[Transcribed and published with the permission of the Editor and Author. Chris Aspin.]
EXTRACTED FROM ‘MANCHESTER AND THE TEXTILE DISTRICTS IN 1849 BY ANGUS BETHUNE REACH. Edited by Chris Aspin and published in 1972 by the Helmshore Local History Society.
'WE PUBLISH this day," announced the Morning Chronicle of October 18, 1849,---the first of a series of communications, in which it is proposed to give a full and detailed description of the moral, intellectual, material, and physical condition of the industrial poor throughout England.---The undertaking, which continued until the end of the following year under the heading -LABOUR AND THE POOR,- was described by a nineteenth century historian of the English Press as “an unparalleled exploit in journalism"; and E. P. Thompson has said that the correspondents' reports form “the most impressive survey of labour and poverty at mid-century which exists” (2) But apart from the London section, which was the work of Henry Mayhew (3) the project has been almost entirely forgotten.
The present volume is an edited version of the reports from Manchester and the surrounding textile districts published during October and November, 1849. Their author, Angus Bethune Reach (pronounced Re-ach), was a prolific journalist whose descriptive writing raised the reporter's craft to new heights during the middle years of the century. The son of an Inverness solicitor, Reach settled in London in 1841 at the age of 20 and won his spurs on the Morning Chronicle, for which he continued to work until illness ended his career in 1854. Charles Mackay, the poet and Reach's colleague on the newspaper, said of him :
‘In the capacity of a narrator of events which largely interested the public, he was constantly employed; and introduced a style till then unpractised, except in editorial articles, by means of which he brought before the reader's mind a vivid picture such as a novelist would paint, of every occurrence that passed under his eye-rapid, correct, graphic and full of life and animation. Under his influence the reader could see what he saw, hear what he heard and share all the emotions and excitement of the actual spectator of the scene. This was an immense advance upon the old reporting style. It immediately found imitators in other journals, and picturesque reporting became thenceforward the fashion.’ (4)
“No amount of work seemed too much for him," added Mackay, and another contemporary writer, George Sala, said it was no uncommon thing for Reach to work sixteen hours daily. He was therefore an ideal person to take part in the survey of 1849-50. He made a thorough investigation of conditions in the industrial districts, setting down his findings with admirable fluency and understanding in lengthy articles, two of which were published weekly during the early part of the undertaking. This would have been enough work for most men, but throughout his career on the Morning Chronicle, Reach contributed regularly to other newspapers and journals and found time to write novels and a number of humorous works. He also investigated the condition of the wine growers and vineyard labourers of the Garonne, publishing his articles in 1852 under the title, Claret and Olives. Reach died in November, 1856, at the age of 35.
The Morning Chronicle's survey was prompted by the severe outbreak of cholera which focussed attention on the condition of the poor during the summer of 1849. “No man of feeling or reflection”, said the newspaper in its introduction to the investigation, “can look abroad without being shocked and startled by the sight of enormous wealth and unbounded luxury, placed in direct juxtaposition with the lowest extremes of indigence and privation. Is this contrast a necessary result of the unalterable laws of nature, or simply the sure indication of an effete social system?"
In trying to find the answer, the newspaper certainly succeeded, as it predicted it would, “in making very valuable additions to the general stock of knowledge”, and today the numerous articles are a rich source of information for both the national and local historian.
Reach began his survey in Manchester and also used the city as a base from which to make excursions to the surrounding districts. It was a particularly interesting moment for undertaking an inquiry into the condition of the poor. These were the closing months of a decade which had brought important changes in the country's financial and economic policies, in factory legislation and in the attitude of local authorities to health and sanitation. The 1840s had also seen a strengthening of voluntary help for the working classes, in particular that performed by the Sunday schools, and a gradual improvement of trade following the severe depression of 1841-44.
The Manchester which I am describing [wrote Reach] is the Manchester of prosperous times. True, there has not been any recent fever of production; there has been no sudden and imperious demand for calicoes, such as in the olden times, before Ten Hour Bills were heard of, would have kept the steam-engines throbbing, and the mechanism whirling for fifteen or eighteen hours out of the twenty-four; but there has been for some time a fair and steady trade; the workpeople have for some time earned fair and steady wages, and the butcher and baker have happily had the power of being reasonable in their demands.
The ten-hour working day had been in operation a little over a year when Reach arrived in Manchester, but he found ample evidence of its benefits.
“I have personally conversed with at least two dozen young men and women who have learned to read and write since the passing of the Ten Hours Bill. Night schools for adults are now common; most of these have libraries attached to them. The men and boys learn reading, writing and cyphering; and the women and girls, in addition to these branches of education, are taught plain, and are in many instances teaching themselves fancy needlework.”
These were some of the first fruits of reform; but as Reach observed, -“Education is but yet opening its trenches and arranging its batteries. The social and sanitary pioneers have but just begun in earnest to advance”. There was still much that shocked the visitor to Lancashire : squalid cellar dwellings, Oldham mills with their hot, unventilated rooms filled with flying dust, the drugging of young children whose mothers worked all day. It is an honest, impartial account that Reach gives.
Professor T. S. Ashton described the reports of the Royal Commissions and Committees of Inquiry as “one of the glories of the Victorian age. They signalised a quickening of social conscience and a sensitiveness to distress that had not been evident in any other period or in any other country”. The Morning Chronicle's survey is a worthy companion to those investigations.
Reach wrote his descriptions of Manchester during and not at the end of his stay and he returned several times to topics discussed in earlier reports. I have therefore arranged the Manchester material under separate headings rather than giving it as it originally appeared.
1 H. R. Fox Bourne, English Newspapers, 1887, ii, p 154,
2 E. P. Thompson and Eileen Yeo, The Unknown Mayhew. 1971, p 23,
3 The Survey was the starting point of Mayhew's London Labour and London Poor. Mayhew continued his investigations after leaving the Morning Chronicle.
4 Charles Mackay, Forty Years' Recollections, 1887, L pp 150-151.
1. “A thing of yesterday”.
MOST ENGLISHMEN are, either from actual observation or reiterated description, familiar with the general appearance of what are called the manufacturing districts. The traveller by railway is made aware of his approach to the great northern seats of industry by the dull leaden coloured sky, tainted by thousands of ever-smoking chimneys, which broods over the distance. The stations along the line are more closely planted, showing that the country is more and more thickly peopled. Then, small manufacturing villages begin to appear, each consisting of two or three irregular streets clustered round the mill, as in former times cottages were clustered round the castle. Roads substantially paved with stone, so as to support the weight of heavy waggons, wind among the fields. Canals, with freights of barges, intersect the country; and the rivers, if they be not locked and dammed back, and embellished with towing paths upon the banks, run turbid and thick- charged with the foulness of the hundred mills they have aided in their course. Presently the tall chimneys begin to figure conspicuously in the landscape; the country loses its fresh rurality of appearance; grass looks brown and dry, and foliage stunted and smutty. The roads, and even the footpaths across the fields, are black with coal dust. Factories and mills raise their dingy masses everywhere around. Ponderous waggons, heavily laden with bales or casks, go clashing along. You shoot by town after town - the outlying satellites of the great cotton metropolis. They have all similar features - they are all little Manchesters. Huge, shapeless, unsightly mills, with their countless rows of windows, their towering shafts, their jets of waste steam continually puffing in panting gushes from the brown, grimy wall. Between these vast establishments, a network of mean but regular streets, unpicturesque and unadorned - just the sort of private houses you would expect in the vicinity of such public edifices; and around all this, and here and there scattered amongst all this, great irregular muddy spaces of waste ground, studded with black pools and swarming with dirty children. Some dozen or so miles so characterized, the distance of course more or less according to the point at which you enter the Queen of the cotton cities - and then, amid smoke and noise, and the hum of never-ceasing toil, you are borne over the roofs to the terminus platform. You stand in Manchester.
There is a smoky brown sky overhead - smoky brown streets all around - long piles of warehouses, many of them with pillared and stately fronts - great grimy mills, the leviathans of ugly architecture, with their smoke-pouring shafts. There are streets of all kinds - some with glittering shops and vast hotels, others grim and little frequented - formed of rows and stacks of warehouses; many mean and distressingly monotonous vistas of uniform brick houses. There are principal thoroughfares, busy and swarming as London central avenues - crowded at once with the evidences of wealth and commerce - gay carriages and phaetons - clumsy low-built omnibuses, conveying loads which a horse must shudder to contemplate - cars, carts and waggons of every construction, high piled with bales and boxes. There are crowds of busy pedestrians of every class which business creates - clerks and travellers and agents - bustling from counting-house to counting-house, and bank to bank. There are swarms of mechanics and artisans in their distinguishing fustian of factory operatives, in general undersized, sallow-looking men and of factory girls, somewhat stunted and pale, but smart and active looking, with dingy dresses and dark shawls, speckled with flakes of cotton-wool wreathed round their heads.
This city - this great capital of the weavers and spinners of the earth, the Manchester of the power-loom, the Manchester of the League (1), our Manchester -is but a thing of yesterday. Sir Richard Arkwright was the man who laid the foundation of our Manchester. Since the introduction of roller-spinning the city sprang up as though by magic.(2) A man, only a very few years dead, recollected the people crowding to admire the first tall chimney built in Manchester, and had seen the Liverpool coach set forth at six in the morning, in good hope of its reaching its destination not very long after six o'clock at night. Considerably within two-thirds of a century the scattered villages of Manchester, Salford, Hulme, Pendleton, Chorlton and two or three others, became the vast cotton metropolis which has lately succeeded in swaying the industrial and commercial policy of England.
2. Workers' homes
MANCHESTER MAY be roughly divided into three great regions. The central of these - tying round the heart of the Exchange - is the grand district of warehouses and counting rooms. There the fabrics spun, wove, printed and dyed at the mills, are stored for inspection and purchase. There the actual business of buying and selling is carried on. There are banks, offices, agencies innumerable. The far outskirts of the city, again, form a sort of universally-stretching West-end. Thither fly all who can afford to live out of the smoke. There are open handsome squares, and showy ranges of crescents and rows, and miles of pleasant villas peeping out from their shrubberied grounds. Between these two regions - between the dull stacks of warehouses and the snug and airy dwellings of the suburbs - lies the great mass of smoky, dingy, sweltering and toiling Manchester. It is from that mid region that the tall chimneys chiefly spring, and it is beneath these - stretching in a network of inglorious-looking, but by no means universally miserable streets, from mill to mill, and from factory to factory - that we find the homes of the spinners and weavers, whose calicoes are spread abroad over three parts of the garment-wearing globe.
The streets of some districts are very far superior to those of others, although the inhabitants of all belong very much to the same class, and the rents paid are tolerably uniform. The old districts are, as might be expected, invariably the worst. They contain the largest proportion of cellar dwellings, of close, filthy courts, of undrained lanes, and of rows of houses built back to back, without any provision for ventilation, and with very little for cleanliness. Still, a tolerably extensive inspection of the worst localities of Manchester has not revealed to me alleys so utterly squalid and miserable as many I could name in London; and certainly the filthiest court which I have penetrated is decency itself compared to the typhus-smelling wynds and closes into which I have adventured in Glasgow. In the older parts of the borough of Manchester itself, along the great thoroughfare called the Oldham road, and in the Ancoats district - the latter entirely an operative colony - are situated some of the most squalid-looking streets, inhabited by swarms of the most squalid-looking people which I have seen. Outlying portions of the borough of Salford are also very miserable, full of streets unpaved, undrained, strewn with offal and refuse, and pierced with airless culs-de-sac, rendered still more noisome by the quantities of ill-coloured clothes hung to dry from window to window. The township of Chorlton - a more modern one - is decidedly better; but of all which I have yet seen - I am of course referring to the operative quarters - the district Hulme (pronounced Hoom) presents the most cheering spectacle, not only on account of its comparatively broad and airy streets, but from the progress which it evinces in the plan of construction of the houses. Hulme is a new district. A very few years ago, a great portion of the space now covered with humble but comfortable streets was open fields.
The house of the Manchester operative, wherever it be - in the old district or in the new - in Ancoats or Cheetham or Hulme - is uniformly a two-story dwelling. Sometimes it is of fair dimensions, sometimes a line fourteen feet long would reach from the eaves to the ground. In the old localities there is, in all probability, a cellar beneath the house, sunk some four or five feet below the pavement, and occupied perhaps by a single poor old woman, or by a family, the heads of which are given to pretty regular alternation between their subterranean abode and the neighbouring wine-vaults. In the modern
and improved quarters, the cellar retires modestly out of sight, and is put to a more legitimate use as a home for coals or lumber. Nothing struck me more, while visiting and comparing notes in the different operative districts of Manchester, than in the regularity with which the better style of furniture went together; it being always kept in mind that, so far as wages are concerned, the inhabitants of one locality are almost, if not quite, on a par with those of another. But the superior class room seemed, by a sort of natural sequence, to attract the superior class furniture. A fair proportion of what was deal in Ancoats was mahogany in Hulme. Yet the people of Hulme get no higher wages than the people of Ancoats. The secret is that they live in better built houses, and consequently take more pleasure and pride in their dwellings.
The worst class of houses, not being cellars, commonly inhabited by the ---mill hands-, consist each of two rooms, not a -but-and-a-ben", but an above and a below, the stair to the former leading directly up from the latter, and the door of the ground-floor parlour being also the door of the street. In some cases the higher story is divided into two small bedrooms, but in the superior class of houses there are generally two small, but comfortable rooms on the ground-floor, and two of corresponding size above. The street door in these tenements opens into a narrow passage, from which the stairs of the bedrooms also ascend. The window of the ground floor room, opening to the street, is always furnished with a pair of substantial outside shutters, and the threshold is elevated from the pavement, so as to admit of very emphatic stone door-steps with flourishing scrapers, both of which, by the way, are generally to be found in a very commendable state of purity. A local act of Parliament, (3) obtained a few years ago, and providing that every house built after its enactment in Manchester should be constructed so as to posses a back door opening into a small back yard, has been of immense advantage to the newer portions of the town. The unhealthy practice of building houses back to back was thus at once put down. A free current of air was permitted to circulate in the rear as well as in front of the tenements, and ample space was obtained for the necessary cesspools, ash-pits, &c., &c., while convenient approaches for the cleansing of such receptacles from the back were everywhere formed. Take, for example, a part of Hulme, which I inspected the other day. Between every street were two rows of the best class of operatives' houses, each with four rooms and a cellar a-piece; and between each of the rows, running the whole length, was a paved courtway, with a gutter in the centre, formed by the back walls of the yards of the tenements on either side; the walls in question being pierced with apertures, through which all sorts of domestic refuse could be easily got at and conveyed away with as little annoyance to the inhabitants as may be. Certainly the plan was a vast improvement upon the old style of building. Still more might have been done. Most of the streets were provided with regular drains and gratings. In the case of new streets, I believe, the corporation insists upon these necessary appendages being completed within two years after the completion of the street (it would be as well, one would think, to make the whole business simultaneous); but the drains in question, as I am informed, only carry away the surface water and slops flung into the gutter in the central back passage, all sorts of foul refuse having to be removed by manual labour. The construction of water-closets is yet a desideratum, even in the best class of the operatives' houses; while in the old districts the accommodation in this respect is deficient in the extreme, and that which exists, filthy in the extreme. This is a matter which, in discussing seriously and earnestly the social condition of the people, it would be weak and foolish to shirk. There will be little female virtue where, in the very nature of things, there can be little delicacy or decent reserve. In town and in the country, in low lodging-houses, and in squalid clusters of agricultural cottages, the evil is the same. The sexes, at all times and at all hours, are huddled together, simply from want of room and accommodation to bestow them separately; and thus follow the inevitable results of brutalized men and hardened and shameless women - of childhood precociously knowing in everything which children ought not to know, and by consequence, precociously criminal.
I visited several of the better class houses in Hulme, and shall sketch in a few lines, the parlour of the first which I entered, and which may be taken as a fair specimen of the others. The room was about ten feet by eight, and hung with a paper of cheap quality and ordinary pattern. In at least two of the corners were cupboards of hard wood, painted mahogany fashion, and containing plates, teacups, saucers, &c. Upon the chimney-piece was ranged a set of old-fashioned glass and china ornaments. There was one framed print hanging from the wall - a steel engraving of small size, reduced from the well-known plate of the “Covenanter's Marriage.” Beside this symbol of art was a token allegiance to science, in the shape of one of the old-fashioned tube barometers, not apparently in the most perfect state of order. There were two tables in the apartment - a round centre one of ordinary material, and a rather handsome mahogany Pembroke. Opposite the fireplace was one of those nondescript pieces of furniture which play a double part in domestic economy “a bed by night, a wardrobe all the day.” The chairs were of the comfortable old-fashioned Windsor breed; and on the window-ledge were two or three flower-pots, feebly nourishing as many musty geraniums. The floor was carpetless - a feature, by the way, anything but characteristic. In the passage, however, was laid down a piece of faded and battered oil-cloth. The general aspect of the place, although by no means a miracle of neatness, was tolerably clean and comfortable. The landlady, a buxom dame of fifty, or thereabouts, does not work in the mill herself, but her sons and daughters - two of the latter married - all do. She was perfectly ready to submit her dwelling to our scrutiny, and expressed a strong hope, in anything which might be said of her or her family, that special mention might be made that “they were all for the Ten Hours Bill (4) in that house.”
In the majority of streets inhabited by operatives the front room on the ground floor is used both as parlour and kitchen. Sometimes a second room of small dimensions opens back from it, and when such an apartment exists, it is generally seen littered with the coarser cooking and washing utensils. I have described the principal “public” room in a house of the first class in Hulme: let me sketch the generic features of the tenements in the older, worse built, and in all respects inferior quarter of Ancoats. Fancy, then, a wide-lying labyrinth of small dingy streets, narrow, unsunned courts terminating in gloomy culs-de-sac, and adorned with a central sloppy gutter. Every score or so of yards you catch sight of one of the second and third class mills, with its cinder-paved courtyard and its steaming engine-house. Shabby-looking chapels, here and there, rise with infinitesimal Gothic arches and ornaments, amid the grimy nakedness of the factories. Now a railroad, upon its understructure of arches, passes over the roofs; anon, you cross a canal, with wharfs and coal-yards and clusters of unmoving barges. In most cases the doors of the houses stand hospitably open, and young children cluster over the thresholds and swarm out upon the pavement: you have thus an easy opportunity of noting the interiors as you pass along. They are, as you will perceive, a series of little rooms, about ten feet by eight, more or less, generally floored with brick or flagstones - materials which are, however, occasionally half concealed by strips of mats or faded carpeting. A substantial deal table stands in the centre of each apartment, and a few chairs, stools, and settles to match, are ranged around. Occasionally, a little table of mahogany is not wanting. Now and then you observe a curiously small sofa, hardly intended for a full grown man or woman to stretch their limbs upon; and about as often one side of the fireplace is taken up with a cradle. Sometimes there is a large cupboard, the open door of which reveals a shining assortment of plates and dishes; sometimes the humble dinner service is ranged on shelves which stretch along the walls; while beneath them are suspended upon hooks a more or less elaborate series of skillets, stewpans, and miscellaneous cooking and household matters. A conspicuous object is very frequently a painted and highly-glazed tea tray, upon which the firelight glints cheerily, and which, by its superior lustre and artistic boldness of design, commonly throws into the shade the couple or so of tiny prints, in narrow black frames, which are suspended above it. A favourite and no doubt useful article of furniture is a clock. No Manchester operative will be without one a moment longer than he can help. You see here and there, in the better class of houses, one of the old-fashioned metallic-faced eight-day clocks; but by far the most common article is the little Dutch machine, with its busy pendulum swinging openly and candidly before all the world. Add to this catalogue of the most important items of incublement an assortment of the usual odds and ends of household matters, deposited in corners or window-ledges or shelves - here a box, there a meal or flour barrel now and then a small mirror gleaming from the wall - now and then a row of smoke-browned little china and stoneware ornaments on the narrow chimney-piece - in general a muslin window-screen, or, perhaps dingy cotton curtains - and not unfrequently a pot or two of geraniums or fuchsias, rubbing their dry twigs and brown stunted leaves against the dim and small-paned lattice. Picture all these little household appliances, and others of a similar order, giving the small room a tolerably crowded appearance, and you will have a fair notion of the vast majority of the homes of the factory operatives, such as they appear in the older and less improved localities of Manchester. The cellars are, as might be expected, seldom furnished so well. They appear to possess none of the minor comforts, none of the little articles of ornament or fancy furniture which more or less you observe in the parlours. The floors seem damp and unwholesome, you catch a glimpse of a rickety-looking bed in a dark airless corner, and the fire upon the hearth is often cheerlessly small, smouldering amongst the unswept ashes.
Decidedly the worst feature of the house tenements is the (in some districts) invariable opening of the street-door into the parlour. One step takes you from the pavement to the shrine of the Penates. The occupant cannot open his door, or stand upon his threshold, without revealing the privacy of his room to all by-passers. This awkward mode of construction is objectionable in other respects, as tending, for example, to be a fruitful source of rheumatic and catarrh -bestowing draughts. But, as I have stated, the new houses are almost invariably furnished with a decent lobby, a characteristic which of itself places them fifty per cent above those built after the old fashion.
Saturday is generally the great weekly epoch of cleansing and setting things to rights in the houses of the Manchester workpeople. The last day of the week may, indeed, be generally set down as a half holiday amongst all the industrial population, exclusive of artisans and tradespeople. At the ordinary dinner hour, there is a vast stir amongst the denizens of counting houses and warehouses, many of whom have country establishments to visit upon the Saturday, and one o'clock sees a simultaneous starting of scores of heavily-laden omnibuses bound for every suburb and village of and round Manchester. The mills knock off work at about two or half after two o'clock, and if you visit the class of streets which I have been attempting to describe an hour or so thereafter, you will marvel and rejoice at the universality of the purification which is going forward. Children are staggering under pails and buckets of water, brought from the pump or the cock which probably supplies a small street. Glance in at the open portals, and you will witness a grand simultaneous system of scouring. The women, of course, are the principal operators - they are cleaning their windows, hearthstoning their lintels, scrubbing their furniture with might and main. The paterfamilias, however, does not always shirk his portion of the toil. Only last Saturday I came upon two or three lords of the creation usefully employed in blackleading their stoves.
Every evening after mill hours these streets, deserted as they are, except at meal times, during the day, present a scene of very considerable quiet enjoyment. The people all appear to be on the best terms with each other, and laugh and gossip from window to window, and door to door. The women, in particular, are fond of sitting in groups upon their thresholds sewing and knitting; the children sprawl about beside them, and there is the amount of sweethearting going forward which is naturally to be looked for under such circumstances. Certainly the setting of the picture is ugly and grim enough. A black, mean-looking street, with a black unadorned mill rising over the houses, and a black chimney pouring out volumes of black smoke upon all - these do not form very picturesque accessories to the scene, but still you are glad to see that, amid all the grime and dinginess of the place, there is no lack of homely comforts, good health, and good spirits.
The rents paid by the operatives in Manchester vary from 3s. to 4s. 6d., and in some cases 5s. per week. This is for an entire house. Cellar dwellings fetch - I give the statement upon the authority of Mr. P. H. Holland, surgeon, whose report upon the sanitary condition of Chorlton was published in 1844 - from 1s. to 2s. weekly, according to size. There is, however, I am happy to understand, upon all sides, a growing disinclination to those unwholesome abodes; but as their rent is low, a period of stagnation in trade often forces the people to occupy them. In 1844 Mr. Holland calculates that in Chorlton one cellar in every six was empty. The number of cellars, as compared with that of houses, was then one in twenty-eight. Mr. Holland adds, “They(the cellars) are much disliked, and justly so. They are always badly lighted and ventilated, and generally badly drained.” In Chorlton Mr. Holland calculates that about one-third of the working population live in houses constructed back to back, and consequently without any thorough ventilation. About one-eighth live in -closed courts, or streets which are little better than courts.---Now Chorlton being neither a very new nor a very old district, may be taken as giving not a bad idea of the general style of the working homes of Manchester. The proportion of people living in unventilated, undrained, and unwholesome buildings, in the districts traversed by the St. George's-road, the Oldham-road, and Great Ancoats-street, must be much more considerable, while in such districts as Hulme the case is reversed.
Manchester, like most great manufacturing and commercial cities, is scantily supplied with water, and that which is to be procured is not by any means universally transparent or tasteless. The streams which traverse the town are incarnations of watery filth. A more forbidding-looking flood than the Medlock, as it may be seen where it flows beneath the Oxford-road, it would be difficult to conceive. The black foetid water often glistens with the oily impurities which float upon its surface, and the wreathes and patches of green froth which tesselate it prove the effervescence produced by impure gases. For any household purposes whatever, the water of this uncovered sewer is quite out of the question; and the contents of the larger stream of the Irwell are not much better. Manchester, therefore, obtains its water partially by means of pipes, partially by means of wells and pumps. The last satisfactory statistics which have been published upon the subject are those contained in the “Manchester Police Returns,” compiled by Captain Willis, the head of the constabulary force, for 1847. By these returns it appears that the number of “streets, squares, alleys, &c., within the borough of Manchester” was, at the date in question, 2,955. The number of dwelling houses was 46,922. Of these there were “supplied with pipe water in the interior, including shops," 11,190; while not less than 12,776 “houses, &c.," derived their water from a common cock or tap in the street. The number of houses which reaped no advantage, either from pipes conducted into their interiors, or from taps in the streets, was nearly as great as the amount of dwellings provided for in both of these ways, being 22,956. The number of dwelling-cellars in the borough was 5,070. Of these only 1,408 were provided with pipe water. Upwards of 1,968 had the advantage of a common tap, and 1,994 were entirely dependent upon other means of supply. The water sold by the Waterworks Company is derived from a tunnel called Gorton's Brook, which is principally land drainage. So intensely impure is the atmosphere over Manchester, that the rain water is unfit even for washing until it has stood some time to purify and settle. Many of the poor who have no cisterns to allow the water to rest in, and probably no room for them even if they had, carry the fluid to be used for washing and scouring from the canals, and are frequently so economic in their use of it that they keep a bucket-full until it stinks. Mr. Holland has “frequently detected the practice by the abominable smell produced in a patient's sick room”. Generally the landlord of a set of houses sinks one or more wells, covering them of course with pumps, for the use of his tenants. The right to draw water from these sources is purchased by the neighbours at the rate of from 6d. to 1s. per quarter. Sometimes they come as far as a quarter of a mile to a favourite pump, or have the water carried home to them, paying for its conveyance a penny for every three gallons. Where standpipes or public taps are erected, the charge by the water company is about 10s. a year for every house the inmates of which use the convenience. Of the petty thefts which occur in Manchester, however, none-although they do not appear in the police returns - are so common as larcenies from taps and pumps. Many people, too, who do not choose to steal their water, obtain it merely as cheaply by begging for it. The “pressure” is kept on by the Waterworks Company for a few hours each day, Sunday excepted: and, consequently, cisterns and tanks are necessary when the quantity of water required for the day's consumption is at all large. In the course of a year or two, it is probable that Manchester will be bountifully and cheaply supplied with water. The works now in course of construction to conduct a fresh stream of the pure fluid from Glossop will, when completed, vie with many of the most superb aqueducts of antiquity. (5) I may add here, that the pumps attached to factories are frequently made use of by the workpeople. Messrs. Harvey and Tysoe (6) have sunk a well, for the use of which one penny per week is charged, the small sums thus collected going to the mill library fund, for the purchase of books. Another gentleman, Mr Ashton, a very extensive millowner at Hyde, has, at his own expense, introduced water into no less than 320 labourers' houses belonging to him, at the total cost of about £1 per tenement. The rent he charges for this convenience is the moderate sum of one shilling per annum a weekly sum of three-pence being charged for the water itself. Since the introduction of this system, Mr Ashton informed the Health of Towns Commissioners that the houses, and especially the back-yards, were very much cleaner, and that the change was very observable in the persons of the people themselves. Mr Ashton is for a compulsory supply of water, to be introduced to every tenement, however humble. The system of taps or public pumps he describes as being fraught with all sorts of danger to morals.
Upon the whole, then, I am rather inclined to look hopefully upon the condition of the dwellings of the operatives of Manchester. At all events, there is an evident disposition to improvement. The corporation are rigid in enforcing the observance of the Local Building Act; and as Manchester is still rapidly increasing, the proportion of better class dwellings is becoming every day greater. I believe, too, that a very powerful stimulus has been given to increased neatness at home by the additional evening leisure time which the Ten Hours Bill has insured to the women. “I have time now to clean my house, and I do it, too, every evening” is the phrase I have heard repeated a hundred times by the tenters and female weavers. “Before, I was so tired that I could do nothing but just eat my supper and go to bed," they generally added. I fear, indeed, that anything like a thorough reform of that great portion of operative Manchester - built upon a bad plan, or rather upon no plan at all, save perhaps, that promising a yearly return of shillings in the pound - is at present out of the question. It is not, however, I know, beyond the powers of the people, if they be sober and industrious, to keep almost clear of the cellar dwellings. Building societies are a very common means of investing the savings of wages, and I believe that the people are beginning to see that the better the dwellings are, the cheaper in proportion can they be rented. For an additional third of what a cellar costs, a decent house, with several rooms and respectable conveniences, can be procured. The millowners in Manchester have paid, until recently, little or no attention to the state of the dwellings of their workpeople. They have maintained that if the labouring rooms in the factory were tolerably sweet and wholesome, that was all which they had to do with the matter: that the homes of their workmen and workwomen were the exclusive concern of the dwellers in them - a doctrine which, if not perfectly correct, was, at all events, exceedingly convenient. But the question comes to be, whether, in such a system as the factory one - a system in which an employer can exercise almost as great a degree of moral influence over great masses of the employed as the captain of a man-of-war can do over his crew at sea - whether, in such circumstances, the employer is not - morally at least, if not politico-economically - bound to attempt by his intelligence and enlightenment as much as possible to guide and direct the efforts and the energies of the new social development which he has himself aided in calling into being, and which is rising with so strange and anomalous a rapidity around him. It is to be presumed that all sorts of property confer their duties - mills, and steam-engines, and warehouses, and printed calico, as well as fields and woods; and if a landowner is not held to perform his duty unless he pays some attention to the social and sanitary state of the labourer upon his ground, so I cannot see that the manufacturer is to be excused from a similar obligation. That ideas of this class are now making way, both in field and city, I am happy to believe. Unhappily, the bulk of Manchester arose during a period in which they have had no existence - during which master and man more commonly regarded each other as mutual enemies rather than as mutual dependants, whose best interest it was to be mutual friends. A vast population suddenly sprung up round the mills. This population had to be housed, and they fell into the hands of unchecked speculators, who ran up mobs of filthy and inconvenient streets and courts, utterly unheeding, or perhaps profoundly ignorant of, the sanitary and social guilt of their doings.
3. The mills
I HAVE visited and minutely inspected three cotton mills - two of them spinning establishments - one of them a spinning and weaving factory. These three mills I selected as likely to afford fair average specimens of the condition of the textile industry in Manchester. The first establishment which 1 visited was the great spinning and weaving factory of the Messrs. Birley, situated on the small stream of the Medlock, in the district of Chorlton-upon-Medlock. This establishment, including a manufactory of Macintosh cloth, which adjoins it, and which is the property of the partners, consists of several huge piles of buildings, separated from each other by streets, but connected by subterranean tunnels, in which iron tramways are laid down for the speedier and easier conveyance from ware-room to ware-room of the raw material. Nearly 2,000 hands are regularly employed in this vast industrial colony, and the machinery with which it is filled is impelled by several steam-engines, some of them of small power - a couple working with the strength of seventy, and one with the force of one hundred and fifty horses. Like the great majority of mills in Manchester, Messrs. Birley's establishment works fairly ten hours a day. The thread spun there is of the coarser quality, and is principally intended to be woven into cloth for the foreign markets, a statement which leads me to a general remark which must be constantly kept in mind in all our inquiries into the cotton-mill system. Manufactories of this species of fabric are divided into classes, according to the fineness of tenuity of the threads into which they spin the raw fibre of the cotton. The mills producing the most delicate threads - such, for example, as those requisite in the manufacture of lace - are called “fine-spinning mills.” The motion of the machinery in these mills is slowest, and, as a general rule, the wages of the operatives are highest, the thread being more valuable, and a greater degree of care and attention being requisite for its production. There are, then, “fine-spinning mills,” coarse-spinning mills and a variety of establishments producing thread of intermediate degrees of fineness, which I may term medium mills. The factory of the Messrs. Birley spins, as I have said, coarse threads and the coarser ranges of the medium varieties. This factory has been long established, and being the largest in Manchester, may fairly be considered as one of the largest, if not the largest in the world. A former partner in the mill was one of the magistrates in command at the riot nicknamed Peterloo. (7)
The second mill which I visited is a much smaller kind. It is situated in Canal-street, Oldfield-road, and has been driven by the same steam-engine for half a century. This factory is the property of Messrs. Harvey and Tysoe - gentlemen who exert themselves to the utmost to promote the social comfort and improvement of their workpeople. In the admirably ordered establishment which they possess are workmen who have toiled for the same masters for more than forty years; and twenty years ago, a spinner, who had been in the service of the same partners for thirty-two years, was carried to the grave by six of his comrades, who had laboured beside him for more than twenty years. This is a “fine-spinning” mill. The partners are steady adherents of the teetotal system, and lose no opportunity of inculcating the advantages of temperance upon their workpeople. The hours of labour are ten. The third mill which 1 have inspected is one of a medium size, and is spinning fine and medium thread, some of the former so exquisitely attenuated as to furnish more than 15,000 yards to the pound weight. Cotton, however, can be spun to a much greater fineness still. The factory at present in question is the property of Messrs. Gardner and Bazley, who are also the owners of a country mill. (8) Both of the mills work ten hours a day, according to act of Parliament.
In inspecting the two latter establishments which I have mentioned, every facility was afforded me for forming an accurate judgment of the condition of the workpeople. Messrs. Harvey and Tysoe laid their wages-book before me, and were at pains to educe the exact average of the earnings of their people. Mr. Bazley also gave me every information as to the wages in every department of his establishment; and in both mills I was invited to put any question to the operatives which I might desire. This last privilege I was not slow of using. The workpeople conversed freely with me in the mills, and I have had ample opportunities in other quarters of holding personal conference with operatives of all grades in the cotton manufacture, and of all varieties of opinion, respecting the conditions under which it is, or ought to be, carried on.
Reach here describes at some length the jobs undertaken in a cotton mill. Of mule spinning, he writes:
This is the process in which there is most muscular exertion. That exertion, however, merely consists in walking. The distance thus traversed every day has been variously estimated. I remember Lord Ashley (9) used to find plenty of calculators who put it at a score of miles a day. More reasonable estimates vary from seven to eleven miles; and from the inquiries which I have made, and the rude calculations which I have been trying to frame, I should be inclined to put the distance as much nearer the former figure than the latter. Be the work what it may, however, the place of a spinner is one of the prizes of the cotton trade. The ordinary wages of this class of operative varies from £2 to £2 5s. and £2 10s. per week. His piecers (10) earn, say, on the average, 11s. per week, and the tiny scavenger clears his or her half-crown. The wives of the spinners never work in a mill; and this I believe to be a very strong incentive, over and above the high wages, to induce the men to struggle for the post; so at least they have told me over and over again. The spinner is quite a patron in his way. He employs his own piecers and his own scavenger, generally selecting the younger members of his family for both offices.
The operations of a cotton mill are really performed by machinery, and the workman does little but superintend the machinery, supply it with material, and remove that material when the mechanism has done its duty. Vigilant attention, and a greater or less proportion of manipulating dexterity - the degrees of either being exactly reflected by the amount of wages paid - are the great, indeed the only, requisites for the toil. That toil appears to me to be neither especially severe or irksome. The attention, indeed, is kept upon the stretch, but the faculty is not such a high one as, in the case of adults at least, to be very easily wearied, while the manual operations, every now and then requisite, are of that light and dexterous class which diversify the labour without fatiguing the labourer. The average of wages I have been at pains to ascertain. A very careful calculation, made from the books of Messrs. Harvey and Tysoe, gives as the result an average over men, women and young persons, of 11s. 3 ¾ d. weekly. This is probably a somewhat high average, as the mill spins fine, and children under thirteen years of age are not employed. In Messrs. Gardner and Bazley's factories, which spin rather coarser threads, the average is from 10s. 6d. to 11s. Taking then, all the mills, coarse and fine, now working at ten hours, according to Act of Parliament, I believe that I am justified in estimating the average wages at nearly 11s. per week. And here let us bear in mind that, in speaking of the average of wages, we are apt frequently to take the head of a family as the sole recipient, his household looking to him for support. Here the case is different. Take a man, his wife, and his children working in the mills, and the average wage is 11s. - not earned by one for the support of all, but earned by each for the support of each, or by all for the support of all.
4. Mill workers
I HAVE described the operations of a cotton mill, considered generally with reference to the operators. Let me now try to convey a correct idea of the operators themselves at their work. In the majority of mills labour begins at six o'clock a.m. throughout the year. In a certain number the engine during the dead winter months does not start until half an hour later. As a general thing, however, operative Manchester is up and stirring before six. The streets in the neighbourhood of the mills are thronged with men, women and children flocking to their labour. The girls generally keep in groups with their shawls twisted round their heads, and every few steps, in the immediate vicinity of the mill, parties are formed round the peripatetic establishments of hot coffee and cocoa vendors. The factory bell rings from five minutes before six until the hour strikes. Then - to the minute - the engine starts, and the day's work begins. Those who are behind six, be it but a moment, are fined two pence; and in many mills, after the expiration of a very short time of grace, the doors are locked, and the laggard, besides the fine, loses his morning work.
Breakfast hour comes round at half past eight o'clock. The engine stops to the minute, and the streets are again crowded with those of the operatives who live close by the mills. A great many, however, take their breakfasts in the factory, which, as a general rule, supplies them with hot water. The practice of the people taking their meals in the mill, though I believe contrary to the letter of the law, is quite necessary, owing to the distance which many of the workpeople live from their place of labour, and to the short time - only half an hour- allowed for the meal. Its constituents are generally tea and coffee, with plenty of bread and butter, and in many cases a slice or so of bacon. At five minutes to nine the factory bell sounds again, and at nine the engine starts again. The work goes on with the most perfect method and order. There is little if any talking, and little disposition to talk. Everybody sets steadily and tranquilly about his or her duties, in that calm methodical style which betokens perfect acquaintance with the work to be done, and perfect skill wherewith to do it. There is no hurrying or panting and toiling after the machinery. Everything appears - in ordinary phrase - to be “taken easy”; yet everything goes rapidly and continuously on. The men commonly wear blue striped shirts, trowsers, and slippers the women generally envelop themselves in coarse pinafores and loose jackets tying round the throat. Spinners and piecers go about their work generally barefoot, or with such an apology for chaussure as forcibly reminds you of the old story of the sedan chair with the bottom out. Were it not for the honour of the thing, they might just as well go entirely unshod. I fear that I cannot say much for the cleanliness of the workpeople. They have an essentially greasy look, which makes me sometimes think that water would run off their skins as it does off a duck's back. In this respect the women are just as bad as the men. The spinners and piecers I have mentioned fling shoes and stockings aside, but I fear it is very seldom that their feet see the interior of a tub, with plenty of hot water and soap. The floor which they walk upon is as dark as the darkest Mahogany from the continued oily drippings with which it is anointed; and it is really painful to see a pretty girl with toes and ankles the exact colour of the dingy boards. Efforts have been made for the establishment of baths for the working classes in Manchester, and several millowners have actually erected conveniences of the sort, but the operatives in too many cases absolutely declined making use of them, and, as a general rule, can with very great difficulty, if at all, be made to appreciate the advantages of clean skin and free pores.
The atmosphere in which the work is conducted I found to vary very much in different mills. In the fine factories a higher temperature is requisite than in the coarse, and the old mills are generally built upon defective ventilating principles, or rather upon no ventilating principles at all. Very considerable attention, however, is paid in all the factories to keeping up a supply of pure air; the object being attained by scientific means in the newer mills, and aimed at through the medium of open windows and swinging panes in those of an earlier date. The atmosphere in Messrs. Gardner and Bazley's establishment was remarkably fresh and agreeable. Of course the air in which they work exercises a marked effect upon the appearance of the people. I do not remember seeing one male or female adult to whom I would apply the epithet of a “stout” man or woman. There is certainly no superfluity of flesh in the factories. When I say this, I do not by any means intend to insinuate that the people are unhealthy, or unnaturally lean; they are generally thin and spare, but not emaciated. By such occupation as is afforded in the various branches of cotton spinning, much muscle cannot be expected to be developed. There is no demand for it - the toil does not require it - it would be useless if it existed. I cannot, therefore, term the appearance of the people “robust”. They present no indication of what is called “rude-health”. They are spare, and generally - so far as I can judge - rather undersized. At the same time their appearance cannot rightly by called sickly. Their movements are quick and easy, with nothing at all of languor expressed either in face or limbs. The hue of the skin is the least favourable characteristic. It is a tallowy-yellow. The faces which surround you in a factory are, for the most part, lively in character, but cadaverous and overspread by a sort of unpleasant greasy pallor. Now and then you observe a girl with some indication of roses in her cheeks, but these cases are clearly the exceptions to the rule; and amid the elder and matronly women not a single exceptional case of the kind did I observe. Altogether, the conclusion which a very careful examination of the physical appearance of the people led me to was this, that the labour cannot be said to exercise a seriously stunting or withering effect upon those subjected to it - that it does not, perhaps, make them actually ill, but that it does prevent the full development of form, and that it does keep under the highest development of health. Men and women appeared to be more or less in a negative sanitary condition. At any rate, what is called the “bloom of health” is a flower requiring more air and sunshine than stirs and gleams athwart the rattling spindle.
While we are making these observations,. however, the dinner-hour approaches. In Manchester everybody, master and man, dines at one o'clock. As the chimes sound, all the engines pause together, and from every workshop, from every industrial establishment - be it cotton, silk, iron, print works or dye works - the hungry crowd swarms out, and streets and lanes, five minutes before lonely and deserted, are echoing the trampling of hundreds of busy feet. The Manchester operative in prosperous times needs never want and seldom does want, a dinner of what he calls “flesh meat.” This he sometimes partakes of at home, sometimes at a neighbouring cookshop; occasionally he has it brought to him at the mill. A favourite dish with the operatives is what they call potato pie - a savoury pasty made of meat and potatoes, well seasoned with pepper and salt, and roofed in with a substantial paste. Many of the men, after despatching their dinner, which they do comfortably in half an hour, spend the other moiety of their leisure in smoking or lounging about, until the never-failing bell proclaims that time is up, and that the engine and its attendant mechanism are ready to resume their labours. The work then proceeds until half after five o'clock, at which hour all labour finally ceases; the periods of toil having been from six o'clock until half past eight o'clock, from nine o'clock until one o'clock, and from two o'clock until half past five o'clock, making an aggregate of ten hours. (11) This arrangement, however, although very general, is by no means universal. Some of the mills do not open until seven o'clock, while a few prefer commencing at eight o'clock, after their people have breakfasted, and making but one stoppage during the day. There seems, however, to be a general, and I think a very well-founded opinion, that the division of the ten hours is a bad one inasmuch as it protracts the time of working until late in the evening, and casts the additional leisure, which it was the object of the Ten Hours Bill to secure to the workpeople, into the middle of the day, when they cannot well be expected to settle down to those domestic pursuits and means of self-improvement, which I am assured they are most eager to seize and avail themselves of, when they have a reasonable space to come and go upon between the closing of the mills and bedtime.
I stood to-day at the principal door of Messrs. Birley's establishment, watching the hands take their departure. It was curious to observe how each sex and age clung together. Boys kept with boys, men with men, and the girls went gossiping and laughing by, in exclusive parties of their own. I chanced to overhear a proposition confidentially made by one of these young ladies as she passed me to a comrade. There was not much in it, to be sure; but the proposal, at all events, showed that the fatigues of the day had by no means the effect of preventing a personal brushing-up for the evening. “I say, Jane” said the damsel in question, “I tell you what - you come home and braid my hair, and then I'll braid yours.” The out-door dress of the men is comfortable and respectable. Velveteen jackets and shooting coats seem to be in great favour, with waistcoats and trowsers of dark fustian cloth. The people are uniformly well shod and their general appearance is that of unostentatious comfort.
I have taken some pains to ascertain in what way the mill operatives conduct the purchase of the tea and sugar which form so large a portion of their nourishment. I find that these are very generally purchased in pennyworths at small chandlers' shops. The customers commonly buy on credit, paying on the Saturday night for what they have had during the previous week; but frequently require longer trust. They are always very particular in having a good pennyworth - that is, in having the draught of the scale in their favour; so that, with the credit demanded and the risk run, the profits of the vendor would be small indeed, were it not that he usually sells at 6s. a lb tea which the regular dealers sell at 4s. a lb. Thus the poor mill operatives pay higher by 33 per cent for their tea than their masters. In order to get rid of this disadvantage, the Messrs. Morris have started a co-operative society in their Chorlton mill. The mill is mapped out into twelve districts, the overlooker of each of which is furnished with a slip of paper, properly ruled and headed, in which each operative enters the amount of tea, at 5s. or 4s., black, green, or mixed; the amount of coffee, at 1s. 4d., 1s. 8d., and 2s.; that of cocoa at 8d. and 1s.; and that of chicory, which he or she may require during the week. The quantities of tea are reckoned in quarter pounds, those of coffee in half pounds. The different papers being filled up are carried to the Secretary of the Association, who casts up the sum total, and the people having paid for their week's supply when they received their wages, the amount, together with the order for the next week's consumption, is sent to a large wholesale house, which of course supplies a good article at wholesale price - that is to say, deducting half-a-crown in every pound of the nominal rate. Thus the average weekly supply costs about £20, and it is received for about £17 10s. The saving to the hands effected by this rate of discount, since the institution of the association three years ago, is calculated at £251 11s. 11d., and the saving from the 28th March to the 7th November of the present year has been no less than £69 7s. 1d. The collectors throughout the mill levy twopence on every pound subscribed, and out of this fund they make good to the wholesale house the deficiencies of any defaulter.
Similar systems, upon a larger scale, and embracing all sorts of provisions, have been tried, but found not to answer. “Not”,- says Mr. David Morris, “from any defect in the system itself, but because the workpeople mistook its object, tried to become dealers in the goods and to keep stocks on hand.” The Tea and Coffee Association works admirably. At its starting, Mr. David Morris became responsible to the grocery house for the goods delivered, but that establishment is now quite content to give the operatives themselves credit, without any such collateral security.
I cannot quit the Messrs. Morris's establishment without mentioning the exertions which they have made for the ventilation of their mills, particularly in the card-room department. I saw one elderly woman who said that under the old system she was so asthmatic that she used every week to lay by a shilling to buy a bottle of physic to enable her to breathe. Since the ventilators have been at work she has never taken one drop of her medicine, and actually keeps the last phial, half full, as a trophy!
There are very various opinions afloat as to the extent of female immorality in the mills. It is the sincere conviction of a millowner in a town about thirty miles to the north of Manchester - a gentleman who has devoted a great deal of attention to the study of the social state of the cotton operatives - that there is hardly such a thing as a chaste factory girl, at least in the large towns. But this is an assertion the correctness of which is generally, and I believe with truth, denied.
The fact is, as I am assured, that there exists among the mill girls a considerable degree of correct feeling - sometimes, indeed, carried to the extent of a species of saucy prudery - upon these subjects. They keep up a tolerably strict watch upon each other, and a case of frailty is a grand subject for scandal throughout the whole community. Dr. Cooke Taylor narrates that, in a register of instances of seduction kept by a millowner, it was found that the guilty parties never belonged to the same factory. They met, not at work, but casually, and in other ways. (12) The number of bastardy warrants granted by the Manchester magistrates in 1848 was 53. Under these, two persons were discharged, eight summarily convicted, and 39 cases “amicably settled." There appears, however, to be no doubt whatever that prostitution is rare among the mill girls. In the Manchester Penitentiary, in 1847, the number of female inmates who had worked in mills amounted to only one-third of the number who had been domestic servants.
Speaking generally, the exceedingly quiet and inoffensive character of the Manchester mill population cannot be too highly esteemed. “After ten o'clock," says Sir Charles Shaw, the late head of the police, “the streets are as quiet as those of a country town.” The statement may be a little, but not much, exaggerated.
In truth the Manchester operative is amongst the most industrious and patient of citizens. He toils cheerfully., and is day by day learning to read more, and to think more. If he has a turn for study, he devotes himself, in a few cases, to mechanical science - in the great number to botany. The science of plants is indeed, a passion with the Manchester weaver. Every holiday sees hundreds of peaceful wanderers in the woods and fields around, busily engaged in culling specimens of grasses and flowers; while, generally harmless and industrious as the present generation are, there is good hope for expecting yet better things at the hands of their successors.
5. Calico printing
IN INVESTIGATING the cotton trade and the condition of the cotton workers in Lancashire, I must not forget the important process of emblazoning the pure calico with those fantastic patterns which suit the taste of different purchasers in different markets. There is something curious, while walking through the stacks of coloured stuffs with which the rooms of a great warehouse are heaped, in the reflection that in the course of a year or so the piles of fabric which surround you will form the clothing and household drapery of half the nations of the east and south. This piece of gaily-tinted cloth will cover a divan in a Turkish harem - this other will flutter across the desert in the turban of an Arab sheik. Here is the raw material of a garment which will be stitched by Hindoo fingers - there a web which will be “made up” by a Chinese tailor; while beside it there may perchance be the staple of the flowing robe which the Tahiti girl will doff when she laves her limbs in the pellucid depths behind the coral reefs of the South Seas. As a general rule, the Mediterranean and Levantine nations prefer the most glaring patterns. The manufacturer can never make his reds, oranges, and yellows too bright for the taste of the Archipelago, the Smyrnioic cities, and the fashions prevalent among the African subjects of France.
“So you find a market in the military colony?” I said to a calico printer. “Yes” was the reply. “The French are an ingenious people. They go first and do the fighting, and we come quietly after them and sell our calicoes.”
In what strange places do the circling waves of a diplomatic misunderstanding break! Possibly the only result of the difference between the Porte and the Czar will have been that it created a temporary slackness in the demand for calico, printed in staring colours and uncouth patterns, in the works round Manchester.
One of these situated upon the stream of the Medlock, before it descends to Manchester, 1 have recently visited. It is the calico-printing establishment of Messrs. Wood and Wright, and the great courtesy of the former gentleman I am pleased to have an opportunity of acknowledging. The process of calico-printing may be described as a modification of dyeing, combined with an adaptation of the process of letter-press machinery. The old block printing system, performed by hand, is becoming extinct. In the establishment of Messrs. Wood and Wright, at Bank-bridge, the block printers do not earn upon the average more than 8s. per week. Their wages when in full employment are much higher, but they are seldom in full employment. The lowest wages paid to adult men, working full hours, are 16s. per week. The machine printers make about 35s. a week, and the children employed in folding the stuffs, and in a variety of light duties, earn from 3s. 6d. to 5s. a week. There is one species of labour employing boys in the printing process, which certainly ought to be performed by machinery, and which is, without doubt, the most wearying and irksome which I have seen in Lancashire. It consists simply in turning a wheel, which causes cylinders to revolve in a dye-pit beneath. Here is a species of labour at once degrading, stupefying, and exhausting. It is paid for at the rate of 5s. a week, of twelve hours' daily toil. (13) The boys, as might be expected, plied their tasks lazily and listlessly. The superintendent of the department said that they were brisk and active, and merry enough, when released in the evening. It may be so, but I am bound to state that these boys were the only species of labourers whose condition I pitied since my arrival in Lancashire. The calico-printing process involves, in certain rooms, a necessity for a very high temperature, and a moist atmosphere, necessarily more or less impregnated with the fumes of chemical combinations. In one apartment in particular the steam of the boiling water gushed out in such profusion that the place seemed a mass of hot mist. The breathing was at first impeded, but in a second or so became free enough. The hand-block printing room was, however, the most unpleasant, and I should think the most injurious, not so much on account of the actual temperature or the fumes of the colouring matter, as by reason of the vast quantity of newly printed calico hanging up to dry, and completely stopping anything like a free circulation of the air. The bleaching and washing rooms were as healthful as may be - although the work must be rather a cold one in cold weather. Hot and steaming as are many of the processes, however, I could not ascertain that any evil sanitary consequences had been observedly developed. At least, the workpeople themselves said that they had no reason to complain; and of this I am certain, that a greater number of fat, jolly-looking personages than have been employed for years in Messrs. Wood and Wright's establishment I never saw. There is but a very insignificant proportion of women employed in calico print-works, and their duty chiefly consists in such coarse needlework as is required for stitching together the pieces.
MANCHESTER occupies a bad pre-eminence in the statistics of death; and Manchester is the metropolis of cotton spinning; ergo, it has been a good deal the fashion to argue that death and cotton spinning go together. I have already described factory toil as a species of labour, light and easy of performance, seldom or never calling forth the full employment of all the energies, and allowing frequent periods of rest. The charges of over-crowding the people in factories arise from simple and sheer ignorance of what a factory is. In the most crowded department of a mill, the people cannot be placed nearly so closely as the passengers are in a first-class railway carriage, and for the simple reason that the vast proportion of each room is occupied by machinery. The ventilation and temperature of factories have next to be taken into consideration. As a general rule, I believe that the air which mill labourers breathe at their work is far better than the air which they breathe at home; and in this respect the condition of the mills is year by year improving. It is instructive, for example, to compare the amount of window-glass - in other words, the extent of the arrangements for admitting light and air - in the more recently built mills with those subsisting in the mills of older standing. The fact is, that the better the air, the better do the people work; and of this truth millowners are now fully aware. As a general rule, the worst ventilated mills being the old ones, are also provided with old machinery, and the obvious result is, that neither in amount nor quality of production can they compete with the newer mills. The owners of such establishments struggle under disadvantages so great as often to make them the first, at periods of depression, to go to wall. Within the last three weeks the price of raw cotton has considerably advanced, and two old-fashioned factories in Manchester have failed. In the mill-windows ample arrangements for swinging panes for admitting air are now almost universally made; and in by far the greater number of workrooms which I have visited, the air, if it did not smell wooingly, was at all events perfectly inoffensive. In certain mills - those spinning fine threads, or, as they are technically called, “high-numbers” an elevated temperature, say from 70 to 80, is required, and certainly kept up. In these rooms, attention to the ventilation is, of course, extremely requisite; but if this attention be, as it can be, duly enforced, the mere height of the temperature is not a matter of much sanitary consequence, except, perhaps, in relation to a certain forcing effect which it seems to exert on children, and also as regards the tendency it produces in the people to attempt to keep the thermometer up to a corresponding degree at their own homes.
The opinions of two medical gentlemen of Manchester, with whom I have conversed, come to this:- That the insalubrity of Manchester and of the Manchester operatives is occasioned, not by the labour of the mills, but by the defective domestic arrangements for cleanliness and ventilation. Each of the gentlemen in question has peculiar opportunities of observation. One of them, Mr Holland, surgeon, is one of the medical officers of the police and the poor-law authorities; the other, Dr Johns, is the registrar for one of the most populous operative districts of the town.
Before me lie several Reports, made to the Health of Towns Commission, on the sanitary state of the manufacturing districts. Little, if any, mention is made of the mills in these documents. But the reporters enter, with great minuteness of detail, into the home mode of living of the people, and deduce therefrom the cause of mortality.
Thus, Mr Holland, in his report on Chorlton-on-Medlock, proves that the mortality varies amongst the same class receiving the same wages in proportion as they inhabit second or third-class houses, and second or third-class streets. In first-class streets in Chorlton, the mortality is 1 in 46, a lower rate than the mortality of Brighton: in third-class streets it is 1 in 27, a higher rate than that of Liverpool. Again, in houses of the first class, the Chorlton mortality is 1 in 52, a proportion nearly as small as the mortality of Windsor; in the houses of the third class the mortality is 1 in 29, a proportion higher than that of the borough of Manchester.
A vast proportion of the mortality of Manchester is that of children, but of children, be it observed, under the age of labour in the mills. Out of every 100 deaths in Manchester, more than 48 take place under five years of age, and more than 51 under ten years of age. In some of the neighbouring towns - particularly Ashton under Lyne the proportion is still more appalling. There, by a calculation embracing the five years ended June 30, 1843, it appeared that, out of the whole number of deaths, 57 per cent. were those of children under five years of age.
It is, of course, generally known that the first five years of life are the most fatal in all districts; but upon comparing a series of cotton spinning districts in the North with a series of purely rural districts in the West and South, I find that, while the infant mortality in the former is about 50 per cent., speaking in round numbers, that of the latter is only about 33 per cent.
Manchester is a centre to which tramps and vagrants resort and to which immigrants flow from the agricultural districts, these last being very frequently in such bad health as to be incapable of longer pursuing field work. To such overflows all great capitals of industry will probably be ever more or less exposed, and such overflows will ever add to the due amount of sickness and death. But let there once exist a universal system of healthful sanitary regulation, and even the typhus generated by masses of poverty crowded together in search of work may be modified and kept under control. We have heard old legends of victims built up in thick walls of ancient donjon keeps cited as proofs of feudal tyranny. The day, let us be thankful, is dawning upon us when capitalists who run up ranges of streets, terraces and crescents, will be made aware that, in rearing cities without drains and water supplies, without light and air, they are committing crimes blacker than those of any old castellan - that they are sacrificing not one life, but scores of lives - that they are piling up fabrics of disease - building in with the very walls, masses of deadly typhus and cholera.
During the last few years the corporation of Manchester have been busy flinging open culs-de-sac, and running airy streets through overcrowded neighbourhoods. Parks are being provided with gymnastic apparatus for children; and an ample supply of the purest water is slowly but surely making its way from the distant hills.
1.The National Anti-Corn Law League, which was founded in Manchester in 1839. Its brilliant political campaign led to the passing of the Repeal Bill in 1846.
2.Arkwright's spinning frame, patented in 1769, used pairs of rollers, revolving at successively faster speeds, to draw out the threads of cotton before they were twisted. Arkwright built Manchester's first cotton mill - a five-storey building, 200 feet long and 30 feet wide - in 1780.
3.For an account of public health and sanitary reform during the 1840s, see Arthur Redford and Ina S. Russell, The History of Local Government in Manchester, ii, 1940, p. 130f.
4.Following more than 15 years of agitation, the Ten Hours' Bill was passed on June 1, 1847. A month later it came into partial operation, with young persons (those aged between 13 and 18) and women restricted to 11 hours a day and 63 hours a week. From May 1, 1848, the hours were 10 daily and 58 a week.
5.The Longdendale Aqueduct, which runs five and a half miles from Rhodeswood Reservoir to Godley, was built between 1847 and 1850.
6.Reach visited Harvey and Tysoe's mill in Canal Street, Salford.
7. Capt. Hugh Hornby Birley was one of the commanders of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry at Peterloo (August 16, 1819). He died in 1845.
8.Gardner and Bazley ran a mill in Water Street, Manchester, and another at Barrowbridge, near Bolton.
9.Lord Ashley, later 7th Earl of Shaftesbury (1801-85), was the Parliamentary leader of the factory reformers from 1833 until 1846. His statement that spinners walked more than 20 miles a day in working their mules was rejected by the mill masters, who put the distance at about eight miles. See Hansard, March 15, 1844, and Rhodes Boyson, The Ashworth Cotton Enterprise. Oxford, 1970, pp 181-2, for Ashley's dispute with the masters.
10.Piecers - Children who joined the broken threads.
11.It is interesting to compare these hours with those operating 25 years earlier. Sketch of the Hours of Labour, Meal Times, etc., in Manchester, published in 1825, summarised the results of a survey made in the previous year. The mills were said to work on average a 14-hour day. Some did not stop for breakfast and by no means all the workers had an hour for dinner.
12.W. Cooke Taylor, Notes of a tour in the manufacturing districts of Lancashire, London, 1842, p 261.
13.The Ten Hours' Act did not apply to calico printing works.
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