1841 - Evidence on the employment of children


The shops are good, and sufficiently lofty. In those where the horn is boiled, there are means provided for carrying off the steam. The warehouse is a large room where a considerable number of girls are employed; it is well lighted, but as the windows do not open, and there is only one aperture in the ceiling or roof, it hot and close. The premises are whitewashed twice a-year. On the whole the shops, &c., are well regulated.

No 373.—Mr T.W. Ingram
Is principal of the establishment. Employs a considerable number of children and young persons, some of the females are employed in the warehouse in carding the buttons, &c.; others of the females, and all the boys, are engaged in the business, making horn buttons.
This is a manufacture which has long been carried on, certainly for a century; but of late years, from improvements in the dies, the buttons are much more perfect and beautiful, and consequently the demand has immensely increased. The American market consumes the large proportion of what he makes. [Witness presented some very beautiful specimens for the central board.]
If children under 9 were not allowed to work, it would not interfere with his business. He does not like to have children so young, and thinks they ought not to be allowed to labour.
As regards children between 9 and 13, the mode in which his manufactory is carried on would cause a great inconvenience if they were limited to 8 hours a day. It is the custom here, and very generally in all trades in Birmingham, for the people to work 12 hours a day, out of which 2 are deducted for meals, so that they are actually engaged 10 hours. In his business the men require the continuous assistance of the boys (most of whom are under 13,) and could not work without them. Each man has usually 3 boys, who are employed in placing the buttons in the dies, arranging the dies, taking out the buttons after they have been pressed by the adult, &c. Some of the younger girls are similarly employed, as regards the women. If children between 9 and 13 were limited to 8 hours, he must therefore either discharge all of that age, and take on elder hands, or the men must reduce their work to 8 hours; the nature of the business prevents any other arrangement. The wages of the children are already so very low, averaging 2s. a-week, that if two sets, each labouring 5 hours per diem, were to be employed, the remuneration would be so small that he thinks the parents could not keep them.
The processes in which the children are engaged are not unwholesome. Some of the shops are very hot, because the horn is in some required to be boiled and in others heated by the press; there is in some an unpleasant smell, but the people do not think it is unwholesome.
Is very little subject to over-work, as he takes on extra hands whenever any particular orders require it.
The children are not employed where the machinery is at work; no accidents have occurred within the last three years; is very careful in having the machinery fenced off.
With one exception, which the business renders necessary, the males and females work in separate shops; has always been anxious to prevent or limit intercourse in this respect.
The privies are separate, for the girls in the warehouse there is a distinct water closet. Thinks that if the privies in a large manufactory were used promiscmuously, that it would tend to destroy proper and decent feelings.
His experience of the habits and conduct of mechanics, induces him to express his decided opinion in favour of their being educated. Thinks it would be a great advantage, in a national point of view, if the children of the labouring classes received a sound intellectual, moral and religious education. An efficient school of design would be of great service in this town; his own business requires varied and tasteful designs.
(Signed) T.W. INGRAM

No 374 —William Hall, 10 years old.
Can read an easy book, can’t write. Went to a national school 12 months, and to a Sunday school 3 months. Does not go now, because his father won’t let him. Used to read the Testament, but has forgotten it; does not try. Can't say the Lord’s Prayer; does not say his prayers; does not go to church or chapel; neither his father nor mother tell him to say his prayers.
Comes at 6½ A.M., and 1eaves at 7 P.M., never later. Comes half an hour before the men to light the fire, &c.
Has ½ hour for breakfast, 1 hour for dinner, and ½ hour for tea. Has all his meals at home.
“Has had many a crack on the head from the fly,” [that is the lever used by the men in working the press]; has a black eye from it.
Had a fortnight at Christmas, 2 days at Easter.
Works for ____ {sic} Routledge; is paid by him. Earns 1s. 6d. a week, set wages.
Gets a rap now and then; has never known any lad seriously beaten. Has good health; it is easy work; is not tired at night.
(Signed) WILLIAM HOLL {sic} XX his mark.
[Note.—The mode in which the lever of the press is used in the horn-button manufacturing appears very dangerous, and liable to cause accidents to the boys.]


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