A fascinating record of Yate life in 1939
Yate Heritage Centre's David Hardill finds records of a single street can tell us much about the town on the eve of the Second World War.
ALTHOUGH the unveiling of the 1921 census records this year will dominate local history, we feature another body of knowledge in this article, namely the 1939 Registration.
The 1939 data is effectively a census of residents, ages and professions up and down the country on the eve of the Second World War.
In recent times, our intrepid volunteer staff have started going through these records, which shed light on the state of the area just before the outbreak of war.
This article features the finding of just one street: Maybank Road in Yate.
We selected Maybank Road as it was part of the newly-built Heathfield estate, south of Station Road, which embodied many of the recent changes to the parish of Yate.
The town was still small: around 2,000 inhabitants, compared to around 23,000 today.
Many of the parishioners were newcomers and occupied the roads around Maybank Road and Wellstead Avenue and the embryonic Ridge Estate, which was just being constructed.
A study of Maybank Road demonstrates that families and individual men had moved into mainly rented accommodation to work in the new factories, which were gearing up for war.
Within living memory farming, mining and domestic service had been leading employers, but now heavy engineering prevailed.
In the 38 houses on Maybank Road, there were 17 men working in the aircraft industry. Although some may have worked at the Bristol Aircraft Company, the majority would have worked at the expanding aircraft works in Yate – Parnall Aircraft Ltd.
Parnalls was employing nearly 3,000 people by this time, undertaking a myriad of different functions. There were machinists and fitters of all kinds.
Newman Industries also employed over 1,000 workers, producing electric motors and bombshell cases. Four Maybank residents were directly engaged in processing electrical motors and four others were capstan lathe hands, which may well have been drilling holes for the shells.
The 1939 register also demonstrated how much would change during war. By 1940-41, significant numbers of women were working in a variety of engineering roles at both Parnalls and Newmans, filling the gaps left by men on service. By contrast, in September 1939 nearly every woman in Maybank Road is described as having unpaid domestic duties, apart from one nurse, a laundress and a tailoress.
The 1939 record also provides other snapshots of immediate pre-war life. In anticipation of war, two Maybank Road men were already ARP wardens and one woman was an ARP nurse. There were also two special constables with impending wartime duties.
Clearly, the quality of information dictates that we need to take our time with the 1939 project. Often the local build-up to war is neglected, as we focus on the drama of war itself. The 1939 Register at least enables us to redress the imbalance.
February 1 – March 27: Swinging Sixties in Yate exhibition – the history of this dramatic time and the people who shaped the town and parish.
February 16: Yate Archaeological Group Meeting, 7.30pm, Poole Court. Speaker TBC. £3 Admission; booking essential.
February 22: Yate Lecture Series, 7.30pm, Poole Court. History of Bristol Brewing, with Anastatia Miller. £2 admission or free for Friends of YHC. Booking essential.
February 21-25: Holiday events.
Picture: Parnall aircraft dance, 1939. Photo courtesy of R Jordan.