“There was a saying in West Brom, for a long, long time: ‘If you didn’t work at K&J, you knew someone that did’.” / Karen Radburn, employee at Kenrick & Jefferson
OUTWORK is a new arts project that tells the stories of women employed at Kenrick and Jefferson (K&J) Print Works on West Bromwich High Street. Funded by Historic England’s Everyday Heritage Grants, the project seeks to share the often-overlooked histories of women’s work, at home as well as in the workplace.
Artist Sophie Huckfield, who is from Walsall and whose family historically worked in industries across the Black Country, spent the last year interviewing women who worked at K&J, along with family members who have memories of their mothers, grandmothers, aunties and friends who worked there.
K&J was an expansive printing factory and office supply company that was built in 1883 and remained in business for over 100 years. It was one of the largest local employers in West Bromwich and the surrounding regions, employing generations of families, and remains an important landmark to local people today. Whilst both men and women worked at K&J, the print works employed a large number of women in the factory, offices and as casualised ‘outworkers’ from home.
OUTWORK is rooted in the heritage of women’s oral storytelling, referencing how working women’s herstories are often shared anecdotally and passed down through a spoken tradition, while being left out of official archival records. Sophie met people employed in a variety of roles, bringing them together to discuss their experiences and stories of their time at K&J, alongside their memories of West Bromwich.
The resulting book (designed, printed and hand bound by Joseph Lilley / Holodeck Birmingham and available as a free PDF from Multistory’s website) and the outdoor exhibition assemble images from the project participants’ personal archives; quotes from their interviews; and creative outcomes from two workshops, charting the history of these working women’s lives. Launching alongside a new podcast produced by sound artist Dr Natalie Hyacinth and narrated by Wolverhampton City Poet Laureate (2020-2022) Emma Purshouse, OUTWORK seeks to explore how women can make space to debate what work is and could be.
OUTWORK is funded by Historic England through their Everyday Heritage Grants: Celebrating Working Class Histories.
The Blackcountryman, Winter Issue 2023
The print book is shared for free to participants and local community members, and will soon be available for £10 from the Multistory website.
The OUTWORK publication will be available at all of the 19 Sandwell libraries, the Glasgow Women’s Library, The Women’s Library (London) and the six national libraries.
A new archival box has been donated to the Sandwell Community History and Archives service, containing; the OUTWORK book and open call flyers, documentation from the project and a range of K&J archival material shared by participants (copies of K&J News – a magazine for employees – K&J christmas and birthday cards, letters and books.)Full list of libraries
(she/they) is a cross disciplinary artist and researcher with a background in arts, design and engineering. She employs traditional and experimental modes of production such as craft & making, lens based media, performance, sound, workshops and writings. To deconstruct, subvert and interrogate metaphors & stories around social class, making cultures, technological discourses and labour practices. Her practice is collaborative and she works with a range of organisations and individuals across disciplines to meditate upon the way we think about the world shaped by the tools at our disposal.
Many thanks to all involved in the project!
Interviewees: Claire Boddy, Denise Burton, Yvonne Farnell, Lisa Harris, Geoff May, Caron O’Dowd, Manesh Patel, Nim Patel, R.Porter, Patricia Price, Karen Radburn, Jane Talbot, Janet Taylor, Olive Timmins.
Workshop participants: Wendy Hood, Donna Martin, Gillian Miller, Caron O’Dowd, Manesh Patel, Nim Patel, Patricia Price, Jane Palfreyman, Judith Palfreyman, Janet Taylor, Jill Turner.
Stirchley Printworks: James Turner
Thanks to Historic England for supporting this project, and in particular, to Katy Hoskyn.
Caron: “It was great coming to the book launch and great being involved, learning how K&J was in the early years through to when I worked there. I loved doing the screen printing and the book is fabulous – plus I feel like a celebrity with all those pics in the book and outside the library!”
Nim: “This is a beautiful and wonderful book that will be passed down the generations in our family, so that our future family members will know the story of their great grandmother.”
Olive: “K&J was a big part of the West Bromwich employment scene and this book importantly reflects that from the working women point of view. The whole experience of taking part has been really rewarding memory wise. My time at K&J and my relationship with both friends and management have been a great influence on who I am today. I would like to thank Sophie and Jess for the opportunity this project has given me.”
Manesh: “I spoke with Sophie Huckfield and all of my dealings with the team were professional, full of enthusiasm and encouragement. They created an environment where you wanted to contribute and showed passion in the work they were producing. Historic England should be comforted by the fact that their funding has helped contribute to a wholesome experience and an end product which has been enjoyed by our family and friends and hopefully generations to come.”
Yvonne: “The event was lovely, library was buzzing! So many people had happy faces remembering that phase of their working life with fond memories. It was lovely to chat about my mom’s time at K and J, a very important local company where so many people from West Bromwich were employed.”
Geoff: “Congratulations on putting together a wonderful cross section of former workers at K&J’s in conversations about their memories whilst there. Factual and humorous in many ways it gives a great insight into their daily lives as they went about their various work practices.”
This publication assembles together participants’ personal herstories and includes testimonials, their images and workshop outcomes.
The title ‘outwork’ was a term used at K&J and designated to those that did seasonal or casual work during busy periods, outside of the factory and usually in a domestic setting. The majority of this outwork was taken up by women who could fit it around childcare responsibilities and other part-time or domestic work.
The OUTWORK publication was designed by Holodeck (Joseph Lilley), and printed and bound by hand. Each copy contains a hand-made paste paper cover, with a hand foiled title.
As well as being available in print, the publication is also available as a free PDF download, and screen reader compatible Word Document.
Download the Word Document version here.
Women, Work & Wednesbury
In 2020, Multistory worked with Sophie Huckfield for the Wednesbury High Street Heritage Action Zone pilot project to produce a small publication titled Women, Work & Wednesbury investigating the industrial past and present stories of women’s work in Wednesbury.
What is ‘work’? When we say work, we often think of work existing in a specific place or done by a specific person or industry. In the conversation around industrial work, and even in work more widely, women are often omitted. Women have always worked: whether in the home raising children and having housework responsibilities, or on the factory floor, in offices or working in pubs and shops and in other professions. In the story of Wednesbury’s industrial past and future, women were and remain an integral part of working life. This small publication records different aspects of women’s experiences of working life in Wednesbury.Read more