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PEARL BUTTON TRADE.
No. 377. January 5, 1841.—A.B.
Small masters in this branch employ a considerable number of children at a very early age, “as soon as they are anyway tall enough to reach the lathe.” The hours of work are irregular; when trade is brisk the children are kept later, not beyond 8 or 9 P.M. Thinks they are seldom kept so late. Where her husband works, the children are sent home earlier than the men. Boys and girls are both sent to pearl button-making. It is all standing work. It is very fatiguing for grown-up people, as well as children. The foot is required to turn the “treadle,” at the time the hands are employed. At some places the children are knocked about and severely used. It is considered to be a very unhealthy trade. Thinks the children are stunted in their growth and neglected in their education.
[Note.—This account was given me by a very decent woman, the wife of a mechanic, who is a pearl button-maker. Her house is neat and tidy; there are 4 small rooms; the family consists of the father, mother, and one daughter, grown up. The father earns, at good work, 18s., but the prices are very much reduced, which is attributed to the work of men being done by women. The trade has been very bad for twelve months. The mother can read a little, the daughter was taught to read and write; went to a day-school till 8 years, and to a Sunday-school till 12. Neither the mother nor daughter go out to work; the father thinking “it must be a poor house that will not employ a woman.” This house is well furnished, and has altogether a comfortable appearance. There are sufficient kitchen utensils, candle-sticks, and spoons; a metal soup ladle was on the table for dinner which consisted of meat, potatoes, and bread. A clock in the adjoining room. The house is situated in a court, but this is large and spacious, being towards the outskirts of the town. The rent is 3s. 6d.]
No 378. May 27.—Mr William Tonks.
Employs 2 boys under 13, and 3 under 18, and 1 girl under 13. They all work in the business. The regular time is 10 hours, exclusive of meals, for which two hours or more are allowed. If trade is brisk, they go on till 8 or 8½ P.M.; this hour is rarely exceeded here. In some shops they work later, till 9 or 9½, beginning at 6 or 7 A.M. The children and young persons stop on these occasions; they cannot do without them.
Children in this branch generally begin at 8 or 9 years old. The work is light, but it is not considered healthy. It has not hurt him, but has known several who were not accustomed to it, who have died from it, The dust causes sickness and cough.
Thinks, by all means, that children, instead of coming to work so young, should have an opportunity of going to school.
(Signed) WILLIAM TONKS.
No. 379.—William Tonks, 14 years old.
Can read a little, can’t write.
Has been in the business 5 years. The work agrees with him; it does not make him sick or cough. Has good health.
(Signed) WILLIAM TONKS X his mark
No. 380.—Edward Tonks, 10 years old.
Can read a little, can’t write.
Has been in the business 3 years. It agrees with him. Has good health; has no cough nor sickness.
(Signed) EDWARD TONKS X his mark
No. 381.—December 3, 1840. A. B.
From the nature of his employment has free and unconstrained access to one of the largest manufactories of the town, where upwards of 200 mechanics are employed; also knows several of the smaller manufactories where from 10 to 18 or 20 persons are employed. Thinks that the workpeople are in all respects, physical and moral, more favourably placed in the smaller than in the larger manufactories. In the large manufactory above alluded to, the workpeople are very much crowded together; in fact, when they are all present, there is hardly room to walk. It is the same in several other florentine button and steel pen manufactories. The men and womens’ shops are close together, and overlook each other. In the above manufactory, with 200 mechanics, there are only two privies, which were designed for the separate use of the men and women, but the fact is that they are promiscuously used by both sexes. Both these privies are in sight of three of the shops where men work. Has often seen, in consequence of the number of people, young girls and women, as many as half a dozen, waiting at the privies till the men came out. On these occasions it often happens that jesting takes place between the parties. A great many young girls, and also boys, belong to this manufactory. Has heard from workmen that the privies are used in common at other large manufactories.
Has seen improper proceedings between the men who set the tools and the women into whose shops they go, and this before the little girls belonging to the shop. The proprietor selects the tool-makers from the married men, but this does not prevent the evil alluded to.
Thinks that one principal cause of the promiscuous intercourse among the sexes depends on the crowded state of the buildings; and that if the shops covered a larger space of ground, there is nothing in the manufacturing process itself, speaking of the florentine button trade, which would interfere with the complete separation of men and women.
[Note.—This evidence was guaranteed by a trustworthy police constable, to whom the witness was known.]