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Victorian engineering is often associated with long working days and as such little free time. However, from 1850 firms were required to give so much free time to their workers. Saturday would be a half day and Sunday a day off. Workers were also given six public holidays a year. To provide for this recreation time the era also saw the establishment of art galleries, public parks and seaside resorts.
In industries such as steelworks where furnaces couldn't be shut down for a day or two they would have 'wake weeks' where the plant would be shut down. Essential maintenance could be carried out and equally essential staff leisure could be arranged. This would often be in the form of train excursions to the popular seaside resorts or spa towns.
There were many social activities available amongst the workforces of the local engineering firms to keep workers amused in the days before television and many of the works had their own sporting clubs.
"A cricket match was played on Monday last between the Railway Foundry and the Airedale Foundry cricket clubs, on the Woodhouse-hill ground, Hunslet. The Railway Foundry men were the winners, with ten wickets to fall."
Rugby League has always been very popular and many local people would have supported the local Hunslet rugby team.
As well as sporting activities another past time was music and there were a number of works bands with which employees might practice in their spare time. A newspaper article in 1856 reports a train excursion for workers from Bradford to Harewood Park where "The Leeds Railway Foundry Brass Band performed a selection of music in the Park, and accompanied the excursionists in the special train."
In 1949 J&H McLaren converted the former Brass Shop of the Kitson works in to a ballroom with a bar and two billiard tables. Dances were arranged each weekend with local bands. These events were open to workers from other engineering establishments. In winter the J&H McLaren Ltd Choral and Dramatic Section would stage a pantomime in the works ballroom. Also provided at the works were a practice pitch for cricket and even a shooting gallery.
External Website Links
Much more about daily life in the Hunslet area of Leeds can be found on the Hunslet Remembered website.
Steamindex's reproduction of extracts of David Joy's diaries
Leeds Mercury, 6th June 1890
The Basic Industries of Great Britain, Lord Aberconway, 1927 
Pease, J. (2003). The History of J&H McLaren of Leeds. Landmark Publishing, Ashbourne, UK. ISBN 1-84306-105-8.Look for this book in Amazon.co.uk
Displays in Leeds City Museum
The Leicester Chronicle, September 17th 1864
Leeds Mercury, 17th August 1850
Leeds Mercury, 7th July 1856
Leeds Mercury, 6th June 1890
Leeds Mercury, 15th October 1851
The Foundries, Machine Shops, &c. in Leeds and other Towns in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Report and Evidence published in British Parliamentary Papers, Child Employment Volume 15, 1857-8.
Leeds Mercury, 12th January 1850
Leeds Mercury, 19th June 1895
Proud Heritage, A History of Thomas Smith & Sons (Rodley) Ltd, Frederick H. Smith 1947
Leeds Mercury, 24th May 1851
With thanks to Sheila Bye for providing some of the material used in this article and pointing me in the right direction for other sources of material.
This article was produced by Andrew Johnson and Kris Ward, any feedback or contributions about the Leeds engine making industry would be greatly appreciated.
Page last modified: 09 July 2021
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