Women and Refugees at Brunner Mond

By Hannah White

Brunner Mond chemical company flourished during the war effort by producing mass production employed a total of around 6,000 employees in the early stages of the war in 1914.[1] It relied on a stable work force to meet the high demand production due to the war. However, like most companies in the period 1914-1918 they suffered from the pressures to maintain high levels of production this due to the effects of enlistment and conscription.

One way in which Brunner Mond attempted to overcome difficulties in retaining their workforce for the war effort was their recruitment of Belgian refugees who had settled in Cheshire. Approximately 250,000 to 265,000 Belgians fled to Britain during the war in the hope of escaping German control.[2]

 

Winnington Work Staff 1913

John, Watts, The 50th Anniversary: Brunner, Mond and Co., 1873-1923, (Brunner, Mond, 1923), Photo facing page, 44

 

There is little known how the Belgian refugees lived in Cheshire during World War One, or how they actually coped with leading a different life. Furthermore, the role of women workers is often overlooked. Nevertheless, it is clear that both Belgian refugees and the women workers were essential to keep Brunner Mond running efficiently during the war.

Not only were they living in Cheshire during this time, the Belgians also worked, they along with the women workers contributed to the war effort. Despite, the number of Belgian refugees working for Brunner Mond was no where near the same number of the majority of British workers, it is important to consider that without these Belgian refugees and women workers then Brunner Mond would have struggled to withstand the continuously rising standards to hit the war effort targets.

The company as a whole suffered a significant loss in their number of employees as they volunteered or were conscripted into the military, therefore one must not underestimate the significance of the Belgian refugees or the women workers for that matter.

Who did they work for?

Brunner Mond and Co. was an important chemical company providing essential materials for the war effort.  It was later credited with having a significant impact on creating “the corporate ethos of Imperial Chemical Industries”.[3] With international connections within the United States of America and China, the company employed people of different nationalities, not just Belgians.[4] The collective view of the company appears to be that they had a keen interest in maintaining and seeing to the “human welfare” of their workers.[5]

It is interesting to note that one of the founders of the company, Ludwig Mond, was born in Germany to a Jewish family.[6] Alongside him was John T. Brunner; an entrepreneur and businessman from Everton, Liverpool.[7] As director, Mond had utilised his background to build strong commercial links with his country of origin. Obviously, this became politically sensitive as relations with Germany deteriorated and a desire to promote a patriotic image within the UK may have encouraged the company to recruit Belgian refugees for the war effort. It is clearly to the credit of the owners that they attempted to sustain production and maintain positive relations with the wider public.

Life as a Belgian refugee in Cheshire

By November 1914 approximately 92 Belgian refugees had arrived in Cheshire and begun to work for Brunner Mond.[8] In the early stages of the war, this is the first record in the managing directors’ minute books where they are mentioned.

Bachelor's hall

During this time, many of the Belgians lived at Bachelors Hall in Winnington in Cheshire. [9] The directors provided accommodation for the Belgians, which would indeed suggest that they welcomed the refugees.

 

However the accommodation was not free and to look after the welfare of the Belgian refuges it cost “7/- per week” but this was without the cost of medical care and furniture.[10] It was double this to incorporate those along with other maintenance needs to the property itself. [11] In addition, each year it cost the company £3000 to house the Belgians. [12] Despite sources suggest that the company looked after the Belgian refugees in terms of their basic needs. It could be suggested that these workers may have not had a life out of work nor had the full chance to integrate within society as they did not live in amongst the rest of a community but in fact they all lived in a confined area in the one complex, “Bachelors Hall.”

It could be argued that although it appeared that on the surface of things and to members of the public the Belgian refugees were treated fairly and had equal workers rights like the other British workers, in reality this may have not been the case. With regards to their employment contracts themselves not much is known about them specifically. However, the managing directors minutes books have highlighted an interesting discussion point. The minute’s books suggest that the company paid for the Belgians accommodation at “Bachelors Hall” till the 31st of December 1915.[13] This would suggest that either their work contracts at Brunner Mond had come to an end in December or that the Belgians themselves could not afford to accommodate themselves off what income they had; due to the fact that by December they would not have any financial help with regards to accommodation, as the company had ceased to do this by this time.[14] If this was indeed the case then the fate of the Belgians in Cheshire was very slim. Due to the rising food prices at the time because of the war it would have been difficult for them to support themselves.[15]  Therefore, it would appear that they were forced to return home.

The rights of the Belgian refugees who worked at the company further appeared to be less than that to the other British workers. This is further shown by the fact that after the war ended or their work contracts had terminated they were forced to return home.[16] The minute’s books state that the men who were conscripted and who worked for the company were still being paid, despite not physically working for the company at that time, as they were fighting for their country on a war front. [17] This could suggest that the company only saw the Belgian refugees as a temporary solution in order to aid with the lack of workers due to conscription and that it was a short, yet effective solution in the interests of the company. Additionally, this highlights another motive behind the owner’s decision to use the Belgian refugees as a short-term solution. As in turn this would mean that once the war had ended the British soldiers then had a job they could return to. As a by-product of this, it allows the company to appear to be generous and considerate to all of their workers. However, as suggested there are indeed hidden motives behind their decisions.

Although, as historians it is difficult to suggest for certain that the Belgian refugees were treated differently to the other workers, there are indications that show that this may have indeed happened. The minutes from the managing directors meeting on the 21st of October 1914, say that due to the fact that they are accommodating the Belgian refugees that have arrived in Cheshire and who now work for the company, there is no need to donate more money to the Belgium War relief.[18] To an extent, this is understandable as they are already aiding the refugees by allowing them to work for their company. However what must not be forgotten about is that although the company housed these workers they were still charged “10/- per week for their keep.”[19]

Many of the long- established workers appear to have been treated extremely well. For example ‘Compassionate Allowance’ was a term given to an in-kind payment for those who had worked at the company for a long time.[20] The minute’s books quote a John Lee who had worked at the company for a total of 21 years and due to this they “decided to make this man a compassionate allowance of 10/- per week.”[21] This could perhaps be due to the fact that in the eyes of the company, loyalty was very important, therefore as an act of kindness they chose to give the men who had served for the company extra benefits.

Through this pattern of generosity that has emerged from the minute’s books with regards to the men who had worked at the company for a long period of time, one is made aware that the Belgians did not work for the company for such a long period of time. Therefore they would have not received anything like this. This suggests that in fact the Belgian refugees in particular were treated different to that of the other workers and did not have the same working rights as the British workers.

 

Life as a woman worker of Brunner Mond

The first mention of women working for the company was on the 20th of September 1916 where approximately a total of 936 women were working across Cheshire for the company. [22] The company highlighted that the number of women who worked for Brunner Mond at the time was increasing mid-point of the war.[23] This number of women workers further then increased to 1712 by the 7th of March 1917 and within a couple of month to 2111 by the 4th of April 1917.[24] In the peak period of the war, almost the whole of Brunner Mond was “manned entirely by women.”[25]

It is clear that due to the extensive war effort and the number of men who have been conscripted the women workers acted as a short-term solution in order to help with the demands of war. Despite this need for women workers there were still not enough women locally by late November in 1916 to fill all of the occupations and roles that were needed in the company.[26] Due to the on going war effort the holidays in which the women received was minimal and that the “qualification for holidays next year unexcused absence for not more than 4 days.”[27] This does not mean to say that the women were treated unfairly as this lack of holidays could be due to the war effort and the lack of employees that the company had. Therefore, the role of women should indeed not be underestimated nor forgotten.

The daughter of a Brunner Mond women worker reflects upon her mother’s experiences within her memoirs. Lenna (the daughter) highlights that there were many women like her mother “who took the places of young men” who were conscripted.[28] It appears that due to the fact the company were short of labourers it meant that the women workers then had to take over from the normal jobs that the male British workers used to do. This involved many physical roles such as “helping to unload a cargo of bricks from a narrow-boat.”[29] During this period, this was unusual as many of the women took charge of domestic roles rather than physical.

Lenna Bickerton's mother

Lenna, Bickerton, Memoirs, (Cheshire Libraries and Museums, 1987- C/920/B)

 

With regards to pay it can be argued that the women workers may have been favoured more in the eyes of the company compared to that of the Belgian       refugees. According to Lenna Bickerton, her mother was “paid around three pounds, five shillings a week” which was a significant amount of money compared to the Belgian refugees for which she notes the women workers felt it was  “like a small fortune to them.”[31]

It is clear that most of the workers that worked for the company Brunner Mond came from Cheshire, including the local villages and towns nearby to the Brunner Mond chemical factory. However, it appears that the employees of this company were not just male and British but diverse; both Belgian refugees and women workers.

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Primary Sources

Cheshire Archives and Local Studies Record Office, DIC/BM3/2/8

Cheshire Archives and Local Studies Record Office, DIC/BM3/2/9

Cheshire Chronicle, ‘Brunner Mond and Co. And the cost of living, further increases: more wages and bonuses’, 27th February 1915 (Page 5) available- http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000342/19150227/147/0005

Sheffield Daily Telegraph, ‘Cumulative Preference Shares in Gossage and Sons’, 7th November, 1914, available-http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000250/19141107/318/0013

Secondary Sources

Bickerton, Lenna Memories of a Cheshire Childhood, (Leonie Press, New edition, 2000)

Bickerton, Lenna, Memoirs, (Cheshire Libraries and Museums, 1987- C/920/B)

Dick, W.F.L, A Hundred Years of Alkali in Cheshire, (ICI, 1973)

Harris, Brian, Cheshire at War, 1914-1918, (Cheshire County Council  for Chester Armistice Remembrance week, 1978)

Kennedy, Carol, ICI: The company that changed our lives, (London: Hutchinson, 1986)

Lowe, Alan ‘Aliens in Mid- Cheshire: The Story of the Belgian Refugees’, (2015)- Available https://diversenarratives.com/2015/06/22/aliens-in-mid-cheshire/

Watts, John, The 50th Anniversary: Brunner, Mond and Co., 1873-1923, (Brunner, Mond, 1923)

Winterman, Denise, ‘World War One: How did 250,000 Belgian Refugees didn’t leave a trace’, (BBC News Magazine, 2014), Available- http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-28857769 

Endnotes

[1] Sheffield Daily Telegraph, ‘Cumulative Preference Shares in Gossage and Sons’, 7th November, 1914, (Page 13), available- http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000250/19141107/318/0013

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-28857769   and Brian, Redwood cited in Brian, Harris, Cheshire at War, 1914-1918, (Cheshire County Council  for Chester Armistice Remembrance week, 1978), Page 15

[3] Carol, Kennedy, ICI: The company that changed our lives, (London: Hutchinson, 1986), Page 46

[4] W.F.L. Dick, A Hundred Years of Alkali in Cheshire, (ICI, 1973), Page 65

[5] W.F.L. Dick, A Hundred Years of Alkali in Cheshire, (ICI, 1973), Page VII

[6] John, Watts, The 50th Anniversary: Brunner, Mond and Co., 1873-1923, (Brunner, Mond, 1923), Page 4

[7] W.F.L. Dick, A Hundred Years of Alkali in Cheshire, (ICI, 1973), Page VII

[8] Cheshire Archives and Local Studies Record Office, DIC/BM3/2/8, Page 284

[9] Cheshire Archives and Local Studies Record Office, DIC/BM3/2/8, Page 284

[10] Cheshire Archives and Local Studies Record Office, DIC/BM3/2/8, Page 284

[11] Cheshire Archives and Local Studies Record Office, DIC/BM3/2/8, Page 284

[12] Cheshire Archives and Local Studies Record Office, DIC/BM3/2/8, Page 249

[13] Cheshire Archives and Local Studies Record Office, DIC/BM3/2/8, Page 284

[14] Cheshire Archives and Local Studies Record Office, DIC/BM3/2/8, Page 284

[15] Cheshire Chronicle, ‘Brunner Mond and Co. And the cost of living, further increases: more wages and bonuses’, 27th February 1915 (Page 5) available- http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000342/19150227/147/0005

[16] Denise, Winterman, ‘World War One: How did 250,000 Belgian Refugees didn’t leave a trace’, (BBC News Magazine, 2014), Available- http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-28857769

[17] Cheshire Archives and Local Studies Record Office, DIC/BM3/2/8, Page 249

[18] Cheshire Archives and Local Studies Record Office, DIC/BM3/2/8, Page 245

[19] Cheshire Archives and Local Studies Record Office, DIC/BM3/2/8, Page 284

[20] Cheshire Archives and Local Studies Record Office, DIC/BM3/2/8, Page 14

[21] Cheshire Archives and Local Studies Record Office, DIC/BM3/2/8, Page 14

[22] Cheshire Archives and Local Studies Record Office, DIC/BM3/2/9, Page 80

[23] Cheshire Archives and Local Studies Record Office, DIC/BM3/2/9, Page 80

[24] Cheshire Archives and Local Studies Record Office, DIC/BM3/2/9, Page 176 and 185

[25] Nikki, Johnson cited in Brian, Harris, Cheshire at War, 1914-1918, (Cheshire County Council  for Chester Armistice Remembrance week, 1978), Page 11

[26] Cheshire Archives and Local Studies Record Office, DIC/BM3/2/9, Page 114

[27] Cheshire Archives and Local Studies Record Office, DIC/BM3/2/9, Page 319

[28] Lenna, Bickerton, Memories of a Cheshire Childhood, (Leonie Press, New edition, 2000), Page 1

[29] Lenna, Bickerton, Memories of a Cheshire Childhood, (Leonie Press, New edition, 2000), Page 1

[30] Lenna, Bickerton, Memoirs, (Cheshire Libraries and Museums, 1987- C/920/B)

[31] Lenna, Bickerton, Memories of a Cheshire Childhood, (Leonie Press, New edition, 2000), Page 2

Advertisements

Categories: About

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s