When a packet of cigarettes made a good Christmas present – the heyday of closure-set factory

Tobacco advertising ' but there is always fall-out from social shifts.
Tobacco advertising ' but there is always fall-out from social shifts.

The closure of the Essentra plant on the Bede Industrial Estate, with the loss of more than 200 jobs, is a blow for South Tyneside.

In its previous incarnation as Cigarette Components, it was a borough success story that had its roots in the industrial optimism that followed the end of the Second World War.

This manifested itself in the establishment, in the late 1940s, of a new industrial centre on the border between South Shields and Jarrow, in the new tradition of trading estates that had grown up in the 1930s (Team Valley further up river, for instance, had opened in 1939).

In less than a decade, factories on the Bede estate were employing more than 3,300 people, in the manufacture of goods ranging from machinery, textiles and paper, to electricals and even mineral water.

It would come to be home to names that became a byword in local employment, from Morganite Resistors to British Celanese.

This was a time, however, when few households were without a smoker. By the end of the Second World War, tobacco consumption in the UK was double what had it had been at the end of the First World War.

An incredible 80 per cent of men smoked (65 per cent of them cigarettes), and 40 per cent of women.

My generation grew up in a fug of baccy smoke – on buses, in cinemas; as kids it wasn’t unusual to be sent to get a packet of five Woodbines out of the cigarette machine outside the local corner shop, when it was closed.

An acceptable Christmas present for a father or grandfather was a box of cigarettes, bought perhaps from Oliver’s, whose advertisement here actually dates from the 1930s, but which retails the idea of smoking as being sophisticated, a perception that prevailed for years.

I wasn’t aware until I saw this, though, that Oliver’s had their own brand of ciggies. But I do remember the Balkan Sobranies, which I did once smoke, during a brief and misguided phase of my youth.

Essentra points to cigarette smoking now being in decline in Western Europe. We are changing our habits, the days of propping up the bar with a livener in one hand and a fag in the other (I did it, and I can’t pretend I don’t sometimes miss it) now consigned to history.

But there is always fall-out from these social shifts, and my heart goes out to the Essentra workforce.