On my parent's marriage certificate dated 1954, my mother's occupation is given as "Viewer". From oral testimony, I know that they met while both working at the Rover car factory in Solihull, UK.

I've googled without success to find a description of what a "Viewer" did, so am asking here for either an explanation or a pointer to where I can find one.

  • 2
    I don't know Britishisms, and it seems likely to be jargon, but perhaps it is synonymous with "inspector", as in a quality-control position.
    – RobertShaw
    Dec 14, 2012 at 19:07

3 Answers 3


The OED gives the following definitions:

viewer, n.
    a. A person appointed to examine or inspect something, either on a special occasion or permanently; in later use esp. an inspector or examiner of goods supplied by contract; †spec. in Law, one appointed by a court to inspect a place, property, etc., and report upon it.
    b. An overseer, manager, or superintendent of a coal-mine or colliery.

Based on the context – the individual was a woman, and it was the 1950s – I think the first definition is most likely the one that applies in your case.

Here is a job advertisement from the Birmingham Evening Despatch on 25 May 1944:

12 Female Viewers (Inspectors) for urgent essential work; excellent wages and conditions; light work; canteen and welfare facilities

You will note that this is an advertisement from the Hercules Cycle and Motor Company in Birmingham seeking female viewers (inspectors).

Another advertisement, from the Birmingham Daily Post, 24 Nov 1939, gives an idea of the technical skills one employed in this position may be required to have:

Female Viewers, used to small accurate-machined parts; must be able to read micrometer and blueprint; preferably A.I.D. approved.

A search of other newspapers from the 1940s and 1950s will return many similar advertisements in a variety of different industries. The above examples may be war-related employment; the Second World War may have been a reason why more women became employed in this type of role. Other job advertisements were looking separately for inspectors and viewers, suggesting that viewers were in some factories subordinate to "Inspectors". There are many advertisements looking for male inspectors or viewers as well. The nature of the occupation of viewer no doubt varied greatly depending on the industry and employer, but it was probably quite skilled and technical work.


I don't know if it applies to the automotive trade in the 1950s but a viewer in coal mines, certainly in the 1880s was a section manager, overseeing a department or coal seam. It could be that she had a managerial role, overseeing a certain part of the manufacturing process.

I don't know for sure, but it does apply to mining. It was one of the things I remember vividly from a school visit to a coal mine in Wales. The role tended to be given to women or older men who weren't physically able to do the manual labour.

Look forward to anyone else who might have a better explanation.


My female ancestor is listed as a 'Viewer - Fancy Goods' in the 1939 census which further supports defintion 1 in roles oustide engineering/mining:

"A person appointed to examine or inspect something, either on a special occasion or permanently; in later use esp. an inspector or examiner of goods supplied by contract"

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.