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Katrina Honeyman

Professor Katrina Honeyman, BA, PhD, FRHistS, AcSS

Professor Katrina Honeyman, Professor of Social and Economic History in the School of History until her retirement on grounds of ill-health in July, died on 23 October 2011.  The following obituary has been written by her friend and fellow-historian, Dr Gill Cookson.

Katrina Honeyman, who has died aged 61 of cancer, will be remembered for her innovative studies of the contributions made by women and children to British industrialization. Katrina traced numerous life histories of pauper children dispatched by parish authorities from London and elsewhere, to apprenticeships in the textile factories of northern England. By defining the children's own experiences, she showed how the employment of parish apprentices shaped working practices in new industries, and influenced the gendering of factory work. Her research challenges over-simplified ideas of exploitation, for she argued that significant numbers of these children gained skills and opportunities which proved useful, to themselves and to the economy overall. The project on which she was working at the time of her death, After Apprenticeship, was to follow a sample of the indentured young workers into later life, seeking evidence of their own families’ subsequent fortunes.

The middle of five children of John and Eleanor Honeyman, Katrina was born in London, where she spent her early years before the family moved to Manchester. She graduated in Economic History and Sociology from the University of York, and afterwards completed a PhD, supervised by Stanley Chapman at the University of Nottingham. Her doctoral research compared the social origins of three groups of northern industrialists, and was published under the title Origins of Enterprise: Business Leadership in the Industrial Revolution in 1982.

Temporary lectureships in Aberdeen and Manchester were followed by a permanent post at the University of Leeds in 1979, at first in the School of Economic Studies, and from 1999 in the School of History, where Katrina was appointed Professor of Social and Economic History in 2008. Women, Gender and Industrialisation, 1700-1870, published in 2000, explored the construction of gender divisions at work, and attempted to rescue female labour from the margins of manufacturing history, showing that women’s contributions considerably influenced the progress of British industry.Well Suited: a History of the Leeds Clothing Industry, 1850-1990, appearing in the same year, chronicled the tailoring workshops which at their peak in the late 1930s employed a third of the Leeds labour force. Katrina used a range of local sources, including oral history interviews, to reconstruct the histories of dozens of small and otherwise unrecorded businesses. She focused upon the industry’s reluctance to deal with the inequality of work and wages between men and women, which ultimately led to a watershed strike in 1970, when workers turned on male union officials who supported the gendered status quo at the expense of their own female members.

A decade of exceptional productivity followed. The apprenticeship research appeared in Child Workers in England, 1780-1820: Parish Apprentices and the Making of the Early Industrial Labour Force in 2007. Katrina was also at work on a social history of deviance, meanwhile collaborating with Leeds Museum on a high-street fashion project, and producing a history of Marks and Spencer based in the University’s recently acquired company archive. She combined all this with an unparalleled contribution to the School of History in both personal and professional terms. Alongside administrative roles including deputy head of School, Katrina was popular with students, a sensitive supporter of those embarking on research, and an inspirational and constantly encouraging mentor of younger colleagues. The lively social gatherings which she frequently hosted fostered friendships throughout the department. As the number of women in the School grew, she took particular pleasure in bringing together female colleagues for many a memorable evening.

Katrina was also actively involved in the leading associations of her discipline, with two spells on the council of the Economic History Society, a year as president of the Association of Business Historians, and a period as editor of Textile History. She had also served as director of the University’s Centre for Business History from 1993 to 1997. In 2005, she was elected to the Academy of Social Sciences.

Above all, Katrina was a devoted mother to her sons, Danny and Ben. Their shared dedication to Arsenal meant extensive travels in England and Europe. In recent years Katrina had found personal happiness with her partner, John Barber. She handled the diagnosis of cancer in 2010 with fortitude, and during months of remission was able to travel and work, but the illness returned this summer. Katrina’s sharp intelligence and wit went hand-in-hand with a rare generosity and consideration for others, which endured to the very end. She is survived by Danny and Ben, by John, by her sister Gill and brothers Andy, George and Neil, and by a wide circle of friends.

The funeral service is being held at 2.20 pm today (2 November), at Lawnswood Crematorium, Leeds 16.  In memory of Katrina, the flag is being flown at half-mast on the Parkinson Building.