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Tag Archives: At Work series

  • Jarrow at Work by Paul Perry

    People and Industries Through the Years

    Jarrow A.F.C. (Jarrow at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    There was a time when there was not a town called Jarrow, fields streams and riverbanks were all that existed. Eventually settlements were raised in the area around the banks of the River Don. Without doubt, the most memorable of the early settlements was an order of Benedictine Monks at the monastery at Donmouth as Jarrow was referred to in the 6th century. This was home to the town’s most celebrated resident the Venerable Bede: monk. Scholar, historian and very probably one of the most remarkable men this country has ever produced, who was responsible for writing the oft referred to Northumbrian Chronicles, one of the few learned works to survive from those dark days in the mists of time. Jarrow at this time was a centre of learning, a beacon of light in an otherwise dark age.

    Railway Station Grant Street. (Jarrow at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    If all that Jarrow had to offer history was a monk and a book it would still be worthy of note and recognition, but the town had so much more to give. The proximity of mineral resources and water borne transportation gave rise to the period of industrialisation which dominated the life and prosperity of the town from the eighteenth century to recent times. The shipyards, steelworks, coal mines, chemical plants and its connection with the fuel industry, have all in turn contributed towards the growth, wealth and success of the town.

    Amos Butcher Shop, Albert Road. (Jarrow at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    When talking of Jarrow, it is not always possible to talk of light and life. No work which ever purports in any way to tell the story of the town can ignore and portray the hardship and privation suffered by its people during the interwar years of the great depression. Subject to a greater rate of unemployment than any other borough in the land, Jarrow came to epitomise the desperate state of affairs endured by so much of industrial Britain during that period.

    Ferry Street. (Jarrow at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Nothing, depression and wars included, lasts forever, and the post war years saw a welcome and marked improvement in the well-being of the town and its people. This improvement took many forms: new schools, public houses, recreational facilities, a state of the art shopping complex, but most importantly the rehousing of thousands of residents to Jarrow’s own garden suburb, Primrose.

    For many years, the Borough of Jarrow had been subject to a programme of ongoing changes and refurbishment, with the construction of a network of ring roads skirting the town, removed the burden of pollution from industrial and constant heavy traffic from the town centre. Together with the introduction of the ‘Clean Air Act’ of 1955, the town was once again looking forward to a brighter future. The working base of the town has undergone equally radical alteration. None of the former lucrative heavy industries of old exist. Today many would consider Jarrow as a dormitory town. In strict legal terms, the Borough of Jarrow no longer exists, amalgamated in 1974 with the much larger borough of South Tyneside. Instead, many would consider Jarrow a dormitory town, home to the office and retail personnel of the commercial enterprises of the surrounding area.

    Station Hotel Ellison Street. (Jarrow at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    As the 21st century dawned, there was little or no evidence of any industrial activity in Jarrow, as very few relics of the town survive any more. The shipyards and rolling mills have been replaced with industrial business parks. Although these parks provide employment in the town and contribute heavily towards its ongoing economy, they seem somewhat soulless. No longer do we build ships or even repair them, long gone are the slipways and dry docks which were once the throbbing heart of the town.

    Monkton terrace. (Jarrow at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    We must be eternally grateful to the amateur historians of the last two centuries who trawled the streets and shipyards with their cameras taking photographs for future generations to enjoy. Through their eyes, they left us a legacy of images of times past that we must treasure and preserve. Without these images, the history and heritage of the town would be almost impossible to piece together. The history of Jarrow is a vital link with the past, not only for ourselves, but more importantly for future generations. Through the days of triumph and tragedy, the outstanding feature of Jarrow has been its people. Famous writers, singers, local characters and villains have grown up in the town, but it is the ordinary Jarovian possessing a rare mixture of honesty, decency and good humour that has given the town its unique personality. In return all are marked forever by the town and have a genuine affection for it and proud to be called Jarra’ lads and lasses.

    Paul Perry's new book Jarrow at Work is available for purchase now.

  • Edinburgh at Work by Malcolm Fife

    Edinburgh owes its existence to the Castle Rock, which could easily be defended. (Edinburgh at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    There have been untold numbers of books on the history of Edinburgh. Few of them, however, have been devote to the City’s economy and industries. My book, ‘Edinburgh at Work’ should go some way to remedy this situation. Its development was very much bound up with the skills of its tradesmen and the enterprises of its merchants. There is evidence that the inhabitants of the region traded with the Romans when they built their fort at Cramond, on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth.

    In the early Middle Ages a small town grew up in the shadow of the Castle which was perched on a rocky hill. Although Edinburgh had yet to become the official capital of Scotland, its kings often resided in its Castle or at the important abbey of Holyrood. This created a demand for luxury items some of which were manufactured locally by craftsman living in the town. Others, particularly wine from France were imported through the nearby port of Leith. Over the centuries Edinburgh’s merchants built up considerable fortunes. They often acted as an early form of bankers lending out their money for business ventures or the purchase of land.

     

    In the days before steam, watermills were the main source of power for driving industrial machinery. (Edinburgh at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Towards the end of the 16th century a university was established setting Edinburgh on course to be an important centre of learning. It was also becoming an important legal centre with numerous lawyers among its inhabitants. The thirst for knowledge and the demand for legal documents   gave rise to a flourishing printing industry. The Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland in 1603 were a setback for this as well as the development of the City. The King and his court moved to London taking with it their considerable spending power. The Scottish Parliament, however, remained in Edinburgh which somewhat cushioned the economic blow.

    The 17th century also saw the introduction of new skills such as watchmaking and the manufacture of surgical instruments. One of the first attempts to produce beer on a large scale was undertaken by an Englishman who built a new brewery at Yardheads, Leith. The prosperity of Edinburgh was dealt a further blow with the Act of Union in 1707 with an exodus of numerous members of the aristocracy to England.

    Towards the latter part of the 18th century, the City experienced a period of unprecedented expansion. It broke free of the confines its old town walls with the construction of the New Town. This created work for thousands of stone masons and artisans. Large quarries, sometimes hundreds of feet deep, were opened up on the edge of Edinburgh to supply building material. With many of the well to do now living in spacious houses there was more room for household items such as furniture. Large numbers of women found employment as maids looking after the new residences. Horse drawn coaches began to appear on the streets in increasing numbers. Many were built locally. Such was the reputation of their quality that many were exported overseas.

    Statue of James Young Simpson in West Princes Street Gardens. (Edinburgh at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Edinburgh also had a booming textile industry manufacturing woollen goods and high quality linen items. With the Agriculture Revolution taking place in the surrounding countryside numerous former farm labourers made their way to Edinburgh in search of employment. Many were unsuccessful and had to resort to begging.

    The coming of the railways in the mid-19th century had a profound effect on the way Edinburgh developed. Up until that point many of its industries such as paper making were concentrated along the Water of Leith their machinery driven by mill wheels. Coal now became the main source of power and industries now became concentrated next to railway tracks particularly in the vicinity of Haymarket and Gorgie.

    Brewing which had first been practiced by the monks at Holyrood now became one of Edinburgh’s most important economic activities. By 1896 of the ninety nine breweries in Scotland, thirty one were located in Edinburgh. Another more recent industry which Edinburgh became noted for was the manufacture of biscuits. The well-known firm McVitie’s started life in a shop in Rose Street in 1830. Somewhat unusually, the City also became a noted centre for the manufacture of rubber goods including Wellington boots. This was due more to a quirk in the patenting of certain forms of rubber manufacture than to any natural advantages of the location.

     

    The Tennent Caledonian Brewery at Roseburn in the mid-1980s. (Edinburgh at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Edinburgh had the distinction of having a higher proportion of professional workers than most other cities in Victorian times. It had risen to become the most important financial centre in Britain outside London. Several banks had their head offices here as did numerous insurance companies. With the growing availability of consumer goods in the 20th century, Edinburgh became an important retail centre serving south east Scotland. Princes Street was home to many well-known department stores some of which were household names. There were also thousands of small shops scattered across the City. In the early 20th century, the manufacture of electrical goods such as refrigerators and radios became increasingly important activity in southern England. Edinburgh was initially slow to adopt these new innovative industries tending to rely on its traditional activities.

    During the Second World War, however, Ferranti established a factory to manufacture gun sights for Spitfires. By the 1960s it had become the City’s largest employer manufacturing radar and missile guidance systems. The long established industries, however, such as brewing and the printing of books at this point in time continued to flourish. The situation changed drastically as the 20th century drew to a close. International competition and the mergers between many long established companies saw the almost total extinction of the important brewing, biscuit and printing industries. Many other once important sources of employment also suffered including food processing and engineering.

    Construction cranes in the centre of Edinburgh at sunset. With a booming financial sector there is a constant demand for new offices. (Edinburgh at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Edinburgh, however, successfully adopted to meet these new challenges. The growth of the tourist industry and associated services has more than compensated for the loss of jobs in other sectors with some 30,000 jobs now depending on it.  Edinburgh is the second choice for foreign visitors as a destination to visit after London. It has also become an important destination for cruise ships.

    Another major source of employment is the financial sector which has a long legacy in Edinburgh. It is second only importance to that of London and is of international importance. The Royal Bank of Scotland has its headquarters, close to the airport and new financial institutions are also well represented including Tesco Bank. Digital technology now plays a vital role in financial transactions. Edinburgh has gained a reputation a reputation as a driving force in the evolution of the fintech sector which includes e-commerce and mobile banking.

    By 2017 Edinburgh had over 25,000 people working within the digital sector and the number of software companies number over 100, one of the highest concentrations anywhere in Britain. The City’s overall place as a centre of learning has also continued to grow in importance. A hundred years ago there was only one university. The number has now increased to four. The 82,000 university and college students drawn from numerous countries across the world provide a major stimulus for the local economy with their demand for accommodation and services. In 2017 one survey named Edinburgh the best city in Britain to launch a business. It ranked ahead of London, Bristol and Glasgow because of its ‘speedy internet connections, reasonable office rent and a host of university graduates’.

    Malcolm Fife's new book Edinburgh at Work is available for purchase now.

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  • Preston at Work by Keith Johnson

    The ancient craft of clog making. (Preston at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    If you should stroll along Fishergate on a typical working day you would see window cleaners, street cleaners, traffic wardens, telephone engineers, postal workers, security staff, a busker or two, or a person selling copies of the Big Issue. Enter premises along that highway and you can observe travel agents, waitresses and waiters, bank clerks, shop assistants, hairdressers, barbers, perfumers, newsagents, pharmacists, beauticians, jewellers, estate agents, insurance agents, booksellers, mobile phone providers, greeting card sellers and confectioners all busily doing a day's work. They are all earning a living and are part of Preston's working life.

    Richard Arkwright and John Horrocks developed the cotton trade industry. (Preston at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Many trades and professions have ancient origins and many more have been created for a modern age. My latest book Preston at Work traces life back to days of yore when Preston was described as an elegant and economical market town remarkable for the gentility of its inhabitants. It is abundantly clear that Preston folk have been at work here and did create, in the Georgian era, a cotton town. The city of Preston is at the very heart of Lancashire and over the last 250 years has been transformed from a market town into a University City, embracing the Industrial Revolution on the way.

    Far-sighted and ambitious speculators built the factories, warehouses and workshops in Preston. Impressive engineering works soon followed, either to serve the cotton trade or to pioneer advancements in other industries. Ideas and inspiration have never been lacking in Preston and we can be proud of what was produced. The engineering skills forged in Victorian days led to knowledge that enabled the town to trade in worldwide markets with products proudly made in Preston; from tramcars to railway engines, from pioneering aircraft to jet planes, from knitting machines to printing presses, and from lorries to motor cars.

    Horrockses Fashion advert, 1955. (Preston at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Preston also displayed the desire and determination to produce the essentials of life with factories and production lines for a variety of goods including soap, tobacco, gold thread, chocolates, cigarettes, light bulbs, slippers and even biscuits.

    We can marvel at the achievements of the civil engineers who have been constantly at work making a town into a city for an ever increasing population. The old toll roads have given way to multi lane highways and motorways with links to industrial estates and shopping centres on the outskirts of the city. Within the city centre the factory chimneys and the engineering workshops are fewer now having given way to retail outlets, office blocks and towering apartment blocks for students. Even a port was created here for ships laden with cargo and canals and railways essential to progress were laid.

    Preston remains at the centre of administration for the county and commerce and legislation sustain the employment of many. Solicitors, barristers, lawyers and attorneys still practice in the city as they did generations ago along with their clerical and legal assistants. Money matters are still dealt with in the city with banks and building societies aplenty particularly on Fishergate.

    A reminder of the Gold Thread days on Avenham Road. (Preston at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Our ever expanding education system not only provides places of learning with teachers and academics, but is also a source of much employment for local folk. Whilst our hospitals and clinics are supported not only by doctors and nurses, but by many care workers too. If we should need to call 999 for the emergencies in our lives we can call on police officers, firefighters and medics to assist us.

    This book also takes a glimpse at the days when there were tea merchants, who shipped and blended their own product; provision dealers, who salted and cured Lancashire hams, reared and fed within a few miles of the town. Bootmakers who could produce a pair of real leather boots throughout by hand, soft and pliable, that clung to the foot like a glove. Tailors, livery coat makers, tinkers, and brawny blacksmiths have all forged a living here too.

    You or your ancestors may have clocked on at Dilworth & Carr, Goss Foster, English Electric, Drydens, Simpson's Gold Thread Works, Horrockses, Courtaulds, Siemens Lamp Works, Tulketh Mill, Atkinsons Vehicles, Sharps Commercials or Beeches Chocolate factory and played a part in their story. You may have been employed at County Hall, or the Town Hall, or by Preston Corporation or been amongst the army of retail workers at the Co-op, Sainsbury's, Asda, Tesco and Morrisons and contributed to their tale.

    There are many things we take for granted today such as lighting, heating and fresh water supplies, yet it has not always been the case. This journey through Preston's working life takes us from the cotton trade, through the days from paraffin lamps to electric light bulbs, from steam power to nuclear energy, all of which met with the endurance needed to progress in Preston.

    Royal Mail sorting office, 1935. (Preston at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Preston has had down the decades quite a few industrial duos whose names have been etched into the city's history. Dick & Kerr, Dilworth & Carr, Gregson & Monk, Vernon & Carus, Cooper & Tullis, Dorman & Smith, the Atkinson brothers and of course the Horrocks brothers, John & Samuel, who all contributed to the progress of Preston.

    Indeed, since the Georgian days Preston folk have embraced and endured the developments of the industrial age, and been swept along on the tide of change into the world of technology in which we now live. For successive generations the evolving world has brought many differing challenges that would have left our ancestors bewildered and baffled.

    Generations of Preston workers can be rightly proud of their contribution to society and to the way they have confronted the challenges of earning a living willingly. Working for the common good was reflected by Preston born poet Robert Service when he penned the following verse in his poem 'I Believe'.

    It's my belief that every man

    Should do his share of work,

    And in our economic plan

    No citizen should shirk.

    That in return each one should get

    His meed of fold and food,

    And feel that all his toil and sweat

    Is for the common good.

    Preston Dock workers, 1961. (Preston at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    It is apparent that great strides have been made and adversity overcome to accommodate a population that is nowadays over 140,000.  Preston folk have achieved many great things for the benefit of all.  They showed great loyalty to their employers many of whom acquired great riches with their investment in local people. The cotton masters have now gone and the corporate bodies rule the world of work. Yet still there are enterprising individuals who create companies for the benefit of all.

    Hopefully, this peep through the lives of the Preston workers down the years will leave you in admiration for their achievements. No doubt they stuck to their tasks despite the troubles and strife that they faced, thus ensuring we have a thriving enterprising city to dwell within. They took pride in their work for which we can be eternally grateful.

    Keith Johnson's book Preston at Work is available for purchase now.

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