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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 81

Chapter I. — The Home of Steel.—Life and Labour IX Sheffield.—the Tragedy of a Worker.—Problems of Industry

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Chapter I.

The Home of Steel.—Life and Labour IX Sheffield.—the Tragedy of a Worker.—Problems of Industry.

England was full of sunlit glories of the charm of deep lawns and wooded heights, of thatched roofs and soaring chimney pots beneath the old grey church tower that marks the site of many an enchanting village. Splashes of a thousand poppies float through the oat fields in a blaze of scarlet, rippling through endless hedgerows to where the woods gathered high on the hills. The landscape rushes by enthralled with the kiss of Summer. Towns gather suddenly on the horizon, only to whirl by in a stream of bricks and roofs, and finally disappear in the distance—a streak of red pierced by a few faint shafts. A green devil and a string of carriages swaying with the rapture of speed whirls us merrily over hill and dale. The Great Central ten o'clock special from Marylebone is rushing us on to Sheffield, knocking off the miles sixty to the hour almost to the second of time. Leicester and three hours of loveliness such as England only knows, are far behind.

But a change is at hand—a strange incongruous transformation speaking of fierce energies, fires, smoke and desolation. A bank of brown luminous cloud hovers on the horizon. The sunlight vanishes. Trees that a few minutes ago were radiant with splendour turn dim and strange. A faint mist blurs the land-scape. The bank of brown cloud remains stationary in the distance. Only the mist thickens until the country has the appearance of being affected by some neighbouring bush fire. It is literally smothered in smoke—fields, villages, woods and hills. The cause rapidly becomes evident. Tall shafts and fat ugly retorts pour out the clouds that gather fast over hill and dale. Blackened derricks and long gloomy pipes plumed with steam join in the spectacle. Ribands of railways flash off and stretch into great yards crowded with trucks of coal. Slag heaps rise up in mounds of desolation, and vanish again into the smoke. Everything seems flung together in disorder and dirt, reaching to a ragged and drunken outline against the gloomy zenith. Nature herself is scarred and torn by some black and devastating horror. The might of a century of relentless toil is materialised in that panorama of accumulated houses, factories and chimney shafts submerged in an inferno of smoke. Nothing could be more potent or suggestive of national wealth and poverty. That great steel works out there, sending up clouds of smoke and steam, and tinging the heavens at night with lurid fires is the material expression of vast and concentrated wealth. That mass of huddled cottages near it strung together in unbeautiful congestion, crowded and dirty with men, women and children, is the staring revelation of poverty. There was something in the contrast that hurt. I turned away disappointed and painfully disillusioned.

In distant seas, where the smoke of great industries is virtually unknown, and the voices of these activities reach one only in murmurs, imagination is quick to picture these wondrous things of industry amid the romance which surrounds them. A nebulous conception comes to one of vast and whirring machines, of great fires and page 15 mighty energies called into being by the will of man. The story of invention holds the thoughts spell-bound with its wonder and victory. A suggestion of spires and domes rise up proclaiming the dignity of labour and the grandeur of achievement. One sees only the shadow and forgets the substance. But all the fantastic fabric imagination reared in the days of anticipation is withered and broken at one touch of the tremendous realism that smothers the hills of Southern Yorkshire.

"Sheffield in five minutes!" The words of the guard find a response in one's pulse. The train rushes through long sidings, and in a few moments is darting by black stone buildings and shafts that mark the outskirts of the great steel centre. They crowd together craning with roof and chimney pot to shut out the sky from one another. In a moment they suddenly rise out of sight as we sweep into a cutting. The network of lines increases. There is a violent grinding of brakes, and we are slowly enveloped by a great black roof. Carriage doors are flung open, and in a moment there is a mass of humanity swirling amid the stygian gloom of Sheffield Victoria Station. The babel of a hundred voices is shut out by the arrival of another express gliding in on an opposite platform with a cloud of steam roaring from her safety valve. The whole scene is pregnant with feverish activity. It heralds what lies beyond the exit where one scrambles to at last for daylight and deliverance, with pulses throbbing to all the life, the wonder and the fierce energy of Sheffield's black and throbbing station.

In contrast to the wooded hills and the long radiant valleys, nothing could be more powerful or dramatic than the historic and busy centre of Sheffield. Placed as it is in a neighbourhood of wondrous charm and sylvan glory, the city and its immediate environment are hopelessly unbeautiful. From the eminence of Victoria Station, the eye is greeted by a sea of blackened roofs and chimney pots straggling from a gloomy valley to the hills beyond. It lies before one naked in ugliness, what with its miles of crooked and cranky streets, its endless chimney shafts and slated roofs crowding in from remote horizon to the eminence, where the Town Hall points a ponderous and sooty tower to the smoke-stained skies.

Sheffield is a characteristic example of a city grown without design, and attaining blindly to the proportions of a metropolis through a century of industrial revolution. In most manufacturing towns in Britain, there is usually an area more or less defined where the factories do not intrude. In Sheffield they appear to be everywhere. There is no place sacred from the desolating influence of the tall shaft with its cloud of smoke. The old streets are very narrow and full of irregularities. The houses and streets for the most part in these areas are revoltingly dirty. Nothing could be more repulsive or indicative of the evils that have arisen with the growth of the factory system in England, than some of these historic thoroughfares of Sheffield.

It is necessary to see it under sunlight and rain to realise, if need be, what certain environment and activities may entail upon the mass of the people. The rain subdues the City into masses of roof and shaft, reaching with uncertain outline through the smoke. The narrow streets loom up in wet indefinite perspectives, and all their mass of men and horses carts and wagons lurching across the cobbles are smudged into the picture.

Sunlight, on the other hand, accentuates every detail with curious and persistent aggressiveness. Every door and window, and every dirty face and page 16 greasy garment thrust themselves upon the observation in brazen ugliness. Dirt and poverty seems to spare one not a detail of their shamelessness. Overhead the smoke hangs in a listless brown canopy in the sunlight. In the hot, humid streets and the long, black buildings the fierce, relentless activities of men and women pass unceasingly, and the making of great riches on the one hand and greater poverty on the other tells its story afresh. One looks for beauty in vain. It fled to the hills years ago—the hills where there are so many fine homes and bright, clean faces. Is it not enough to make us wonder how far the riches of the one are the price of the other?

In 1901, the medical health officer reported that 29 dwelling houses were unfit for human habitation, 49 dirty 96 overcrowded, and 1,116 damp or dilapidated. In housing conditions altogether no less than 9,061 defects were complained of. It must be recollected that the terms "dirty," "overcrowded," or "damp," imply an insanitary condition below the standard we might imagine them to mean in say, Wellington, or even Sydney. The climatic and atmospheric conditions of Australasia make it almost impossible to measure the state of a crowded and dirty city like Sheffield, handicapped as it is by age, and enveloped for the most part in smoke.

As I write these things of the great steel centre, a recollection of a certain district, down in the valley, comes to mind. It was just toward evening. I was taken there by a "slummer." We wandered down lane after lane, narrow and dirty, and dominated by that overwhelming sense of disorder. Children in droves, unwashed women gossiping on the doorsteps, and grimy workmen grouped by the veritable "shanty" that did duty for an hotel. There was something in their appearance and their attitude that seemed to reflect the dirt and the squalor of the houses in which they lived. In many cases two and three families shared one house. The overcrowding was typically illustrated by a case where we found a labourer—an unskilled worker in a neighbouring foundry living with his wife and six children in two rooms. Across some of the streets lines of washing were hung for the reason that there was no backyard for the purpose. In one part there were several large tenement dwellings, where makers of cutlers lived and worked. The landlord, it appears, provides the light, power and furniture, for which workmen pay a rent that absorbs one-fourth to one-third of their earnings. In some of the buildings over a dozen workmen and their families were housed, several occupying three rooms, the majority two, and some only one. The houses for the most part were old, leaking, and dilapidated, and the conditions under which the workmen laboured and their families existed were nothing more or less than revolting. Sheffield is not extraordinary in this respect. One can find similar examples of disorder existing in every large manufacturing centre. They all partake more or less of the same character, varying principally in the degree of smoke that pollutes the atmosphere, and the filth that seems inseparable from the houses. The first rush of impression transfixes the stranger with horror, and for the moment he hovers between the wonder and the terror of the grim, staring reality it reveals.

The effects upon a people of housing conditions so defective, and accompanied by all their corollaries in dirt, disease, moral ruin and degeneration, are things every community, young or old, should certainly realise. The importance of it

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Their only Soap is Sunlight.

Their only Soap is Sunlight.

Types of slum children. The boy is three years old, but not properly developed, owing to constant underfeeding.

The children of the slum take their chief amusement by playing in the gutters until they are old enough to work. The mother being usually away all day, they have to shift for themselves.

The children of the slum take their chief amusement by playing in the gutters until they are old enough to work. The mother being usually away all day, they have to shift for themselves.

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was well demonstrated in an edict issued by the Minister of the Interior for Saxony (Germany) in 1901, when he said, "In proportion as the housing conditions are insufficient, the general working and disease-resisting power of the population is weakened, the outbreak or spread of certain serious diseases, especially typhus, consumption, and syphilis, is promoted, morality and contentment are undermined, intellectual training is lowered, and at the same time the economic success of the individual citizen and the general welfare of the community are endangered and injured."

In the case of Sheffield, the statement is only too clearly justified in the melancholy record presented by the Medical Health Office report for 1906 (the latest available up to the time of writing). Sheffield's population is 382,384. Compared with other English cities. Sheffield comes thirteenth on the list of highest death rates. Out of the total of 7475 deaths in 1906, 3129 were children under the age of five years. Two-thirds of the children died before attaining their first year. Could anything be more striking than such a rate of infant mortality?

A detailed examination of the figures shows clearly that the mortality amongst children (which is very high in all industrial centre in England and Scotland) is due to causes directly traceable to defective surroundings and insufficient feeding. Lack of food and sunlight, supplemented by congested conditions and parental ignorance, are just the things that make thinking men apprehensive for the future of the race.

On the hills to the west of Sheffield, where the smoke can seldom penetrate, there are many modern homes reared amid trees and flowers. The suburban electric car glides merrily on to their secluded heights, bearing bright-faced children, and well dressed people out to the sunshine. It is only as it should be. In these modern garden suburbs England is beginning to rear one reads the hope of the future. Already they serve to accentuate the horror of the valley. It is a contrast that for all time will hold with condemnation the memory of staring walls and gloomy shafts staggering above the sickly waters of the Don. It was the Don that centuries ago drew the primitive cutler to do his grinding by its verdant banks, and from such beginnings sprang that romance of industry, the tremendous fascination of which is strangely belied by what is now a pale stricken flood, winding amid fierce panting factories on the one hand, and desolation and misery on the other.

There are very potent things to be told of this marvellous throbbing Sheffield. Take, for instance, the making of cutlery and file cutting. Both industries long ante-date the introduction of steam power.

In bygone days, ere the white wizard was harnessed to the chariot of industry, the manufactures of Kngland were principally conducted in the homes of the workers. Every house was a factory, and every factory demanded its toll of labour from father, wife, and children alike. To all intents and purposes, the father was the embodiment of owner, board of directors, manager, working foreman, and shareholder. Such of these domestic labours that still survive the revolution effected by the invention of power and machinery are termed "Home Industries." Nowadays it is around these home industries that some of the most difficult social and industrial problems gather.

Sheffield clings with singular tenacity, to the old conditions under which cutlery grew to be one of its flourishing industries. Although there are a number of large factories, there are many folk who live and work in large tenements or in small workshops controlled by small employers. There are something page 18 like 1200 of these workshops in existence. They are to be found chiefly amongst the most crowded areas in the city, and, as may be well imagined, the health conditions are wholly bad and insanitary. Usually a building of several floors subdivided so as to give separate accommodation for a number of families.

Even in the large factories the cutler plies his craft under much the same conditions as his ancestors did. Each cutler has his own little forge replete with bellows, water tanks at the side, and anvil in front before the open window. In a minute or so he can shape out a pair of scissors from a bar of steel, and by the ordeal of fire and water temper it to a degree beside which machine-made cutlery is rubbish. It is a craft so skilled that no inventive ingenuity has succeeded in revolutionising the old conditions under which the finest knives, razors, and scissors are produced to-day. It is Sheffield's priceless heritage.

The larger factories comprise dozens of these tiny forges squeezed together in tight congestion. The grinding of the rough-shaped product of the smith comprises another branch of highlyskilled labour. Unfortunately, it is responsible for a very high percentage of lung troubles amongst the workers, as I will show presently. Owing to the overcrowding of the workshops that have little ventilation, and the absence of opportunity to acquire sanitary habits, the cutlers in themselves are not an asset of health to the community. Besides insanitary housing and industrial conditions, there are two things that operate against the chances of the workers. One is that the earnings are not at all commensurate with the quality of the work, whilst the habits and the domestic ignorance in the homes militates against the full value being obtained from the money they earn. An ordinary workman, when labour is plentiful, can average 37/ a week on piecework.

Out of the 15,600 people who represent the cutlery trade of Sheffield, there are some 2,500 females employed, the majority of whom are unmarried. Whilst working hours in Sheffield generally run from 6 a.m. to 5 or 5.30 p.m., many of these girls can only earn from 9/ to 12/ a week. To see these girls at work in front of their benches, filing, rubbing, and polishing, to breathe the atmosphere in which they work week by week, year in, year out, to note their modest meals of bread and dripping—maybe butter sometimes—a mug of stuff called tea, and occasionally a particle of meat or fruit, cannot but make one marvel at the system which orders such things to be. I came across a unique case of female labour. It was one of those minor tragedies of an individual life swamped in the ocean of toilers. The foreman of a well-known establishment pointed out to me with some pride a woman at a bench tiling and polishing scissors. Her withered features and scant grey locks suggested "four score years and ten." She had come in as a girl of fourteen, and had been toiling at that bench of piecework for 50 years. Previous to that she had worked from childhood in a "home" workshop. Her wages had, according to the foreman, reached "as high as 23/ per week in her prime." I give his words. "Isn't she a wonder," he said admiringly, "64 years old and still working?"

"Remarkable," was all that I dared to reply.

"She used to work like a man," he added with a chuckle. "They used to get jealous of her. She could beat some of them out of sight."

"What can she earn now?" I asked.

"Well, she's old now—not so young as she used to be, you know—still she's a

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One of the Effects of "Town Cramming."

One of the Effects of "Town Cramming."

[unclear: Back of slum bouses which the landlords refuse to repair until compelled, but let out as human habitations.]

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wonderful old body. She mattes about 8/ a week," be added in an undertone.

Eight shillings a week at 64! I left the foreman and wandered over to the old lady's side. She never ceased working a moment. I spoke and professed to admire her work. She only grunted, the file in her hands never halting a moment. The foreman plucked my sleeve, and as we went away be whispered, "She don't say much now, but isn't she a wonder?"

I nodded, and went to the doorway.

There were about twenty girls working in that room. I stood awhile and watched them. A picture gathered in the heated atmosphere of the days when there were twenty girls working by the side of a poor little lass of fourteen. Where were they now? How many such lives had passed here in the smoke of Sheffield, toiling for a pittance? What perversity was upon humanity that had allowed such things to be, that foreman and workers alike should find admiration and wonder in the labours of a palsied old woman for whom there was until recently no old age pension, no years full of honour—only the darkening future? I thought of New Zealand and its Minimum Wage Act, its Arbitration Court and Factory Inspectors, of its State edicts by which the will of the individual was debarred from enslaving the mass. That broken old woman made a picture no imagination could resist.

With file-cutting the conditions of labour and living are much the same. The introduction of machinery has done, and is doing, much to break up the antiquated establishment where hand labour is still persisted in. In the surroundings of the home workers there is the reiterated note of dirty conditions, poorly clad and poorly paid workers, both men and women, striving to reach the line where poverty ends and self-support begins. Many of them do not attain it at all.

The natural surroundings of Sheffield are such as to make it one of the healthiest and certainly one of the most attractive parts of England. This probably contributes towards placing it thirteenth on the list amongst other centres in the matter of death-rate. But bad industrial conditions must necessarily make their effect evident, even in the best of natural surroundings. The city vividly illustrates this. The average death-rate for the whole community is 16.7 per 1,000. The report of the Medical Officer of Health for 1906 shows that percentages of mortality amongst workers were as follows:—
Cutlers 37.6
Grinders 37.9
File Cutters 40.5

Phthisis and diseases of the respiratory system are in the main responsible for such an appalling condition of things. "More than 100 deaths of men from phthisis are caused every year by the exceptionally bad conditions under which they work," the report says. Turning for a moment to a page in which the M.H.O. discusses housing conditions under which the majority of these people live, the report makes the following statement: "In some cases there are houses with five or six rooms, containing a different family in each individual room. The furniture is, as a rule, of the most meagre and dilapidated description, usually some sort of a bed or two (frequently vermin infested), a packing case stood on end for a table, a bottle for a candlestick, and one or two other such like substitutes. A single room containing a few shillings' worth of furniture usually lets for 4/ a week and upwards. . . . The tenant can be turned out any time during the 24 hours."

It is thus by a combination of extraordinarily defective industrial and housing conditions one may arrive at vital causes largely responsible for the melancholy record shown above.