Tag Archives: research

Close your eyes and think of Yorkshire? Working class women and sexuality in early twentieth-century Yorkshire

By Claire Martin

When she was ten years old, May Owen (b. 1895) moved with her family to a small mining village near Sheffield, in South Yorkshire. In an autobiographical letter she wrote some seventy years later, she still vividly remembered her initial shock at a particular custom in the community: “If a woman misbehaved herself,” she wrote, “the colliers used to perform a certain act. They would take a large barrow, build an effigy of the woman and wheel it round the parish, and stones and mud would be thrown.” 

Leeds Mill Girls, 1890, http://www.leodis.net/
Leeds Mill Girls, 1890 (Image via Leodis: A Photographic Archive of Leeds).

I believe this account fits well with what most people imagine sex and gender relations to have been like in Yorkshire in the early twentieth century. Within popular imagination, Yorkshire working-class culture, with its industrial history and its mining and steel workers’ communities, conjures an image of sexual conservatism and gender antagonism. While this image may correspond to reality in some parts of Yorkshire at the time, this generalisation also obscures a great deal of variation in experiences and behaviours. Helen Smith’s recent book on same-sex desire between working-class men in the north of England in the first half of the twentieth century provides a much needed antidote to these kinds of generalising assumptions. As Smith also explained in a NOTCHES post, work, region, and class defined working-class masculinity in a way that was not incompatible with casual sex with other men.

As I was reading surviving personal stories of Yorkshire working-class women who lived in the early twentieth century (most of which came from the valuable Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiographies), I was faced with accounts of gender relations and sexuality that ranged from very conservative, patriarchal attitudes, to far less rigidly policed sexual experimentation. After all, ‘Yorkshire working-class women’ were in no way part of a homogeneous group, and just as their lives were shaped by their work, gender, class, and region, so too were their sexual lives. For this reason, I argue that looking at occupational patterns and cultures, and exploring their impact on gender and sexuality, can shed light on these overlooked variations and forgotten experiences, and contribute to a better understanding of working-class sexuality in the past. 

If we take the example of mining communities, as well as towns organised around heavy industry such as Sheffield or Middlesbrough, what we get is a picture of a primarily male-dominated culture. An all-male working and social environment fostered a culture of virility, which depended on the systematic exclusion of women and a patriarchal social structure. Men did not see their spouses as companions with whom they could discuss ideas, and preferred the company of their mates. In this context, it is possible, as some historians have suggested, that husbands and wives lacked the tools to communicate on issues such as birth control. And yet, this does not mean that women refrained from sexual experimentation before marriage: a young Bessie Wallis (b. 1904) once warned her older brother, “You’ll be in trouble with Pops if you land a lassie with a bairn!”, only to be answered by the fifteen year-old that, “[t]he lasses egg us on. (…) Anyhow, they like it.” 

Towns organised around mills and factories, and in particular textile towns such as Bradford and Leeds, provide an interesting contrast. While it was commonly expected that women would leave the workforce after marriage, economic necessity meant that they tended to stay longer in employment. The higher rates of female full-time employment produced a female occupational culture that shaped sexuality and gender relations in different ways. For instance, because most women worked the double-shift of wage and domestic labour, they supported access to birth control. The workplace also facilitated the creation of informal networks of information and emotional support for women. Mrs. Brown (b. 1895), from York, remembered how her mother told her that there was “[n]o need to tell girls anything,” as they would get to know all they wanted when they started working at Rowntree’s factory.

In the mills and factories, women usually worked alongside men, which created different possibilities, as well as potential dangers. Workers engaged in courting and sexual play, and remembered weddings of pregnant brides as a matter of fact. At the same time, anxieties about male predators and the consequences of sexual promiscuity also fed into this female occupational culture. Maggie Newbery, who was twelve years old when she started working in a mill in Bradford in 1913, recounted in her autobiography how “Old Harriet” warned her on her first day to be careful around machinery, and “cheeky buggers.”

Female solidarity against sexual exploitation sometimes took on extreme forms. The Bradford mill girls, in particular, were renowned for their sexual aggressiveness. The tradition of ‘sunning,’ a ritual form of sexual humiliation, was one of the ways in which these women used their sexuality to reverse the power relations which put them at risk of sexual harassment. J.B. Priestley, who lived in Bradford before the war, remembered in his memoir, Margin Released, how he felt intimidated by the crowd of loud women leaving the mill on his way home from work: “something (…) would set them screaming at me, and what I heard then, though I was never a prudish lad, made my cheeks burn. And it was still the custom (…) for the women to seize a newly-arrived lad and ‘sun’ him, that is, pull his trousers down and reveal his genitals.”

These accounts could be compared with those of farming villages in the countryside, where “everyone knew everyone else’s business,” or with port towns such as Hull, with the infamous reputation of the docks and their sailors and casual prostitutes. It would be impossible to go through an exhaustive list here, of course, but my point is that because sexuality never happens in a socioeconomic vacuum, the study of working-class sexuality can gain much from a regional approach, which allows us to get a richer understanding of these people’s concerns, opportunities, and experiences. Engaging with social history by looking at occupational patterns and cultures can be one way of producing a more nuanced account of sexual attitudes in the past.

Claire Martin is a PhD candidate in modern history at the University of Leeds. Her thesis focuses on Yorkshire working-class women c.1900-1940 and examines the relationships between knowledge and experience in relation to menstruation, sex, pregnancy, and menopause. She tweets from @claireplmartin

 

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 This post originally appeared on Notches: (Re)marks on the History of Sexuality, a blog devoted to promoting critical conversations about the history of sex and sexuality across theme, period, and region. Learn more about the history of sexuality at Notchesblog.com.

 

International Nurses’ Day

12 May, the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth, is International Nurses’ Day, when people around the world celebrate the contribution that nurses make to society. We thought we would join in by sharing a story from our Special Collections about nurse training in the past.

A few of the autobiographies in our Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies recount experiences of nursing, including that of a male nurse in the 1930-50s, plus women who worked as nurses and housemaids at different times in their lives. This post will focus on Winifred Relph, who was born in 1912.

Winifred worked firstly as a housemaid after leaving school, then as a nurserymaid. She tried applying for nurse training at several London hospitals, but was told that her education wasn’t good enough, and advised to try small, provincial hospitals instead. Eventually she was accepted for training at Todworth General Hospital on the borders of Kent/Sussex.

As a probationer nurse she earned a salary of £20 a year and also had to supply much of her uniform, including:

  • 14 linen aprons
  • 6 stiff linen collars
  • 6 stiff linen cuffs
  • black woollen stockings
  • flat laceup black shoes

She lived on-site in the Nurses’ Home and shared a room with another probationer. Nurses’ rooms were inspected by the matron and expected to be kept as neat as on the ward. In the evenings the senior nurses played the piano and sang in the nurses’ sitting room.

She describes some of her typical tasks, such as starting each day with making thirty beds, with 90 seconds allowed for each bed (including removing the patient from it and putting them back again!). Nurses worked 12 hour shifts, including two hours off each day and three meal breaks. After six months of learning practical skills on the wards (Winifred worked on both the Children’s and Men’s wards) lectures on nursing theory were started, but unfortunately Winifred never got this far, as she became ill with acute rheumatism and was unable to carry on nursing.

Nursing only forms a small part of Winifred’s autobiography. You can find out more about different aspects of her life and writing at Writing Lives. Find out more about our other autobiographies on this blog.

 

50 objects 48: Elizabethan spies

leftspiesLong before James Bond, there was John Dee and a network of other spies drawn together by Francis Walsingham to serve Elizabeth I. Some research material on such spies in Shakespearian times is found in Brunel’s Holmes collection.

Edward Holmes researched into the authorship of the works attributed to William Shakespeare. He published Discovering Shakespeare: a handbook for heretics (Mycroft : 2001) which discusses the authorship in an accessible way through fictitious dialogue between two people. His research notes were given to Brunel University Library and are housed in Special Collections.  However, the notes are far more extensive than the subject of the book. There are files on many subjects related to Tudor and Elizabethan times, including language, gardens, music, and other literary men. As a tangent to this last, Holmes notes that there seems to be some overlap between writers of literature and drama, and spies or secret agents. leftlit-soldier-spy

Perhaps the most well-known example of this overlap is Christopher Marlowe. Here’s a page of Holmes’ notes on Marlowe’s death and related issues.

marlowe

Holmes goes on to amass a file of information on espionage and ciphers at this time, sometimes interweaving Shakespeare, and similarities to characters in Shakespeare’s plays, with details on other men. Much of the material is in note form and it tends to be brief and cryptic, but forms a basis for further study both of Elizabethan spies and of academic views on them at a particular time.

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There are notes on the life and work of individuals who may have been connected to the network of agents, and theories about their activities. Here Holmes notes information about “John Doulande”, John Dowland the musician who some suspect of being involved with espionage.

Much of the “espionage” file consists of attempts to draw together a unified picture of the web of intrigue at particular point in time, by charting names, places, contacts, and so forth. Below are three diagrams of such networks.

leftnetwork3leftnetwork2leftnetwork1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There seem to be no conclusive findings here, but many questions are raised and ideas generated for further study.

 

For more on the question of Shakespearian authorship, see the De Vere Society and the Shakespearian Authorship Trust.

For more on espionage and secret agents in this period, see

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/tudors/spying_01.shtml

http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/spies/spies/standen/default.htm

http://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/who-were-elizabethan-spies.html

For more on John Dee, see the material surrounding the Royal College of Physicians’ exhibiton.

 

Explore Archives

This week is a great time to get involved in archives and special collections that interest you! Have a look at the Explore Your Archive main page to see what’s happening near you, and look at the #explorearchives posts on Twitter and other social media.

Find out about our collections:

Special Collections at Brunel is home to a huge array of material that can support your research. You can find out more by using our A-Z list of collections, or consulting our Special Collections guide, where we’ve highlighted collections of particular interest to English or History students.

You can search our collections by subject or keywords – use the library catalogue for printed material and the archive catalogue for manuscript.

Browse the Special Collections blog, where you can use the tags to find posts on particular themes, such as the First World War or trains.

You can see more about us on Twitter and Instagram too.

If you are looking for collections beyond Brunel you will find a list of resources on our guide.

Using Special Collections

Our collections are kept on closed access, so you will need to make an appointment with the Special Collections Librarian to come and see them once we re-open in January. If you haven’t used Special Collections or archival material before there is a guide on our blog.

 

50 objects 45: The most borrowed book of 2015-2016

A post by Oliver Thompson, Library Assistant.

All kinds of statistical data is whizzing around the library and being recorded, with the ultimate purpose of improving the student experience through increased efficiency. This includes the number of books in stock, the number of students in the building at any time and the number of PC’s being used in any specified area. One of the most interesting uses of statistical data is to record how many times an item has been checked out. This measures the relative popularity of a title and can indicate whether the currently held quantities of a particular title are sufficient or should be adjusted.

business-2015During the 2015-2016 academic period the most popular title borrowed from the library was Business Research Methods by Alan Bryman and Emma Bell, which was checked out a total of 684 times. This particular title is currently available from the library in four different editions, having originally been published in 2003 (HD30.4.B78) and most recently in 2015 (HD30.4.B78 2015). Adapted from Bryman’s own ‘Social Research Methods’, according to the blurb this title provides students with ‘a comprehensive introduction to the area of business research methods. It gives students an assessment of the contexts within which different methods may be used and how they should be implemented.’

business-2003Alan Bryman is Professor of Organisational and Social research at the University of Leicester, which he joined in 2005 after working at the Department of Social Sciences at Loughborough University for 31 years. He has contributed to numerous research publications and is well-known for his 1988 book Quantity and Quality In Social Research. Emma Bell is Head of the Centre for Economics and Management at Keele University. She is also the current joint Editor-in-Chief for Management Learning, the ‘Journal for Critical, Reflexive Scholarship on Organisation and Learning’.

The rest of the ten most popularly checked out books of 2015-2016 are mainly business research focused, reflecting the strong popularity of this subject and its importance to many Brunel students.

The following table presents the entire top ten most checked out titles from the library during the 2015/2016 academic period:

Author in catalogue Title in catalogue 2015/16 circulation counts
Bryman, Alan, Business research methods 684
Saunders, Mark, Research methods for business students 517
Bryman, Alan, Social research methods 318
Crane, Andrew, Business ethics : managing corporate citizenship and sustainability in the age of globalization 310
Banfield, Paul. Introduction to human resource management 305
Jacques, Ian, Mathematics for economics and business 274
Rollinson, Derek John. Organisational behaviour and analysis : an integrated approach 259
Keegan, Warren J. Global marketing 251
Hall, Susan J. (Susan Jean), Basic biomechanics 241
Collis, Jill. Business research : a practical guide for undergraduate & postgraduate students 235

engineering-mathematics-qa37-s87-2001 Going as far back as records will allow to the mid 1990s, the most checked out individual book is a copy of K. A. Stroud’s Engineering Mathematics (item ID 6025957295, call number QA37.S87 2001), which had been checked out 1161 times as of the time of writing. It has sold over 500,000 copies worldwide in its various iterations and is hailed as a classic in its field. Author Kenneth Arthur Stroud was a mathematician and Principal Lecturer in Mathematics at Lanchester Polytechnic in Coventry, England. According to Wikipedia he was ‘an innovator in programmed learning and the identification of precise learning outcomes’. Stroud passed away in 2000 at the age of 91. Engineering Mathematics continues to be updated since his passing, with contributions from Dexter J. Booth, a holder of a PhD in Theoretical Physics and a former Principal Lecturer at the University of Huddersfield.

50 objects 40: the LibSmart Point

A post by Subject Liaison Librarian Joanne McPhie.

Some items in our blog series Brunel Library 50 Objects have long histories and fascinating pasts, but Brunel Library is also about looking forward as well as back. This week’s object, the LibSmart Point desk, is a relatively recent addition to the Library, but one that could play a part in many lives going forward.

LibSmart is a dedicated study skills package run by the Subject Liaison Librarians. It is designed to support students with academic practice, information literacy, and employability skills they need to get the best out of their time at university and beyond. The LibSmart Point plays a key role in the package.

libsmart

This is the place where users can come to speak to a librarian to get help in finding and using resources, referencing or just to have a chat about their studies. It is located in what is another new area of the Library, the Learning Commons on the first floor. This is a flexible space where users can come to study in groups, use the floor space for projects or attend small workshops run by the Academic Services team. Nestling in the corner of the room, the desk is staffed from Monday –Thursday 1-6pm and Friday 1-5pm during term time.

If furniture could talk the LibSmart Point would already be able to tell many stories. Narratives beginning with moments of confusion, anxiety and panic in student lives resolving in flashes of epiphany and revelation as users understand the resources and their own capabilities. Having had the privilege of working on there this year I value it as a point of connection with our users, where we can take the time to sit down and have an actual conversation. Knowing that the work that is done there may impact on a current grade then a future career and life is powerful stuff.

So, although the plywood and metal contraption that is the LibSmart Point may not have inherent value and a rich history, it is nonetheless one of the unique items in housed in the Library.

For further information about the LibSmart programme, either drop by the desk in Learning Commons or see our LibGuide.libsmartpointbright

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50 objects 29: Poems of Sir Walter Raleigh

raleigh5Sir Walter Raleigh (c.1552 – 1618) is well-known for his connections with the court of Queen Elizabeth I and for his voyages of exploration, and is popularly credited with introducing potatoes and tobacco to Britain. He was, less famously, a scholar and poet. In 1813 his poems were published with a critical introduction; Special Collections at Brunel holds a second edition of this work, which was transferred to Brunel from the Shakespeare Authorship Trust.

 

This copy of the book is of great interest not simply for the texts it contains, but also for the light it can shed on the past; on the way it was used, and on the ways in which former owners interacted with the text.

 

The work is bound in a nineteenth-century Raleigh3gold-tooled leather binding, with more modern repairs, together with an edition of the poems of Robert Southwell which was printed separately in 1817. The binding would have been done on the orders of an early owner of the works, and may reflect his or her taste and budget as well as current fashions.

 

Handwritten names and notes throughout the book show that there have been several former owners or users; two people with the same surname added their names, indicating that perhaps the book was given or bequeathed by one family member to another.

 

Some of the notes are simply correcting the text, commenting on it, or marking passages of particular interest to the reader. One of the most intriguing additions is a lengthy Raleigh quotation, copied out, and captioned “Quoted by the father of a missing pilot, 1941”.

raleigh2

 

The source for this is a letter written by the said anonymous father to The Times, hoping the quotation would bring comfort to others as it had to him.  The book’s owner, under the quotation, has added “This is supported by the conclusions in psychotherapy as expanded by Marcus Gregory”, and has made notes elsewhere about psychotherapy, showing another of his or her interests as applied to Raleigh’s works.  Marcus Gregory published several  works on psychotherapy in the 1930s; it is not clear which one is referred to here.

 

One former owner studied a place where Raleigh lived, and added pencil sketches to this copy of the poems. The drawings are of Myrtle Grove, a house near Youghal in Ireland, and of yew trees in the garden there. Raleigh lived at Myrtle Grove in the 1580s and legend has it that the first potatoes in Ireland were planted there.raleigh11

The drawing of the garden seems to be copied from a print in The Illustrated Guide to Sir Walter Raleigh`s House by Samuel Hayman (Youghal, 1861), shown here; further research on the annotations in the edited poems could reveal more about the interests of former owners, and about the information they had access to.

This post gives a taste of the kinds of information that can be gleaned from a study of the book as a physical object. Many books have more secrets waiting to be discovered.