Born To Work

More images from Born to Work by Nick Hedges. What is so astonishing about these pictures is the way they are so vivid even if the world they inhabit is gone for ever. Nick manages to simultaneously capture the human dignity even as they work amidst a dehumanising process. There is sympathy, but no moralising.

I’ve picked out some of the images from the book which feature women. The images together with Huw Beynon’s text highlights a few things that we tend to forget. Women were not greatly served by heavy industry. Beynon points that in 1911 24 per cent of employed women worked in skilled jobs but by 1982 that had halved. In 1911, a higher proportion of women could be found in management than in 1982. Beynon says that the expansion of opportunity for women in the 1970s was highly selective. In a report from 1978, the Equal Opportunities Commission concluded that little progress would be made in sex equality. More information about Nick’s work can be found at Working Life.

16 yr old trainee, lockworks,Willenhall 1976  Parkes'

16 year old trainee, Lockworks,Willenhall 1976

There was widespread acceptance of job segregation in manual jobs and strong views on the suitability of certain jobs for men (those involving lifting or mechanical tasks) and for women (those involving dexterity or monotonous work). Department of Employment Gazette, July 1978.

woman worker, Lee Howl pump factory,Tipton 1978

Woman Worker, Lee Howl pump factory, Tipton, 1978

‘I come to work to help my family to give my family like son, a better chance. So that we can have the extra things out of life: colour telly, run a car, save some money for my son when he gets older, he’s eight now. If he comes in and says, “Mum can I have so and so,” I like to give it to him.’

Teabreak, Lock factory, Willenhall, 1976

Teabreak, Lock factory, Willenhall, 1976

“The continuous emotional stress associated with these jobs presents an occupational risk for the emotional balance of women.” Workers Education Association.


About cosmopolitanscum

Journalist, writer, commentator, blogging about architecture, urbanism and design from a humanist perspective.
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4 Responses to Born To Work

  1. Pingback: Writtenbylight » The boy and the flag…

  2. Liz Wade says:

    Great to see Lee, Howl mentioned. I was the last member of my family to work there. My gt.uncle worked there so did my cousin.

    It was a family firm.


  3. Steve says:

    During the 1980s I was involved in a study of ‘corporate social responsibility’ (!) which took me regularly onto the shop floor at a major foundry in the Midlands and to food factories too. Your images of foundry workers reminds me of that foundry. I liked the smells of casting sand resin, the heat and even the tremendous noise of a grinding shop (grinding off excess grey iron off differential gearbox castings). That was the toughest work that I have ever seen anybody do. The management was institutionally racist without realising this (and we told them so). The food factory was a happier place!

    I’m pleased I did some factory work as it taught me the meaning of solidarity, and though I took no photographs the images remain in my head. I also learned that factory workers only insult you if they like you. If they don’t they are polite! Torrents of coarse abuse would greet me at RHM Bakery Canterbury, and I loved it there on nights (no managers on shift/ so yipee). It wasn’t the done thing to swear in the presence of women…. who were mostly restricted to Day Working.

    Great images. Thanks again.

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