Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Working women, ......... stories for International Women's Day

Taking a break from The Queen and Pasley 1910

It is just one of those things.

The passage of time has made it certain that I will never know who this group of young people were.

The photograph dates from 1910 and the caption suggests that some of them worked for the Queen and Pasley Laundry on Crescent Road.

And it got me thinking about how their lives would pan out.

Of course the outbreak of the Great War would sweep all of them along and the young man in shirt sleeves would in all probability have volunteered or been called up.

But on International Women’s Day I was drawn to the group of young women.

They would all be in their late thirties or even older when they were able to cast a vote in a parliamentary election.

Their working lives might just stretch to something in town just 4 miles away but otherwise theirs was the laundry or perhaps domestic service.

For their mothers and grandmothers job opportunities were even more limited.

Before the 1850s many would have spent sometime in the fields, either working full time alongside other family members or during key moments in the year like sowing or harvesting.

Of course there was always domestic service which was the second largest source of employment in the township. Like the country as a whole it was mainly an occupation for single working class women. So in the township in 1851 there were 53 female servants, ranging from governesses to housekeepers cooks, maids and nurses.

Domestic service counted for 27% of the labour force of which 68% were woman and of these 81% were unmarried. By comparison just 22% of single women were engaged as washerwomen and laundresses.

At the village school, circa 1900
But it was not much of an opportunity for local women. Only ten of the fifty three working as servants were born here and just another eleven were from neighbourhoods less than 5 miles away. Sarah Bayley was one of these.

She had worked for the Higginbothams’ at Yew Tree Farm in Withington during 1841 and later moved to work for Daniel Sharp on the Row. Those households with servants would have heard a mix of northern accents including those of Yorkshire and punctuated by voices from Derbyshire and far away Ireland.

Part of the reason for this was a concern that locally employed servants might be tempted to divulge family secrets which could fan out around the township and haunt the household’s reputation for generations.

It followed that anyone wishing to find employment was often forced to look outside the township. In some cases news of vacancies came from family members who were already employed in a household and in other cases from the help of local gentry or clergy who might know of vacancies or were prepared to actively search amongst their friends who might need a servant.

There were also the hiring fairs and newspaper adverts and the workhouse. But the hiring fairs may not have played much of a part in our local economy. Either way our servants came from far and wide.

Cleaning another’s home was not limited to domestic servants. Mary Hesketh made a living as a char woman, which was paid by the week and required her to visit on a daily basis. It was a job which allowed those who were widowed or single a means of providing for themselves.

Taking a break from The Queen and Pasley 1964
So for Mary who was 60 and living alone, charring was an important source of income. Ten years later none of the char woman at the end of March 1851 were married. Most were single in their twenties and living at home.

For many married working women the alternative here in the township was to wash other peoples’ clothes, either by attending at the customer’s house or washing them at home.

There were 23 of them and most were married with some of the younger ones working alongside their mothers. They were by and large concentrated along the Row, up by Lane End and in a cluster by the Royal Oak in Renshaws Buildings.

Adapted in part fro Chorlton-cum-Hardy A Community Transformed to be published in the autumn.

Picture; by the parish graveyard, 1910 from the Lloyd collection, remaining pictures from the collection of Tony Walker

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