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Railway Station, York: From a Maid to a Railway Worker

The changing role of women and how they kept York’s railway running during WW1

Today, York’s Victorian Railway Station is a bustling interchange for modern travellers, but during World War One its location marked it out as a crucial junction for soldiers and sailors travelling the length and breadth of the country. It was here, under the auspices of the giant but elegant iron structure which overarches the busy platforms that many of York’s women stepped in to the roles the men had vacated.

On Platform 3 at York station, a team of York ladies established a soldiers and sailors buffet car to provide refreshments to servicemen passing through the station. This equated to a staggering weekly average of 18,000 men. In addition to this, women were also stepping into clerical and engineering work, prompting discussions in the North Eastern Railway company correspondence about gender roles in the workplace.

World War One had a dramatic impact on many aspects of British life but the growing confidence felt by women who were now able to take on more substantial and varied professional roles, was one of the most significant changes. Their confidence is clearly identifiable in a number of photographs published in the North Eastern Railway Magazine from 1917, which display teams of women at work on an engine, proudly showing off their new places of work, new attire and new skills.

Location: York Railway Station, North Yorkshire YO24 1AB
Image: Women on a steam engine, courtesy of the National Railway Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
Presented by Jonathan Cowap
Historyworks production for BBC Radio

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