1841 - Evidence on the employment of
BIRMINGHAM BUTTON MANUFACTORIES. Evidence collected by R.D.
No. 345. May 29.Mr. Chatwin.
Is a manufacturer of buttons, employing a large number of
hands, altogether upwards of 200. The various kinds of button-manufactory
are as follows:-
1. Gilt and plated and metal.
2. Florentine and silk.
5. Horn and bone.
7. White metal.
A great many children are employed in these branches, especially
in the pearl and florentine. Many begin at a very young age,
at 7. At first they earn about 1s 6d a week.
Thinks it is desirable, if all parties were regulated, that
children should not be allowed to work under 9. Such a restriction
would not interfere with the button trade in general.
It would be very injurious if children between 9 and 13 were
limited to 8 hours a day, especially in those cases, which
are numerous, in which they work continuously with the adults.
It would be preferable to extend the total prohibition to
10, and at that age children should work 10 hours.
It would cause no inconvenience if young persons up to 18
years were restricted to 12 hours, exclusive of meals.
Is decidedly of opinion that it is desirable the manufacturing
population should receive a sound intellectual, moral and
religious education. Thinks that education should be compulsory,
and it is desirable evening instruction should be continued
to the age of 15 or 16. To render the system effective, believes
it will be indispensable that national funds should be provided.
Has always found that the educated mechanics are more valuable
and better conducted than the ignorant and illiterate.
(Signed) JOHN CHATWIN.
[Evidence at the Town Hall.]
No 346. January 2, 1841.Mr Daniel Baker
Is a clerk in a manufactory of buttons, where many children
and women are employed. In the button trade, generally, many
children are employed at an early age, from 6 years upwards.
The florentine button trade is a branch in which very young
children are employed, particularly girls. The stampers require
each a boy, who generally begins to work very young at cobbing.*
These boy are paid by the men whom they assist, not by the
master; they commonly remain the same number of hours at work
as the men. The common hours are from 8 A.M. till 7 P.M. in
the winter, and from 7 till 7 in the summer, half an hour
being allowed for breakfast and one hour for dinner. The boys
often go for their masters tea, but they have no time
allowed for their own, unless by quickly working, so as to
gain time. When trade is good the regular hours are often
exceeded; the men will come, summer and winter, at 6 A. M.
if there is a press of work, and remain till 8 or 9 P.M. Has
known in the horn button trade the men and boys working an
incredible time; in this branch the boys who assist the men
must stop till the last button is made, the boy having to
put each button into the die before it is pressed. Witness
having been employed in another branch of the horn button
manufactory, has gone in the winter at 4 A.M. and stayed till
9 and half past 9 P.M., and has found the men and boys at
work in the morning and left them there at night. Knows one
man who has carried this over-working on for 2 years. There
were in the manufactory alluded to two avaricious men who
worked overtime, and this made the others imitate them. It
has happened that those men have sometimes gone to work for
the morning before the family of the proprietor was gone to
bed. Never knew on these occasions of a relay of children;
knows that the same children worked as long as the men. The
boys so employed were often the sons of the men whom they
assisted but, as each man requires in the horn button making
3 boys of nearly the same age, they were frequently the children
of strangers. All these children were paid by the men whom
they assisted, and were by them corrected. Has known the boys
severely beaten, and in an extreme case struck with iron tongs.
The boys became extremely tired and drowsy, and were often
pushed and cuffed about. The proprietor did not take any efficient
means to prevent this ill-treatment of the boys, and did not
interfere unless he heard them cry, which was not often, as
he was at a distance from the shop, or unless the parents
made a complaint, which often happened. Does not know of any
complaint being carried before the magistrates. Thinks that
the boys would not have been ill treated if they had been
paid by the master and not by the mechanic.
Has heard of boys being kept till 9 and 10 oclock P.M.
at the pearl button trade. In the horn button trade the workshop
is very hot, a high degree of heat being required in order
that the horn may take the impression of the die; so that
at night the shops get intensely hot.
(Signed) DANIEL BAKER.
[ *This is merely arranging the buttons in rouleaux in readiness
for the stamper.]
[At the Town Hall.]
No: 347. December 7, 184O.William Green.
Is a metal button stamper. Each adult requires a boy to help,
so that the latter must be in attendance early or late. The
common hours of work are from 8 A.M. till 7 P.M., one hour
being allowed for dinner. This branch is subject to great
fluctuations, so that it often happens there is a press of
business, and then there is overtime. On such occasions frequently
works from 6 A.M. till 9 P.M., and sometimes begins earlier
and leaves off later; has worked from 4 or 5 oclock
in the morning till 9 and 10 at night. During this time the
boy has to be in constant attendance. The boys begin to work
generally about 7 or 8 years of age. The business these boys
have to perform is cobbing, or arranging the buttons
in a row, in readiness for the hot stamper. This is an easy
process in itself, but is fatiguing, from the number of hours
the children are employed. About six times a day the boys
have to shake the buttons in a bag in order to remove the
roughness after they have been annealed. This is very heavy
work, and would tire a man; it is also unhealthy, from the
dust which arises. Towards the evening when there is extra
work, the boys get sleepy and tired, and in order to keep
them at their work they must be shaken, or otherwise
intimidated. They generally object to the over-hours,
and would not of their own accord work so long. More generally
the boys do not receive the money which they earn by over-work,
but it is given to their parents. The wages of the cob
boys is from 1s to 2s a week.
In the button makers department for manufacturing patent
collet buttons, the work for boys is more fatiguing.
One boy is required for each adult, the age being from 7 to
8. The hours are generally from 7 till 9 in the winter, and
in the summer from 6 till 9. The work is often suspended in
the middle of the day for an hour or two, waiting for some
parts of the buttons from the other departments; on these
occasions the mechanics stay late at night to make up the
lost time. There is no allowance or payment made for such
over-work. The boys in this branch are very much confined,
and there is a great heat from the stoves which are used.
Thinks that the boys are not well used; they are beaten, especially
towards the night.
[At the Town Hall]
No. 348.John Harrald.
Button stamper. On one occasion, when working at some copperwork,
was made ill himself from the dust, and believes the boys
suffered from the same work. In the manufactory where he formerly
worked, Mr. Ledsams, Great Charles Street, it occasionally
happened that the stampers would have to wait in the middle
of the day an hour or two for blanks. When these
were procured, the men, anxious to make up the lost time,
would work very rapidly and if the boys could not keep up
with them they were ill use and knocked about. Has seen little
boys, 7, 8, or 9 years old, seriously beaten. All this mischief
would not have arisen if the manufactory had been properly
conducted, or if the men had been paid by the week. No such
delays took place as regards those paid by the week. As it
was, the people were treated as if they were machines. Has
several times worked all night when there has been an order
for stamping copper coin. The boys must work almost as long
as the adult; they would then go home for 3 or 4 hours for
sleep and return, or sometimes get no sleep at all, but remain
on the premises.