tell".

Nigel said "The story of the people behind Silhouette is both fascinating exciting and tragic a real rollercoaster ride that will resonate with all of us lurching from disaster to triumph and back to disaster for no apparent reason."

Surviving members of the Lobbenberg and Blumenau families, who set up the company in 1887, have met with him and entrusted him with their leather-bound family photo albums.

These are fascinating piece of history - there are family letters dating back almost 100 years, as well as hundreds and hundreds of photos, advertising pictures, and newspaper cuttings. It's easy to see how Nigel's life has been taken over by this project.

Silhouette cast
Playwright Chris Eldon Lee also wrote the popular Arthur's Plough

He has written a book, published in November 2009, about the history of Silhouette. The items and photos he has collected (now stored in boxes) he hopes will end up in a museum in Shrewsbury.

But none of this explains how Nigel went from creating a website archive to making Silhouette's history come alive on the stage.

It was while watching another local play, Arthur's Plough (written by Chris Eldon Lee), that Nigel suddenly thought the stories he was gathering might make it to the stage.

He contacted Chris and together they organised a coffee morning, inviting more people to come forward and tell their stories. The pair weren't sure how many people would turn up - perhaps just a handful?

In fact, so many people turned up to tell their stories they had to close the doors.

The resulting play, based on these stories was performed in Market Drayton and Shrewsbury in November 2009. The tickets sold out within a few months.

So great has been the demand that another run has been organised with two performances on Sunday, 28 February and evening performances on 1, 2, 3 and 4 March 2010 at Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury.

The BBC's Inside Out television programme will also feature Silhouette on 1 February 2010.

Silhouette obviously brings back memories for lots of us in the county.

Audio slideshow: Silhouette memories
16 Nov 09 |  History

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