international Womens day
8th march 2021

celebrating the lives of women represented in the sankey Family PHOTOGRAPHIC collection.

As part of international women’s day we want to celebrate and highlight the lives of women who are represented in the Sankey Photographic Collection, directly or indirectly. 

We’ve written about a photographic portrait, a place they called home, or an area in which they lived. The women we have chosen to write about, or an image of a place they may have had a connection with, has allowed us to develop a new understanding of the women workers, the philanthropists and the mothers who worked in and around a thriving industrial town. In some cases you will see that much of their story is gleaned from what is in the historical records – i.e. the census records or newspapers of the time – as opposed to what the woman or woman said in their own words. This reflects the fact that many working class women’s histories have been hugely unrepresented in our historical record.

If you want to gain a first hand account into the lives of women in Barrow in the early 20th Century we recommended that you visit the Elizabeth Roberts Working Class Oral History Archive.

We thank all the women who are taking part in the Seeing the North With Sankey Project for taking the time to share their feelings, thoughts or research about a woman or women they have found interesting, inspirational, knew or wanted to shine more of a light upon! Thanks also to the men who are supportive of this work.

3935 Women War Workers Enrolling At Labour Exchange. 1914 - 1918. © The Sankey Family Photography Collection.
Winifred Langton campaigning against poll tax rises in 1990. © North West Evening Mail Archive.

Winfred Langton – campaigner 

1909 – 2003

Charlotte Davies

Winifred Langton was born in London and moved to Cumbria in the 1960’s. Her Mother, a working class London Suffragette and Father, the son of a freed slave from Guyana. Born into a working class family, she often helped with her parents’ activism fighting for an equal society, campaigning endlessly and took this spirit with her when she moved up to the Lake District. 

It is apparent that Winifred Langton was a strong, passionate and well loved individual. She definitely left her mark across Cumbria reaching into many hearts and giving hope to many within her community.

A communist and peace activist who was always fighting for a fair world and peaceful society.

In 1967, at the Market Cross in Ulverston, Win inaugurated a Hiroshima Day vigil, which was sustained for more than 30 years. By the 1980s she and other “pensioners for peace” joined the protests at Greenham Common. In 1999 Ulverston town council honoured her with a certificate of appreciation of her work for the local community

She was a tireless campaigner, continuously raising money for medical aid in Vietnam. Over the years she also worked hard to provide for her family, writing a book ‘Courage’, written on her Parents. 

After speaking with a number of her friends it was clear she is remembered as an empowering and gentle soul, loved for her kindness and thought towards others.

References: 

Thank You to Jean McSorley and Wendy Kolbe, friends of Winifred Langton for providing such an interesting recollection of this wonderful woman and to Anti Racist Cumbria and the Guardian for providing helpful and interesting information. 

Find out more by visiting: 

Anti Racist Cumbria 

The North West Evening Mail

Remembering Resistance 

Winifred’s Book Courage 

The Guardian Obituary. 

Peggy Braithwaite Portrait © Cumbria Archive Service. BDX 650.

PEGGY BRAITHWAITE – Lighthouse keeper

1919 – 1996

RACHEL CAPOVILA

Walney Lighthouse is an amazing 19th century stone structure on the very tip on the South End of Walney Island.  The lighthouse conjures up images and words of the Romantics.  Wild, wet, Isolated and cut off. Although this is a false perception as back in the day the port of Barrow was a very busy one.  It is also a stone’s throw from the islands of Roa and Piel.  Around there everyone uses boats or walks the sands between the tides.

The last person to be keeper of the lighthouse, before it was made fully electric, was a woman called Peggy Braithwaite. Born on Piel Island in 1919,  she moved to Walney as a teenager when her father became the lighthouse’s assistant keeper, and she helped him.  She herself was promoted in 1975.  Peggy’s job was also to maintain the lighthouse, she once reported the mechanism of the lamp failed and so she had to rotate the lamp continually all night.

Peggy was awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 1984, 10 years before she retired at the age of 74.  She also gained the “Lady of the Lamp’s” distinction as the solitary woman principal keeper, in the long and heroic history of lighthouses.

I first met Peggy as a Girl Guide doing my wildlife badge on the nature reserve.  She, like many Barrow women, instilled an impression on me that women can step up and do what needs to be done, in what is seen as traditional male roles.  She was very knowledgeable of the flora and fauna, the history of the lighthouse, the islands and the area.  She had a gruff but kind manner that demanded respect. She died in 1996.

The lighthouse is situated on the Cumbria Coastal path and is now a popular destination for all.  

Isabella Sankey C.1911 © Sankey Family Photography Collection. All rights reserved

ISABELLA SANKEY 

1840 – 1917

Julia Parks

When I started this project back in 2018 I came across these striking portraits and was intrigued to find out more about the woman photographed.It was not until later it was revealed that this was Isabella Sankey, the mother of Edward Sankey, and grandmother of Raymond and Eric Sankey – the photographers and printers. 

Isabella was born in 1840 in Claughton, Lancashire, to John and Anne Catterall. We believe John was a weaver.

By 1860, Isabella, aged 20, was working as a servant in Preston, and on May 13th of the same year she married 22 year-old Edward Sankey (Senior) – a coachman at Abbott’s Wood Lodge in Barrow-in-Furness. 

Between 1861 and 1880 Isabella gave birth to twelve children. Only eight of these children survived – illustrating the high child mortality rate during the late mid to late 1800’s. 

There are no written testimonies from Isabella, but the images we have of her show she was much loved by her family. She appears in many images, looking strong and stoical – hardly surprising given her life experience.  It is also clear she played an important role as grandmother.

She must have been proud of her children who went on to have varied careers including being a book binder, dressmakers, a plasterer, an  upholsterer, a boot-maker – and of course as a well known photographer and printer. 

Isabella Sankey died 23rd December 1917 aged 76.

References: 

Thank You to Rod White, Martin Bates and Jean McSorley who carried out the research into the Sankey Family Tree and whose work I have much referenced in this piece. 

References to Isabella Sankey and her family are found on Ancestry.

Nella Last in her Women's Voluntary Service Uniform. Photo Credit: North West Evening Mail

NellA LAST – diary writer

1889 – 1968

enid milligan

In 1939 aged 49, Nella answered the call from the ‘Mass-Observation’ for ordinary people from all over the country to keep a diary record of their day-to-day life. Nella was a born writer. She recorded incidents that happened in the local area, recounting conversations and putting her own thoughts on paper.  Her diary entries made during WWII provide a fascinating insight into the lives of ordinary people, living during extraordinary times.  

On Friday September 13th 1940 Nella wrote “When I went down for my fortnightly shampoo and set, I was shocked to hear sixty incendiary bombs had been dropped in one part of the town – all on six roomed houses. I met Miss Ledgerwood, who owns property in the bombed-out district and she was running round trying to get someone to re-roof one and mend others.

As well as her writing, she volunteered for the WVS and the Red Cross. She continued to keep a diary for almost 30 years. Nella died in 1968. 

Her diaries were published in 2000’s; her wartime diaries were dramatised by Victoria Wood in 2006 for the film Housewife 49.

References: 

BBC History

Housewife 49

Nella’s Last War by Nella Last

Mass Observation Project 

 

9876, Kirkstone Pass © Sankey Family Photography Collection. All rights reserved

Mary Cicely Fair

1874 – 1955

Lynn Belither

Have you ever heard of a novelist called Donald Deane who wrote 4 novels in the 1920’s?  It was the pseudonym of an incredibly multi –talented and fascinating woman –Mary Cicely Fair.  Born near Manchester in 1874 but moved with her parents to Cumbria where she spent most of her life. 

Her various pursuits included -travels in Europe, a voyage on a cargo ship. She trained to become a radio engineer. And then had medical science training. Mary was one of Cumbria’s best women lecturers and was broadcasting on the radio in 1930.

 But her main love, her lifelong work, was photography especially in Eskdale. She had a strong connection with the Furness/Eskdale railway.  She visited Ravenglass often and once set up a hide in the Gulleries, left it for a day then went back to photograph the wildlife.

When walking or driving to places in the area she always had her pocket Kodak camera . Some of her copious recordings, notebooks, files, negatives and albums revealed her interest in tracing a line of settlement in Cumbria from pre- history onwards. She had a keen interest in archeology as displayed in her recordings of ancient ruins, roads, and earthworks.

She was particularly fond of the Herdwick sheep as thousands of her negatives revealed. She died in 1955 before she had completed a project to establish the history of Herdwick sheep in Cumbria. 

References: 

Tullie House 

Past Presented 

Cumbria Past

British Journal of Nursing (March 1906)

3405, Mikasa Street © Sankey Family Photography Collection. All rights reserved

THE GIRL IN THE MIDDLE

Early 1900’s

Jean McSORLEY

It’s the girl in the middle of this image, holding a child in her arms, and looking watchfully at the camerman, who captured my attention.

About eleven years old, this girl is on the cusp of becoming a teenager. The image illustrates what most likely lies before her. To her right there’s a shop with its staff. She might work in such a place, or in a factory, when she leaves school at 14. On her left are women and children, representing another anticipated stage in her story – marriage and motherhood. 

As she faced significant changes, so too did her world. It was also facing transformation and challenge; wars, women getting the vote, financial crises, a pandemic, better medicines and great scientific discoveries. Over her lifetime these things will have an impact globally, or at a personal level.  Perhaps, then, she will take a very different path from the one envisaged for her?

Whatever her future overall holds, some things will surely happen. She will know the affection of family and friends and, hopefully, a true love. She will meet with sorrow and loss, will have hopes and dreams. Like so many females before and after her, she will employ ingenuity and resourcefulness, and demonstrate strength and courage. 

This girl is the ‘Every Woman’ who has lived throughout the ages of humankind: she is why we celebrate International Women’s Day.

3020 Paper Mill Counting Paper In Reams © Sankey Family Photography Collection. All rights reserved

paper factory workers

Early 20TH CENTURY

SUSAN BENSON

The Barrow Chemical Wood Pulp Company established in 1888 on a large site beside Cavendish Dock, was taken over by Kellner-Partington Paper Pulp Company Ltd in 1889. Large amounts of wood were brought into Barrow Docks from Scandinavia, Russia and Newfoundland to be turned into pulp using the bi-sulphite process and then heated with acid to leave cellulose for making paper. In a guide produced for the visit by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers in 1901 ‘The paper-making plant contained four large paper-machines with the necessary beating-engines, machine and super calenders, cutters etc. Two large rooms are used for sorting, finishing, and packing the various productions. The number of work people employed is about 500’. Many of the employees were women.

This photograph shows a woman possibly counting the paper sheets for packing into the packets shown behind her. It is obviously a posed photograph as are the others in the series.  Maybe Sankey was commissioned to record the work of the paper mills. 

In February 2019 The Archive Centre hosted an evening focused on the paper Mills. Kay Parker has researched the Mills and spoken to many people who worked there, collecting photographs and memories.

Memories of Pauline Cowan. ‘The pulp works were very much part of our life. The blankets on our bed were pulp works felt. Our toy bricks were wooden pulp works bobbins. Our skipping ropes were the coarse string that tied the parcels with the bobbins as handles. As children, we were never short of paper to draw and write on.’

Memories of Brenda Cunningham. ‘The first job she was given was in the cutting department stacking the cut paper of various sizes and types into neat piles. Moving on to the tie-upper department later on. Her workstation was part of a long bench situated so the sorters could easily put their sorted paper on it for the reams to be checked (a ream consisted of 500 sheets or in some cases only 480).’

References: 

https://www.nwemail.co.uk/news/17413581.former-paper-mill-workers-urged-share-memories/

https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/1901_Institution_of_Mechanical_Engineers:_Visits_to_Works 

Research notes of Kay Parker BDX 817 at Barrow Archive and Local Studies Centre. 

7278. Vickers Ltd. Barrow. New Shell Shop Gallery. © Sankey Family Photography Collection. All rights reserved

WORLD WAR ONE MUNITION WORKERS

1916 – 1918

Wendy Kolbe

In March 1916 conscription was brought in as it became vital for women to fulfil essential areas of work, including industry. During the first world war between  thousands of women were recruited to work for the war effort in the munitions workshops in Vickers, Barrow. These were local girls and young women, along with 2,647 men imported to Barrow mostly from France and Belgium to make up the workforce. Staff were assigned to look after their welfare and find lodgings before their arrival.

A shift system was operated; “As one shift came home, they slept in warm beds that had just been vacated by the new shift going in to work. In Vickers it was at times like some medieval vision of hell”. 

“Wherever you turn, to the right, to the left, in front of you or behind – are shells, shells, shells. There is a pile of 4.5’s waiting to be turned, here are the finished shell cases which men are stacking onto a cart drawn by an old horse who endures so patiently the noise and heat. On the right they are boring 18 pounders, which this old woman with a trolly is kept busy hauling from the centreing to the boring sheet. Girls work the lathes, girls mark and view the shells and there are even women labourers . Hard work requiring strength – standing for 8 hours, lifting heavy weights. The state of grime we get into, in spite of our overalls, caps and leather gloves is incredible”.

Women laboured in these hazardous, deafening and filthy conditions to be paid, sometimes less than, half of the men’s wage for doing the exact same job. The shifts split into three, 6.30am-2.30pm, 2.30pm -10.30pm, 10.30pm -6.30am, after 3 hours there was a 30 minute break, with another break of 7 minutes, two hours before the end of shifts.

References: 

Barrow News Article, 1982 – Mrs Alice Wilkinson’s recapturing how as an 18 year old girl she came from Manchester to work at Vickers in 1916 (see article below). 

Crew, Jennifer. “Women’s Wages in Britain and Australia During the First World War”. Labour history

Crew, Jennifer. “Women’s Wages in Britain and Australia During the First World War.” Labour History, no. 57, 1989, pp. 27–43. JSTOR. Accessed 4 Mar. 2021.

BBC History – Women on the Home Front WW1 – Prof Joanna Bourke

WW1 – Women at War – Historic UK (The History and Heritage Accommodation Guide)

3934, Women War Workers Enrolling at the Labour Exchange. World War One. © Sankey Family Photography Collection. All rights reserved

Dorothee pullinger and the munition workers

1916 – 1918

Wendy Kolbe

Dorothee Pullinger was a 21 year old engineer who was headhunted by Vickers for the task of supervising female workers during WW1. Many of the workforce were making high explosive shells, or driving cranes and machinery.  She had over 6000 young girls under her control as well as 30 forewomen by the end of the war.

She was keen to look after the women’s wellbeing socially and physically and ensured that they had homely accommodation fostering a feeling of ‘family’ for the young women, many of who were French and Belgians  refugees. She also set up an apprentice scheme for young women engineers within the works and had a lifelong passion to promote female workers as equally able, during a period when male views dominated and women’s opportunities where limited. 

 After the war Dorothee, already a very accomplished engineer, went on to become a pioneering automobile and aeronautical engineer. She designed the ‘Galloway’ car, a car made ‘ by ladies for ladies’, which went into production in her female staffed Galloway factory. Cars of the day were large, tall and heavy. The Galloway design for women had rear view mirrors, a gear lever and handbrake close to hand between the front seats and other ergonomic features; lower dashboard, higher seats and smaller steering wheel, along with smaller controls and the most reliable engine of the day.  

At her factory she again initiated an Apprentice scheme to encourage young women towards a life of independence and career.

Additional information: 

She was awarded an MBE at 26, for management of female munition workers and was the founder of the Women’s Engineering Society in 1919. Dorothee is said to have been, “ intoxicated by speed” and won a silver cup driving the Galloway car, which she had designed and engineered, in the gruelling Scottish Six Day Car Trial. Dorothee applied to become a member of The Institute of Automobile Engineers in 1914 but was declined on the grounds that the organisation was not open to women and that, ‘the word person means a man and not a woman’.    

During World War 2 Dorothee Pullinger was called upon by the Government to set up an Industrial Panel of the Ministry of Production, once again recruiting, managing and training thousands of women to work in engineering across multiple factories, building aeroplanes, tanks and manufacturing ammunition.

References: 

dorotheepullinger.co.uk

Paisley Philosophical Institution: The Pulingers, Arrol Johnstons and the Paisley Connection

Driving Force – Dorothee Pullinger and the Galloway. 

The Galloway Car

http://dorotheepullinger.co.uk/creative-works-films.com

Dorothee Pullinger Project- UWS

Womens Munition Workers Football Team 1918 by Herbert Bentley.

Munition workers football team

1916 – 1918

Vanessa Allen

The women in the photograph worked as munition workers in Barrow during World War 1.

The outbreak of war in 1914 had brought significant changes for women, who were drafted into many occupations previously restricted to men. The munition workers played a vital role supplying the ammunition for the men on the front line, while at the same time replacing the men who had gone to war.

Several thousands of munitions girls were employed at Vickers Ltd, many of them coming from far afield. The women on the photograph would have met at work and organised themselves into a football team. Being outdoors must have provided a welcome contrast to the long hours spent at work and the overcrowded living conditions in lodgings.

The team has been photographed indoors wearing their football kit, each number sewn onto the front of their shirt. Some of them are wearing caps and the captain is holding the leather football. The fact that the photograph featured in the Barrow and District Year Book for 1918 suggests that it would be of interest to members of the public.

The photograph captures a moment in history when women had proved themselves capable in a world where men had traditionally led the way. The munitions girls in this photograph give an insight into how women’s lives were changed by war.

After the end of the war women’s football faced the prejudices that had existed before 1914. In December 1921 the FA banned women from playing and using league pitches and facilities. Part of the resolution read: “Complaints having been made as to football being played by women, Council feel impelled to express their strong opinion that the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and should not be encouraged.”    

 References: 

Dock Museum resources: “Shipbuilding Wartimes”

BAE Systems Heritage  Barrow Part 2 (1911 to present)

“The history of women’s football in the UK”  written by Eleanor Dickens and published by British Library on 23 Oct 2020

FA Council minutes, 1921: from the FA Archive held at the National Football Museum, Manchester

“A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The munitions workers who made the British government tremble” written by Chris Blackhurst and published in the Independent on the 4th June 2014

Further research: 

It would be interesting to find out where the team played and which other women’s teams were in the local area.

It would be interesting to find out more about the women: where they were born and whether they stayed in Barrow after the war.

© Museum of London

SELINA MARTIN – SUFFRAGETTE 

1882 – 1972

WENDY KOLBE

Selina Martin was born in Ulverston on 21st November 1882, one of 11 children. (Probably born 39, Tower Street). The family moved to Lancaster when she was 4. She left school at 12 and worked as a domestic servant. In 1908 she joined the Women’s Social and Political Union movement which had grown out of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage, formed in 1897. The former had been founded through a peaceful desire to vote, the latter through the sexism and injustice faced in attempts to be heard and listened to. In March 1909  Selina was amongst a delegation of Suffragettes led by Emily Pankhurst seeking to speak with the Prime Minister at the House of Commons, they were arrested and imprisoned. 

On 21st December 1909 Selina and Leslie Hall directly approached Prime Minister Asquith and asked his views on women’s rights, when he refused to answer Selina threw an empty stone ginger bottle into his empty car and both women were arrested. This was the beginning of Selina’s torturous imprisonment where she underwent cruel treatment and force-feeding, being dragged and kicked, handcuffed and flung head down onto stone floors and kept in a punishment cell. Her case prompted the ‘Prisoners Temporary Discharge for Ill Health Act 1913 ~ which became known as ‘The Cat and Mouse Act’ as starved women were released, only to be imprisoned when some strength was regained.

Selina Martin suffered ill health through repeated harsh force-feeding. Her treatment in prison had been brutal and violent. She was later awarded a medal, ‘For Valour’, by the Women’s Social and Political Union.

References: 

Documenting Dissent 

 

© Sankey Family Photography Collection. All rights reserved

ELIZABETH GREW – SUFFRAGETTE 

Date of birth and death unknown

Dr Peter Schofield 

Miss Elizabeth Grew a militant suffragette and member of the Women’ Social and Political Union arrived in Barrow from Birmingham during October 1912.  Elizabeth was in charge of Barrow and Whitehaven while staying at a number of addresses in Barrow.

She quickly got down to work organising socialist and labour women and found a supporter in Reverend Mould, Vicar of St James.  Elizabeth attended drawing room meetings and gave many talks on votes for women, attracting new members while organising guest speakers including Flora Drummond and George Lansbury. Under her authority twenty-one Barrow and Whitehaven women left for London for the Working Women’s Deputation in January 1913. 

In May 1913 the empty mansion of the late ironmaster Henry Schneider was burnt down. From material found at the scene, it was firmly believed the local suffragettes had caused the fire; although no arrests were made and it was never admitted to. Elizabeth Grew when interviewed by the press, declared herself a rebel and said she was pleased by what had happened. Instead of one house destroyed she would have been pleased had it been a dozen. There followed some lively scenes at a suffragette meeting in the triangle of the Scotch Buildings addressed by Elizabeth Grew, Mrs. Robinson, a prominent supporter and others. There were some 500 women present.  Some stones were thrown at the speakers, and ultimately the Hindpool women rushed the meeting, the Suffragettes leaving in a cab from which they had been speaking. 

It is known she spoke at Ambleside, Preston and Blackburn.  By October 1913 Elizabeth had left for Leicester and now became involved countrywide.  She is seen organising at Reading, Durham, Dundee, Plymouth and Newcastle and most notably when directing militant operations in Exeter where Mrs. Pankhurst was imprisoned on her return from America. Some idea of her character can be gained from the following:

‘The taxi drew up outside the main door of Exeter prison, and a tall lady, dressed in an ulster, got out. There was no doubt she was a person, of consequence in the militant world. With a determined air she walked up to the Governor’s door, I want to see the Governor, he is not here; she was politely informed. The lady with the determined air was not put off. ‘We want to see Mrs. Pankhurst,’ she demanded of the prison official.’

References: 

British Newspaper Archive

Win Langton remembers Hiroshima on August 6 in 1990 at Ulverston war memorial. North West Evening Mail.
A portrait of Dorothee Pullinger. Photo credit: Scottish Hall of Engineering Fame.
Ulverston war memorial © Sankey Family Photography Collection. All rights reserved
Nella Last with her son Clifford. Photo Credit: North West Evening Mail.
Alice Wilkinson Recalls working in the Munition Works during WW1. 1982.
An advertisement for the Galloway car designed by Dorothée Pullinger. Image Credit: Britain by Car.
1016, Walney Lighthouse. Early 20th Century. © The Sankey Family Photography Collection. Can we see Peggy as a young women in the background?
Isabella Sankey © Sankey Family Photography Collection. All rights reserved
Peggy Braithwaite THE NEWS, December 23rd 1980
A photograph by Mary Cicely Fair and printed by the Sankey’s. Photo Credit: Thanks to David Simpson from the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway Preservation Society.
Political propaganda, Women's Social and Political Union
Mary Cicely Fair with a group of children
4290, Corner Of Bolton St & Crystal Road, Blackpool. 1913. Edward Sankey © Sankey Family Photography Collection. All rights reserved. Look carefully at the newspaper articles!

Thank you to everyone involved in the project. If you would like anymore information please contact julia@signalfilmandmedia.co.uk.

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