Discover more about some of the women who worked in the ceramic and iron industries in the Gorge and gained the right to vote in 1918.

Decorative Tile Industry

Ada Burns (1874-1931)

Ada Burns was born Ada Jordan in 1874. She grew up on Hockley Bank, Broseley, in a small three-roomed house (this included living spaces and kitchens as wells as bedrooms). She lived there with her grandparents, siblings and cousins throughout her childhood and teens. By the age of 17 Ada was working in the tile industry as a varnisher; she was still living with her grandmother in 1901, but now working as a tile polisher. In 1902 Ada married John Burns, who also worked in the tile industry as a die fitter. In 1911 both Ada and John were still working in the tile industry, and the couple had one child, 2 year old Ronald. With the passing of the 1918 Act of Parliament, thanks to her husband occupying a property worth £5 or more, Ada gained her right to vote.

Women working in the mosaic workshop at Craven Dunnill & Co., c.1890s.

MARY OSWELL (1868-1936)

Mary Oswell (nee Doherty) was born in 1868 in Aston, Birmingham. Mary's family had ties to the Ironbridge Gorge as her two older siblings had been born in Coalport and Horsehay.

In 1891 she was 23 years old, living with her aunt and uncle in Coalport, and working in the Jackfield tile industry as a mosaic worker. At this time, the majority of women who worked in the decorative tile industry in the Gorge were employed as mosaic workers. With these other women, Mary would have cut fired strips of clay into pieces and pasted them onto large sheets of paper bearing the finished design, to create wonderful mosaics.

In 1894, she married Thomas Oswell, who unfortunately died only three years later, leaving Mary with two young sons, one aged 2 and the other a new-born. Mary moved in with her sister, Florence, and continued to working on mosaics.

By 1918, Mary Oswell had moved to Jackfield and in that year gained the ability to vote in her own right as she was occupying property worth more than £5 a year. She never remarried and continued to live in the Gorge until her death in 1936.

China Industry

Ethel Mary Edwards

Ethel Mary Edwards (nee Evans) was born on the 11 June 1885 in Madeley. She grew up on New Road, Madeley, living in a three-roomed house with her parents, siblings and two boarders.

By the age of 15, Ethel was already working at Coalport China Factory as a china printer. As a printer, Ethel would have worked alongside one or two other women to apply transfers to the unfired china. They would cut out a transfer and place into onto the china before rubbing it firmly onto the ware. The used transfer would then be washed off the china and the ware would be passed on to the paintresses for colour to be added. 

In 1910, Ethel married Stanley Edwards, a local coal miner. They moved into a four-roomed house on Park Street in Madeley, and lived there with Ethel’s mother and two sisters. In 1918, Ethel was 32 years old and living with her husband Stanley at 30 Court Street, Madeley and gained the right to vote because her husband owned the property. 

Women working at Coalport China Works, late 19th century.

Emma Glaze (1840-1924)

Emma Glaze was born at Duke Street, Broseley on the 19 September 1840. She was born into a family of coal miners and lived at Duke Street until the 1860s. As a young woman Emma brought in an income by working as a dressmaker, but by 1871 she had begun working at the china factory. Unfortunately records do not reveal what role she worked in at the factory during the first two decades of her time there, however by 1891 she was employed as a groundlayer. A groundlayer applied the most simple paint designs to china which consisted of just one solid colour, such as plain borders on plates.

Emma continued to work at the china works and ran her own household as an unmarried woman throughout her adult life. In 1918, at the age of 77, she gained the right to vote in her own right. She had been in her twenties when the campaign for women’s suffrage began.

Tobacco Pipe Industry

Broseley Pipeworks. This is the type of setting Mary may have been working in.

Mary Shaw (1871-1949)

Mary Shaw (nee Wilde) was born on the 11 June 1871 and grew up in Broseley with her parents and four siblings. Records suggest that at around the age of 19, Mary had an illegitimate child and changed her name to Mary Roberts, but carried on living with her family. Two years later, in 1891, Mary was working as a tobacco pipe maker and was living on Swan Lane, Broseley. She continued to work in this industry and lived at home with her family until 1904 when she married George Shaw at the age of 33.

In 1911, George, Mary and Mary’s son, William, were living with George’s mother at Harris’s Green in Broseley. Mary was still working at the pipe works as a pipe maker. In 1918, Mary gained the right to vote thanks to her husband occupying a residence worth £5 a year. Mary's mother, Isabella Edwards, also gained the ability to vote in her own right in 1918. 

Eliza Jones (1848-1929)

Eliza Jones was born in Broseley in 1848. By the age of 13 she was already employed as a pipe trimmer. She briefly lived on Quarry Road with her grandparents during her teens, but for the rest of her life she lived on King Street in Broseley. In 1885, Eliza’s mother died and Eliza became the head of the household. Eliza continued to work in the pipe making industry throughout her adult life and lived on King Street with her other unmarried siblings. Eliza always took on the role of the head of the household as a result of which, in 1918 when she was 69 years old, she gained the right to vote on her own merit as a householder with property worth more than £5.