Working Women: at Work, Rest and Play
Large numbers of the single, married and widowed female population of Tunbridge Wells were working women, the majority of whom were employed in domestic service in residential premises. In 1901 there were some 47 servants for every 100 households in the town. Most servant-keeping families employed one or two staff, though larger households kept full complements of indoor and outdoor servants including cooks, parlourmaids, housemaids, kitchen maids, footmen, gardeners and grooms. Servant registries such as the Central Registry at 8, Mount Sion, and The Employment Bureau in London Road provided a service for households seeking servants and for individuals seeking employment.
The next biggest employment sectors for women were in the needle trades and in laundry work. By the early 1900s, the development of mechanised commercial laundering processes and the introduction of motor transport to facilitate collection and delivery combined to accelerate the trend towards sending laundry out to professional laundresses and specialist laundry companies. In Tunbridge these companies were numerous and included St. John’s Sanitary Laundry and the Woodlands Laundry in Upper Grosvenor Road. The employment offered by the laundries explains the large numbers of young single women in Tunbridge Wells for whom initiatives such as the Leisure Hour Club were established.
Shop work was becoming an increasingly attractive alternative to domestic service in the early years of the century, a trend that was accelerated following the passing of legislation in 1911 which provided one half day holiday per week. Working women’s employment opportunities were about to be thrown wide open with the outbreak of war.