Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Miss Rebecca Chapman gets a job on a Salford Tram in 1918 .......... stories behind the book nu 23

An occasional series on the stories behind the new book on Manchester and the Great War*

As the war turned into 1915 the growing demand for women to replace men in the workplace took on a pace during 1915.  In the May of that year Salford Corporation took on 15 women to work as guards on their trams and a few months later Manchester followed suit while the Manchester postal authorities decided to utilise the services of women in the “delivery of letters.”

This had followed an appeal by the Board of Trade in the March for women to register for work at the their local Labour Exchange and in the course of the next three years women were to be found working in heavy industry, as well as on the land, and in offices and on the transport network.

Of course in many respects none of this was new.  For over a century they had worked in textile mills and coal mines, laboured alongside men and children in the fields and done a variety of dirty and unpleasant occupations often for little remuneration.

But the scope of their involvement and the fact that many of these occupations were new to women marked a sea change as did the fact that some of these occupations were far better paid than their previous jobs.

I don’t know what young Rebecca Chapman had dome before she was appointed as “Driver conductor” for the Salford Corporation Tramways but she was sufficiently proud of her job that she retained both the handbook issued to ”Female Conductors” along with her licence and certificate of employment.

She was eighteen years old when she was appointed in the August of 1918 and her handbook records that her “conductor’s uniform number was 98” and she lived at Worthington Lodge, Park Lane in Higher Broughton.

It is a fascinating set of instructions running to 49 pages covering everything from pay “to the collection of fares” safety and the maintenance of the tram car.”

She was expected to be “firm, civil and obliging in the execution of her duty at all times, answer civilly” and was forbidden from accepting any form of gratuity. **

Her pay on appointment was 6.22d rising 7. 33d after four year’s service.

I would like to know more about Ms Chapman and how she had ended up at Worthington Lodge which was a large house with 21 rooms and 12 cellars given that back in 1911 she and had her widowed mother and six siblings were living in a 2 roomed house on Hodson Street in Salford.

The family had not had an easy time.  By 1911 her mother who was 37 had been widowed twice and was bringing up her family on the wages of a charwoman.

A decade earlier they had been living in a slightly larger property in the delightfully names Paradise Row in Greengate which was hard by the the Vapour-Gas Light Company, gas machine manufactures.

All of which may mean that her job on the Salford Trams like those of other women conductors was a significant new occupation.

Not that her appointment was without opposition.  Tram workers in Salford had argued that “the work of a guard is not a woman’s work and that it would be too much to expect that women should take charge of the early workmen’s cars or the late cars which would keep them up until midnight.”***

But I suspect by August 1918 when Miss Chapman began collecting the fares her job was seen as vital, and not without a few dangers. Just a week after she had started she recorded in the back of the handbook that she “had fallen off” the tram at 11.40 on Thursday September 17.

If it happened again she didn’t bother to report it.

And that is where for now I will leave Miss Chapman.  I went looking for after the war and did find that in 1926 a Miss Chapman married a Philip Shuman but there was also another who died in 1924 so we shall have to wait for further research.

In the fullness of time that will happen after all these few items that have survived a century offer a glimpse into life on the Home Front during the Great War, at which point I will thank David Harrop who provided these three from his collection.

David like me is interested in the focusing on the everyday lives that were lived out through that conflict and in recognition of the centenary of the Battle of the Somme he is mounting an exhibition entitled For the Fallen.” *  It opens in the Remembrance Lodge at Southern Cemetery from July.

Pictures, certificate of employment August 26, 1918 licence September 9 1918 and Instructions to Female Conductors, Salford Corporation Tramways, 1918, from the collection of David Harrop

*A new book on Manchester and the Great War http://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/A%20new%20book%20on%20Manchester%20and%20the%20Great%20War

** Instructions to Female Conductors, Salford Corporation Tramways, 1918


*** Woman Tramguards, Manchester Guardian May 29, 1915

****Coming Soon ......... an exhibition in Southern Cemetery ........... remembering the Battle of the Somme, https://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/coming-soon-exhibition-in-southern.html

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