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Thursday, 15 September 2016

Women in the Workplace: Sepia Saturday Work and Play 3

This week a look at Women in the Workplace 
with thanks to Auld Earlston, my local heritage group in the Scottish Borders 
for  images from its collection 

Earlston Munition Workers in World War Two

Around 950,000 British women worked in munitions factories during the Second World War, making weapons like shells and bullets. Munitions work was often well-paid, but involved long hours, sometimes up to seven days a week. Workers were also at serious risk from accidents with dangerous machinery or when working with high explosive material.  Some munitions workers dealt with  toxic chemicals every dayThose who handled sulphur were nicknamed ‘Canary Girls’, because their skin and hair turned yellow from contact with the chemical. [Source: My Learning.Org ]

Earlston Nurses on Parade in the Second World War

Let's not forget Housewives at Work - Shopping in the Traveling Van 

I remember my mother wearing this kind of pinny with a handy front pocket for dusters etc. . She made them for many a sale of work. 

Workwear at the Egg Packaging Station at Georgefield Farm, Earlston 

 The distinctive work costume of the Bondagers.

Bondagers were female farm workers in south east Scotland and Northumberland. As part of their husband's contract (or bond) with the farmer, he would undertake to provide another worker (usually his wife) to help as and when required. The women wore a distinctive dress with bonnet, described as the "last remaining peasant costume" in Britain.  The custom of bondagers lasted well into the 20th century.

And from my own family election, three photographs I have featured before, but are among my favourites and fit the theme so well. 


My great aunt Jenny (seond on the left) with her work colleagues from the post office in Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire.Her daughter Pam recalled a story that during the First World War, a telegram was received at the Post  Office for Jenny's mother Mrs Maria Danson.  Fearing the worst, Jenny was allowed to run home with it.  Fortunately it was good news to say that brother Frank was in hospital in Malta but was doing well.    

Both before and after her marriage, my mother offered dressmaking services from her home.  Mum had been apprenticed to a tailor at the age of 14, andwas still sewing well into her 80's.  I only came across her early business card after her death. 

My mother's second cousin was Elsie Oldham, who as "Elise" (note the French version of her name!) offered "Bobbing, Shingling, Marcel Waving and Perming", from her home in Blackpool, Lancashire, and advertised on this lovely evocative 1920's blotter.

Elsie's old set of scissors and hair clippers

Elsie's son recalled how she continued working  until shortly before she died in 1989 - by that time the number of customers had dwindled to about three a week all of whom were as old as she was!  When the house was emptied a cupboard was discovered full of bottles of hair dye  in myriad colours - some of it must have been at least 20 or 30 years old!

In Case You Missed  

Click HERE to see how other Sepia Saturday bloggers
are marking this month's prompt of  Work and Play


  1. What a wonderful collection of women workers in almost every imaginable field. A great and entertainingly (is that a word?) informative post! That first picture and description of the women who worked with chemicals and gunpowder including sulfur (which must have stunk rather badly?) had me wondering if any preventative measures were taken to protect them at all from some of that stuff. When you wrote of the "Canary Girls" I suspected there wasn't much precaution taken.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I am pleased that you enjoyed reading about women workers - not all our female ancestors were ladies of leisure or full time housewives.

  2. Interesting and informative post! I'm especially glad that you recognized women who worked at home as well as in the factories, shops, and fields. Are you familiar with one of the most tragic work-related disasters in the USA -- the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire? 146 workers -- most, maybe all of them women -- died in this New York City sweatshop because the managers kept the doors locked to keep workers from leaving before quitting time. That was in 1911, and it launched the development of laws and regulations to protect workers.

    1. Thank you, Fran, for your comment and for telling us about the U.S.factory fire, which I knew nothing about. I am sure there were so many such tragedies in sweat shops around the world - and they still happen today in places like Bangladesh. Thank goodness to those who campaigned for better and safer worker conditions.

  3. Great photos of women at work. I feel sorry for the Canary Girls - that sulpher certsinly wouldn't have done them any good.


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