Engineer of the Week No.122: Mrs Emily ‘M.M.’ Dunn, MIQ (nee Harris) (10th January 1890 - 20th December 1967)
On the 52nd anniversary of her death, we remembe Emily Dunn, quarrywoman.
Astonishingly Emily Dunn is one of two Yorkshirewomen running their own quarries in the first half of the 20th century, the other being Anne Greaves.
She was born in Hull, into a complex family of stepsiblings in which both parents had had previous marriages. The family was reasonably well off as her father was a land agent. Nothing is known of her education but the family would probably have been able to affor for her to remain at the local school into her teens. In 1912 she married Eward Crowhurst Dunn, who was manager of the Hatfield Cooperative Society grocery.
It is unclear how she came to be a quarry owner in the first place, but at the very young age of 23 she was already the proprietor of a small quarry in Dunsville to the north east of Doncaster, Yorkshire, when her quarry manager died and she found herself forced to take over running it. She had neither technical experience nor capital and the quarry was running on a very small scale: 3 men with shovels, riddles and wheelbarrows. To make her life even more difficult, she was trying to sell quarry sand and gravel in a district where builders were more accustomed to river gravel. To overcome this, she travelled south to find contractors willing to buy her products.
The quarries also produced unexpected materials, including 2 human skeletons which immediately disintegrated, but also various fossils and she donated 160 fossils of Pleistocene bones found in her quarries to the Kingston upon Hull Museum in 1927.
The next problem was transport, so she hired and then bought steam traction engines but the roads authorities would not let these colossally heavy vehicles on many roads and bridges, so she had a railway siding built to her quarry but found that the rates charged by the rail companies prohibitive. This forced her back to road transport and she built up a fleet of petrol motor lorries.
Even to produce satisfactory grades of sand and gravel Mrs Dunn was obliged to turn to her own ingenuity to “….invent and install what rather looked like Heath Robinson attempts at washing plants.”. By 1929 she was employing from 30-50 men at the quarry and had upgraded her machinery to “...much larger and more up-to-date washing and breaking plant and layout. All these were under separate power but this year I have procured a cold start crude oil engine and have connected the whole of my washing and breaking plant under this one power which is working very satisfactorily and cheaply. I have also a paraffin / petrol locomotive for drawing the cubic yard tip wagons on light railway, which has enabled me to dispose of three horses and the necessary attendants. All this has been a big worry to me, as to a large extent I am my own engineer and technical adviser.” In around 1929 she diversified into concrete products, but not long afterwards she put the quarry on the market and she and her husband moved to Filey where they ran a mixed farm for about 10 years.
In 1930 she exhibited her products at the Scarborough conference of the Institute of Quarrying, of which she was one of the first two women full members. She was also active in the Women’s Engineering Society and contributed articles about her work to its journal. Emily Dunn died in 1967, leaving the not inconsiderable sum for that time of £250k, but had apparently spent the last years of her life as a recluse, having been widowed in 1952.