Making of the Precariat: Dissemination Event Summary

A record of the 7/7/2014 dissemination event for the Making of the Precariat research can be found here:

British United Shoe Machine Company (BUSM)

John Goodwin

ImageRecently the local BBC radio station ran a feature asking listeners to call in with their ideas for street names based on boots and shoes. The piece was entertaining and there were no shortage of suggestions. The feature was prompted by a new housing development in the Ross Walk area of Leicester covering the old factory site of the British United Shoe Machine Corporation. As with so many old manufacturing sites in the city, or nationally, this once productive site has been transformed from a place of work to a place of residence. This once very public space is now a collection of private homes. A powerful symbol of the transformation of urban spaces following large-scale deindustrialisation.  The factory site had, for many years, been occupied by various employers following BUSM’s collapse in 2000 becoming a self-styled ‘business park’. Gradually the site became increasingly derelict and unusable.  However, in the years preceding demolition I had visited the factory site many times with my camera (as I had done with other many old factory sites) with the aim of capturing something of the buildings, not necessary to record them for posterity but perhaps to serve as an aide memoir in the various research projects I was involved in.

Of all the images I captured of the site, the one I kept returning to time and time again was a black and white photograph of a steel inspection cover. This cover, covering a small utility vault, was not inside the actual factory site but in the middle of the pavement of Ross Walk. When the photograph was taken the steel cover has been partially covered with concrete but what can clearly be discerned are the company initials BUSM arranged in the style of the recognisable BUSM logo (there were other examples around the factory site). What fascinated me about the image is that is speaks to the ‘size’ of the organisation i.e. BUSM was such a large organisation they could afford, at their peak, to have their own ‘branded’ inspection covers. A clear signifier of the scale of the operation. Yet the scale of BUSM, and the thousands of skilled workers, made its demise all the more tragic for Leicester and for those who had worked there. This is reflected in our own research where it is clear that the 1960s cohort of Leicester young workers could not have known (or expected) the economic turmoil that they would face throughout their working lives. They entered a labour market at fifteen with expectations of a job for life in one of Leicester’s dominant industries. They could never have predicted that some forty-five years later very little of these industries would remain or that their factory site would become a new housing estate. As with the factory the inspection cover is long gone.

Well let us say that [with] any apprenticeship you’ve got a future. You’ve got 5 years for a start and then after that you can rely on a decent wage every week afterwards for the rest of your life. (Apprentice Engineer, British United Shoe Machinery Company, 1964)

For more on BUSM there is a UK heritage lottery funded history project which contains some good visual materials as well as oral histories:


Goodwin, J. and O’Connor, H. – Back to Different Futures: Individual Experiences of Work in a Changing Industrial Landscape, forthcoming.

Leicester and Married Women Working:

John Goodwin and Henrietta O’Connor

2013-10-10 14.55.49As we have suggested (Goodwin and O’Connor 2013b) our first encounter with Pearl Jephcott was not a direct one. We were not aware of her books, beyond the occasional citation, and we were certainly unaware of the sheer breadth and depth of Jephcott’s contribution to British social science. We became interested in Jephcott be cause of her apparent links to Leicester via the Married Women Working research or what in Leicester became to be known locally as ‘the married women project’. Although not a well-known research collaboration there are tantalising references to this research in the literature. For example, as Smith (1961) reports:

The social science Dept. of the London School of Economics and the Sociology Dept. of the University of Leicester have together been collecting data designed among other things to test the stereotypes in industrial situations….Ours in Bermondsey at first based itself on the Peek Frean biscuit factory and the later extended into a study of family life in a local community. The Leicester study has so far based itself on the St. Margaret factory of N. Corah & Sons. (Smith 1961: 13).

The Richard Titmuss papers at the LSE reveal a shared project, led by Ilya Neustadt1, designed specially to offer a comparative study of the employment of women in a Leicester factory with those women who worked for Peek Frean.  Yet despite receiving a total of of £5986 over three years for a project, requests to DSIR extend the research time supported by Richard Titmuss, and a significant amount of fieldwork undertaken, the Leicester version of the married women project only delivered one paper (see Brown et al 1964). As with the ‘young worker project’ (see Goodwin and O’Connor 2005) the married women study was to enter the ether as yet another substantive piece of fieldwork that ultimately failed to deliver on its promise.  Yet it is the intersections between this failed project, the originally successful Bermondsey study and Jephcott’s innovative research designs that fascinates us the most. Moreover these projects, successful or otherwise, consider themes such as childcare, work life balance, women in management and so forth well before these become the central concern of sociology following the feminist critique of the 1970s and 1980s. As Oakely suggests, Jephcott studied working-class women at a time when the study of working-class culture meant studying men (Oakely 1989: 445). We are revisiting both variants of the married women project not least to ascertain the scope and extent of the Leicester project and to critically examine what Jephcott’s Married Women Working offers contemporary analyses of gender and work (see Goodwin and O’Connor 2013b).


[1] Although in reality it is likely that Richard Brown undertook all of the significant work on the Leicester version of the study.


Brown, R.K., Kirkby, J.M. and Taylor, K.F. (1964) The Employment of Married Women and the role of the Supervisory Role, British Journal of Industrial Relations, 2(1): 23-41.

Goodwin, J. and O’Connor, H. (2013a) Embodying Leisure: The Use of Images in Jephcott’s Time of Ones Own, LERN Occasional Papers No. 2

Goodwin, J. and O’Connor H. (2013b) The Employment of Married Women in a Leicester Factory 1959. LERN Occasional Papers No. 3 (forthcoming).

Goodwin, J. and O’Connor, H. (2006) Norbert Elias and the Lost Young Worker Project, Journal of Youth Studies, 9 (2), 159-173.

Jephcott, P. with Seear, N. and Smith, J.H. (1962) Married Women Working. London: Allen and Unwin

Oakley, A. (1989) Women’s Studies in British Sociology: To End at Our Beginning?  The British Journal of Sociology, 40(3): 442-470.

Smith, J.H. (1961) Managers and Married Women Workers, British Journal of Sociology, 12(1): 12-22.