1841 - Evidence on the employment of children


The premises are very much crowded. The buildings where the work is carried on partly face the street and partly surround 3 small yards.
There are 2 privies close together in one of these yards, and a third in another yard These places are used promiscuously by all the workpeople; they are overlooked by shops in which men and boys are at work. I have seen, in my visits, young women and others going in and out of the privies.
The shops are very much crowded, and small when compared with the number of people employed. They are close and hot; but the heat is in part caused by the fires, which are not required in the business, but for the comfort of the people and at their wish. At night, when the gas is lighted, the heat is intense, each of the workers in the press shops requiring a separate burner. In a room measuring 13 feet 8 ½ inches by 12 feet 3 inches, and 7 feet 7 inches high, there are 9 women employed at the press and 9 little girls who prepare the buttons by “putting in.” The females complain of the great heat, and state it gives them the headache.
The youngest child in this room is 8 years, and she has been at work about 2 months. Two other girls are 9, and each has been at work about a year. The work of these children is very light, and requires no exertion. One of the little girls says, “it does not tire her, does not make her back ache, or her arms or legs.” All the women now in this shop say the children are well, and that the work does not seem to disagree with them. The children are not kept constantly at their work, but have to run about, and have sufficient but not too much exercise. They have in this shop decidedly a healthy apparance, and some of them, as well as the women, have a good deal of colour. One young woman began at “putting in” at 8, and has worked 9 years at that and the “covering:” says she did not find it laborious; and although her health is not good, she does not attribute it to the work.

No.357.—December 4. Mr. Thomas Hasluck.
Is a manufacturer of buttons generally. Employs a large number of workmen; as many as any other manufacturer in this business in the town. Has been in this trade 18 or 20 years. Has always found that the educated and instructed workpeople, of whatever age or sex, are the better conducted and more valuable than the ignorant and illiterate. In a case of strike, thinks that the educated men are more difficult to manage than others, and that they are conceited; but has found that the educated females under these circumstances are decidedly more easily reasoned with. “Is most decidedly in favour of extending education and mental culture among the manufacturing population.” Every day’s experience convinces him of the great importance of diffusing information among the labouring classes employed in manufacturies.

No. 358.—George Smith, 8 years old.
Cannot read or write. Went for a while to St. George’s day school; does not recollect how long. Never goes to church or chapel, because he has no clothes. Can’t say the Lord’s Prayer: has worked altogether about 2 years. Comes to work at 8 in the winter, and at 6 in the summer. In the summer works till it is dark, about half-past 8. In the winter, works till 8 or 9. In the winter has his breakfast before he comes; in the summer has half an hour. An hour is allowed for dinner; half an hour is allowed for tea. The meals are sometimes taken on the premises, sometimes at home. Works for a journeyman. Is paid by his master, and takes home the money to his mother. Gets 2d on Saturday night; his wages are 2s. Is a “putter-in,” that is, he puts together or arranges the different parts of the button for the journeyman.

No. 359.—John Built.
Is a button maker. About a month ago a little boy left, brother of the last witness, his age was not 6. He was removed because he was too little. These children have no father at home.

No. 360.—Samuel Page.
Is a button maker. Is married. In summer begins to work at 6 and works till dark; in winter from 7 till 9. Has worked at Mr. Hasluck’s upwards of 5 years. When there is any particular press of business or order, has to work extra time. Has sometimes worked as late as 11 or 12 at night, beginning at 6 in the morning. This might happen when trade was very brisk, once or twice a-week. It is necessary to have the boy to work at the same rate, he having to put together the several pieces of each button before it is stamped by the man. When the boys first come to the shop, where from the nature of the work there must be great heat, it is common for them to be sick and ill; has known a boy working with him to go out and be sick every 5 minutes, and sometimes they cannot be broke into it. Boys generally and in common work get tired and sleepy in the evening, about 8 or so; are inclined to drop asleep, so that they must be shook, or have a box on the head to keep them awake. As the workmen are required by the proprietor to make good any buttons which are imperfect from the wrong arrangement of. Their parts (7 in number), and as the boy has to put each part in its place, it often happens a mistake being made that the lad is corrected; has known a boy to be knocked down by an aggravated workman. When the boys get sleepy they do not notice the right side of the cloth, and so mistakes arise. Has never known a boy disabled through ill-treatment. Has often heard them say, before they were broke in, that they would rather go to the work-house.
Knows that sometimes these children get no breakfast and have nothing till dinner time. If the men did not sometimes help them by giving them part of their own dinners, they would have scarcely anything to eat. Today the boy who works with witness did not bring more than an ounce of dry bread for his tea; and believes that this system is the same in every manufactory in the general way of trade. Is confident that not one-half of them “have their fill.” When the boys go home at night, and this applies in a general way, they only get a little to stay their stomach, and in the morning they get a crust of bread; some of the masters give them a little tea or coffee. As to clothing, the greater part of these children are very badly off and complain of the cold, so that in the winter the boys may be half an hour before they can get to work being numbed with cold.
In consequence of the badness of trade and lowness of wages the children have to help very much in supporting their parents. There is more demand for the labour of children and young people than for that of adults, “half as much again.” When the children grow up there is a great difficulty of finding work. Those mechanics who can earn good wages keep their children creditably, properly clothed, send them to a day school, and keep them as they ought to be.
The people at this manufactory have often to wait at the privies. Thinks it is an injurious thing that young women should be stared at on these occasions, and that if practicable, it would be desirable to alter this system.
In consequence of the females going so early to the manufactories they have no time to learn anything of making their own clothes or those of their brothers or husbands. If the body-linen gets out of order, it must either be sent out to be mended at an expense, or left as it is. It would be a great advantage to the family if the wife knew how to cut out, make and repair the linen. In this town there are often a number of women who are unemployed, and who would thus have time, if they knew how, to repair and make the garments of the family. Generally the wives of the mechanics do not know how to make the best of the food or meat which they buy, so that some of them do not make more of a shilling than others by good management of a sixpence. Thinks it would be very beneficial and a “fine thing” for the comfort and happiness of the family if girls, when at school, could be taught the proper management of all common household matters, and that such information would tend to improve the character of the mechanic's wife and greatly to promote domestic happiness. Has often known quarrels between men and their wives in consquence of the food being ill cooked; has known the husband on such occasions to throw the meat out into the street.

No. 361 —Sarah Mason
Is a widow. Has worked at this place about 13 years. There is no restriction as to the men and women going into each other’s shops; this is not allowed by the proprietor, but it can’t be prevented, as the toolmakers have to set the tools for the women and children. It is impossible for the women to set or fix the tools, as many of them are very heavy. The premises are so small that the privies are obliged to be in common to the sexes. It often happens that the women has to wait. Many young girls are employed here, and fewer boys.


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