England Occupations Machinery, Guns, Munitions (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military & Services  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Machinery, Guns and Munitions

Guns and Munitions

Portable fire-arms or small arms were invented at the beginning of the 16th century in the form of the musket, with later developments of the pistol, calivres and carabines, the gunsmith replacing the fletcher by this time. The early trade is well described by Hurley (The Book of Trades or Library of the Useful Arts. Vol III. Wiltshire Family History Society, 1994) the 19th century trade by Wymer (English Town Crafts. A Survey of Their Development from Early Times to the Present Day. Batsford, London, 1949), whilst Cook’s article (Old Occupations: Gunmaking. Family Tree Magazine Vol 14 #3, page 3-4) covers both and has a list of references. The trade was concentrated in the Midlands iron and coal area, the gunsmiths at Small Heath had their own quarter of the town where all parts of the guns were made-lock, stock and barrel. The famous Birmingham Small Arms factory started here (Bailey 1982), whilst Enfield, Middlesex housed the government small arms factory and built the Enfield rifle.

Indexes of gunsmiths can be found in Anonymous (The London Gun Trade, 1850-1920 - A Checklist of Tradesmen. Museum Restoration Service, Canada, 2001), and Brackmore (Dictionary of London Gunmakers 1350-1850. Phaidon Press, 1985) and Cook (Old Occupations: Gunmaking. Family Tree Magazine Vol 14 #3, page 3-4) lists others. The Gunmakers’ Company was founded in 1637 and its records are at the Guildhall Library. Webb (London Apprentices Volume 8. Gunmakers’ Company 1656-1800. Society of Genealogists, 1997) has indexed over 1,800 of their apprenticeships from 1656-1800 but the records cover the period up to 1902. An index of gunmakers and allied trades is run by Cook.

Munitions workers have received attention in journals close to major factories, for example in Woolwich and Dartford, Kent. The staff of the Vickers works at Dartford in 1918 are pictured by Connon (Wartime Photograph. North West Kent Family History Society Vol 9 #4, page 148 and centrefold) . Ludlow has two good articles on the Woolwich Arsenal and its women workers, the first on the early history (Munitionettes: Women Workers in the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, c1750-1945. Part One in Bygone Kent Vol 23 #7, page 416-422, 2002), the second from WWI until its closure in 1867 (Munitionettes: Women Workers in the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, c1750-1945. Part Two in Bygone Kent Vol 23 #8, page 464-473, 2002).

Machinery

In remoter periods the common smith, the founder and the carpenter were the main producers of tools and aids to man’s useful activities. The article written on the machinist in 1818 (Hurley, The Book of Trades or Library of the Useful Arts. Vol III. Wiltshire Family History Society, 1994) describes the major inventions to that time from the early concept of the steam engine in 1663 up to Watt’s perfecting of it in 1762, with a long list of others conceived in the Industrial Revolutionary period of the previous 50 years. The benefits to us seem obvious but the thousands of labourers put out of work by machines did not view them with enthusiasm. The early 19th century was marked by the activities of the machine-breaking Luddites and agricultural machine objectors involved in the Riots of 1830-31 (Chambers, Hey).

Family history is served well by a number of good Shire books on machinery: Bonnett’s Farming with steam, Cawood’s Vintage tractors, Smith’s Discovering horse-drawn farm machinery, Rayner’s Road rollers, and Traction engines and other steam road engines, Benson’s Textile machines, Manktelow’s Steam shovels, Hayes’ Stationary steam engines, Dean’s Industrial narrow gauge railways, Cockman’s British Railways’ steam locomotives and a biography of the railway and steamship engineer Isambard Kingdon Brunel by Tames. Those interested in aircraft factories will appreciate the chapter in Hudson (Where We Used to Work. J. Baker, London. FHL book 942 U2hk, 1980).


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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military and Services offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

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