Employment of Children in the Button
Samuel Hammond Turner (died February
1841) answered the questions in 1840: members of staff (children
and adults) were also questioned,
Taken from Commission on child labour 1841, folios
129 to 133. Evidence collected by RD Grainger Esq. at Birmingham
EMPLOYMENT OF CHILDREN.
December 3, 1840.Messrs. TURNER & SONS, BUTTON
MANUFACTURERS, Snow Hill.
This is one of the principal establishments in the button
trade. The premises, generally speaking, are spacious; many
of the shops are light and airy; in one, where there were
11 workers, the length was 16 feet 6 inches by 13 feet 11
There are distinct privies for the males and females, and
those for the latter are not overlooked by the men.
Most creditable care is taken by the principals to insure
good behaviour, and to prevent visiting and intercourse between
the shops of the men and women. A regulation has been established,
from which, if universally adopted, the best results might
justly be anticipated no person is admitted to work
on the premises without producing a character.
Every facility was afforded me in prosecuting the inquiry
by the principals. I experience much pleasure in offering
my testimony to the good management and creditable state of
Some beautiful specimens were presented to the Commission
by Messrs. Turner.
December 3, 1840 Samuel H Turner, Esq
Is a partner in the firm of Turner and Sons, button manufacturers.
Employs about 500 persons in this establishment. They have
also establishments at London, Manchester, Leek, and Paris.
Has great experience of the general habits and characters
of the persons employed in his manufactory. Knows all these
work-people personally. Has had constant opportunity of contrasting
the conduct of the educated and well informed, with that of
the ignorant and ill informed. Finds that the educated workman
is unquestionably of much greater value to his employer than
the uneducated. Would not knowingly employ even one of the
very lowest mechanics, who could not read. Finds that exactly
in proportion to the extent of a mechanics information
is he respectful in his behaviour, and generally well conducted;
and on the other hand, the ignorant are less respectful, and
not so well disposed towards their employers. In the event
of any disagreement between the workmen and their employers,
the most ignorant are always the first to complain, and are
invariably the most suspicious and untractable. Knows an instance
3 years ago when a combination took place among the button
burnishers, of 5 men out of 25 employed, who having joined
the combination, would not secede. These men were the least
educated of the 25, and with the most contracted notions.
As regards the domestic habits of the educated class they
are more attentive to the well-being of their families, they
invariably educate their children, which he infers among other
means of observation, from the fact that the children of such
parents never swear or use bad language, comparatively speaking.
Their houses are more cleanly. There is better economy, every
thing, in short, is made the best of. Men who are educated,
and earn as much as 18s. or 1l. a-week, rarely, allow their
wives to be employed at manufactories; they stay at home to
superintend their domestic affairs. As a general rule they
abstain from intemperate habits and they are enabled to bring
up their families well. Has a great number of such mechanics
whose average wages would amount to 18s. Among the stampers
earning that sum there is not one who wife goes out to manufacturing
labour. The educated class are attentive to their religious
duties and send their children to Sunday-schools, none of
these would be seen in their working clothes on the Sunday,
but would be neatly dressed. If a man be seen going about
with his apron on, on the Lord's-day, should infer he was
a drunkard and of irregular habits.
Is of opinion that in all respects, it is even more important
that the females should be educated than the men; because
they have higher and more important duties to perform in bringing
up their children and forming their habits. Thinks that whilst
they are at school, they should not only be taught reading,
writing, &c, but also the art of making and repairing
their own clothes. If a general system of education were adopted,
is of opinion that it would be desirable there should be attached
to it a school of design, for the higher class of mechanics.
Such an institution would not only prove beneficial as an
amusement, and as improving their general knowledge, but also
as leading to improvement in various branches of manufacturing.
In proof of which it may be stated, that this establishment
not being able to obtain the finer designs required in the
business in this country, are obliged to procure them from
From his experience, is of opinion that great good may be
accomplished by a proper attention on the part of the proprietor
to the conduct and character of the work-people, and by enforcing
proper regulations. As one principal means of improvement,
the employer should require a good character from each new
comer, and also cause inquiry to be made as to previous habits
and conduct. If such a system were generally adopted, it would
prove equally beneficial to the employer and the employed;
as regards the former by securing a better servant, and as
regards the latter, by improving his habits and conduct. Thinks
that by an extended system of education and well considered
regulations respecting superintendence, that many of the present
evils, moral and physical, of the manufacturing system might
be entirely removed, and all considerably ameliorated. Has
found in all their establishments the most beneficial results
from a careful selection of the persons who more immediately
superintend the work-people, as foremen and clerks.
Particularly wishes to state that it is his opinion, the amelioration
alluded to could not be expected, unless education were combined
with a rational system of moral and religious instruction.
No. 350. December 5, 1840.Mr. Joseph Conway.
Is foreman of Messrs. Turner and Sons. Has been employed in
this manufactory upwards of 26 years. Has considerable experience
in all that relates to this branch of trade, and is well acquainted
with the character and conduct of the working classes employed,
being from his situation constantly in contact with them.
From all the means he has had of forming an opinion from this
long and extended experience, is entirely convinced the educated
and instructed work-people of every degree, from the highest
to the lowest mechanic on the premises, and of every age,
are the best conducted, both as regards the relations subsisting
between them and their employers and as respects their private
life. Finds by experience that they are more obliging, more
attentive to their business, and therefore more to be depended
on, than the ignorant and uninformed; that if any dispute
arises between the mechanics and witness, he finds the educated
more reasonable and more easily satisfied than the uneducated;
that the latter on such occasions are more jealous, more suspicious,
and more inclined to mistrust, and this in the degree of their
ignorance. Finds that in consequence of irregularity of habits
the uninformed are less valuable as workmen, and more difficult
to deal with. The educated men and women are less intemperate
and irregular in their habits, and in all respects better
conducted. Thinks that they make better husbands, fathers,
wives, and mothers, than those of the opposite class. Their
houses are more clean and tidy because they take a pride
in it; they are more careful of their appearance, and
in their mode of dressing; they are more refined in their
tastes and feelings, and altogether hold a higher station
in life. Many of the cultivated class are fond of reading,
and of pursuits which tend to improve the mind. They are more
guarded in their language, swear less, and refrain from the
use of obscene and indecent expressions; they attend more
regularly Divine worship, and send their children to Sunday
schools. It is his entire conviction that it would greatly
tend to promote the interests of the employers, and the happiness
of the mechanics, if all the labouring classes employed in
manufactories received a good and comprehensive education.
Is convinced that it would greatly promote the happiness and
well-being of the families of mechanics if females were instructed
whilst at school in the art of cutting out making and repairing
shirts, gowns, &c. At present, this knowledge is wanting
in the majority of the female mechanics and the result is
that either an expense is incurred, which presses seriously
on their limited means, in the making and repairing those
garments, or these when out of order remain neglected. Thinks
that the husband and children are frequently made uncomfortable
by the wife not knowing how to economise and properly prepare
the food which they can afford and that this want of domestic
comfort often drives the husband to the ale house.
Having had much opportunity of observing in this establishment
the good results of a careful superintendence both as regards
the interests of the proprietors, and the welfare of the mechanics,
thinks that many of the evils of the present system might
be ameliorated by a general attention to this subject on the
part of the manufacturers.
[Note Mr Conway is a person of superior intelligence
and worth, and perfectly trustworthy.]
No. 351 December 5, 1840 Mr Edward Allen.
Rents a part of the manufactory of Mr. Turner, and employs
about 50 mechanics, men and women principally, and a few children.
Children never come into this part of the business till 10
years of age, but he only takes those who have already learnt
the work. Sets the tools for the female mechanics, and as
the tools are in this branch all fixtures they can only be
set on the spot where used. The tools are so liable to derangement
that they may require setting 4 or 5 times a day: if there
be 5 or 6 workers, he must be almost constantly on the spot.
Does not think the pearl button business is so injurious to
health as generally imagined.
There is one branch of the trade, namely, grinding pearl
buttons for shanking, which is injurious, but it is
scarcely ever practised, perhaps once in a month for a few
From working with some of the mechanics whom he employs, and
from having constant communication with all, is able to form
a good opinion of the effect of education and instruction
on them. From this experience would say, that the best educated
are the most valuable as workmen; they are generally more
attentive to their business, do not so much neglect in the
beginning of the week and take more pride in it. If any press
of business arises, finds that the educated class are more
useful to him and that the work is quicker and better done.
The more ignorant on the contrary will neglect their work
in the beginning of the week with the notion that by over
working towards the end, they will make up the lost time.
The consequence is, that witness is injured by the work being
done in a slovenly manner, and by the materials being wasted.
Thinks that this system is a great injury to the town, that
it applies to the dissipated and illiterate. As
a master thinks it would be a great advantage, if all mechanics
received such an education as would improve their knowledge
and enlarge their minds.
No 352. December 7 Mr Joseph Corbett
Has been employed more than 40 years at Messrs Turners
as a button burnisher. The average wages in this trade, in
full work, are from 30s. to 35s. a week, but there is often
a want of employment. Has often been consulted by the mechanics
generally on occasions when they required advice. Has been
applied to by mechanics in reference to the objects of this
inquiry. Has taken an active part in public proceedings connected
with the trade of the town. Was one of a deputation consisting
of two from the button-makers appointed to wait on His late
Majesty George IV., and other branches of the royal family,
nobility, &c., in order to induce them to encourage the
trade. On this occasion received several votes of thanks from
the masters and men. In 1837 was again appointed a deputy
to wait on Viscount Melbourne relative to the distressed state
of the nation.
The witness handed in the statement marked [G.]
[G.]Statement of Mr. Joseph Corbett.
1. Children of both sexes are sent to work at too tender an
age, particularly female children. During their childhood,
at a time when fresh air and freedom from confinement are
so essential, they toil throughout the day, acquiring not
the least domestic instruction to fit them for wives and mothers.
I will name one instance, and this applies to the general
condition of females doomed to, and brought up amongst, shop-work.
My mother worked in a manufactory from a very early age. She
was clever and industrious; and, moreover, she had the reputation
of being Virtuous. She was regarded as an excellent match
for a working man. She was married early. She became the mother
of 11 children. I am the eldest. To the best of her ability
she performed the important duties of a wife and mother. She
was lamentably deficient in domestic knowledge; in that most
important of all human instruction, how to make the home and
the fire-side to possess a charm for her husband and children,
she had never received one single lesson.
She had children apace. As she recovered from her lying-in,
so she went to work, the babe being brought to her at stated
times to receive nourishment. As the family increased, so
anything like comfort disappeared altogether.
Poor thing, the power to make home cheerful and comfortable
was never given to her. She knew not the value of cherishing
in my fathers mind a love of domestic objects. My heart
aches when I reflect upon her anxious and laborious situation.
Not one moments happiness did I ever see under my fathers
roof. All this dismal state of things I can distinctly trace
to the entire and perfect absence of all training and instruction
to my mother. He became intemperate; and his intemperance
made her necessitous. She made many efforts to abstain from
shop-work; but her pecuniary necessities forced her back into
the shop. The family was large, and every moment was required
I have known her, after the close of a hard days work,
sit up nearly all night for several nights together washing
and mending of clothes. My father could have no comfort here.
These domestic obligations, which in a well regulated house,
(even in that of a working man, where, there are prudence
and good management,) would be done so as not to annoy the
husband; to my father they were a source of annoyance; and
he from an ignorant and mistaken notion sought comfort in
My mothers ignorance of household duties; my fathers
consequent irritability and intemperance; the frightful poverty;
the constant quarrelling, the pernicious example to my brothers
and sisters; the bad effect upon the future conduct of my
brothers; one and all of us being forced out to work, so young,
that our feeble earnings would produce only 1s. a week; cold
and hunger, and the innumerable sufferings of my childhood,
crowd upon my mind and overpower me. They keep alive a deep
anxiety for the emancipation of the thousands of families
in this great town and neighbourhood, who are in a similar
state of horrible misery. My own experience tells me that
the instruction of the female in the work of a house, in teaching
them to produce cheerfulness and comfort at the fire-side,
would prevent a great amount of misery and crime. There would
be fewer drunken husbands and disobedient children. As a working
man, within my own observation female education is disgracefully
neglected. I attach more importance to it than to anything
else. They impart the first impression to the young susceptible
mind; they model the child from which is formed the future
2. As regards males and females promiscuously together in
one manufactory, I do consider it as having a most immoral
tendency. I have always found, where the intercourse was promiscuous,
the females to be careless in their dress, indecent in their
conversation, unchaste in their conduct; in fact, they are
inferior in all respects to those who are kept apart from
the male sex. Look at the young women employed the higher
department of the manufactory, the warehouse for instance,
under the superintending care of a master of sober and moral
character. Here will be neatness of dress, decent and becoming
conversation, and attention to business. Intellectual education,
whether from a Sunday school or other sources, produces a
marked distinction of improvement. It is not difficult to
imagine a young female, of pleasing face and person, exposed,
by being placed in a manufactory, to the lewd remarks and
familiarities of the coarse and dissipated of the other sex.
Perhaps not one idea of virtue was ever established in the
mind of this susceptible and credulous creature. She is now
put in the certain path to ruin and seduction. She is often
treated as an inferior being; until some infamous seducer
flatters to obtain her ruin. She is the victim of her own
confiding and unsuspecting nature, but she is branded for
being extremely vicious.
Suppose the weekly earnings of a female to be 6s, and this
is above the average, out of this she has to pay for lodgings,
for clothes, and for the making of them too, for she cannot
make them herself never having been taught; her washing after
work-hours, she will do herself; in her outlay she most be
frugal to keep clear of the inconveniences of debt.
There can be little or no saving in this instance. Suppose
the poor creature to be put to half time, or to be thrown
out of work all together, she has no parents, no friends to
fall back upon, resources she can have none; what then is
The answer is obvious.
3. With respect to turn outs, much bad feeling
is oftentimes created by the unwillingness of a principal
to listen to the complaints of their work-people; to talk
over kindly; and with a good feeling, their mutual differences.
By this means misunderstandings would be made clear; concessions
made; unjust and unfounded suspicions on both sides prevented;
and the painful suffering to families, and loss of property
to the masters need not take place.
It is a fact that in my trade, at our place, no turn
out ever took place; and yet our list of prices is a
standard for the town; my shopmates were all well informed,
and still more my employer was open at all times to easy access.
He never refused to listen to the most trifling complaint.
The manager also was a man of an amiable disposition.
His mediations were just and satisfactory to both parties.
I remember with pleasure the testimony of a silver snuff-box
being presented to him for his honourable and conciliatory
conduct.(Inscription: Presented to Mr. Joseph
Conway, as a tribute of respect, by a few friends in the employ
of Messrs. Hammond, Turner, and Son, May the 7th, 1828.)
The only instance of anything like disaffection took place
at our manufactory in the beginning of 1838. It had no reference
to prices. It was concerning privileges. A wrong notion prevailed.
The best informed were open to conviction, and kept to their
work; the others, 4 of them, who were extremely ignorant,
left their work, but soon afterwards repented of their precipitate
and short-sighted conduct.
4. I have seen the entire ruin of many families from the waste
of money and bad conduct of fathers and sons seeking amusement
and pastime in an ale-house. From no other single cause alone
does half so much demoralization and misery proceed.
Here I am forced back to the painful scenes of my childhood.
Thousand and millions resort to the ale-house for conversation
and amusement; and it would be anything but paternal on the
part of Government to break up, or attempt to break up these
places, without furnishing them with other recreative resources,
as for instance, gymnastic exercises, quoits, cricket, &c.;
public gardens, walks, baths, reading-rooms; &c.
Having worked in a manufactory 40 years, the effects of ignorance
amongst the working people have been the cause of much uneasiness
The better a man was educated the better workman he made;
and more civil and obliging to his employers, and the more
respected and valued by them. I speak from the experience
and observation of many years. Instruction and kindness towards
the working classes has an elevating tendency. Womens
minds are often debased by the coarse and brutal conduct and
conversation of their masters. The one mode of treatment creates
better servants, and therefore better domestic characters;
the other produces viciousness and brutality of feeling.
If the rich knew how much they could accomplish by condescension
and example they would not be so scanty of kindness to the
As a proof what kindness may produce, I will speak of my own
place of work.
An aunt was employed upwards of 70 years; my mother 30 years;
my father 30 years; myself upwards of 40 years; a son, who
works under me, is now within a few days of being of age.
Others have worked at the manufactory from periods of 10 to
December 7, 1840. (Signed) JOSEPH CORBETT.
[Note.This most creditable statement, the product of
a Birmingham mechanic, is inserted without a single alteration
of any kind.]
No. 353 December 5 Sarah Foxall
Is married. Has been overlooker in Mr. Turners manufactory,
of the shop where the press girls work about 5
years, and altogether has been employed in the establishment
21 years. Her grandmother worked here nearly 50 years, and
was very much respected by Mr. Turner. There are a great many
old substantial hands employed, more in proportion
than any other establishment. Many of the womens children
work here. The Messrs. Turner are very particular as to the
behaviour and conduct of the workpeople; and if any misconduct
is discovered, the party offending would either be discharged
or reprimanded. Great care is taken to prevent any improper
conduct between the men and women and any misconduct of this
kind would be more severely punished than any fault as to
the work. The females and males are kept in separate and distinct
shops, and, unless on business, all visiting between the shops
is prohibited. If any improper intimacy were to take place,
it would be witnesss duty to inform Mr Conway of it.
No person is admitted to work here without a character. The
privies are quite distinct, and the young women are not overlooked
by the men. Thinks that as manufactories are generally conducted
in this town, great evils result as regards the morals of
the young people. From what she sees here, conceives that
a large part of these evils might be obviated by proper regulations
without interfering with the business of the manufactory.
It would be very beneficial if more care were taken in preventing
the free intercourse which now goes on in the shops; and if
the proprietors made it a rule never to receive a mechanic,
male or female, without a character. Has heard it for a fact,
that great mischief has arisen in other manufactories from
the indiscriminate use of the privies by the sexes. Thinks
that such a system is in an especial manner injurious to the
morals of the young girls and boys. It is her own opinion
that this is more productive of mischief than any other circumstance
connected with the manufactories. Should have great objection
to send any of her children to manufactories in which this
Thinks it would be a great advantage if the mother of a family
could make and repair the body-linen, &c. It often happens
that females have no work one day; especially Monday, in the
week, which is now occupied in idleness, but which might,
unless the family were large, be sufficient to make and keep
the linen in order. Independently of this she finds by her
own experience that she can keep her childrens things
in order after she returns home in the evening. Knows that
a not infrequent cause of quarrelling between husbands and
wives is the incapacity of the latter to properly cook the
food; and that this incapacity certainly leads to waste. Thinks
that these and similar discomforts often drives the husband
to the public-house.
The people in this establishment are happy and contented;
and if any leave, they are generally glad to get back again.
No. 354. December 3Selina Cooper, 19 years old.
Reads well. Cannot write. Went, at the age of 6 or 7, to the
Pinfold Street day-school 4 years. Was taught to read and
spell. Did not learn much. Could not read the Bible; but this
was read by those sufficiently advanced. Had at this school
no religious instruction.
After she left this day-school, went, about 12 years of age
to the Baptist Sunday-school in Lombard Street. Here she learned
to read; received religious instruction; was not questioned
as to religious subjects because there were so many
children.* Is employed at press-work. Has
worked here about 7 months; before that, worked for a year
and a half at steel-pen making. Was in service two years previously.
Finds that the button trade and steel-pen making agree with
her health as well as service. The work-shop is airy and comfortable,
winter and summer. No accident has happened in this and adjoining
shop, containing 21 workers, since she has been here. Has
10 days or a fortnights holiday at Christmas; 2 days
at each fair: 2 half days at Easter.
Is hired by Mr. Conway, foreman. Made her own agreement. In
full work, receives 6s. a week. Has plenty of work at all
times. In the summer can make 7 days. There is no corporal
punishment in either of these 2 shops. If the work is not
done in sufficient quantity at the end of one week, it is
made up in the next.
[* She has a good knowledge of her duty towards God and towards
No. 355 December 3.Sarah Cadby, 44 years old.
Reads and writes a little. Works at drilling pearl buttons.
Has been in trade 15 years. Worked before that in this manufactory
at the gilt and plating trade, former is worse for health.
The pearl dust lies at the chest. Her breathing is very bad
in the morning. Has had constant pain in the side since she
has worked at the pearl-button trade. These effects are common
to all the mechanics in this business. Is only able to work
6 hours a day, because she is not able to stand it longer.
The regular hours are from 8 A.M. till 7 P.M. One hour is
allowed for dinner and half an hour for tea. Works by the
No. 356. December 7.Thomas Richards.
Works at Messrs Turners, Snow Hill. Worked at Mr Astons
26½ years. Aston made a regulation which was productive
of benefit that in the event of a woman becoming pregnant,
both parties would be discharged if marriage did not take
place; the consequence in many instances was, the parties