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In October 1939 over 7000 male London Passenger Transport Board (LPTB) staff had enlisted into the armed services, putting huge pressure on the remaining workforce. Recruitment campaigns were quickly set up to find women to fill some of those vacancies.
Women working on a component for a Handley Page "Halifax" bomber, one of several hundred built by the London Aircraft Production Group. 1941. LT000846/003/1
London needed female bus and tram conductors. The campaign asked for women between 21 and 35 but some of the first women to answer the call were those who had served in WWI.
Miss Mabel Edna Notley, conductor, features on recruitment campaign poster. May 1941. LT000030/078 Pennyfare_020_00006
The first female recruits to begin work in May 1940 were station ticket clerks.
Doris L Wright, recalled how little training and preparation was provided, describing herself as, ‘perfectly green [as] this was before the days of the Training School.’ February 1946. LT000030/078 Pennyfare_077_00003
The staff magazine gives the title of “first female ticket clerk on the underground” to Miss Ellen Irvin who began her duties at Sloane Square on 31 May 1940.
First female ticket clerk on the Underground. June 1940. LT000030/078 Pennyfare_009_00002
Two months later on the 24 July 1940, the first 53 female conductors since the end of WWI started work on London's buses and trams. They had received 8 days training, 3 in the classroom and 5 aboard a bus. This article introduces us to some of the new recruits including Alice Jenkins aged 26 who was formerly a "pick-me-up packer up in a drug factory."
Article introducing the first 53 recruits to take to the road as bus conductors since 1919. August 1940. LT000030/078 Pennyfare_011_00005
Thousands of women passed through LPTB's training school, sitting through lectures, learning practical skills like how to use a ticket punch, and the importance of concise communication. In November 1941, the school and its pupils featured in a BBC broadcast to North America.
BBC programme about female conductor's training broadcast to North America. November 1941. LT000030/078 Pennyfare_026_00002
The diversity of roles taken on by women is illustrated by statistics compiled in 1943. This report shows only a small number of women employed, in place of men, in miscellaneous railway jobs. Whereas the increase in the number of women employed on buses, tram and trolleybuses is in the thousands.
Part of an analysis by grade of women employed by the LPTB. 1943. LT000234/149
The training school provided instruction for other occupations opened to the growing female workforce.
Classes in progress at the LPTB training school. November 1945. LT000030/078 Pennyfare_074_00004
Women took on roles as depot inspectors, booking clerks, railway porters, sign writers, clock winders, engineers, track cleaners, plate layers, labourers and much more.
Article on female underground train cleaners. March 1941. LT000030/078 Pennyfare_018_00002
Article about women working as bill posters. Mrs Doris Luckman says that paper hanging may be her trade after the war. December 1941. LT000030/078 Pennyfare_027_00003
Dorothy McKenzie became LPTB’s first driver when, on 9 April 1941, she started her job on the roads of Kent delivering bus timetables and repairing damaged frames. She was formerly an ambulance driver for the ARP.
Article about the LPTB's first female driver. May 1941. LT000030/078 Pennyfare_020_00006
1942 saw the first female bus drivers, although they were not permitted to carry passengers they drove buses to breakdowns or between garages.
Article about the first women to drive buses in London. July 1944. LT000030/078 Pennyfare_058_00002
The efforts and work of the women was lauded both at home and overseas. Interviews were taken, film footage was made, and foreign journalists wrote home in praise.
Article by Miss Ethel Mannin about the variety of roles undertake by Women at London Transport. October 1941. LT000030/078 Pennyfare_025_00001
Fluffing is the name given to teams who remove grease and attached particles from the line to remove potential fire risk. The nightly activities of the female track cleaning teams known as the Fluffers or “Fluffies” proved so intriguing that several films were made including one by British Pathe in 1944.
Article about female "fluffing" gang. September 1942. LT000030/078 Pennyfare_036_00002
Their job continues to fascinate and in 2019 the Corporate Archives team conducted an interview with the modern track cleaning team. It revealed that many elements of the job and the tools they use remain the same as their war time predecessors.
Extract from oral history interview with TfL's modern track cleaning team. 7 March 2019. Track Cleaning Team - overview
By the end of the war there were over 16,500 women working in roles traditionally filled by men. 11,250 of the 18,000 bus and tram conductors, 950 of the 1,150 porters, 400 of the 1,100 booking clerks were women. Almost 3,000 were employed in the engineering departments.
Gendered opinions on how to use a sweeping brush. February 1941. LT000030/078 Pennyfare_017_00002
Clara Taverner, porter, using a megaphone to shout "Mind the Doors!" April 1941. LT000030/078 Pennyfare_019_00001
Article about Marguerite Graver, a female signwriter. May 1942. LT000030/078 Pennyfare_032_00004
The volume of female staff had an impact on culture and working practices. 20 female welfare officers were appointed, and 'special' accommodation for women, including 75 rest rooms and 123 changing rooms, was provided.
Article about women's involvement in sports and recreation clubs. June 1941. LT000030/078 Pennyfare_021_00005
Women joined the company’s sports and social clubs, and they were even successful in getting a new trouser winter uniform designed.
Article about new winter bus conductors' uniform. "The coat's beautifully warm.... and (mark this) no silk stockings necessary." December 1941. LT00030/078 Pennyfare_027_00005
Article about tram conductors Joan Stone and Violet Fraser of Cricklewood garage, and Ellen Hennell of Thornton Heath who are sisters. May 1942. LT000030/078 Pennyfare_032_00004
Article about four female conductors who have served in both World Wars. December 1942. LT000030/078 Pennyfare_039_00003
There were also childcare initiatives to release more women from domestic responsibilities so as to assist with war work.
Transport Nursery Scheme set up to look after 40 children. June 1943. LT000030/078 Pennyfare_045_00001
BBC interview with four LPTB women working as a porter, bus conductor, booking clerk and engineer. December 1942. LT000030/042 Pennyfare_039_00002
At the end of the War, the contribution of our female workforce was recognised, but as with the end of WWI there was an expectation that women would return to the domestic sphere and release jobs for returning husbands, fathers, brothers and sons.
A farewell to her London Passenger Transport job from Norah Jacques, Booking Clerk. September 1945. LT000030/078 Pennyfare_072_00005
“The women who, without any experience of the Board’s work, left their normal occupations or, in so many cases, their homes to join the Board’s staff, made a major contribution to victory.”
Photograph of female welder. 1945. LT000350/1/25/2/2