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Declining employment in the countryside and overcrowded cottages forced young women to leave home in order to seek work. A well-paid navvy dressed his Sunday best silk neckerchief, fancy waistcoat and moleskin breeches might seem an attractive proposition. In the words of one congregational minister quoted by the railway historian Frederick Williams

"The navvies, bare-throated, their massive torsos covered but by the shirt, their strong lissom loins lightly girt, and their massive muscles showing out on their shapely legs through the tight, breeches, are the perfection of animal vigour. Finer men I never saw, and never hope to see" [i]

Domestic service was by far the largest employer of women throughout the 19th century. To escape a life of poorly paid drudgery a young women might well accept the risk of going on the tramp with a navvy.

[i] Williams, F. S. Our iron Roads (London, Ingram Cooke & Co, 1852)


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