Miss Bradley’s tea set – a tale of factory work and marriage

Trawling through the industrial collection’s accession registers this morning, I have managed to unearth the hidden story behind one of the many unprovenanced decorative Victorian tea services we have in our stores.

The story highlights the fact that although women and girls may have formed a good percentage of the workforce in many industrial mills and factories, they were not supposed to continue to work once they married.

Miss Emma Bradley (the donor’s grandmother) worked for John Barran & Son Ltd. as a tailor and machinist until her marriage.  It was the practice of the firm to retire female workers when they married and this tea set was the firm’s gift on this compulsory retirement.

John Barran was a pioneer in the manufacture of ready-to-wear clothing.  He started of as a traditional tailor in 1842 but soon expanded his business on an industrial scale, taking advantage of new technology such as the sewing machine.  In 1856 he had a factory with 20-30 sewing machine and in 1858 he introduced the use of a bandsaw to cut cloth.  By the 1870s he had 2,000 machines and by 1904 he employed 3,000 people.

Wool cuttling machine for folding cloth from John Barran & Sons Ltd,
on display at Leeds Industrial Museum (Armley Mills)

Female Learners Certificate of Employment
 issued by John Barran & Sons Limited, Leeds
to Amy Evelyn Brown in 1912. 
On display in The Leeds Story, Leeds City Museum

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