The Life of the Industrial Worker in Nineteenth-Century England
In 1832 Michael Sadler secured a parliamentary investigation of conditions in the textile factories and he sat as chairman on the committee. The evidence printed here is taken from the large body published in the committee’s report and is representative rather than exceptional. It will be observed that the questions are frequently leading; this reflects Sadler’s knowledge of the sort of information that the committee were to hear and his purpose of bringing it out. This report stands out as one of three great reports on the life of the industrial class — the two others being that of the Ashley Commission on the mines and ‘s report on sanitary problems. The immediate effect of the investigation and the report was the passage of the Act of 1833 limiting hours of employment for women and children in textile work.
Mr. Matthew Crabtree, called in; and Examined.
What age are you? — Twenty-two.
What is your occupation? — A blanket manufacturer.
Have you ever been employed in a factory? — Yes.
At what age did you first go to work in one? — Eight.
How long did you continue in that occupation? — Four years.
Will you state the hours of labour at the period when you first went to the factory, in ordinary times? — From 6 in the morning to 8 at night.
Fourteen hours? — Yes.
With what intervals for refreshment and rest? — An hour at noon.
When trade was brisk what were your hours? — From 5 in the morning to 9 in the evening.
Sixteen hours? — Yes.
With what intervals at dinner? — An hour.
How far did you live from the mill? — About two miles.
Was there any time allowed for you to get your breakfast in the mill? — No.
Did you take it before you left your home? — Generally.
During those long hours of labour could you be punctual; how did you awake? — I seldom did awake spontaneously; I was most generally awoke or lifted out of bed, sometimes asleep, by my parents.
Were you always in time? — No.
What was the consequence if you had been too late? — I was most commonly beaten.
Severely? — Very severely, I thought.
In those mills is chastisement towards the latter part of the day going on perpetually? — Perpetually.
So that you can hardly be in a mill without hearing constant crying? — Never an hour, I believe.
Do you think that if the overlooker were naturally a humane person it would still be found necessary for him to beat the children, in order to keep up their attention and vigilance at the termination of those extraordinary days of labour? — Yes; the machine turns off a regular quantity of cardings, and of course, they must keep as regularly to their work the whole of the day; they must keep with the machine, and therefore however humane the slubber may be, as he must keep up with the machine or be found fault with, he spurs the children to keep up also by various means but that which he commonly resorts to is to strap them when they become drowsy.
At the time when you were beaten for not keeping up with your work, were you anxious to have done it if you possibly could? — Yes; the dread of being beaten if we could not keep up with our work was a sufficient impulse to keep us to it if we could.
When you got home at night after this labour, did you feel much fatigued? — Very much so.
Had you any time to be with your parents, and to receive instruction from them? — No.
What did you do? — All that we did when we got home was to get the little bit of supper that was provided for us and go to bed immediately. If the supper had not been ready directly, we should have gone to sleep while it was preparing.
Did you not, as a child, feel it a very grievous hardship to be roused so soon in the morning? — I did.
Were the rest of the children similarly circumstanced? — Yes, all of them; but they were not all of them so far from their work as I was.
And if you had been too late you were under the apprehension of being cruelly beaten? — I generally was beaten when I happened to be too late; and when I got up in the morning the apprehension of that was so great, that I used to run, and cry all the way as I went to the mill.
[The material above was reprinted in an old history textbook, Readings in European History Since 1814, edited by Jonathan F. Scott and Alexander Baltzly, and was published by Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc. in 1930.]