Employment of Children in the Button
John Pemberton Turner (son of James
who was the son of John and the brother of Samuel Hammond)
answered the questions, as did some of the staff.
MESSRS. HAMMOND, TURNER, AND SONS, BUTTON MANUFACTURERS, SNOW
318. An old established and leading house, though, as the
mere manufacture is only a part of the present business, there
are other manufactories employing a larger number of persons.
The confined character of the buildings was pointed out to
me by the principal, who stated that there were accidental
obstructions in this case to effecting a substantial improvement,
though it was desired. Of ten boys between the age of 9 and
12 employed in cracking ivory nuts in a small dark outhouse,
five held up their hands as able to read, and five dine there.
319. Mr. J.P. Turner.I do not believe that there is
much excessive work of the young in Birmingham, but it is
quite right that if it does exist it should be prevented by
legislation. The great difficulty here would be that there
is so much work done out of factories in houses and small
shops which could never be reached. It would not, however,
be any material injury to factories if they were under regulation
and the small work-places were not. The latter depend chiefly
upon the former, and work for them. There is probably as much
work done out in small places as ever there was. The tendency
of all small fancy articles is to run into such places. The
increase of large factories has been mainly in those which
produce plain and useful goods.
Any general regulating the labour of the young would cause
some practical inconveniences at first, but these could be
met without serious difficulty or loss. If children were limited
to half a days work I should employ two sets: half days
would be less inconvenient for this work than alternate days.
As to the others, a day of 12 hours with meal-times is sufficient.
The day here scarcely exceeds that even when there is overtime,
and on ordinary occasions it is far less, the nominal time
being further shortened by the workpeople coming in late and
taking more than the stated time for their meals, so that
the average time of actual work does not probably exceed nine
hours. My business is almost entirely in fancy buttons of
different kinds, and much of the days work often depends
upon the mornings post, so that it is probably a more
variable business than that of almost any other house. The
button trade, I should say, employs more women and girls than
any trade in the town. A point in which change is most to
be desired is in the employment of married women in factories,
at least if they have children. It makes them neglect their
home and families, and they often have to pay large sums weekly
for putting their children to strangers to be cared for, and
these children in turn grow up untrained in household duties.
One result is that the husbands are led to seek for their
comforts and amusements away from their homes, often in drinking.
The women also thus bear a great part of the expense of maintaining
the family, instead of performing their natural duties at
home. In Birmingham generally the men are able to maintain
their families without the labour of their wives and young
children. If legislation could in any way discourage this
practice, thought it would not do to prohibit it directly,
it would be a good step to take, and not an undue interference
with private rights. I think it might be possible to do something
towards this, though probably only indirectly. At any rate
I think it important that attention should be called to the
point, and wonder that it has had, so far as I am aware, so
little public notice. If a right and higher feeling in the
workmen can be brought about, in any they will not like the
thought of their wives going on working in factories, a work
which stands on quite a different footing from the other miscellaneous
ways in which women can make themselves useful. This is the
feeling of many of the better kind now. Whatever tends to
raise the standard of the mens feeling will be a help.
It is desirable that parents should be bound to give their
children some education. I have understood this to be the
case in some countries; in which the children are said to
be much better educated than in England.
This manufactory labours under the disadvantage, common to
so many in Birmingham, of being old, and having grown up gradually
in a crowded space. Other houses are gradually taken on to
those in which a business started in a small way, and shops
are added one by one,a plan which is unfavourable to
freedom of space and arrangement. I have done the best that
I can to improve this place by means of ventilators, &c.;
but where the ceilings are low it is difficult to keep the
rooms fresh in summer or when gas is used.
The only accidents are from pinches in the presses. As a rule
these might be prevented by care, and in some probably, though
not in all, by mechanical arrangements, such as guards, &c.
320. John Mably, age 10.Cob. Dont know all the
letters. Used to be at school for six months, and took 1d
They got a big book at school; theres a many stories
in it; but I cannot tell any of the Bible names, except God
and Christ, and dont know what they said about them,
or where God lives. A cross is if you get a bit of wood and
nail another across it like. Dont know what a river
is, or where the fishes are. People go to another country
sometimes in a cab, sometimes in a train. They go in a train
to America, all the way. Cannot write.
321. Henry Shawe, stamper. Three men in this shop stamp,
and each has a boy to cob for him. The boys can always get
done afore we, and go at the proper time. In some work we
dont want them at all.
322. Samuel Purcell, age 9.Never at week-day school,
but go on Sunday. Cannot read.
323. Herbert Dodd, age 11. At week-day school a year
ago when 5 years old. Know my letters.
324. George Fielding, age 12.Turned an engine at Coventry,
worked at watches, and here at guns.
At day school at 6 years old, and go on Sunday now; but not
to night school. Can read, not write.
325. William Hawkins,age 9 ½.Am the youngest
of the 10 nut-cracking boys. The eldest is 12. Have cobbed
in this factory for 18 months before, and was at a jewellers
before that. Never stay later than 9p.m. here.
326. Ellen Hodgson, age 12.Am drawing through
at a press, and have done so for a year, and was here for
four years before. Have squedged my thumb and
got a black nail, and also, when I first began, my finger.
There is a bump at the end now. It was dressed for me here.
School on Sundays, and on the week-days when a little one.
Did learn a little, but can hardly tell you what. Can hardly
read at all now.
327. Ellen Williams, age 10.Put in shanks to buttons.
Was never at a week-day school, but go on Sunday. Dont
know all the letters. Learned to spell a little at the Sunday
329. Mary Ann Gale, age 11.Bump at a press.
Left the day school to stay with mother, who was ill. Go on
Sunday. Can spell [only words of about two letters].
330. Harriet Kirby, age 12.Put in shanks. Come at 8
a.m. and leave at ¼ to 8; once or twice have stayed
till 9. Stay in here for dinner, and so does another little
girl out of the nine.
Was never at a day school; go on Sunday. Can tell my letters.
[Another girl of 10 had never been to day-school, and could
not spell. Another of 10 could scarcely read It is
&c. One of 12 hadnt had much schooling.]
330. William Morris, age 9.Turn a wheel with a handle,
and run errands. Had been at school two or three months, and
left to come here. Know my ABC all through; a
is n; e is t; T
331. Kate Buckley, age 14.Draw through at a press. Sometimes
away from work if I get a pinch. Squedged a piece right out
once and couldnt work for three weeks.
Cannot count or read, but can tell the letters.
332. Amelia Edwards, age 9.Cannot read much. Dont
know m. Was never at week-day school. At chapel
they tell us about Jesus and God, but I dont know what.
He loves us, and lives up in heaven. Have not heard of the
Garden of Eden.
333. Selina Lander, age 16.Press girl. Cannot read at