The Laboring Classes of England/Letter 12
A FACTORY CONDUCTED ON CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLES.
In the town of Bradford, in the county of Yorkshire, England, there is one of the largest worsted spinning establishments in England; by some it is thought to be the largest in the world. It is carried on under the firm of Messrs. Wood and Walker. From actual observation, (having on several occasions been permitted to inspect the premises,) the writer is enabled to make the following remarks concerning this vast establishment. The reader's attention is called to this, as an exception to the general rule of factory government in England.
On the premises, which are very extensive, are two large mills, counting room, school house, &c. At the entrance gate is a porter's lodge, with a person constantly in attendance; no one being permitted to enter except by leave, or on business.
A person on entering this place for the first time, is struck with the clean, orderly, and healthy appearance of the work people; and is naturally led to inquire how these desirable results are brought about. The answer to these inquiries is to be found in the mild, generous and christian regulations of the place.
The hours of labor in these mills are eleven per day. In summer they commence work at 6 o'clock in the morning, breakfast at half-past 7, (30 minutes being allowed); dine at 12 (one hour being allowed); tea at 5 (30 minutes being allowed); and leave the mills at 7 in the evening. In winter they commence at half-past 6, deducting 10 minutes from each of the three meal times to make up the difference. No part of the time allowed for meals is occupied in cleaning machinery, but is entirely at the disposal of the work people.
Those work people who live at a distance, and who are obliged to bring their food with them, have a warm, convenient room provided for them to sit in, and their victuals are made warm and comfortable, as if they had been at home; this arrangement is attended with very little cost, while it enables every one to have warm, clean and comfortable meals.
The dining room is a large one, on the ground floor, kept for this, and no other purpose. It is provided with good strong tables and forms, and kept very clean and orderly. Adjoining this room is a smaller one, used for the sole purpose of warming the provisions of the work people; it is well fitted up with a steam apparatus, troughs, shelves, &c. The children and others, who live at a distance, being their breakfast, dinner and tea when they come to work, in tin cans (which are all numbered), and place them on the particular shelf allotted to the room in which they work. A man (and sometimes also a woman) looks after this room, and gets every tin made warm by means of the steam apparatus, and all placed on their respective tables in proper time. It gave me great pleasure to inspect the arrangements of these well regulated rooms.
In one of my visits, Mr. Balme, the schoolmaster, kindly accompanied me to the dining room; we took our station at the lower end of the room, directly opposite the entrance, and awaited the coming of the children. This, I was told, is part of the schoolmaster's duty, and his presence preserves silence and order during meal hours. Exactly at the half hour the engine stopped, and the children, to the number of about 400, began to come in to breakfast. All the tin cans containing their tea or coffee had been placed on the table ready, and all had taken their seats; the boys on one side of the room and the girls on the other; and had unfolded their little portions of bread and butter, but no one began to eat. How is this? I turned my eye to the schoolmaster for an explanation. He had his watch in hand, and at the expiration of 5 minutes from the time the engine stopped, (which time is allowed for all to get seated) he gave a signal. At this signal they all rose and sang a beautiful verse as grace before meat; this surprised and pleased me much; I could scarcely believe I was among factory people.
The grace being ended, they began to eat their breakfast, the schoolmaster still remaining in his place. Some of the boys were soon done, and seemed to manifest a little impatience to get out to play; these boys kept their eye steadfastly fixed upon the schoolmaster. At exactly 10 minutes from the time of commencing breakfast, he gave the word "go;" immediately the boys and younger girls departed quietly, two or three together, while the young women remained to spend their quarter of an hour in knitting or sewing.
Now, dear reader, look into the play-ground; see their merry little faces and active limbs, striving who can be most happy. How very different is all this from what I experienced when a factory boy. But how does it happen that these children are so active and playful, and the generality of factory children so jaded and tired? It is because these children enjoy many privileges, of which ninety-nine out of every hundred factory children know nothing.
In every room in which the children work, there are at least half a dozen spare hands, who relieve the others by turns, and the children are not only allowed, but provided with seats. These seats are fixed along both sides of the rooms, in addition to which, every frame attended by any young person has stools attached to it by means of a joint, which allows of their being placed under the frame when not wanted. The seats at the sides of the rooms are for the use of the spare hands; those attached to the frames, for the children at work. Occasionally it happens in these mills, that a child can have half a minute to spare, then by a motion of the foot, the stool can be brought from under the frame, and it can be thus relieved from its standing posture. None but those who have experienced it, can know the value of a seat in these spare half minutes, to a child thus circumstanced, The children have here no harsh treatment to endure from their overlookers, who seem to be an intelligent set of men, and endowed with a large share of the christian spirit of their masters. Should one of these overlookers dare to strike a child, he would be immediately dismissed.
The school-room is a large new building, erected near the mills. The firm provide, at considerable expense, a schoolmaster and schoolmistress, who are brother and. sister; also books, slates, maps, pens, ink, &c. The children under thirteen years of age, to the number of between 300 and 400, are divided into sections, each attending school at least two hours per day. The boys learn reading, writing, arithmetic, geography and singing; and the girls learn knitting and sewing, in addition to the above. Adjoining the school-room is the washing-room, which is provided with a number of large basins and clean towels, and water is laid on and can be had by turning a tap. A quarter of an hour suffices to enable a division to clean for school. With a more cleanly, healthy-looking set of factory children I have nowhere met.
It is but justice to state, that this school and its arrangements were originally planned and superintended by that indefatigable friend of the factory laborers, the Rev. G. S. Bull; and that it was opened for the children previously to the introduction of the Factory Regulation Bill.
When the children arrive at the age of thirteen years, they are then permitted to work full time; and on leaving school they are presented with a handsome Bible, with the following inscription on the inside of the cover:—
"This copy of God's Holy Word was given to
on attaining the thirteenth year of her age, as a reward for good conduct during three years attendance at Messrs. Wood and Walker's Factory School.
"May you ever 'read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest;' may you 'embrace and ever hold fast the blessed promises of everlasting life,' contained in this Sacred Book.
"May it be your guide through life, and your support in the hour of death.
M. Balme, Schoolmaster to
Messrs. Wood and Walker.
The young women in this establishment are of a superior cast. This arises in part from the care which has been taken of them when they were children, and from the rules respecting their government now they are grown up, which rules are strictly enforced. The principal of these are, that no married females shall be allowed to work in these mills; and that any "single female" being known to conduct herself improperly, must instantly quit her employment. The hours of labor also, not being so long as at most places, allow them more time to learn domestic habits and improve their minds. They enjoy also a great advantage in having warm, comfortable meals on the premises, if they should require it. Their appearance is clean and decent, and they seem to take a pride in keeping themselves so. On inquiry, I learned that most of them had been brought up under this firm, and may be said to know very little of the vice and wickedness generally prevailing in other English factories.
There are not many men employed in the spinning departments, but of wool-sorters and combers there are a great number, who enjoy comparatively good wages.
A surgeon, liberally paid, is provided by the firm; whose duty it is to go over the works daily, for the purpose of inspecting the health of the work people. Should this gentleman notice any one looking ill, he makes inquiry as to the cause, and if it be any thing requiring rest or medicine, he is ordered home immediately; or should any of the work people feel themselves sick, they apply to the surgeon and obtain timely advice and assistance. During the time they are off work, their wages are sent to them the same as if they were at work. To this part of their benevolent plan, the work people contribute a small weekly sum.
In a conversation with one of the partners of the firm, he said to me, "that, although they did all they could to make their work people comfortable, yet they were well aware their system was not what it ought to be. They were anxious to reduce the hours of labor to ten per day, if the other manufacturers would do the same; and until that took place, he did not see what other improvements could be made."
This establishment is conducted in a manner which reflects great credit on the firm, and affords a striking proof of what may be done by those manufacturers who feel disposed to improve the condition of their work people. It would give me great pleasure to be able to say, that of the many thousand establishments there are in England for the manufacture of silk, cotton, linen, and woollen goods, five could be found to answer the description of the one here given; such, however, I fear is not the case.