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Twentieth Century


The two great world wars brought new challenges, profits and opportunities for Dartford companies, particularly for Seagers, J. & E. Hall, Vickers and Burroughs Wellcome.

Seagers Ltd., a business established in 1875 in Overy Street specialising in the manufacture and repair of machinery for local industries, was comandeered in the First World War for the manufacture of machinery used in the armaments industry.
Vickers' vast labour force was also actively engaged in the manufacture of a wide range of ammunition and armaments.

During the 1914-1918 war, J. & E. Hall's workforce had swollen to 1200. Engineering was not a reserved occupation in the First World War. Over a hundred male employees left Halls to join the armed forces. More than three hundred local women were recruited to fill the gap. It was the first time that women had worked in the heavy industries. Men were very concerned that they would be displaced by cheap female labour after the war. Indeed, most of the female munition workers were laid off in 1918-19 as soldiers returned from the front. In 1917 almost the whole output of the Dartford factory was taken over by the War Department. The factory made lorries, bombs, bomb dropping gear, equipment for field guns and refrigeration plant for ships. The company opened a canteen to ensure that their employees were well-fed, and initiated a scheme for supplementing the incomes of servicemen's families. J. & E Hall emerged from the First World War in sound financial condition and with a healthy order book.

Burroughs and Wellcome who made medical supplies almost closed down in Dartford in 1914 as the firm could no longer export pharmaceutical products abroad. However, it soon became clear that the allied armies were in desperate need of drugs and medical supplies, so the company purchased an additional 250 acres of land in Dartford to build new factories.

Engineering was declared a reserved occupation during the Second World War. Even so, many local men working in this industry volunteered to join the armed forces. Once again, women were recruited to fill the gaps, working alongside men on rough, exacting and dirty jobs. Local firms on war work worked around the clock. At Halls air raid shelters were constructed and staff trained to deal with incendiary bombs and fires. All roof lights and windows were obscured so that work could continue day and night undetected by raiding aircraft.

Document 1: Click the link below to view the document

Employment at Vickers, Dartford, 1923-1925

Next topic: The decline of traditional industries

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