Women building London’s transport infrastructure

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Does anyone know who this woman is?

Santa brought me a fascinating box-set from the BFI’s archives of the British Transport Film Collection: “Experiment Under London“. This is a set of 5 “Reports” on the processes and progress of building the Victoria Line in the 1960s. Although clearly meant for the general public, and presented in a light style accompanied by jazzy music, the public are not dumbed-down to in any way and a lot of technical information is given.

Having recently been to a technical talk by one of the project managers of the massive Crossrail project, it is tempting to see parallels in the project complexities involved. However, one aspect really was very different. The many TV documentaries, posters and so on relating to Crossrail featured a far more diverse workforce, especially when it comes to women at work. In three and a half hours the only woman shown in the  DVD films who had any involvement in the entirety of the Victoria Line construction seems to have been the anonymous female driver (photo at top) of the overhead crane at the Stanton and Stavely foundry where the steel tunnel- liners were cast. We saw a few Afro-caribbeans and some sikhs involved in various skilled and unskilled manual trades but not another single woman.

The contrast is so stark that I feel a bit encouraged that we have made some progress in the past half century – sometimes it can seem like we are getting nowhere!

Not only did the Crossrail project make a massive effort to recruit women, BME staff and disabled people, but they also made sure that they were foregrounded for their work.

Robby Whitfield

I don’t know who the woman at Stanton’s was. The firm was swallowed up with all the other steel companies when they were nationalissed into British Steel in 1967, but there are still former employees around so perhaps someone will come forward who remembers her.

In the film we see her at the controls of the gantry crane, high above the foundry floor, moving the massive crucibles of molten metal along so that the pourers can tip them into each mould. A trusted, skilled job which makes me wonder if she had somehow managed to hang on to a wartime job. Many women worked in steel in WW2 and Sheffield has honoured them with a statue.

A woman who has contributed to upgrading the Victoria line is Zoe Dobell, who is a Project Engineer in the Bakerloo, Central & Victoria Lines Upgrades Team and is
responsible for all the engineering activities in her project.

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