1841 - Evidence on the employment of
PEARL BUTTON TRADE.
No. 377. January 5, 1841.A.B.
Small masters in this branch employ a considerable number
of children at a very early age, as soon as they are
anyway tall enough to reach the lathe. The hours of
work are irregular; when trade is brisk the children are kept
later, not beyond 8 or 9 P.M. Thinks they are seldom kept
so late. Where her husband works, the children are sent home
earlier than the men. Boys and girls are both sent to pearl
button-making. It is all standing work. It is very fatiguing
for grown-up people, as well as children. The foot is required
to turn the treadle, at the time the hands are
employed. At some places the children are knocked about and
severely used. It is considered to be a very unhealthy trade.
Thinks the children are stunted in their growth and neglected
in their education.
[Note.This account was given me by a very decent woman,
the wife of a mechanic, who is a pearl button-maker. Her house
is neat and tidy; there are 4 small rooms; the family consists
of the father, mother, and one daughter, grown up. The father
earns, at good work, 18s., but the prices are very much reduced,
which is attributed to the work of men being done by women.
The trade has been very bad for twelve months. The mother
can read a little, the daughter was taught to read and write;
went to a day-school till 8 years, and to a Sunday-school
till 12. Neither the mother nor daughter go out to work; the
father thinking it must be a poor house that will not
employ a woman. This house is well furnished, and has
altogether a comfortable appearance. There are sufficient
kitchen utensils, candle-sticks, and spoons; a metal soup
ladle was on the table for dinner which consisted of meat,
potatoes, and bread. A clock in the adjoining room. The house
is situated in a court, but this is large and spacious, being
towards the outskirts of the town. The rent is 3s. 6d.]
No 378. May 27.Mr William Tonks.
Employs 2 boys under 13, and 3 under 18, and 1 girl under
13. They all work in the business. The regular time is 10
hours, exclusive of meals, for which two hours or more are
allowed. If trade is brisk, they go on till 8 or 8½
P.M.; this hour is rarely exceeded here. In some shops they
work later, till 9 or 9½, beginning at 6 or 7 A.M.
The children and young persons stop on these occasions; they
cannot do without them.
Children in this branch generally begin at 8 or 9 years old.
The work is light, but it is not considered healthy. It has
not hurt him, but has known several who were not accustomed
to it, who have died from it, The dust causes sickness and
Thinks, by all means, that children, instead of coming to
work so young, should have an opportunity of going to school.
(Signed) WILLIAM TONKS.
No. 379.William Tonks, 14 years old.
Can read a little, cant write.
Has been in the business 5 years. The work agrees with him;
it does not make him sick or cough. Has good health.
(Signed) WILLIAM TONKS X his mark
No. 380.Edward Tonks, 10 years old.
Can read a little, cant write.
Has been in the business 3 years. It agrees with him. Has
good health; has no cough nor sickness.
(Signed) EDWARD TONKS X his mark
No. 381.December 3, 1840. A. B.
From the nature of his employment has free and unconstrained
access to one of the largest manufactories of the town, where
upwards of 200 mechanics are employed; also knows several
of the smaller manufactories where from 10 to 18 or 20 persons
are employed. Thinks that the workpeople are in all respects,
physical and moral, more favourably placed in the smaller
than in the larger manufactories. In the large manufactory
above alluded to, the workpeople are very much crowded together;
in fact, when they are all present, there is hardly room to
walk. It is the same in several other florentine button and
steel pen manufactories. The men and womens shops are
close together, and overlook each other. In the above manufactory,
with 200 mechanics, there are only two privies, which were
designed for the separate use of the men and women, but the
fact is that they are promiscuously used by both sexes. Both
these privies are in sight of three of the shops where men
work. Has often seen, in consequence of the number of people,
young girls and women, as many as half a dozen, waiting at
the privies till the men came out. On these occasions it often
happens that jesting takes place between the parties. A great
many young girls, and also boys, belong to this manufactory.
Has heard from workmen that the privies are used in common
at other large manufactories.
Has seen improper proceedings between the men who set the
tools and the women into whose shops they go, and this before
the little girls belonging to the shop. The proprietor selects
the tool-makers from the married men, but this does not prevent
the evil alluded to.
Thinks that one principal cause of the promiscuous intercourse
among the sexes depends on the crowded state of the buildings;
and that if the shops covered a larger space of ground, there
is nothing in the manufacturing process itself, speaking of
the florentine button trade, which would interfere with the
complete separation of men and women.
[Note.This evidence was guaranteed by a trustworthy
police constable, to whom the witness was known.]