Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - The Morning Chronicle : Labour and the Poor, 1849-50; Henry Mayhew - Letter IX

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Friday, November 16, 1849

I have lately devoted myself to investigating the incomings and condition of the Needlewomen of London generally. My object is, in the first place, to obtain an authentic list of the prices paid to the different artisans and labourers throughout the metropolis. It is curious that this should remain undone, and even untried, to the present day. But so it is. Mr. Porter, in his "Progress of the Nation," tells us: - 
    "The most extensive register, in point of time, that we have of the rate of wages, is found in returns made to Parliament by Greenwich Hospital. Unfortunately, however, the descriptions of artisans employed in the establishment are few, and their occupations come altogether under the description of skilled labour. Besides this, the returns made up to 1805 are given only at intervals of five years, while the rates published are those paid to masters, who contract for the performance of the work, and are not the sums received by the workmen.
    "No one, unless he have made the attempt to obtain information of this kind, can be aware of the difficulty opposed to his success. After many and long-continued efforts to that end, it is not possible here to bring forward many authentic or continuous statements of the rates of wages in this country."
    The chief difficulty which besets an undertaking of this character lies in the indisposition of the tradesmen - and especially of those who are notorious for selling cheap, and, consequently, giving a less price to their workpeople - to make known the sums that they pay for the labour employed upon the different articles of manufacture in which they deal. I believe this is the main reason why such information remains to be acquired. To obtain it, the workpeople themselves must be sought out, and seen privately at their own homes. Another obstacle to the attainment of the information, is that workpeople are in general but poor accountants. They are unused to keep any account, either of their income or expenditure. Hence they have generally to trust to their memories for a statement of their earnings; and it is only with considerable difficulty and cross-questioning that one is able to obtain from them an account of the expenses necessarily attendant upon their labour, and so, by deducting these from the price paid to them, to arrive at the amount of their clear earnings. Moreover, though I must confess I have met with far more truthfulness on the part of the operative than on that of the employer, still I believe the workpeople are naturally disposed to imagine that they get less than they really do, even as the employer is inclined to fancy his workmen make more than are their real gains. I should, however, while speaking of the objection of employers generally to make known the prices paid to their work- people, make honourable exception of Mr. Shaw, the army clothier. I have no doubt that there are many more actuated, like that gentleman, with a desire both to bring under the notice of the public the small sum of money paid for the labour of those they employ, as well as to increase - even at the expense of their own profits - rather than lower the wages of their workpeople. But as yet I have not met with them. Wherever the labourer is worse paid, and there is consequently the greater necessity for the amount earned to be made public, there, as with the superintendent of the London Docks, and the large slopseller alluded to in a former letter, do I find the greatest indisposition on the part of the employers to afford me the least assistance; as yet, I must in truth say, I have only found a disposition to mis-state and mislead. However, the subject, I am well aware, is of far too great importance in a national point of view to be thwarted by individuals whose interest it is to keep the price of the labour market secret. The proprietors of The Morning Chronicle have undertaken to obtain, for the first time in this country, an account of the earnings of the workpeople of the metropolis; and if they fail, why, it shall not be for want of energy or zeal.
    It is difficult, in the present crude and indigested state of the material facts, to attempt to classify the different kinds of Arts or Labour. I purpose devoting my attention for the next two or three letters to the incomings and condition of those who derive their subsistence from the use of the needle. A large number of these artizans have already been visited and reported upon; but a large number still remain untouched.
    In my present communication I purpose laying before the public the intelligence I have gathered respecting the Stay-stitchers, Shoe-binders, Stock-makers, Cloak-makers, Upholsteresses, and Distressed Gentlewomen working at plain needlework in the metropolis. And first of the Stay-stitchers. Here I procured an introduction to one of the largest wholesale stay-makers in the City, in the hopes of obtaining some account of the trade. But I soon found that my time was wasted in so doing. The gentleman assured me that there were scarcely any stay-stitchers resident in London. He could get his work done so cheap in the agricultural districts, owing to the number of people out of employ in those parts, that he had scarcely any done in town; and indeed he was loth to make the least communication to me on the subject and object of my visit.
    Accordingly, finding it useless seeking for any information from the employer in this particular branch of business, I made the best of my way to two workpeople, who had been engaged at the business for upwards of twenty years. The following are their statements: - 
    "I work at stay-stitching. I've worked at it these thirty years; yes, that I have, full. Well, I can't - and work hard at the work I am now having - earn more than 7d. a day. Now, that is the kind of work," said she, drawing some drab jean ready marked for stitching, "and I can't do more than that pair and half another from seven in the morning till nine at night, and haven't time scarcely to get a meal in the meantime, and I get 5d. the pair, and if they run very large indeed I get no more. Why, sir, at the outside I can't do above nine pair a week, not if I've full employment. And nine pair a week at 5d. is 3s. 9d., and that's my earnings at the very outside, if I work fourteen hours every day for six days; and sorry I am to say I'm obliged to break into the Sabbath- day to make out a living. They find me in thread, but I have to find candle, and they cost ld.. a night now the nights are so long, or say ld. a night, or 6d. a week all the year round, so that my clear earnings at the very best are 3s. 3d. a week. If I had the work, perhaps I might manage as much as that all the year round, but I can't get it; the trade is particularly slack just now - I've been very slack for this last month. I've no book where I works - they pay me as I take it in. You see I've done four pair this week, in four days; and I shan't have more than two pair done by Saturday night; so that my earnings this week will be, for the six pair, at 5d. - 2s. 6d., or reckoning candles, 2s. clear. Last week I did five pair, and they brought me in 2s. ld., or 1s. 7d. clear. Taking one week with another, all the year round, I think i may say I earn 3s. a week, and that is to the full extent as much as I do; or, reckoning candle, I can safely say I don't make more than 2s. 6d. clear all the twelve-month through. I'm just able to raise a cup of tea, and that's as much as I can do out of it. I have my work direct from the shop. They only employ the journeywomen in the stay trade. There's plenty there round about Deptford and Greenwich that has the work out so many gross at a time, and employs a number of young women. Some of the old Greenwich pensioners work at stay-stitching for some of them. The parties has it down in bagfuls. I once used to have my work second-handed from a party as got it from the warehouse, and she employed, I think, about nine of us. She used to get 7d. and 8d. a pair at that, and she usedn't to give us more than 2d. each pair; for the children's we usedn't to get more than 1d. It would take us three-parts of the day to 'em. All the stays were stitched with silk in that time; but that is, I suppose, five-and-twenty year ago. It's eighteen year ago since I worked at Portsmouth for a party who is now one of the largest wholesale dealers in London, and all he gave me was 2d. a pair. They was stitched with blue cotton. I don't think he gives even so much now down there. I worked for another party, who gave me only seven fardens; but I was obligated to give the work back to him. I was starving as I am now, but I'm sure it was worse then. I can manage at least a cup of tea at present; but then I couldn't even get that. They are mostly stitched at Portsmouth now. They can get it done cheaper there than what they can here, owing to the sailors' wives round about there I suppose. Yes, it must be something like that, for no one can get a living at it. The party as I spoke of, who is in the City, got on, I know, in this here way. He got a number of the poor people to work for him, and made 'em all put down 5s. each before they had a stitch of work. Before you got work you must raise 5s. somehow. Well, the 5s. laid in his hands until such time as you wanted to leave him; if you worked for him for ten years it would be in his hands all the time. The reason why I was obliged to leave off working for him was that I wanted my 5s. to make up some rent. My goods was threatened to be taken. That 5s. I knew would save them, and I applied for it. It was on a Wednesday when I did this, and I couldn't get it until the Saturday; he wouldn't give it me till then; so I lost my work of course, cause I have 5s. more to leave. Well, it was by the number of 5s. that he got from the people in this manner he was able to launch and take a large establishment. He didn't care how many hands he took on so long as he had the 5s., and of course he had the interest of it all. Why, he had as many as three hundred poor people; aye, more. It was said he had as many as seven hundred in his employ working out of doors, and from each he had 5s., and that was the cause of his uprising - that it certainly was. The downfall of the stay business was all through him and another as lived close to him. They were the first to cut down the prices of the workpeople. They sent the work into the country, to get done in the cheapest way they could, and have always been lowering the prices of the poor people. Thirty years ago I have made as much as 17s. 5d. for my week's work. At the very commonest I could have made from 12s. to 14s. a week; and now the most I can make is 3s. 6d. Aye, that's to the full extent; and not that every week. It's about 25 year ago since the prices first began to be cut down by the two parties I speak of. Up to that time the prices we had for stitching were about the same as those I had thirty years ago. Till then the prices had remained about the same. We could make a very tidy living out of it. But since the two parties began, the prices have been falling and falling, and we've been starving while he's been a-getting rich. Now all I get is 2s. 6d. a week clear, and that is to keep me and my family. I'm a married woman. My husband is a plasterer, but has been out of work this two year. All he's earned is 2s. for these last three months. Indeed, he's not worked for a regular master not this two years. They prefers young hands, and he's getting into years. He'll be sixty next September. He only gets a flying job now and then, and that's mostly from the landlord we live under. My eldest boy gets 5s. a week. My youngest goes to school. Seven shillings a week is all we have to keep the four of us, pay rent and all. I pay 1s. 9d. a week for my room, and that leaves us 5s. 3d. for us four to maintain ourselves upon, or live upon, if you can call it living. Yes, that's 1s. 3d. each a week, or not 2d. a day. to find us in food, firing, and raiment. Oh, God bless you, I am ready to drop sometimes, when I get up, I feel that faint and loss for really the common necessaries of life! I don't taste a bit of butcher's meat not from one month's end to another - no, nor half a pint of beer I don't get. My husband is a sober man. I hadn't a pinch of snuff for two days, until a friend gave us a bit out of his box. It came very acceptable, I can assure you; it quite revived me; that's all I'm extravagant in. I can't say but what I likes my pinch of snuff, but even that I can't get. We're never out from Monday morning till Saturday night. If I've got nothing to do, it's no use going and making an uproar about, for I'm very certain there's no one about here has got nothing to give me, and I'm very certain my opening my mouth won't fill theirs. And when I've got work, why I sits hard to it, and is glad to have it to do."
    "My tale is just the same as that person's," said the second workwoman. "I can't tell you no more, except that I'm by myself; I've got no one to do nothing for me. And if it wasn't for that good woman giving me a lodging while the work's a-coming round, I don't know what I should do. I do the stay work. I worked for an old lady for twenty years at the stay work, and she's given up her work through age. I can do any part of it, the seaming, goring, or trimming. The stitching I can do as well. The old lady I speak of had only bespoke work. She never kept no particular shop. I could earn very fair with her. For seaming and goring I was paid 3d. to 4d. a pair. It would take about three hours, I suppose, to seam and gore one pair; though it's impossible to tell exactly, the work differs so. Some of the stays have more gores and more seams than others. For trimming I used to get 5d. a pair for the common, and 1s. for the best. But, bless you, they won't give these prices now; no, nor near. At the warehouses they give 1s. to 1s. 6d. for trimming a dozen pair now. I'm speaking of the common and the middling sort. The seaming and goring of the best is all done indoors; they won't give it out. And the seaming and goring they'll give you 1s. to 1s. 6d. for a dozen pair, the same as the trimmings. It's generally the same price for the one as the other. When I could get my prices from the old lady, I could earn about 8s. or 9s. a week at seaming, and goring, and trimmings, take one week with another. At the warehouse prices I can't make above 3s. 6d. a week, or 3s., reckoning candles. To get that, I must work from seven till nine at night, and perhaps more. Lately, I have been engaged stitching. I can't get any other work. My earnings last week were 1s. 6d. I was at no expense for candle - this good woman has let me have the use of her'n. I couldn't have lived at all if it hadn't been for her. The week before it was four pair I stitched, and that's ls. 8d. The week before that I can't recollect, but it's been much upon an average like this for some weeks. For this seven weeks I've been doing like that. This has been owing to the work being slack, and you see I've not had clothes to go and apply for work. They won't give you work at these don shops unless you goes respectable. They thinks you're going to make away with it. They'll scarcely condescend to give you an answer if you go any way shabby to those places. I've had no regular work at all for this last twelve-month, and I couldn't tell you what my earnings has been. I think if I've got as much as 2s. a week, it is as much as I have, taking all the year round. Whenever this woman has work to spare, she gives it to me. Why, I was at work last June a-making gentlemen's flannel waistcoats for a slop-house at 2d. apiece, and all I could make at that was 4d. a day, work day and night as hard as I could. I had them second-handed. But the party as gave them to me had no more herself for them. Both her and her husband died of the cholera last July, and that's the reason why I had no more of that work. After that I took the typhus fever, and was laid up for two or three months with that, and after that I came here. I lived in this house a good many year, and she, knowing the state I was in, kindly took me in. Ah, sir, the poor is generally very kind to the poor. If we wasn't to help one another whatever would become of us! None of the gentlefolks ever comes to us. They knows a great deal more about the slaves of Jamaica than they does about us. I am to pay her 1s. a week when I'm able, but God knows when that will be again. We all have to sleep in this one room. We have three beds stowed here every night - one on the bedstead, and two on the floor. She's kind enough to give me a cup of tea when she's got it, but sometimes she ain't got it for herself, and so we're all forced to go without. My husband's been dead two years next January. I had some children, but they're no trouble to me. They're all dead, thank God! Yes, indeed, I'm thankful that they are dead."
    The next class of needlewomen that I visited were shoe-binders. I found three working together in one small close attic. I give their account of their incomings in their own words: - 
    "It's a very poor trade, indeed," said one of the hands. "Ah! it's high time something was done for the people, for it's cruel work now. I make snow boots at present. I bind them - that is, I get them ready for the maker. The cloth and lining is cut out and given out by the warehouse. We have to stitch them together, make the button-holes, and sew on the binding and the buttons. I get seven farthings per pair, and find my own thread and cotton. That costs about a halfpenny per pair. We get about a penny farthing per pair clear when they are finished. It takes about three hours and a half to do one pair. We can't earn more than 2s. a week at our work. A person must work very hard to do three pair a day, but it's impossible to do that every day; and then there's thread and cotton to be found out of the 2s. a week, which leaves about 1s. 6d. for our clear earnings. I'm up by six, and don't leave off till twelve or one, and then I can't do more than three pair. It takes twelve hours' continual work to do three pair. The rest of the time I must mind my children and my own affairs. I generally work about eighteen hours a day. We have been working at the snow boots now full two months. Never had a book till last week. [She produced book of employer.] Three, four, and four  pair, or eleven pair, were taken out last week, you see. Those I finished. And four and six pair I have had out this week, in all ten. Of this I have just done five pair since Monday. I do generally about nine pair in six days, and a little less than five pair in three days. The reason of my not having had a book is owing to my master's death. His wife has recently taken to the business, and she has given books to all the hands employed. I also bind common lasting women's side lace boots. By binding them I mean I make them up entirely, with the exception of the sole. I have to make sixteen eyelet holes, to stitch the lasting together, and to bind them. For this I get 3d. per pair. I have to buy silk and cotton. It costs about d. each pair of boots, d. for silk and d. for cotton. I clear about 2d.. per pair. Can't do a pair in much less than four hours, or three pair a day at the very outside, to work hard the day through. But we can't keep that up. By the end of the week we seldom have more than eight pair done - for getting them out and taking them in all takes time; and eight pair at 2d. clear brings us in 1s. 6d. a week as our weekly earnings. Out of this we have to pay candles, and they come to 6d. a week. I know I burn a penny candle every night. That makes our clear gains about 1s. But it comes in handy. It's a few halfpence every day. We have constant employment at the warehouse. We're never standing still. I am a married woman. I've a very queer husband. He's a big drunkard. He's a sawyer. I'm sure if I have enough of him just to get me over Sunday, it's all that I do. I can't tell what my husband gets a week. I never know what he earns any more than a stranger. After he's paid the rent I might get perhaps 4s. or 5s. of him, and that to keep me, him, and the child. Formerly I used to work at the boots in the country. Then the prices were much better. That's as much as twelve or thirteen years ago. The best 'lasting' boots were 1s. 6d. and some 2s. then; now I should get 5d. and 7d. for the same kind of work. I don't know what's the cause of the prices coming down. I find it very hard work to live. It isn't living. We've nothing but bread from one week's end to another. I know I shall have nothing to eat until I take my work in tomorrow morning."
    "I do the same work," said another of the women at work in the same room, "and get the same prices. [Produced book of employer.] I work for the same person. The account was one, four and four, or nine pair taken out last week, and four pair this. "The nine pair were finished by last Saturday night, and I shall have finished six pair tomorrow. They are paid the same, and the expenses are the same, so that my clear earnings are 1s., deducting candles. It's a good job we don't take snuff - neither snuff nor beer. I am a married woman, to my sorrow. My husband is a pewterer. I don't know what he gets a week. I only know I have very little of it. I have got three children. The eldest is ten, the second seven, and the youngest three. My husband brought me home about 1s. last week after he had paid the rent, and that was to keep him, me, and two children. Sometimes he ill-treats me. If he don't with his hand, I know he does with his tongue. He has the most dreadfullest tongue ever heard on. He drinks very hard. He's drunk whenever he's the money to be so. He's tipsy three or four times a week. I can assure you I have been obliged to live upon my two shillings. It is not living - it's only just enough to say you keep life together. I have, indeed, sir, a very hard time of it. I'm ready to run away, and leave it very often. If it wasn't for my children I should do it. I'm obliged to work all day to keep my children. If I take my work in in the morning, and get my 5d., that must keep me and my children all day, unless I can get a trifle of my husband at night-time, and some days he don't bring any home. The girl's ten years old, and she's with her grandmother. When I take my work in, the 'clipper' holds it up to the light to see if any of the stitches gape, and if so, he turns it on my hands."
    "I am a boot-binder, too," said the third "hand" employed there; "but I get a better price for my work. I do the lasting, the cashmere, and the cloth boots. I get from 6d. to 1s. per pair. I get 6d. for the cashmere and the lasting as well, and 1s. for the best cloth boots, goloshed. A shilling pair will take me a whole day to do; and I can do two pair each day of the sixpenny ones. Out of this I have to pay 2d. for silk and cotton each day. I take generally 6s. a week, and earn about 5s. clear; but then there are candles, and that's 6d. a week; so that 4s. 6d. is what I make, taking one week with another. I work about 13 hours each day. I have no book. My master gives me none. I work second-handed. I get the same price as the first hand does herself, only I don't go into the shop. I am a single woman. I pay 1s. 6d. a week rent. I have everything to buy myself. I have been at the trade five years last August. I have worked for two houses in that time. The prices are the same to me as they were five years ago. I don't know that there are any boots paid higher than what I get. A shilling is the highest price that any shop gives, for binding boots. The trade is very slack at present, and the prices are being lowered 3d. just now - nine-penny boots are being reduced to 6d. The fact is, I think they wants to have more profit out of the poor people - that's as near as possible. I can just pay my way. I never have any meat. Shoes are d. a pair binding. We have to put them all together and bind them. A person may do about nine pair in a day of twelve hours; that would come to 6d., and then the expenses would be about 2d. for silk and cotton for the nine pair - so that the clear earnings at this would be 4d. a day, or, deducting candle, about 3d. Children's leather boots are d. per pair, or sixpence per dozen. A person can do about 18 pair of these a day. These would come to 9d. The expenses for thread and cotton would be about 2d. for the 18 pair, leaving 7d. a day, or 3s. 6d. a week, for the earnings, and deducting candle, about 3s. clear."
    The next class of needlewomen that I wended my way to were the Stock-makers - and here I found an instance of filial affection and almost heroism that would be an honour to any station. The characters of the parents, I should state, have been inquired into, and they are said to be worthy, hard-working, sober people: -
    "I work at stock work. I have the work home. I work first-hand. I have 6d. a dozen for ' Albert ties,'  9d. to 1s. a dozen for 'opera ties,' 1s. 9d. a dozen for 'sham pleats,' or Albert stocks - those are the stocks with bows to them, and long ends. The 'Burlingtons' - that is, the stocks without ends, and waterproof top and bottom to keep the perspiration from coming through - these are 2s. 3d. to 2s. 6d. a dozen. The 'Napier' stocks are 3s. 6d. to 4s. a dozen. The Napiers have long ends hemmed on both sides, with a knob in the centre. 'Aerial' ties are 6d. a dozen: they are the new- fashioned ones lately come up. Of Albert ties, I can make about eighteen in twelve hours, or nine dozen a week. The expenses on these, including candle, cotton, and silk, would be 1s. 9d., leaving 3s. 3d. a week clear. Of opera ties I could do about nine a day, or four dozen and a half at 9d. per dozen, or four dozen of those at a shilling, in the week; the expenses about the same, or 1s. 9d. a week, leaving 2s. 3d. to 2s. 6d. a week clear. The opera ties are worse than the Alberts, for though there's more money paid for 'em, there's more work in 'em. We reckon to do about a dozen of the Albert stocks in about three days, or two dozen a week, at 1s. 9d. a dozen, or 3s. 6d. a week. The expenses are about 1s. 6d.; there's not so much cotton used in them; the clear earnings at these 2s. a week. Of the Burlingtons I couldn't do more than one dozen in three days, or two dozen per week, at 2s. to 2s. 3d. per dozen, making 4s. to 4s. 6d. for the week's earnings. The trimmings and candles come to 1s. 6d., leaving about 2s. 6d. to 3s. for the clear gains. We couldn't do more than eighteen Napiers in the week, at 3s. 6d. to 4s. the dozen. These would come to 5s. 3d. or 6s. The expenses of these, candle and all, would be 2s., leaving 4s. for the clear gains for the week. Of the Aerials about one dozen could be done in a day or six dozen a week, at 6d., coming to 3s. The expenses are about 1s., leaving 2s. for the clear gains for the week. The Napiers are about the best work with us, and the Aerials and the Albert stocks about the worst. I keep one hand myself, and a little girl. I pay the hand 3s. a week, and the little girl I pay nothing; she comes with the other to learn. I give the hand her tea, and she brings her bread and butter. The expense of the tea, sugar, milk, etc., for the week, would be about 6d., so that the hand I employ costs me 3s. 6d. I can earn, with the assistance of the two hands, from 8s. to 9s. a week upon an average, clear of trimmings and candles; and deducting the expense of the hands, 3s. 6d., I make about 5s. clear of everything. These, I think, are my clear earnings all the year round. Sometimes I get more by working extra hours. I have made as much as 7s. myself by my own hands in one week, but to get that I had to sit up about three nights out of the six; and some weeks I earn only 1s. 2d., and some nothing at all; that is, when the work is slack. The work is generally slack at Christmas time and in the middle of the summer, about three months each time; so that the trade is about six months brisk and six months slack in the course of the year. I remember the prices of the Napiers being 8s. 6d. a dozen. They're 3s. 6d. to 4s. now. The Albert stocks used to be 3s. 8d. to 4s. when they first came up. They're 2s. to 1s. 9d. now. The Burlingtons I had 5s. a dozen for. Now they're 2s. to 2s. 3d. The opera ties I had from 2s. to 3s. a dozen for. Now they're 9d. to 1s. The Albert ties I had 1s. 9d. for when they first came up. Now I have 6d. a dozen for the very same work. The Aerials I had 1s. 3d. to 1s. 6d. for, and they cut them out for me. Now I have 6d. a dozen for them. The Albert scarfs I had 2s. a dozen for only a month back, and now I have 9d. The prices have fallen considerably more than one-half within this last year and a half. I had all those better prices that I have mentioned eighteen months ago. I can't say what is the cause. I believe it is owing to one hand having no work and going to underbid another. I myself know that one hand offered to work at a less price than I was getting, and that was the cause of my being reduced, 9d. first, and then 6d. more per dozen in one article that I make. I took my work in on the Saturday, and my employer offered me 1s. 3d. for what he had before been paying me 2s. a dozen. I told him I could not do the work at that price - I really could not live by it, when a person in the shop told the master she would take the work at that price. Since, they have reduced the same article to 9d. a dozen, and this has all been done within a month. One of the causes of the cheap prices is, the master puts up a bill in his window to say that he wants hands, whether he does or no. This I believe is done, not because extra hands are wanted, but that the master may see how many people are out of work, and how cheap he can get his work done. Those that will do it the cheapest and the best he employs, and those that won't they may starve - or something worse. In the warehouse I work for there are about 50 hands, mostly young girls. There are some married women; but I believe thirty get money by other means. I know by their dresses that they do not get the gowns they appear in out of stock work. I think it's about the same in every other house. I have a father and a mother dependent on my labour. I am nineteen years old on the 28th of February next. My mother occasionally helps me; but she is upwards of fifty, and cannot see at night, nor to work at black things. She broke a blood-vessel nearly seven years ago, and is not able to go out to a hard day's work. My father had an accident thirteen weeks ago next Friday. He was thrown out of a cart and broke his ribs, and pressed his chest bone in. His chest is now bandaged up (showed it). He was a carter at a builder's before; but since his accident his master tells him he is unfit for the work, and he is now wholly dependent upon me for support, and I struggle hard to keep him and mother from the workhouse. I was up for three weeks. I never took my clothes off nor went to bed for the whole of that time, so that I might support him and pay the doctor's bill. The only sleep I had during the whole of that time was with my head on the table. I was at work night and day; and now I find it very hard work to pay rent, support them, and keep myself respectable, without doing as the other girls do. I've been obliged to part with almost all my clothes to keep them. The doctor said he was to have port wine, and I used to have to give him two gills every day. If I hadn't got rid of my clothes I couldn't have kept him alive. We have been obliged to pledge one of our beds for £1 as well. But I hope to be able to get on still."
    The cloak, skirt, and ladies' night-cap maker is another class of "hands" dependent on their needle for their living. The following may be taken as a fair average statement as to the usual earnings of persons engaged in this branch of business. The woman, I was informed by her landlord, was a hard-working, sober, and thrifty widow: - 
    "I am a widow with four children. My eldest is fourteen - is a boy - and the youngest is a girl, four and a half. My eldest boy earns 3s. a week. He is a news-boy. My second boy is out at the print-colouring business. He gets 1s. 6d. a week. This is his first week of being employed. I have no other money coming in but what I get by my own needle. I am a cloakmaker - that is, I make up mantles for a warehouse in the City. My employer pays somewhat less than the other houses do, because he supplies other warehouses who supply the linendrapers, and there are, consequently, three profits to come out of his goods, instead of two, as is the usual custom. I get from 8d. to 1s. 3d. each for such as I generally make. I have had more - indeed, I have had as much as 5s. for some, but then they take me much longer to make; so that my earnings is no more at the high price work than it is at the low. Those mantles at 8d. are for children, and very common ones. The work is so flimsy that they pay equally as well as the best. I should say, with a little assistance, I could make two of those at 8d. in a day. With my own single hand I could make one a day; that is, if I was to sit for long hours at it. Take one day with another, I sit, upon an average, at my work, from nine in the morning till eleven at night; often longer, seldom less. Fourteen hours is my usual day's labour. Out of the 8d. I find all the sewing materials; they come to about ld. a cloak. It will take about lb. of cotton to a dozen mantles, besides cotton-cord and hooks-and-eyes. I generally use 1lb. of candles in a week, and that's 7d. I can make about six of the 8d. mantles every week, and they'll come to 4s. 3d. Out of this there's 6d. for sewing materials, and 7d. for candles; so that at that work I can earn 3s. ld. per week when I'm fully employed; and the 8d. mantles will pay better than these I'm doing now. I can earn more money at the others. I get for those I am about now 1s. 3d. each. The expenses are much about the same. I get about 1s. 2d. clear each one I make. They are children's cloth mantles. It takes two "hands" to make one of them in a day. It would take me myself two days to make one. I have to sew eight yards of braid to every cloak, and it takes me an hour to do two yards of it. At this work I earn upon an average 7d. a day, or, deducting candles, I get a little less than 6d. clear, or 2s. 10d. per week; that's about my earnings, taking one week with another. I sometimes have ladies' mantles to do. For some in the same style as those I am now making I got 2s. 6d. But they didn't bring me in any more than the children's - rather less; indeed, I was obliged to throw them up. I couldn't get a living at 'em. I couldn't meet my payments any way, and it was in the summer, too, when my expenses were less. I had 3s. 6d. for the same style of mantle at first. But another hand offered to do them at 2s. 6d. each, and so my employers refused to give me any more. I found I couldn't get a living at those prices, so I gave it up. I was not the only one in the trade who couldn't do so. I knew several myself. The 2s. 6d. ones were made of the same stuff as the children's, only lined with silk and quilted. There were thirty-six yards of narrow braid on every cloak, and twelve yards of the Algerine made into a trimming. When I made them I had four hands at work besides myself. I gave 1s. a day to three of them, and 8d. to the other. To one of the 1s. hands I gave her tea as well. I put out the frills to braid, and paid 10d. a set for them. I had ten of these sets to braid in a week. I also put out the Algerine trimming, and paid 1 d. per yard for 40 yards. With this assistance I got in as many as ten cloaks in the week, and received for them 25s. Out of this my expenses were 22s. for the wages of the hands I employed, and 8s. 4d. for the making of the frills to the mantles, and 4s. 2d. for the Algerine braiding, amounting in all to 34s. 6d.; so that I lost upon the job 9s. 6d., and my own labour into the bargain. I know it almost broke my heart, for I worked so hard and didn't get nothing for it. I was forced to sell a pattern mantle for 17s. to pay my way that week. We are obliged to take a pattern of the mantle we can make to the warehouse before we can get work. We have then to give a reference; but no security is required if the reference is approved of. The highest given for the making of cloaks is 5s.; and though I have had a girl, to whom I paid 1s. and her tea, hard at work with me upon them night and day, I couldn't make more than two in a week; indeed I could hardly finish them in that time. These mantles were embroidered. They had, one with another, 72 yards of the Russia braid worked in flowers on each cloak, they were lined with silk and quilted, and the cuffs were turned up with satin and quilted. My expenses for silk were about 3d. a cloak, and candles were about 5d. (the evenings were longer when I made them). For the two cloaks I got 10s., and out of this I had to pay 6s. to the girl I employed, and say 6d. a week, the cost of her tea, 6d. for silk for the two mantles, and 5d. for candles - in all 7s. 5d.; so that my clear earnings that week were 2s. 7d., and for that I had to sit close to my work till I almost blinded myself at it. Indeed I do think if I had gone on at it till now I should have lost my eyesight altogether. The prices paid by the shops at the West-end are much better; indeed, persons can get a comfortable living at the work there. Last summer I worked for a person on the first floor here, who had employment from some shops in Regent-street, and I made from 8s. to 10s. a week, and that was second-handed. She got more for her work of course. If I could have continued at that work I could have got a very good living. I was happy enough then. When I can get a common living no one is happier than me. The shops that do not make up their own materials are supplied by the warehouses. But the shops can get them quite as cheap from the warehouses as they can make up themselves, and it's less trouble to them; so they've most of 'em given over making them for themselves. Some shops employ hands who work for them at 1s. a day and their tea; but I can't go out on account of my young family. I am obliged to work at home. Everything gets so reduced in price now, that it is hard to find out what to work at so as to get a living by it." She produced the account-book of her employers when she was engaged second-handed for a shop in Regent-street. Her earnings then were as follows: -

First week

£0 8 8

Second ...

0 6 7


0 8 8


0 19 5


0 11 10


0 10 5


0 12 0


0 6 7


0 8 4


0 6 3


0 7 2


0 1 3
Total £4 18 2
Average earnings per week, 8s. 2d.

She then showed me the account of the number of mantles that she had had out from the warehouse which she had lately worked for. It was as under - with the exception of the sums which have been added to show the total amount received.


Thirty-two at 3s. 6d.

£5 12 0

Six at 2s. 6d.

0 15 0

Six at 2s. 6d.

0 15 0

Six at 2s. 6d.

0 15 0
Sept. 27

Two at 5s.

0 10 0

Four at 5s.

1 0 0

One at 1s.

0 1 0

Six at 1s. 6d.

0 9 0

Six at 1s. 6d.

0 9 0

Six at 1s. 6d.

0 9 0
Oct. 22

Twelve at 1s. 3d.

0 15 0

Twelve at 1s. 3d.

0 15 0

Twelve at 1s. 3d.

0 15 0
Total £13 0 0 0

According to the above, the woman earned £13 in fifteen weeks. "In order to get this," she said, "I employed two hands for eight weeks, and before that I had four hands for a fortnight; one hand for a fortnight. For three weeks I worked without any assistance."

Two hands for eight weeks, at 6s .... £4  16  0
One hand for two weeks, at 6s .... 0 12  0
Three hands for two weeks, at 6s. (and one hand for two weeks, at 4s.) ....  2  4  0
Total expenses for hands employed .... £7 12  0
For braiding frills, sixteen sets, at 10d .... 0  8  4
Eight sets, at 4s .... 0  2  8
Eight sets, at 4s .... 0  2  8
Forty yards of trimmings, at 1d .... 0  4  2
Total expenses for frills and trimmings put out ....  1   2   10
Fifteen weeks cotton, at 6d ... . 0  7  6
Fifteen weeks candles, at 6d .... 0  7  6
Total expenses for cotton and candles .... 0  15  0
Hence the expenses were  £9  9  10

And this deducted from £13, the gross sum that she was paid for her work, gives us £3 10s. 2d. for her clear earnings in fifteen weeks, averaging 4s. 8d. per week.
    She then went on to say: - "My eldest boy brings in 3s., so that, added to the 4s. 8d. that I get a week, makes 7s. 8d. in all, to keep five of us. Now I shall have nothing from the warehouse not before next March; so that I shall have to seek for some other employment till then. The slacks in the cloak business occur twice a year - that is to say, at the end of the winter and summer season. The winter slack begins in August, and lasts till October; so that there is half slack, and half brisk work. The other warehouses pay a little bit better than mine. I have also worked at the skirt work - that is, making up the flounced skirts - those that are sold ready-made at the shops. The first account that I showed you was for skirt and mantle work. I used to have 1s. 3d. for the skirts that were braided down the front, and 1s. 8d. for those with four flounces. I could earn 10s. a week regular at that, and not sit such long hours at it as I do now at the mantles. Indeed, if I had that sum coming in every week, I should be as happy and live as well as a person might want to live. I shouldn't crave for more than that. My husband's been dead two years the 28th of December. He was a watch finisher, and ill for two years. Lately I've been doing very badly, and before I got my good work in the summer I was doing quite as bad. I have worked at cap-work as well. I've made ladies' nightcaps. I got 1s. a dozen for the best, and 6d. a dozen for some. [She then produced another account book, of which the following is a copy: - 1st week, 8s. 3d.; 2nd week, 6s. 0d.;  3rd, 6s. 11d.; 4th, 6s. 0d.; 5th, 5s. 2d.; 6th, 5s. 6d.; 7th, 3s. 8d.; 8th, 3s. 4d. Expenses: 1st week, 6s. 4d.; 2nd, 3s.; 3rd, 3s.; 4th, 3s.; 5th, 2s. 6d.; 6th, 2s. 6d. Hence her clear earnings at cap- making were-for the 1st week, 1s. 11d.; 2nd, 3s. 0d.; 3rd, 3s. 11d.; 4th, 3s. 0 d.; 5th, 2s. 8d.; 6th, 3s.; 7th, 3s. 8d.; and 8th, 3s. 4d.; or an average of 3s. 1d. per week for eight weeks.] "Besides this, there was the candles, 6d. a week (the cotton was found me). Indeed, I do find it very hard work to live. All of us have often to live the chief part of the week upon bread. I pay 2s. 6d. a week for rent. Thank God, I don't owe a farthing. (She produced her rent-book, which was paid up to last week.] I have nothing in pledge but a Bible that my mother bought me, and I would not part with it for worlds. It has been in pledge, with two Scripture Histories, these two years, for 3s. I pay 9d. a year interest upon them. I have also a tablecloth and a piece of merino stuff in pledge for 3s. I was obliged to pledge them when I was out of work a fortnight - that was the only fortnight I have been out of work since my husband's death. I've been out a day at a time, but never so long as that before or since. When the slack comes on, I try to turn my hand to anything I can get. I'm obliged to walk a number of miles - I'm sure, when I was last out, I walked half London through to find employment. It's very unpleasant work - they speak so sharp. All I want is a top coat to keep my boy from the cold in the winter. He never was strong."
    I was referred to a person living in a court running out of Holborn, who was willing to give me the information I desired respecting the prices paid to the female hands engaged in the upholstery business. Her room was neatly furnished, and gave evidence of her calling. Before the windows were chintz curtains tastefully arranged, and in one corner of the room stood a small easy chair with a clean brown holland case over it. On a side table were ranged large fragments of crystal and spar upon knitted mats or d'oyleys, and over the carpet was a clean grey crumb cloth - indeed, all was as neat and tasty as a person of limited means, and following such an employment, could possibly make it. The person herself was as far above the ordinary character of workwomen, both in manner and appearance, as her home was superior to the usual run of untidy and tasteless dwellings belonging to the operatives. I found her very ready to answer all my questions. "I am a widow," she said. "I have been so for five years. My husband was an upholsterer. I was left with one child twelve years old. My husband was in considerable difficulty when he died. Since his death I have got my living by working with my needle at the upholstery business. I make up curtains and carpets, and all sorts of cases, such as those for covering the furniture in drawing- rooms. I also make up the bed furniture, and feather beds and mattresses as well. My present employer pays me for making up window curtains 2s. per pair. I have nothing to find. Upon an average I can make a pair of curtains in two days. I might do more of the plainer kind; but if the curtains are gimped, I shall do less. Taking one with the other, I can safely say I can make a pair of curtains in two days. It is impossible for me to give an estimate as to the cases, because furniture is of such various descriptions. We generally charge such things by the time they take us. It is the envelope that goes over the article of furniture, and protects the silk or satin that the chair, sofa, or ottoman may be covered with, that I call the case. These cases or overalls are generally of chintz or holland, and are made by females, and sewn together. The satin or damask cover of the furniture itself is nailed on, and made by male hands. By working at cases for twelve hours, I can make about 1s. 6d. a day. I do my work always at home. There are some shops send their work out, but the generality have it done at the shop. The wages given to the workwomen at the shop are from 9s. to 11s. per week, and the time of labour is twelve hours per day. I don't think any house gives less than 9s. to any one who understands the business, and 11s. I believe is the highest price to the workwomen in the upholstery business. Fore-women who hold responsible situations of course get more - they get 12s. a week. For the making of cases we who work at home are paid by time and not by piece-work. The rate is 1d, per hour. The general price that I am paid for sofa cases comes to 2s. each, and about 3s. if I cut them out - that's a fair average. Easy-chair cases I think I get about 1s. 6d. for making, and 2s. 6d. each if I cut them out. Ottoman cases vary much in point of size. I don't suppose even a very large ottoman case would exceed 1s. 6d.; there's less work in it. A small box ottoman for the centre of a room, I think I should get about 5d. for. I can earn about 1s. 6d. a day at case work. For his carpets my employer pays 1d. per yard for sewing, but I find the thread. Indeed, I find the thread for everything I make, but that does not generally come to much. Carpet thread is a little more expensive. The thread for a carpet of 50 yards will cost about 4d. I can do about 25 yards a day at carpet work, but it's very hard work. Mattress cases are from 6d. each up to 1s., according to the sizes. Bed ticks are from 8d. up to 1s. 2d., according to size. Pillow ticks are ld., and bolsters 2d. Window blinds are 3d. each, making. Bed furniture is 10s. for a four-post bed. Arabians generally about 4s. French beds are from 2s. 6d. to 3s. I don't think there is anything else in our line of business worth mentioning. If I were fully employed, I could earn about 12s. a week, but a good deal of that arises from my having been in business for myself. An ordinary hand in the trade would, if she could get enough to do, make about 10s. a week. Those who do the work at home are seldom more than half their time employed, and those who work in the shops are discharged immediately a slack occurs. There is more fluctuation in the upholstery business than in any other in London. It used not to be so; but of late years it has fluctuated extremely, from the competition in the trade. The linen-drapers have taken to supply furniture ready-made. There are many large houses who do a great trade in this way, and they sell at prices that the others cannot compete with. I think the slacks are in consequence of the times and the general want of money. You see, persons can do without furniture when they run short, whereas they must have other commodities. At one time I received from 10s. to 14s. weekly for my labour. I have had so much work that I have been obliged to have assistance to get it done in time. The upholstery line is a business of great pressure. Five years back I made about 9s. a week upon an average throughout the year; but latterly the work has become so slack that for the last two years I have not earned 4s. a week, taking one week with another; and for this last month my earnings have been nothing at all. I haven't had a stitch to do from my employer. My earnings for this last year have been so trifling that I have been obliged to do many things I never did before. I have gone back dreadfully. I have been obliged to pledge my things, and borrow money to make up sums that must be paid. I must keep a home above my head. If it hadn't been for the Queen's intended visit to the Coal Exchange, I don't know what I should have done. It was a little bit of help to me; but, at the same time, it doesn't free me from my difficulties. Still it came like a Providence to me. I got about 35s. for what I did there. I was at work all Sunday. I was between a fortnight and three weeks engaged upon it. But I was not paid equal to what I did. I don't tell my affairs to everybody. It's quite enough for me to struggle by myself. I may feel a great many privations that I do not wish to be known. I got about 35s. in three weeks, and for that I had to work from eight in the morning till ten at night, and one entire Sunday. My present employer is not in the cheap trade. He is about a second-rate upholsterer. He pays to his workpeople the ordinary prices of the trade, neither above, nor below, and is, I think, a fair-dealing man. When I have assistance, I pay 1s. 6d. a day to those persons whom I employ. These, if active hands, might earn me as much as 1s. 9d. in the day. You see, the upholstery work is always in a drive. There is never any regularity about it. It must be done by a certain time, or the order would be countermanded. The female hands employed in the business are generally middle-aged people; there are not many young people employed in it. A great many are widows, but the majority are old maids. I do believe there are more old maids employed in the upholstery business than in any other. They are generally sober steady people; in fact, they wouldn't suit if they were not. The principal part is upon very expensive materials - silk, satin, and velvets - so that it requires great care and nicety. I think there are a great many - yes, hundreds - at the present time out of employment. You see, the cholera frightened families away from London, and there was no orders left to be done, or anything. But just now, the gentlefolks are returning to town, and business is reviving slightly at the West-end. Last summer the trade was no better than it has been this. It was very bad. The last two years have been dreadful years of business in the upholstery line. The trade is so divided, that there ought to be employment all the year round; indeed, it was so formerly. There were very few fluctuations then. I speak from twenty years' experience of the business. In the winter time, when families were in town, there was general employment, owing to the fashions altering as much in upholstery as they do in dress; and when the families at the West-end left London in the summer, they usually gave orders to the upholsterer to have their houses beautified and the furniture done up in their absence. But for the last two years this has greatly decreased. Where there has been one house redecorated there have been thirty shut up. Eaton-square, Grosvenor-square, and all those that I have had a great deal of employment from, have all been shut up; there has been nothing done. This has been the cause of a great deal of distress in the trade. I know of many cases of distress in my own circle. The prices paid to the workpeople have decreased materially within the last five years, to the extent of one-half in bed furniture. We are now paid 10s. for making up the furniture of a four-post bedstead, and formerly we used to have £1 for the very same thing. The wages of the women working in the shops were 12s. a week till lately; now they are mostly 9s., though some are 11s. Window curtains (plain) used to be 5s. per pair; now we have 2s.; and the price paid for making up the other articles has decreased in very nearly the same proportion. I don't know the cause of this, unless it be that there is less work to be done in the trade. I don't think it arises from an increase of hands, but from a decrease of work. The slacks occur much more often now than they did formerly. I think the hands are out of employ now one-third of their time throughout the year, there's such very great fluctuation in the business."
    This person promised to procure me, if possible, her work-book from the shop where she was employed. She was afraid, however, that her master might imagine she wanted if for a particular purpose, and withhold it from her. However, I requested that she would use her best endeavours to obtain it - such documents being most conclusive evidence as to the prices paid to the workpeople, for the accounts are invariably made out in the employer's own hand. As far as I myself have seen, there appears to be a general disposition on the part of the masters to keep the wages of the workpeople secret. As corroborative of the distress of the upholsteress, I saw several duplicates for articles of clothing and bedding, mostly pledged within the present year: a few shillings had been raised upon some things last year; but these had been lost, owing to her inability to redeem them. She was highly spoken of by her friends and neighbours.
    I had seen all classes of needlewomen but one. I had listened to the sufferings of the widow, the married woman, and the young unmarried girl, who strove to obtain an honest living by their needle. I had also heard, from their own lips, the history of the trials and fall of those who had been reduced to literal beggary and occasional prostitution by the low price given for their labour. Still it struck me that there was one other class of needlewomen whose misery and privations must be more acute than all. It was the distressed gentlewomen - persons who, having been brought up in ease and luxury, must feel their present privations doubly as acute as those who, in a measure, had been used to poverty from their very cradle.
    I was directed to one of this class who was taking care of a large empty house at the west-end of the town. I was no sooner in the presence of the poor family than I saw, by the manner of all present, how differently they had once been situated. The lady herself was the type of the distressed gentlewoman. I could tell by the regularity of her features that her family for many generations past had been unused to labour for their living, and there was that neatness and cleanliness about her costume and appearance which invariably distinguish the lady from the labouring woman. Again, there was a gentleness and a plaintiveness in the tone of her voice that above all things mark the refinement of a woman's nature. The room in which the family lived, though more destitute of every article of furniture and comfort than any I had yet visited, was at least untainted by the atmosphere of poverty. I was no longer sickened with that overpowering smell that always hangs about the dwellings of the very poor. The home of the distressed gentlewoman consisted literally of four bare walls. There was no table, and only two chairs in the place. At the foot of the lady was an old travelling trunk, on which lay a few of the nightcaps that she and her daughters were occupied in making. One of the girls stood hemming by the window, and the other was seated in a corner of the room upon another trunk, busily engaged in the same manner. Before the fender was a piece of old carpeting about the size of a napkin. On the mantelpiece were a few balls of cotton, a small tin box of papers, and a Bible and Prayer Book. This was literally all the property in the place. It was not difficult to tell, by the full black eyes, olive complexions, and sharp Murillo-like features of the daughters, that their father, at least, had been of Spanish extraction. The mother herself, too, had somewhat of a foreign look, though this I afterwards discovered arose from long residence with her husband abroad.
    It was not till now that I had found my duty in any way irksome to me; but I must confess, when I began to stammer out the object of my visit to the distressed lady, I could not help feeling that my mission seemed like an impertinence, and to betray a desire to pry into the miseries of the poor that was wholly foreign to my intention. I could see by the proud expression of the gentlewoman's features that she felt the privacy of her poverty had been violated by my presence, and I was some little while endeavouring to impress upon her that I had not come to her with the mean object of publishing to the world the distress of individuals, which I was well aware was made doubly bitter from the fear of its becoming known, even to their friends, much more to the public in general. At length I informed her that whatever she might communicate to me would be given to the public in such general terms, that it would be impossible to recognise that she was the person alluded to. Upon this assurance she told me as follows: - 
    "I work at needlework generally - I profess to do that; indeed that is what I have done ever since I have been a widow. But it is shocking payment. What I am engaged upon now is from a private lady. I haven't, as yet, made any charge. I don't know what the price will be; I did intend to ask 3d. each. The lady has been a great friend to me. I can't exactly say how long it will take me. Persons call to look at the house, and I have interruptions. They are plain nightcaps that I am making, and are for a lady of rank. Such persons generally, I think, give the least trouble for their work. I can't say how long they take me each to make. I've been very ill, and I've had the children to help me. I shouldn't like to say what I could not exactly count upon - it would be saying what wouldn't be true. I never made any before. There will be five when I have finished them all. There are three done, and this one I have in my hand is about half done. When was it we had them, my dear!" said the lady to her daughter, who stood sewing at the window. The young lady returned no answer, and the mother continued, "I can't recollect when we had them, for we have been so much worried. Two or three times the thieves have attempted to get into the house. On last Wednesday someone tried to open the street door, thinking the house was empty. The fright has made me almost forget everything, I can assure you. Since Wednesday myself and my eldest daughter (the other goes to school) have done very nearly four of the nightcaps. But that is not by sitting to work at them continually. During that time we have made a flannel jacket as well. My daughter, indeed, made it, for I haven't been able, though of course I attended to it. The flannel jacket was for a shop. They would not have given me more than 8d., though it was lined inside with calico, and indeed was more like a coat. I found some part of the lining, though not the whole; there was a great deal of work in it - fourteen buttonholes - and I charged them 1s. They demurred at the charge, and said if they sent me another they would only give 10d., for 8d. was their usual price. I made one of the sleeves, and my daughter made the rest. We were engaged on it all the day. There were a great many seams in it, and they must have been neatly put out of hand, or else the people at the shop wouldn't have given me the price; nor indeed, would they give me any other work. Since Wednesday myself and my daughter have made one flannel jacket and just upon four nightcaps; that's all; and they will come altogether to 2s. The lady won't put the price herself upon the nightcaps, and I feel timid in asking a price of a lady that's been a friend to me. Latterly I've had no work at all, only that which I got from an institution for distressed needlewomen. They were children's chemises. I think I made seven. Didn't I?" she inquired of one of her daughters - "Yes, mamma," was the young lady's answer. "I ought to keep a book myself," the mother went on to say; "I used to do so of all the prices. I did the seven chemises in a fortnight, and got 7s. for them. I have also made within this time one dozen white cravats for a shop; they are the wide corded muslin cut across, and the very largest. I have 6d. a dozen for hemming them, and had to find the cotton of course. I have often said I would never do any more of them: I thought they would never have been done, there was so much work in them. Myself and daughter hemmed the dozen in a day. It was a day's very hard work. It was really such very hard work that I cried over it, I was so ill, and we were wanting food so badly. That is all that myself and daughter have done for this last month. During that time the two of us (my daughter is eighteen) have earned 6d., and 7s., and 2s., making in all 9s. 6d. for four weeks, or 2s. 4d. per week, to keep three of us. I have not been constantly employed all the month; I should say I have been half the time occupied. The nine and sixpence may be fairly considered as the earnings of the two of us, supposing we had been fully occupied for a fortnight. My daughter and I have earned at plain needlework a good deal more than that; but to get more we have scarcely time to eat. I have, with my daughter's labour and my own, earned as much as 10s.; but then such hard work injures the health. I should say an industrious quick hand might earn at plain needlework, taking one thing with another, 3s. 6d. a week, if she were fully employed. But there is a great difficulty in getting work - oh yes, very great. The schools injure the trade greatly. Ladies give their work to the National Schools, and thus needlewomen who have families to support are left without employment. That, I think, is the principal cause of the deficiency of work; and many others I know consider so with me. I think that is also the cause of the prices being so low. Yes, I know it is, because ladies will tell you plainly, I can have the work done cheaper at the school. Generally, the ladies are much harder as to their terms than the tradespeople; oh, yes, the tradespeople usually show more lenity towards the needlewomen than the ladies. I know the mistress of an institution who refused some chemises of a lady who wanted to have them made at 9d. She said she would not impose upon the poor workpeople so much as to get them made at that price. Of course we could not have subsisted upon the 2s. 4d. a week, which we have earned for the last four weeks. I have got many duplicates in the house to show how we did live. I was obliged to take the blankets off the bed, and sleep with only a sheet to cover us. I sold my bedstead for 3s. 6d. to a person, who came herself and valued it. That very bedstead, not a month ago, I gave 8s. 6d. for. It was what they call a cross-bedstead. Our bolster we were obliged to pledge. That was quite new; it cost 2s. 6d., and I pledged it for a shilling. Our blankets, too, we pledged for 1s. each; they cost me 6s. the pair; but I've taken one out since. Of course, now we sleep upon the floor. Our inside clothing we have also disposed of. Indeed, I will tell you, we are still without our clothing, both my daughter and myself; and I have chewed camphor and drank warm water to stay my hunger. My pains from flatulence have been dreadful. We have often had no breakfast, and remained without food till night, all of us; and at last I have made up my mind to pledge my flannel petticoat, and get 6d. on that. Once we were so badly off that I sent for a person to come and pledge my bed. She pledged it for half-a-Crown. This person told a lady in the neighbourhood what I had done, and the lady came in the evening and brought me 5s., and with that the bed was redeemed. We all like to preserve life, sir. Life is sweet when we have a family, however much we may want. Needlework is such a precarious living that we cannot subsist and clothe ourselves by it. Even in the summer it cannot be done - I have tried - no, that it can't with plain needlework. What I want is a situation for my eldest daughter. She can speak Spanish, and she works well at her needle. I myself speak Spanish and French. You won't put that in the newspaper, will you?" she asked me. I told her I would insert nothing that she wished to keep secret. She said, "I am afraid they will guess it is I. I would rather starve than it should be known who I am. I do not wish to be made a public spectacle of. I am not ashamed to be poor, understand - for I am so through no fault of my own; but my friends would be ashamed to have my poverty known. I told her I would do as she wished, and I assured her that I had come there to alleviate rather than to aggravate her distress." After a little hesitation she consented to the publication of what she might communicate to me, and continued as follows: - "You may say my father was an officer in the English army, and my grandfather was an officer in the English army too. I have a brother-in-law a clergyman. It's not in his power to assist me. My husband was an officer in the army as well, but he was in the foreign service. He has been dead five years. He left me penniless, with three children. My son is in the West Indies. He is doing well there: he is but young - he is only 17. He has £36 a year and his board. He assisted me last year. I was in hopes to have some assistance this year. They only pay them now once a year, according to the last letter I had from him. I do feel it very hard that I, whose father and grandfather have served the country, should be left to suffer as I do. I don't consider, if you understand me, sir, that we have any merit or claim upon the Government; still I cannot but think it hard that the children of those who have served their country so many years should be so destitute as we are. All we want is employment, and that we cannot get. Charity, indeed, is most irksome to us - we may well say that. I would never emigrate to where there is greater employment - no, not as long as I live. My husband's family were all very wealthy but they've lost nearly all in the revolutions abroad. I would not object to travel with a lady, but I could never say farewell for ever to my own country - that is what I think and feel. Before I came here I paid 4s. a week. I did not pay it all myself. (Here I was shown the letter of a lady high in rank, promising to be answerable for her rent.) Now I pay no rent, and have not done so since the 19th September. The same good lady recommended me to the house-agent, and he gave me this house to take care of. I do think it most cruel that in the midst of all our distresses and poverty persons must try to enter the house. I am sure they must come to take our lives - it cannot be for what we have! We are all alone here, without anyone to protect us, and we are very timid. Last night I was afraid to go to church, for I thought they would get into the premises in our absence. Several times late at night I have heard them put a false key into the door. Nobody knows what I suffer. Last Friday night - it must have been past midnight - I heard them knocking at the wash- house window, as if to take out the pane of glass, and I had the presence of mind to throw up the window of this room. We sleep here on the floor. I called out, saying, Who is there?' Such was my fright, that I trembled all day on Saturday. I would rather go to the workhouse than stop here. But, of course, after all my struggles, I would not go there, no, though I am a destitute widow! Thank God, I'm not in debt - that is a great consolation to me. I don't owe any person a penny."
    I hardly knew how to ask one whose narrative and manner bore so plainly the impress of truth, for proofs of the authenticity of her statements; still I felt that it would not be right, without making some such inquiries, to allow the story of her sufferings to go forth to the world. I explained to her my wishes, and she very readily showed me such papers and official documents as put her statement as to birth and the position of her husband utterly beyond a doubt.
    She was afterwards kind enough, for the sake of others situated like herself, to let me see the duplicates of the different articles that her poverty had compelled her to raise a meal upon. They told so awful a tale of want, that I begged permission to copy them. The articles pledged, and the sums lent upon them, were as follows - Gown, 1s.; bed, 1s.; petticoat and night-gown, 1s.; gown, 1s.; gown skirt, 1s.; two books and apron, 1s.; shawl, 1s.; gown, 1s.; umbrella, 1s.; petticoat and shawl, 1s.; bolster, 1s.; petticoat and shift, 1s.; ditto, 6d.; counterpane, 2s.; cloak, 3s.; a whittle, 3s.; gown, 3s.; sheet and drawers, 1s.; gown, 1s.; petticoat, 1s.; petticoat and piece of flannel, 9d.; wedding-ring, 2s. 6d. The lady also took me into the garden to show me the window by which the thieves had sought to enter the house at midnight. On the flag- stones immediately beneath it, and which were green with damp and desolation, were the marks of men's hobnailed boots.
    It is but right, for the poor gentlewoman's sake, that I should add that her statement has been fully investigated and corroborated. She seems a lady in every way worthy of our deepest commiseration.
    As I had an introduction to another needlewoman, a maiden lady, who had been reduced from a position of great affluence and comfort to one of absolute want, I thought it would be better to see her, so that the public might have a further insight into the distress of a class of persons who perhaps suffer not only more privations, but feel more acutely the pain of them, than any who depend upon their needle for their daily bread. At first sight the distress of the second gentlewoman was not so apparent as that of the first - indeed, you would hardly have believed, from the neatness of the room in which she lived, and the dress of the lady herself, that you were in the presence of one absolutely in want of bread; and yet, from the bedding on the floor that was rolled up and covered over with a cloth in one corner of the room, the handful of fire, about the size of that in a smith's forge, that was smouldering in the grate, and the thin face and pinched features of the gentlewoman herself, it was not very difficult to infer the distress that she was in. Moreover, it was plain, from the general spareness and chilliness of the frame, that she was suffering from insufficient nutriment. Indeed, there seemed to be little or no animal warmth in the body. Over her shoulders was thrown an imitation Shetland shawl, evidently more for use than ornament. Her narrative was even more pathetic, for her comforts had once been greater, and her transition from extreme wealth to extreme poverty had been more sudden, than the lady I had visited but a day or two before.
    "I live entirely by my needle," she said. "I do any plain work I can get. I make chemises, children's drawers, nightcaps, shirts, petticoat bodies, etc. I am a good needlewoman, and nothing comes amiss to me. I get for the chemises 1s. 3d. if they're plain; and if there's much stitching, 1s. 6d. For children's drawers I have about 6d. or 8d. per pair; nightcaps, full trimmed, about 10d.; petticoat bodies, about 1s. There's a great deal of work in a petticoat body. If they're trimmed, I get 1s. 6d. for them. For hemming pocket handkerchiefs I get d. a side, and 1d. a side for towels. I work usually for private hands, and they, knowing my case, give me a better price than the ships would. Oh dear, yes, decidedly better! Last week I had two petticoat bodies; these I made from Friday to Wednesday, and earned 3s. in three days. Everything was found me - cotton, tapes, and all; but, generally speaking, I have to find these myself. I had no more work to do in the week than that, and the three shillings is all I had to depend upon for that week. The week before last I had no work at all to do; but I sent into the bazaar a doll that I had dressed some time previously. For this I got 1s. It cost me 4d., and I got 8d. out of it. It took me best part of a day to dress it. I also sent in an anti-macassar, which I knitted some time before, but could not dispose of. For this I got 2s.; the cotton for it cost me 8d., and it took me four days to make, because there was the bordering as well as the middle part. The d'oyley was made for me by a lady. For that I got 6d. at the bazaar. It was put in at 1s., but nobody would give that price; so I took it off and made it 6d. According to this my income the week before last was 6d., 2s., and 1s. - in all 3s. 6d.; and out of that my expenses were 1s. My clear gains, therefore, were 2s. 6d., and to get that I had worked five days. The week before that I had nothing to do, and a friend kindly lent me some money while I went out to seek for some work. The week before that again, I had some silk cuffs to make for a warehouse. I had a dozen pair of them at 3s. I had to find cotton and silk, and these together cost me 2d. That week I got 2s. 8d. I was employed three days of the time. The week before that I had nothing, and a friend in the house kindly allowed me to take my meals with her. I went round to the shops, and they told me they couldn't employ me - they had more hands than they had work for. Some little time back I had one chemise to make for a lady, and for this I got 1s. 3d. I was very badly off at that time. I had to pledge almost all the wearing apparel I could spare - to put it all in to keep me - I couldn't starve. Blankets, counterpane, sheets; they all went. Table-cloths, gowns, stockings - in fact, everything I'd got, I was obliged to put away. If I worked for the shops I should get much less than what I've stated. I dare say they wouldn't give more than 1s. for a petticoat body, and 1s. for a chemise, if that. Oh, they are very low, the prices! Now, I got, some time ago," she said - "it's about a  twelvemoflth back - some habit-shirts; they were full trimmed down the front, and lace round the collar. I had to cut them out entirely, and the people only gave me 2s. 6d. for a dozen. Well, I began them about ten one day, and I had to sit up till two in the morning, and then I couldn't finish them till four the next day - there was so much work in them. I have now been five or six years engaged in needlework, doing it whenever I could obtain it. Yes, I'm very anxious; I never let anything pass me if I can get it. For the last year the outside that I have made in any one week is 5s. For many weeks I have done nothing - I could not get anything to do. I went round and almost begged for work - entreated of the shops - but they said they hadn't it. Taking one week with another, I may have made through the whole year from 2s to 2s. 6d. a week; but not more, I am certain. I know I have not made enough to pay my rent. I have been living, till the last few months, on a little money I made from keeping a school in the country. The trade is over-stocked. There are more hands than they have work to give to them. The charity schools do a great deal of injury to us. They get almost all the work to do, and do it at such a price that we can't live by it. If I could make 10s. a week regularly, I could manage to live very comfortably. I could hardly do so for less, because there's coal and rent and all to pay. I pay 3s. a week for my rent. Then, again, there's my doctor's bill; and my doctor says my poor living is a principal cause of my illness. I suffer greatly from diseased heart. I have been very differently circumstanced. If I can do any good to others by my statement, I shall be most happy to tell you all, for I know there are hundreds like myself, and where people have not been brought up to work, it is, oh, so different! My father was an East Indian. He was a native of Calcutta; but I was born in England. I was brought up in every comfort and luxury. My father was a man of large property. He had £140,000 in Ferguson's bank when it failed in India. He died the week before the bank broke, and we heard of it for the first time when he was lying dead in the house. Will this be published? What! in the papers? Well, if there will be no name attached to it, I do not mind, because I should not like my name to appear. My father was an officer in the Queen's service. My mother was an Englishwoman, and living at the time of my father's death. My father died in England. We lost every sixpence we had in the world by the failure of the bank. After that, I went alone into the country, and opened a day-school. For four years I kept on very well with it, until my health forsook me, and I was compelled to leave, unless, as the doctor told me, I wished to be buried in the town. My mother is still living. She resides with my brother abroad. He is an artist; but then he gets very little for his painting, and is wholly unable to assist me. I have articles in pledge to the amount of £2 10s., perhaps a little more. If I had a piano I think I might give lessons in music and singing; but then I have not the means to get even a cheap one at a sale. For the last seven years I have been struggling hard to get a living. I've been to every shop and every place in London to seek work. Some said they had their own 'hands,' and they couldn't throw them out of employ; and others said they had more hands than they could give employment to. I have often been four or five days together with a piece of dry bread and a little water to drink. Had my father been in the East India service, I should not have been left destitute; but owing to his having been in the Queen's, where there is nothing for the daughters of officers, why, I am left as I am. This lady's statement has been confirmed. The duplicates I had not the courage to ask to see.

Henry Mayhew, letters to the Morning Chronicle, 1849-1850