Myself and others on my team have been doing some research about the vehicles on display in the Great Hall here at York. One of the vehicles I’ve been looking at is the Southern Railway (SR) 4-sub, number S8143S. I must confess that I’ve developed quite a soft spot for this particular vehicle! Built in 1925, it ran on the largest electrified railway network of the period, transporting huge numbers of people in and out of London.
Two things about this vehicle really interest me. First, the posters that advertise SR suburban services are fantastic:
The other thing that intrigues me about this vehicle is the presence of a ladies only compartment.
Ladies Only compartments were first introduced in 1874 by the Metropolitan Railway. It appears that the uptake for these compartments was quite low – the practice soon became to reserve a compartment on request, rather than all the time. So part of me wonders why the SR chose to maintain the service right into at least the 1920s, when this carriage was built.
One thing that Bob Gwynne, our Associate Curator of the vehicle collection, and I have been discussing is whether there is any connection to growing female employment after the First World War. Reading around the subject, it appears that the period immediately after the War saw a boom in female employment, particularly in clerical roles. By 1931 women accounted for 42% of the clerical workforce. This was also accompanied by a shift in attitude. Whereas clerical work had previously been seen as a suitable point for working class boys to enter a middle-class profession, by the 1930s it had been redefined as a well-paid, secure and most importantly respectable job for women prior to marriage.
It’s probably not too much of a leap to assume that a sudden upsurge of single, young women travelling to work resulted in railway companies providing Ladies Only compartments. I don’t know how far we can stretch the link, but it has certainly made me look at the 4-sub carriage in a new light.
‘Poverty and Aspiration: Young Women’s Entry to Employment in Inter-war England’, Selina Todd; Twentieth Century British History, Vol. 15, No. 2 (2004), pp. 119-142.