Sedó Company Town. Areial view. Source: Museu Nacional de la Ciència i la Tècnica de Catalunya

Workers’ settlements and factory towns: an account and perspectives

Author: Gràcia Dorel-Ferré

There have been outstanding studies conducted since the 19th century, and above all in the last thirty years. These have served to bring in numerous monographs and a number of partial studies, but the topic as a whole remains far from complete. Two leading historians established the milestones for the future of our study:Louis Bergeron, one of the “fathers” of industrial heritage in France, and Roger-Henri Guerrand , who was the first to demonstrate the scientific worth of an apparently trivial matter: worker accommodation.

Workers’ settlements and factory towns comprise industrial structures established outside a conurbation and with a distinctive physiognomy, made up of different elements such as the factory, the housing, whether terraced or high-rise, the schoolmaster’s house, management, the church and the schools. Meanwhile, other more or less complete amenities may have been installed by the factory for the continuation of the settlement.

Such settlements are set up for precise reasons: dependence on a source of energy (most typically water), the exploitation of resources (agri-food, mining, metals, textiles, etc.), the maintenance of a network (railway towns) and manpower resources. In short, all the requirements to assemble manpower in a specific location.

These structures have been given various names:worker towns, workers’ settlements, villaggi operai, industrial settlements, model towns… The expression “company town” arose in the Appalachians in the late 19th century, extensively used to refer to this type of conglomeration, while not necessarily being appropriate for all types of enterprise.

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The presentation made at the International Congress on Worker Settlements and Factory Towns held in October 2018 may be found here