Tuesday, April 15, 2008

When Fowler Was In Charge

In the midst of the endless task of sorting, tidying and filing, I come across a box of old picture postcards which were the collection of my mothers' Uncle Fowler. Fowler Beanland lived most of his life in the West Yorkshire town of Keighley and was, I think, a skilled fitter. Before the First World War he worked for a time in Longtown in Cumbria. I know that in 1915 a large explosives factory was built just outside Longtown so he may have been involved in the munitions industry up there. By the end of the war he was back in Keighley and according to this particular postcard from his collection he was in charge of a munitions factory there. I suspect "in charge" is a bit of an exaggeration, more likely he was one of the foremen in charge of one of the gangs of women munitions workers, possibly the one shown in the picture.

On the back of the postcard is written what appears to be the following : "Munitions Workers. SA(?) Moors Longbottom and Farrar. Alice Street, Keighley, 1918 during the Great War. where I was in charge. FB". A quick Google reveals that Keighley did have a big munitions factory during both the first and the second wars, although I could not pin this down to either the Alice Street address nor the factory name (which seems to be Moors Longbottom and Farrar) but it was a significant undertaking which made shells which were used by the Royal Navy.

According to an article in the Bradford Telegraph and Argus, Keighley had a National Shell Factory which was located on Dalton Lane. A workforce. substantially of women and girls, made "a total of 714,000 high-explosive shells by the time of the Armistice - "more", in the words of Harry Smith, chairman of a Keighley and District War Munitions Committee, "than would have won the battle of Waterloo." The Telegraph and Argus goes on to say : "The Great War introduced many women to jobs which had previously been considered male preserves. In 1915 Keighley Post Office took on a postwoman and two girl telegraph messengers, being able to report "satisfactory results." Keighley Corporation Tramways employed conductresses, although when they began training women drivers the men threatened strike action! In the event, the Tramways Manager felt that women were "not fitted temperamentally or physically for driving", poignantly adding that "only men with both hands, both legs and both feet should be entrusted with the driving of trams as at present designed."

I met Uncle Fowler once, when I was young and he was old. As far as I remember he both hands and both legs. However, he never became a tram driver, he just lived out his life in a stone terraced house in Keighley. He never married, never had children. Perhaps he used to look back through his postcard album and remember the time when he "was in charge".

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