AN EXHIBITION showcasing Carlisle’s best-known factory opened this week.

The Spirit of the Cracker Packers: In Our Own Words is more about the packers than the crackers.

The free exhibition is being held at The Old Fire Station, Warwick Street, Carlisle, to celebrate the women who have worked in the city’s Carr’s / McVitie’s factory in Caldewgate over the decades.

It shares stories about what life was like in the factory from the largely female workforce, past and present.

The Spirit of the Cracker Packers has been produced in association with Tullie House museum. A version of the exhibition was there last year.

The exhibition co-ordinator is Claire Sleightholm, assistant curator at Tullie House.

She says: “Carr’s and McVitie’s have an impact on virtually anyone’s life if they’ve lived in Carlisle for any length of time. There’s all sorts of connections. One of my colleagues went to work there at 16 to earn some money to go to university.

“I was giving a talk in the summer for Penrith Conservative Ladies Society. You might not necessarily associate them with being connected to Carr’s. But four or five of them came up to me and told me they had worked there.”

Claire’s favourite elements of the exhibition include the listening station, where people can hear recordings of 40 women talking about working at Carr’s and McVitie’s.

“Some of the recordings are from women who worked there in the 1920s and 30s - recorded in the 1980s - as well as current workers and recent retirees.

“Some of the stories are sort of the same. They talk about the camaraderie and the humour, wanting to look out for one another. Knowing you have quite a hard job at times. Looking after each other and having each other’s backs.

“People really wanted to share their stories. They are human stories that everyone can relate to. It’s really not about working in a factory - it’s about friendship. That’s universal.

“You don’t need to understand a factory or be interested in a factory to be engaged with these stories. Carr’s is the backdrop to these women and the opportunities that opened up to them through their employment. There are stories there for everyone, young or old.”

The exhibition also includes tins made for Carr’s biscuits, a Lilliput Lane model of the factory, banners featuring cracker packers’ words and giving background to Carr’s and McVitie’s, and copies of Carr’s staff newspaper: The Topper Off. A topper off was the final inspector of the biscuits.

Most of the tins are from Eric and Elsie Martlew’s personal collection. The idea of a statue to commemorate Carr’s workers came from Elsie, a former deputy leader of Carlisle City Council.

The statue, designed by award-winning sculptor Hazel Reeves, was unveiled on International Women’s Day last March at Paddy’s Market, near the factory. The exhibition includes words from Hazel.

The Spirit of the Cracker Packers has also been shown at Carlisle Archive Centre and the city’s library and cathedral. A smaller version will be at Yewdale Community Centre and some banners will be at Sainsbury’s Caldewgate supermarket in March, for the first anniversary of the Cracker Packers statue.

Stephen Dunn, of The Old Fire Station, says: “It’s good to celebrate part of the city’s history. Obviously Carr’s biscuits have been a massive boost for Carlisle around the world. It’s nice for us to have a link up with a fabulous local firm.”

The Spirit of the Cracker Packers runs at The Old Fire Station until Thursday, January 31. It is open 10am to 5pm, Mondays to Saturdays and 12noon to 4pm on Sundays.

Carr’s was founded by baker Jonathan Dodgson Carr in 1837. The factory continues to produce some of Britain’s favourite biscuits including Ginger Nuts, Boasters and Gold Bars.