House of commons committee interviews 1832

Hannah Brown was born in Bradford in 1809. Hannah was interviewed by Michael Sadler.

Question: How early did you begin to work in mills?
Answer: At nine years old.

Question: What hours did you work?
Answer: I began at six o'clock, and worked till nine at night.

Question: What time was allowed for your meals?
Answer: No, none at all.

Question: Did this work affect your limbs?
Answer: Yes, I felt a great deal of pain in my legs.

Question: Did it begin to produce deformity in any of your limbs?
Answer: Yes; both my knees are rather turned in.

Question: Was there punishment?
Answer: Yes

Question: Has Mr. Ackroyd ever chastised you in any way?
Answer: Yes; he has taken hold of my hair and my ear, and pulled me, and just given me a bit of a shock, more than once.

Question: Did you ever see him adopt similar treatment towards any others?
Answer Yes: I have seen him pull a relation of mine about by the hair.

Question: Do you mean he dragged her?
Answer: Yes, about three or four yards.

Eliza Marshall was born in Doncaster in 1815. At the age of nine her family moved to Leeds where she found work at a local textile factory. Eliza was interviewed by Michael Sadler on 26th May, 1832.
Question: What were your hours of work?
Answer: When I first went to the mill we worked for six in the morning till seven in the evening. After a time, we began at five in the morning and worked till ten at night.

Question: Were you very much fatigued by that length of labour?
Answer: Yes.

Question: Did they beat you?
Answer: When I was younger they used to do it often.

Question: Did the labour affect your limbs?
Answer: Yes, when we worked over-hours I was worse by a great deal; I had stuff to rub my knees; and I used to rub my joints a quarter of an hour, and sometimes an hour or two.

Question: Were you straight before that?
Answer: Yes, I was; my master knows that well enough; and when I have asked for my wages, he said that I could not run about as I had been used to do.

Question: Are you crooked now?
Answer: Yes, I have an iron on my leg; my knee is contracted.

Question: Have the surgeons in the Infirmary told you by what your deformity was occasioned?
Answer: Yes, one of them said it was by standing; the marrow is dried out of the bone, so that there is no natural strength in it.

Question: You were quite straight till you had to labour so long in those mills?
Answer: Yes, I was as straight as any one.

David Rowland worked as a scavenger at a textile mill in Manchester. He was interviewed by Michael Sadler on 10th July, 1832.

Question At what age did you commence working in a cotton mill?
Answer Just when I had turned six.

Question What employment had you in a mill in the first instance?
Answer That of a scavenger.

Question Will you explain the nature of the work that a scavenger has to do?
Answer The scavenger has to take the brush and sweep under the wheels, and to be under the direction of the spinners and the piecers generally. I frequently had to be under the wheels, and in consequence of the perpetual motion of the machinery, I was liable to accidents constantly. I was very frequently obliged to lie flat, to avoid being run over or caught.
The working hours were dreadful and many doctors thought that it was bad for the children who were working over ten hours per day.

Elizabeth Bentley, interviewed by Michael Sadler on 4th June, 1832.
I worked from five in the morning till nine at night. I lived two miles from the mill. We had no clock. If I had been too late at the mill, I would have been quartered. I mean that if I had been a quarter of an hour too late, a half an hour would have been taken off. I only got a penny an hour, and they would have taken a halfpenny.
The employers were made by law to give their employees food so as a result the food was often bad and they were made to clean the machines while eating;

Sarah Carpenter was interviewed by The Ashton Chronicle on 23rd June, 1849.
Our common food was oatcake. It was thick and coarse. This oatcake was put into cans. Boiled milk and water was poured into it. This was our breakfast and supper. Our dinner was potato pie with boiled bacon it, a bit here and a bit there, so thick with fat we could scarce eat it, though we were hungry enough to eat anything. Tea we never saw, nor butter. We had cheese and brown bread once a year. We were only allowed three meals a day though we got up at five in the morning and worked till nine at night.
The factories were dangerous places and over eighthundred deaths happened each year as a result, lots of injuries also took place.

William Dodd wrote about the disabilities he suffered from his time as a child worker in his pamphlet A Narrative of a Factory Cripple (1841)

At the age of six I became a piecer. In the spring of 1840, I began to feel some painful symptoms in my right wrist, arising from the general weakness of my joints, brought on in the factories. The swelling and pain increased. The wrist eventually measured twelve inches round and I was worn down to a mere skeleton. I entered St. Thomas's Hospital and on 18th July, I underwent the operation, the hand being taken off a little below the elbow. On dissection, the bones of the forearm presented a very curious appearance - something similar to an empty honeycomb, the marrow having totally disappeared.

I have frequently worked at the frame till I could scarcely get home, and in this state have been stopped by people in the streets who noticed me shuffling along, and advised me to work no more in the factories; but I was not my own master. During the day, I frequently counted the clock, and calculated how many hours I had still to remain at work; my evenings were spent in preparing for the following day - in rubbing my knees, ankles, elbows, and wrists with oil, etc. I went to bed, to cry myself to sleep, and pray that the Lord would take me to himself before morning.

William Dodd toured Britain in 1841 to collect evidence to help Lord Ashley and the factory reform movement. His book The Factory System Illustrated was published in 1842. The book included and interview with Mary Bucktrout from Leeds.

Mary Bucktrout was a fine girl of fourteen years of age. She was working in the card-room of Mr. Holdsworth's flax mill in Leeds, and met with an accident while taking out some waste flax from the machinery, by order of the overlooker; "who," she says, "threatened to fine her 6d a time, if she did not keep her machine clean". She has lost by this, and a preceding accident, the right arm, a little below the elbow, and the thumb of her left hand. Her master had given her one shilling, which is all she had; and the father of the girl, who is a poor working man with five children, has been obliged to support her since. She had been working two years in the same mill. She is remarkably interesting girl, and is at present in St. John's School, under the care of Dr. Hook, the vicar of Leeds, receiving such instruction as may enable her to undertake the management of an infant school. I was extremely pleased to hear her read, to see her write. The manner in which she holds her pen is rather curious; for this purpose she has a contrivance made of leather, somewhat similar to the two forefingers of a left-hand glove; these are fixed together, in close connection with a small leathern tube, for holding the pen, which, by means of this tube, is made to lie on the upper side of her two forefingers, and is moved up and down, in the act of writing, by the first and second joints of the said finger. In this school there is also a governess, who has lost one arm by an accident in a factory.

John Fielden, speech in the House of Commons (9th May 1836)
At a meeting in Manchester a man claimed that a child in one mill walked twenty-four miles a day. I was surprised by this statement, therefore, when I went home, I went into my own factory, and with a clock before me, I watched a child at work, and having watched her for some time, I then calculated the distance she had to go in a day, and to my surprise, I found it nothing short of twenty miles.

J. R. Clynes became a piecer in Oldham in 1879.
When I achieved the manly age of ten I obtained half-time employment at Dowry Mill as a "little piecer." My hours were from six in the morning each day to noon; then a brief time off for dinner; then on to school for the afternoons; and I was to receive half a crown a week in return.

The noise was what impressed me most. Clatter, rattle, bang, the swish of thrusting levers and the crowding of hundreds of men, women and children at their work. Long rows of huge spinning-frames, with thousands of whirling spindles, slid forward several feet, paused and then slid smoothly back again, continuing the process unceasingly hour after hour while cotton became yarn and yarn changed to weaving material.

Often the threads on the spindles broke as they were stretched and twisted and spun. These broken ends had to be instantly repaired; the piecer ran forward and joined them swiftly, with a deft touch that is an art of its own.

I remember no golden summers, no triumphs at games and sports, no tramps through dark woods or over shadow-racing hills. Only meals at which there never seemed to be enough food, dreary journeys through smoke-fouled streets, in mornings when I nodded with tiredness and in evenings when my legs trembled under me from exhaustion.

John Edward Taylor, Notes and Observations (December, 1819)
Where is Lord Castlereagh's authority for asserting that the Riot Act was read, not once, but three times? Who told him that a magistrate, in attempting to read it, was trampled under foot? Or, that they sent a third magistrate to read it at the hustings, in order that no one might be ignorant of the fact of its having been read? Let him, if he can, produce one man, above the character of a lag, or a police officer, who will pledge his veracity for the fact; and I now assert my fullest conviction, that not one respectable person can be found, who will vouch of his own knowledge, that the Riot Act was read once in any manner, comprehending even a tolerable approach to the form prescribed by the Statute.

That any person should gravely assert, or asserting, expect to obtain credit, that an unarmed multitude, amongst whom were many women and children, should attack a body of cavalry, armed with swords and pistols, is indeed to me astonishing.
A scavenger was one of the most dangerous jobs in the factory and it was assigned to the smallest of children.

William Cobbett reported a visit to a textile factory in the Political Register that he made in September, 1824 (20th November, 1824).
The 1st, 2nd and 3rd of September were very hot days. The newspapers told us that men had dropped down dead in the harvest fields and the many horses had fallen dead in the harvest fields and that many horses had fallen dead upon the road. Yet the heat during these days never exceeded eighty-four degrees in the hottest part of the day. What, then, must be the situation of the poor children who are doomed to toil fourteen hours a day, in an average of eighty-two degrees? Can any man, with a heart in his body, and a tongue in his head, refrain from cursing a system that produces such slavery and such cruelty?
Pollution was a factor which was thought about but then discarded ; most people had this opinion.

Robert Blincoe was interviewed by John Brown in 1828.
The blacksmith had the task of riveting irons upon any of the apprentices, whom the master ordered. These irons were very much like the irons usually put upon felons. Even young women, if they suspected of intending to run away, had irons riveted on their ankles, and reaching by long links and rings up to the hips, and in these they were compelled to walk to and fro from the mill to work and to sleep
If the worst happened and fell into debt which would probably be because you had been sacked you would be taken to the workhouse.

In his book, A Memoir of Robert Blincoe, John Brown recounts Blincoe's first experience of the factory apprentice house.
The room in which Blincoe and several of the boys were deposited, was up two pair of stairs. The bed places were a sort of cribs, built in a double tier all round the chamber. The apprentices slept two in a bed. The governor called the strangers to him and allocated to each his bed-place and bed-fellow, not allowing any two of the newly arrived inmates to sleep together. The boy whom Blincoe was to chum, sprang nimbly into his berth, and without saying a prayer, or anything else, fell asleep before Blincoe could undress himself. When he crept into bed, the stench of the oily clothes and greasy hide of his sleepy comrade almost turned his stomach.

Not everyone was against child labour. Edward Baines in his History of the Cotton Manufacture (1835) said, “It is not true to represent the work of piecers and scavengers as continually straining. None of the work in which children and young persons are engaged in mills require constant attention. It is scarcely possible for any employment to be lighter. The position of the body is not injurious: the children walk about, and have the opportunity of frequently sitting if they are so disposed.

The noise and whirl of the machinery, which are unpleasant and confusing to a spectator unaccustomed to the scene, produce not the slightest effect on the operatives habituated to it. The only thing that makes factory labour trying is that they are confined for long hours, and deprived of fresh air: this makes them pale, and reduces their vigour, but it rarely brings on disease. The minute fibres of cotton which float in the rooms are admitted, even by medical men, not to be injurious to young persons.
Punishments were handed out regularly in some mills the least severe of these was being dunked in a cistern and the most severe would be being sacked”.

Angus Reach, in the The Morning Chronicle of 1849 said
”The piecers, either girls or boys, walk along the mule as it advances or recedes, catching up the broken threads and skillfully reuniting them. The scavenger, a little boy or girl, crawls occasionally beneath the mule when it is at rest, and cleans the mechanism from superfluous oil, dust and dirt.

The opinions of two medical gentleman of Manchester, with whom I have conversed upon the subject of factories and health, some to this: that the insalubrity of Manchester and of the Manchester operatives is occasioned not by the labour of the mills, but by the defective domestic arrangements for cleanliness and ventilation.”


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