1864 - Evidence on the employment of
MR WILLIAM ASTON'S, BUTTON MANUFACTURER, PRINCIP STREET.
265. Of several hundred persons employed in this manufactory
about 60 only are men; 300 women, 100 girls of from 7 to 13,
200 more under 18, and the remainder boys and youths. From
the nature of the buildings the workrooms are unavoidably
much overcrowded; but those most so, being at the top, have
the advantage of being open to the roof, and thus being enabled
to be somewhat higher and have sky-lights; which however,
were not open at the time of my visit (in June). In button
manufactories generally much of the work is done by women,
sitting as close together as they can on one side of a workbench
to work the presses; and children, in rows facing, them on
the other side, who help them by putting in buttons
under the press for them, &c. These benches are generally
quite narrow for convenience of working. Some here are only
18 inches wide, and so close together that the children's
backs touch, being divided only by a board a few inches high,
which serves as a back for each seat. In such and like cases
the only means by which the children can reach their seats
is by creeping under the benches from the end or between the
womens dresses. It is obvious that under such circumstances
the amount of cubical space per head must be improperly small,
especially considering the obstacles to window ventilation
(B. 17). In some rooms the air was noticeably foul and close,
though on a cool wet day; in one, occupied however only by
women, extremely so; and in another, strong with the smell
of cookery, apparently of red herrings. Dinner, as well as
tea is taken by large numbers some of these rooms.
266. The rooms generally are heated by steam pipes (as to
the effects of which vide Nottingham Lace-finishing Evidence);
and much gas is needed. At some of the press benches there
is a gaslight to each pair of workers, and this is placed
beneath and in front of the child's face at the distance of
about a foot.
267. Many of the girls are ragged, and apparently ill fed,
and 13 young boys employed in a mere dark out-house or hovel
in cracking vegetable ivory nuts appeared especially rough
268. There is a considerable amount of machinery, but little
within reach in the parts in which most of the children work,
and serious accidents are very rare. A girl, however, of 10
years old, who as I was informed elsewhere was caught in a
band here, was admitted to the General hospital about the
time of my visit to this factory, and was reported on there
to me as having a contusion of the abdomen, and discharged
well in six days, the injuries not being severe; and
a recent serious accident to an adult female has led to the
fencing of shafts in a room in which she did not work. It
is not uncommon in factories generally for persons to be at
times in other places besides their own workrooms for errands,
meals, &c. The slight injuries, however, to fingers, nails
&c., incident to press work, are common here as elsewhere.
The noise and vibration caused by the presses, &c. is
considerable; and in one room full of young girls is increased
by bands, &c., not connected with their work.
269. The general ignorance was great. Of 80 girls between
the ages of 7 and 16,the majority being of from 9 to
11 or 12, whom I questioned in succession, taking the workers
by rows and omitting none but the apparent adults, and exclusive
of those in whose names statements are given, one girl
of 7 years old, one of 8, nine of 9, 13 of 10, eight of 11,
three of 12, two of 13, seven of 14, and one of 15, and seven
more between the ages of 8 and 10, and six between the ages
of 10 and 13, when asked by me if they could read , said No.
Of 11 of the 80 who said either yes, or that they
could read a little, not much, read, but
not spell, spell a little, read a
bit, &c., none could do more than spell short words
in a child's book, some not so much, not all knowing all the
letters. Of the remaining 11, those whom I set on in a child's
book could read easy words with more or less difficulty, and
one of the 15 said that she could read anything. Thus, of
the whole number, 72.5%admitted themselves unable to read,
13.75 practically were so, 12.5 could read a little, and the
remaining 1.25, i.e. one girl, appeared plainly competent.
The only one of the readers whom I thought it of any use to
ask if she could write said No.
270. Of the 13 nut-cracking boys referred to above, two were
13 years old, the others from that age down to 9. I examined
them as a class in school, one or two however being occasionally
absent and returning, and found that only one or two, or sometimes
a third, could answer the simplest questions. None of them
knew the Queen's name. Only two knew of London, one because
his father was killed there; the other had a brother there
and knew that it was a big place. Two had never been at any
school, four do not ever go to Sunday school, five only had
ever been to a week-day school, one of those for as much as
2½ years, the others only for from four to six months.
A few between them named Ireland, Russia and America as other
countries. One, aged 10, who stood forward as able to read,
could read a little, and one or two others said that they
could. Some of the bigger boys laughed at the idea of being
supposed to know anything, and the general knowledge of elementary
religious matters was almost nil; nine had never hear of the
Bible or knew anything that was in it.
271. It is proper to add that school teaching was tried for
a short time, but found not to be appreciated and was given
272. Mr. Wm. Aston.My manufactory employs between 800
and 900 persons, principally females. About a third of these,
including all the youngest, are employed not by me but by
the adults whom they assist, the boys by men, the girls by
women. I never myself engage persons unless they bring a good
character from a former place of work, or are promoted from
the lower parts of the work as being promising and well behaved.
It is very important to require a character, and the plan
of gradually promoting the best hands gives control over all,
and works very beneficially. When parents think that their
children can earn more, they come and press to have them promoted.
The button manufacture employs, I should say, more young girls
than any other trade in the town, There are five or six button
manufactories of importance, and several smaller. In addition
to these there several garret manufactories, employing perhaps
on the average about half a dozen persons, or sometimes only
their own families. In these cases the work is done either
in their own garrets and bedrooms, &c., or in small shops
attached, The body of those so employed would be girls. In
these places there can be no regularity of work, on account
of the smallness and uncertainty of the businesses. The different
kinds of buttons are so numerous that they cannot be classified;
but the pearl and glass buttons form entirely distinct branches
from the general manufacture.
I wish that no manufacturer of any kind could employ children
under 16 years of age; but so long as some do so all must,
or be undersold. The work now done by young children, of whom
I have such a large number, would then be done by the elder
persons themselves. The latter would thus produce less, and
the cost of the articles would have to be raised a trifle.
But this would make no difference at all to the trade if all
manufacturers were in the same position.
I also wish that the work could begin earlier in the day than
the present hour, 8½, which makes it 9 before the people
are set down fairly at work. An hour in the morning is worth
two at night; but I must conform to the general hours. If
some members of a family had to go to work earlier than others
it would involve two breakfasts at home, which would not be
put up with if it could be avoided. The hour for leaving off
is 7 p.m., and all are paid and gone quite by 4 on Saturdays.
It is only seldom, when there is a great deal of work to be
done, that these hours are exceeded for an hour or two. To
stop at 2 on Saturday would make but little difference, as
preparations would be made accordingly.
The hands in the warehouse, &c., are of a higher and more
intelligent class than those in the factory and have some
education, as they must be able to read, write, and count.
Their work is principally looking over, picking out waste,
sewing buttons on cards, wrapping up, &c. But few young
girls are employed in this. The majority are as much as 18
or 20. Some of the boys in factory are very rough; and I wonder
that the men show so little care in improving them, as it
would be for their own benefit. If the homes of rough and
neglected children were traced out, it would not doubt be
found that the fault arose from the parents being worthless
or given to drink. Accidents from machinery are very rare;
perhaps not one in three years. One happened lately from a
girl going into a room in which she did not work and reaching
over for something, when her dress was caught in a shaft.
Since then I have had screens put to these shafts. She was
taken to to hospital and much shaken, but no limbs or bones
were injured, and she soon recovered, but now is put to work
quite away from the sight of machinery.
273. William Nicholson, age 7.Shove buckles up. Was
at week-day school two months, but mother would not let me
go any longer. She paid 2d. a week. Don't know the letters.
Have been at Sunday school and church. Don't remember the
words I heard there now, but they told us about good and bad
people. Christ was a wicked man. He said the people wouldn't
believe in him, and He died. Don't know how or if he is alive
now. Preacher didn't say.
274. Matthew Collier, age 8.Here six months. Cob. Hours
are from 8½ till 7. Sometimes come at 7½ or
7 in the morning, and stay till 8 at night, but not later.
Home for an hour for dinner.
Don't know all the letters. God lives in heaven. Have not
heard of Christ or Jesus as I can remember, or of a Christian.
Have heard a many things as I cant remember. Don't know
if Im a Christian. [A boy near says, Mother told
me I was.] When people die they go to heaven; not all,
but most on em does. Tothers go to the naughty
man; some on em as is very wicked. Mother told me of
the naughty man. God made the world. At the flood there was
a good deal of rain, and it lightened and thundered; and the
walls fell down the Monday arter the flood was. There wasnt
275. Joseph Perry, age 8.Cob and sort work. Know some
of the letters. Was at school a good while, and go on Sunday
276. William Ridding, age 8.Cob. Can read. [Reads must
not tease, &c.] Dont know what it means. Sick
is when you throw up.
277. Alfred Harris, age 11.Dont know my letters.
Was at the day-school for two weeks, but sister came for me
to go to work. Was never at Sunday school. Get 1s. 3d. a week.
Tea in here at 4½.
278. Horatio Todd, age 11.Cob. Am paid by the man I
work for, 1s. 2d. a week. Here a year. Dont know B.
Have left Sunday school. Father does not tell me to go.
279. William Bramhill, stamper.The boy [last witness]
cobs for me; but if I want to work late I can do without keeping
him, as he has plenty of time to get beforehand with his work.
280. Alfred Luckman, age under 13.Our hours are from
8½ a.m. to 7 p.m. Sometimes we work from 7½
till 9, never longer than that, but most nights till 8; till
9 about once a week. The two biggest get 3s. 6d. a week, the
little ones 2s. 6d. Are paid by the hundred. So many are set
for the day. The rest is overtime. Are paid 2d. or 3d. for
ten hundred, according to the size. Some on us bring our dinner
281. Samuel Todd, age 12.Went to night-school for two
months, but left because we had to work late. School was at
7½ but we all had to work till 8½ for three
282. John Banks, age 11.Have been to night school for
the last month because mother died, and my aunt, with whom
I live, now sends me and pays 2d. a week.
283. Thomas Green, age 11.Went to Sunday school for
three weeks but mother would not let me go any longer. She
did not say why.
[The last four boys all crack nuts.]
284. Mrs. Huffs.Overseer in a press shop. There are
about 58 presses in it, and a woman and a girl work opposite
to one another at each, but they are not all full now. Each
press has a gaslight close down to it. The girls come from
7 and 8 years old upwards; some of them get to work presses
themselves by 10 at simple jobs. They go away to dinner or
stay in here as they choose. There are steam pipes around
this and other shops to warm them. The heat in winter when
the gas is burning is about the same as in summer; not too
285. Maria Page.Press woman in the same shop. We open
the windows in the morning; feel ready to faint if we don't;
it is so very close with so many breaths. When the gas is
lighted it is very hot, and we let the skylight up to let
it off. Some are subject to headache. The woman next to me
is very, and I am. Two of the four little girls just opposite
me have the sick headache.
[This woman sits facing a window, with only the bench between.
The two girls next named sit with their backs close against
sash windows, which are open, it being June, as do two other
little girls beside them. The two girls named after the next
two work in like positions in another part of the same shop.]
286. Susan Stokes, age 9.Here 2 years. Have sore throats
and sick headaches.
287. Sarah Ebb, age 9.Have sick headaches.
288. Betsey Walls, age 10.Have the flannel round my
neck because I have had lumps; they were very large, and my
throat was sore inside. Have been at the Childrens Hospital
for 2 months, and they are gone down nicely now. Have bad
boots that let the wet in.
289. Susan Russell, age 12Wear the flannel round my
throat because it is sore. It often is.
290. Emma Millington.Press woman in another shop. Have
worked a press 11 years, and began at 10 years old. Have not
the headache; the little ones have before they are used to
the work. It is very hot in summer, and in winter when the
gas is lit. It does not smell much unless it escapes. The
little girls get their fingers squeezed in the press if they
look away from their work.
291. Bridget Conroy, age 7.Put in. Here 8 months. Have
the headache many a time here. Was at week day school 3 months.
292. Jane Randall, age 10.Put in. Here a year. Minded
mothers house before. I have lost the top half of my
thumb nail; was putting the button in the die, and the girl
didnt know as my thumb was under the press.
Go to Sunday school, but never was at any other. Can
read, but cant spell it, i.e. read the letters.
[Picture of children kneeling shown.] They are saying prayers.
I only know Our Father, and say that at night
when I go to bed. Mother learned me.
293. Emma Anson, age 7.Put in. Dont know the letters.
294. Harriett Rickett, age 7.Put in. Was never in school
except on Sunday. Don't know A.
295. Emma Robinson, age 8 years 10 months.Put in. Here
18 months. Never at school on a week-day, but go on a Sunday.
[When asked to read cries.] That picture [bird] is bird.
296. Mary Conroy, age 12.Put in. Get 1s. 6d. a week.
Can spell. Made is men. Aint been
to Sunday school this three weeks. Mother wants me to mind
the house. She goes out somewhere.
297 Mary Cox.Overseer in a press shop. Here 30 years.
There are 48 presses in this shop, many of them having a girl
as putter in. The women can't do without the girls. Have had
as many as 70 women and girls in this room before a small
corner was taken off and since then as many as 60, but it
is not so full now. The girls come at about 9 years old, but
are not so nimble as if they come at 7, but that is against
the master's rule.
298. Amelia Rogers.Overseer in a press shop, in which
29 women and older girls work in pairs with 29 girls, who
put the buttons into the die. The putters in are mostly between
the ages of 9 and 13. After that age they will have a girl
under themselves at a press, or go into other branches. They
come to work at 8½ a.m., sometimes at 8, and leave
at 7 p.m., but sometimes stay later, as till 8; but very rarely
till 8½ or 9. If the women stay the girls must, as
the women cannot get on without them. The work obliges the
children to keep brisk, and keeps them from going to sleep.
Three parts out of four of them take their meals in this room,
and are in it from morning till night. Dinner is from 1 to
2.20, and tea from 4½ till 5. They take their full
time or work as they please. They would rather work their
dinner hour than have to stay extra time at night.
There is no place to wash in, not exactly convenient.
I don't addict myself to it, so they are not allowed.
[A girl whom I examined at another place (b.202) stated that
she had stayed at this (Aston's) manufactory till 9½
299. Emma Green.I see to the children in the forming
room, i.e., where the buttons are formed by machines or presses
worked by a treadle. The girls are generally between 12 and
15 years old, but some are grown up. There are 46 presses,
but they are never all full, not more than 30 or 35. The girls
never stay in the work-room at dinner time. I lock the door.
Half an hour is allowed at tea; they please themselves whether
they work or no then. At the beginning of the week they generally
go and play, and at the end stay and work. All work by the
piece, and get from 2s. 6d. a week upwards. About 3s. or 4s.
is the average. They learn the work in 3 weeks or so. Sometimes
they stay till 8½, seldom till 9; half-a-dozen times
in the year is quite as much as they do. Do not know whether
they can read. They are a pretty lot, considering.
They generally catch their fingers in the press when they
first come, because they are awkward; it is when they look
off work. They are seldom away ill. Generally open the windows
in the day, if warm, and in the winter at night. In every
room there is someone to see over the girls.
300 Elizabeth Hope, age 13.Work in a forming press.
Have pinched my thumb three times since I began, i.e. 12 months,
and twice left work three or four days for it. Was minding
my work. The press tired my leg at first, but did not hurt
301. Esther Crowder, age 13.I and my sister Amelia,
10 years old, who works beside me, have both been at week-day
and Sunday school for two years. I can tell my letters and
spell the little words; she can't tell any letters at all.
I go straight from here to school three nights a week, and
pay 2d. She doesn't go because teacher cannot understand her.
[She pronounces very imperfectly.]
She came here just before she was 10, and has pinched her
thumb two or three times [marks shown].
302. Ann Crompton, age 13.At a press towards three years,
and put in two years before. Have pinched myself once or twice
in a month, and have a black nail now [shows]. Have lost a
nail once before.
Know some of my letters. Have been at the chapel in the morning,
and heard about God being a good man. He makes us everything
to eat. The Lord told Adam and Eve not to eat one tree, and
they done it, so he turned 'em out of the gate. Don't know
if he punished them anyhow else. Christ was a good man.
303. Mary Ann Bartly, age 9.Put in for a woman. Dine
at home Mondays and Tuesdays, and other days in the shop,
and fetch mistress's dinner. Very nearly all on 'em stays.
Shove the buttons down in the die under the press. The little
girl next to me has pinched her finger.
304. Sarah Hooper, age 15.At a press in another shop.
Sometimes stay till 8 or 9 p.m., but not often. Some stay
to meals. Am not strong in health. We doesn't have sufficient
to eat as we ought. Mother is a cripple with children, and
father is dead. Get 3s. a week.
Was at school when father was living, five years ago. Cannot
305. Mary Ann Collins, age 15.Cannot read. Was at week-day
school when going on 12, and did go on Sunday.
306. Ann Maria Thomas, age 13.Black stick,
i.e. stick pieces of steel into a round board covered with
black sticky stuff. Always go away to dinner. Get 2s. 6s.
a week. Pat 2d. of it for my own schooling and put the rest
in a bank. Have done so for a while. Father is a pork butcher.
Am always well and don't have headaches. [Works close by a
Was at a week-day school a year; Go on Sundays and three nights
a week. If work is going on late I ask for leave to go. Can
read [a little]. Cannot spell cow from sound.
They are those live things. Can write a copy but
not reckon up figures.