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Tuesday, November 20, 1849
In my last Letter, it may be remembered, I stated that my primary
object was to obtain, for the first time in this country, a list of the
prices paid to the workpeople of London for their labour. I then
described a few of the difficulties besetting such a task. Of these
there are two more important than all besides. One of these is the
objection of the employer generally to allow his profits to be
known; for, of course, if he revealed the amount that he pays in
wages for the manufacture of the articles in which he deals, the
price at which he sells these articles would easily enable others to
ascertain his gains. The same desire for secrecy is exhibited by all
classes of "middlemen" - whether known by the name of chamber-
masters, piece-masters, or sweaters. The second difficulty which I
mentioned, arises not from any indisposition on the part of the
workpeople to make known the sums they are paid for their
labour - indeed they are generally as willing as their employers
are unwilling to do so - but rather from their incapability to enter
into the necessary calculations. It should be borne in mind, that
it is not an account of the earnings of any one week that is required - the average weekly income of a particular class of operatives throughout the year is what I seek to ascertain. To arrive at
this, however, demands so long a series of accounts and reckonings, that the generality of workpeople are unable, without
considerable assistance, to go through them. Hence it is impossible
to come to any satisfactory result without a personal visitation and
cross-questioning of the operatives themselves. Upon the character
of these questions the soundness of the conclusion of course
depends, and I am therefore anxious that the public should know
how I proceed in the matter.
My first inquiries are into the particular branch of the trade under investigation upon which the workman is engaged. I then request to be informed whether the individual has his or her work first or second-handed; that is to say, whether he or she obtains it direct from the employer, or through the intervention of some chamber or piece-master. If the work comes to the operative in question second-handed, I then endeavour to find out the prices paid for the work itself to the first hand, as well as the number of workpeople that the first hand generally employs. This done, I seek to be informed whether the work of the individual I am visiting is piece or day-work. If day-work, I learn the usual hours of labour per day, and the rate of wages per week. If it be piecework, I request to be made acquainted with the prices paid for each description of work seriatim, the time that each particular article takes to make, and the number of hours that the party usually works per day. By these means I arrive at the gross daily earnings. I then ascertain the cost of trimmings, candles, and such other expenses as are necessary to the completion of each particular article; and, deducting these from the gross gains per day, I find what are the clear daily earnings of the individual in question. I then check this account by obtaining from the workman a statement as to the number of such articles that he can make in a week; and, deducting expenses, I see whether the clear weekly earnings agree with those of the clear daily ones. After this I request to know the amount of the earnings for the last week; then those for the week before; and then those for the week before that. Beyond this point I find that the memory generally fails. Out of the scores of operatives that I have now visited, I have found only one instance in which the workman keeps a regular account of his weekly gains.
By the means above detailed I am enabled both to check and counter-check the statement furnished to me in the first instance. To avoid, however, the possibility of error, I seek for a further proof - and that is the account of the quantity of work given out to the workpeople by the employer. This is generally in the master's own handwriting; and it forms, when obtainable, the most conclusive evidence as to the amount of work done in the week by the workman; while, if extending many weeks back, it enables me with ease to arrive at an average result. I regret to say, however, that such books are far from being invariably kept by employers. Some workpeople are paid immediately that the work is taken in, and no such account is required. However, it is but due to the character of the workpeople to say, that in no one instance have I yet discovered the least wilful misstatement as to the prices paid, or the total amount of their weekly earnings. It is true that sometimes the statements of the day's earnings do not immediately tally with those of the week; but this I frequently find, on investigation, to arise from the fact of their not having made any allowance for the time lost in taking their work in, and getting a fresh supply out of the warehouse. As a class, I must say the workpeople that I have seen appear remarkably truthful, patient, and generous; indeed, every day teaches me that their virtues are wholly unknown to the world. Their intemperance, their improvidence, their want of cleanliness, and their occasional want of honesty, are all that come to our ears. As I said before, however, I doubt very much whether we should not be as improvident and intemperate if our incomes and comforts were as precarious as theirs. The vices of the poor appear to be the evils naturally fostered by poverty - even as their virtues are such as want and suffering alone can beget. Their patience is positively marvellous. Indeed, I have seen this last week such contentment, under miseries and privations of the most appalling nature, as has made me look with absolute reverence upon the poor afflicted things. I have beheld a stalwart man, with one half of his body dead - his whole side paralyzed, so that the means of subsistence by labour were denied him; and his wife toiling day and night with her needle, and getting at the week's end but one shilling for her many hours' labour. I have sat with them in their wretched hovel, shivering, without a spark of fire in the grate, and the bleak air rushing in through every clink and crevice. I have been with them and their shoeless children at their Sunday dinner of boiled tea-leaves and dry bread, and I have heard the woman, with smiling lips, not only tell me, but show me, how contented she was with her lot, bearing the heavy burden with a meek and uncomplaining spirit, such as philosophy may dream of, but can never compass. The man and his wife were satisfied that it was the will of God they should be afflicted as they were, and they bowed their heads in reverend submission to the law. "It may be hard to say why we are so sorely troubled as we are," said the heroic old dame, "but we are satisfied it is all for the best. In my last letter I told the story of the poor stock-maker, who, for three weeks, had never laid down to rest, so that she might save her disabled parent from the workhouse. In the letter before that I had related the struggle of a girl to free herself from a life of vice which she had been driven into by sheer starvation; indeed, not a day of my life now passes but I am eye-witness to some act of heroism and nobility, such as are unknown and unheard of among those who are well-to-do in the land.
When I have obtained an account of the clear earnings of the workpeople during such times as they are fully employed, I seek to procure from them a statement of what they imagine to be their weekly earnings, taking one week with another, throughout the year. Having got this, I then set about to discover how often in the course of the year they are "standing still," as they term it. I inquire into the number and duration of "the slacks." This done, I strive to obtain from the operative an average of the weekly earnings during such times. I then make a calculation of the total of the workpeople's gains when fully employed for so many months, and when partially occupied for the remainder of the year. By this means I am enabled to arrive at an average of their weekly earnings throughout the whole year; and I then compare this with the statement which I have previously received from them on the subject. It is seldom that I find much discrepancy. I finally check the whole account of their earnings by a statement of their expenditure. I generally see their rent-book, and so learn the sum that they pay for rent; and I likewise get a detail of their mode and cost of living. Hence the reader will perceive that every means are adopted to insure an accurate result. Moreover, the character of the informant is invariably inquired into, especially with regard to the truthfulness, industry, and sobriety of the individual.
I now proceed to state the results of my further investigation into the average weekly earnings of the needlewomen of London.
Those working at the lining and piecing of furs, it will be seen, are not so badly paid as many others. Of course, from the very nature of the business, the work is "slack" at certain periods and brisk at others; but still the wages are not, as in some trades, utterly below subsistence point when the work is brisk, and consequently they do not doom the workpeople to positive starvation immediately when the slack begins. The following statement of the earnings of two sisters may be taken, I believe, as a fair average of the incomings of the needlewomen generally employed in the business: -
"I and my sister work at the fur business. I am a widow, with three young children. The eldest is nine years old; he doesn't look so old as he is; but he's lame with a diseased hip. The second is six: that's a boy; and the youngest is a girl four years old. I live here with my sister and mother. My mother is a widow. She hasn't anything to depend upon but the earnings of me and my sister. She is sixty-five. My father has been dead these thirteen years. He was a working furrier. He was a chamber-master - that is, he took the work out from the furriers', and employed hands to do it. He gave no security: it was not required. He had two women in the house to sew, and employed two or three out of doors as well. He had about six hands in his employ. Sometimes made £4 a week, sometimes £2, according as the business was brisk or slack. After Christmas he was very often three months with nothing at all to do. But then the prices was very different to what they are now, and there was more work as well. My husband has been dead four years. He was a pocket-book maker. Sometimes he made £2 a week, and £3, and sometimes as much as £4 a week. I am thirty-three years of age, and my sister is thirty-six. She is unmarried. She has been of great assistance to me since I became a widow. it was under very distressing circumstances that I lost my husband. I was left entirely destitute. My husband was very much embarrassed at the time. He left his home and drowned himself. This little girl I have on my knee was born a fortnight after his death. I had then nothing to do but the fur business, which I had been brought up to by my father. Then me and my sister and my mother all worked together. Mother was then having work to do from the warehouse, but now she's not able, neither could she get it if she was, there's so many out of employ. Now she takes care of the children while we are out at work. We do the lining of the victorines and the capes. We also do the lining of the muffs: being brought up in the business we can do almost any part that females do. We are paid by the dozen. Victorines are from 1s. 6d. to 3s. a dozen lining. The materials are all found us except the cotton, and that costs about ld. the dozen victorines. We work fourteen or fifteen hours generally when we work at home. Working these hours we can line about twelve victorines at 1s. 6d. in the day, or eight at 3s. a dozen, by sitting very close. We can do between three and four dozen of those at 3s. in the week, and about five dozen of those at 1s. 6d.; so that at lining victorines we can earn from 7s. 6d. to 12s. a week. The capes are from 3d. to 1s. 4d. each lining. We reckon we can do about two of those at 3d. in the day, and about two in two days of those at 1s. 4d. At this we can earn about 8s. at the commoner ones, and about 12s. at the better kind of ones. They generally do not give the muffs out to be done. These used to be 4s. a dozen stuffing and lining. About three dozen might be finished in the week; but that is what they used to be some years ago. There is the sewing of the skins together - that we do as well. The skins are cut and put together by the men, and females sew them. There are different prices for different furs. Musquash riding boas are about 2½d. each boa. Victorines of the same fur are 2d.; muffs about the same. Squirrel is a little higher, about 3d. the boa. Sables are about 5d. the boa. Ermine the same. Chinchilla about the same. We can make about five of the musquash boas, about four of the squirrel, and about three of the more expensive furs. At this we can earn from about 1s. to 1s. 3d. a day; at the present time 1s. 3d. is the utmost, and we must have the best work to get that. Upon an average, at sewing the skins, we can earn about 6s. a week when we are fully employed at it. Each of us can earn this. The expenses when we are sewing are more than when we are lining. We use thread for sewing, and it comes to about 3d. every week; and when we are lining the cotton costs us about 6d. a week. At the sewing we can make about 5s. 6d. a week clear, and at the lining from 7s. 6d. to 11s. 6d. each of us. The lining work we reckon don't last more than six months every year. There hasn't been this last summer more than three months' work to be done. We are neither particular quick nor slow hands we consider ourselves average hands. The lining work begins about May and ends about November every year. The sewing work lasts from about March till about December. During the brisk time we are in general pretty full of work. Some seasons we are more busy than others, but in general during the brisk time we earn what we have stated. Our work begins about the middle of March, and ends about the latter end of December. During these months I should say that we each of us earn, taking one week with another, about 8s. 6d. a week clear. During the slack time there is nothing at all for us to do at home. Then the only work is at the retail houses at the West-end, where hands are engaged "repairing." The pay for this 1s 8s. a week. Work begins there at half-past eight in the morning, and ends at half-past eight at night. We have no book. We haven't had any this last year. Where we have been working lately the proprietor of the warehouse pays every week, as the work is taken in; but this is not the usual practice. We worked at home this last time from the beginning of the year to the latter end of September. From Christmas till April we had nothing at all to do; and after that our earnings averaged about 8s. 6d. a week each. Since September we have been engaged repairing at a warehouse, where we have 8s. a week. This engagement, I think, will last till February; but it depends greatly on the weather. It's all according to what winter we have. After that I suppose we shall be a couple of months unemployed. The trade is much improved by dry frosty weather. There has been very little for us to do this year, on account of the alteration in the fashion. The victorines are not so much worn. They wear double furs, instead of those lined with silk. The riding boas are now more fashionable, and they require no lining, being double fur. The prices have fallen a great deal within the last five years. Every year it gets worse and worse. The prices have come down fully a shilling a dozen since 1845.
We could then earn with the same labour 12s. where we now earn 8s. Every year we are generally three months standing still - that is the shortest time. Then there is a slackness before we get busy, and the same before the work finishes; so that altogether we may safely say that it's only for eight months in the year that we earn 8s. a week, and for the other four months we don't get more than 2s. a week upon an average. The last slack time we were obligated to part with almost everything we had; so that, taking the brisk and the slack, I think we earn about 6s. a week all the year round. We are not able to save anything during the brisk time, there are so many of us - six to live on 16s. We have not been able to get back what we lost during the last slack time. We have got full £3 or £4 worth of things in pledge. We were quite three months out of work - from Christmas till the end of March - and then our rent went back, and we haven't been able to recover it yet. We owe about six weeks now. We pay 4s. a week for this one room. All my children go to school. We have one thing in pledge for 8s. The most of the duplicates is for 5s. - some are for 3s. We have no separate purses. We work together and club our money together. My sister helps me to support my children. If it hadn't been for her I don't know what I should have done. She has made every sacrifice to assist me."
In the same house that the two sisters lived who worked at lining the furs, there was a woman occupied in embroidering the letters and figures on the policemen's coats. I found her with her young children in their bedgowns about her, ready dressed for bed. It was late in the evening when I visited her. She was the type of the better kind of labourer's wife - the mother, housewife, and workwoman all in one. The cheeks of the children were red and shiny with recent scrubbing. In her arms she held an infant, and by her side sat a good-looking boy in the dress of a parish school. By the fire sat her husband, a swarthy, big-boned man. I told them the object of my visit, and was instantly welcomed to their hearth. In answer to questions they told me as follows: -
"I do the embroidery. I can work any part of the embroidery work, no matter what it is. I don't suppose anyone's doing good at the embroidery, for gracious knows where it's gone to! Then there's the tapestry, that's gone altogether. That was what I learnt. We used to serve seven years at our business. I embroider the policemen's collars, and the railway guards' collars, and sometimes silk work - 1s. to 1s. 3d. the dress, what I used to have 5s. and 6s. for, and more than that. Why, they are paying now 2s. 6d. for cardinals that I've had 16s. for. I do the East India work for the Calcutta police; and the Liverpool police, and Isle of Man police. I work for the Penitentiary and the Model Prison. They are the officers' coats, and indeed I do for all the prisons that wear ornaments. I work for her Majesty's yachts. I have all my work from the contractor for the embroidery. He takes it from the clothier. The clothier knows nothing about our business; he gives it to the embroiderer, who gives it to me. There are no chamber-masters that I know of in our business. The contractor takes a very good shaking out of it before we has it. I get 6s. and 7s. a dozen for Metropolitan police dress-coat collars. I can do five a day, but we generally reckon four an average day's work of twelve hours. I can earn about 12s. a week at it; indeed I can do more if I can get it. I have earned 29s. a week at it; but that was by getting up at four in the morning and working till ten at night; and besides, the work was much better paid for then. Then the collars was paid 8s. to 9s. a dozen; that was about five year ago. The other police are about the same; the railway and City both. The railway guards are according to the letters upon them. We are paid 4d. a dozen for the large letters. I could do about four dozen and a half a day. As they pay for that work now, a woman can't earn more than 2s. 2d. to about 2s. 6d. a day; but I've sat and earned 6s. a day at it; and that was for the small letters on the cap-bands of the railway guards, and only having 2d. a band then. For the Calcutta police I get 6d. a collar, or from 6s. to 7s. a dozen. The Calcutta police are just the same work as the Metropolitan. I do just as many of one as the other. It's a white duck collar worked with blue cord. The Liverpool police has the bird called the liver, with a branch of olive in its mouth, and a single strap and number worked in white cord upon blue. Everything used is worsted. It's been argued we work with white cotton cord, but that's a mistake. They're 6s. a dozen, and take about the same as the Metropolitan and the Isle of Man police. The ornament of that is the same as the Isle of Man halfpenny - three legs, boots and spurs. The price is the same as the Metropolitan, 6s. a dozen. I never knew them more, and they take about the same. The Penitentiary is a small ring, something similar to the Fire Brigade. It's a small ring, and the number inside of it. They are 2d. apiece, to the best of my recollection. I can do about twelve of them a day. The Model Prison have oak leaves and acorns, with a coronet in the ring. They're worked in buff upon blue. Those I'm paid double for, 11s. and 12s. a dozen; but then there's a deal more work in them. The oak leaves and acorns requires a good deal of shaping. When they were first done they were 18s. a dozen, and that was about five or six years ago. The Metropolitan Police, when they first came up, were 16d. to 18d. a collar, and not done half so well as they are now. Dear me! there was no shape in them scarcely. The Fire Brigade is so badly paid - I think they offered me 1½d. a collar - that I couldn't work at them at all. There's the Isle of Wight work; that's the entrance to the prison gate; we have to form all the stones, and the brickwork over the arch. They are 9d. each. I've had them three or four times, but I never had a great many. We can earn about the same at that as at any other of the work. Some things I have to do are black cord worked upon blue, but I don't know what they are for; they've a small coronet in a ring. We work for the Irish police as well. It is the same as the Metropolitan, without either figure or letter. They put metal in them when they get there. Then there's all sort of crests that we work, you know - coats of arms and such like. They are mostly small orders, and don't run above fifty. We work for the Thames Police; that's the anchor, and like the Metropolitan. At all kinds of work about 2s. to 2s. 6d. is what I can earn a day, working twelve hours, or 12s. to 15s. a week. There's very few hands in our business, and we can't think what's become of the work. I never had a piece of work returned in my life, and I'm generally reckoned a very good hand at the business. There can't be more than 200 persons working at it. We likewise do the soldiers' grenades on the collars of their coats. The general pay of them 1s 6s. a hundred; but I have never done any under 3s. 4d., because I wouldn't work upon scarlet cloth unless I had full price. I could do about 150 a week. I've worked at the embroidery and tapestry ever since I was thirteen years old. When I was first out of my time I could earn my 15s. to 16s. a week: that was before there was any regular police. Anyone can do tapestry now from the Berlin patterns. There they are all drafted off, and I could give one of them to that child, and tell her to count her stitches and match her colours, and she could do it as well as I could; but before that the design was merely drawn in outline, and we had to shade it off according to our own judgment. I've seen 10 apprentices go away out of 12 - weren't fit for the business. In those times it taught us both to paint and to draw, but now it's both painted and drawn for you. We never thought of giving a lesson in it under 5s. At that time the court waistcoats were done - a good bit of money they used to fetch. They used to come to £1 and £1 10s. They would take about four days to do; work was paid so well for at that time. They're quite gone now; indeed, the work seems all gone together. I must go to Doctors'-commons, to see if I can find some grenades - though that's the worst of the work. It's what I've sent back scores of times. But I must get something. A little while ago there was the embroidering of the gentlemen's stocks; they was worked upon the hand, and the hand embroidery has ruined the frame embroidery altogether. At these I did very well; I could make £1 a week at them easy. I've got a frame nearly half as long as this room, that I suppose I shall never want again. You see, here's one of the frames - it's tied up, and no use. I've got three more, and had them all full. The cause of the stock work falling off was this: a man got a quantity of the girls out of the workhouse and put a few tidy hands to superintend the business. There was a great deal of laughing and joking about that man, for he was a butcher by trade, and the idea of his starting in the embroidery line tickled everyone. He took 'em down to Cambridge-heath, and cut down the prices so low that fifty of us was forced to leave the business at once. The butcher made a failure of it, and the whole establishment was broke up, and that was the ruin of the hand-embroidery. Then there was another cheap hand, the son of a party in the trade. He underminded his father. He went to the warehouses and offered to do the work for less than half-price, and ruined it altogether. I believe he made a failure, too. Besides these another was going to have all the work. You see there was a good bit of money made at it then. This party sent me a shawl, a very well- drawn thing. It was honestly worth 4s. 6d. or 5s. to do. I had had more money for the same. When I took it in, he had the impudence to offer me 1s. 1½d. for it. Well, this one made a failure of it, too and I have heard that his wife now is trying to pick up a bit of work anywhere. The military embroidery was very good indeed about three years ago. I had a great deal of it, so that I could have supported myself and four or five children very comfortable on it. I could always keep four frames full, and now I've nothing at all to do. Last Saturday week I took 5s. 10d., and that was earnt in a fortnight, and so on about the same for many months. My weekly earnings for the whole of this year hasn't been more than 2s., take one week with another, and three years ago I used to make 15s. to 16s. a week regular, and that with perfect ease. As for the 'gold hands,' I know one that could sit and earn 10s. a day, and I don't think she knows what it is to see a bit of work now. I don't know what really has become of the work lately. All the embroidery hands are earning a mere trifle - 3s. one week and then 2s. - and many has called upon me to know what's the cause of it, because they know that I generally used to be so full. Three times last week I sent that little boy to the warehouse for work, and they said, 'send in next week.' Where they're a-doing the work, or how they're a-doing it, I can't tell. Whether they're doing it in their houses or not, by young girls, I can't say; but there must be something like that, for you see as the new clothes comes round there's the work to be done, and someone must do it. Perhaps they're a-doing it in the prisons, for there's many a trade been cut up in that way; but it's a sad pity, for it was a very pretty, tasty, and clean business. My husband is engaged in flushing the sewers; he gets £1 4s. a week regular."
In reply to my questions the husband said, "I've been at flushing four months now. I don't know how long it will last. There was a great many of us taken on owing to this cholera. Very likely I may be there for a year or two, but that I can't say. I've been used to common sewer work for these last six or seven years, chiefly getting the ground ready for making new sewers. The last sewer I was working at was that sewer at Blackfriars-bridge. That played the deuce with me - that did. We pulled up an old sewer that had been down upwards of 100 years, and under this there had formerly been a burying-ground. There we dug up, I should think, one day about seven skulls; and as to leg-bones - oh, a tremendous lot of leg-bones, to be sure! I don't think men has got such leg-bones now. The stench was dreadful; in fact, we knocked off day-work, and was put on to night-work to hide it. After that bout I was ill at home for a week. Then I went to flushing. I like it very well, and hope it will continue a long while. The best part of my work is in plunging ditches, or cleansing the open sewers. Some of them, though, are bad enough as to stenches." "I don't think it disagrees with my husband tho'," interposed the wife, "for he eats about as much again at that work as he did at the other." "When we go plunging," the man continued, "we has long poles with a piece of wood at the end of them, and we stirs up the mud at the bottom of the ditches while the tide's a-going down. We have got slides at the end of the ditches, and we pulls these up and lets out the water, mud, and all, into the Thames." "Yes, for the people to drink," said the wife drily. "We're in the water a great deal," continued the man. "We can't walk along the sides of all of em. We have got great heavy boots. I go below ground flushing sometimes, but I'm under a very good ganger, and he generally takes care to let us have half our time above ground. The smell under ground is sometimes very bad, but then we generally take a drop of rum first, and something to eat. It wouldn't do to go into it on an empty stomach, cause it would get into our inside. But in some sewers there's scarcely any smell at all. We have lamps to work up. The sewers generally swarms with rats. I runs away from 'em, I don't like 'em. They in general gets away from us; but in case we comes to a stunt end, where there's a wall and no place for 'em to get away, and we goes to touch 'em, they'll fly at us. They're some of 'em as big as good- sized kittens. One of our men caught hold of one the other day by the tail, and he found it trying to release itself, and the tail slipping through his fingers; so he put up his left hand to stop it, and the rat caught hold of his finger, and the man's got an arm now as big as his thigh. We generally, to flush, go and draw a slide up and let a flush of water down, and then we have iron rakers to loosen the stuff. We have got another way that we do it as well, that is to say, one man will stand here when the flush of water's coming down with a large board; then he lets the water rise to the top of this board, and then there's two or three of us on ahead, with shovels, loosening the stuff - then he ups with this board, and lets a good heavy flush of water come down. Precious hard work it is, I can assure you. I've had many a wet shirt. We stand up to our fork in the water, right to the top of our jack-boots, and sometimes over them." "Ah, I should think you often get over the top of yours, for you come home with your stockings wet enough, goodness knows," cried his wife. "When there's a good flush of water coming down," he resumed, "we're obligated to put our heads fast up against the crown of the sewer, and bear upon our shovels, so that we may not be carried away, and taken bang into the Thames. You see there's nothing for us to lay hold on. Why, there was one chap went and lifted a slide right up, when he ought to have had it up only nine or ten inches at the furthest, and he nearly swamped three of us. If we should be taken off our legs there's a heavy fall, about three feet - just before you comes to the mouth of the sewer; and if we was to get there the water is so rapid nothing could save us. When we goes to work we nails our lanterns up to the crown of the sewer. When the slide is lifted up the rush is very great, and takes all before it. It roars away like a wild beast. We're always obliged to work according to tide, both above and below ground. When we have got no water in the sewer we shovels the dirt up into a bank on both sides, so that when the flush of water comes down the loosened dirt is all carried away by it. After flushing, the bottom of the sewer is as clean as this floor, but in a couple of months the soil is a foot to fifteen inches deep, and middling hard. Most of the men are healthy who are engaged in it. And when the cholera was about many used to ask us how it was we escaped; but there was only three out of our gang of eighteen that had even a touch of it, and only one of those was serious - he was given over by two doctors, to be sure, but he is alive and at work again now. We are for seven hours and a half every day in the air of the sewers. There are about 300 of us altogether engaged in flushing. We have a sick fund, and if anyone is ill we pay each of us sometimes 6d. and sometimes 1s., according to how many there are. Ten shillings a week is what we are allowed when we are ill. During the whole time of the cholera I never paid in any week more than 1s., and there was more men employed then. It was most every week 6d., and only occasionally 1s. My eldest boy is eighteen; he keeps himself. The two next are in the East Indies, in the Indian navy service, and we have five at home to do for. The eldest at home is thirteen, and the youngest thirteen months. All but one go to school. I have a few things in pledge; and there's one thing I certainly should like to have out, and that's one of the boys' watches. It's in for 10s." "We shouldn't have these in pledge if I could get work," cried the wife. "I can assure you I don't think I have anything but 3s. in beyond that. I am quite happy and comfortable, and I should be more so if I'd got work. I've always been used to it. My eldest boy I've been able to give a good education to, and he's in an attorney's office, and I hope to be able to do as much to 'em all."
I now made my way to a garter maker, and found an old maiden woman engaged at the business. Her room exhibited the utmost order and neatness. Not an article but what was in its proper place, and, all was scrupulously clean. On the window-sill, which was as white as snow, stood a row of geraniums and cactuses in pots, brilliant with red-lead. The nose of the bellows was polished quite bright, and over the mantelpiece was a piece of antiquated embroidery in a gilt frame. The dress of the old maid was quite as tidy. She wore an old green stuff gown, without a speck upon it, and a little red silk handkerchief tied round her neck. Her statement was as follows: -
"I make up the garters. They give me the India rubber web, and I stitch the straps and the buckles on. I have 7d. a dozen pair for what I mostly do. That is the lowest price I get. The highest price I get is 1s. 7d. a dozen. If I could get sufficient I could do two dozen pair of the 7d. ones a day, but they haven't got it for me to do; and of the 1s. 7d. I couldn't do more than a dozen. My usual time of working is from eight in the morning till nine at night. The 1s. 7d. ones are going to be lowered. They told me last time I was at the warehouse that they were obliged to sell so cheap they couldn't afford to pay that price any longer. I said I hoped they would consider it, but I would be glad to take what they could afford to give me, as I had nothing else to depend upon. In the day, at the commonest work, I can earn 1s. 2d., and at the best 1s. 7s.; but then I have silk to find, and that costs me 6d. a dozen for 1s. 7d. ones, and 1½d. a dozen for the 7d. ones. I think I burn half a pound of candles extra when I am at work. I have to light my candles sooner, and I sit up longer when I am at work than when I'm not. Half a pound of candles is 2½d.; so that I can make clear, working at the 7d. garters, 10½d. a day; and at the 1s. 7d. I can get 1s. 0½d. clear in the same time. When I am full employed all the week at the commonest kind I couldn't make twelve dozen a week, because I should have to do for myself, and wash and clean. I make two dozen for one day: to do that I must sit close, and hardly have time to get meals, and I couldn't go on so all the week through. I might, if I could get it to do - but they haven't got trade enough for it - do 10 dozen, I say, in the week; and 10 dozen at 7d. comes to 5s. 10d.; then there's the deduction for the silk, which is 1½d. a dozen, and that's 1s. 3½d., and the extra candles 2½d., in all 1s. 5½d. to be taken from 5s. 10d.; and this leaves 4s. 4½d. as my clear earnings for the week at the commonest kind of work. Of the 1s. 7d. I think I could do about five dozen in the week, though I'm often for months and don't have any of that kind to do; and five dozen at 1s. 7d. comes to 7s. 11d., and then there's 6d. a dozen to be deducted. I have to find this silk for them," she said, producing a small trayfull of little "cushions" of silk wherewith to join the clasp to the slide. "Then deducting the silk for five dozen at 6d. - that is 2s. 6d. - from 7s. 11d., there will be 5s. 5d., and this, with 2½d. less for candles, will leave 5s. 2½d. clear for my week's work at the best kind of work to be had in the trade. I think, taking one kind of work with another, I could earn 5s. a week, clear of all expenses, if I could get it. But I can't have it. My employer has not it to give, or else he would. I am paid as I take my work in; not at the week's end; but whenever I go to the warehouse with a dozen or two done, they give me the money for it. I have no book, and never had one. Last week I earned about 3s. clear; the week before I think I got about 4s.; and the week before that I think about the same. You see, I don't keep it in my memory. I believe I am considered to do them as quick as the most of the trade. I was better supplied at the beginning of the year than I have been lately. I should say I got full 5s. clear at the commencement of the year; but since August I am sure I haven't made above 4s. a week, and some weeks not that. I have the web clasps and slides direct from the warehouse. For upwards of twenty years I have worked for the same employer. For the last ten years I have been working regularly at the garter-making. I have never found the trade slack at one time and brisk at another, in the course of the year. Sometimes orders do come in, and I am hurried then more than usual; but till within the last three months I have had constant employment, and made upon an average 5s. a week clear. The prices have been always the same to me; indeed my master has been very kind to me, and not lowered the prices till now; but they are beginning to talk about it - they told me when I was last at the warehouse that I must do them for something cheaper; for they were obliged to sell so low. I don't know how much they intend to reduce the price. Whatever it is, I shall feel the loss of it very severely. I pay 2s. a week rent, and am obliged to be very near. I was 59 last August, and have nothing to look forward to but the workhouse, unless the Goldsmiths' Company will do something for me. That is all I have to look forward to. I have not the energy I used to have, nor the spirits - oh dear, no! I am single, and my father was a silversmith. He has been dead about 16 years, and my mother ten. I had no rent to pay while they were alive. My father was a working silversmith, and had the pension from the Goldsmiths' Company before he died, and he had the City pension as well; and mother and me worked at the brace work. These were his things. I had no brothers nor sisters, and they came to me after his and mother's death. I've been obliged to part with some because I was in need of money; and, indeed, I only see now the prospect of parting with them all. I can't maintain myself a great while longer by my work, I'm certain; and then I have nothing left but to live on them, as long as they will last, and, after all, to end my days in the workhouse. It's impossible for me to save a farthing. I can barely live on what I get. Indeed, the anxiety of my life at present, having my living to get, and to get my rent up, is such that I certainly would do anything I could to avoid it; but still I have such a struggle to live and pay my way that I'm tired of it. I have been upon my own hands about ten years, that is, ever since my mother's death. Father was afflicted with rheumatic gout for fourteen years before his death, and all I earned then went to him. I have nothing in pawn, and I owe no rent, nor any money in the neighbourhood. If there was another election for the daughters of the freemen of the Goldsmiths' Company, I should apply; but then, of course, I can't say whether I should be successful or not. All I know is, I've worked hard all my life, and been unable to get anything more than would barely keep me. As for putting by anything out of it for my old age, it was ridiculous to think: 6d. a day is all I have had to find me in coals, clothes, and food for these ten years past. I find it very irksome that I should be forced to be a pauper in my old age, but it is impossible for me to have done otherwise than I have. I have cut and contrived every way to get a decent living out of the little I got, but now even that little is beginning to fail me. I've had my mother's clothes, you see, and they've lasted me pretty well, and I haven't had much to buy that way. I am quite alone in the world. If a place in some almshouse could be got for me, that would be a real blessing indeed - worth more to me than all the money in the world."
At the latter part of last week I received a letter, informing me that a woman, residing in one of the courts about Saffron-hill, was making braces, and receiving only 1s. for four dozen of them. I was assured she was a most deserving character, strictly sober, and not receiving parochial relief. "Her husband," my informant added, "was paralyzed, and endeavoured to assist his family by gathering green food for birds. They are in deep distress, but their character is irreproachable." It was late on Saturday night that the above communication reached me; in the afternoon of the next day I set out to seek the dwelling of the poor couple. I found them located up a court, the entrance to which was about as narrow as the opening to a sentry-box, and on each side lolled groups of labourers and costermongers, with short black pipes in their mouths. As I dived into the court a crowd followed me to see whither I was going. The brace-maker lived on the first floor of a crazy, foetid house. I ascended the stairs, and the banisters, from which the rails had been all purloined, gave way in my hands. I found the woman, man, and their family busy at their tea-dinner. In a large broken chair, beside the fireplace, was the old paralyzed man, dressed in a ragged greasy fustian coat, his beard unshorn, and his hair in the wildest disorder. On the edge of the bed sat a cleanly-looking woman, his wife, with a black apron on. Standing by the table was a blue-eyed, laughing, and shoeless boy, with an old camlet cape pinned over his shoulders. Next to him was a girl in a long grey pinafore, with her hair cut close to her head, with the exception of a few locks in front, which hung down over her forehead like a dirty fringe. On a chair near the window stood a basket half full of chickweed and groundsel, and two large cabbages. There was a stuffed linnet on the mantelpiece, and an empty cage hanging outside the window. In front of the window-sill was the small imitation of a gate and palings, so popular among the workpeople. On the table were a loaf, a few mugs of milkless tea, and a small piece of butter in a saucer. I had scarcely entered when the mother began to remove the camlet cape from the boy's shoulders, and to slip a coarse clean pinafore over his head instead. Her earnings I found were 1s. a week; but she shall tell her own story: -
"I do brace-sewing for india-rubber braces. I stitch the straps on to the india-rubber web. I take them from a person that has them from the warehouse. She is a brace-sewer as well. I don't know why I can't have them from the warehouse, I'm sure. I've done them for this person for these three years. They are given out to her with the straps pierced ready for stitching, and she gives them out to me. She does nothing at all to 'em, only takes 'em out. I have never heard whether she gives any security to the warehouse. The party from whom I have them keeps three girls, from twelve to fifteen years old, in her house, to work for her. I should say she employs as many as nine or ten grown up, out of doors, besides the girls. She don't let us know what she is paid. I never heard anyone say how much she got. She works herself at the business. She has only one room, like myself. I can't tell, I'm sure, what she makes. I'm sure she makes full a shilling a week, or more, out of each hand she employs. She's got a comfortable home. I think she has meat very near every day for dinner, and I know she always has a good meat dinner of a Sunday." "Why don't you get the work yourself from the warehouse - I suppose a shilling is of some importance to you?" I said. "Oh, yes, sir, they both exclaimed together." "Why, it's as much as I can earn. I can't do no more than four dozen, and that's all I gets for 'em. She gives me a part of the best work, it's true; that comes to 1s. 3d. for the four dozen; but then I has to sit up late to get that. I have 3d. a dozen for the common. Generally what I has is common, and if the long straps are stitched all round, I have 5d. a dozen; that's the highest price that I have ever had, and I have been upwards of three years at the business. I can't accomplish a dozen of the threepenny quite in a day. I finish them the next morning. I work from about eight o'clock in the morning, and I have been at work as late as eleven o'clock at night. I generally leave off at half-past eight or nine. My day's work is always twelve hours - never no less, often more when I'm full employed. Working twelve hours I can do about eight or nine pair in the day of the common, and half-a-dozen of the best in the same time. I can't accomplish more than four dozen of the common at 3d. in the week, with doing for my little family, as well you know. I have two children, seven and ten years old. I've never had a full week of the best. I dare say I couldn't do more than three dozen of them, but I never tried. My earnings are about 1s. to 1s. 3½d. every week, working six days of twelve hours. I was very slack of work last week - very slack indeed. I made 5½d. last week, because the work falls off in the winter, and in about another week we shan't have any till about January or February again. The week before last I made 6d.; the week before that, let me see - oh, 1s. The most that ever I did earn in one week at the work was 1s. 3½d.; that's the very highest. I was obligated to sit up late to earn that - as late as eleven o'clock; but not every night - three nights a week; yes, quite as much as that. Generally, when I am full of work, I earn 1s. a week; but not now I can't. Out of that shilling I have to find cotton. Let me see - that's 1½d. an ounce, and half an ounce don't accomplish four dozen pair quite; three-quarters don't quite accomplish it. Sometimes I buy a ball. I should say the cotton costs me just upon 1d. I burn halfpenny candles in general. I burn above one - aye, one - and-a-half I'll say, to be as near as possible - that's about nine candles for six nights, and that's 4½d. a week. But, you see, I must have a candle if I wasn't at work. I should go to bed earlier, though, if it wasn't for my work. A halfpenny candle, I think, would last us a couple of nights if it weren't for my work. My work, I should think, costs me three halfpence extra every week for my candles. My weekly expenses for my work, then, are about 2½d. for cotton and candles. It will cost me 2½d. to earn 1s. in the week; so that all I get clear is 9½d. When I make 1s. 3d., I use the best part of an ounce of cotton; the stitched work takes a great deal. I think it costs me at least 3d. to get that much. I'm sure I burn three halfpenny-worth of candles extra in the week. My greatest clear earnings that I ever made was 1s. - that is, besides all expense. The trade is getting very slack now. The slack is always in the winter - begins five or six weeks before Christmas. The work began to fall off a little last week. The slack lasts till about the end of February. Altogether I'm slack three months every year. For nine months in the year I clear 9½d. every week. I shan't have any work at all, I don't expect, above another fortnight. Through the slack I should say I get about 4½d. every week: out of that I have to pay my cotton - about ½d., I should say, that comes to. Then I make clear, at the brace sewing, 4d. a week for three months in the year, and 9½d. a week for the other nine months. I don't know what the slack is owing to; never heard say. Taking one week with another, slack time and brisk time, I dare say I do clear about 8d. a week, not more; oh no! When I first worked for the party as gives the work to me, those that I get 3d. a dozen for now were 3½d. then, and those that I get 5d. for now were 6d. The price fell the summer before last. She told us that they had lowered the price at the warehouse. I can't tell why they lowered it at the warehouse. I never worked for anybody else at that work. I can't say whether the people who work second-handed at brace-sewing, like I do, get the same. Never heard tell of anyone getting more or less. I'm rather a quick hand at the business. That is the extent that I earn. I can't hardly tell you how we do live upon it at times. My husband sells chickweed and grunsell, and gets from 4s. 6d. to 5s. a week. My boy earns nothing, nor does my girl. My little boy did go to the ragged school, but he hasn't any shoes at present, so I haven't sent him lately. The girl has been to a free school, but not lately. To say the truth, their clothes are so bad that I'm ashamed to send them. I never let them down stairs in the court to play. He shall go as soon as ever I can get him a pair of shoes. We don't keep books. I never have had one." I then sought to ascertain from the man some account of his trade. The following is his statement: - "I sell chickeed and grunsell, and turfs for larks. That's all I sell, unless it's a few nettles that's ordered. I believe they're for tea, sir. I gets the chickweed at Chalk Farm. I pay nothing for it. I gets it out of the public fields. Every · morning about seven I goes for it. The grunsell a gentleman gives leave to get out of his garden: that's down Battle-bridge way, in the Chalk-road, leading to Holloway. I gets there every morning about nine. I goes there straight. After I've got my chickweed, I generally gathers enough of each to make up a dozen halfpenny bunches. The turfs I buys. A young man calls here with them. I pay 2d. a dozen for 'em to him. He gets them himself. Sometimes he cuts 'em at Kilburn Wells; and Notting-hill he goes to sometimes, I believe. He hires a spring barrow weekly to take them about. He pays 4d. a day, I believe, for the barrow. He sells the turfs to the bird shops, and to such as me. He sells a few to some private places. I gets the nettles at Highgate. I don't do much in the nettle line-there ain't much call for it. After I've gathered my things I puts them in my basket, and slings 'em at my back, and starts round London. Low Marrabun I goes to always of a Saturday and Wednesday. I goes to St. Pancras on a Tuesday. I visit Clerkenwell, and Russell-square, and round about there, on a Monday. I goes down about Covent-garden and the Strand on a Thursday. I does High Marrabun on a Friday, because I ain't able to do so much on that day, for I gathers my stuff on the Friday for Saturday. I find Low Marrabun the best of my beats. I say chickweed and grunsell as I goes along. I don't say 'for young singing birds.' It is usual, I know, but 1 never did. I've been at the business about eighteen year. I'm out in usual till about five in the evening. I never stop to eat. I'm walking all the time. I has my breakfast afoore I starts, and my tea when I comes home." Here the woman shivered. I turned round and found the fire was out. I asked them whether they usually sat without one. The answer was, "We most generally raise a pennyworth, somehow, just to boil the kettle with." I inquired whether she was cold, and she assured me she wasn't. "It was the blood," she said, "that ran through her like ice sometimes." "I am a-walking ten hours every day-wet or dry," the man continued. "I don't stand nice much about that. I can't go much above one mile and a half an hour, owing to my right side being paralyzed. My leg and foot and all is quite dead. I goes with a stick." [The wife brought the stick out from a corner of the room to show me. It was an old peculiarly carved one, with a bird rudely cut out of wood for the handle, and a snake twisting itself up the stick.] "I walk 15 miles every day of my life, that I do - quite that - excepting Sunday, in course. I generally sell the chickweed and grunsell and turfs, all to the houses, not to the shops. The young man as cuts the turf gathers grunsell as well for the shops. They're tradespeople and gentlefolks' houses together that I sells to - such as keps canaries, or goldfinches, or linnets. I charge ½d. a bunch for chickweed and grunsell together. The turfs is four a penny. The nettles is ordered in certain quantities. I don't get them unless they're ordered. I sells these in three-pennorths at a time. Why, Saturday is my best day, and that's the reason why I can't spare time to gather on that day. On Saturday I dare say I gets rid on two dozen bunches of chickweed and grunsell. On the other days sometimes I goes out and don't sell above five or six bunches; at other times I get rid on a dozen; that I call a tidy day's work for any other day but a Saturday; and some days I don't sell as much as a couple of bunches in the whole day. Wednesday is my next best day after Saturday. On a Wednesday sometimes I sell a dozen and a half. In the summer I does much better than in the winter. They gives it more to the birds then, and changes it oftener. I've seed a matter of eight or nine people that sell chickweed and grunsell like myself in the fields where I goes to gather it. They mostly all goes to where I do to get mine. There are a great many that sells grunsell about the streets in London like I do. I dare say there is a hundred, and more nor that, taking one place with another. I takes my nettles to ladies' houses. They considers the nettles good for the blood, and drinks 'em at tea, mostly in the spring and autumn. In the spring I generally sells three threepennorths of em a week, and in the autumn about two three pennorths. The ladies I sell the nettles to are mostly sickly, but sometimes they ain't, and has only a breaking out in the skin, or in their face. The nettles are mostly taken in Low Marrabun. I gathers more than all for Great Titchfleld-street. The turfs I sells mostly in London-street, in Marrabun, and John-street, and Carburton-street, and Portland-street, and Berners, and all about there. I sells about three dozen of turfs a week. I sells them at three and four a penny. I charges em three a penny to gentlefolks and four a penny to tradespeople. I pays 2d. a dozen for 'em, and so makes from a 1d. to 2d. a dozen out of 'em. I does trifling with these in the winter - about two dozen a week, but always three dozen in the summer. Of the chickweed and grunsell I sells from six to seven dozen bunches a week in the summer, and about four or five dozen bunches in the winter. I sell mostly to regular customers, and a very few to chance ones that meet me in the street. The chance customers come mostly in the summer time. Altogether I should say, with my regular and chance customers, 1 make from 4s. to 5s. a week in the summer, and from 3s. to 4s. in the winter. That's as near as I can tell. Last Monday I was out all day, and took 1½d.; Tuesday I took about 5½d.; Wednesday I got 9½d.; Thursday I can't hardly recollect - not to tell the truth about it. But oh, dear me! yes, I wasn't allowed to go out on that day. We was given to understand nothing was allowed to be sold on that day. They told us it were the Thanksgiving-day. I was obliged to fast on that day. We did have a little in the morning, a trifle, but not near enough. Friday I came home with nigh upon 6d., and Saturday I got 1s., and 3d. after when I went out at night. I goes into Leather-lane every Saturday night, and stands with my basket there; so that altogether last week I made 3s. 1½d. But that was a slack week with me, owing to my having lost Thursday. If it hadn't been for that I should have made near upon 4s. We felt the loss very severely. Prices have come down dreadful with us. The same bunches as I sell now for ½d. I used to get 1d. for nine or ten years ago. I dare say I could earn then, take one day with another, such a thing as 7s. a week, summer and winter through. There's so many at it now to what there was afore, that it's difficult to get a living, and the ladies are very hard with a body. They tries to beat me down, and particular in the matter of turfs. They tell me they can buy half a dozen for ld., so I'm obligated to let 'em have three or four. There's a many women at the business. I hardly know which is the most, men or women. There's pretty nigh as much of one as the other, I think. I am a bed-sacking weaver by trade. When I worked at it I used to get 15s. a week regularly. But I was struck with paralysis nearly nineteen years ago, and lost the use of all one side; so I was obleeged to turn to summut else. Another grunseller told me on the business, and what he got, and I thought I couldn't do no better. That's a favourite linnet. We had that one stuffed there. A young man that I knew stuffed it for me. I was very sorry when the poor thing died. I've got another little linnet up there." "I'm particular fond of little birds," said the wife. "I never was worse off than I am now. I pays 2s. a week rent, and we has, take one time with another, about 3s. for the four of us to subsist upon for the whole seven days; yes, that, take one time with another, is generally what I do have. We very seldom has any meat. This day week we got a pound of pieces. I gave 4d. for 'em. Everything that will pledge I've got in pawn. I've been obleeged to let them go. I can't exactly say how much I've got in pledge, but you can see the tickets." [The wife brought out a tin box full of duplicates. They were for the usual articles - coats, shawls, shirts, sheets, handkerchiefs; indeed almost every article of wearing apparel and bedding. The sums lent were mostly 6d. and 9d., while some ran as high as 2s. The dates of many were last year, and these had been backed for three months.] "I've been paying interest for many of the things there for seven years. I pay for the backing 2½d., that is, 1d. for the backing, and 1½d. for the three months' interest. I pay 6d. a year interest on every one of the tickets. If it's only 3d., I have to pay ½d. a month interest just the same, but nothing for the ticket when we put it in." [The number of duplicates is 26, and the gross sum amounts to £1 4s. 8d. One of the duplicates is for 4d., nine were for 6d., two for 9d., nine for 1s., two for 1s. 6d., one for 1s. 3d., one for 1s. 7d., and two for 2s.] "The greatest comfort I should like to have would be something more on our beds. We lay dreadful cold of a night, on account of being thin clad. I have no petticoats at all. We have no blankets - of late years I haven't had any. The warm clothing would be the greatest blessing I could ask. I'm not at all discontented at my lot. That wouldn't mend it. We strive and do the best we can, and may as well be contented over it. I think it God's will we should be as we are. Providence is kind to me, even badly off as we are. I know it's all for the best."