WD & HO Wills’ female workers deserve greater recognition for their contribution to the city’s prosperity, says Helen Thomas. Plus letters from Hilary Johnson and Cat Bracey
Jane Nation (Letters, 9 April) gives proper attention to the thousands of women workers who fuelled the success of WD & HO Wills in their Bristol tobacco company, providing the profits for which Bristol University can be thankful. In fact the Wills family ploughed money into a number of much-valued public and civic projects in the city, including Bristol Museum and the zoo, as well as charitable institutions such as sheltered housing schemes for older people across the city.
However, the city is squeamish about celebrating the contribution that the tobacco industry (it was not just the Wills company) and its workers made to the city’s economic prosperity and growth from the late 19th century until Imperial Tobacco’s massive Hartcliffe factory closed in the 1990s. The city’s museums make very little mention of tobacco and its impact on working families and whole communities in south Bristol. The official reticence may be about indirect links with an agriculture which was built on slavery in the US, or about the health impact of tobacco consumption: either way you could easily never know that much of Bristol’s wealth was the result of the tobacco industry.