The Laboring Classes of England/Letter 8
THE ENGLISH FACTORY SYSTEM ITS EARLY HISTORY.
I wish it to be distinctly understood, that any thing I may advance in this or other letters, has no reference to the factory system of New England. Upwards of thirty years' experience and observation teaches me that the factory system of Old England and that of New England are as widely different in their results, as the two forms of government under which they are respectively carried on. Not to enter into details at present, I would simply say that the system of Old England could not exist in New England; neither could the New England system exist in Old England; the thing is impossible, so long as the systems of government remain as they are. With this preliminary observation I will proceed to make some extracts from printed documents, as the most satisfactory method of showing the actual character and consequences of the English Factory System.
"It may not be amiss to inquire how it came to pass originally, that, in England, always boasting of her humanity, laws were necessary in order to protect little children from the cruelties of the manufacturer.
It is well known that Arkwright's (so called, at least) inventions took the manufactures out of the cottages and farm-houses of England, where they had been carried on by mothers, or by daughters under the mother's eye, and assembled them in the counties of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, and, more particularly, in Lancashire, where the newly invented machinery was used in large factories built on the sides of streams, capable of turning the water-wheel. Thousands of hands were suddenly required in these places, remote from towns; and Lancashire, in particular, being till then but comparatively thinly populated and barren, a population was all she now wanted. The small and nimble fingers of little children being by very far the most in request, the custom instantly sprang up of procuring apprentices from the different parish workhouses of London, Birmingham, and elsewhere. Many, many thousands of these little hapless creatures were sent down into the North, being from the age of seven, to thirteen or fourteen years. The custom^ was for the master to clothe his apprentices, and to feed and lodge them in an "apprentice-house" near the factory; overseers were appointed to see to the works, whose interest it was to work the children to the utmost, because their pay was in proportion to the quantity of work done.
"Cruelty was, of course, the consequence; and there is abundant evidence on record, and preserved in the recollections of some who still live, to show that in many of the manufacturing districts, but particularly, I am afraid, in the guilty county to which I belong, cruelties the most heart-rending were practised upon the unoffending and friendless creatures who were thus consigned to the charge of master-manufacturers; that they were harassed to the brink of death by excess of labor; that they were flogged, fettered and tortured, in the most exquisite refinement of cruelty; that they were, in many cases, starved to the bone, while flogged to their work, and that even in some instances, they were driven to commit suicide to evade the cruelties of a world, in which, though born so recently, their happiest moments had been passed in the garb and coercion of a workhouse."
"The profits of the manufacturers were enormous; but this only whetted the appetite that it should have satisfied, and therefore the manufacturers had recourse to an expedient that seemed to secure to them those profits without any possibility of limit; they began the practice of what is termed "night working," that is, having tired out one set of hands, by working them through the day, they had another set ready to go on working through the night; the day set getting into the beds that the night set had just quitted, and in their turn again, the night set getting into the beds that the day set quitted in the morning. It is a common tradition in Lancashire, that the beds never got cold!"
"These outrages on nature, nature herself took in hand; she would not tolerate this, and accordingly she stepped forth with an ominous and awful warning—contagious malignant fevers broke out, and began to spread their ravages around; neighborhoods became alarmed, correspondences appeared in the newspapers, and a feeling of general horror was excited when the atrocities committed in those remote glens became even partially known."
The above is copied from a work by John Fielden, Esq. M. P. for Oldham, and cotton manufacturer at Todmorden, in Lancashire.
My second extract is taken from the evidence of Sir Robert Peel, (father of the late prime minister,) as given before Parliament. Sir Robert is said to have had more parish apprentices than any one man in England. He thus speaks of them:
"Having other pursuits, it was not often in my power to visit factories, (speaking of his own,) but whenever such visits were made, I was struck with the uniform appearance of bad health, and, in many cases, stinted growth of the children. The hours of labor were regulated by the interests of the overseer, whose remuneration was regulated by the quantity of work done."
He further says:
"Such indiscriminate and unlimited employment of the poor, will be attended with effects to the rising generation so serious and alarming, that I cannot contemplate them without dismay; and thus that great effort of British ingenuity, whereby the machinery of our manufactures has been brought to such perfection, instead of being a blessing to the nation., will be converted into the bitterest curse."
It will be necessary here to state, that Sir Robert Peel, senior, introduced a Bill into Parliament in the year 1802; and thus commenced the factory legislation, which has been carried on with very little success, for more than forty-four years.
On the 3d of April, 1816, Mr. R. Gordon made the following statement in the House of Commons:
"It appears that overseers of parishes in London are in the habit of contracting with the manufacturers of the north for the disposal of their children; and these manufacturers agree to take one idiot for every nineteen sane children. In this manner wagon loads of these little creatures are sent down to be at the perfect disposal of their new masters."
I will take another extract from the evidence of L. Horner, Esq., one of the head Inspectors of factories. He says:
"These children were often sent one, two, or three hundred miles from the place of their birth, separated for life from all relations, and deprived of the aid which even in their destitute situation they might derive from friends."
He describes this as "repugnant to humanity, and a practice that had been suffered to exist by the negligence of the legislature."
In referring to the results of this inhuman practice, he says,
"It has been known that with a bankrupt's effects, a gang (if he might use the term) of these children had been put up for sale, and were advertised publicly as a part of the property. A most atrocious instance had come before the King's Bench, in which a number of these children, apprenticed by a parish in London to one manufacturer, had been transferred to another, and had been found by some benevolent persons in a state of absolute famine. Another case, more horrible, had come to his knowledge, while on a committee of the house; that an agreement had been made between a London parish and a Lancashire manufacturer, by which it was stipulated that with every twenty sound children, one idiot should be taken."
I will conclude this letter by making an extract from the speech of Sir Robert Peel, late prime minister, in Parliament. The speech does great credit to Sir Robert. He says:
"I am one of those who have derived our fortunes from the industry of the operative classes, and I trust that others who owe their prosperity to the same cause will feel as I do, that it is our duty to relieve the public, by taking on ourselves the charge of a just requital to those classes from whom our prosperity has sprung."
I have thought it necessary, in order to convince the reader of the truth of what I have stated, (the facts being of such a nature as to require the strongest testimony) to make the above extracts. I have taken them from the writings of men of the highest standing in society, and would be very willing to convince any one that I have not only copied them correctly, but selected them with an eye to mildness, rather than severity.