GOING to work is something millions have done for generations.

But industry and employment are among the many aspects of life which have changed immeasurably over the centuries.

Now Colchester historian Patrick Denney has put the spotlight on people and industries through the years in his latest book - Colchester at work.

It focuses on different professions and careers looking back through history explains Patrick who has written almost 20 books focusing on different aspects of life in the town and is a registered Blue Badge tour guide.

He says while some subjects had been previously touched upon, it was interesting to be able to focus on others in more detail.

He was also able to use a series of pictures showing the Colchester Gas works which many people may not even have seen.

“I acquired them a few years ago, they were glass slides and I had not had a chance to transfer them over or use them really but I was looking at the gas works and thought this would be a great opportunity.

“They are very rare photographs, very few people will have seen them I think so it was good to get them in the book,” he explains.

The gasworks, explains Patrick in his book, was on a large site and relied on ship and rail for its coal.

He adds :”It played an important role in providing gas to illuminate thousands of local homes and businesses in the early years of the century.

“During the manufacture process huge amounts of coal were needed to produce the gas that was supplied to the works either by ship or rail.

“The coal that arrived by rail was brought directly to the gasworks by a steam engine pulling trucks loaded with coal along a stretch of railways that ran in the middle of the road from Hythe station directly into the gasworks.”

One of the by-products of making coal gas was the residue and coal tar members of the public could buy, turning up with wheelbarrows, carts and even old prams.

The Hythe was a hive of activity at this time, with a large number of companies relying on ships bringing their wares in.

The book also focuses on those working within the cloth trade, clocks and rag trade.

Colchester, for example, had a thriving shoe making industry with two factories employing hundreds.

A C George’s boots and shoes factory was on the corner of Kendall Road and Charles Street while John Kavanagh’s Boot and Shoe Factory thrived in Victorian times but by the end of the 1800s had become Hollington’s clothing factory.

“It was actually poised to overtake engineering at the town’s main business activity by the early 1890s,” says Patrick.

Also among the leading footwear firms were Knopp & Son in Portland Road who employed more than 100 men.

There were also a number of smaller companies as well with John Kavanagh being the largest.

He started out making clothes, branching into repairing and selling old army boots - employing almost 400.

Another chapter looks at the rag trade - which Patrick describes as one of the town’s best kept industrial secrets.

“Certainly before the 1880s Colchester was the largest centre of the rag trade outside of London.

“By the term rag trade we are talking about the manufacturing of ready-to-wear men’s clothing, and long before the likes of Montague Burton made ready-to-wear men’s clothing fashionable in the north of England in the early 1900s.”

Big names including H Hyam, pawnbroker and clothier in St Botolph’s Street, the Colchester Manufacturing company in Stanwell Street and Hollingtons.

Patrick also has an entire chapter dedicated to the memories of those who actually did the work.

“I think my favourite chapter is the working memories, the oral histories where we hear about what it was like,” he explains.

These include recollections of railway worker Jack Ashton, cinema projectionist Cecil Riches and Alice Farthing, who like many women at that time went into domestic service at a young age.

“One chap, who I spoke to originally because he had been in the First World War, Charles Herbert, told me about how he had come out of the war and gone to work for the council, and then did some gardening before becoming a gravedigger for them.

“I loved that entire chapter, that is what it is all about, hearing people’s experiences and stories and it is a great finale to the book.”

* Colchester at Work, published by Amberley at £14.99, can be bought on line or at book shops including Red Lion Book Shop in Colchester High Street.