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Response to Review no. 516

I am grateful to James Thompson for his thoughtful and encouraging review of my book, Leisure, Citizenship and Working-Class Men in Britain, 1850–1945. Thompson captures the spirit and purpose of the book and I thank him for his assessment that the book makes a ‘significant and timely contribution to our understanding of popular leisure’. The only point to emerge that I should clarify, however, is my position on the emergence of the semi-skilled worker in British society towards the end of the nineteenth century. Thompson suggests that I may have exaggerated the extent of change in the new industries, adding that skilled labour continued to play an important role in shipbuilding and engineering. In my assessment of the importance of the semi-skilled worker in Coventry, I was specific in identifying the bicycle and car industries as sectors dominated by the young and non-apprenticed male. I am in full agreement with Thompson that in other engineering sectors, such as machine tool work, a skilled artisan was essential to the productive process. My purpose, however, for singling out the young workers in the cycle industries was that contemporaries viewed these workers very differently from their counterparts in other low-skilled industries due to their relatively high rates of pay. Indeed, I cite one academic who wrote in 1912 that wages in the Coventry bicycle industry were amongst the highest in Britain (p. 48). In short, during late nineteenth century, these semi-skilled workers in the bicycle trade were viewed very differently from their counterparts in the northern textile factories. It is a situation that confirms the book’s broader argument of the importance of regional variation, a point that, in fairness, Thompson acknowledges. Overall, however, I welcome Thompson’s wide-ranging and thorough review that effectively represents the book’s content, style and overall approach.