Friday, May 15, 2015

Sepia Saturday 279 : Working With Boilers Is Not Money For Old Rope


Our Sepia Saturday theme image this week features a somewhat gloomy looking industrial location with half a safety warning notice (who chooses these things, I mean what on earth are we supposed to do with that?). Whilst generation after generation of my extended family has worked in industry, the family photograph collection is somewhat short of snaps shot deep in the midst of factory, foundry or mill. Photographs were for more cheerful endeavours: trips to the country or the seaside, weddings and babies and - if the participants managed to survive their lives of hard work and industrial pollution - retirement parties. I do have a photograph of my father sat proudly alongside a machine he had just repaired and one of my mother in the mill : but both of these have been featured before. So I am turning to a few images that reflect heavy industry : only one of which is a family photograph.

The family photograph is the one above which features on the printed Memo header from Usher Brothers of Liverpool. The Ushers were the family of my wife' mother and I think that the four men proudly resting on that monster of a ships' fender are Isobel's grandfather and three uncles. The entire family was involved in rope-making and fender making, so I may be mistaken with the exact identification, but that doesn't matter. The work itself was hard and dangerous: it certainly was not "money for old rope". This can be clearly seen from this extract from the Manchester Times of 22 March 1890 which describes a boiler explosion at the rope works of Levi Usher (Levi Usher was the uncle of the boys in the Usher Brothers photograph). The casualties of the explosion include two further members of the family : William Usher and Thomas Henry Usher.

My final photograph neatly brings together the themes of ships and boilers as it is a photograph of the oil boilers on the 1930s liner, the Empress of Britain. The liner was owned by Canadian Pacific Steamships and, although there were three "Empress of Britain's" afloat during the 20th century, I suspect this is the 42,000 ton beauty that was launched in 1931. If I have made the correct identification, we can bring the story neatly back to danger, because that particular Empress came to a sad and sorry end in October 1940 whilst acting as a British troop carrier during World War II. She was attacked off the west coast of Ireland by German bombers and later sunk by German submarines.

Whether the danger comes from exploding boilers or from exploding bombs, the lives of our forebears were far from safe. The comparative peace and safety that we enjoy today was won by the hard work and sacrifice of those that went before us.

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15 comments:

  1. Industry is awesome in it's power.

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  2. The ship's fender looks kind of like a giant ear of corn!

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  3. Would love to see the Ushers' knitting needles ! Ok,,,I know that another corny comment.

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  4. I've been watching that TV programme 24 Hours in the Past, where 'celebs' are transported back to experience life in Victorian Britain. It brings home the grim realities of working class life in those days. I'm glad I'm a 20th century lass.

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  5. So you're actually of mixed race! You dark horse - you never mentioned cross-Pennine blood links before...

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    1. How dare you!!! These are the family of my wife. OK my son might have some Lancastrian blood coursing through his veins, but not me.

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    2. We all have our crosses to bear...

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  6. That first fender is enormous! Have never seen an old rope one before -- am very impressed!

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  7. I think you've done pretty well with your photo of the fender. I've manhandled thick ropes before, and can vouch that they are not easy to do anything with, except leave well alone. Likewise steel cables. Boiler explosions seem to have been a pretty common occurrence in the 1800s, I suppose before they'd sorted out things like safety valves and procedures.

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  8. A "boiler" is a word once universally understood in terms of steam power and explosive danger. Likewise a fender was once recognized for its purpose of holding off the immense mass of ships. I think modern life insulates us, especially with Hollywood special effects, from the practical safety concerns to obey the laws of physics.

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  9. They sure worked hard in those days and dangerously. What would work place health and safety say about that.

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  10. Having been involved in investigating the cause of industrial accidents from offshore incidents to rail crashes to minor factory incidents for over 30 years I've learnt never to be complacent over safety. Boiler explosions were once a common occurrence but design of boilers and pressure vessels have brought about an improvement.

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  11. I wonder if our ancestors knew their efforts would bring about peace and safety for their descendants, or if they were just thinking about making it to week's end and having enough to put food on the table.

    Having not lived near a large enough body of water to see many ships, I did not know that they used fenders made of rope. Interesting to learn it.

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  12. I thought the description of the first photo was pretty accurate as " the four men proudly resting on that monster" -- with or without the "ships fender".

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  13. I had forgotten that my grandmother worked in a hosiery mill until you made me start thinking about which ancestors worked IN industry rather than on a farm. Until WWII most of my folks were farmers or railroad people. During the war many went to work in the shipyard.

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