Prof Katrina Honeyman

INNOVATIVE work by Katrina Honeyman, Professor of Social and Economic History at Leeds University who has died aged 61 of cancer, cast a new light on how pauper children fared when sent to work in northern textile mills.

The middle of five children of John and Eleanor Honeyman, she was born in London, where she spent her early years before the family moved to Manchester.

She graduated in Economic History and Sociology from York University, and afterwards completed a PhD in Nottingham.

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Temporary lectureships in Aberdeen and Manchester were followed by a permanent post at Leeds in 1979, at first in the School of Economic Studies, and from 1999 in the School of History, where she was appointed Professor of Social and Economic History in 2008.

Professor Honeyman traced numerous life histories of pauper children sent by parish authorities from London and elsewhere to apprenticeships in the textile factories of northern England.

She was able to show that significant numbers of them gained benefits from the skills they acquired, and that their experiences were more complex than often portrayed.

The project she was working on 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.

Her study Women, Gender and Industrialisation, 1700-1870, published in 2000, reclaimed a central role for women workers in the British industrial revolution. 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.

Professor Honeyman used a range of local sources, including 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.

At the time of her death, she was also working 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.

Frequently hosting lively social gatherings for colleagues, she was a popular lecturer. Her sharp intelligence and wit went hand-in-hand with a rare generosity.

Professor Honeyman had two spells on the council of the Economic History Society, was president of the Association of Business Historians, and editor of Textile History. In 2005, she was elected to the Academy of Social Sciences.

She and her two sons Danny and Ben were dedicated Arsenal fans, following the team to away matches in England and Europe.

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.

She is survived by her sons Danny and Ben, by her partner John, by her sister Gill and brothers Andy, George and Neil,