1864 - Evidence on the employment of children


356. The buttons made at this factory are principally bone, wood, vegetable ivory, and horn, and . several of the features of the employment in this and factories of the same kind differ considerably from those where other buttons only are made, though some covered linen and silk buttons are made here also.
357. The bone is boiled in a building in the middle of the premises, with an open door leading into a shop in which three boys, one of 8 years old, and. a girl, assist a man and a woman in making horn buttons. The smell in both these shops was offensive; in the bone-boiling shop, though no boiling was going on, apparently from sacks full of bones and refuse bone lying about; in the horn button shop from horn being heated over stoves to soften it for pressing. At the time of the cholera complaint was made of the bone-boiling here.
358. The greater part of the work is done by steam machinery, much of which appears highly dangerous, from exposed shafts, wheels, and bands, the protection originally provided being in many cases quite insufficient, and even that in some cases having been broken away and not replaced. The boxing of a large band, close beside a woman, had been away for several months. I saw, however, none but adults engaged near any parts which I noticed to be dangerous; but it appears that young persons of either sex may be, and the works were but very partially filled.
359. Circular saws for cutting ivory-nuts, &c., a work of great risk, which few appear to escape without more or less serious injury, were attended only by men; but this is said not to be the case in p1aces where the trade unions do not succeed in keeping out youths from the work.
360. Some of the shops are very low, the rafters in one or two cases knocking my hat, and many are dirty from thickly and apparently long accumulated dust of bone, wood, &c., resting on floors, &c., hanging from roofs and ceilings in cobwebs, &c. In one shop flour-like dust fell at intervals from the floor above, shaken down apparently by the vibration caused by the machinery. These unfavourable appearances may be owing in a great measure to the oldness of the buildings and the depressed state of the trade for some time past.

361. Mr. John Cope.—The number of persons that I employ is now about 100, but it varies much, and in good trade would be half as many again; the greater part are females from 7 or 8 years old upwards; but there are some boys, some at machines and some at odd jobs. Of the females, the elder work at steam lathes or hand presses; the children assist by putting in for the press women, being paid by them, at- first about 1s. or 1s. 3d. a week. The women cannot do without these children now. No doubt they did all themselves formerly, but since the prices have sunk so low it is necessary to employ children to make up by saving in the wages.
There would be no inconvenience in having two sets of children, or limiting young persons to work within a day of 12 hours. It is rarely that the hours are exceeded here. It is not to the interest of the manufacturer to work long hours, especially where there is machinery. The shorter the time in which he can get the work done, the better. The people themselves cannot work so well beyond the regular time.
My people generally have a half-day on Saturday, and make up for it by adding an hour to the other evenings during the week. It is much better for both workpeople and the employers. It gives the well-disposed an opportunity of getting into the country and enjoying themselves, and also improving their health.
It is very desirable to see whether anything can be done to better the condition of the working classes. The effect of some restrictive principle, as regards the young, would, no doubt, be beneficial; the work would, no doubt, be done if necessary, arrangements being made earlier and carried out more punctually. The effect would either be that the lazy workpeople would have to give place to those who would work or that more would be employed.
The pearl button trade is an entirely distinct branch of the button manufacture; it has been most seriously affected in common with all haberdashery by the depression of cotton. Youths are kept out of it to a great degree by the combinations of workmen.
A great deal of work is done in the town in little shops in back courts, a dozen children, perhaps, being huddled together in a shop. Perhaps the japan button makers are in as rough a state as any; some of them are as black as little sweeps.
There are a great number of evening schools in the town, and if any of my people want to go I always let them.
362. Robert Harris.—Turn wood buttons. Began at about the age of 15 or 16, at which age boys often begin. Do not consider it unhealthy. Bone working is healthy; know this because when the cholera came the bone boiling here was complained of as a nuisance, and it was decided that it was not injurious. Find no inconvenience from the dust myself. Have not seen any accidents from the shafts.
[His face and back of head are yellow with layers of wood dust.]
363. Samuel Hines.—Saw bone for buttons with a circular steam saw. Began the trade at 17, and have worked at it for 40 years, but have only sawn for 20 years. It is very dangerous work; you soon nip a finger off; I have cut a piece off the end of each of my forefingers and slit up my thumb nail, the mark of which will never go. Some work a long time without an accident, but it's all chance. If a bone is cracked you are liable to be hurt;m there are some that are lamed altogether, and no good at all afterwards. Some learn sawing as lads, but we're against lads because of the Society. If many lads learned, it would over-run the trade and give our children no chance. It's that that has ruined the trade; we have about stopped it now.
In Sheffield the work is done in a different and safer way, i.e., with a gauge, instead of pushing the bone against the saw with the hand, but we fancy it don't work so quick.
364. Charles Perkins, adult.—Turn bone buttons on a lathe. Lads begin this at about 15 if big enough.
365. Robert Fillan.—Turn. Sometimes girls have drilled at the lathes opposite. A girl of 12 could do some parts of it.
366. Mary Cardley, age 18.—Drill vegetable-ivory buttons at a lathe, and have done so for six years. Have no particular time of work, because we have what we can get; but usually we work from 9 till 7. Have worked for a week together till 9. Have come at 6 a.m. And worked until 9 or 10 p.m. Five or six years ago, but there has not been much work lately. Bring my victuals with me. Went to the lacquer brass nails when I was, I daresay, turned 7. There were a tidy few girls, and some the same size as I. Our hours were from 8 till 7.
Ain't such a capital reader; daresay I should have to spell some words [reads a child's book]. Cannot write. Have heard that diamonds are got from the seaside.
367. Ellen Moore, age 12.—Sort buttons. Was never at day-school, but go on Sundays sometimes. Cannot read at all. Went to service as a nurse when going in 7.
368. Eliza Owen, age 13.—Card buttons. Sewed for mother at home before. Was at the day-school when living in a village near Birmingham, and could read a little then, but forget it all now, and cannot write; do not go on Sunday now.
369. Berkeley Coleman, age 8.—Carry dies from the press to the emptier in the horn-button shop. Cracked nuts before.
Don't know all the letters. Was never at Sunday school, because I ain't got no clothes to go in.
370. George Mitchell, age 13.—Empty the horn-button dies. Was never at school on a week day but go on Sunday. Know the letters.
[Has perspiration in his place from the heat of the place in which he stands by the stoves.]
371. Thomas Regan, age 13.—Was at week school two or three months. Cannot read.
[These three boys are employed by a man.]
372. Fanny Smith, age 13.—“Crap” {sic} buttons at a press and work for the woman, who pays me 2s. 3d. A week.
Don't know the letters, or what I heard at chapel, or whether I was told about Christ there, or know who He was, or know the Queen's name.


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