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Women & Children
It is of course well known that much use, or often exploitation, was made of child labour in Victorian times. Gradually there was a crackdown on child exploitation that saw legal requirements on age, working hours and schooling introduced. Interviews from various people involved in Leeds engine making were used in a report to parliament in 1857-8
AT MESSRS. WARDLE AND MANNING'S, ENGINE WORKS, HUNSLET, LEEDS.
1. Mr. C.W. Wardle.- I think a law preventing the employment after 6 o'clock of all lads under 18 years of age might be carried out in our works. I do not think we should suffer. It would be a good thing for the lads. All the lads in these works, except the riveters, are apprentices. They are taken at 14 years of age. They get 4s. a week to begin with, and their wages rise 1s. a week each year until they are 21. Young journeymen earn from 1l.1s. to 1l.5s.
2. Mr. Mackintyre, manager.- We employ no boys under 14 years of age in the regular work. There may be a few exceptional cases where boys are taken at 13. It is a rule in our works that all boys who attend night school should be allowed to leave off work in time on those days if we are working overtime. We object very much to overtime for any of our hands, but we are obliged to have recourse to it in consequence of the fluctuation and peculiar character of our orders. For instance, lately, owing to the frost, we have had a great many locomotives to repair for railway companies. Many of the men employed on these railroads were being kept out of work until the engines were repaired. The lads who work overtime are employed in attending self-acting machines. There is little labour attending this work. We do not allow our young fitters to be employed overtime. 3. Edwin Waller.- I am 15. I have worked here a year and nine months. I come at 6 o'clock. I go away at half-past 5, and sometimes I stay to 8. I have worked to 8 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I used to go to the School of Arts on those days. I always give over at 1 o'clock on Saturdays.
4. William Gale.- I am going 17. I have worked here two years. When I first came I minded a machine. I made 60 hours a week. Sometimes I worked to 8. I never worked after 8. I am now working as a fitter. I have never worked more than 10 hours at filing in a day. I used to work at a mill. I was a short-timer, and then worked as a whole-timer for a year or so.
5. John Burnley.- I am 18 and a half. I worked at another place before I came here. I was about 16 when I began to work there. There were 15 apprentices in one shop; we worked from 6 in the morning to 10 at night for about five months. We were working at railway wheels. We were paid overtime. All the boys liked to work overtime. It was too much work. I only make 8s. a week here.
AT MESSRS. KITSON AND CO.'S, LOCOMOTIVE WORKS, HUNSLET. 6. Mr. Kitson.- I have always been a great advocate for the education of the younger members of the working classes, and I took a leading part in favour of the Factories Acts 30 years ago. In my own works there are no boys under 13 or 14 years of age, indeed very few under 14. There is no work at which younger children could be properly employed. The only question, therefore, affecting my trade, would be the limitation of the hours of work for young persons under 18 years of age. I am of opinion that such a limitation, although it would undoubtedly be very advantageous for the youths, would have the effect of interfering with the freedom of the adult workmen, with whom they work as assistants, and it might cripple us materially in getting our work done. I am strongly opposed to systematic overtime, but I do decidedly consider that trade requires that we should be able to have recourse to overtime occasionally. Such a restriction on the working hours of youths between 16 and 18 would also have the effect of keeping them back in their education as artizans. There is much work to which older boys are put which they could not be put to if they could not work after 6 o'clock, so that they could not learn this high-class work until they were 18 years of age. Supposing the age was 16 and not 18, this objection would not apply so strongly. Most of the boys in my works are apprectices. We prefer lads who have been to school until they come to us. Except for riveters, we take boys of a higher class than those who have been at mills.
Whilst searching old newspapers this interesting story reminiscent of Dickens' Artful Dodger turned up in an issue of Leeds Mercury.
"A YOUNG THIEF. - A boy named William Hammond, only twelve years of age, an inmate of Hunslet workhouse, was on Monday last brought up before the Mayor, at the Leeds Court-house charged with having stolen two shawls and a handkerchief from the house of his step-father, William Wood, of Wesley-street. The prisoner, though young, had for some time manifested a refractory disposition, but latterly hopes had been entertained of an improvement in his habits, as he told the master of the workhouse that he had obtained employment at the Railway Foundry, and daily left the house under pretence of going to his employment"..."The prisoner, on being taken into custody at the workhouse by Mr. Norfolk, confessed that he had committed the robbery, and said he had never had any work at all at the Railway Foundry or any where else. - Committed for trial.
There's no record of this trial having taken place so presumably the charges were dropped.
The local engineering facilities employed a number of women, though in peace time this was nothing like the scale of women employed in the textile industries. One job at Fowler's considered suitable for a women was electrical work.
The development of electric lighting has opened a new industry for girls, and Messrs. Fowler employ about twenty, who were engaged in work connected with the preparation of the wire.
Both world wars of course changed this when large numbers of men were called up to fight on the front lines and demand on the factories was even greater as they were required to produce materials for the war effort.
Production of shells took place in many of the local works. Fowler produced many traction engines for the military in the First World War and tanks in the Second. Manning Wardle, not generally associated with internal combustion machines, produced Avro aircraft engines in the First World War as well as a small number of narrow gauge petrol locomotives for battlefield lines. Hudswell Clarke produced many aircraft components in the Second World War and by the end of the war were working on rockets and nuclear bombs. To meet these demands while the men were away women were not only given simple tasks like preparing wire, they were doing skilled tasks such as machining.
After the war the men came back and the women were expected to leave the works. The fact that wartime work showed women could do skilled engineering jobs was important when it came to later calls for equal rights.
In 1947 Frederick Smith of Thomas Smith's crane works in Rodley recalls "Apart from a few in the first world war, no women were employed in the engineering shops at Smith's until 1940, and, as mere males we were inclined to regard their wartime intrusion with masculine misgivings! We need have had no anxiety, and we are proud to place on record that, whether machining or operating the larger travelling cranes, they did fine work. We were sorry to lose them, but wish them the best of luck in gentler spheres of activity"
Clip of women working in a munitions factory in World War II on the Yorkshire Film Archive. (Click to Start)
Though the film is not filmed in a local works this sort of scene would have been seen in the many engineering establishments around Leeds in both wars.
External Website Links
Much more about daily life in the Hunslet area of Leeds can be found on the Hunslet Remembered website.
Steamindex's reproduction of extracts of David Joy's diaries
Leeds Mercury, 6th June 1890
The Basic Industries of Great Britain, Lord Aberconway, 1927 
Pease, J. (2003). The History of J&H McLaren of Leeds. Landmark Publishing, Ashbourne, UK. ISBN 1-84306-105-8.Look for this book in Amazon.co.uk
Displays in Leeds City Museum
The Leicester Chronicle, September 17th 1864
Leeds Mercury, 17th August 1850
Leeds Mercury, 7th July 1856
Leeds Mercury, 6th June 1890
Leeds Mercury, 15th October 1851
The Foundries, Machine Shops, &c. in Leeds and other Towns in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Report and Evidence published in British Parliamentary Papers, Child Employment Volume 15, 1857-8.
Leeds Mercury, 12th January 1850
Leeds Mercury, 19th June 1895
Proud Heritage, A History of Thomas Smith & Sons (Rodley) Ltd, Frederick H. Smith 1947
Leeds Mercury, 24th May 1851
With thanks to Sheila Bye for providing some of the material used in this article and pointing me in the right direction for other sources of material.
This article was produced by Andrew Johnson and Kris Ward, any feedback or contributions about the Leeds engine making industry would be greatly appreciated.