1864 - Evidence on the employment of children


380. The greater part of the work of this manufactory, the buildings of which are large and new, is done by means of saws or lathes moved by steam power. The motion of the machinery is very rapid, and unprotected shafts run along a few inches in front of the legs of some of the workers. A shaft of this kind lately caused a serious accident in another factory which I visited, in which all such shafts have since been fenced. Some of the lathe work also appears dangerous to the hands, the small pieces of bone, &c. being held with the fingers. Scarcely any, however, but adults are in contact. With the machinery. The button makers in this district endeavour to prevent the employment of boys or youths at this work; but it is said that this is not the case everywhere, and two boys are engaged in it here; one of 14 was working close before one of the shafts referred to. Owing to the bad state of the trade, far below the full number of persons were at work. The air is full of fine dust thrown off from the lathes, and smells strongly of bone, &c. The dust therefore must be largely inhaled.
381. Mr W.H. Bullock.—We manufacture bone, ivory, horn and wood buttons. The greater part of the machine work is done by men and women, though there are two big boys engaged in it. The button makers' rules here do not allow of boys working machines, though I believe that in Sheffield boys do much of the work done here by men. This is principally sawing and turning by steam power. Th women drill and polish, also by steam power, on lathes. The younger boys fill in dies, the girls sew buttons on cards or work at a press, and the bigger are in the warehouse. Our numbers, however, have never been full since the beginning of the American war. In a time of good trade we should have towards 200 persons, in about the same proportions as to age and sex as at present.
When we are busy we do not work beyond 8. The system will not stand more than a certain amount of work, and if work is carried out beyond that amount it is not well done, as we have found. If the hours of the young were limited in any way we should increase the numbers if necessary at any time, which we can do, as we have enough room and machines to put on more hands. In crowded places, however, this cannot be done so well, and providing more presses, &c., causes and increased outlay of capital.
The workpoeple are required to be punctual in coming on account of the machinery. We allow women, not able to come at the proper hour, if they have a good reason, such as staying at home to attend to their families, to come in at 10½.
382. William Jones, age 14.—Turn at a steam lathe. Have done so for 2 years. Never got caught in the machinery or saw anyone else so. Have good health and appetite. Go home to dinner for an hour.
Was at school till I came here. Can read a newspaper, write, and do practice.
383. Louisa Taylor, age 15.—Card buttons. Only know the letters and spell short words like “the.” Was at a day school for a little while.


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