Employment of Children in the Button Trade 1864

John Pemberton Turner (son of James who was the son of John and the brother of Samuel Hammond) answered the questions, as did some of the staff.


318. An old established and leading house, though, as the mere manufacture is only a part of the present business, there are other manufactories employing a larger number of persons. The confined character of the buildings was pointed out to me by the principal, who stated that there were accidental obstructions in this case to effecting a substantial improvement, though it was desired. Of ten boys between the age of 9 and 12 employed in cracking ivory nuts in a small dark outhouse, five held up their hands as able to read, and five dine there.
319. Mr. J.P. Turner.—I do not believe that there is much excessive work of the young in Birmingham, but it is quite right that if it does exist it should be prevented by legislation. The great difficulty here would be that there is so much work done out of factories in houses and small shops which could never be reached. It would not, however, be any material injury to factories if they were under regulation and the small work-places were not. The latter depend chiefly upon the former, and work for them. There is probably as much work done out in small places as ever there was. The tendency of all small fancy articles is to run into such places. The increase of large factories has been mainly in those which produce plain and useful goods.
Any general regulating the labour of the young would cause some practical inconveniences at first, but these could be met without serious difficulty or loss. If children were limited to half a day’s work I should employ two sets: half days would be less inconvenient for this work than alternate days. As to the others, a day of 12 hours with meal-times is sufficient. The day here scarcely exceeds that even when there is overtime, and on ordinary occasions it is far less, the nominal time being further shortened by the workpeople coming in late and taking more than the stated time for their meals, so that the average time of actual work does not probably exceed nine hours. My business is almost entirely in fancy buttons of different kinds, and much of the day’s work often depends upon the morning’s post, so that it is probably a more variable business than that of almost any other house. The button trade, I should say, employs more women and girls than any trade in the town. A point in which change is most to be desired is in the employment of married women in factories, at least if they have children. It makes them neglect their home and families, and they often have to pay large sums weekly for putting their children to strangers to be cared for, and these children in turn grow up untrained in household duties. One result is that the husbands are led to seek for their comforts and amusements away from their homes, often in drinking. The women also thus bear a great part of the expense of maintaining the family, instead of performing their natural duties at home. In Birmingham generally the men are able to maintain their families without the labour of their wives and young children. If legislation could in any way discourage this practice, thought it would not do to prohibit it directly, it would be a good step to take, and not an undue interference with private rights. I think it might be possible to do something towards this, though probably only indirectly. At any rate I think it important that attention should be called to the point, and wonder that it has had, so far as I am aware, so little public notice. If a right and higher feeling in the workmen can be brought about, in any they will not like the thought of their wives going on working in factories, a work which stands on quite a different footing from the other miscellaneous ways in which women can make themselves useful. This is the feeling of many of the better kind now. Whatever tends to raise the standard of the men’s feeling will be a help.
It is desirable that parents should be bound to give their children some education. I have understood this to be the case in some countries; in which the children are said to be much better educated than in England.
This manufactory labours under the disadvantage, common to so many in Birmingham, of being old, and having grown up gradually in a crowded space. Other houses are gradually taken on to those in which a business started in a small way, and shops are added one by one,—a plan which is unfavourable to freedom of space and arrangement. I have done the best that I can to improve this place by means of ventilators, &c.; but where the ceilings are low it is difficult to keep the rooms fresh in summer or when gas is used.
The only accidents are from pinches in the presses. As a rule these might be prevented by care, and in some probably, though not in all, by mechanical arrangements, such as guards, &c.
320. John Mably, age 10.—Cob. Don’t know all the letters. Used to be at school for six months, and took 1d a week.
They got a big book at school; there’s a many stories in it; but I cannot tell any of the Bible names, except God and Christ, and don’t know what they said about them, or where God lives. A cross is if you get a bit of wood and nail another across it like. Don’t know what a river is, or where the fishes are. People go to another country sometimes in a cab, sometimes in a train. They go in a train to America,— all the way. Cannot write.
321. Henry Shawe, stamper. —Three men in this shop stamp, and each has a boy to cob for him. The boys can always get done afore we, and go at the proper time. In some work we don’t want them at all.
322. Samuel Purcell, age 9.—Never at week-day school, but go on Sunday. Cannot read.
323. Herbert Dodd, age 11. —At week-day school a year ago when 5 years old. Know my letters.
324. George Fielding, age 12.—Turned an engine at Coventry, worked at watches, and here at guns.
At day school at 6 years old, and go on Sunday now; but not to night school. Can read, not write.
325. William Hawkins,age 9 ½.—Am the youngest of the 10 nut-cracking boys. The eldest is 12. Have cobbed in this factory for 18 months before, and was at a jeweller’s before that. Never stay later than 9p.m. here.
326. Ellen Hodgson, age 12.—Am “drawing through” at a press, and have done so for a year, and was here for four years before. Have “squedged” my thumb and got a black nail, and also, when I first began, my finger. There is a bump at the end now. It was dressed for me here.
School on Sundays, and on the week-days when a little one. Did learn a little, but can hardly tell you what. Can hardly read at all now.
327. Ellen Williams, age 10.—Put in shanks to buttons.
Was never at a week-day school, but go on Sunday. Don’t know all the letters. Learned to spell a little at the Sunday school.
329. Mary Ann Gale, age 11.—“Bump” at a press. Left the day school to stay with mother, who was ill. Go on Sunday. Can spell [only words of about two letters].
330. Harriet Kirby, age 12.—Put in shanks. Come at 8 a.m. and leave at ¼ to 8; once or twice have stayed till 9. Stay in here for dinner, and so does another little girl out of the nine.
Was never at a day school; go on Sunday. Can tell my letters.
[Another girl of 10 had never been to day-school, and could not spell. Another of 10 could scarcely read “It is” &c. One of 12 “hadn’t had much schooling.”]
330. William Morris, age 9.—Turn a wheel with a handle, and run errands. Had been at school two or three months, and left to come here. Know my ABC all through; “a” is “n”; “e” is “t”; “T” is “H.”
331. Kate Buckley, age 14.—Draw through at a press. Sometimes away from work if I get a pinch. Squedged a piece right out once and couldn’t work for three weeks.
Cannot count or read, but can tell the letters.
332. Amelia Edwards, age 9.—Cannot read much. Don’t know “m.” Was never at week-day school. At chapel they tell us about Jesus and God, but I don’t know what. He loves us, and lives up in heaven. Have not heard of the Garden of Eden.
333. Selina Lander, age 16.—Press girl. Cannot read at all.


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