1864 - Evidence on the employment of children


340. The work-rooms, though low, are not crowded with persons, and pipes have lately been placed over the gas-burners with the view of carrying off the impure air. Some of the women whom I asked said that the rooms had been improved by this; and the employers appear anxious to do what they can for the comfort of the workpeople. A large boiler of water is prepared for tea; the people bring only their own tea and cups.

341. Of 15 girls taken at chance out of the entire number of 20 under 13 employed here, one of 12, who went to day school three months and goes to Sunday school sometimes, knew none of the letters; three of 11, one of 9, and one of 8 did not know all; one of 11, three of 9, and one of 8 could not spell; one of 10 could scarcely be said to read; one of 12 and one of 11 could read; one of 10 could read well: i.e., three out of 15, or 20 per cent only, could read. A girl of 17 could not read without spelling; she goes to school on Sunday.

342. Mr John Chatwin.—Regulations of the young people’s labour would make but little difference to us. If they led to the work beginning earlier than the present hour in the morning, viz., 9 every day except Saturday, on which day it is 8, it would be inconvenient for the married women. It would be better if women with two or three children could stay at home altogether. We do not like children at any time under 9; they are better if they come at about 11. Children should not work more than eight hours a day besides their meals. If children under 13 had only half days, the women for whom they work might prefer girls over that age. They could well afford to pay older girls, as they get very good wages, some as much as 12s. a week, other 10s. and 7s. I think that such little girls, who get only 1s., do not answer so well to the women as helpers, as the bigger who get 1s. 3d. and 1s. 6d.
The most convenient way for us would be for the children to have all Monday for school, or to leave at 5 o’clock on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. The workpeople leave at 5 on Saturday now, because the carriers will not come late. When they used to come late work-places were open on Saturday night till 10. But little work is done on Monday, as the women reckon to make enough on the other five days.
If children are to be got to school there should be some attraction, as a meal or a piece of cake every time, which could easily be provided for by voluntary subscriptions. Unless they learn young they will not learn at all. I have tried to get big boys of 17 to learn to write, offering to pay for it, and telling them "you would be worth 1l. a week more;” but they say, “Oh! I don’t like it.” I find the girls more orderly after they have been here a bit. Sometimes women, especially Irish, come unable to tell the clock.
I have put up pipes over the gas to carry away the heat to the outer air. I have found it make a great difference in my own office and in the small workrooms. In the larger the difference in effect is less; but as the people leave at 7 not so very much is burned. The expense of putting up this piping is very trifling. If any one would suggest anything better, I should be very glad to adopt it, even for my own comfort. Where there is gas there must be some bad effects. If the windows are down, the people get toothache, and we are obliged to let them do as they please.
I believe that steam power has been applied to button making (i.e. covered buttons), but experimentally only, and not to any extent so as to answer. Restrictions on labour such as referred to would not practically diminish the labour which we can employ at present. If they did they would probably lead to inventions for economising it, and appliances taking the place of the hand. I consider that children should not be put to press or stamp work at all till they are 13. If they are, they are apt to hurt themselves; nor should they work at all with steam till that age, as they must keep up with the pace of the steam, and the revolutions are sometimes quickened. On this account there is less occasion for restrictions in employments in which steam is not used. Some of the younger ones are less fit for work from not being fed as they should be.

343. Mr. Thomas Chatwin.—I am a very great advocate for the education of the poorer classes, and have taught in a Sunday school. I think that more should be made of Sunday schools as a means of giving some secular education, e.g. in writing, although I am a Churchman myself. There might be classes on the Sunday evening, and people would be more likely to go than on other evenings, as they are clean and dressed. The additional teachers for this are a mere matter of expense, and could be got. I have found on inquiry that many of our people go to the Quakers' Sunday schools, (which is strange, seeing that this is not the national religion,) for the sake of the writing, and because they are more systematically taught, and not confined merely to the Testament. Some go to these schools when far from young. A woman who did not begin learning until 30, can now write, and is our best warehouse-woman; but such improvement at this age is a very rare case.

344. Eliza Rundell, age 8.—Look over buttons. Have been here two years, and was at three button places before. Went when going 7, and “put in.” There were six as little as I at my first place. The hours were from 8 till 7. Here they are from 8½ till 7, and Saturdays till 5.

345. Agnes Overty, age 10.—Can read [well]. Learned at Sunday school, and my brother, 15, taught me at home too.

346. Isabella Glasscott, age 13.—Put in. Can read all manner, and write a little; never did sums. Left school four years ago.

347. Mary Ann Field.—Press woman. It would be just the same to us when we got used to it if the little girls who work for us came one for one half of the day and another for the other. Half days would suit as their working every other day; but we could only pay the two what we now pay the one. There are two women who have three girls each. Coming late in the morning suits me best, because of getting the children's breakfast.


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