On Christmas Eve 1933, after a fortnight’s illness, Batley’s nationally acclaimed rat-catcher Thomas Cassidy died.
During his working life his skills were in much demand by a cross-section of businesses and organisations: From local mill owners and town Corporations, including Batley and Dewsbury; to railway companies such as the London and North Western, North Eastern, Midland and Scottish Railways. This latter work took him throughout Britain and Ireland.
A bit of a local legend, a thrilled journalist even reported of spending a most exciting four hours, with some lively experiences, under the Dark Arches in Leeds in the company of Thomas Cassidy, one of his sons and a fox terrier named Gipsy. The Dark Arches are the brick-built network of arches constructed in the 1860s to support the railway station.
The two major records Thomas claimed were:
1,227 rats caught alive and 446 killed in six hours for Ossett Corporation; and
153 [out of 155] rats caught in thirteen minutes on the premises of a hide and skin merchant in Heckmondwike in 1908. This was unassisted by dog or ferret.
For the latter he is recognised by Spen Valley Civic Society with plaque number 18 on the Spen Fame Trail. This plaque is located on The Green in Heckmondwike.
Well-known in the Batley area, he was not an unfamiliar sight in the local courts either. On at least one occasion he regaled the Bench with his rat-catching exploits including, in 1907, another tale of his expertise … and possibly the explanation for his appearances before the Batley magistrates. This time he boasted of capturing 154 rodents in 75 minutes which he sold for 4d. each – but the money went on drink. The newspapers prefaced this court report with a rather lurid description of one of Thomas’ more colourful claims to local notoriety, describing him as:
Batley’s professional rat-catcher, and the individual who, some time ago at a local polling booth, bit off the heads of a couple of live rats in the presence of disgusted voters .
Born in Batley’s New Street on 3 February 1870, he was the son of labourer John Cassidy, who hailed from County Clare, Ireland and his West Ardsley-born wife Emma (née Garlick). He was baptised at St Mary of the Angels RC church in Batley.
Thomas married Harriet Ann McDonagh  at the same church as he was baptised, on 13 February 1892. By this stage he worked as a coal miner. Their children included Johanna, Emma Jane (who died in infancy), Robert Ernest, Thomas, John Edward, Leo, Mary and Arthur.
His rat-catching exploits were inspired following a walk near Batley, when he saw a refuse tip ‘alive’ with rats. He explained:
I went home, took a pillow slip off my bed, and soon had it full of live rats from the tip. I sold these at 4d. each to people with dogs they wanted to train as ratters. I had 10s. 6d. to take home, and I’m glad to say I gave my mother ten shillings. I’d never had so much before…I was only earning eighteen pence a day in the pit as a pumper” .
The refuse tip became a gold mine for him, as he progressively cleared it of all vermin. So lucrative did this new business line prove, in around 1904 he left the pit for good to become a full-time rat-catcher.
Rat-catching was a national obsession. In fact at the end of 1919 the Government passed a Rats and Mice (Destruction) Act, such was the concern about their capacity to spread disease, destroy property and contaminate food. A new war raged in this inter-war period, and during each November there was even a designated National Rat Week endorsed by the Ministry of Agriculture when a nationwide effort was made to destroy the creatures to control the population. Publicity for the campaign was widespread via the press, billboard posters and in the cinema. This included a specially commissioned government “Kill That Rat” Pathé film in 1919. Leeds Corporation produced its own rat killing promotional newsreel in 1920. Entitled “It’s Rough on the Rats” it demonstrated the launch of its asphyxiating gas offensive.
For Thomas business was booming and he became a minor celebrity. He held long-term contracts as official rat-catcher in two Leeds railway stations, and it was this work which the Leeds Mercury’s Special Correspondent shadowed (literally as the work was undertaken by candle light) in 1923.
A huge mound of refuse, sweepings from 10 railway station platforms of the London and North Eastern railway station above, accumulated in the Dark Arches. Here the rats thrived.
As a preliminary to his clearance work Thomas, along with his son, turned over the refuse mound – a mixture of food, dust, cinders and even crockery – revealing holes big enough for rabbits. In the process they were cornering the creatures in preparation for their capture. The rats could be heard scurrying below – huge creatures sustained by all the railway detritus.
The Cassidy’s fox terrier Gipsy was tied to a drain pipe, becoming increasingly excited by the activity.
Then the work began.
With their bare hands Cassidy and his son began catching the rats, shoving them in an army kit bag. Other rats were strangled. Those trying to flee were caught in string netting strewn across a mesh barrier which fenced off the bay of the archway. They were forced back into the clutches of the Cassidys.
Thomas was now bleeding profusely from a rat bite to his thumb knuckle, but undeterred he carried on. An occupational hazard, his hands bore the marks of his work over many years. Yet he had only sustained blood poisoning five times from rat bites in 30+ years’.
Gipsy bit through her leash, eager to join in the killing spree. After four hours, exhausted by their exertions, they finished. The bag contained 36 live rats and 60 dead. Gipsy accounted for around a further 40. Only one rat managed to escape. At the end of their work Thomas told the reporter
I’ve a fox at home which will kill rats quicker’n’ that ‘ere dog .
Perhaps this was one of the foxes which he captured in 1921, for his snaring exploits extended beyond rats. The Yorkshire press reported on his fox-catching efforts, which extended over two days. The result was a haul of two foxes from a drain near Wilton Park. One was a four-feet-long dog fox weighing 17½lbs. The other was a 42-inch-long 13¾lbs vixen. Methods unsuccessfully employed in this star capture included cayenne pepper and a fox terrier. Finally he and his colleague hit on the ingenious idea of sweeping the drain with prickly brushes roped together. This did the trick.
As for his rat-catching methods, Thomas remained slightly coyer. Ferrets were commonly used by others to catch rats. New Street station in Leeds was the scene of some of Thomas’ heaviest slaughtering. Three different rat breeds could be found in its refreshment rooms. It was in this station he once lost a ferret for three days. When finally located it was in such a bad state after constant fighting with rats it had to be destroyed. By 1926 Thomas no longer used ferrets, preferring to use what he termed as ‘secret methods’.
He was clearly keen to keep his tricks of the trade in-house, explaining his art in only general terms. He occasionally employed dogs, owning two fox terrier bitches by 1926. He preferred bitches to dogs because they were keener, fiercer and more easily controlled. He was not a general believer in poison. This he reserved for factories, where wholesale slaughter was required. He claimed to have killed thousands of rats using this technique at the Dewsbury mills of M. Oldroyd & Sons and Wormald & Walkers. But his favoured method was to catch his prey with his bare hands, delivering the killer blow by banging their heads on the floor.
And throughout his career he retained a great respect for the cunning, ferocity, thoroughness and perseverance of his enemy, the rat.
Thomas, who died in the same street in which he was born, was buried in Batley cemetery on 28 December 1933.
Here are some rat-catching tips from the 1920s:
Don’t touch a dead
rat – use a shovel;
Don’t leave the old
homes of an exterminated rat colony intact as you will soon have another
settlement. Fill the holes with cement, or failing that, a mixture of tar and
Don’t touch bait
with your fingers as rats won’t come near it. Use a spoon tied at the end of a
Don’t forget to
warn people and keep domestic animals away from baits;
Don’t forget that a
change of bait – kipper instead of cheese for instance – works wonders; and
Don’t forget you
are liable to a £20 fine if you allow your property to be rat-infested.
Notes: Bradford Daily Telegraph, 16 February 1907;  The spelling of Harriet’s surname varies depending on record, including McDonegh, Donegh, Donagh and McDunach; The Leeds Mercury, 3 November 1926; The Leeds Mercury, 29 September 1923
1871- 1911 censuses
Batley Cemetery Burial Records
General Register Office birth, marriage and death records
‘Gentleman Jack’ catapulted Anne Lister and her diaries to national and international fame. The pitting of wits between her and the Rawson family over coal was one of the threads running throughout the series. But whilst Anne’s written thoughts are receiving widespread attention, lesser known are the words of the children who toiled underground in the coal mines of Anne and those of her Rawson rivals.
But they are there, albeit fleetingly,
giving a tantalisingly brief glimpse into the life and times of these
youngsters. As you read their testimonies you can almost hear their voices
speaking across the centuries.
Samuel S. Scriven collected oral evidence from a handful of children who worked at Anne’s Listerwick coal pit and Rawson’s Swan Bank and Bank Bottom collieries. Their names and words connect real people to the otherwise anonymous individuals whose labour was an essential part of the chain bringing the coal to the surface. Beyond that, Scriven also collated some wage and accident information – the former covering Anne’s pit, and the latter including a Rawson-owned colliery, so even more details about real people working the mines. Scriven did this in his role as a Sub-Commissioner reporting to the Children’s Employment Commission looking at mines, with the findings published in 1842. Scriven’s patch included collieries in the West Riding in and around the Halifax and Bradford Unions. He visited around 200 coal and ironstone pits there, and descended around 70.
The evidence he, and other Sub-Commissioners collected, provided the basis for the final report . This final report, however, is only a fraction of the evidence collected. Fortunately for family, local and social historians, the findings of the Sub-Commissioners were published separately. I consulted the volume containing Scriven’s evidence , a copy of which is available at Leeds Central Library.
Scriven categorises Messrs Rawson’s Bank Bottom Pit
as a day hole worked by means of a tunnel. Their Swan Bank Pit, and Miss
Lister’s Listerwick colliery were shaft mines worked by steam engine.
As for the evidence, the children were interviewed by Scriven in May 1841, after Anne’s death the previous September. The interviews of Listerwick children are prefaced with the fact Anne’s executors were in charge at this point. But the child workers giving evidence had been employed at Listerwick whilst Anne was still alive.
I make no apologies for including the full transcripts from Scriven’s evidence as I believe these voices deserve to be heard. I have copied them exactly so the regional accents and phraseology are not lost through editing. They are as follows:
Messrs. Jeremiah Rawson’s Colliery, Swan Bank and Bank Bottom No.11. Edward Jones, aged 9. May 10  I don’t know how old I am; I can’t tell how long I have been here to work, not so long; I worked at Listerwick Colliery afore I comed here. I never went to day-school; I have been to Sunday-school, at the Chapel school in Halifax. I can read, I cannot write. I come to pit at six o’clock in the morning and go home sometimes at seven, and six, and five, in the evening, but it’s all as happens, if I gets my work done early or late. I gets my breakfast afore I come – porridge and bread and treacle. I generally bring my dinner with me, and sometimes take an hour to eat it, sometimes half an hour. I drive galloways  in and out the hole [tunnel 800 yards to shaft] .
No.12. Edward Butterworth, aged 13. May 10  I hurry corves  for Joseph Jeek; have been employed three years in the pit; I thrust  mostly, but sometimes pull; I wear a belt round my waist; the corves are 14 stone; I hurry singly about 300 yards. I hurry from 16 to 22 corves a-day before I go home. I come at six o’clock or half-past, and leave at four, sometimes after; I get my breakfast before I come, and bring my dinner [a cake]  with me, which I eat in pit; I eat it always when I am hurrying; I do not take any time for it, because I have to follow up the galloways. I go home to tea, and get potatoes and meat. I sometimes, with three others, come at ten o’clock at night, and work up to six in the morning, then go home to bed, and get up again at noon; I then go laking [playing] until drinking time [tea], then go laking again until work. This next week I turn abut with others, and shall go to work at two o’clock in the afternoon and stay until ten at night. I went to day-school at Oldham; I go to Sunday-school now; I cannot read or write; I work with all my clothes off except my vest; my feet are pretty sound now, but I hurt them by treading ‘top of the coals, which run into them and makes them sore. I never met with any accident in pit. I have never seen any sulphur here, but have at Bank Bottom; I have never been burnt .
No.13. William Whittaker, aged 16. May 10  I hurry corves for Frank Holden. I have worked for Rawson eight years, hurrying corves here all the time. I never went to a day-school; I cannot read or write. I come to work at six o’clock in the morning, and leave at four, five, and six, that’s according to the forwardness of my work; I get my breakfast before I come [tea and cake], and bring my dinner [cake and butter] with me. There is no stated times at which we get our dinners; the galloways get their feed, and then the colliers make me get out coals in readiness for the galloways when they come back. I eat my cake when I am thrusting. The bare patch on my head is caused by thrusting [all the hair is worn off]. The height of the corves is not more than two feet; they are made of sheet-iron; the height of our ways is a yard and four inches; some places are not more than a yard. I hurry naked, except my waistcoat. My feet arn’t so very tender, but sometimes run matter. We have no girls working with us. My master behaves very well to me. Some of them behave badly to other lads, they pales them [thrash] with their fists, that is if they are long in hurrying. I am always very tired when I go home. I would rather work eight hours a-day than twelve. I think all the rest of the boys would .
The Executors of the late Miss Lister, Lister Wick Coal Pit No.24. John Brook, aged 13. May 15  I have worked nearly three years in the pit as a hurrier; I generally go down into the pit at seven o’clock, but sometimes at half-past six and sometimes at eight; I sometimes come up to fetch my dinner which I eat whilst at work in the pit; I generally leave at six in the evening and have a dinner when I get home, and get potatoes and often bacon. I have not worked at night for half a year or more, then I worked at night week and week about; this was on account of driving a “head” and water in the pit. I never went to day-school, but I go to Sunday-school; I cannot read or write; I have begun with “Reading Made Easy.” We have no girls working in the pit with us, but about 20 lads; there was one girl worked here for two days, Sam Mann’s daughter, about 10 or 11 years old; “it was to flay her because she was a bad ‘un;” she was frightened and cried, and said “she’d be a gude lass if they’d let her out.” I hurry the corves about 100 yards from the workings; our gateways that you have been through are a yard high; I never got hurt in the pit, but cut my feet sometimes; I take all my clothes off except my shirt, cap and waistcoat – all the rest of the boys do the same .
No.25. James Grandage, aged 14. May 15  I have worked in the pit three years as a hurrier, altogether in this and Mr Rawson’s pit; I never went to day-school, I go to Sunday-school; I cannot read or write; they teach me in “Reading Made Easy,” but I cannot tell my letters yet. I come with the rest of the boys at seven o’clock in the morning; I go home at all times at night; I have never been later than eight; I come to work every day, but I do not know what makes me longer some days than others, unless that it is that sometimes we do more and sometimes less; I do not think it is hard work, but I do not like it “none so well;” one reason is, because there is danger, another is, that I like daylight; I would rather work eight hours than twelve, because I think it enough; I get tired after eight hours; I hurry better than 200 yards; I do not know the weight if the corves; I hurry singly; I sometimes get five corves out a-day, sometimes twenty; the difference is I “get”  a bit sometimes. I get my breakfast of porridge before I come, and bring my dinner of bacon and cake with me; I eat it whilst at work, not being allowed any time for eating it; I get nothing after that until I come up, then I get milk porridge and go to bed; my health is very good, and I have never met with any accident in the pit; I sometimes hurt my feet with running barefooted over the coals – they bleed and run matter; I was never laid up by it; the men behave very well to me .
Listerwick was one of the pits Scriven went down
and he reported finding no girls, but more than 20 boys who were all well and
One final deposition comes from the perspective of the colliery owners – Joseph Rawson on behalf of Mr Jeremiah Rawson’s Colliery at Bank Bottom.
No.28. Mr Rawson, jun., principle. May 17  We have only one pit, with two entrances, one at Swanbank, the other at Bankbottom; I do not know how many men we have employed or how many children, at a guess I should say 60 men and boys. Our coals are brought up the shaft by machines, and are then drawn to the tail end by galloways. All the children are hired by the colliers, and are paid by the week I believe, but I do not know much about that; we pay the men by the dozen corves; it is the practice for both parties to go into work together and come out together; I do not know whether they get their breakfasts before they go or get any at all; they get nothing until they come out again when they have done their work, sometimes at four o’clock, sometimes at seven; they do not always work six days in the week, not more than four sometimes; the only reason that I know of is that they drink two days; about four full days is as much as they ought to do, that is, if they get out the quantity they undertake to do, which is 24 corves, which enables them to absent themselves the other two days of the week. If men work every day in the week, instead of four days and idled the other two, it would be much better for them; the children would not then be overworked; the children are very ignorant, they get no school at all the generality of them, and would rather be running about the street .
I identified several points emerging from these
interviews. Firstly, children switched between the Rawson pits and those of
Anne Lister, even though they had only been working a short time. There was no
rigid employer loyalty apparent, no pit owner favoured above the other. Scriven
in his report highlights children and colliers continually changed their place
Unlike pits elsewhere in the West Riding,
neither of these pits had girls routinely working underground as hurriers.
Furthermore, there was a clear realisation that people knew for a
fact underground work was beyond unpleasant – it was frightening.
The form of punishment meted out to Sam Mann’s daughter indicates
It also makes crystal clear the mine owners had no contractual arrangement with the hurriers, to the extent that Joseph Rawson claimed not to know how many worked underground. They did not care by what means the work was done. Essentially their concern was that the coal was mined and they paid the coal getters/hewers to do this by the corve-load. It was the miners themselves who were responsible for employing these children to convey the coal corves.
And it must be said many families did depend on the income brought in by these children for day-to-day survival. Every little helped. And if you employed your own child, it saved you having to pay another one to do the work. It was also believed that introducing children to underground work at a young age was absolutely necessary to accustom them to the conditions, enable them to gain experience to progress to better-paid jobs and eventually bring home higher wages to support families of their own. It was necessary training. Finally, in this pre-compulsory education era, work (even in mines) offered some measure of childcare.
The table below gives more details about the ages and wages of youngsters employed in the late Miss Lister’s Listerwick colliery.
In all, 26 boys working there were examined, with their average wage amounting to 3s 11d each per week. Another five collieries in the area were also examined. Including Listerwick, 352 children and young persons between the age of 6 and 18 worked in them. The overall average wage amounted to 4s 8½ d per child per week. This average was higher than the wages of 161 children working as scribblers, carders and spinners which were provided for comparison purposes – 4s 4½d per week; and the wages of 119 card setters whose average wage was 1s 7d.
One final piece of evidence which relates to the collieries featured in ‘Gentleman Jack’ is the return of deaths resulting from accidents and explosions over the previous 3 years and 6 months in the coal mines of the Bradford and Halifax District. The return, compiled by Scriven, details 50 deaths. I have not gone through them all, but five definitely relate to Rawson’s Swan Bank Colliery as proved by cross-matching against newspaper reports.
On 31 August 1838  Francis (Frank) Taylor, age 10, died as a result of a fire-damp explosion. Injured in the same incident was James Lumb who died later in September  (note the published Scriven evidence  records his name as Lumley and incorrectly gives his death date as 17 April 1838. Errors do occur in reports and it always pays to cross-check). The newspapers stated the accident was a result of carelessness by the boys who had left pit doors open . But Scriven’s published report states the explosion was caused by the neglect of John Crossley, master of the lads, who failed to go into the pit first .
On 1 March 1839  Joseph Gray, an 11-year-old hurrier working for a 19-year-old identified in the newspaper only as Mr Sheard, was killed by a large rock falling on him from the roof. Sheard was badly injured in the incident .
On 11 June 1840 30-year-old William Sheard died as a result of an explosion of fire-damp . In addition, five lads were “dreadfully scorched”  in the incident. William was warned the day before of the suspected presence of fire-damp in the workings. His response was “it was idleness, and he would flay the damp away.”  The following morning he entered with a candle, causing the explosion. His 15-year-old brother, Joseph who was presumably one of the “scorched,” died on 15 June  as a result of the same incident. His brother had made him go into the pit workings .
These five deaths in this one coal mine illustrate the daily perils faced by all those working underground. It was dangerous, hard work.
As a result of the report of the Children’s Employment Commission, the Mines and Collieries Act of 1842 was passed. Crucially, from 1 March 1843, it was made illegal to employ women or girls of whatever age underground in any mine or colliery in Britain. Boys under the age of 10 were no longer permitted to work below ground either. However, the Act when implemented would not have prevented the boys interviewed here from working underground.
With special thanks to the staff at the Leeds Local and Family History library for their help in locating a copy of the Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners.
This is one of a series of four posts. The others are:
Notes:  Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines. London: Printed by William Clowes for H.M.S.O., 1842 – out of copyright, accessed via Google Books.  Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 8. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.  Rawson’s Swan Bank Colliery also used horses for part of the process of transporting coal underground.  Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 8. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.  Hurriers, employed by miners themselves, conveyed the coal from where it was hewn to the shaft by means of corves. These oblong small-wheeled wagons were pushed or pulled through the low, narrow passages. Using your head to push the corves.  Scriven states cakes are either a flat thin coarse oaten cake peculiar to the North or a wheat cake weighing about six ounces.  Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 8. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.  Ibid.  Ibid.  Cut out the coal. Those mining the coal were known as getters or hewers.  Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 8. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.  Ibid  Ibid.  The Northern Star & Leeds General Advertiser, 22 September 1838; and The Leeds Times, 22 September 1838.  Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 8. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.  The Northern Star & Leeds General Advertiser, 1 September 1838. Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 8. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.  Ibid.  The Leeds Mercury, 9 March 1839; and The Leeds Times, 9 March 1839. Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 8. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.  The Witness, 20 June 1840.  Ibid  The Bradford Observer, 18 June 1840; The Leeds Mercury, 20 June 1840; The Bell’s New Weekly Messenger, 21 June 1840.  Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 8. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.
No-one in Batley foresaw the consequences that the 1856 hanging of the infamous Rugeley Poisoner, Dr William Palmer , would have on the Yorkshire town. Consequences which led three local lads to end up in court in York on grave charges before the year was out.
The Staffordshire serial killer had no association with Batley, whose residents – along with those throughout the country – read with morbid fascination of the doctor’s lurid lifestyle and alleged killing spree. Yet the theatre and spectacle surrounding the murders, and subsequent enactment of justice, did strike an unfortunate chord with some in this developing Yorkshire mill town.
Such were the concerns surrounding a fair hearing for the case given its notoriety, a special Act of Parliament was rushed through to allow Palmer’s trial to take place at the Old Bailey rather than Stafford. The so-called ‘Trial of the Century’ gripped the country over 12 days in May 1856, with newspapers providing coverage of every twist and turn.
Palmer was eventually convicted of the murder of a
friend John Parsons Cook who he poisoned, it was claimed, with strychnine. This
was the first ever trial for murder by strychnine in this country. But he was
also suspected of the poisoning of many more in a bid to clear his debts –
including his wife, four children, brother and mother-in-law.
He was publicly hanged on 14 June 1856 at Stafford prison before a crowd estimated to be in excess of 30,000, many of whom camped out all night in pouring rain to ensure their place at the grisly spectacle. On the morning of his execution Charles Dickens described him as “the greatest villain that ever stood in the Old Bailey dock.” .
After death Palmer’s infamy lived on, spawning whole new mini-industries with the production of souvenir broadsheets, and ballads. Even the rope-maker who made the noose had a lucrative side-line selling extra sections of rope for a guinea a time. Up and down the country Palmer’s name was on the lips of men, women and children.
Back in Batley, on Friday 3 October 1856, 12-year-old John Harris set off to start work at 7am at Joseph Jubb and Brother’s mill. The son of Ann Harris, described as a widow in poor circumstances but of irreproachable character , John had been employed at the mill for only three weeks. At 8am he ate his breakfast in the top storey of the building. With him were three other boys, Joshua Firth (age 15), Benjamin Preston (age 14) and 13-year-old Abraham Sharp. John had known Joshua and Abraham for a couple of years, and Benjamin for a couple of months.
The area where the boys breakfasted contained a trap door, and nearby stood a steam-operated crane which was used to hoist wool etc. up from the lower stories of the mill. As John prepared to return to work the other lads were still larking around. Inspired by the recent trial they decided to play a game of ‘Hang Palmer’, with Joshua declaring that the new boy John would be Palmer. John cried “You shall not hang Palmer with me” and tried to run away. In his witness statement John went on to say:
Preston ran after me and caught me, then Sharp tied a rope under my arms and round my body, the others assisting him. Then Firth tied the rope to the crane. I tried to get loose, but I could not. I told them to let me go, but they never spoke…I am sure I did not play with the other boys, and they tied the rope round me against my wish. Firth has thrashed me many a time when I have gone for water, but the others have never thrashed me.
Perhaps ‘Hang Palmer’ had been re-enacted before in the mill. Perhaps it was a prank played elsewhere by boys up and down the country, such was the impact of the deeds, trial and death of ‘Prince of Poisoners,’ William Palmer. This time though the game went badly wrong, with tragic results for all involved.
On another floor workmen set the crane in motion to
pull up a sheet of wool. The chain caught the rope tied to John, he became
entangled in the chain which squeezed his body, leaving him incapable of
calling for help. He was drawn over the crane roller towards the ceiling beam around
eight feet above at the top of the mill, where he mercifully lost consciousness
as he was crushed.
Benjamin ran down to the second story and alerted
workman Robert Senior who raced up to the top. The crane lever was lowered and
John released. Surgeon Mr Halbut was summoned. In addition to concussion,
John sustained a fractured left arm and a spinal injury causing paralysis to
his lower limbs.
He was carried home, where leeches were applied to his head in a bid to treat him. It was not until 8 October, after unsurprisingly failing to recover from his severe injuries, that he was finally transferred to hospital, over at Leeds Infirmary. Here doctors kept authorities informed of the seriousness of the young victim’s wounds.
With John now conscious but perilously ill, in mid-October Joshua, Benjamin and Abraham were taken into custody, charged with causing him serious bodily harm. So critical was John’s condition, magistrates deemed it necessary to take his statement at his Infirmary bedside in the presence of the three accused. The younger two boys placed the prime responsibility on the elder boy casting him in the role of ringleader, saying they wanted him to untie John but Joshua refused to. The West Riding magistrates released the boys on bail.
On 21 October they appeared again before the West Riding magistrate’s court in Leeds. As a result of evidence from Leeds Infirmary’s Dr Samuel Smith that John might not recover, the three boys this time were refused bail. They were taken to the Borough Gaol to await their next appearance a week later. At this subsequent hearing the Infirmary Medical Officer once more stated John was still dangerously ill. This time the case was adjourned for a month, and bail granted.
John died in Leeds Infirmary on the morning of
Tuesday 25 November 1856. That afternoon the trio were brought before the West
Riding magistrates at Leeds Court house once more where Mr Hardwick, house
surgeon at Leeds Infirmary, stated John had died as a result of his spinal
injuries. Joshua, Benjamin and Abraham were bailed, awaiting trial at the
winter Gaol Delivery at York in December on a charge of manslaughter.
The inquest, held the following afternoon, concurred with the cause of death. Mr Ferns, solicitor for the prisoners, presented a supportive letter from the Jubb brothers, mill owners and employers of the lads. The letter read;
Batley, near Dewsbury, Nov. 25th, 1856. Mr. Ferns, Sir, – We understand you are employed to defend the three boys charged with inflicting injury on the lad Harris, who has died in the Infirmary. As owners of the factory where the accident happened, we are desirous to express to the coroner and jury our entire conviction of the innocence of the boys’ intentions towards the deceased, and that the boys were playing together without any evil design as boys usually do. We may mention, in case it might come in useful in any way, that we deposited £10 with the vicar of this parish to defray the expenses of Harris’s funeral, in case of death and that if he had lived we had arranged with the factory inspectors to pay down a further sum for his benefit. Yours respectfully JOSEPH JUBB AND BROTHERS.
The coroner, Mr Blackburn, did not allow it as evidence. Duly, the jury reached a verdict of manslaughter.
The following day John was buried in Beckett Street
Cemetery, Leeds .
Around a fortnight later, on 12 December 1856, the three youths were in York facing the charge of manslaughter before Mr Commissioner Russell Gurney Esq QC. The prosecution case, presented by Mr Morley and Mr Hannay, hinged on the fact that although the affair was in sport, the refusal of John to join in made it manslaughter. Mr Middleton, for the defence, claimed John’s death was purely accidental arising from boyish sport. The crane was set in motion by a hand over which the prisoners had no control and, as a result, they could not be guilty of manslaughter. Summing up, his Lordship Commissioner Gurney in effect told the jury that if the facts presented were proved, the death of John was unintentional and did not spring from the acts of the accused. As such the jury must acquit the prisoners. The jury took this advice and passed a verdict of not guilty.
So, who were these boys? From preliminary searches of censuses, parish registers and civil registration information it appears that they all, along with John, lived in the Havercroft area of Batley. Joshua is most likely the son of Thomas and Mary Firth (née Ellis). Benjamin was most likely the son of Joseph and Ann Preston (née Preston). Abraham was the son of Joseph and Rebecca Sharp (née Marshall).
The three lads were discharged into the custody of their parents, free to return home. One mother though, Ann Harris, would never have her son home again. By extension, and through a prank gone wrong, he too can be considered a collateral victim of Palmer.
As to which mill in Batley was the scene of this tragic event, none of the newspaper articles I have read identify it. The Jubbs owned several in town over the years. There is a possibility it was their [Old] Branch [Road] Mill which burned down at the beginning of September 1876  and which they owned outright at the time of the John Harris tragedy. In fact, just over six months after the York trial they were fined for employing children under 13 years of age without schooling at that particular mill . In the same period, they were also associated with New Ing Mills. Originally partners there, they eventually acquired sole possession by 1859, and commenced a building programme which significantly changed the premises in the 1860s. However, at the time of the incident New Ing Mills was in joint ownership, so this I believe is the less likely location.
But, as I hope this tale illustrates, it is amazing to contemplate the hidden history which took place in buildings long gone, and others still standing, in my hometown of Batley.
 William Palmer website http://staffscc.net/wppalmer/ ;  Household Words, A Weekly Journal, 14 June 1856;  The Leeds Times, 29 November 1856;  The Intelligencer Supplement, 18 October 1856;  The Leeds Intelligencer, 29 November 1856;  Leeds Beckett Street Cemetery Records, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, original records at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Ref LC/CEM (B)/1/1, Numbers 1-18747, 1845-1862;  Coincidentally, another similarly named mill in the area, Branch Mill which was built by the Jubbs in around 1874 and latterly owned by Messrs. J., T., and J. Taylor, burned down in July 1915;  The Leeds Times, 25 July 1857;
Sources: (All newspapers accessed via the British Newspaper Archive on Findmypast)
Huddersfield and Holmfirth Examiner, 29 November and 13 December 1856
The Bradford Observer, 27 November 1856;
The Intelligencer Supplement, 18 and 25 October 1856;
The Leeds Intelligencer, 30 October, 1 and 29 November 1856;
The Leeds Mercury, 27 November 1856;
The Leeds Times, 1 and 29 November 1856, and 25 July 1857;
England and Wales Censuses 1841 to 1871 accessed via Ancestry.co.uk and Findmypast;
GRO Indexes, accessed via Findmypast and the GRO website;
West Yorkshire Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1835, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, original records at West Yorkshire Archive Service;
West Yorkshire Church of England Baptisms 1813 – 1910, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, original records at West Yorkshire Archive Service;
Posted onAugust 12, 2019|Comments Off on Coal Mining Children: “I’ve Heard I Shall Go to Heaven If I’m A Good Girl”
Have you ever stumbled across what could be the words of your ordinary, working-class ancestors? The type who never usually feature in records beyond those associated with births, marriages and deaths? Words which well over 150 years later hit you like a hammer blow? You can imagine them speaking those words, and through them have a totally unique and unexpected window into their lives. Here is my experience.
Several years ago, when reading extracts of depositions contained within the First Report to the Children’s Employment Commission  looking at mines, a series of familiar names featured. Brief extracts were published in various parts of the 1842 Report.
The names were:
collier in poor health, age 53, Birkenshaw;
John Ibbetson, 13½-years-old.
No further details;
aged about twenty, Collier at Mr Harrison’s Pit, Gomersal whose two sisters
aged twelve and a half and between eight and nine worked as his hurriers; and
a hurrier at Mr Harrison’s Pit, Gomersal. Age not stated.
Because they appeared in distinctly separate parts of the Report, there was nothing to indicate if this was one or more families. But the names stood out because my 4x great grandfather, Jonathan Ibbetson (and variant spellings ), was a coal miner. Born in around 1788 in Halifax, by the 1841 census (name recorded as Hibbeson)  he was living at Tong More Side, Birkenshaw cum Hunsworth. The household comprised of Jonathan Hibbeson (50), a coal miner; William (20); Martha (15); John (14); Bettey (11); and Mary (9) . Jonathan’s wife, Elizabeth Rushworth, who he married on 25 February 1811 in Halifax Parish Church, which is dedicated to St John the Baptist , is not in the census household. I have not traced her burial yet, but the possibility is she was dead by 1841. In the 1851 census, which provides more family relationship details, Jonathan is described as a widower.
At the time of Jonathan and Elizabeth’s marriage
their abode was Ovenden. They subsequently lived in Queensbury, and possibly
the Thornton area, before Jonathan ended up in Birkenshaw. A family with
non-Conformist leanings their children included:
Hannah, baptised 20 August 1811 at Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden. Other information includes she was the daughter of Jonathan and Betty Ibbitson of Swilhill ;
John, son of Jonathan and Betty Ibbeson of Swilhill. Baptised 28 August 1814 at Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden . Possible burial 7 March 1815, age 9 months at the Parish Church of St Mary’s Illingworth. Abode Ovenden ;
James, baptised 16 June 1816 at Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden. The son of Jonathan and Betty Ibbetson of Skylark Hall ;
William, born on 4 August 1821 and baptised at Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden on 5 September 1821, son of Jonathan and Betty Ibbotson of Bradshaw Row in Ovenden . Points to note, if being precise he was two months shy of 20 in the 1841 census, so technically his age should have been rounded down to 15; Also, although his earlier census birthplaces are given as Thornton and, bizarrely, Birstall, by 1871 and 1881 it is corrected to Ovenden;
Martha, my 3x great grandmother. I’ve not traced her baptism, but other sources indicate she was born in around 1824/25 in either Bradford, Thornton or Queensbury, depending on the three censuses where her birthplace is given. Why, oh why aren’t ancestors consistent with information?
John was born in around 1827 and his burial is in the parish register of St Paul’s, Birkenshaw on 15 February 1844, age 17. He is recorded as being the son of collier Jonathan Ibbetson ;
Elizabeth (Bettey in the 1841 census) was born in around 1830 likely in Queensbury, although again the censuses for her vary . She was baptised at St Paul’s, Birkenshaw on 25 December 1844. Her parents are named as Jonathan and Elizabeth Ibbotson ; and
Mary was born in around 1832 in Queensbury or Thornton . She was baptised at the same time as sister Elizabeth .
There was possibly another son named Joseph, born
circa 1820. More of him, and why I believe he is linked to the family, is
perhaps the subject for a later post.
I never have much opportunity to research my family history to the extent I would wish nowadays. It was only earlier in July 2019 that I finally got around to investigating the Children’s Commission Report further. This meant a visit to Leeds Central Library’s Local and Family History section where the volumes containing appendices to the Report are held . These contain the statements of the various witnesses who gave evidence to the Sub-Commissioners, extracts of which were used in the Report.
They make powerful, and emotionally challenging, reading. In order not to dilute their impact I’ve published in full the Ibbetson statements, and that of the Gomersal pit owner in whose mine they worked. These statements were given to Sub-Commissioner Jelinger C. Symons in 1841. He investigated the West Riding coal mines (excluding those in the Leeds, Bradford and Halifax areas).
No. 263. – James Ibbetson, aged about 20. Examined at Mr. Harrison’s Pit, Gomersal, May 26, 1841: – I am a collier. There are three hurriers  in the pit; two are girls; they are my sisters. They hurry for me. None hurry here with belt and chain . The oldest is 12½. The youngest is between 8 and 9. She has been working ever since she was 6 years old. They have both hurried together since she was 6 years old. Sometimes when I have got my stint I come out as I have done to-day, and leave them to fill and hurry. I have gone down at 4 and 5 and 6, and the lasses come at 8, and they get out about 5. They stop at 12, and if the men have some feeling they let them stop pit an hour, but there are not many but what keep them tugging at it. The girls hurry to dip . The distance is 160 yards. The corves weigh 3½cwt. each, and they hurry 22 on average. I don’t think it proper for girls to be in pit. I know I could get boys, but my sisters are more to be depended on; they are capital hurriers. Some hurriers are kept to work with sharp speaking, and sometimes paid with pick-shaft, and anything else the men can lay their hands on. I saw two people killed at Queen’s Head, where they are less civilized than here; and the rope slipped off the gin and jerked and broke, and they were killed. At Harrison’s other pit there are eight boys.
No. 264. – John Ibbetson. Examined May 26, 1841, at Mr. Harrison’s Pit, Gomersal: – I am 13½. I hurry alone. I go down at 7, and sometimes at 8. Sometimes we work a whole day, and then it’s 5 when we come out. I stop at 12, and my sisters too, for an hour and a half. I like being in pit. I’ve been down 6 year or better. I thrust with my head  where the coals touch the top of the gates and then we have to push. In all the bank-gates they don’t cut it down enough. I have been to Sunday-school. I stop at home now, I’ve no clothes to go in; I stop in because I’ve no clothes to go and lake  with other little lads. I read spelling-book. I don’t know who Jesus Christ was; I never saw him but I’ve seen Foster who prays about him. I’ve heard something about him, but I never heard that he was put to death.
No. 265. – Mr Joseph Harrison. Examined May 26, 1841, at Gomersal:- I don’t employ the hurriers; they are entirely under the control of the men, but when they quarrel I interfere to prevent it. I don’t approve of girls coming. I allow two as a favour. I have four pits and 18 children. They thrust two together when they are little. In the bank-gates the coal will catch the roofs sometimes, because we leave seven or eight inches inferior. We don’t require children younger than 10 years, as far as our experience. They can do very little before they are at that age, and I would as lief be without them. We could do if they were to allow us to draw coals for eight hours, with an additional hour for meals. If they could thus make colliers work regular it would be a good thing. They will sometimes work for 12 or 13 hours, and then they will lake perhaps. The getters don’t leave the children to fill and hurry here after they come out of pit, except it be a corf or two. If hurriers are prohibited from working till they are 10, I don’t know whether we could get enough or not.
No. 266. – Elizabeth Ibbetson. Examined at Mr Harrison’s Pit, Gomersal, May 26, 1841:- I am 11 ½ years old. I don’t like being at pit so weel [sic]; it’s too hard work for us. My sister hurries with me. I’ve been two year and a half in this pit. It tires my legs and arms; not much in my back. I get my feet wet. I come down at 7 and 8. I come out at 4, and sometimes at 2, and sometimes stay till 6. I laked on Saturday, for I had gotten cold. I am wet in the feet now; they are often wet. We rest an hour one day with another, but we stop none at Saturdays. I push the corf with my head, and it hurts me, and is sore. I go to Sunday-school to Methodists every Sunday. I read A B C. I’ve heard I shall go to heaven if I’m a good girl, and to hell if I’m bad; but I never heard nought at all about Jesus Christ. We are used very well, but sometimes the hurriers fall out, and then they pay us. My father works at pit.
No. 267. – John Ibbetson, aged 53. Examined at Birkenshaw, near Birstall [undated]: – I have been 45 years in the pits. I am the father of the children you have examined at Mr. Harrison’s pit. I have had three ribs on one side and two on the other broken, and my collar-bone, and my leg skinned. My reason for taking these girls into the pit is that I can get nought else for them to do. I can’t get enough wages to dress the boys for going to school. I get 5s. 6d. For the girls, and I and my two sons earn 17s. 6d. on average a-week. I am done up. I cannot addle  much. The eldest girl does nothing at all. We get potatoes and a bit of meat or bacon when they come out of the pit. I knew a man called Joseph Cawthrey, who sent a child in at 4 years old; and there are many who go to thrust behind at that time, and many go at 5 and 6; but it is soon enough for them to go at 9 or 10; the sooner they go in the sooner their constitution is mashed up , I have been 13 hours in a pit since I have been here, but 8 hours is plenty. The children went with us and came back with us; they worked as long as we did. The colliers and the children about here will be 12 hours from the time they go away till they come home. They could not addle a living if they were stinted to work to 8 hours at present ages. The children don’t get schooling as they ought to have. I cannot deny it. I cannot get the means. I have suffered from asthma, and am regularly knocked up. A collier cannot stand the work regularly. We must stop now and then, or he would be mashed up before any time. We cannot afford to keep Collier-Monday  as we used to do.
The statements are far more detailed than the brief extracts in the published Report, which is a synthesis of masses of evidence. In fact not all statements made the final cut, so if your ancestor is not mentioned in the final Report it is still worth checking the appendices.
The full statements now confirm that a 53-year-old miner John Ibbetson along with sons James (aged about 20) and John (13½), and daughter Elizabeth (11½ or 12½ depending on deposition) plus another unnamed daughter aged between 8 and 9, worked at Mr Harrison’s pit in Gomersal. They confirm the absence of a mother. They also confirm an older, unnamed, daughter who “does nothing at all.” This older daughter would fit with Martha, my 3x great grandmother. Presumably she is taking care of the household chores, in place of her mother. Methodism is indicated, in terms of religion, but the children only have a sketchy concept of the Bible. There is a Birkenshaw link – which is where John Ibbetson provided his testimony. Gomersal to Birkenshaw is about two miles, so perfectly feasible for a work commute. It is also clear John is in poor health and the family is struggling to make ends meet.
The desperation in the statement of the father is palpable. The family managed as best they could. It appears the girls were given priority for clothes, with Elizabeth rather than John being sufficiently well-dressed to attend Sunday School, and their father admitting as much.
There is also the acknowledgement that sending the girls (and even young boys) to work down in the coal mines was not something their father would do through choice – but the income was needed for them to keep going, to keep the family together. There was, I guess, always the dreaded spectre of the workhouse with its associated stigma that somehow you had failed your kith and kin, alongside the threat of family separation. You did all you could to avoid it. If it meant children working, so be it.
It must also be said it was believed that in order to get children accustomed to mine work, and to be able to progress, they needed to be introduced to it at an early age. And, in this pre-compulsory education era, work (even in mines) also offered some measure of childcare – especially if there was no mother, or a working mother.
There is the sense of pride by James in the work his sisters undertook. It is to be hoped that he was a miner who looked kindly on them whilst they toiled, because this attitude could have a huge impact on the lot of the young hurrier. For instance, did he notice when they were tired and, if so, did he let them rest for a little while when they arrived at his bank, and in doing so did he fill the corve himself? Did he help push off the laden corves? His sister Elizabeth indicates she was treated well. And still there remains the image in my mind of the tired, wet Elizabeth with aching limbs and head sore from pushing the corve, yet wanting to be a good girl so she could go to heaven.
And then there is young John, accepting his lot, taking simple pleasures from ‘laking ’, and enjoying his work despite its hardships. His innocent words about never having seen Jesus Christ are echoing in my ears.
But is this my family? The ages for children John, Elizabeth and Mary given in the Commission evidence correspond with the ages ascertained from my family history research for my Ibbetson ancestors. The age of their father John roughly matches that of my 4x great grandfather Jonathan, with 53 equating to a year of birth circa 1788. It also is distinctly possible that John could have been used in the witness statement rather than Jonathan. I’ve reviewed details for a sample of witnesses elsewhere and cross-matched against the 1841 census. From this there is evidence that names do not always match up exactly with this census; and ages do not in all cases match precisely with those given in the 1841 census for under 15’s. .
The 1841 census, taken on 6 June, was only a couple
of weeks after the Ibbetsons gave evidence to the Commission. As illustrated
earlier, at that time the census household comprised of Jonathan, William,
Martha, John, Bettey and Mary. I have gone through the 1841 census for the
Birkenshaw and Gomersal areas page by page and can find no other Ibbetson (and
variant) family who would fit as a unit with the names of those giving evidence.
I suppose there is always a remote possibility the family giving evidence left
the area in between their Commission interviews and the census date; or even
that they were for some reason missing from the census. But, taken with other
evidence, I think this is unlikely.
But there remains one major anomaly which makes me hesitate from saying with absolute certainty this is my family giving evidence to the Children’s Commission. It is the discrepancy with an approximately 20-year-old son named James. Although Jonathan did have a son named James, he is not present in the 1841 census household. In any case he would be around 25, not 20. The implication from the Commission statement is the son who gave evidence is still at home and contributing to the family income. Yet it seems a big stretch though to think the name James might be recorded as William. This is the one piece of conflicting evidence I have been unable to resolve.
Neither have I definitively discovered what happened to James. I have traced no death and, so far, I have two living candidates for him – but neither are totally satisfactory. One is married to Ann (née Binns)  and living in Birkenshaw in 1841 and 1861 (Thornton in 1851). At the moment he is seeming the most likely, although I’ve yet to find his marriage. My hope was it would be in the Civil Registration era and name his father. But I am still searching. This James died in a mining accident in November 1870 , with his age given as 56 [28 and 29], so not quite a fit. His census birthplace is Thornton , so not a match for the baptism details. His children included Margaret, Hannah, Ellen, Emma, John, Sophia, Mary, Betsy and Annice.
The other James Ibbetson married Priscilla Robinson in Bradford Parish Church in December 1833  and is living in Thornton in 1841. I have some issues with this one. These include that whilst his bride’s entry in the parish register notes she is a minor and marries with consent, his details do not. If he was baptised shortly after his birth he too would be a minor. I suppose he may not have been baptised as a baby, but it is a niggle. As is the fact the likely death for him, registered in the December Quarter of 1847 gives his age as 35 , equating to a year of birth circa 1812. On the plus side is the naming pattern for his children which include some familiar ones – William, Martha, Mary and Betty, alongside the less familiar Joshua and Nancy.
It is here I have one final piece of evidence to throw into the mix, and one which I feel tilts the balance towards it being my family. It comes in the 26 May 1841 Commission statement of ‘James’ Ibbetson when he says “I saw two people killed at Queen’s Head…”
Queensbury, midway between Halifax and Bradford, and a location which in censuses is intermittently cited as the birthplace of various younger Ibbetsons, was not known as such until 1863. Prior to that it was Queenshead. In fact, in the 1861 census Elizabeth’s birthplace is given as Queenshead, Halifax . And it is this which provides yet another link to my Ibbetson family and makes me believe, on balance, it is them who provided statements to the Commission.
This combination of locational links along with the similarity in names, ages, religion, motherlessness, plus my exhaustive search of the 1841 census for any alternatives in the Birkenshaw/Gomersal areas, all add to the weight of evidence supporting this being my family.
So, what happened to my Ibbetson ancestors?
Jonathan’s health was “mashed up”. Whereas for the burial of his son John in 1844 he is still a collier, by the baptism of daughters Elizabeth and Mary at the end of the year he is a labourer. The 1851 census states he was ‘formerly a miner’. He died on 21 February 1857 at Dewsbury Union Workhouse of bronchitis. His occupation recorded on his death certificate is ‘blacking hawker’ .
Blacking was used for cleaning, polishing and – crucially – waterproofing boots and shoes. Such footwear was not the disposable item of today. These were precious, valuable essentials for everyday life which had to last. If you didn’t have them you couldn’t work. If you couldn’t work, you didn’t have money to support the family. To my mind 19th century blacking is like petrol and diesel of today. Essential for getting to and from work, as well as actually doing the job. So often boots feature amongst stolen items in court reports. Reading school log books and countless children are unable to attend school, particularly in winter weather, through lack of suitable footwear. They were costly and had to be cared for. Blacking was part of their regular maintenance regime. In 1824 the 11-year-old Charles Dickens was sent out to work in Warren’s Blacking Factory, pasting labels onto individual pots of boot blacking polish, a job which had a significant impact on his life. Blacking was also used widely around the Victorian home for polishing the kitchen range and grates in fireplaces. Jonathan, no longer fit for strenuous mining work, was now selling this essential commodity.
Jonathan’s burial is recorded in the register of Dewsbury Parish Church on 25 February 1857 .
Of the children at home in 1841:
William married twice, and died in 1890. His burial is recorded in the register of Birkenshaw St Paul’s on 5 March 1890 ;
John died in 1844, as mentioned earlier. He was only 17;
Martha married Joseph Hill at Hartshead Parish Church on 21 November 1842  and died 4 February 1881 . Her burial is in the Drighlington St Paul’s register on 7 February 1881 ;
Elizabeth married Joseph Haigh on 1 April 1850 at St James, Tong  and died in 1883. Her burial is entered in the Birkenshaw St Paul’s Register on 31 March 1883 ; and
Mary married James Noble at St Peter’s Bradford parish church on 25 December 1850 . The newly married couple are living in Birkenshaw with her father in the 1851 census. She died in 1893, with the Allerton Bywater Parish Church burial register noting the burial date as 19 January 1893 .
This tale also goes to show family history research is often not neat and simple with all loose ends tied up. It can be a messy affair, with partial and contradictory information and many negative of eliminatory searches in order to try achieve the genealogical proof standard. It can be a long, ongoing process. And, as such, I do not discount at a later date unearthing more information which might conclusively prove (or demolish) my case.
I would like to conclude by saying a special thank you to the staff at Leeds Local and Family History Library for their help in locating a copy of the Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Volume 7. This work was key to my research, and illustrates once more why we should love, use and cherish our local libraries as a unique, integral, and ‘accessible for all’ resource.
This is one of a series of four posts on the evidence of the Sub-Commissioners. The others are:
Notes:  Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines. London: Printed by William Clowes for H.M.S.O., 1842.  The possibilities are endless. Examples include Ibbetson, Ibbotson, Ibotson, Ibbitson, Ibberson, Ibbeson, Hibbison, Hibetson, Hibberson etc.  Hibbeson household, 1841 Census; accessed via Findmypast; original record at The National Archives, UK, Kew (TNA), Reference HO107/1291/4/12/17.  Note this census rounded down to the nearest five years those aged 15 and over.  Jonathan Ibbotson and Elizabeth Rushworth’s marriage entry, parish register of St John the Baptist, Halifax; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1512-1812 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: WDP53/1/3/13.  Hannah Ibbitston’s baptism, Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970 [database on-line]; original record at TNA, General Register Office (GRO): Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857; Class Number: RG 4; Piece Number: 3408.  John Ibbeson’s baptism, Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970 [database on-line]; original record at TNA, GRO: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857; Class Number: RG 4; Piece Number: 3408.  John Ibbotson’s burial entry, burial register of Illingworth St Mary; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: WDP73/1/4/1.  James Ibbetson’s baptism,Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970 [database on-line]; original record at TNA, GRO: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857; Class Number: RG 4; Piece Number: 3408.  William Ibbotson’s baptism,Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970 [database on-line]; original record at TNA, GRO: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857; Class Number: RG 4; Piece Number: 3409.  John Ibbetson’s burial entry, burial register St Paul’s, Birkenshaw; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Wakefield, Yorkshire, England; New Reference Number: WDP90/1/3/1.  Bradford, Queenshead – Halifax, Thornhill, and Queensbury in the censuses between 1851-1881.  Elizabeth Ibbotson’s baptism entry, baptism register St Paul’s, Birkenshaw; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number: WDP90/1/1/1. 1861 and 1871 censuses indicate Thornton; 1881 and 1891 Queensbury. The 1851 states Halifax.  For Mary Ibbotson’s baptism, see .  Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 7. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.  Locally, hurriers conveyed coal from where it was hewn to the shaft by means of corves (wagons, usually small-wheeled), either dragging or pushing their loads. Often it meant running as quickly as possible up an incline with a full load.  The hurrier wears a belt around their waist and a chain, attached to the corve (the wagon for transporting the coal). In the thinner seams this chain would runs between the child’s legs and, on all fours, they pull the coal corves like an animal.  Coal lies at an inclined plane with the downward inclination known as the dip in Yorkshire.  To push the coal corves with your head.  To idle, or pass the time away.  To earn.  Disabled or worn out.  Collier-Monday was the tradition of an unofficial, customary holiday which long existed in the coal mining industry. The Bolton Evening News of 23 February 1905 stated “It is the custom of miners to have one day’s play a week, which has gained for it the name of “Colliers’ Monday,” and that this is recognised is shown by the fact that notices placed at some pit heads state that men absenting themselves for two days are liable for dismissal…”  I have used under 15s as the benchmark as the convention typically (but not exclusively) used in the 1841 census is to round down those aged over 14 to the nearest 5 years.  Ann’s maiden name has been identified via the GRO indexes for the births of the couple’s children.  Bradford Observer, 21 September 1870.  James Ibbotson, GRO Death Registration, Bradford, September Quarter 1870, Volume 9b, Page 13; accessed via FreeBMD.  Death of James Ibbotson, 17 September 1870; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk Web: UK, Coal Mining Accidents and Deaths Index, 1878-1935 [database on-line]; original data Coalmining Accidents and Deaths. The Coalmining History Resource Centre. http://www.cmhrc.co.uk/site/disasters/index.html  1851 census for James Ibitson; accessed via Findmypast; original record at TNA; Reference HO107/2311/165/16 and 1861 census for James Ibbitson, TNA Reference RG09/3403/127/3.  James Ibbiston and Priscilla Robinson marriage entry, marriage register of Bradford St Peter Parish Church; accessed via West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number: BDP14.  James Ibbotson GRO Death Registration, Bradford, December Quarter 1847, Volume 23, Page 135; accessed via the GRO website.  1861 census entry for Elizabeth Haigh; accessed via Findmypast; original record at TNA, Reference RG09/3403/114/11.  Jonathan Ibbitson’s Death Certificate; GRO Reference Dewsbury, March Quarter 1857, Volume 9B, Page 322, age 70.  Jonathan Ibbotson’s burial entry, burial register of All Saints Parish Church, Dewsbury, age 70; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]; original record West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: WDP9/52.  William Ibbotson’s burial entry, burial register of St Paul’s, Birkenshaw, age given as 65; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: WDP90/1/3/2.  Joseph Hill and Martha Ibbotson, Marriage Certificate; GRO Reference Halifax, December Quarter 1842, Volume 22, Page 197.  Martha Hill, Death Certificate; GRO Reference Leeds, March Quarter 1881, Volume 9B, Page 355, age 57.  Martha Hill’s burial entry, burial register of St Paul’s, Drighlington; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: WDP124/1/4/3.  Joseph Haigh and Elizabeth Ibbeson’s marriage entry, marriage register of Tong, St James Parish Church; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, no reference provided online.  Elizabeth Haigh’s burial entry, burial register of St Paul’s, Birkenshaw, age given as 56; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: WDP90/1/3/2.  James Noble and Mary Ibbotson’s marriage entry, marriage register of St Peter’s, Bradford Parish Church; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number: BDP14.  Mary Noble’s burial entry, burial register of Allerton Bywater Parish Church, age recorded as 59; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]; original record West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: RDP3/3/1.
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Posted onAugust 1, 2019|Comments Off on The Shame of a Workhouse – An Infant Down the Pit
The publication in 1842 of Children’s Employment Commission’s investigation into the condition and treatment of children in the mines and collieries of the United Kingdom made for particularly shameful reading in Batley. It shone a very unwelcome spotlight on the treatment of workhouse children across the whole of the Dewsbury Poor Law Union in general, with the Batley at the epicentre of the scandal.
To be fair, the investigation highlighted a catalogue of shocking examples countrywide with children, girls as well as boys, working in the pits from very early ages. So horrific were some examples that newspapers compared the practice of children employed underground to a form of slavery.
Sub-Commissioner Jelinger C. Symons, who investigated the West Riding mines (excluding Leeds, Bradford and Halifax) stated:
There are well attested instances of children being taken into coal-pits as early as five years of age. These are very extreme cases; but many begin as trapdoor-keepers, and even as hurriers, as early as seven. Eight is as nearly as I can ascertain the usual age at which children begin to work in coal-pits, except in thin seams when they often come earlier .
Trapdoor-keepers, otherwise known as trappers, were employed directly by mine owners. They opened the doors in the mine allowing the coal corves (the tubs used for transporting the coal) to pass through. They also ensured the doors closed afterwards removing any blockages, such as spilled coal, which would prevent this. Often a 12-hour day, it was a responsible job too. This process of opening and closing doors provided ventilation essential to prevent a build-up of dangerous methane gas. It was a lonely job, undertaken in damp, ill-ventilated, drafty conditions and often in total darkness, unless on the occasions when “a good-natured collier willbestow a little bit of candle on them as a treat.” 
Hurriers, employed by miners themselves, conveyed
the coal from where it was hewn to the shaft by means of corves. These oblong
small-wheeled wagons were pushed or pulled through the low, narrow passages.
There is something very oppressive at first sight in the employment of children hurrying all day in passages under 30 inches in height, and altogether not much above the size of an ordinary drain….. 
The weights of the corves varied. Symons, in his West Riding report, stated that when full these vehicles carried between 2 to 10 cwt of coal, with the corves themselves weighing around 2 to 2.5 cwt. The number of journeys made and distance travelled also varied between pits. Examples cited in Symons’ report ranged from 16 to 24 full corves transported a day and anything between over two miles to nine miles travelled, depending on factors such as weight of the corves, distance to the shaft, the height and incline and whether the hurriers could hand over the final pull to horses, which some pits used. The very youngest hurriers could work in pairs, with those pushing also known as thrusters. The hurrier would also help the miner load the coal onto the corves, including riddling the coal. They were sometimes left alone to finish the task of loading if their hewer knocked off early.
It was noted that in mining communities, miners
with large, young families had a tendency to take their children to work in the
mine at an earlier age than better off miners who already had several older
children working in the pits and contributing to the family income.
However, the case which was an embarrassment to the local authorities in the parishes which formed the Dewsbury Poor Law Union involved a pauper child, Thomas Townend .
In the care of the workhouse authorities, the youngster was ‘apprenticed’ out in contravention of the minimum age allowed for such children. This had been seven under the Parish Apprentices Act of 1698, but increased to not under nine in the Parish Apprentices Act of 1816. These pauper apprenticeships were usually not into skilled trades, but as farm labourers or servants. The industrial revolution opened up factories and mines as an option too. Apprenticeships for these children were largely seen as a form of cheap labour rather than teaching a skilled trade. They also provided an opportunity to offload the responsibility and, more importantly, cost of supporting a pauper child from the authorities. The child’s parents (if living) had no legal rights in the matter.
The example, involving a boy in Batley workhouse, was described by Symons as “A very gross case of the unduly early employment of a workhouse child….” apprenticed to a collier in Thornhill “before he was quite five years old”! 
The witness statements about the incident in the
Appendix documents make for damning reading. I’ve reproduced the relevant
passages in full.
No. 180. – Thomas Rayner, Esq., Surgeon, Birstall, wrote as follows. Dec. 26, 1840: In mines where children are employed, in one coal-pit they will work perhaps 8 hours a-day, and in others 12 hours a-day. It is customary in some districts for miners to take six or seven apprentices; and I am now going to relate what has taken place in my own presence frequently during the past year. I am guardian for the township of Gomersall [sic], in the Dewsbury Union. When I first attended the Board meetings, I was surprised to find so many applications from miners for apprentices from the Union Workhouse, the answer was, “Go to the house and select for yourself, and we will bind  you the one you select.” In some cases children (boys) have been selected at 7 and 8 years of age, because they were strong and healthy. Upon inquiry, I found no question had been asked as to age; and if in a few months the man found the boy was not strong enough (without reference to his age), he brings him back. One instance occurred only on the 24th December, last Thursday, and the boy is again in the Union Workhouse, only 7 years of age. I remonstrated with the other guardians on the enormity of binding a boy so young: they told me they had not bound him, nor should they do until he was 9 years of age; but is not this the same as binding? This boy’s master had five or six in the same way. I am the only surgeon who has ever been a member of the Dewsbury Board of Guardians and the other members do not like to be interfered with. Now, in such a case if the child must have had a certificate of fitness before being sent, he never would have been sent. I was astonished that such things could be…..
No. 181. – Mrs. Lee, Matron of the Workhouse at Batley. Examined May 5,  at Batley Poorhouse, near Birstall: – The boy Thomas Townend, went on trial to a colliery at Thornhill, belonging to Mr. Ingham; he went on the 19th March, 1840, and came back again in the 6th April, 1840. He is entered in my book as being born in 1836. The reason he was sent back was, that he was pilfering into a neighbour’s house. He went to a collier, who employed him. It is the practice of the colliers or masters who want children to go to the Board-room, and they get an order to take a child, after they have picked them out at the workhouse. They inquire what the age is; they are not bound before 10, but they go on trial before that. Joseph Booth was born in 1833; he was discharged from here 12th March, 1840; he went to Robert Lumb, a collier, but an uncle interfered and took the child away, because he was not he thought, sufficiently fed. He went to his uncle, and remained at uncle’s till he was re-admitted on December 24th at this house. George Booth, a brother of Joseph Booth, is now at Dewsbury poorhouse. I am quite sure that Townend was not hurt in health by going to the pit. I believe there was a mistake made by the Board about his age. 
No. 182. – Joseph Booth, examined May 5,  at the same workhouse, aged 8 years: – I remember being in the pit; I used to hurry with another; I used to like being in the pit. Please they gave me plenty to eat. We used to go in at 5 in the morning, and they came out at 5. We had a bit of bread to eat in the pit, and stopped to eat it; we used to sit down to have it. There were four boys and six girls. The work did not tire me much. 
No. 183. – Thomas Townend (stated to be born in 1836). Examined at the said Workhouse: – I remember being in the pit. I liked it; but they would not let me stay. 
No. 268. – Thomas Rayner, Esq., Surgeon, of Birstall. Examined May 26, 1841, at Birstall:- ….The Board of Guardians at Batley apprentice children without due care to ascertain their age. The boy Thomas Townend, aged 5 years, would not have been brought back to the workhouse had not the grandfather interfered and demanded it. We threatened to acquaint Mr. Chadwick and the Commissioners with it….. 
Another witness, Joseph Ellison, Esq., of Birkenshaw, a former Guardian , claimed it was notorious that when colliers needed hurriers they applied to Poor Law Guardians for pauper children because “They cannot get them elsewhere, on account of the severity of the labour and treatment hurriers experience; and which makes parents prefer any other sort of employment for their children.” 
Essentially, the Dewsbury Poor Law Union was deliberately circumventing the rules around pauper apprentices by using such words as ‘trial’, thus claiming the children were not officially bound until they were of the correct age.
The case of Thomas Townend drew special attention from the Poor Law Commissioners. This was the national body providing Parliament with operational information around the Poor Law, and having responsibility for collating statistics and formulating regulations and procedures. As a result of the investigations of the Employment Commission, on 27 June 1842 a letter was sent from the Poor Law Commission to the Guardians of the Dewsbury Union  asking about the practice of sending children from the Union Workhouses to work in mines. They requested a return showing details of every child under the age of 16 apprenticed to work in a coal mine from 1840 to 1842. A similar missive went to the Halifax Union Board of Guardians, among others.
The Dewsbury Union return of 9 July 1842 is below. A bigger version can be found here.
In addition, William Carr, Clerk of Dewsbury Union, addressed specifically the case of Thomas Townend stating:
With regard to Thomas Townend, who was sent out of the workhouse to a coal miner on trial at five years old, I have to remark, that he, at that time, appeared by the workhouse books to be upwards of seven years of age. The child had been removed, along with other paupers, from one of the township workhouses to the union workhouse; and as the master of the township workhouse kept no account of the ages of the inmates, the union officers were obliged to get the ages of the paupers from the paupers themselves and their friends; and in this way Thomas Townend was put down seven instead of five. As soon as the error was discovered, which was in a few days after the child was sent out of the workhouse, he was sent back to the workhouse. 
Absolutely no mention that it was the intervention of his grandfather, and the threat of reporting the case to Edwin Chadwick and the Poor Law Commissioners that prompted his return to the workhouse, as indicated by Thomas Rayner in his deposition to Symons.
The Poor Law Commissioners were keen to have further information about the boy, writing to the Dewsbury Union Clerk on 14 July 1842 asking:
In reference to the case of one of the children, Thomas Townend, I am to request that the Commissioners may be informed what has become of the boy since he was returned to the workhouse, and whether he is in the workhouse still. 
Carr fired a reply back on 16 July 1842 informing the Poor Law Commission that since his return on trial (the Guardians still at pains to stress this was no apprenticeship) with William Bradshaw he had remained in the Union Workhouse at Batley.  The location of this workhouse is shown on the map below. Anyone familiar with the White Lee Road/Carlinghow Lane area of town will recognise the spot, which is now housing.
I have traced Thomas Townend in Batley workhouse in the 6 June 1841 census , but nothing definite subsequent to his mention in the July 1842 letter. Unfortunately, of the few remaining records left, the Board of Guardian Minutes, held by West Yorkshire Archive Services do not survive beyond 1842.
As a result of the report of the Children’s
Employment Commission, the Mines and Collieries Act of 1842 was passed.
Crucially, from 1 March 1843, it was made illegal to employ women or girls of
whatever age underground in any mine or colliery in Britain. Boys under the age
of 10 were no longer permitted to work below ground either.
As for pauper apprentices, the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1844 banned the binding of children under nine years of age, and of children who could not read or write their name.
This is the first in a series of four posts about the the evidence of the Sub-Commissioners who investigated the employment of children and young persons in mining, resulting in the 1842 Report. The other posts are:
 Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 7. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.  Ibid  Ibid  Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines. London: Printed by William Clowes for H.M.S.O., 1842 – out of copyright, accessed via The Internet Archive  In most documents his name is Townend. However, in the Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines the spelling is Townsend.  Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 7. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.  Put out to apprenticeship.  Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 7. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.  Ibid  Ibid  Ibid  Ibid  Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines. London: Printed by William Clowes for H.M.S.O., 1842  The Board of Guardians oversaw the operations of the particular Poor Law Union, in this case Dewsbury Union. The Guardians were drawn from all the constituent parishes of the Union. At this stage Batley had two Guardians on the Board of 23. Other parishes represented were Heckmondwike, Lower Whitley and Thornhill (one each); Liversedge, Morley, Ossett and Soothill (two each); Gomersal and Mirfield (three each); and Dewsbury (four). Source http://www.workhouses.org.uk/  Parliamentary Papers Volume 1842:v.35. London: H.M.S.O., 1842.  Ibid  Ibid  Thomas Townend, 1841 Census. Accessed via Findmypast, Reference HO107/1267/67/2
Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 7. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.
Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines. London: Printed by William Clowes for H.M.S.O., 1842. Accessed via Google Books
Parliamentary Papers Volume 1842:v.35. London: H.M.S.O., 1842. Accessed via Google Books
The Condition and Treatment of the Children Employed in the Mines and Collieries of the United Kingdom. London: W. Strange, 1842. Accessed via The Internet Archive
With special thanks to the staff at the Leeds Local and Family History library for their help in locating a copy of the Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners.
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Food can evoke so many strong memories of childhood. Pie and peas and I’m back to the excitement of bonfire night. Mum’s sherry trifle and it’s family Christmas parties when I’d always try to sneak a double helping of the top two layers of thick, yellow, sliceable custard heaped with cream; spaghetti bolognaise and I recall the first meal I cooked for mum and dad. Dad hated it as he couldn’t get to grips with the spaghetti, and he couldn’t make a sandwich from it. Whereas our dog craned his head upwards to suck in the sauce-coated strands; the tang of salt and vinegar doused fish and chips and I’m transported to carrying home the piping hot, greasy, newspaper-packaged taste of heaven from Cudworths, the local chippy. Fish and chips twice, a fish and a cake. For a treat as kids we’d sit on the back doorstep, abandon cutlery and eat the chips with just our fingers straight from their newspaper wrapping. The ultimate finger food.
And then there’s tripe. Yes, utterly unique tripe. Slimy, white, rubbery, incomparable. We’d have it cold with salt and vinegar. Lots of vinegar in my case to try make it halfway palatable. It didn’t work. If fish and chips were heaven, this evil stuff was pure hell. I’d chew and chew and chew, scarcely able to swallow the offensive gobbet. The texture lingers in my mind to this day and, even now, recalling it I shudder.
The name of the ‘cut,’ depended on which chamber of the animal’s stomach it came from. Think about it. How repulsive does that sound? Honeycomb is the thing I remember, along with blanket. We’d also occasionally have it with an equally noxious substance called elder, (cow’s udder, I believe). It was the stuff of nightmares.
An article in the Leeds Mercury of 3 June 1913, confirmed my fears about its deadly capacities:
CHOKED BY TRIPE
AGED BATLEY MAN’S DEATH IN STREET
The sudden death, under remarkable circumstances, of Alexander Richardson, seventy-four years of age, of Old Mill-Lane, Batley, who has followed the occupation of a Cooper, was enquired into by Mr. P. P. Maitland yesterday.
On Saturday night Richardson was proceeding along Henrietta-street eating tripe, when he suddenly collapsed and died. A post-mortem examination revealed that a piece of tripe, three inches square, was blocking the entrance to the wind-pipe, causing suffocation.
A verdict of “Accidentally choked” was returned.
Yet, perhaps I am maligning it. Tripe dresser is an occupation you may come across in your family history. This worker was engaged in preparing the product for ‘human consumption’. A quick 1911 census search using ‘tripe dresser’ reveals over 1,500 of them – seven in Batley alone. Tripe stalls abounded, selling this bleached-white cows stomach lining.
And in Batley a boy was even driven to crime to get money to buy this tasty treat, as reported in the Batley News of 13 March 1915.
STOLE MONEY TO BUY BANANAS, TRIPE, ETC. – In the Juvenile Court a boy of 12 admitted obtaining 1s. 6d. by false pretences from Thomas Sykes, hay and straw dealer, Old Mill Lane, Bankfoot, and with stealing a white metal watch, worth 3s. 6d., from the house of Mr. Wilfrid Haigh, 9, Bankfoot, Batley. The boy obtained the money under the pretence it was for someone Mr. Sykes knew. Defendant stole the watch last November. He told the Magistrates he went to the pictures and bought bananas and tripe with the money. Inspector Riplet said the boy had kept company with a lad who was last week sent to a reformatory. Bound over, under the probation of Mr Gladwin.
Others swore by its health-giving properties. Like Dewsbury man John Carter Garforth who ate a stone of tripe every week, attributing his longevity to it. As reported in the Yorkshire Evening Post of 21 September 1951:
TRIP WITHOUT TRIPE
Dewsbury firm’s Grand Old Man off to London without his parcel
When 1,000 employees of the Dewsbury firm Wormalds and Walker, Ltd., [blanket manufacturers] leave for a trip to London next week, the grand old man of the firm will go with them – for the first time without a stone of tripe wrapped in a parcel under his arm.
He is 81-year-old John Carter Garforth, who has been employed by this woollen firm for 70 years. He still does a full day’s work and has two great loves – tripe and his piano. “I eat a stone of tripe a week,” he told me, “and I’m the best customer of a tripe shop in Dewsbury.”
“Twice a year I go to London to see my daughter, but I always take a parcel of tripe. They’ve no idea how to cook tripe there so I take my own.”
I asked him why he wasn’t taking any with the trip next week, “Well, it’s only a day, so I’ll do without and have a double ration when I come back,” he said
Mr Garforth’s recipe for long life? “Plenty of tripe, an occasional smoke and no drink. I’m 81 and I get plenty of fun out of life still following that recipe.”
It was also lauded in the 1907 edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management as “the most digestible of meats, and specially suited for invalids”.
The “Diabetic Foods” section included a recipe for tripe soup, reproduced here for those who wish to try it.
Ingredients: ½ a lb. of tripe, 1 pint of milk, 1 pint of stock or water, 1 small onion, 1 clove, 1 oz. of butter, ½ an oz. of flour, salt and pepper.
Method: Wash the tripe, blend and drain it, and cook it in the milk and stock or water, with the onion and clove, for an hour or till tender, then mince the tripe finely and add it to the broth. Melt the butter, stir in the flour, dilute with 1 gill of milk, stir till it boils and add to the soup. Boil for 10 minutes longer, season slightly and serve.
Time. 1½ hours. Average Cost, 7d. or 8d.
This recipe is of particular interest to me. In these pre-insulin days, was this the type of dish my diabetic great grandfather Jonathan Rhodes ate?
But more than invalid food, tripe was also regarded as a cheap, nutritious meal for the working classes. Tripe and onions was probably the signature dish. Again, if you want to give it a go here’s the recipe from the same Mrs Beeton’s 1907 book:
Ingredients. 2 lb. of dressed tripe, 2 large onions, ½ a pint of milk, ½ a pint of water, 1 tablespoon of flour, 1 teaspoonful of salt and pepper.
Method. Cut the tripe into 3 inch squares; put them into a stew pan, cover with cold water, bring to boiling point, and strain. Replace the tripe, add the milk, water and salt, boil up, put in the thinly-sliced onions, and simmer for 3 hours. 20 minutes before serving have the flour mixed smoothly with a little milk, pour into the stew pan, stir until boiling, and simmer for 15 minutes. Season to taste and serve.
Time. About 3½ hours. Average Cost, 1s. 8d. Sufficient for 4 or 5 persons.
You could even utilise the discarded water in which tripe was boiled. In Beeton’s Housewife’s Treasury of Domestic Information, a companion tome to Mrs Beeton’s Household Management, there is a section entitled ‘Children and what to do with them.’ Among the pearls of wisdom it contains advice about ‘eruptions,’ saying they
….will frequently appear on the child’s face, and sometimes sores, or what is termed to use a homely phrase “a breaking out.”……….and the water in which tripe has been boiled is a safe and reliable wash for them.”
What unimaginable horror. As if the ignominy of a spot-covered face wasn’t enough, but then being forced to eat boiled tripe and wash in the discarded water as a punishment ….sorry remedy. Yuk.
Your taste does evolve over time and things you didn’t like as a child you may come to love as an adult. Yoghurt is my case in point. As a three-year-old, and egged on by an older child, I peeled the top off a doorstep yoghurt delivery of a neighbour and dipped my finger in to taste it. It was vile. How could adults eat this? I promptly disposed of my ill-gotten gains in a puddle in the end between the two rows of terraced houses. It’s probably one of my earliest memories. Especially as Mrs Kirby discovered the crime and confronted me with it. Now I love yoghurt.
However, I accidentally discovered my hatred of tripe is not an example of this phenomenon. In Brittany on holiday a few years ago I decided to try a local speciality – galettes à l’andouille et aux champignons. I hadn’t a clue what andouille was. Suffice it to say it was like eating vomit. One mouthful was enough. To use a Yorkshire term, I was reduced to gipping (for those not from ‘God’s Own County’ that’s the dialect term for retching). I discovered later andouille is a tripe sausage. Another food memory etched on my mind and a delicacy forever struck off from future holiday meals.
However, if I am tempted to buy tripe it is available far closer to home – at Cross’s Pork Butchers stall on Dewsbury market. I bottled buying some today, sticking with potted beef. But maybe I’ll give it one more go using Mrs Beeton’s Fricassée of Tripe recipe for that continental feel.
This is the final part of my examination of child employment in the silk industry. I have already covered the background of the industry, numbers of children (Part 1), type of work undertaken, children’s ages, working conditions, health (Part 2) and the impact of the Factory Acts (Part 3). In this post I will focus on the peculiarities of the industry, and how these ultimately affected the numbers of child workers employed in it.
The peculiar circumstances which made legislators wary of interference are related to the uncertain economic nature of the silk industry. These vagaries probably account for the greatest part of the decline in child employment. A recurrent theme in the various Commissions and Select Committees was the factory owners’ protestations that child employment was an absolute necessity if the English silk industry was to compete with foreign trade.
The mid 1760’s to 1826 marked a period of protection for the English silk industry. Fully manufactured foreign imports were prohibited and duties on other silks were proportionately high. Even though smuggled goods did manage to sneak in, this prohibition bolstered an industry incapable of thriving on its own merit. From 1815 onwards, following the end if the Napoleonic Wars, French silk started to arrive in the country in greater quantities and initially caused a slight slump in the home grown industry; however by the early 1820’s it had picked up. The major blow came in 1826 when a new, lower tariff came into operation. This was further reduced in 1828 and 1845, becoming a 15% ad valorem duty on manufactured silk. It was finally abolished for French imports in 1860 with the Anglo-French treaty, signalling a move to European free trade.
The effects of the 1820’s legislation relaxation can be seen in Table xxxx, with the increasing weight of thrown silk imports which in turn took jobs away from English throwsters. The main issues with competition included:
foreigners were able to produce silk more cheaply than English counterparts due to their proximity to the raw material;
foreign labour costs were less; and
French manufactured silk, in particular, was superior to British produced silk.
Macclesfield, the major silk manufacturing centre in England, suffered a terrible depression between 1826-31. It is estimated the numbers engaged in silk manufacture fell from over 10,000 to under 4,000; wages were less than half their former rate; under-employment and short time became prevalent; and the number of silk factories in operation fell from 70 in 1826 to 41 in 1832.
Over-expansion in previous years due to protection was in part to blame. Additionally the lowering of duties left the country open to competition from areas much better suited to silk manufacturing. The 1831-32 Select Committee into the trade heard from a series of mill owners describing the terrible conditions. The depression and loss of trade was attributed to “the introduction of foreign thrown silks; to the introduction of manufactured silks which both oppress the throwster and manufacturer, from having goods brought in, the manufacturer has less demand for manufactures, and the throwster has again to compete with the introduction of foreign silks.” These were the words of Thomas Willmott, a Sherborne manufacturer, in his evidence to the Committee.
The government took no action in terms of increasing duty. However, the following year, the dire circumstances of the silk trade was taken account with the special treatment afforded it with the introduction of the 1833 Factory Act.
It is also probable that the decline of child employment in the silk industry in the 1830’s was symptomatic of the trade in general: parents possibly chose not to send their children to work in it because of the depressed wages.
The 1860 Franco-British Treaty allowed the duty-free importation of French silk goods. They were cheaper and of far better quality than indigenous ones, so this had a profound impact causing further contraction to the industry at home.
Fashion fads also played a part in the domestic decline. When French products became more widely available, a corresponding preference for French styles and gowns followed, particularly between 1851-1871.
Woman’s Silk Dress (England) circa 1865 – Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain] Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Not only did the silk industry have to compete with French silks, British cottons also proved a rival. Particularly in the period 1790-1849 these fine cottons and lightweight worsteds dealt a severe blow to the silk industry. The quality of British silks was dubious. As stated in volume 2 of “The Textile Industries” by William S Murphy, published in 1895, “Time and again, during the past 100 years, the British public, despairing of obtaining genuine silk, have turned to other less pleading cloths and threads.”
A further factor to be taken into consideration is disease, pébrine, affecting silkworms. This became particularly troublesome between 1853-68 in France and looked like spreading. The disease caused a dramatic drop in silk production until 1868 when the bacilli was isolated and a cure found. Incidentally Louis Pasteur, the French chemist and microbiologist better known for his discovery that germs caused disease, and his work with pasteurisation and vaccines, was instrumental in establishing the cause and elimination of the disease.
In conclusion, the silk industry was a unique branch of the textile industry. It was more susceptible to trade and trend reversals than many other branches due to the luxury nature of the goods produced. This, above all other reasons, caused the decline of the industry as a whole and, by extension, child employment. Factory Acts in the period covered in this study did affect the silk industry, but only in a limited part. Vast, unregulated areas still existed in raw silk throwing and winding as well as in a domestic setting. And the reasons these were left unregulated related precisely to the peculiar circumstances of the industry.
Once you get into your family history, you progress from names and dates to finding about the lives and times of your ancestors. Their employment is a significant part of this discovery process, because it formed a big part of their lives. And although not quite cradle to grave, this work was often from early childhood.
The first time l looked at censuses in any detail was over 30 years ago to produce an analysis of child employment in the silk industry between 1815-1871. Although I do have ancestors in the textile industry, so far I’ve not discovered any in the silk branch.
It was also the first time I looked at the various parliamentary inquiries into child employment, and discovered what a wealth of information they supplied about working conditions and employment practices. And this in the words of those involved – employers and employees. So a name-rich source to which you may find an ancestor gave evidence. But even if you don’t find your ancestor named, they provide a fantastic insight into their work and conditions.
I’m going to share a summary of this essentially old pre-Internet piece of research (updated with some more recent information) in case it helps anyone else: Either directly for those with silk industry antecedents; or indirectly to show what type of occupational information can be gleaned from primary sources.
It is quite lengthy so I will split it into four posts. The research covers:
a general overview of the industry;
the nature of the work; and
the reasons for, and decline of, child employment in this area.
I will also look at the Factory Acts, and the reasons why initially they only had the partial inclusion of child silk workers.
I chose 1815 as the starting point, as the end of the Napoleonic Wars marked a significant date for the English silk industry, paving the way for free trade and the lifting of protectionism. The years 1815-1820 also marked a period of recession with an influx of returning soldiers seeking employment driving wages down. And, although there was protectionism at this start point, more goods were sneaking in to the country once the Napoleonic Wars ended. 1871 is the finishing point as it coincides with the first census after the passing of the 1870 Education Act.
Silk weaving reached England on a small scale in the mid-fifteenth century. It developed in the mid-sixteenth century when Spanish religious persecutions forced Flemish weavers to seek refuge in the Spitalfields area of London. However it was not until the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, which forced the French Protestant Huguenots to flee the country, that the English silk industry took off in any big way. The refugees included many skilled silk workers from Tours and Lyons, and these too settled in the Spitalfields area.
In this period the industry was domestic in nature. Manufacturers employed weavers as outworkers and supplied them with yarn. These weavers then spun it on their own looms in their own homes or workshops and took the finished product back to the manufacturer who inspected and weighed it, docked money for imperfections, and paid the weaver.
With the patent in 1718 of Thomas Lombe’s silk machine, which converted the filaments of raw silk into yarns and threads, the final main obstacle to English silk production was removed. Previously the silk weaving industry had to import expensive thrown silk. Now the raw silk could be imported and then turned into thrown silk in England. A rapid expansion of the silk throwing industry followed the expiration of Lombe’s patent rights in 1732. This led to the increased development of purpose-built silk throwing and spinning mills.
Yet even after this date the home-based character of silk-weaving branch continued. Factory weaving did take place though, especially from the 1820s onwards when Jacquard mechanisms attached to looms enabled the weaving of ever more complex patterns. Often these were too large for a domestic situation. This, along with the development of power looms, led to an increase in factory based weaving bringing the processes of silk throwing (spinning), warping, dyeing and weaving under one roof.
The protectionist attitude of the attitude of the British government meant between 1765-1826 fully manufactured silk imports were prohibited and duties on other silks were proportionately high. This gave an impetus the English industry. However this protectionism came to an end in 1826 when the importation of foreign silk goods became legal. Despite the levy of a duty of around 30% on Continental goods, it still posed a treat to the English industry, especially given the superior quality of French silks.
The main areas of the silk industry in the 19th century were Lancashire and Cheshire, particularly around Manchester and Macclesfield. Other significant centres included Derby, London and Coventry.
How many children in the silk industry and what did they do? For this I looked at the census figures as well as various Select Committees and Royal Commissions investigating child employment in general. The numbers of children involved in silk manufacturing compared to the overall total population are shown in Tables 1-3. Whilst Table 1 is not directly comparable, being for Great Britain rather than England & Wales, it is illustrative. They show that the silk industry underwent a gradual but noticeable decline in adult as well as child employment. Numbers were skewed towards female operatives. Also in 1851 and 1861, when looking at overall data, the peak age for those employed in silk manufacture across both sexes was the 15- Quinquennial band.
Table 4, from the Factories Inquiry Commission supplementary report of 1834, shows figures from a sample of silk factories in Manchester, Macclesfield and Congleton employing 5,260 operatives. Children were almost exclusively employed in the throwing departments. Their principal job was tying knots when the silk thread broke, each child being in charge of a certain number of threads. Various Select Committees examining child labour in factories reported on this. In 1816-17 it was estimated that a child was in charge of about 20 threads; by 1831-32 this has doubled “on account of the competition which exists between masters; one undersells the other, consequently the master endeavours to get an equal quantity of work done for less money.” By the time of the 1866 report into children’s employment it was down to 12.The children also had an element of responsibility, being accountable for the thread which passed through their hands. This was high value especially when compared to others textiles. Even if the silk was of a good quality that it would not break so often, still a great deal of vigilance was required.
A good description of the jobs children were employed in is provided by James Sharpley for the silk throwsters Messrs Brocklehurst who operated mills in Huddersfield and Macclesfield. As reported in the “Royal Commission on Children Employed in Factories: Supplementary Report” published in 1834 he described their work and progression. “The processes of silk working ascend in difficulties of management, winding being the first and easiest; it is best and cheapest performed by children under twelve years, and thus requires also the most numerous body of workers; about twelve years of age many of the most expert are advanced to the next and more difficult processes, that is, the girls to the cleaning the silk thread, doubling several threads together, etc; and at fourteen or fifteen many of the girls are again advanced to the winding and warping the dyed silk for the weavers, which are the highest kinds of employment; the boys at fourteen are often promoted to the throwing mills, and at sixteen many of them learn to weave silk.”
Spinning, twisting and throwing were all used to describe the formation of a rope-like twist of the silken filament, to give it strength. It could be undertaken by machine or hand. A description of the hand process can be found in Lord Ashley’s (the later Earl of Shaftesbury) Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Employment of Children. Sub-commissioner Samuel Scriven described it as such in 1841:
“For twisting it is necessary to have what are designated shades which are buildings of at least 30 or 35 yards in length, of two or more rooms, rented separately by one, two or four men having one gate and a boy called a helper… the upper storey is generally occupied by children, young persons or grown women as ‘piecers’, ‘winders’ and ‘doublers’ attending to their reels and bobbins, driven by the exertions of one man… He (the boy) takes first a rod containing four bobbins of silk from the twister who stands at his gate or wheel, and having fastened the ends, runs to the ‘cross’ at the extreme end of the room, round which he passes the threads of each bobbin and returns to the ‘gate’. He is despatched on a second expedition of the same kind, and returns as before, he then runs up to the cross and detaches the threads and comes to the roller. Supposing the master to make twelve rolls a day, the boy necessarily runs fourteen miles, and this is barefooted.“
Hand Silk Throwing/Spinning – The Penny Magazine Vol 12, April 1843
Other jobs included “warp picking“, that is taking small defects out of the threads of warp before the weaver receives it; picking up waste; acting as helpers to weavers; or winding in a domestic situation.
For more information about the silk industry and its process “The Penny Magazine” Volume 12 April 1843 has an article “A Day at Derby Silk Mill.”
By this period the silk industry was principally a factory occupation. However it did still exist in a domestic form too. I’ve already referred to the weaving side. But silk throwing, the twisting of the tread of silk from the cocoon which takes the place of spinning, could still be undertaken in the home and sent to the factories for finishing and weaving. In the same 1834 publication J.S. Ward of Bruton, Somerset, mentioned that, besides his factory employees, he employed women and children winding and twisting silk in their own homes. The raw silk was given to the undertaker who would be engaged by the factory to return the silk full weight wound, doubled or twisted. These undertakers would in turn sub-let this work “hence it is that almost every house becomes a domestic manufactury, the husband, the wife, and their children….being occupied in the upper room which is devoted to the purposes of winding, doubling or weaving.” This practice still thrived into the 1860’s.
Besides being engaged as outworkers, children also played a part in handloom weaving. In the silk industry this still continued. For intricate, top quality pieces the handloom was superior to the power loom, due to the delicacy of the material. Outworkers who own looms worked by the piece for manufacturers. Children did not weave, but wound for the family. Children were generally taken from school at around the ages of nine or ten to do this.
Looking at the growing factory branch of the industry, the ages at which children were employed is shown in Tables 1-3. However these are only from 1851 onwards and it is necessary to look at parliamentary papers to get an idea about ages prior to this year. In 1816-17 it appears that children worked from the age of six. By the raft of reports in the 1830’s this increased to eight. Table 4 (above) and Table 5 (below) give a flavour.
Even in the 1866 report into children’s employment H.W. Lord found cases of children aged eight working, though more typically it was nine. Some manufacturers in the 1830’s claimed their practice was not to take children under the age of nine or ten, but often parents would deceive them. George Senior, from the silk firm of William Harter in Manchester, said “the parents always tell the children to answer ‘going ten’ when they are asked their ages” and Stephen Brown, of Colchester, backed this up.
In my next post I will examine in more detail the ages, wages, working conditions and health of these child silk industry workers.
This is the third part of my look at child workers in the silk industry between 1815-1871. Earlier posts (Part 1) and (Part 2) looked at the background of the industry, numbers involved, type of work undertaken, children’s ages, their working conditions and health. In this post I will focus on the Factory Acts affecting child employment in the silk industry in this period.
How far did the Factory Acts effect the silk industry? Although they included the silk industry, the most striking thing when examining the 1833, 1844 and 1847 Factory Acts is some of the most important clauses, dealing with hours and education, did not apply to the industry.
The first Act which included provisions concerning the silk industry was that of 1833, which resulted from the recommendations of the Parliamentary Select Committee and Royal Commission of 1833.
This Act forbade the night employment of under 18’s in a number of textile factories, including silk. Neither was the 13-18 age group to work for more than 12 hours a day or 69 a week. No child was to be employed in mills regulated by the Act until they reached the age of nine….except silk mills which could engage children regardless of age. It regulated the employment of children under 13 to nine hours a day, or 48 in a week. But in silk mills children under 13 could work 10 hours and the 48 hour rule did not apply either. The Act included overtime provisions and the circumstances in which it could be used. It also provided for one and a half hours for meals and it required children under 13 who came within the 48 hour rule to receive elementary schooling for two hours each day. It also established a minimal factory inspectorate to ensure compliance with these laws.
Children employed in silk mills were therefore only afforded limited protection by the 1833 Act, for not only was it legal to work them for 10 hours a day, but they were outside the scope of the education clauses, which were limited to those whose labour was restricted to 48 hours a week.
This Act, though firmly establishing the right for government to intervene where child employment was concerned, had a number of defects because of its novel and experimental nature. Thus Leonard Horner, one of the Inspectors of Factories established under this Act, wrote that it “has not done nearly all the good that was intended. The failures have mainly arisen from the defects in the law itself; not in the principles it lays down, but in the machinery which was constructed for the purpose of carrying the principle into operation….and after it was set into work, much of it was found to have been ill contrived, and some positively so bad that it obstructed, and to a great degree prevented, the attainment of this object.”
To begin with the Act was not enforced effectively because the inspectors lacked experience in factory employment and tended to work with the employers. Other obstacles included the difficulties detecting overworking of protected persons with the 15 hour limit of the working day. Children under 13 were not specifically included in the mealtime provisions, so it was legal to employ them without a break. Above 13 they were put to work cleaning machinery during their meal breaks. Superintendents only had restricted entry to the mills, while factory owners knew when the Inspector was due so had time to put their factories in order.
The effective prosecution of the Factory Acts was not without controversy. The generally accepted view is magistrates, due to their manufacturing interests, were unwilling to convict and this encouraged factory owners to flout the law. However, an interesting theory to the contrary is put forward by A.E. Peacock in which he uses prosecution reports in Lancashire and the West Riding between 1834-55 to argue the contrary. He said: “The rates of conviction achieved would have been noteworthy in any field of legislation, but in one as new and contentious as factory working, and involving measures directed against the owners of property, they were quite remarkable.”
What effect did the 1833 Factory Act have on child employment in the silk industry? Table 10 shows although a decline of children employed in silk factories took place between 1835-1838, it was only 4.9% and this could easily be attributed to the depression in the silk industry at the time.Furthermore, while children in other factories were being dismissed as age and hours provisions came into effect, these did not apply to such an extent to the silk industry, so children remained in employment. I have used a piece of later research, Table 11, to illustrate this.The problems of enforcing the 1833 Factory Act led to the 1844 Act. This included the silk industry to a slightly greater extent than the previous Act. For, besides stricter regulations governing the recovery of lost time, and tighter provision on the subject of meals, the Act stated that silk mills were to come under the same regulations as other textile factories.
However there was a crucial step back modification. Whereas the Act limited the hours worked by children to six and a half per day, with three hours’ schooling, and set a maximum 12-hour day for young people between 13 and 18, children over the age of 11 engaged in winding and throwing raw silk were allowed to work ten hours a day. And these children were exempt from the schooling clauses which instigated the half time system. Because winding and throwing raw silk occupied the greatest number of children involved in the industry, this Act can once again be said to have had no great effect on child employment in this industry. The drop which did occur, 7.1% between 1838-1847, would potentially be accounted for the drop generally in the spun and waste silk branch.
These provisions were retained in the 1847 Factory Act, commonly known as the Ten Hours Act, and amending Acts of 1850 and 1853. These essentially dealt with the working hours of women and young persons aged 13-18 in textiles mills. The 1847 Act reduced the hours of 13-18 year olds and women to ten per day. The 1850 Act raised the hours for women and these young people to 10.5. However, nothing was done with reference to those children over the age of 11 in the silk industry as illustrated in Section 7 of the 1850 amending Act. This repeated the provision that 11 year old children engaged solely in winding and throwing raw silk could be employed in all respects as young persons, that is 10.5 hours a day, providing they had a surgical certificate to say they had completed their eleventh year. Under 11’s had to attend school under the half time system for three hours a day.
But the loopholes did cause consternation to teachers and silk spinning mill owners, as shown in the 1866. John Chadwick said those who wind hard silk “may employ children over 11 for 10.5 hours, but if we use power here for winding soft silk we could not employ them so, unless they were 13 years old.” Inspector H.W. Lord, in his report for the Royal Commission into Child Employment, agreed that this law was unfair, particularly since he believed that soft silk winding was less likely to be harmful. Whilst the Rev H.R. Sandford, Inspector of Schools for the silk dominated town of Leek remarked the children in the girls school were all infants because “there are no half timers of children attending school from any of the factories which are under the silkworks act.”
So the Factory Acts only had a limited application for children in the silk industry. And their provisions did not apply at all to those employed in a domestic situation or in unregulated factories and sheds. Therefore the Factory Acts had only a limited effect on child employment and its decline in this industry. Other factors played a part, and some of these are directly linked to the rationale behind this limited legislation.
Why was legislation over child employment in the silk industry so light touch? Because these Acts were innovative and experimental, there was a gradual evolution and extension. Not everything could be done immediately. The lace industry was another branch of the textile industry which was not included. It would have been too great a step to legislate against all child employment in one go, especially when considering the significant opposition to the limited legislation. It was not feasible, practical or prudent policy. If the Acts proved workable they could gradually be extended to cover more industries/branches.
The silk industry employed a large number of children as compared with other branches of the textile industry, as shown in Table 12 below.If this labour was removed it could have a disasterous effect on the silk industry. At the period of the first Factory Act, the silk industry was already declining and the previous year, 1832, a Select Committee had investigated the issues affecting the trade. Throughout the various investigations into child employment a constant theme was the peculiar circumstances pertaining to silk. In Lord Ashley’s Royal Commission of Inquiry into child employment, established in 1840, agreed that “these children both need and are entitled to legislative protection.” However, because of the unusual conditions in mills were silk was wound and thrown, conditions which made it imperative to employ a considerable number of young hands, they felt unable to make any recommendations other than separate treatment should be considered. Hence the fact that this industry was subject to less stringent measures than other textile industries in the subsequent Factory Acts.
So what were these peculiar circumstances? I will look at these in my final post. These peculiarities which ultimately played the more significant influence behind the decline of child employment here.
In the first part of my look at child workers in the silk industry between 1815-1871 I gave a brief background to this industry, looked at the numbers involved and the types of job. In this part I will cover their ages, wages, working conditions and health impacts.
Why did employers take children of this age?
First and foremost it was permissible under the Factory Acts. However there were a number of other reasons.
Factory owners believed the younger the children began to work, the better workers it made them. In 1834 J.S. Ward, who preferred to take eight year olds, but did admit to employing them as young as seven, said “children who are taught early make the best hands.”
Furthermore quick, nimble fingers were needed to tie knots, a skill in which children had the advantage over adults.
They were also cheap. Factory owners, particularly in the 1830’s, exhibited a great concern for wages. In the 1820’s there had been a progressive lowering of duties on foreign silk products which caused a depression in the English silk industry. The mill owners argued that since they had been brought into competition with foreign countries with there much cheaper labour and production costs, child employment was imperative in order to keep production costs down and enable competition: young children were necessary. “A child above 12 would generally take double the time to learn as one under, and their wages would be higher whilst they were learning and getting us nothing” claimed William Upton Lester of G.M. Lester & Sons, Newcastle-Under-Lyme in the 1834 Factories Inquiry Commission supplementary report. In fact some mill owners argued a greater number of under 12s needed to be employed as a consequence. Adult wages could not be afforded.
A final reason has already been hinted at, with parental duplicity over children’s ages. In 1816-17 obliging the parents was the most common reason given for child employment. The fact that parents were prepared to lie over their children’s ages to obtain for them mill work shows this to be accurate. The parents “derived advantage from their earnings”.
Children played an important part in the family economy, making a contribution to the family finances. According to David Vincent child labourers had an awareness that their contributions could make a significant difference to the well-being of the family. This applied as much to those involved in domestic industries as to those in factories. They were to be loved and economically exploited.
What wages could a child expect to bring home? Naturally this varied according to the child’s age, exact employment, period in time, and whether the work was conducted in a mill or domestic situation. A child who worked alongside a parent handloom weaver would not know how much he or she earned because the winding work was tied in with the parents’ earnings for the piece. A good handloom weaver could expect to earn 18s a week in the early 19th century. Generally though wages declined after 1815, and the influx of handloom weavers from the cotton industry added to the labour pool depressing wages further. For winders in a domestic situation supplying factories, payment was by the pound. Prior to 1829 they earned on average 2s per lb, but by 1831 thus decreased to 1s, with a good worker winding 2.5lbs per week.
In the factories wages varied from 1s-4s a week. Larger mills tended to pay more than smaller ones. Tables 6 & 7 illustrate wages in the mid 1820’s to 1830’s. Note the reduction in hours worked in Table 7, a result of the trade depression.
Besides helping with income, child participation in the family economy had two other functions:
It provided the child with a sense of identity and security; and
The child was nurtured and trained
These functions were only fully achievable in a domestic setting. In industry it broke down. The parent could not ensure the child was not taxed beyond his/her strength. Neither could the parent necessarily personally protect or train the child.
What were the working conditions and health effects?
Conditions in factories varied. Compared to the cotton industry, silk working did appear an healthier form of employment. According to contemporary descriptions silk manufacture “isa remarkably clean occupation, produces no dust and is best carried on in a temperature that is agreeable to the feelings.”
To start with the temperature was constant at about 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Silk production required no obvious excess of heat, so the workers could ventilate the room to their own taste. According to the Factories Inquiry Commission Supplementary Report 1834 “A moderate temperature is best for silk work 50 degrees to 60 degrees; either too hot or too cold makes the silk brittle. If it is too warm the gum flies off and the weight is lost; too cold and the thread becomes too brittle and breaks.”
Punishment was a feature of work, though it varied from factory to factory. The majority imposed fines for misdeeds. Most factory owners said they did not sanction corporal punishment, though did admit to occasionally using sticks across the shoulders. But the comparatively high value of silk against other textiles did influence punishment, as waste of silk was costly. There is definite evidence of harsh treatment were waste was perceived.
The hours of work also varied from factory to factory, and during different periods of time. As we have seen from Table 7 depression meant short time. James Sharpley, of Brocklehursts, said hours varied from six upwards, depending on the fluctuations in the silk industry business.
Early in 1833 children in his factory worked about eight hours 40 minutes a day. The number of days varied too. In 1831 some factories only worked four days a week. But when demand was good excess hours were needed “since the free trade system the work is naturally very irregular, for if a little demand rises we are so afraid of competition that we work day and night to be first in the market…..which creates an over stock, and then we are not able to work above three or four days per week.” Therefore the very precarious nature of the silk industry made it difficult to compute hours.
In normal trade circumstances, children worked anything between 10 to 12 hours a day. The usual hours were from 6am to 6pm with one and a half hours for meals. Night work was rare before 1833 and after prohibited under the Factory Act. Nevertheless in smaller winding sheds “it is not unusual to work from 6am to 6pm or even 10pm.”
The manufacturers claimed that the work was not laborious and the children had plenty opportunity to test. The children claimed the hours were excessive and they felt tired, even though the work was not heavy. A typical comment from a child worker, Ann Barnwell, was “Think the work hard, it tired me very much at first but it don’t now, got used to it.”
It is difficult to judge the reality because both groups had an interest: the manufacturers didn’t want children to work less hours as it would increase production costs in an industry already susceptible to trade fluctuations. So it suited them to play down any impact to health brought about by hours and conditions; and child operatives would themselves be the beneficiaries shorter hours if they were deemed excessive. The issue is further complicated looking at it from the standards we employ today. But put into perspective a child of nine or ten working in the silk industry was working longer than most adults in today’s society.
Other than the inevitable fatigue, the commonly held view was that the health impacts on children of working in the silk industry were comparatively benign. Even in 1866 Assistant Commissioner H.W. Lord in the 1866 report into child employment wrote that the occupations of winding and piecing “seem to be quite harmless.”
The medical inspections of the mills appear to back up this belief. John Fleet, a Macclesfield doctor described the silk-trade as an extremely healthy employment. In his letter to the 1831 letter to the Factories Inquiry Commission he went on to write “…..the temperature of the rooms is regulated according to the comfort of the parties employed in them, they are clear from dust, are I odorous and well ventilated….I find it is a popular impression, the deformity of the spine and distortion of limbs is brought on by employment in the silk business; nothing can be more erroneous than this supposition.”
In a letter to the same Inquiry John Braithwaite, another Macclesfield medical man,wrote “…..of all the factories with which I am acquainted, those in the silk-trade are the least prejudicial to the people engaged in them……The children engaged in these factories, for the most part, have the appearance of health, happiness, cleanliness, and contentment;”
And George Senior, on behalf of Harter’s in Manchester wrote “It is generally said that they [parents] prefer silk mills; the work is cleaner and there is no flue flying about.”
Silk Mills and Church, Derby by Moses Griffiths, 1747-1809 [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Tables 8 and 9 below chart a series of medical examinations conducted in 1833. These show overwhelmingly health in silk mills to be far better than cotton factories. Of course it is possible that these medical examinations were fixed to the extent that factory owners sent sickly children home for the day. However if this practise took place in silk mills, it would be logical to assume cotton mills did the same: yet cotton mills had a comparatively much worse record of health. It can be therefore taken that the tables provide a relatively accurate comparison of health in the two industries. But that does not mean the employment was not detrimental to health.
Condemnation of health did occur. When examined in 1832 Daniel Fraser, warping department manager at John Fisher & Co silk mill at Huddersfield was critical. He described silk mill girls in the throwing department, saying “contrasted with other children, they appear pale, their eyes are sunk, they are thinner in flesh and altogether they seem deteriorated.”
It was also stated that those children not brought up in a factory system were more healthy. That’s the bottom line. The factory system, whatever branch, was fatiguing, unhealthy, dangerous and children were subjected to harsh treatment.
In my next post I will examine in more detail the Factory Acts of 1833, 1844 and 1847 and their impact on child employment in the silk industry.