The engineering firm, E.S.Hindley, was founded in the 1830s. At the outbreak of World War 1 it converted from water to steam power when the main water wheel was scrapped for weapons. In June 1915 the Ministry of Munitions requisitioned the foundry to make Mills Bombs (hand grenades).
Women Workers Recruited
Harold Hindley, the son of Edmund Hindley and in charge of the foundry, recruited women to replace men who’d enlisted. Foundry work paid women in north Dorset more than they’d ever earned part-time in agriculture, service or taking in washing. They quickly learnt the skills needed, proving wrong any men who doubted their ability.
Six members of the Farthing family from Gasper employed at the foundry included four daughters, Evelyn Clack, Elizabeth, Esther and thirteen year old Kathleen who worked alongside up to eighty other women. Lily Yeatman and her married sister, Sarah Stone, also worked the 12 hour shifts.
Male Foundry Workers
Men too old to fight continued to work at the foundry. The weekly wage of male foundry workers during this period was £1 (£109.77 in today’s money).
In 1915 Samuel Yeatman wrote to another daughter:
Our Nellie, Dear I am still working overtime on Hand Grenades we shall be working till Christmas and then we shall be on another 100,000 six months work. Dear poor old John Ames is dead and old Charles Brixey, the three with Mr. Hindley. I thank you very much for that bottle of cream it softens the hands so I am going to keep it for chaps and sprayed hands. My hands are getting hard and corny.
Samuel and Mary Yeatman
Three generations of men from the Farthing family remained at the foundry. Isiah Farthing, engineer, pattern maker and millwright, his son Matthias, pattern maker, and grandson Arthur, engineer, travelled the country on the company’s behalf installing steam engines.
1861-1938 1908-1940 1881 – 1953 1833- 1916
William Burfitt Jonas Paul (aged 83)
These Bourton men treat the Mills Bombs before they are sent to Holton Heath to be filled with explosive.
Foundry tools belonging to John Tom Suter who lived at The Bridge, Bourton
Working Conditions for Women
Soon after local women started working in the foundry Lloyd George announced the Munitions Women’s Charter offering equal pay for piecework, hot meals, showers and decent toilets for female foundry workers. It is unlikely women were paid the same £1 a week (£109.77 in today’s money) as the men because Lloyd George‘s promise was never introduced (even after the war). As for hot meals being provided, Pauline Whitmarsh‘s grandmother Edie walked to the foundry daily from Penselwood with a hot lunch for her father.
Child Foundry Workers
Children from St George’s School were also recruited for war work from 1915.
Have notified the Attendance Authorities that Charles Fudge, aged 13 years, has started work at the Foundry without obtaining the Authority’s permission.
(School Log Book July 30th 1915)
From then on Charles Fudge, the son of Bourton’s policeman, and another pupil, Aubrey Tufts aged 13, were half-time at school, half-time at the foundry.
Others pupils followed.
The four half-timers have been absent all the week working on an urgent contract for hand grenades. The Government are pressing for the supply, & work is going on day and night. I have reported the matter to the Attendance Authority.
(School Log Book December 3rd 1915)
The only time the production of Mills Bombs was halted was in July 1917 after continuous heavy rain caused a breach in Gasper dam. The River Stour surged through the site demolishing buildings and taking machinery, coal, tools and hand grenades down-river as far as Blandford Forum. Coal supplies were quickly delivered from Radstock, the workers set to and cleared the debris immediately round the foundry and work resumed once the furnaces dried out and dry casting materials were supplied.
William Harold Suter was certificated to work in the foundry in November after the 1917 Flood.
Demand for weapons slackened
By January 1918 the demand for weapons began to slacken off. Women hung on to what work there was but when the night shift ended and the promises made by Lloyd George were abandoned it became clear they would soon be out of a job.
Despite their engineering skills, dexterity and dedication when the men came back to their old jobs the women munitions workers returned to service, casual agricultural work or taking in laundry. With the loss of regular pay came the loss of everyday camaraderie and their pride in contributing directly to the war effort. In 1919, over 600,000 British women were registered as unemployed.
Kathleen Farthing, the youngest of the four sisters who had sustained an industrial injury while working at the foundry, went into service at Stourhead House. Her widowed sister, Evelyn Clack, became the housekeeper to the priest at Bonham. Esther and Evelyn never married, and moved away to live in Peasdowne St John.
Between 1915 and 1918 Bourton Foundry’s women engineers had made up to 3 million Mills Bombs. Among over 700,000 female munitions makers in Britain they were responsible for nearly 5% of the UK’s total Mills Bombs production.
The development of the internal combustion engine meant that demand for steam and gas engines declined. With post-war economic decline and a lack of Hindley family members to succeed in the business, some workers left to work for Alfred Dodman & Company in Kings Lynn. Others stayed on manufacturing boilers. In 1930, as employee numbers dwindled and Harold Hindley‘s health deteriorated, the foundry closed causing a great deal of unemployment and hardship for the surrounding communities.