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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 81

Chapter VI. — The Textile Family.—a Revelation of Cheap Labour.—Man, Woman and Child.—on the Hill and in the Valley

page 44

Chapter VI.

The Textile Family.—a Revelation of Cheap Labour.—Man, Woman and Child.—on the Hill and in the Valley.

Although Bradford employs some 58,791 workers in its textile trade, it is only the centre of a vast manufacturing area. It is surrounded by a cordon of towns and villages, and beyond these again lie fiercely busy communities like Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Keighley, and Halifax. The field of production, covered by the single word textile, embraces a very wide aggregation of specialised labour, from wool-sorting and weaving, down to the multifarious offices that appertain to dyeing and finishing. The ramifications of the woollen industry, in fact, present a bewildering aggregation of skilled trades, that in the aggregate represent the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of the great and historic industry in which Bradford leads. Although Leeds is the commercial capital of Yorkshire, Bradford stands apart in its manufacturing and merchant preeminence.

Over these hills of Southern Yorkshire has risen a wonderful romance of industry, materialised in miles of factories and long, lank chimney shafts, in a fabulous quantity of machines embodying the wonders of inventive genius, and an accumulation of working-class communities that holds one spell-bound. It all represents a vast and phenomenal growth—a growth of men and machines, of towns and cities, of wealth and poverty, of frightful disorder, congestion, and slums. Its turning point seems to be the beginning of the twentieth century. The spasmodic efforts of reformers, revolutionaries, doctors, divines, poets, politicians, scientists, and others that came with the closing decades of the nineteenth, have taken definite shape in leagues, associations, and other collective bodies for the amelioration of the lot of the worker, his wife, and his children. What industrial growth alone to Bradford represented is shown by the following statistics of population:—
1801 13,264 1871 145,827
1831 43,527 1891 216,361
1851 103,778 1901 280,161

When England deserted agriculture to become an industrial country, it necessarily meant that hundreds of thousands left the land for the towns and cities. The heavy increases in population did not carry with them an expansion of residential areas, but resolved itself into downright overcrowding. The problem was accentuated by the fact that the agricultural people carried with them habits of personal uncleanliness that in the, congested atmosphere of town and city were productive of appalling results. The unrestricted operations of speculative builders, landlords, and agents who leased and sublet whole areas, precipitated the social disaster that followed. There were also other elements in the food supply and habits of the people that had their share. The workers were equally obliged by the conditions of industry to work long hours for poor wages. Thus it was that hundreds of thousands of people were crushed by a combination of social and economic conditions which only the few who had the ability and individual force of character overcame. To-day, that in a few sentences, is the problem of the armies of textile workers in page 45 Southern Yorkshire, as much as it is the problem of any other British industrial area.

The conditions of labour which surround the textile industries are some of the hardest that, outside of the sweated trades, exist in England. The effect is to be noted in innumerable ways, the pallor of the faces, neglect of personal appearance, a certain dispirited air, and mental apathy that is in part the outcome of sheer physical fatigue. In both Yorkshire and Lancashire there are some people who take a pride in the "hard working lads and lassies." To an outside observer, it is a sorry pride for all the physical unfitness it entails. When trade is good, the woollen and the cotton mills hardly ever cease, night or day, from 6 a.m. on the Monday morning till the Saturday mid-day. The average working hours are 55£ hours a week. It being illegal, since 1901, to employ women and children during the night, they form practically the whole of the day shift, working from 6 a.m. to 5.15 p.m., with half an hour's interval for breakfast, and three-quarters of an hour for lunch. The night shift starts at 5.15 p.m. and ceases at 6 a.m. These conditions are strenuous enough, but there are other things that tend to make them harder. Wool will work faster in a hot moist atmosphere, and since speed in production is one of the requirements of modern industry, the factories are kept up to a fairly high temperature, that increases as the end of the week approaches. Evidence given before the Bradford Trades Hall showed that in the combing and drying processes, the temperature of the rooms rises from 100 deg. to 120 deg. Fahrenheit. That there has been some improvement in the heavy hours of labour is shown by the fact that in 1850 the hours of women workers in textile factories were limited to sixty hours per week, to which unrestricted overtime was allowed. But against the gradual curtailment in this direction, the speed of machinery has increased, so that for the 55½ hours per week to-day the worker's labours are carried on at a much greater pace. There is also the additional factor that he is allowed to work overtime, which he often does. In Bradford it is not an infrequent thing for a man starting on the Friday night at 6.15 p.m. to go on working till the Saturday 1 o'clock. Unfortunately, factory inspection in England is such as to be hopelessly inadequate to check such evils.

In order to grasp what these things entail to the individual, I took the trouble in Bradford to inquire into the history of several families of textile workers. Here is an average case. The father is an unskilled casual worker engaged at night on wool-combing. His wages average 15/- per week. His wife is a spinner earning 12/- per week. They married at the ages of 23 and 20 respectively.' When the first child came, the mother, who had worked in the mills almost up to the day of its birth, was incapacitated for three weeks or a month. The maintenance of the family during the time was dependent on the earnings of the husband. Trade being good, the mother returned to her occupation, and the child was given over to a nurse—an elderly female pauper—upon whom the child was dependent for training. When the second child came, however, trade was bad, and the mother remained unemployed for over two months, whilst her husband was working short time, and out of work for over a week one time. It was under these conditions that additions to the family began to arrive at regular intervals. With the increase of children, the duties of the mother could not any longer be relegated to a third party. The woman therefore gave up her work as a spinner page 46 and endeavoured to meet the serious deficiency in the family income by doing charing, washing, or other domestic labours that were usually rewarded with poor rates of pay. For a period of eight to ten years life for the husband and wife was a continuous struggle. When the first child attained the age of twelve, he was permitted by law to enter the mills and work half a day (6 a.m. to 12.30 p.m.). The remainder of the day he devoted to schooling. The increase in the family income by his labours was 3/- to 3/9 per week. The boy left school at fourteen, and for four years after that earned 8/- a week as a spinner. In the meantime the other children grew up and became eligible for employment. Thus an increasing increment was brought to the family income. There had been six children, but two had died in their first year—infant mortality being invariably heavy with this class of people. The family income had grown to £3 to £3 5/- per week, but it varied with trade, and did not last long. The eldest boy, when he reached eighteen, was turned off at the mill, his duties being supplanted by a younger child. During the whole of his labour in the mills he had only learnt to do one operation at the spinning frame. He had therefore to depend for his maintenance on unskilled casual labour. By the time the youngest—a girl—had reached twenty-one, the whole family had married and settled into domestic surroundings of their own, and were undertaking the responsibilities of life under almost identically the same conditions as their parents. The father, who had been steady and industrious, as unskilled labourers go, died at forty-five from pneumonia. The mother had to be supported by the family, and was ardently awaiting the arrival of the old-age pension. Thus it can be seen that the process which determines the existence of a textile family engenders sufficient domestic and intellectual privations as to make it hopeless for the average individual to get away from them. Heredity and environment hold them down, while other elements make for their demoralisation.

The half-timer—the child who works half a day in a mill and spends the rest in school—is a survival of early Vietorian days, when juveniles from five years of age and women were harnessed to the untiring machines, and had to toil from fourteen to eighteen hours it an atmosphere poisoned with dust and bad air. The age at which a child could be employed was gradually raised till 1901, the limit went up from eleven to twelve. To-day the testimony of teachers, and sociological students, is all against the system. The whole question is whether the manufacturer in the face of international competition and hostile tariffs is to be allowed to use the child for the purpose of cheap production. The opinion of the employers is reflected in a discussion by the Yorkshire section of the British Association of Managers of Textile Works on November 14th, 1907. A summary of the discussion was given in phamplet form in an official publication by the association. The document is marked "strictly confidential. "The following extracts are of interest:—

"It was agreed that the conditions prevailing in most factories were superior to the conditions prevailing in the school ... In schools the class-rooms were notoriously crowded, and possibly unhealthy, thus largely accounting for the drowsiness on the part of the halftimers complained of by the school -teachers. Opinion was divided as to the effect upon the children having to be at the mill by 6.30 a.m., although the "Early to bed and early to rise" advocates were very staunch as to its having no injurious effect.

"The opinion was fully expressed that as a whole half-timers were quite page 47 equal to the full-timers in educational attainments, some of the members contending that they were brighter and possessed of more 'true knowledge.' . . . "The question of the moral training of the half-timer was very seriously discussed, and the difficulty freely recognised. It was contended, however, with much reason, that the sources of contamination were outside the mill, and the truth was that the mill overlookers were not responsible for much prevailing depravity. Nevertheless, it was considered that better example and control might be exercised.

"The economy of half-time labour was mentioned, but it was contended that this, to individual firms, was of little practical advantage."

The last statement provokes one to the inquiry that if it is no advantage to individual firms to get the benefit of a child's labour between the ages of twelve and eighteen for 3/- to 3/9 per week, why is the abolition of the halftimer so strenuously opposed by the manufacturers? The managers make out a very poor case, and their statements are sufficiently obvious to require no answer here. This subjection of undeveloped and immature children to industrial needs, without any regard for their future welfare and moral and intellectual betterment is one of the most sordid features of English life. It has been going on for years, and it is not too much to say it is one of the tragedies of our civilisation. The relation of the subject to colonial inquirers is only to show that it is one of the component parts of the great industrial system of Europe and America which offers so many potent and tragic examples to younger countries that are, in turn, seeking to develop their resources.

There is another side to the picture in Bradford, and one which shows that despite all the economic considerations governing international industry to-day, despite the existence of hostile tariffs, and relentless competition for the world's markets, a woollen mill can be a factor for the production of national wealth without neglecting to secure to its thousands of workers the conditions requisite to bodily health and mental and social well-being. High up on the hills above Bradford, away from the congestion and the smoke of the city, Messrs. John Foster and Son's Black Dike Mills cover a floor area exceeding fifteen acres, and employ 2,000 workpeople. The business was founded in 1819, and it has since grown into a large concern conducted for the production of the highest class of goods. Attached to the works is an estate of 1,200 acres, and the Borough of Queensborough, with a population of 6,000, of whom half are dependent directly on the mills. The majority of the workers' homes are built and let by the firm at nominal rents, after the manner of other model industrial communities in England. The firm have provided a very fine building for the use of their workpeople. It contains a large concert hall, theatre, library, billiard-room, lecture and technical instruction classes, swimming baths for men and women, kitchen for instruction of cookery, steam laundry, etc. There is a rifle range and recreation grounds on the estate, whilst amongst the various organisations amongst the workpeople for the promotion of social intercourse and intellectual betterment, is the Black Dike Mills Band, which has since 1856 won 154 first prizes, 62 seconds, and other distinctions.

Queensborough, in fact, is a model community. Its splendid mills are considered to be one of the finest properties in the district, whilst its thousands of workers labour and live in an environment that insures health and the highest industrial efficiency. In all departments of the factory there is light and air. The workrooms are white-washed, clean, well page 48 lighted and ventilated. The workmen are above the average in appearance and health. Where in most mills one finds a certain dull, hopeless look from many of the workers, there seems to be at Queensborough only alertness and vitality. In all these things is the demonstration that where reasonable hours of labour are imposed, combined with healthy conditions, the employer gets a higher rate of production and a better quality of work. This was the testimony of Major Foster himself, the managing director of the whole concern.

The cottage homes of the workers, each with a plot of ground and garden where sturdy youngsters romped, fitted in aptly to the radiant hills and vales that surround them. Amid this industrious environment, where hundreds of machines whirled daily, and the clanging looms were never still, the landscape beauty remained. It was the realisation of Nature and industry moving in harmoney to the needs of man and his works.

But here is the contrast that speaks so bitterly for the mass in Bradford and all its adjacent black, dingy, throbbing centres. In the quarterly report of the Chief Woman Inspector, dated March 31st, 1908. the following appears: "A one-bedroomed house was occupied by a married couple and a woman lodger, besides the tenant, wife and child.

"One house, on being inspected, presented a wretched appearance. The grate was choked with ashes. ... A small table and two dilapidated chairs constituted the furniture. From upstairs came the sounds of an infant wailing; otherwise, but for a puppy dog, there were no signs of life. After a time the grandmother was discovered preparing the infant's food in a neighbour's house, this preparation consisting of bread and water only, the family being so poor they could not provide milk.

"In one case the mother, daughter, illegitimate infant, and two young men appeared to be occupying one bed, the condition of which was deplorable; ticks, mattresses, coverings, were all black with grease and dirt. The baby lay on this bedding during the day, covered by the flock bed itself.

"One infant suffering from indigestion was being dosed with gin and water by its mother, who, fearing discovery, hurriedly thrust the tin cup containing the mixture into the oven. The doctor had ordered the mother to wean the child, and as she was very poor, a neighbour kindly offered her a long tubed bottle. This was in an unwashed, filthy condition, just as it had been left when the friend's child had last used it during an attack of diphtheria."

"There were two small children in the home, the younger being just under one year of age, the elder two years old. The infant, in physique and weight was about equal to the average child of three months. Although noon at the time of visiting, it had not been washed or dressed, and lay on the bed uncoved, with nothing on but a small dirty chemise. It was screaming violently, and by its side lay the long tubed bottle from which it had been feeding. On examining this the contents could not be seen for the thick coating of curd on the inside of the glass; the tube was almost completely choked, and the teat rotten. The whole feeding bottle was in a horrible condition, calculated to poison the child."

That is the grim staring revelation of poverty at the heart of industry itself. Is it not a tragedy for civilisation that these things should be whilst away on the hills there is only the song of labour and love in a cottage?