Leeds Industrial Museum celebrates Yorkshire’s Queens of Industry

PUBLISHED: 00:00 19 October 2017

Doreen Kerfoot in the Three Piece Suit

Doreen Kerfoot in the Three Piece Suit

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An exhibition opening this month tells the forgotten stories of the 20th century queens of industry

Doreen Kerfoot in the Three Piece SuitDoreen Kerfoot in the Three Piece Suit

There was nothing exceptional about Doreen Kerfoot from Batley. Her family was one of many to be burned out of their home during World War Two and as a teenager after the war she became a weaver in a mill. It was while she was there that her life took an extraordinary turn. In 1947 Doreen was crowned Yorkshire Wool Queen following a competition her sister entered her for.

The Employers’ Council organised a series of qualifying rounds in the textile districts of the West Riding to find female textile workers who could represent their mill and locality. Doreen progressed to the final – held at Lewis’s department store in Leeds – and was selected as Yorkshire Wool Queen and the starring role in a recruitment film called ‘Three Piece Suit’, shot at United Motion Film Pictures studio in London and on location in Bradford and at Newsome’s Mill in Batley.

Doreen starred as herself, the weaver who sees her creative idea for a white three piece suit through from concept to completion. The film, of which no copy is known to have survived, was premiered at Bradford and toured the West Riding with the ‘Story of Wool’ exhibition. The suit made by textile firm Dean & Thompson Ltd. and was subsequently modelled by Doreen at the exhibition and mannequin parades.

Doreen’s new-found fame encouraged her to pursue her dream of becoming a model, actress and singer. She only returned to weaving briefly.

Eileeen Conboy, Morley Textile Queen 1936Eileeen Conboy, Morley Textile Queen 1936

The story of Doreen Kerfoot is now being told, alongside other women who were given similar titles, as part of the Queens of Industry exhibition at Leeds Industrial Museum.

The exhibition, which opens this month and runs until September 2019, brings together the experiences of a group of young women in industry, many of whose lives were changed forever by becoming industry queens.

Industry queens were a 20th century phenomenon. The first Railway Queens were elected in the mid-1920s and the last Coal Queen elected in the early 1980s. The rituals and appearance of the queen competitions were strongly inspired by the Rose Queen and May Queens organised by villages and towns. From these small beginning, the queens of industry went on to represent their industry, county or nation.

In other industries, the first Cotton Queen had the chance to meet an aging Lloyd George in 1930 and Railway Queen Audrey Mossom represented her industry on a visit to Russian where a special train was laid on for her to meet Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. She also had the honour of switching on the Blackpool Illuminations. The Cotton Queens even had a waltz composed in their honour.

The exhibition features rarely seen objects from Leeds Museums and Galleries as well as loans from major UK museums and private collectors. The exhibition also explores how women today experience working in industry and to record our contemporary female industrial history.

Among the other Yorkshire queens to be featured in the exhibition are Eileen Conboy, the 1936 Morley Textile Queen, and Janet Taylor from Leeds who was, Railway Queen in 1947, when she was just 15.

Queens of Industry will be at Leeds Industrial Museum from November 3 2017-September 29 2019. For more information, go online to www.leeds.gov.uk/museumsandgalleries/Pages/armleymills/Queens-of-Industry.aspx

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