(1) The Ashton Chronicle (19th May, 1849)
I was born in Hare Street, Bethnal Green, London, in the year 1805. My father died when I was two years old, leaving two children, myself and Sarah my sister. My mother kept us both till I was about five years old, and then she took badly and was taken to the London Hospital. My sister and I were taken to the Bethnal Green Workhouse. My mother died and we stayed in the workhouse. We had good food, good beds and given liberty two or three times a week. We were taught to read and in every respect were treated kindly.
The same year my mother died, I being between six and seven years of age, there came a man looking for a number of parish apprentices. We were all ordered to come into the board room, about forty of us. There were, I dare say, about twenty gentlemen seated at a table, with pens and paper before them. Our names were called out one by one. We were all standing before them in a row. My name was called and I stepped out in the middle of the room. They said, "Well John, you are a fine lad, would you like to go into the country?" I said "Yes sir".
We had often talked over amongst ourselves how we should like to be taken into the country, Mr. Nicholls the old master, used to tell us what fine sport we should have amongst the hills, what time we should have for play and pleasure. He said we should have plenty of roast beef and get plenty of money, and come back gentlemen to see our friends.
The committee picked out about twenty of us, all boys. In a day or two after this, two coaches came up to the workhouse door. We were got ready. They gave us a shilling piece to take our attention, and we set off. I can remember a crowd of women standing by the coaches, at the workhouse door, crying "shame on them, to send poor little children away from home in that fashion." Some of them were weeping. I heard one say, "I would run away if I was them." They drove us to the Paddington Canal, where there was a boat provided to take us.
We got to Buxton at four o'clock on Saturday afternoon. A covered cart was waiting for us there. We all got in, and drove off to the apprentice house at Litton Mill, about six miles from Buxton. The cart stopped, and we marched up to the house, where we saw the master, who came to examine us and gave orders where we were put. They brought us some supper. We were very hungry, but could not eat it. It was Derbyshire oatcake, which we had never seen before. It tasted as sour as vinegar.
Our regular time was from five in the morning till nine or ten at night; and on Saturday, till eleven, and often twelve o'clock at night, and then we were sent to clean the machinery on the Sunday. No time was allowed for breakfast and no sitting for dinner and no time for tea. We went to the mill at five o'clock and worked till about eight or nine when they brought us our breakfast, which consisted of water-porridge, with oatcake in it and onions to flavour it. Dinner consisted of Derbyshire oatcakes cut into four pieces, and ranged into two stacks. One was buttered and the other treacled. By the side of the oatcake were cans of milk. We drank the milk and with the oatcake in our hand, we went back to work without sitting down.
We then worked till nine or ten at night when the water-wheel stopped. We stopped working, and went to the apprentice house, about three hundred yards from the mill. It was a large stone house, surrounded by a wall, two to three yards high, with one door, which was kept locked. It was capable of lodging about one hundred and fifty apprentices. Supper was the same as breakfast - onion porridge and dry oatcake. We all ate in the same room and all went up a common staircase to our bed-chamber; all the boys slept in one chamber, all the girls in another. We slept three in one bed. The girls' bedroom was of the same sort as ours. There were no fastenings to the two rooms; and no one to watch over us in the night, or to see what we did.
Mr. Needham, the master, had five sons: Frank, Charles, Samuel, Robert and John. The sons and a man named Swann, the overlooker, used to go up and down the mill with hazzle sticks. Frank once beat me till he frightened himself. He thought he had killed me. He had struck me on the temples and knocked me dateless. He once knocked me down and threatened me with a stick. To save my head I raised my arm, which he then hit with all his might. My elbow was broken. I bear the marks, and suffer pain from it to this day, and always shall as long as I live.
I was determined to let the gentleman of the Bethnal Green parish know the treatment we had, and I wrote a letter with John Oats and put it into the Tydeswell Post Office. It was broken open and given to old Needham. He beat us with a knob-stick till we could scarcely crawl. Sometime after this three gentlemen came down from London. But before we were examined we were washed and cleaned up and ordered to tell them we liked working at the mill and were well treated. Needham and his sons were in the room at the time. They asked us questions about our treatment, which we answered as we had been told, not daring to do any other, knowing what would happen if we told them the truth.
Robert Blincoe was born in 1792. At four years old Blincoe was placed in St. Pancras Workhouse, London. He was later told that his family name was Blincoe but he never discovered what happened to his parents. At the age of six Robert was sent to work as a chimney boy. However, Robert was not a success and after a few months he was returned to St. Pancras Workhouse.
In 1799, Lamberts recruited Robert and eighty other boys and girls from St. Pancras Workhouse. The boys were to be instructed in the trade of stocking weaving and the girls in lacemaking at Lowdam Mill, situated ten miles from Nottingham. Blincoe completed his apprenticeship in 1813, worked as an adult operative until 1817, when he set up his own small cotton-spinning business. Blincoe married a woman called Martha in 1819.
John Brown, a journalist from Bolton, met Robert Blincoe in 1822. Brown interviewed Blincoe for an article he was writing on child labour. Brown found the story so fascinating he decided to write Blincoe's biography. John Brown gave the biography to his friend Richard Carlile who was active in the campaign for factory legislation. Later that year John Brown committed suicide.
Robert Carlile eventually decided to publish Robert Blincoe's Memoir in his radical newspaper, The Lion. The story appeared in five weekly episodes from 25th January to 22nd February 1828. The story also appeared in Carlile's The Poor Man's Advocate. Five years later, John Doherty published Robert Blincoe's Memoir in pamphlet form.
As a result of a fire in 1828, Robert Blincoe's spinning machinery was destroyed. Unable to pay his debts, Blincoe was imprisoned in Lancaster Castle. After his release he became a cotton-waste dealer and his wife ran a grocer's shop.
Blincoe's business was successful and he was able to pay for his three children to be educated. One of his sons went on to graduate from Queen's College, Cambridge to become a Church of England clergyman. Robert Blincoe died of bronchitis at the home of his daughter in Gunco Lane, Macclesfield in 1860.
William Dodd was born into a poor family living in Kendal on 18th June 1804. At the age of five William was sent to work as a card-maker and the following year was employed in a local textile factory. William's three sisters also worked at the same factory. During busy periods William and his sisters worked an 18 hour day.
Dodd's first job was as a piecer. As he was later to point out this work put a great deal of pressure on the "right knee, which is always the first joint to give way." Within a few years Dodd was a cripple: "My joints were like so many rusty hinges, that had laid for years. I had to get up an hour earlier, and, with the broom under one arm as a crutch, and a stick on my hand, walk over the house till I had got my joints in working order."
In 1819 found work at Isaac and William Wilson's textile mill in Kendal. William Dodd became an overlooker with responsibility for checking the ages of children working in the factory. Dodd attended evening classes given by a local schoolmaster. Once Dodd had been taught to read and write he was asked by his employer to help with clerical work in the factory.
Dodd, who was now badly crippled, found working at Wilson's textile mill increasingly difficult and in 1837 left to form his own school. Dodd taught reading, writing and arithmetic but after a few months he lost the right to rent the rooms he was using as a school.
Dodd made several attempts to find a wife but he claims he was rejected because he was a cripple. After being refused by several women of his own age a friend told him "that after a certain age women would take up with anything." He became friends with a woman much older than himself. In his autobiography he described how she reacted when he asked her to marry him: "I saw a slight curl of the upper lip - her eyes then began to descend, till they settled the intensity of their gaze upon my knees. At the moment, I wished the earth to open and swallow me up."
After this rejection Dodd decided that he would "live and die a bachelor". He now moved to London where he looked for work as a clerk. Unable to find permanent work, Dodd was forced to do a wide variety of temporary jobs.
In 1839 Dodd was employed by John Kirby as a clerk but by In the spring of 1840 the pain in his joints became intolerable. According to Dodd his right wrist now measured "twelve inches round". William was sent to St. Thomas' Hospital and the doctors eventually decided that he would have to have his right arm amputated. A doctor told him that "on dissection, the bones of the forearm presented a very curious appearance - something similar to an empty honeycomb, the marrow having totally disappeared."
Dodd decided to write a book about his experiences as a child worker. When the manuscript was finished he sent it toLord Ashley who arranged for it to be published as A Narrative of the Experience and Sufferings of William Dodd a Factory Cripple.
Ashley now decided to employ Dodd to collect information about the treatment of children in textile factories. Dodd's research was published as The Factory System: Illustrated (1842). Dodd's books created a great deal of controversy. Dodd was attacked in the House of Commons as an unreliable source of information. Attempts were made to smear his character. When one M.P., John Bright, accused Dodd of "gross immorality of conduct", Lord Ashley decided to sack him.
Dodd, who had been paid 45s. a week by Ashley, decided to emigrate to the U.S.A. He continued to write books and in 1847 his book The Labouring Classes of England was published in Boston. It is not known when William Dodd died.
(1) Joseph Hebergam was interviewed by Michael Sadler and his House of Commons Committee on 7th July, 1832.
Question: At what age did you start work?
Answer: Seven years of age.
Question: At whose mill?
Answer: George Addison's Bradley Mill, near Huddersfield.
Question: What were your hours of labour?
Answer: From five in the morning till eight at night.
Question: What intervals had you for refreshment?
Answer: Thirty minutes at noon.
Question: Had you no time for breakfast or refreshment in the afternoon?
Answer: No, not one minute; we had to eat our meals as we could, standing or otherwise.
Question: You had fourteen and a half hours of actual labour, at seven years of age?
Question: Did you become very drowsy and sleepy towards the end of the day?
Answer: Yes; that began about three o'clock; and grew worse and worse, and it came to be very bad towards six and seven.
Question: How long was it before the labour took effect on your health?
Answer: Half a year.
Question: How did it affect your limbs?
Answer: When I worked about half a year a weakness fell into my knees and ankles: it continued, and it got worse and worse.
Question: How far did you live from the mill?
Answer: A good mile.
Question: Was it painful for you to move?
Answer: Yes, in the morning I could scarcely walk, and my brother and sister used, out of kindness, to take me under each arm, and run with me to the mill, and my legs dragged on the ground; in consequence of the pain I could not walk.
Question: Were you sometimes late?
Answer: Yes, and if we were five minutes too late, the overlooker would take a strap, and beat us till we were black and blue.
Question: When did your brother start working in the mill?
Answer: John was seven.
Question: Where is your brother John Working now?
Answer: He died three years ago.
Question: What age was he when he died?
Answer: Sixteen years and eight months.
Question: What was his death attributed to?
Answer: He died from a spinal affection after working long hours in the factory?
Question: Did his medical attendants state that the spinal affection was owing to his having been so over-laboured at the mill?
Question: Have you found that, on the whole, you have been rendered ill, deformed and miserable, by the factory system?
Answer: Yes. If I had a thousand pounds, I would give them to have the use of my limbs again.
(1) David Rowland was interviewed by Michael Sadler and his House of Commons Committee on 10th July, 1832.
Question: At what age did you commence working in a cotton mill?
Answer: Just when I had turned six.
Question: What employment had you in a mill in the first instance?
Answer: That of a scavenger.
Question: Will you explain the nature of the work that a scavenger has to do?
Answer: The scavenger has to take the brush and sweep under the wheels, and to be under the direction of the spinners and the piecers generally. I frequently had to be under the wheels, and in consequence of the perpetual motion of the machinery, I was liable to accidents constantly. I was very frequently obliged to lie flat, to avoid being run over or caught.
Question: How long did you continue at that employment?
Answer: From a year and a half to two years.
Question: What did you go to then?
Answer: To be a piecer.
Question: Did the employment require you to be upon your feet perpetually?
Answer: It did.
Question: You continued at that employment for how long?
Answer: I was a piecer till I was about fifteen or sixteen years of age.
Question: What were your hours of labour?
Answer: Fourteen; in some cases, fifteen and sixteen hours a day.
Question: How had you to be kept up to it?
Answer: During the latter part of the day, I was severely beaten very frequently.
Question: Will you state the effect that the degree of labour had upon your health?
Answer: I never had good health after I went to the factory. At six years of age I was ruddy and strong; I had not been in the mill long before my colour disappeared, and a state of debility came over me, and a wanness in my appearance.
1) Benjamin Gomersal of Bowling Lane, Bradford, was interviewed by William Dodd in 1842.
I am about twenty-five years old. I have been a piecer at Mr. Cousen's worsted mill, I have worked nowhere else. I commenced working in a worsted mill at nine years of age. Our hours of labour were from six in the morning to seven and eight at night, with thirty minutes off at noon for dinner. We had no time for breakfast or drinking. The children conceive it to be a very great mischief; to be kept so long in labour; and I believe their parents would be very glad if it was not so. I found it very hard and laborious employment. I had 2s. per week at first. We had to stoop, to bend our bodies and our legs.
I was a healthy and strong boy, when I first went to the mill. When I was about eight years old, I could walk from Leeds to Bradford (ten miles) without any pain or difficulty, and with a little fatigue; now I cannot stand without crutches! I cannot walk at all! Perhaps I might creep up stairs. I go up stairs backwards every night! I found my limbs begin to fail, after I had been working about a year. It came on with great pain in my legs and knees. I am very much fatigued towards the end of the day. I cannot work in the mill now.
The overlooker beat me up to my work! I have been beaten till I was black and blue and I have had my ears torn! Once I was very ill with it. He beat me then, because I mixed a few empty bobins, not having any place to put them in separate. we were beaten most at the latter end of the day, when we grew tired and fatigued. The highest wages I ever had in the factory, were 5s. 6d. per week.
My mother is dead; my father was obliged to send me to the mill, in order to keep me. I had to attend at the mill after my limbs began to fail. I could not then do as well as I could before. I had one shilling a week taken off my wages. I had lost several inches in height. I had frequently to stand thirteen and fourteen hours a day, and to be continually engaged. I was perfectly straight before I entered on this labour.
Other boys were deformed in the same way. A good many boys suffered in their health, in consequence of the severity of their work. I am sure this pain, and grievous deformity, came from my long hours of labour. My father, and my friends, believe so to. It is the opinion of all the medical men who have seen me.
Child Workers: Girls
Sarah Carpenter, a factory worker from Derbyshire, was interviewed by James Rayner Stephens in the summer of 1849. Sarah's account of her life as a child worker at Cressbrook Mill appeared in The Ashton Chronicle on 23rd June, 1849.
(1) The Ashton Chronicle (23rd June, 1849)
My father was a glass blower. When I was eight years old my father died and our family had to go to the Bristol Workhouse. My brother was sent from Bristol workhouse in the same way as many other children were - cart-loads at a time. My mother did not know where he was for two years. He was taken off in the dead of night without her knowledge, and the parish officers would never tell her where he was.
It was the mother of Joseph Russell who first found out where the children were, and told my mother. We set off together, my mother and I, we walked the whole way from Bristol to Cressbrook Mill in Derbyshire. We were many days on the road.
Mrs. Newton fondled over my mother when we arrived. My mother had brought her a present of little glass ornaments. She got these ornaments from some of the workmen, thinking they would be a very nice present to carry to the mistress at Cressbrook, for her kindness to my brother. My brother told me that Mrs. Newton's fondling was all a blind; but I was so young and foolish, and so glad to see him again; that I did not heed what he said, and could not be persuaded to leave him. They would not let me stay unless I would take the shilling binding money. I took the shilling and I was very proud of it.
They took me into the counting house and showed me a piece of paper with a red sealed horse on which they told me to touch, and then to make a cross, which I did. This meant I had to stay at Cressbrook Mill till I was twenty one.
Our common food was oatcake. It was thick and coarse. This oatcake was put into cans. Boiled milk and water was poured into it. This was our breakfast and supper. Our dinner was potato pie with boiled bacon it, a bit here and a bit there, so thick with fat we could scarce eat it, though we were hungry enough to eat anything. Tea we never saw, nor butter. We had cheese and brown bread once a year. We were only allowed three meals a day though we got up at five in the morning and worked till nine at night.
We had eightpence a year given us to spend: fourpence at the fair, and fourpence at the wakes. We had three miles to go to spend it. Very proud we were of it, for it seemed such a sight of money, we did not know how to spend it.
The master carder's name was Thomas Birks; but he never went by any other name than Tom the Devil. He was a very bad man - he was encouraged by the master in ill-treating all the hands, but particularly the children. I have often seen him pull up the clothes of big girls, seventeen or eighteen years of age, and throw them across his knee, and then flog them with his hand in the sight of both men and boys. Everybody was frightened of him. He would not even let us speak. He once fell poorly, and very glad we were. We wished he might die.
There was an overlooker called William Hughes, who was put in his place whilst he was ill. He came up to me and asked me what my drawing frame was stopped for. I said I did not know because it was not me who had stopped it. A little boy that was on the other side had stopped it, but he was too frightened to say it was him. Hughes starting beating me with a stick, and when he had done I told him I would let my mother know. He then went out and fetched the master in to me. The master started beating me with a stick over the head till it was full of lumps and bled. My head was so bad that I could not sleep for a long time, and I never been a sound sleeper since.
There was a young woman, Sarah Goodling, who was poorly and so she stopped her machine. James Birch, the overlooker knocked her to the floor. She got up as well as she could. He knocked her down again. Then she was carried to the apprentice house. Her bed-fellow found her dead in bed. There was another called Mary. She knocked her food can down on the floor. The master, Mr. Newton, kicked her where he should not do, and it caused her to wear away till she died. There was another, Caroline Thompson. They beat her till she went out of her mind.
We were always locked up out of mill hours, for fear any of us should run away. One day the door was left open. Charlotte Smith, said she would be ringleader, if the rest would follow. She went out but no one followed her. The master found out about this and sent for her. There was a carving knife which he took and grasping her hair he cut if off close to the head. They were in the habit of cutting off the hair of all who were caught speaking to any of the lads. This head shaving was a dreadful punishment. We were more afraid of it than of any other, for girls are proud of their hair.
I was there then years and saw a great deal more than I can think of. My brother, after he was free, came to Cressbrook and stole me away. But I was so frightened and dateless with the punishment I had received, that for a long time I was like a person with no wits. I could hardly find my way from one street into another. They said at Wright's Factory where I worked that they were sure that I was "none right".
(1) Elizabeth Bentley was interviewed by Michael Sadler and his House of Commons Committee on 4th June, 1832.
Question: What were your hours of labour?
Answer: As a child I worked from five in the morning till nine at night.
Question: What time was allowed for meals?
Answer: We were allowed forty minutes at noon.
Question: Had you any time to get breakfast, or drinking?
Answer: No, we got it as we could.
Question: Did you have time to eat it?
Answer: No; we were obliged to leave it or to take it home, and when we did not take it, the overlooker took it, and gave it to the pigs.
Question: Suppose you flagged a little, or were late, what would they do?
Answer: Strap us.
Question: What work did you do?
Answer: A weigher in the card-room.
Question: How long did you work there?
Answer: From half-past five, till eight at night.
Question: What is the carding-room like?
Answer: Dusty. You cannot see each other for dust.
Question: Did working in the card-room affect your health?
Answer: Yes; it was so dusty, the dust got up my lungs, and the work was so hard. I got so bad in health, that when I pulled the baskets down, I pulled my bones out of their places.
Question: You are considerably deformed in your person in consequence of this labour?
Answer: Yes, I am.
Question: At what time did it come on?
Answer: I was about thirteen years old when it began coming, and it has got worse since. When my mother died I had to look after myself.
Question: Where are you now?
Answer: In the poor house.
Question: You are utterly incapable of working in the factories?
Question: You were willing to have worked as long as you were able, from your earliest age?
Question: And you supported your widowed mother as long as you could?
(1) Hannah Brown was interviewed by Michael Sadler and his House of Commons Committee on 13th June, 1832.
Question: How early did you begin to work in mills?
Answer: At nine years old.
Question: What hours did you work?
Answer: I began at six o'clock, and worked till nine at night.
Question: What time was allowed for your meals?
Answer: No, none at all.
Question: Did this work affect your limbs?
Answer: Yes, I felt a great deal of pain in my legs.
Question: Did it begin to produce deformity in any of your limbs?
Answer: Yes; both my knees are rather turned in.
Question: Was there punishment?
Question: Has Mr. Ackroyd ever chastised you in any way?
Answer: Yes; he has taken hold of my hair and my ear, and pulled me, and just given me a bit of a shock, more than once.
Question: Did you ever see him adopt similar treatment towards any others?
Answer Yes: I have seen him pull a relation of mine about by the hair.
Question: Do you mean he dragged her?
Answer: Yes, about three or four yards.
Cotton Mill worker photographed by Lewis Hine
(1) William Dodd, The Factory System Illustrated (1842)
Mary Bucktrout was a fine girl of fourteen years of age. She was working in the card-room of Mr. Holdsworth's flax mill in Leeds, and met with an accident while taking out some waste flax from the machinery, by order of the overlooker; "who," she says, "threatened to fine her 6d. a time, if she did not keep her machine clean". She has lost by this, and a preceding accident, the right arm, a little below the elbow, and the thumb of her left hand. Her master had given her one shilling, which is all she had; and the father of the girl, who is a poor working man with five children, has been obliged to support her since. She had been working two years in the same mill. She is remarkably interesting girl, and is at present in St. John's School, under the care of Dr. Hook, the vicar of Leeds, receiving such instruction as may enable her to undertake the management of an infant school. I was extremely pleased to hear her read, to see her write. The manner in which she holds her pen is rather curious; for this purpose she has a contrivance made of leather, somewhat similar to the two forefingers of a left-hand glove; these are fixed together, in close connection with a small leathern tube, for holding the pen, which, by means of this tube, is made to lie on the upper side of her two forefingers, and is moved up and down, in the act of writing, by the first and second joints of the said finger. In this school there is also a governess, who has lost one arm by an accident in a factory.
(1) Eliza Marshall was interviewed by Michael Sadler and his House of Commons Committee on 26th May, 1832.
Question: What was your hours of work?
Answer: When I first went to the mill we worked for six in the morning till seven in the evening. After a time we began at five in the morning, and worked till ten at night.
Question: Were you very much fatigued by that length of labour?
Question: Did they beat you?
Answer: When I was younger they used to do it often.
Question: Did the labour affect your limbs?
Answer: Yes, when we worked over-hours I was worse by a great deal; I had stuff to rub my knees; and I used to rub my joints a quarter of an hour, and sometimes an hour or two.
Question: Were you straight before that?
Answer: Yes, I was; my master knows that well enough; and when I have asked for my wages, he said that I could not run about as I had been used to do.
Question: Are you crooked now?
Answer: Yes, I have an iron on my leg; my knee is contracted.
Question: Have the surgeons in the Infirmary told you by what your deformity was occasioned?
Answer: Yes, one of them said it was by standing; the marrow is dried out of the bone, so that there is no natural strength in it.
Question: You were quite straight till you had to labour so long in those mills?
Answer: Yes, I was as straight as any one.
Young girl factory worker