Interview with Maria Smith, 20 August 2021
Level: Category
Sound Archive
Level: Fonds
Level: Series
Communicating Connections
Scope and Content:
Maria Smith [MS] interviewed by Laura Owen [LO] about working at the Marconi Company from the late 1960s. Recorded remotely via Squadcast.

[00:00:37] MS comments that she moved to Essex from London aged three. Father a good farmer, from Ukraine; moved to a farm at Boreham. Describes how she came to join the drawing offices at Marconi as an apprentice draftswoman at New Street. Details tasks, such as machine operation and sheet metal work.

[00:08:16] Comments that the apprenticeship taught her a wide spectrum of skills, beyond the drafting department. Explains how learning about the physical components of the work had a significant impact on the drawing process. Comments that she was one of eight female apprentices in the drawing office. Describes how exciting it felt to be a woman taking on an engineering career, getting good passes for a Mechanical Engineering course at Chelmsford College for Further Education, and the dynamics between men and women in the machine shop.

[00:20:16] Talks about moving to the printed circuit board (PCB) department after her apprenticeship. Chose to go into PCB work as modifications were easier to deal with. Enjoyed the variety of work and the opportunities to work alongside different engineers. Describes a project where she helped create the first police tracking device set in cars.

[00:29:15] Comments that many of the projects she worked on were secret but that success was always well rewarded by the company. Describes the meaning of GWS 25 and the element of surprise in finding out what projects she worked on.

[00:34:42] Talks about more projects she was involved with, including creating liquid-crystal displays for ATMs. Details the process of working with an engineer on the project and the satisfaction of breakthroughs.

[00:38:43] Mentions working on a PCB project for Cornwall but never seeing the results. Recalls unexpectedly finds her artwork in Kelvedon’s secret nuclear bunker whilst on holiday with her grandchildren. Describes Marconi production lines and how fascinating the work process was.

[00:49:32] Comments that she took maternity leave in 1977, when she had her first baby. Returned to work after six months, as her manager offered her the opportunity to take on contract work at home. Mentions working on Archimedes computers in the early 1990s, looking after her children while working, and doing work for the BBC and the Imperial War Museum, Describes the shift from manual PCBs to computer aided designs and the effect this had on her career; came to an end when computers become the main source of design.

[00:59:29] Compares PCBs then and now. Talks about the speed of progression and details the different components of a PCB. Comments that she enjoyed the variety of the work and unexpected perks; tells anecdote about being driven by chauffeur.

[01:05:30] Talks about how well Marconi looked after their employees. Recalls working in the canteen during the three-day weeks in the mid-1970s, so they could use the electricity and work for five days. Reflects on how fun it was to work at Marconi despite it being hard at times. Mentions the camaraderie and ethos of the company.

[01:11:35] Describes working from home in the 1970s, being able to drive, and the help she received from Marconi whilst doing this. Recalls laughing a lot at work and the kindness of her colleagues.

[01:20:31] Comments on obtaining a job as a school invigilator just before the COVID-19 pandemic; a similar camaraderie to Marconi. Describes the work at Marconi as pioneering and how her experiences at the company made her respect technology more today.
Dates of Creation:
20 August 2021
1 hour 27 minutes 25 seconds
Creator Name:
Laura Owen, interviewer
Archivist Note:
Custodial History:
Recorded for the Communicating Connections project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF).
Physical Characteristics:
1 MP3 file
Related Unit of Description:
For a transcript of this recording, see SA 13/8/20/3
Dates of Description:
6 June 2022
Not Available:
Digital item(s). For access please email ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk