The changing face of work Electric job generation

The changing lines of work, along with developments in technology and society, come through clearly in searches on the September 1939 register {1}. Of course, many others continue to be employed in more traditional jobs of shop keeper, coal miner, metal worker, gardener, insurance agent, teacher, printer etc. {4}

Some examples below, but this piece starts off with an oddity or two.

Much call for this line of work?

As already illustrated in Pitching for a job, occupation descriptions can be remarkably obscure to modern eyes. Here’s an example, a trimmed register extract:

An Acrobatic Diver? Anyway, not a driver, as in the Findmypast transcription.

A 23 year old unemployed circus performer, presumably. Originally from Kings Lynn, at 1939 he is in Alma Square, Norwich, married but not with his wife. She is with her parents and child elsewhere in the city – did she run away with the circus and regret it later?

No names reproduced here, as the child is likely to be still living – a previously unknown third cousin. A hint on the spouse, though – a military Watts line, with an Indian birth. It’s also worth noting that Alma Square was probably not a very attractive residence at that time (it no longer exists).

Wooden prospect to live wires

The immediate prompt for this article was spotting an apprentice wheelwright in 1911 turn into an electricity linesman by 1939. The increase in motor car traffic would have indicated a dying trade for bespoke metal/wooden wheels, and the increasing use of electricity in the home, industry and office a safe bet for future employment.

This was the route taken by Robert H Rayner, who was born 1893 in Colchester and at 1924 married a first cousin (twice removed), Eva Watts, in Norfolk’s Smallburgh district. It would be interesting to know if he had made the switch by then – the marriage record should say, but this doesn’t justify paying for a copy of the certificate!

The Electric Charge

sibleywilliamWW1draftA distant Sibley cousin, William Charles, manages a move from a coal miner’s life in the Welsh valleys (at 1911) to an electrician in Chicago by 1920 – his American WW1 draft card at 1917 (left) has his employer as Commonwealth Edison Co.

Back in Norfolk, two Dashwood cousins, Albert Frederick and son Jack, worked in electric power in Norwich – installation superintendent (age 51) and power station clerk (age 18) at 1939. Jack moved on to a Great Yarmouth power station. Albert’s brother Arthur is a repairer, electric heating apparatus. {2}

A Norfolk in-law Leonard Andrews is an apprentice electrician at 1911 but sadly died in the Battle of Jutland aboard HMS Invincible (Wireman 2nd Class). {5}

The Cutlock & Co article from 2012 ‘The Electrical Connection‘ shows the Welsh side of the family making the most of the emerging electrical scene, from music hall engineer in 1911 to radio and retail.

Cousin Peter Neal supplied electrical equipment to the electrical contracting trade, presumably in Harrow, trading as Hudson Radio Ltd from the 1960s.

Stanley Alfred Hunt, a third cousin, appears as a maintenance electrician in 1939 register, Birmingham.

Two of the Beasor tribe: John W (born 1887) progresses from ‘labourer, electric light’ in Deptford 1911 to ‘Installation and Maintenance Electrics’ (or electrician) Penge 1939. A more distant Beasor, Thomas born 1901, is an Electrical Wireman at HM Dockyard Plymouth at 1939.

Going a bit wider, over in Nebraska, USA, Edwin J Flowerday (yet another 1st cousin 2x removed) started as a telephone linesman (1930s), then became an area manager and plant supervisor. At 1961 he was a committee member of the Independent Telephone Pioneer Association. Son Wayne got a BSc in electrical engineering and went on to work with Boeing in Kansas (probably).

Samuel W Shephard took evening classes in Nottingham, a 4 mile walk from home, so that he improved on his prospects as a coal mine labourer, and became a railway electrician in Tottenham in early 1900s.

Connected to the Shephard family, two Cummins cousins are in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex in 1939 with occupations as ‘radio assembler’ and ‘photographer and cinema operator’. {3}cumminscharlesetc1939

Not forgetting the various electrical engineering type jobs from one of the immediate Howes family (BBC engineer, amateur radio kits) – now web and multi-media related.

In the picture

Others who took up the growing opportunities in cinema and photography:

Ernie Laddiman – pharmacy and photographic dealer (indeed, the business used the term ‘Photographic Chemists’).

Bryn Walters – trainee cinema projectionist in WW2, but later in the taxi business. His uncle Idwal is a ‘cinema operator’ in Merthyr at 1939.

Not sure that ‘Bill poster, electric theatres’ in 1911 really counts! A trade of Charles H Miller, Beasor family line.

Probable Parry cousins Robert and David/Bill are both cinema managers in 1939 – one in Pontycymmer, the other Tunbridge Wells.


  1. More about the 1939 register on Findmypast.
  2. Albert F born 1898 and Arthur born 1908 are sons of Anna Laura Watts and Albert Dashwood.
  3. Gladys Cummins and Herbert Cummins were twins born 1912 West Ham.
  4. Many more lines of work from the family tree on the Occupations page. A few more oddities may be added.
  5. Other family related World War One casualties listed in Those the “intended” left behind.

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