Queens of Industry

Charting the stories of the women who were elected to represent some of Britain’s greatest industries. This largely untold story brings together the experiences of a group of young women in industry, many of whose lives were changed forever by becoming industry queens.

By Leeds Museums & Galleries

Exhibition wall display (2019) by Leeds Museums & GalleriesLeeds Museums & Galleries

From Loom to Limelight

Becoming an industry queen was usually a life-changing experience for women workers. The Daily Dispatch newspaper coined the phrase ‘From Loom to Limelight’ to celebrate the stardom experienced by Cotton Queens.      

Exhibition brochure (1946)Leeds Museums & Galleries

Brochure for ‘A Story of Wool’, an exhibition that toured the wool and cotton manufacturing districts of the North of England from 1946. The exhibition featured the film ‘Three-Piece Suit’ starring Yorkshire Wool Queen Doreen Kerfoot.      

Film script detail (1947) by Frank HillLeeds Museums & Galleries

Detail of the script from the Wool Trade promotional film ‘Three Piece Suit’. In the film Doreen Kerfoot plays a textile worker who persuades a Bradford company to make a suit which she finally models.    

Still from the film 'Three Piece Suit' (1947) by Frank HillLeeds Museums & Galleries

An accomplished soprano singer, Doreen sings to her mill workmates, according to the script.     

Board game playing pieces (1930/1950)Leeds Museums & Galleries

'Buy British!'

Playing pieces from the ‘Buy British!’ board game, sold as part of the campaign to increase sales of British goods. The Cotton Queens play a major role in this drive by encouraging consumers to buy British Cotton products.      

Letter detail (1947)Leeds Museums & Galleries

Yorkshire Queens

As Yorkshire Wool Queen, Doreen Kerfoot shot to national and international notice. In this letter a German student in Russian-controlled Germany asks to become ‘pen-friends’ with Doreen. She did not reply.      

Safari suit (2019) by Leeds Museums & GalleriesLeeds Museums & Galleries

Becoming Yorkshire Wool Queen allowed Doreen Kerfoot to follow her passions of singing, modelling and acting. This safari suit is one of the many costumes she modelled.    

Tiara (1940/1950)Leeds Museums & Galleries

Britain's first Railway Queen

Britain’s railways were the first major industry to elect annual queens. In 1925 Ella Wooton, a railwayman’s daughter, became Britain’s first Railway Queen. Ella and subsequent queens wore this tiara.  

Tiara QOI8aLeeds Museums & Galleries

This tiara was worn by the Cotton Queens of Great Britain while out on public engagements. Elsie Kearsley from Longridge, near Preston was the last Queen to wear it. Her reign was cut short by the outbreak of hostilities with Germany in September 1939.       

Garments on display (2019) by Leeds Museums & GalleriesLeeds Museums & Galleries

The jersey on the left is a reproduction of a knitting pattern modelled by 1946 Yorkshire Wool Queen Doreen Kerfoot. The garment to the right is a ‘Calver’ smock, working-wear made by a contemporary craft practitioner.    

Photograph of Marjorie Knowles (1932/1933)Leeds Museums & Galleries

Cotton Queens

Cotton Queens carried out a vast variety of engagements across Great Britain. This is Marjorie Knowles, the 1932-33 Cotton Queen, with a group of excited workers at a mill in Carlisle.      

Photograph of Marjorie Knowles (1932)Leeds Museums & Galleries

All Cotton Queens had to be women actively working in the industry. Here, newly-crowned Cotton Queen Marjorie Knowles celebrates with her fellow mill workers in Burnley in June 1932.   

Photograph of Marjorie Knowles (1932/1933)Leeds Museums & Galleries

Cotton Queen Marjorie Knowles steps out of her chauffeur-driven car. Standing to the right is her employer John Sharples. Sharples owned a chain of factory shops across Lancashire that sold cotton products made in his Burnley Mill.     

Photograph of Marjorie Knowles on the steps of 10 Downing Street (1932)Leeds Museums & Galleries

Marjorie Knowles with her chaperone on the steps of 10 Downing Street in 1932. She would have been meeting the Prime Minister of the day, Ramsay MacDonald, as was the tradition for all Cotton Queens.        

Photograph of Frances Lockett (1930)Leeds Museums & Galleries

Frances Lockett is crowned as the first Cotton Queen of Great Britain at a ceremony in June 1930 at Blackpool’s Tower Circus.      

Photograph of Frances Lockett addressing a crowd (1930)Leeds Museums & Galleries

Public speaking was one of the most important duties for industry queens. Here Frances Lockett addresses a crowd in 1930.     

Photograph of the crowning of Eileen Conboy (1936)Leeds Museums & Galleries

Eileen Conboy is crowned 1936 Morley Textile Queen by the town’s Mayor and Lady Mayoress. One of the prizes won by Eileen was a free haircut at the Vanity Box beauty salon.      

Photograph of crowds welcoming Eileen Conboy (1936)Leeds Museums & Galleries

Large crowds welcome the 1936 Morley Textile Queen Eileen Conboy. In 1946 Yorkshire went on to elect Doreen Kerfoot as the county’s Wool Queen.      

This story was inspired by the Queens of Industry exhibition held at Leeds Industrial Museum in 2019.

To learn more about some of the topics featured in this story, listen to series 2 episode 3 of the Leeds Museums & Galleries podcast featuring John McGoldrick, Curator of Industrial History.

Credits: Story

The original exhibition and this story were made possible by contributions from:


· Paul Fletcher
· Wood & Allied Textile Employers Council
· Longridge Heritage Trust
· Pamela Dobson
· Tameside Local Studies and Archives
· Lancashire County Library Service
· Leodis  

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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