Vicky Long – Industrial Homes: Domesticating Factories in Interwar Britain

Royal Holloway University of London Department of History

Event Date:
14 and 15 September 2010

11 Bedford Square, Royal Holloway (Central London)

 

Inhabiting Institutions in Britain, 1700-1950


Living in Institutions

Home in the Institution

Vicky Long (Northumbria): Industrial Homes: Domesticating Factories in Interwar Britain

In the early 1920s, the nascent profession of industrial welfare attempted to reconcile nineteenth-century arts and crafts ideals with a new era of mass production by replicating domestic spaces within factories. Drawing on advertisements, factory plans, descriptions and photographs of factory spaces, this paper explores how welfare supervisors sought to recast the antithetical relationship between the domestic sphere and the institutional workplace through the provision of gardens, kitchens, dining rooms, bathrooms and restrooms. Home-like workspaces were designed to facilitate the expansion of female labour while curbing industrial unrest. Adopting a maternal role, welfare supervisors used the disciplinary construct of the factory family to mould behavior and maintain hierarchical relations. They expressed the belief that the factory environment could be transformed to shape the interiority of its inhabitants: concerns that workers had become alienated cogs in the machine could now – in theory – be redressed through artwork, décor and the inauguration of spaces which facilitated social interaction. Photographs of such spaces frequently point to a compromise between domestic and industrial space, in which industrial features were only partially camouflaged by flowers, curtains and artwork.

Over the course of the 1920s, a symbiotic relationship developed between domestic and industrial space, blurring the boundaries between home and work. Policy makers, architects, advertisers and women’s groups embraced mechanization, mass-production methods and scientific management practices as liberating forces which could resolve housing problems and ease the burden of domestic labour within the home. In so doing, they reconfigured home space and workplace as mutually reinforcing rather than oppositional. By the 1930s sleek modernist factories eclipsed Arcadian visions of the homely garden factory as the appeal of industrial welfare lost ground to the practices of scientific management and industrial psychology.

The paper presented here is an abbreviated version of an article forthcoming in Journal of British Studies in April 2011.

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