Friday 13 February 2015

Coventry Transport Museum Redevelopment Update - February 2015

Work is moving on at great pace throughout the museum, to ensure that we will be ready to launch our new look in June.  In addition to opening the fantastic new Land Speed Record Exhibition this week, here's what we're currently up to:
Re-routing and work on new exhibitions
Lots of work is happening on the ground floor of the museum, as we change the layout of this area to make some of the biggest and most exciting changes, to enable us to tell Coventry's transport story in chronological order, in a dynamic new way.

Motorcycle and Cycle galleries
The upstairs motorcycle and cycle galleries have now been demolished, making way for a new 'Design and Innovation' exhibition as well as education spaces.  In the new museum, the cycle and motorcycle collections will be displayed alongside the car collections, throughout the whole museum.
Old Land Speed Record gallery
Since Thrust SSC and Thrust 2 moved out of their original home, this space has now been completely stripped and redecorated, in preparation for a new 'Working Wonders' exhibition. 

When it is completed, this will be a super new display of 'working' vehicles, and the important roles that vehicles have played in all of our lives, from milk floats to buses to lorries!

Old Grammar School
Work continues on repairing the extremely decayed stonework throughout the building, and a new extension is being added to provide modern access and visitor facilities for the space.  We are really excited about being able to open this historic building up for special events from June 2015 onwards.
The great news is that despite the really ambitious timescale for this mammoth project, we are still on course for the redevelopment to be finished by June 2015 - we can't wait for you to see what we've been doing!

Monday 1 September 2014

New acquisition - Coventry Corporation bus destination blind

Coventry Transport Museum recently acquired an intriguing object, which was kindly donated by Mr Crick.

This impressive object is a Coventry Corporation Transport bus destination blind, from 1962.

The item would have been situated on the front of a bus, and features many prominent locations from around Coventry such as Earlsdon, Keresley Road, Baginton Civic Airport and Foleshill. 

The blind is shown here completely unrolled, and measures over 10 metres in length!

Unlike the digital destination displays on buses today, to change the destination display the bus conductor would have to manually turn the blind with a winding handle. We believe that this particular blind was used on the Coundon - Kingsbury Roard - Wood End - City route, since the fabric is slightly discoloured and worn around those particular place names.

What is particularly interesting about Coventry Destination Blinds is the tapered writing - many of the destination names were too long to fit on the blind, so this style of writing was used to allow for the entire place name to fit.

The blind is currently held in our Small Objects Collection store, but it looks likely that it will go on display in the fairly near future, in one of our newly redesigned galleries.

Find out more about our Redevelopment project.

Monday 18 August 2014

Maudslay Lorry Restoration Update

On 4 August 2014, 100 years after Britain entered the First World War, the last remaining WW1 Maudslay lorry was started up for the first time in 40 years. 

The Great War lorry that came to Coventry Transport Museum as little more than a chassis is nearly built up to its former glory, thanks to the meticulous craftsmanship and research by the team working on it. 

There are plenty more little touches that the Maudslay team will be tweaking over the coming weeks but first the Maudslay is to travel to Stoneleigh Park next weekend for the Coventry Festival of Motoring taking place 23rd – 24th of August.

Workshop Technician Will van Gemeren said that the final issue to correct before the engine would start was that the oil pressure. The oil was creating too much pressure but with a pressure regulator built and fitted the engine finally roared into life.
A new magneto has been fitted and now the engine consistently starts. The Maudslay now needs little touches that will complete its restoration and preserve it. The wheel arches will be rust-proofed shortly and side panel locks will be fitted next week.

The gear linkages have been fixed and brackets have been added to the back wheel arches to add extra support, as well as to house a supply box, which during the war probably would have held necessary provisions and equipment for the war effort. Another support bracket was added to support the exhaust. The front wheel brackets, which are original to the Maudslay, were re-structured to bring them back to their former shape and provide the support needed to the front wheels. The bull bar has also been adjusted to protect the radiator and the bed of the lorry is now completely painted to match its original colour. The canvas is still to be fitted but when complete will weigh nearly 224lbs.

Article by Sara Johnstone.

Friday 6 June 2014

Coventry Transport Museum Redevelopment - June 2014 Update

From March 2014 until April 2015, Coventry Transport Museum is undergoing a major £8.5m redevelopment project, which will transform and re-energise the museum, enabling us to tell the story of our City's proud motoring heritage in a world-class, innovative new way.

Our ambitious project, which has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the European Regional Development Fund, as well as the Biffa Award and Garfield Weston Foundation, will include significantly upgrading 12 of our 14 current exhibition galleries, the relocation of the shop, the creation of a new entrance/orientation space and new visitor activity areas.  It will also include the redevelopment of our neighbouring Grade 1 listed, 12th Century Old Grammar School, which will be brought back into public use as an exhibition, education and events space.

When this work is complete, the Museum and Grammar School will be world-class visitor attractions that will bring people from far and wide to find out more about Coventry's fabulous heritage, as well as offering opportunities for local people to get involved in a wide range of activities.  The Museum will also be able to run in a more efficient and sustainable way, thus helping to safeguard the future of Coventry's important heritage.

Work is now well underway on the project, so we thought that this would be a good moment for an update on what we’re up to.  

The Old Grammar School

The Old Grammar School building has now been completely covered in scaffolding, to enable a team of stonemasons to assess the quality of the 900-year-old stonework, and to commence work on repairing and conserving those areas that have suffered from years of neglect.

Inside the building, the historic pews (many of which bear the names of former schoolboys engraved upon them during long hours of lessons) have been carefully moved aside to enable work on the building’s floor to take place.  Underfloor heating is being installed in the Grammar School, and once the new floor has been laid, the pews will be conserved and replaced in their original locations.

The takeaway shop between the Old Grammar School and the Diplomat Pub has been demolished to make way for a new grand entrance to the Grammar School building.  This will include lift access to both floors of the building, as well as new toilet facilities and a kitchen area to enable the Grammar School to be used for catered functions – what a unique space for a special event!

Coventry Transport Museum 

Visitors to the museum over the last few days won’t fail to have noticed that scaffolding has been erected in the main entrance area.  This is part of the work which is currently taking place to replace the glass around the mezzanine gallery, which will improve soundproofing and temperature control in our new conference suite on the first floor of the museum (directly above the main entrance).

Immediately to the right as you enter the museum, the space which was previously used for temporary exhibitions is being extended and redeveloped, to become the new Land Speed Record Gallery and a new bright and modern museum gift shop.  Currently this area is a hive of activity behind the hoardings, as work is done on piling for the extension, and preparing to build the walls of the new shop area, which is due to open in the Autumn of this year.  Watch this space for details of how we plan to move the two enormous Land Speed Record cars from their current home, later in the year – it’s going to be rather spectacular.

The gallery which was home to the large commercial vehicle collection (where the Sky Blue Bus used to live) is also being extended out to the west of the building along Hales Street, where two empty shops have been demolished to make space for this extension.  This gallery will eventually become our new temporary exhibition area, and piling work is currently in progress for the extension.

Finally, hoardings have also been built in parts of the current introductory gallery.  This is where we will be breaking down walls to create a new Pioneers Gallery, which will tell the part of our city’s story that took place during the period 1900 to 1914. 

Behind the scenes, a huge amount of work is going into putting the finishing touches to the design and layout of all of the new museum displays.  This work is being undertaken by museum staff and a team of exhibition designers, in consultation with a wide range of museum visitors and community groups around the city and the region.  We are inviting as many people as possible to contribute to this process, because we want to ensure that we tell our city’s story in a way that accurately reflects the experiences of the people whose lives were shaped by the transport industry, as well as making all of our displays engaging, interesting and accessible to people from all walks of life.  

Inevitably with a project of this size, and as you will gather from some of the details above, the museum currently looks a bit different to usual, and there are some galleries that are closed to visitors while they are being worked on.  However we have been delighted and heartened that thousands of you continue to visit the museum while the work is ongoing – there is still lots and lots to see and do during your visit, and you’re still absolutely guaranteed the same warm welcome from our staff whenever you choose to come and see us.

Overall, the Redevelopment project is going very well and we are extremely excited about unveiling some absolutely stunning new galleries in the very near future, that will showcase our collection, and tell the incredible story of Coventry’s massive contribution to the world’s transport industry.  

We hope you’ll bear with us while we work to create a world-class new museum for you to enjoy.

Thursday 22 May 2014

The birth of Coventry City Ladies Football Club - and how the car industry helped it to prosper

Local historian Lionel Bird has recently been undertaking research on the story of women's football in Coventry.  

Using resources at the Coventry History Centre, situated within the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Lionel has traced the story of Frederick Selman, who was to become a pioneer of the women's football world.  

Since many of Coventry's car factories played a key role in this story, we thought that readers of the Coventry Transport Museum blog would be interested to read Lionel's fascinating account:

The outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 provided the catalyst for the emergence of women's football in Coventry.  The city's huge industrial manufacturing base was adapted to produce vital munitions as part of the war effort.  Thousands of men bravely joined up to fight, creating a massive shortage of skilled labour.  The men were replaced by women workers who became known as "Munitionettes".  They worked long hours in difficult conditions to produce munitions and shell cases.  They had to endure food shortages, discrimination by some male workers and a serious lack of suitable living accommodation.  But they got the job done.

It was during these difficult times that women's football prospered in Coventry. Ladies factory teams were formed at companies such as Rudge-Whitworth, Humber, White & Poppe, Coventry Ordnance, Coventry Chain and Daimler.  Matches were played regularly between 1917 and 1918 to raise money for Coventry's wounded military personnel.  On the pitch, the women footballers enjoyed themselves which must have been a pleasant change from the harsh conditions of factory life.  They were complimented on the quality of their play and some women continued playing after the war had ended.  

In 1921 Frederick Selman, a labourer employed at Sterling Metals in Foleshill, formed Coventry City Ladies Football Club.  He became trainer and chairman.  Some of the players he recruited had links to the Humber Ladies team.  He must have been inspired by the exploits of the world famous Dick Kerr's Ladies from Preston, who had just appeared at Highfield Road in a match against Saint Helen's Ladies, in front of 27,000 people.  Coventry City Ladies would later play Dick Kerr's Ladies and Stoke-on-Trent Ladies. Although they lost both matches, they did not disgrace themselves.  Frederick was a Coventry City supporter and had a long association with the Saint John's Ambulance Brigade, who regularly volunteered their services for home matches.  

Coventry Ladies' Football Club - 1921.  Picture used courtesy of

Frederick was born in Twerton, Somerset, in 1890.  He joined the Fifth Dragoon Guards and was based at Woolwich Barracks in 1911.  He volunteered for action in August 1914. He was subsequently wounded and honourably discharged in September 1915.  In 1921 he resided at Corporation Cottages in Radford.  On 5 December that year the Football Association sensationally banned women's football on League grounds, citing potential health problems as the reason. Frederick attended a meeting in Blackburn twelve days later where he proposed the formation of the English Ladies Football Association.  He was elected a vice-president of that organisation.  A national cup competition was introduced and he attempted to form a Coventry Women's League.  Unfortunately, this failed, probably due to insufficient finance and lack of support.  

Frederick Selman died in Blackpool in 1952 whilst on holiday.  He was a keen dancer and apparently collapsed on the dance floor of the Tower Ballroom.  The ban on women's football was lifted in 1971 and the game today, prospers both locally and nationally.  I think Frederick would be immensely proud of the current success experienced by Coventry City Ladies Football Club.  


Lionel undertook much of his research for this article at the Coventry History Centre - the city's ultimate historical resource for local historians, those tracing their family history and much more.  


Friday 28 February 2014

First World War Maudslay Lorry restoration project - February 2014 update

One of the major projects currently being undertaken by the Friends of Coventry Transport Museum alongside Museum staff, is the restoration of a 1916 Maudslay Subsidy Chassis.

The Friends of the Museum are recording their work on this project on a separate Maudslay Project Blog, but we asked Curator of Vehicles Christiaan van Schaardenburgh and volunteer Sara Johnstone to give an update of the project's progress during the past few weeks, for readers of this main Museum blog.  You can also read an introduction to the project here

In the past three weeks the Maudslay WWI lorry has undergone more work to restore it to its former glory. The cab floor is nearly finished; constructing the floor from timber with a removable middle section replicates the original structure seen in the photographs the restoration team is working from. 

The bent sub-chassis, now straightened using a hydraulic straightening kit, has now been fitted with the engine mount. The chassis has also had the body mounting brackets fitted. Before they went on, they were fabricated, altered and textured to look like castings. This important detail, for those with a discerning eye, makes for a beautiful touch as it mirrors the original Maudslay.

The four steel wings to fit over the wheels have arrived from Manchester. ‘Vintage Wings and Radiators’ made the wings specifically for this Maudslay. Various photographs show that Maudslay lorries may have had steel wings or ply-wood wings, there was not a standard but this Maudslay has been fitted with steel as per the photographs that the restoration team is working from.

And finally, the backboard is in the process of being cut to length, when it is finished it will be sent off to be fitted with canvas.

Article by Sara Johnstone.

UPDATE: We were also very pleased to see the Maudslay lorry project featured in the Coventry Telegraph this week!

Friday 14 February 2014

Sweet Seventeen - A Poem by W.H. Maudslay

The Museum archive contains a number of documents relating to the Maudslay Company, which built cars at Parkside from 1902 until about 1926.  Amongst the records is the personal scrapbook of W.H. Maudslay, the founder of the company.

Archive Volunteer Dave Butler has spent many hours examining this scrapbook in detail, and is picking out a variety of items of interest for the Coventry Transport Museum blog.   The poem below appears to have been written by Maudslay himself:


Have you heard of the beauty that’s just come to town
A Warwickshire lass of undoubted renown
She comes of a stock far famed and well born
The same lovely features being found in her form
They may sing of Godiva, old Coventry’s queen
But you can’t match this beauty of Sweet Seventeen

Her radiant face in a bonnet so round
Rivets your glance as she skims o’er the ground
While her body is moulded with exquisite grace
She can move like a racehorse or go your own pace
And yet she’s so quiet, of such charms you may dream
She’s a regular darling, our Sweet Seventeen

She’s as sound as a bell is our Coventry charmer
So strong, yet so light, no rough roads can harm her
And just through the city she moves with such grace
The whole of the town wants to see her sweet face
But hurry, oh hurry, if business you mean
Or you won’t stand a chance with your Sweet Seventeen

If you find yourself walking down Piccadilly
This lovely creation you may chance to see
Number 60, the house where she pleases to dwell
See her once, and you’re sure to fall under her spell
You simply can’t help it, she is such a queen
Amongst cars, and her power is a Sweet Seventeen.

The Maudslay Seventeen was introduced in 1910 and a technical description of it in the 9th October 1909 issue of The Autocar refers to it as the Maudslay “Sweet Seventeen”.
Number 60 Piccadilly was the address of the company’s London showrooms.  

Thursday 13 February 2014

Preliminary work gets underway on the Old Grammar School

From March 2014 until Spring 2015, Coventry Transport Museum is undergoing a major £8.5m redevelopment project, which will transform and re-energise the museum, enabling us to tell the story of our City's proud motoring heritage in a world-class, innovative new way.  As part of this project, which is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and European Regional Development Fund, we will be redeveloping our neighbouring Grade I listed, 12th-century Hospital of St John, which became a Grammar School in the 16th century, and is known now as ‘The Old Grammar School’.  This will be brought back into public use as an exhibition, education and events space.

Whilst the work is not due to begin in earnest until the end of March 2014, preliminary work has already begun on the Old Grammar School, particularly with regards to the vital matters around conservation, which must be undertaken when dealing with such an old building.

We thought that visitors to our blog would be particularly interested to read about the archaeological excavation which took place at the end of January 2014.  Following an initial exploratory dig in June 2013, the archaeology service of Warwickshire County Council (Archaeology Warwickshire) established that enough items of interest existed within the building to warrant this full dig in January.  This meant excavating the high floor level in the former chapel down to a similar level as elsewhere on the ground floor

The dig took place in the chapel room, where the concrete floor was removed, revealing evidence that a wooden floor had once existed within this room, and some rotten joist remains were found. This meant that as soon as the concrete floor was removed, the archaeologists immediately began to find items of interest, almost on the surface.  This included old slate pencils and marbles, probably lost through the boards of the floor by schoolboys of centuries ago!

Many of the items found were pieces of clay smoking pipes, some of which even had the maker’s names or initials stamped onto them.  The archaeologists explained to us that they can date such pipes with a good degree of accuracy by using the size and shape of the pipe bowls to determine their age.  Because tobacco became more affordable through the ages (at least until very recent times!), in general the smaller the pipe, the older it is likely to be.  The pipes found in the chapel are thought to be from the late 1600s and early 1700s - quite an amazing thought.

Other finds included a number of ‘jettons’ or ‘reckoning counters’ – coin-like objects used in the calculation of accounts.  Jettons would have represented a value, by means of their position on a reckoning table (or cloth) also known as an abacus.  These items are thought to date from the later 1500s to the early 1600s, as their use probably ceased soon after this period.  Single copper coins of Charles I and Charles II were also found along with a copper token of Robert Bedford, a local businessman who was mayor of Coventry in 1650, and several lead tokens. 

The relatively large number of coin-like objects strongly suggests that schoolboys were playing games with them and used whatever counters they could get hold of.  Several small objects made from animal bone (a common material until the invention of plastics) seem almost certainly to be ‘apple-corers’, again probably belonging to pupils at the school.  These seem to date from the 1600s and 1700s (17th and 18th centuries).

We were also excited with the discovery of pieces of glass from the original stained glass window, some with painted designs and others which were red and blue in colour.  The windows would not have been the only decoration as glazed and patterned fragments of floor tiles from one of the building’s medieval floors (probably a 14th-century one) were also found.  A mortar surface exposed, 1.4m below the original floor level of the dig (in a test-hole to see if any medieval floor level survived) would have been the base for such a tile floor, showing how much the level had been raised within the chapel.  The question of why the floor was raised so much is still not certain.  All we do know is that it was not due to dampness or flooding as the deepest excavation was still dry even after the wettest January since records began!

The finds from the dig have now been taken away by Archaeology Warwickshire staff, to Warwick, where they will be cleaned and examined.  Some of the finds, such as the pottery, will be sent off to specialists.

As well as a large number of finds, the reduction of the floor level revealed a buried medieval feature within one of the walls.  This was a sandstone piscina, essentially a small basin in which a priest would wash the communion plate and chalice after a service.  The water used for this was considered sanctified and was often used for the poor and the sick (appropriate for a hospital).  The piscina is a useful find as it proves that this part of the building was used as a chapel and it was already believed that it was once the chapel of St Katherine.  The buried walls of the building were still covered by layers of medieval plaster and whitewash.

This work is just the very start of what will be a really important and exciting time for this fascinating 12th-century building, as bit-by-bit we carefully nurture it back to life as an important part of Coventry’s story.  We will keep you informed as work continues. 

For further information on the finds contact Dr Cathy Coutts, or Bryn Gethin at Archaeology Warwickshire, on 01926 412278.

Thursday 30 January 2014

Maudslay Lorry Restoration Update - January 2014

One of the major projects currently being undertaken by the Friends of Coventry Transport Museum alongside Museum staff, is the restoration of a 1916 Maudslay Subsidy Chassis.

The Friends of the Museum are recording their work on this project on a separate Maudslay Project Blog, but we asked Curator of Vehicles Christiaan van Schaardenburgh and volunteer Sara Johnstone to give an update of the project's progress over the last few months, for readers of this main Museum blog.  You can also read an introduction to the project here


The engine has been beautifully restored and returned to the Museum workshop by Richard Peskett and has since been fitted to the chassis. It is refurbished, using most of the original material. Richard specialises in vintage vehicle restoration/maintenance so the Museum is extremely grateful for his contribution to this project.

When the bulkhead was being restored by Museum Technician Chris Strawbridge, it became apparent that a side rail of the sub-chassis had been bent at some point. Chris took great care to straighten it out. He said "It is our goal to restore the vehicle as authentically as possible. The lorry is one of a kind and no-one is left alive who would have built or worked on one.” He is therefore working from old photographs and research carried out by himself, Steve Gosling and Friends of the Museum to restore the vehicle as close as possible to how it would have been built in 1916.
The bonnet sides have been manufactured by Martin Robey Engineering Ltd, free of charge!  Martin and his team have done a fantastic job in making new engine side covers, because the originals were too far gone and could only be used as patterns. After preparation and priming, the refurbished strengthening bars were fitted using the same method of riveting as the bonnet top. 

 A new cab floor structure was also constructed with timber, reinforced with a steel strip. The workshop restoration crew used Whitworth nuts left over from the Thrust SSC tunnel construction!

A mock-up of the seat box was constructed, replicating all the vital dimensions and mounting points for the canvas roof hoops. This seat box mock-up will be shipped off to someone who will build the canvas for the top of the vehicle. This will enable them to work on the canvas roof at a more convenient height.
A new steering wheel has been cast to as near to the original pattern as possible, based on research done by Steve Gosling, who also made the pattern. The wheel casting is in the process of being fettled and smoothed in preparation for the rim to be powder-coated: this is so that the wheel will closely replicate the original finish it would have had. 

Steve Gosling with the new steering wheel

Steve has kindly offered to assist us in making many of the other small fixtures and fittings which the vehicle would have had, but are either broken or missing. As the majority of the vehicle’s components were damaged over time, his contribution is invaluable!
The Maudslay has been entered for the London to Brighton run for historic commercial vehicles in May, so we still have a lot of work to do before that date.
We will keep you posted.
Sara Johnstone

The Maudslay restoration team

Thursday 5 December 2013

Maudslay Records in the Coventry Transport Museum archive

Dave Butler, Archive Volunteer.

The Maudslay Motor Company was established in 1901 by Cyril Maudslay, whose ancestors had for many years owned and run the firm of Maudslay, Sons and Field, famous throughout the 19th century as builders of boilers and engines for ships.  The motor company’s premises were at Parkside, Coventry.  Cars, lorries and buses were produced until the outbreak of the First World War, when the company ceased car production and concentrated on commercial vehicles.  In the early 1950s, production moved to Alcester and the Parkside premises were closed. 

Coventry Transport Museum has two Maudslay cars, a lorry and a bus on display, and some of the company’s records from the Parkside era are held in the museum’s archive.  Archive volunteer Dave Butler has been examining two of these records in detail.

The first volume is an album of cuttings from various newspapers and magazines, covering the period from the mid-1870s to 1931.  We believe that it was kept by Walter Henry Maudslay who was the chairman and managing director of Maudslay, Sons and Field until the company’s demise in 1900, although a few items date from after his death in 1927.  A good number of these are articles about the company and its products – a fast crossing of the Atlantic by Maudslay engined ships, engines for new warships for the Turkish Navy, a small railway locomotive and of course the various cars.

As well as articles about the Maudslay
company, the book includes personal items
including drawings by younger members
of the Maudslay family.

Perhaps more interesting, however, are the numerous articles about the Maudslay family – weddings, births, funerals and obituaries, letters, and children’s poems and drawings.  The articles suggest that prior to the First World War the Maudslays had a comfortable position in society, being reasonably wealthy and moving in what we would describe as an upper middle class circle. 
W H Maudslay leased an estate in Ireland for a number of years, and several cuttings reflect how the political unrest, both local and national, affected this. During the First World War there are several references to family members and acquaintances in receipt of gallantry awards, although fortunately for the family no member seems to have been killed in action. 

The second volume is a similar album of cuttings, but this one appears to have been the Maudslay Motor Company’s official press cuttings file.  The cuttings in this volume concentrate on the company’s products, mainly the cars, but there are also a few articles on the engines which the company built for marine work.  Also included are several accounts of a journey in India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) using a Maudslay car, which must have been quite an adventure in the early 1900s.

We’re hoping to feature some of these articles in future blog entries, so watch this space!

Friday 21 June 2013

Women in the Factories during the Second World War

By Coventry Transport Museum Learning Development Officer Naomi Wilcox
Over the past months, staff at Coventry Transport Museum have been preparing for our summer exhibition, War EffortWar Effort tells the story of the Shadow Scheme - a Government programme in the 1930s and 40s that saw the British motor industry turning over production to building aeroplanes, aero engines, military vehicles and other items for the war effort. 

As part of the research for the exhibition and surrounding events, Krissy (my colleague in the Learning team) and I have been finding out about women factory workers and their lives during this time.

Earlier this year we spent an afternoon at the History Centre at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, looking through past issues of the Midlands Daily Telegraph (later the Coventry Evening Telegraph). The articles penned and letters sent in, very often by the female workers themselves, are incredibly revealing about what life was like for women who worked in Coventry’s wartime factories.

Women played a key part in the success of the Shadow Scheme, and indeed in the success of Britain’s effort throughout World War II.

When we take school groups through the Blitz area of the Museum, we ask them if they know why we’ve placed female mannequins in our Shadow Factory scene. Inevitably they know that it’s because “the men were away fighting” and some have an idea about the conscription of men to the Army, Navy and Air Force. Indeed, in 1938 all men between the ages of 18-41 had to register with the government, and throughout the war were assigned roles in the forces. What many schoolchildren, and adults, don’t realise however is that in 1941 conscription was introduced for women too.

The second National Service Act obliged all single women between the ages of 20-30 to register for war work. By the end of the war, the age bracket had increased to 20-50, appeals had been made to recruit married women and mothers, and over seven million women were involved in the war effort.

Many of those women were sent away from their homes to work in the factories. 

As a result of the Shadow Scheme, existing factories had been re-tooled for war industry, and additional ‘shadow factories’ were built to help meet the demand. Thousands of extra workers were needed for the increase in production, and a good proportion of them would be women.
Young women who were sent to the factories could expect to receive a letter in the post informing them where they would be billeted. They would then be sent away to live in hostels, or with host families, and fulfil their new role. At a time when it was still typical for most women to live at home until they were married, this was a daunting (if ultimately liberating) experience for many.

In Coventry, hostels were set up around the city by the National Service Hostels Corporation. They were utilitarian buildings, meant to be simple and cheap to erect. The women shared basic dorms and were provided with meals which would be eaten in a communal dining room. Recreational activities were sometimes organised, and some hostels had games rooms where the women could relax.

As well as the hostels, many Coventry people welcomed workers as lodgers into their homes. An article in the Midlands Daily Telegraph, from November 1941 reports that “no fewer than 16,000 voluntary billets have been found in raid-devastated Coventry”. This was in response to the large number of people who flooded to Coventry to support the War Effort after the infamous air raid the previous November.

It wasn’t just the young, single women who ended up working in the factories. On many occasions young mothers volunteered to work as well. To enable those women who wanted to work, but who had young children at home, the government established a National Childcare Scheme, building nurseries where parents could leave their young while they went to work. Children would be cared for all day, and receive their meals at the cost of one shilling per day.

A letter from Mrs J.L. Jones to the Midlands Daily Telegraph from 24th August 1940 stresses how important these nurseries were;

“The problem of providing nurseries is urgent...Many hundreds of women with children are now working in Coventry’s factories; their children need to be properly cared for. Many hundreds more women would rally to the appeal made daily in your advertisement columns for women to undertake national work – if they were sure that their children would be looked after properly by trained people while they were at work.”

Looking after the children was just one of the concerns that some women had when considering work in the factories. Women reported the difficulty they had in getting to the factories and asked for better transport provision, and many spoke of the practical implications working hours had on food shopping – as one Coventry housewife put it in a letter to the Coventry Evening Telegraph “The goods I want to buy are either all snapped up by free women or the shops are closed!”

An article from December 1941 explains how some factories were trying to solve the shopping problem:

“In many factories women are allowed ‘time off’ to effect their essential purchases, and almost everything has been tried except the cure which might well be the most radical one – the opening of provision centres catering especially for the needs of women war workers.”

Another cause of frustration for women workers was that, for the most part, women were not paid equal wages. A letter to the editor, from a forthright Beryl Jones, on the same page as the quoted article above reads;

“Women are doing men’s jobs, and doing them well – equally as well as the men – but are they getting the same wages? No, not on your life, and who dares to tell me there is such a thing as equality?”
Throughout the war, women campaigned for this situation to be rectified, with some even striking for equal pay. Although reluctant at first, eventually the Unions allowed female membership and helped them negotiate better and more equal pay.

To encourage more women into the factories, Coventry companies created a Women’s War Work exhibition at the Central Hall, and held a procession through the City Centre which over a thousand women workers took part in. The Coventry Evening Telegraph described it;

“Coventry girl war-workers on Saturday afternoon showed their un-enrolled sisters how they ‘went to it’ for the national effort.

“They led a procession through the main streets of the town, dressed in overalls and gowns with ‘V’ signs embroidered on them, they rode on tanks and armoured military vehicles they had helped to make, and they sat at their machines, mounted on lorries, filing, riveting and drilling aeroplane parts as they went along.”

Although it is difficult to give an exact number for how many women worked in the Coventry factories during the war, it was certainly a significant amount. In 1939 the number of female employees working in the motor vehicle, cycle & aircraft industries in Coventry was 3,800; by 1941 this had leapt to 13,900 . This figure undoubtedly rose as the war continued, and doesn’t include the many more working in munitions and other factories.

What we do know however, is that without the thousands of women who were ‘sent to Coventry’, and to numerous other industrial centres, Britain’s shadow factories would not have been able to produce the enormous amount of war vehicles, aeroplanes, munitions and other products that were so vitally needed. While they may have faced challenges with transportation, childcare, food shopping and pay, these women none-the-less rose to the occasion, learnt new skills, put in long hours and much hard work to ultimately help Britain win the war.

To find out more about the Shadow Factory scheme and women's roles in the war effort:
* Visit the War Effort exhibition at Coventry Transport Museum, from 12th July 2013 to 5th January 2014
* Attend the special Women In World War II evening on Thursday 12th September
* Enjoy a lunchtime talk on the subject of Coventry Women In Wartime on Wed 9th October.