Chatter and clatter give way to calm

PAST The old Twilfit corset factory
PAST The old Twilfit corset factory

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MEMORIES of waspish waists and whalebone came flooding back as a new housing project was opened in Portsmouth.

The 32 one and two-bedroomed apartments now sit in a tranquil courtyard in the shadow of St Mary’s Church, Fratton.

PRESENT From left, Florence Tudfay and  Angela Morton.  Picture: Malcolm Wells (113448-9581)

PRESENT From left, Florence Tudfay and Angela Morton. Picture: Malcolm Wells (113448-9581)

But little more than 40 years ago the building which occupied this site was among the noisiest in the city – not only from the clatter of machinery but also from the chatter of the women workers.

For the factory was Twilfit and the girls who worked there were part of a Portsmouth institution – corset-making.

Yesterday marked the opening of the Alliance House scheme, a mixture of shared ownership and social housing flats.

And one of the women living in the £4m Radian-built complex still cannot believe her luck.

Angela Morton, now 72, began working at Twilfit in the machine room when she was 15 in 1954.

She said: ‘I feel content. To come back to this site after working here for 16 years is unbelievable. It feels right. It was a great place to work.’

Alliance House, which is opposite the City of Portsmouth Girls’ School and falls in the St Mary’s Churchyard conservation area, closed in 1984. It became a community centre and fell into disrepair and stood abandoned until work on the homes began in late 2009.

Portsmouth became the world’s largest corset-maker because of the Royal Navy.

While the men were at sea and not paid until they returned home, the women they left behind needed to earn money.

In 1890 the city boasted 16 corset factories. By 1920 it had risen to 25.

Today just one survives – Voller’s in Burrfields Road, Copnor.