1841 - Evidence on the employment of children

BIRMINGHAM BUTTON MANUFACTORIES. Evidence collected by R.D. Grainger, Esq.

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.
3. Pearl.
4. Iron.
5. Horn and bone.
6. Glass.
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.

[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 master’s 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 o’clock 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.
[ *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 o’clock 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 maker’s 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. Ledsam’s, 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.


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