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Tuesday, November 6, 1849
Before leaving the subject of the low London lodging-houses,
it may be as well to inform the inexperienced reader that the class of
dormitories described in my last letter are not the lowest of the low. There are
"cribs" in the metropolis where the charges for a night's rest are
less, the accommodations more meagre, and the lodgers even more degraded than
those of the two-penny refuges I lately visited. In some places a penny only is
demanded for shelter for the night, and there congregate the most wretched and
demoralized of all characters. The commonest prostitutes, thieves, beggars, and
vagabonds are taken into these dens of iniquity, and allowed to sleep
promiscuously in one small room. There is little or no furniture in the house;
so that no beds are provided for the money. The lodgers male and female - men,
women, boys, and girls - all lie huddled together on the floor; the average
nightly muster being about 30 of the most miserable and infamous of human beings
- a mass of poverty, filth, vice, and crime - an assemblage of all that is
physically loathsome and morally odious - a chaos of want, intemperance,
ignorance, disease, libidinism, rags, dirt, villany, and shamelessness, that can
be paralleled in no other part of the globe but this, the first city in the
world the focus of wealth and intellect - the pinnacle of civilization and
The generality of the low lodging-houses - the penny, two-penny, and three-penny as well - I am informed by one who has lived in them and among them for many months - a man of superior intelligence and education, be it understood - are kept by persons utterly deficient of all moral sense, and who either wink at or encourage the robberies which are continually concocted under their roofs. Nearly all the proprietors tacitly allow the produce of their lodgers' pilferings to be introduced and shared in the kitchen, and many of them are known to be receivers of stolen goods, pledging for the pickpockets they harbour in their houses whatever plunder they may bring home, and demanding of them two-pence and the duplicate for so doing. Indeed, so general is the latter practice among the lodging-house-keepers of the East-end of London, that these are the "regular terms" of the class.
But there are dormitories lower and lower still in the scale of comfort, cleanliness, and civilization. Such sleeping places are frequented by those who want even the penny to provide them with the luxury of mere walls and roof to shelter them from the wind or the rain. Hence, if it be possible to conceive a class of beings still more wretched, more vicious, or more criminal than those visiting the lowest lodging-houses of London, they are to be found nestling under the arches of the Blackwall Railway. There may be discovered whole families, houseless and penniless, huddled close together - children cradled as it were in vice and crime, cheek by jowl with the vilest prostitutes and the meanest thieves. Or else they may be seen ranged along the wall of a neighbouring sugar- baker's, warming themselves upon the pavement heated by the melting-pan beneath. To behold the drowsy, ragged, destitute crowd gathered there at three o'clock in the morning, is a sight to shock the most callous, and one that is painful even to imagine.
Let me pass, therefore, from such scenes to the subject of this communication - viz., the incomings and condition of the "slop-workers" of London. The change, however, is barely for the better. The class, it is true, are not yet sunk quite so low, and yet their weekly earnings are even less than those of the petty thieves and beggars of the East-end of the metropolis. I had seen so much want since I began my investigation into the condition of the labouring poor of London that my feelings were almost blunted to sights of ordinary misery. Still I was unprepared for the amount of suffering that I have lately witnessed. I could not have believed that there were human beings toiling so long and gaining so little, and starving so silently and heroically, round about our very homes. It is true, one or two instances of the kind had forced themselves into the police reports, and songs and plays had been written upon the privations of the class; still it was impossible to believe that the romance of the song-writer and the fable of the playwright were plain, unvarnished, everyday matters of fact - or, even admitting their stories to be individually true, we could hardly credit them to be universally true. But the reader shall judge for himself. I will endeavour to reproduce the scenes I have lately looked upon - and I will strive to do so in all their stark literality. It is difficult, I know, for those who are unacquainted with the misery hiding itself in the by-lanes and alleys of the metropolis to have perfect faith in the tales that it is my duty to tell them. Let me therefore once more assure the sceptical reader, that hardly a line is written here but a note was taken of the matter upon the spot. The descriptions of the dwellings and the individuals I allude to have all been written with the very places and parties before me; and the story of the people's sufferings is repeated to the public in the self same words in which they were told to me. Still it may be said that I myself have been imposed upon - that I may have been taken to extreme cases, and given to understand that they are the ordinary types of the class. This, I am ready to grant, is a common source of error; I will therefore now explain the means that I adopted, in this instance in particular, to prevent myself being deluded into any such fallacy.
My first step was to introduce myself to one of the largest "slop-sellers" at the East-end of the town; and having informed the firm that I was about to examine into the condition and incomings of the slopworkers of London, I requested to know whether they would have any objection to furnish me with the list of prices that they were in the habit of paying to their workpeople, so that on my visiting the parties themselves - as I frankly gave them to understand I purposed doing - I might be able to compare the operatives' statements as to prices with theirs, and thus be able to check the one with the other. Indeed, I said I thought it but fair that the employer should have an opportunity of having his say as well as the employed. I regret to say that I was not met with the candour that I had been led to expect. One of the firm wished to know why I singled their house out from the rest of the trade. I told him I did so merely because it was one of the largest in the business, and assured him that, so far from my having any personal object in my visit, I made it a point never to allude by name to any employer or workman to whom I might have occasion to refer. My desire, I said, was to deal with principles rather than persons; whereupon I was informed that the firm would have no objection to acquaint me with the prices paid by other houses in the trade. "If you merely wish to arrive at the principle of the slop business, this," said one of the partners, "will be quite sufficient for your purpose." Though I pressed for some more definite and particular information from the firm, I could obtain nothing from them but an assurance that a statement should be written out for me immediately as to the general custom of the trade, and that, if I would call at any time after sunset on Saturday evening, it should be at my disposal. I soon saw that it was useless seeking to obtain any further information from the parties in question - so, taking my departure, I made the best of my way to the workmen in the neighbourhood.
My time being limited, I consulted with a gentleman who is thoroughly conversant with the character of several of the operatives, as to the best and fairest means of taking an unprejudiced view of the state of the slopworkers of London; and it was agreed between us, that as the work was performed by both males and females, it would be better first to direct my attention to the state of the male "hands" employed by the trade; while, in order to arrive at an accurate estimate as to the incomings and condition of the class generally, it was deemed better to visit some place where several of the operatives were in the habit of working together, so that the opinions of a number of individuals might be taken simultaneously upon the subject.
Accordingly I was led, by the gentleman whose advice I had sought, to a narrow court, the entrance to which was blocked up by stalls of fresh herrings. We had to pass sideways between the baskets with our coat-tails under our arms. At the end of the passage we entered a dirty-looking house by a side entrance. Though it was midday, the staircase was so dark that we were forced to grope our way by the wall up to the first floor. Here, in a small back room, about eight feet square, we found no fewer than seven workmen, with their coats and shoes off, seated cross-legged on the floor, busy stitching the different parts of different garments. The floor was strewn with sleeve-boards, irons, and snips of various coloured cloths. In one corner of the room was a turn-up bedstead, with the washed out chintz curtains drawn partly in front of it. Across a line which ran from one side of the apartment to the other were thrown the coats, jackets, and cravats of the workmen. Inside the rusty grate was a hat, and on one side of the hobs rested a pair of old cloth boots, while leaning against the bars in front there stood a sackful of cuttings. Beside the workmen on the floor sat two good-looking girls - one cross-legged like the men - engaged in tailoring.
My companion having acquainted the workmen with the object of my visit, they one and all expressed themselves ready to answer any questions that I might put to them. They made dress and frock coats, they told me, Chesterfields, fishing-coats, paletots, Buller's monkey jackets, beavers, shooting coats, trousers, vests, sacks, Codringtons, Trinity cloaks and coats, and indeed, every other kind of woollen garment. They worked for the ready-made houses, or "slopsellers." "One of us," said they, "gets work from the warehouse, and gives it out to others. The houses pay different prices. Dress coats, from 5s. 6d. to 6s. 9d.; frock coats the same; shooting coats, from 2s. 6d. to 2s. 9d. In summertime, when trade is busy, they pay 3s. Chesterfields, from 2s. 6d. to 3s., some are made for 2s.; paletots, from 2s. 6d. to 3s. "Aye, and two days' work for any man," cried one of the tailors with a withered leg, "and buy his own trimmings, white and black cotton, gimp, and pipe-clay." "Yes," exclaimed another, "and we have to buy wadding for dress coats; and soon, I suppose, we shall have to buy cloth and all together. Trousers, from 1s. 6d. to 3s.; waistcoats, from ls. 6d. to ls. 9d. Dress and frock coats will take two days and a half to make each, calculating the day from six in the morning till seven at night; but three days is the regular time. Shooting coats will take two days; Chesterfields take the same as dress and frock coats; paletots, two days; trousers, one day."
"The master here" (said one of them scarcely distinguishable from the rest) "gets work from the warehouse at the before-mentioned prices; he gives it out to us at the same price, paying us when he receives the money. We are never seen at the shop. Out of the prices the master here deducts 4s. per week per head for our cup of tea or coffee in the morning, and tea in the evening, and our bed. We sleep two in a bed here, and some of us three. In most places the workmen eat, drink, and sleep in one room; as many as ever the room will contain. They'd put 20 in one room if they could. "I should like to see the paper this'll be printed in," cried the man with the withered leg. "Oh, it'll be a good job, it should be known. We should be glad if the whole world heard it, so that the people should know our situation. I've worked very hard this week, as hard as any man. I've worked from seven in the morning till 11 at night, and my earnings will be 13s. this week; and deducting my 4s. out of that, and my trimmings besides - the trimmings comes to about ls. 9d. per week - which makes 5s. 9d. altogether, and that will leave me 7s. 3d. for my earnings all the week, Sunday included. It's very seldom we has a Sunday walking out. We're obliged to work on Sunday all the same. We should lose our shop if we didn't. Eight shillings is the average wages, take the year all through. Out of this 8s. we have to deduct expenses of lodging, trimming, washing, and light, which comes to 5s. 9d. We can't get a coat to our backs."
I inquired as to the earnings of the others. "Well, it's nearly just the same, take one with another, all the year round. We work all about the same hours - all the lot of us. The wages are lower than they were this time twelvemonth, in 1848 - that they are, by far, and heavier work too. I think there's a fall of 6d. in each job at the lowest calculation."
"Ah, that there is," said another; "a 3s. job we don't have 2s. 6d. for now."
"Yes, it's causing half of the people," cried a third, "to be thieves and robbers. That's true. Wages were higher in 1847 - they're coming down now every year. The coats that they used to pay 5s. for this time two years, they are making for 3s. 6d. at present - the very same work, but a deal heavier than it was two years ago. This time twelvemonth we made coats for 7s., and 5s. this year is all we has for the same. Prices have come down more than a quarter - indeed about half, during these last 10 years. I'm sure I don't know what's the cause of it. The master first says, I can't give no more than such a price for making such an article. Then the man objects to it, and says he can't live by it; as soon as he objects to it, the master will give him no more work. We really are the prey of the master, and cannot help ourselves. Whatever he offers we are obliged to accept, or else go starve." "Yes, yes," said they all, "that's the real fact. And if we don't take his offer, somebody else will, that's the truth, for we have no power to stand out against it. The workhouse won't have us - we must either go thieve, or take the price in the long run. There's a standing price in the regular trade, but not in this. The regular trade is 6d. an hour. The regulars work only from six in the morning till seven at night, and only do 'bespoke' work. But we are working for the slop shops or warehouses, and they keep a large stock of ready-made goods. We're called under-the-bed workers, or workers for the 'sweaters.' All the persons who work for wholesale houses are 'sweaters.' Single workmen cannot get the work from them, because they cannot give security - £5 in money, or a shopkeeper must be responsible to that amount. Those who cannot give security are obliged to work for 'sweaters.' The reason for the warehouses requiring this security is, because they pay so badly for the work they are afraid to trust the journeyman with it. But in the regular trade, such as at the West-end, they require no security whatever. In the s1op trade the journeymen do not keep Monday - they can't do it, Sunday nor Monday either - if they do they must want for food. Since we've been working at the slop trade we find ourselves far worse off than when we were working at the regular trade. The journeymen of the slop trade are unable to earn 13s. where the regular journeyman can earn 30s., and then we have to find our own trimmings and candle light. I'd sooner be transported than at this work. Why, then, at least, I'd have regular hours for work and for sleep; but now I'm harder worked and worse fed than a cab-horse."
During my stay in this quarter an incident occurred, which may be cited as illustrative of the poverty of the class of slop-workers. The friend who had conducted me to the spot, and who knew the workmen well, had long been striving to induce one of the men - a Dutchman - to marry one of the females working with him in the room, and with whom he had been living for many months. That the man might raise no objection on the score of poverty, my friend requested me to bear with him half the expense of publishing the banns. To this I readily consented, but the man still urged that he was unable to wed the girl just yet. On inquiring the reason we were taken outside the door by the Dutchman, and there told that he had been forced to pawn his coat for 6s., and as yet he had saved only half the amount towards the redemption of it. It would take him upwards of a month to lay by the remainder. This was literally the fact, and the poor fellow said, with a shrug of his shoulders, he could not go to be married in his shirt sleeves. He was told to make himself easy about the wedding- garment, and our kind-hearted friend left delighted with the day's work.
I now wished to learn from some of the female operatives what prices they were paid, and requested my friend to introduce me to some workwoman who might be considered as one of the most provident, industrious, and best conducted in the trade. The woman bears, I understand, an excellent character, and she gave the following melancholy account of her calling: - She makes various kinds of garments. Scarcely a garment that is to be made but what she makes; works for various slop-sellers; makes shirts, drawers, trousers, blouses, duck frocks, sou'-westers, and oilskin waterproof coats, some in a rough state in the calico before they're oil'd, and others after they're oil'd. Works first hand. For shirts she gets 2s. to 6s. a dozen, that's the highest; there are some lower than that, but she generally refuses those. The lowest are ls. a dozen, or only a penny each. Of the 2s. a dozen she can make about three in the day - the day being from eight in the morning to ten in the evening. She usually makes 18 in the week. Shirt-making is generally considered the worst work - has to find all her own trimmings, all the thread and cotton, everything, excepting the buttons, out of the 2s. a dozen. The price is paid for rowing shirts, called "rowers," with full bosoms put in, just the same as the 6s. a dozen ones, only the work is not so good. Of the 6s. a dozen she can't make more than one in the day. They're white collars and wristbands. Has to find her own trimmings. Is forced to give security for about £5. Those who cannot get security must work for "sweaters. Flannel drawers are some 2s. 6d. a dozen, and some 3s. Some are coloured, and some are white flannel; the white are 3s., the coloured 2s. 6d. Has to find her own thread. Can do three pairs in a day - making 9d. at best work, or 7½d. at worst, out of which there is to be deducted 1½d. for one ounce of thread. Moleskin trousers, and beaverteen, like the other articles, vary in price. The lowest price for moleskin trousers is 6s. a dozen pair - the highest, 10s. The beaverteen the same. Can't make more than one pair of either the high or low priced ones in the day. The trimmings for each dozen pair come to 1s. 6d. The highest priced ones are all double stitched. Blouses are from 5s. to 7s. a dozen. Can't make two of the lowest price in the day. Might make one of the highest. Trimming for a dozen comes to about 6d., because it's chiefly cotton that is used in blouses. Duck frocks are 2s. to 2s 6d. a dozen. May make about a dozen and a half of those in a week if she sits very close to it. "During the course of years," she said, "that I have worked at the business, I find it's all alike. You can't earn much more at one kind of work than you can at another. Sou'-westers are 10d. a dozen; from that to 3s. Can make one in a day of those at 3s., and of those at 10d. she makes half a dozen in the day. Oilskin waterproof coats, ready-dressed, are 1s. 6d. each; and the others, undressed, from 4s. to 6s. per dozen. She has to find all her trimmings out of that. Can make one of those that are dressed in two days, and of those that are in the undressed state, a dozen in the week.
"Upon the average," she says, "at all kinds of work, excepting the shirts, that I make, I cannot earn more than 4s. 6d. to 5s. per week - let me sit from eight in the morning till ten every night; and out of that I shall have to pay 1s. 6d. for trimmings and 6d. candles every week; so that altogether I earn about 3s. in the six days. But I don't earn that, for there's the firing that you must have to press the work, and that will be 9d. a week, for you'll have to use half a hundredweight of coals. So that my clear earnings are a little bit more than 2s., say 2s. 3d. to 2s. 6d. every week. I consider the trousers the best work. At the highest price, which is 10s. a dozen, I should make no more than eight of them in a week; that would give me 6s. 3d. The trimmings of that eight pair would cost me 1s., the candles 6d., and the coals 9d., for pressing, leaving 4s. 5d. clear - and that is the very best kind of work that can be got in the slop trade. Shirt work is the worst work - the very worst, that can be got. You cannot make more of those at 6s. a dozen than one a day, yielding 3s. a week. The trimmings would be about 3d. for the shirts, and the candles 6d., as before, making 9d. to be deducted, and so leaving 2s. 3d. per week clear. I have known the prices much better when I first began to work at the business, some nineteen years ago. The shirts that they now give 6d. for were then 1s.; and those now at 2d., were 8d. The trousers were ls. 4d. and ls. 6d. a pair, the best - now they give only 10d. for the best. The other articles are down equally low."
"I cannot say," she added, "what the cause may be. I think there are so many to work at it, that one will underwork the other. I have seen it so at the shop. The sweaters screw the people down as low as they possibly can, and the masters hear how little they can get their work done for, and cut down the sweaters, and so the workpeople have to suffer again. Every shop has a great number of sweaters. Sometimes the sweaters will get as much as 2d. or 3d.; indeed, I've known 'em take as much as 4d. out of each garment. I should suppose one that has a good many people to work for her - say about a dozen - I suppose that she'll clear from £1 to £1 5s. per week out of their labour. The workpeople are very dissatisfied, and very poor indeed - yes, very poor. There is a great deal of want, and there is a great deal of suffering amongst them. I hear it at the shop when I go in with my work. They have generally been brought up regularly to the trade. It requires an apprenticeship. In about three months a person may learn it, if they're quick; and persons pay from 10s. to £1 to be taught it, bad as the trade is. A mother has got two or three daughters, and she don't wish them to go to service, and she puts them to this poor needlework; and that, in my opinion, is the cause of the destitution and prostitution about the streets in these parts. So that in a great measure I think the slop trade is the ruin of the young girls that take to it - the prices are not sufficient to keep them, and the consequence is, they fly to the streets to make out their living. Most of the workers are young girls who have nothing else to depend upon, and there is scarcely one of them virtuous. When they come on first they are very meek and modest in their deportment, but after a little time they get connected with the others and led away. There are between 200 and 300 of one class and another work at my shop. I dare say of females altogether there are upwards of 200. Yesterday morning there were seventy-five in the shop with me, and that was at eight in the morning, and what there may be throughout the day it's impossible to form an idea. The age of the females in general is about fourteen to twenty.
"My daughter is a most excellent waistcoat hand. I can give you an account of her work, and then, of course, you can form an idea of what everybody else gets. The lowest price waistcoat is 3s. per dozen, and the highest 9s. They are satin ones. She can make one satin one per day, and three of the 3s. ones. She earns, upon an average, about 4s. per week; deduct from this, trimmings about 6d. for the lowest, and 1s. per week for the highest price. As we both sit to work together, one candle does for the two of us, so that she earns about 3s. per week clear, which is not sufficient to keep her even in food. My husband is a seafaring man, or I don't know what I should do. He is a particularly steady man, a teetotaller, and so indeed are the whole family, or else we could not live. Recently my daughter has resigned the work and gone to service as the prices are not sufficient for food and clothing. I never knew a rise, but continual reductions. I know a woman who has six children, and she has to support them wholly on slop work. Her husband drinks, and does a day's work only now and then, spending more than he brings home. None of her children are able to work. I don't know how on earth she lives, or her little ones either. Poor creature, she looked the picture of distress and poverty when I last saw her."
This woman I had seen away from her home, so I requested my friend to lead me to the dwelling of one of the shirt workers, one that he knew to be a hard-working, sober person, so that I might judge of the condition of the class.
The woman lived over a coal and potato shed, occupying a small close room on the "second floor back." It did not require a second glance either at the room or the occupant to tell that the poor creature was steeped in poverty to the very lips. In one corner of the apartment was rolled up the bed on the floor. Beside the window was an oyster tub, set upon a chair. At this she was busy washing, while on the table a small brown pan was filled with the newly washed clothes; beside it were the remains of the dinner, a piece of dry coarse bread, and half a cup of coffee.
In answer to my inquiries, she made the following statement: - "I make the 'rowers,' that is the rowing shirts. I'm only in the shirt line. Do nothing else. The rowers is my own work. These (she said, taking a cloth off a bundle of checked shirts on a side table) is 2d. a piece. I have had some at 2½d., and even 3d., but them has full linen fronts and linen wristbands. These are full-fronted shirts - the collars, wristbands, and shoulder-straps are all stitched, and there are seven button-holes in each shirt. It takes full five hours to do one. I have to find my own cotton and thread. I gets two skeins of cotton for ld., because I am obliged to have it fine for them; and two skeins will make about three to four shirts. Two skeins won't quite make three-and-a-half, so that it don't leave above seven farthings for making each of the shirts. If I was to begin very early here, about six in the morning, and work till nine at night, I can't make above three in the day at them hours. I often work in the summer time from four in the morning to nine or ten at night - as long as I can see. My usual time of work is from five in the morning till nine at night, winter and summer; that is about the average time throughout the year. But when there's a press of business, I work earlier and later. I often gets up at two and three in the morning, and carries on till the evening of the following day, merely lying down in my clothes to take a nap of five or ten minutes. The agitation of mind never lets one lie longer. At the rowers work I don't reckon I makes 5s. a week at the best of times, even working at the early and late hours; and working at the other hours I won't make above 3s. 6d. Average all the year round I can't make more than 4s. a week, and then there's cotton and candles to buy out of that. Why, the candles will cost about 10d. or 1s. a week in the depth of winter, and the cotton about 3d. or 4d. a week, so that I clears about 2s. 6d. a week - yes, I reckon that's about it! I know it's so little I can't get a rag to my back. I reckon nobody in the trade can make more than I do - they can't - and there's very few makes so much, I'm sure. It's only lately that I found a friend to be security for the rowing shirts, or else before that I only received l½d. for the same shirts as I now have 2d. for, because I was forced to work for a sweater. These prices are not so good as those usually paid in the trade; some houses pays 3s. a dozen for what I have 2s. for. A few weeks - that is, about six weeks ago - the price was 2s. 6d. a dozen; but they always lowers the price towards winter. Never knew them to raise the prices. I have worked at the business about eight years, and when I first began the rowers' were at 3s. 6d. a dozen - the very same article that I am now making for 2s. They in general keep the sweaters employed in winter - some call them the 'double hands,' and they turn off the single hands first, because it's the least trouble to them. The sweaters, you see, take out a great quantity of work at a time. The sweaters, many of them, give security to £20. I've known some of them take out as much as a chaise-cart full of various sorts of work, according to the hands they've got employed. One that I knows keeps a horse and cart, and does nothing himself - that he don't. I suppose he's got near upon a hundred hands, and gives about £50 security. He was a potboy at a public-house, and married a shirt-maker. The foremen at the large shops generally marry a shirt-maker, or someone in the line of business, and then take a quantity of work home to their wives, who give it out to poor people. They take one-fourth part out of the price, let it be what it will.
She produced an account-book, of which the following is a copy:
|July||2||Nine at 2d.||0||1||6|
|"||4||Nine at 2d.||0||1||6|
|"||7||Three at 2d.||0||0||6|
|"||10||Nine at 2d.||0||1||6|
|"||12||Seven at 2½d||0||1||5½|
|"||17||Nine at 2½d||0||1||10½|
|"||19||Nine at 2½d||0||1||10½|
|"||21||Six at 2d.||0||1||0|
|"||24||Twelve at 2¼d||0||2||3|
|"||26||Six at 2¼d||0||1||1½|
|"||27||Six at 2½d||0||1||3|
|"||28||Six at 2½d||0||1||3|
|"||31||Six at 2½d||0||1||3|
|Aug.||2||Three at 3d. (bespoke)||0||0||9|
|"||"||Nine at 2½d||0||1||10½|
|"||6||Nine at 2½d||0||1||10½|
|"||11||Six at 2½d||0||1||3|
|"||14||Twelve at 2½d||0||2||6|
|"||16||Four at 2d||0||0||3|
|"||17||Six at 2½d||0||1||3|
|"||21||Eight at 2½d||0||1||8|
|"||24||Eight at 2d.||0||1||4|
|"||25||Eighteen at 2d.||0||3||0|
|"||31||Seventeen at 2d.||0||2||10|
|Sept.||11||Nine at 2d||0||1||6|
|"||13||Nine at 2d.||0||1||6|
|"||17||Twelve at 2d.||0||2||0|
|"||25||Eight at 2¾d||0||1||10|
|"||27||Eight at 2½d||0||1||8|
|"||29||Twelve at 2d.||0||2||0|
|Oct.||6||Twelve at 2d. (to be in by 12 Tuesday, or not to be paid for)||0||2||0|
|"||9||Nine at 2d.||0||1||6|
|"||16||Twelve at 2d.||0||2||0|
|"||29||Nine at 2d.||0||1||6|
Hence it will be seen that the average earnings were 2s. 10¼d. per week,
from which are to be deducted cotton and candles, costing say, 10½d. a week, and
so leaving 2s. per week clear for 17 weeks. These prices are all
She can't say why they get so little - supposes it's owing to the times. But one cause is the Jews going to those in the trade and making their brag how little they can get the shirts done for. The original cause of the reduction was their being sent to the unions and the prisons to be made. This is now discontinued. "I find it very hard times," she said, "oh, very hard indeed. If I get a bit of meat once a week, I may think myself well off." (She drew a bag from under the table.) "I live mostly upon coffee, and don't taste a cup of tea not once in a month, though I am up early and late; and the coffee I drink without sugar. Look here, this is what I have. You see this is the bloom of the coffee that falls off while it's being sifted after roasting; and I pays 6d. for a bagfull holding about half a bushel."
The next party I visited was one who worked at waistcoats, and here I found the keenest misery of all. The house was unlike any that I had seen in the same trade: all was scrupulously clean and neat. The old brass fender was as bright as gold, and worn with continued rubbing. The grate, in which there was barely a handful of coals, had been newly black-leaded, and there was not a cinder littering the hearth. Indeed, everything in the place evinced the greatest order and cleanliness. Nor was the suffering self-evident. On the contrary, a stranger, at first sight, would have believed the occupant to have been rather well to do in the world. A few minutes' conversation with the poor creature, however, soon told you that the neatness was partly the effect of habits acquired in domestic service, and partly the result of a struggle to hide her extreme poverty from the world. Her story was the most pathetic of all I had yet heard: - "I work for a slop-house - waistcoat work," she said; "I don't make sleeve waistcoats, but body waistcoats, and the lowest price I get is 4d.; I have had 'em as high as 1s. 3d. I take the run, such as they have got to give me - sometimes one thing and sometimes another in the waistcoat way. Some have better work than others, but my eyesight won't admit of my doing the best work. Some waistcoats are as much as 1s. 9d., some 2s. I have worked twenty-six years at the same warehouse. The general price for the waistcoats I have now is 6d., 8d., and 10d. I can make one a day sometimes, and sometimes three in two days - just as it happens - for my health is very bad. Sometimes I don't earn more than 2s. 6d. a week, and sometimes I have earned 3s. 6d. and 4s. That's the most I have earned for this several years. I must work very close from about nine in the morning to eleven at night to earn that. Prices have come down very much indeed since I first worked for the warehouse - very much. The prices when I was first employed there were as much as 1s. 9d. for what I get now ls. ld. for. Every week they have reduced something within these last few years. Work's falling very much. The work has not riz - no, never since I worked at it. It's lower'd, but it's not riz. The masters seem to say that the work is lowered to them - that they can't afford to pay a better price, or else they would. The parties for whom I work lay it to the large slop-houses. They say it's through them that the work has lowered so. I find it very difficult to get sufficient to nourish me out of my work. I can't have what I ought to have. I think my illness at present is from over-exertion. I want more air than I can get. I am wholly dependent on myself for my living, and never made more than 4s. a week. Several times I have had my work thrown back upon my hands, and that has perhaps made me ill, so that I've not been able to do anything. I am obliged to work long, and always - sick or well - I must do it for my living, to make any appearance at all. My sight is very bad now from over-work, and perhaps other difficulties as well - I suffer so bad with my head. My greatest earnings are 4s. per week, my lowest 2s. 6d., and I generally average about 3s. Many weeks I have been wholly without working - not able to do it. Young people that have got good health and good work might, perhaps, earn more than I do; but at the common work I should think they can't make more than I can. I never was married. I went out to service when I was younger, and to waist- coating after quitting service; so that I might be at home with mother and father, and take care of them in their old age. I rent the house. It's where I buried mother and father from; and as such, I've kept it on since they've been dead. I let the two rooms, but I don't gain anything by it. I stand at about ten-pence a week rent when I live in the top room and let the others; but sometimes it's empty, and I lose by it. Some time ago, too, a party ran away, and left £3 10s. in my debt. That nearly ruined me. I've not got the better of it yet. I've been very short - very short indeed, sir; in want of common necessaries to keep my strength and life together. I don't find what I get by my labour sufficient to keep me. I've no money anywhere, not a farthing in the house; yes - I tell a story - I've got a penny. If I were to be taken ill I don't know what I should do. But I should be obliged to do as I've often done before. The Almighty is my only support. For my old age there is nothing but the workhouse. After six and twenty years' hard work I've not a penny to the fore - nothing to depend upon for an hour. If I could have saved, I should have been very glad to have done so. Take one week with another, I have earned 3s., and that has been barely sufficient to keep me. I've sold several things to make up, when I've come short. The things here belonged to father and mother. I've sold a great many that they left me. Many people who follow the same business I think are worse off, if anything, than I am; because I've got a home, and I strive to keep it together, and they've not."
It seemed difficult to believe that there could be found women suffering more keenly than this poor creature; and yet the gentleman who had kindly undertaken to introduce me to the better class of workpeople in the trade, led me to a young woman, most ladylike in her appearance and manners, from whom I gathered the following pitiable tale: -
She works at waistcoat business; at the best kind of work. Gets 10d. each waistcoat, sometimes 8d., and sometimes 6d.; some she has heard of being as low as 2½d. There are shilling ones, but there's a great deal of work in them. Black satin waistcoats are 10d., stitched all round; and out of the 10d. trimmings are to be found. The trimmings for each waistcoat cost 1d., sometimes 1½d., and occasionally 2d. "Those I am making now at 10d.," she said, "have a quantity of work in them. They would take me the whole day, even if I was well enough to sit so long at 'em. Besides this, there's half a day lost each time you take your work in. And sometimes every other day - and often every day - they'll drag you up to the warehouse for the little bit of work. They give out four at a time mostly. We have to give housekeeper's security for £5 before we can get work. Some weeks I don't do more than four. Some weeks I don't do that. Last week I had a hard matter to do four; but then I wasn't well. When I was apprentice we used to have 5s. for making the very same as those that I now get 10d. for. At 2s. apiece one might live, but as it is now, 1 am starving; if it wasn't for my friends helping me a little, I don't know what would become of me, I'm sure. Frequently the work is returned upon our hands, and recently I have had 9s. to pay out of my earnings for some waistcoats that were sent back to me because they were kept out too long. They were kept out longer than they should have been, because I was ill; I wasn't able to make them. I sat up in my bed, ill as I was, and basted them myself, and then a girl that I got did what she could to them, and I finished them; but, owing to the delay, the foreman grew spiteful and returned them on my hands. I have been suffering for this ever since, and I couldn't subsist upon what I get now, were it not for some kind friends. I've got a spirit, and wouldn't like to be under an obligation, but I am forced to live as I do. While I was ill my rent went back, and I've left part of my things where I was living before I came here, because I couldn't pay up what I owed for my lodging. There is my doctor's bill to be paid - for I haven't paid it yet, and I have been obliged to get rid of the waistcoats that were returned to me; I sold them for a trifle, as I could, with the exception of one that I've pledged. I got ls. upon that, and I sold the others at 1s. 6d. each, though they charged me at the shop 3s. 3d. apiece for them. I was glad to get rid of them anyhow, just then.
"The waistcoats that they pay a shilling for to have made are like jackets - they have sleeves and flaps to pockets like coats. I don't know what they are like. It would take anyone two days to make them. It takes me two days. My average earnings are from 3s. to 4s. a week, and out of that I have to pay 2s. for the waistcoats returned on my hands, and about 6d. for trimmings, per week, leaving me about 1s.6d. to live upon. Some persons say they can earn at waistcoating 14s. to l5s. per week, and they tell the master so; but then they have people to help them - girls who probably pay them something to learn the business, or who are very young, and have ls. per week for doing the inferior parts. I don't know why the prices are so low. I have found prices continually going down since I came from the west-end of the town. I never knew an advance. If they took off 2d. or 1d., I never heard of their putting it on again. The prices have fallen more within the last two or three years - much more than ever they did before. I don't think they can get very much lower. If they do, persons must starve. It is almost as bad as the workhouse now. I was apprenticed to the waistcoating at the West-end, and was paid a little different then. I could earn 15s. a week at that time. The business has materially injured my health; yes, that it has. My eyesight and health have both suffered from it. It has produced general debility; the doctor says it's sitting so long in the house. Sometimes all night I used to sit up to work. I've known many people that have had strong constitutions, and after they've worked at it many years they've gone like I have. There are persons who get even lower prices than I do - oh, yes, sir, a great deal lower! Some I know get three-pence, and even four-pence for a waistcoat.
I asked whether she kept any account of her earnings, and she immediately produced the book in which her work was entered by her employers. On one side was a statement of the work given out to her, and on the other that of the work brought home, together with the price paid for it, and the amount deducted from the earnings for the waistcoats which had been returned upon the poor girl's hands. The following is the account of the prices paid to, and the sums received by, the waistcoat maker: -
|Four vests returned, 9s. to pay||s.||d.|
|Sept.||12||Four at l0d.||3||4|
|"||13||One at 10d||0||10|
|To pay for waistcoats returned||2||0|
|Sept.||28||Five at 10d||4||2|
|To pay for waistcoats returned||2||0|
|Oct.||10||Two at 1s.||2||0|
|"||17||Three at 6d.||1||6|
|"||18||One at 1s.||1||0|
|To pay for waistcoats returned||1||6|
|Oct.||22||Four at 9½d.||3||2|
|"||Two at 10d.||1||8|
|To pay for waistcoats returned||1||6|
|Oct.||30||Three at 10d.||2||6|
|"||31||One at 10d||0||10|
|To pay for waistcoats returned||1||0|
Total receipts from Sept. 13 to Oct. 31 (seven weeks), 13s.,
averaging 1s. 10¼d. per week.
On my way home from these saddening scenes, I called at the wholesale slop warehouse for the promised statement as to the prices paid by the generality of the trade. After waiting a considerable time, one of the principals and foreman came to communicate to me the desired information.
The usual sum earned by a person working at the slop trade is, they told me, three-pence per hour!!
Women working at moleskin trousers, they said, would earn, upon an average, ls. 10d. every day of ten hours' labour.
At waistcoats females would earn generally at the rate of 2s. per day of ten hours' labour.
The foreman and the principal then wished to know in what state I had found the workpeople generally. I told them I had never seen or heard of such destitution. "Destitution!" was the exclamation. "God bless my soul, you surprise me!" "And I think it but right, gentlemen," I added, "to apprise you that your statement as to prices differs most materially from that of the workpeople;" and so saying, I took my departure.