[back to menu for this book]
Monday, February 4, 1850
I now return to my investigations into the condition of the artisans of London. The present letter will be the first of a short series upon the state of the Metropolitan Boot and Shoe Makers. I select this class in preference to others on account of its numerical importance in the State, for it will be seen by the following table that the boot and shoe makers, in point of numbers, are the first of handicraftsmen, strictly so called: -
TABLE OF THE OCCUPATION OF THE PRINCIPAL CLASSES OF THE PEOPLE OF GREAT BRITAIN, ARRANGED IN THE ORDER OF THEIR NUMBERS.
Domestic servants 1,143,009
Labourers (agricultural) 1,127,115
" (general) 386,157
Farmers and graziers 300,123
Cotton manufacturers (all branches) 280,889
Boot and shoe makers 214,780
Almspeople, pensioners, and beggars 164,905
Carpenters and joiners 162,977
Tailors and breeches-makers 126,137
Weavers (branch not specified) 110,037
Dressmakers and milliners 106,801
Woollen and cloth manufacturers (all branches) 97,353
Masons, paviours and statuaries 82,653
Flax and linen manufacturers (all branches) 61,754
Silk ditto (ditto) 58,245
Schoolmasters, schoolmistresses and assistants, tutors or governesses 54,787
Laundry-keepers, washers, and manglers 51,289
On reference to the above table, it will
be found that those who are engaged in domestic servitude constitute the largest
body of people in Great Britain - thus showing the extreme wealth and luxury of
the country which can afford to maintain out of its earnings so many individuals
as mere helps at home. The next greatest class are those who are employed in
producing and rearing food, vegetable and animal, for the nation. After those
who help to feed, come those who are occupied in clothing, the people - the
cotton manufacturers and the boot and shoe makers. Then follow such as are
employed in extracting the mineral treasures from the soil - the metals and the
coals, to which we owe so much of our national greatness. Next in order come the
army of paupers, and beggars, and almsmen, who live on the industry and
benevolence of their countrymen. Immediately following these are the workers in
wood - those who help to build and furnish our houses. Then we have the people
who make our garments - the tailors for the men's apparel, the milliners and
dressmakers for the women's, and the weavers for both. After them come the
workers in wool, in iron, in stone, in flax, and in silk. Then follow the
clerks, to tell the wealth of our capitalists; and the schoolmasters and
teachers, to tend the minds of our children, next in numerical importance stand
those who rear the flowers, the fruits, and the pleasures of our tables; and
after them those that cleanse and purify our linen.
The boot and shoe makers, are then, numerically, the most important of all our handicraftsmen, having no less than 214,780 individuals belonging to the class; whereas the tailors are only 126,137 in number.
Of the mode in which the boot and shoe makers are distributed through the country, and of the principal centres of their labours, the following table will give us a comprehensive idea: -
NUMBER OF BOOT AND SHOE MAKERS IN THE DIFFERENT COUNTIES OF GREAT BRITAIN
Total for Wales 9463
Scotland: Aberdeen 2033
NUMBER OF BOOT AND SHOE MAKERS IN THE DIFFERENT COUNTIES OF GREAT BRITAIN
York: East Riding 2602
City and Ainsty 620
North Riding 2965
West Riding 11531
Total for England 176445
Wales: Anglesey 584
Elgin, or Moray 451
Orkney & Shetland 384
Ross & Cromarty 563
Total for Scotland 26,837
Islands in the British Seas 2035
Total for Great Britain ... 214,780
London, says Mr. McCulloch, in his 'Statistics of the British
Empire,' "is the principal seat of the boot and shoe making business - not
fewer than 23,775 persons, of whom 18,867 were males of more than twenty years
of age, having been employed in it, in 1841, in Middlesex only. Exclusive of the
shoes made in London, large quanttttes are brought to its markets from
Northamptonshire and Staffordshire, counties in which the manufacture of shoes,
over and above what are required for their own supply, is carried on to a very
considerable extent. In Northampton, Wellington, lrthlingborough, Kettering, and
other places in Northamptonshire, about 5,000 males, of twenty years and
upwards, exclusive of women and children, are employed in the manufacture of
shoes for export to other parts of the country, and to foreign countries. In the
town of Stafford the manufacturers employed, in 1841, 1,135 males and 143
females. It is also extensively carried on, especially of late years, in
Norwich. It was formerly carried on to a considerable extent in Congleton and
Sandbach, in Cheshire, but it has been superseded in the first by the
manufacture of cotton, and in the latter by that of silk. Leather slippers are
largely produced at Bicester, in Oxfordshire,"
Such, then are the numbers and proportion of shoemakers generally distributed throughout the country. Of that particular portion of them located in London, and whom this letter more especially concerns, I now proceed to treat. First let me show the numerical relation of the London shoe makers to the other trades carried on in the metropolis:-
POPULATION OF THE PRINCIPAL OCCUPATIONS IN THE METROPOLIS
Boot and shoemakers.
Tailors and breeches makers
Dressmakers and milliners
Carpenters & joiners
Porters, messengers, and errand-boys
Painters, plumbers, and and glaziers
|Cabinet -makers and upholsterers||7,973|
|Seamsters and seamstresses||6,269|
|Coachmen and guards, &c||5,428|
|Weavers (all branches) ...||5,065|
Hence it will be seen that the class of whom I am treating are the most numerous of all the handcraftsmen, not only in Great Britain, but likewise in the metropolis. The London population of boot and shoe makers is composed as follows:-
BOOT AND SHOE MAKERS IN THE METROPOLIS IN 1841.
Males - Above 20 years of age 22,400
" Under 20 years of age 2,457
Females - Above 20 years of age 3,157
Under 20 yearsof age 560
But the 28,574 individuals here given consist of both employers and employed, and in an inquiry like the present it is as necessary to distinguish the capitalist from the workpeople as to know how the ages of the parties working. The Occupation Abstract of the Population Returns affords us no means of making this distinction. We may, however, collect from the "London Post-office Directory," the number of persons in business for themselves. These are as follow:-
MASTER BOOT AND SHOE MAKERS-(From the "London Post-office Directory, 1849")
and shoe factors ... 3
Wholesale boot and shoe makers ... 73
Retail boot and shoe makers ... 2008
Of this number there are 89 who are ladies' shoe makers; 2 belonging to the
wholesale, and 87 to the retail trade.
Besides the above, there are:-
Wholesale stay and shoe makers ... 7
Shoe and stay mercers ... 5
Total number of master shoemakers in London. 2,096
Deducting the masters from the entire number of boot and shoe makers in the metropolis, we have for the total number of working men and women 26,478
There are then 2,096 master boot and shoe makers, and 26,478 workpeople.
Supposing the proportions to be nearly the same in the country, there would be about 15,000 masters and 200,000 operatives in the
whole of Great Britain.
Concerning the aggregate earnings of the entire body, Mr. Macculloch makes the following estimate:-
"It is sometimes supposed that the expenditure upon shoes may be taken, at an average of the whole population, at 10s. a year for each individual, young and old, which, taking the population at 20,000,000, would give 10,000,0001. for the total value; but, taking the value of the shoes at 8s. only, it gives 8,000,0001. for the amount."
Assuming the value to be between the two, or £9,000,000
sterling, and supposing this sum to be divided into thirds - one-third going to
the currier for the cost of the leather, another to the master for the profit on
the use of his capital, and the remaining third to the workpeople for the
manufacture of the commodities - then the income of the 15,000 master boot and
shoe makers would be £3,000,000, or £200 a year, or near upon £4 a week each
- and that of the 200,000 workpeople, £3,000,000, or £15 a year, or nearly 6s.
a week per head.
I am informed by one of the most intelligent of the workmen, that several years ago an average of the earnings of the entire metropolitan trade was taken, when the weekly income of each man was found to amount to 15s. Of the particulars from which this calculation was made I have been unable to obtain any information. In March, 1838, however, a meeting of the London Eastern or City Society of Journeymen Boot and Shoe Makers of the men's branches was held at the Hall of Science, City-road, when it was resolved, "that, with a view to arrive at a true knowledge of their actual condition, it be rendered obligatory upon each member of the society to give in, by the next general meeting night, a full and accurate statement of the wages which he has received weekly during the term of four weeks, beginning on the 19th of February and ending on the 19th March, 1838, so that by a calculation of those facts an average of the receipts of the journeymen boot and shoe makers of the eastern division of London might be arrived at."
For the better carrying out of this resolution the society was divided into seven sectional parts. Each of these sections is given in the tables below, together with the numbers of married and unmarried persons included therein, and every other particular that was required to be stated; and the information then collected has been kindly placed at my disposal by Mr. Devlin, one of the most intelligent of the body. The bootclosers are placed first in the table, the bootmen second, and the shoemen (with whom are incorporated the pumpmen and the jobbers) in the third and last statement. Ch. means children; Ass., such children as assisted their parents; and App., apprentices. The total strength of the society at that time consisted of 588 members, of whom 511 furnished returns: -
|Section||Unmarried||Month's Receipts||Married||Month's Receipts||Ch.||Ass.||App.|
The following is an average of the earnings per week of the several hands
engaged in the different departments of the trade above given: -
73 boot closers, with 29 assistants, in all 102 hands, earning collectively 315l. 13s. 6d. per month, gives an average income to each hand per week l5s 5¾d.
313 bootmen, with 11 assistants, in all 324 hands, earning collectively 1,039l. 11s. 5d. per month, gives an average income to each hand per week 16 0½
84 shoemen, with 4 assistants, in all 88 hands, earning collectively 208l. 19s. 1d. per month, gives an average income to each hand per week 11 10 ¼
470 closers, bootmen, and shoemen, with 44 assistants, in all 514 hands, earning collectively 1,564l. 4s. per month, gives an average income to each hand per week 15 2¾
The differences of individual earnings were as follows, at their maximum and their minimum condition; the other receipts varying between the extremes: -
MINIMUM OF THE EARNINGS OF BOOTMAKERS
|Class of Workman||Least Earnings|
|In the Month||In the Week|
|Closer||£0 16 3||£3 1 4||..||£0 6 10|
|Bootman||1 15 0||3 2 9||..||0 13 0|
|Shoeman||1 18 0||2 3 0||..||0 7 0|
MAXIMUM OF THE EARNINGS OF BOOTMAKERS
|Class of Workman||Greatest Earnings|
|In the Month||In the Week|
|Closer||£17 15 0||£10 3 5||£2 4 0||£3 1 9|
|Bootman||8 0 6||7 19 6||2 11 0||2 1 8|
|Shoeman||4 7 0||5 3 3||1 4 6||1 11 7|
It is to be feared that since these returns were obtained the earnings of the journeymen have seriously declined; indeed, if the Population Returns of 1831 and 1841 are to be credited, the number of hands in the boot and shoemaking trade increased to so great an extent that this circumstance alone could not but tend necessarily to depreciate the journeymen's wages:
RATE OF INCREASE IN THE BOOT AND SHOE MAKING TRADE
Boot and shoe makers and menders in Great Britain:
Males -Of 20 years and upwards, in 1831 ... 133,248
Of 20 years and upwards, in 1841 ... 175,769
Increase in ten years ... 42,521
According to the regular increase of the population (at the
rate of 10 per cent in ten years), the boot and shoe makers, above twenty years
of age, should, from 1831 to 1841, have increased only 13,324; whereas, by
reference to the above returns, it will be seen that the rate of increase during
that period was more than three times that amount.
Of the average rate of wages now received by the journeymen of London generally, I am not at present in a position to speak with confidence.
Of the moral and physical condition of the class, the following facts, obtained from the Government Returns, will enable us to form some rough estimate:
INMATES OF PRISONS IN ENGLAND AND WALES IN 1841
Number of individuals in prison whose occupation was returned 14,169, or 1 in every
Ditto, labourers 4,531, or 1 in every 140 individuals
Ditto, boot and shoemakers 528, or 1 in every 355 individuals
Ditto, tailors 320, or 1 in every 340 individuals
INMATES OF THE UNIONS IN ENGLAND AND WALES IN 1841
Number of individuals in the unions whose occupation was returned 24,001, or 1 in every
Ditto, labourers 5,962, or 1 in every 120 individuals
Ditto, boot and shoemakers 845, or 1 in every 222 individuals
Ditto, tailors 450, or 1 in every 242 individuals
INMATES OF THE LUNATIC ASYLUMS IN ENGLAND AND WALES IN 1841
of individuals in the lunatic asylums whose occupation was returned.. 5,381, or
1 in every 1,679 individuals
Ditto, labourers 820, or 1 in every 1845 individuals
Ditto, boot and shoemakers 160, or 1 in every 1342 individuals
Ditto, tailors 106, or 1 in every 1189 individuals
INMATES OF THE HOSPITALS IN ENGLAND AND WALES IN 1841
of individuals in the hospitals whose occupation was returned 7,923, or 1 in every 1,803
Ditto, labourers 1,416, or 1 in every 1068 individuals
Ditto, boot and shoemakers 166, or 1 in every 1293 individuals
Ditto,tailors 108, or 1 in every 1167 individuals
of individuals taken into custody for drunkenness in the metropolis in 1848 ...
16461, or 1 in every 113 individuals
Ditto, labourers ... 2198 or 1 in every 22 individuals
Ditto, boot and shoemakers ... 366 or 1 in every 78 individuals
Ditto, tailors ... 537 or 1 in every 43 individuals
of individuals taken into custody for
common assaults in the metropolis in 1848 ... 7780, or 1 in every 240
Ditto, labourers 1,882, or 1 in every 26 individuals
Ditto, boot and shoemakers 277, or 1 in every 103 individuals
Ditto, tailors 264, or 1 in every 85 individuals
of individuals taken into custody for simple larceny in the metropolis in 1848
... 17040, or 1 in every 266 individuals
Ditto, labourers ... 1740, or 1 in every 28 individuals
Ditto, boot and shoemakers ... 225, or 1 in every 127 individuals
Ditto, tailors ... 142, or 1 in every 165 individuals
of individuals taken into custody as vagrants in the metropolis in 1848 ...
5598, or 1 in every 334 individuals
Ditto, labourers ...1095, or 1 in every 46 individuals
Ditto, boot and shoemakers ... 92, or 1 in every 310 individuals
Ditto, tailors ... 63, or 1 in every 373 individuals
ASYLUMS FOR HOUSELESS POOR
for 17 years of the number of individuals
sheltered in the asylums for the houseless poor in the metropolis 7,296, or 1 in every
Ditto, labourers 3,110, or 1 in every 14 individuals
Ditto, boot and shoemakers 218, or 1 in every 130 individuals
Ditto, tailors 132, or 1 in every 177 individuals
Referring to the above tables, we shall find that the
labourers are at once the most criminal and pauperized - the most intemperate,
pugnacious, and vagrantly inclined of the three classes; while the numbers of
those at the hospitals and the lunatic asylums show that they are the most
liable to accidents, and the least liable to insanity. Compared with the
tailors, the bootmakers, it will be seen, have a fewer number of intemperate
men, and commit fewer assaults than their brother artisans. There are, however,
a greater number of tramps or vagrants among their body; while, from the returns
of the metropolitan police, it would appear that the shoemakers are more
inclined to petty larceny. Again, they are less liable to accidents, or more
healthy and robust, and less disposed to madness, than the tailors, who are
known to be particularly prone to consumption, and who, from the above returns,
would appear to be peculiarly subject to aberration of mind. The number of
paupers among the boot and shoe makers seems to be below the average number of
other callings, though more than the tailors.
The boot and shoe makers are certainly far from being an unintellectual body of men. They appear to be a stern, uncompromising, and reflecting race. This, perhaps, is to be accounted for by the solitude of their employment developing their own internal resources, and producing that particular form of mental temperament which is generally accompanied with austerity of manner. The Spitalfields weavers I found to be distinguished for the tastefulness and gentleness of their pursuits. They were remarkable as flower and bird fanciers. This was perhaps due to their French extraction. They were not deep thinkers, but men of natural taste. The shoemakers are distinguished for the severity of their manners and habits of thought, and the suspicion that seems to pervade their character.
Mr. Devlin, one of the body himself, speaking of the "gentle craft," says in his book entitled the "Shoemaker : -
"This trade, as well as other trades, has its pleasures, its excitements, and its opportunities of advancement; and in its names of renown, where is the fraternity can show either a longer or a more honourable catalogue? The shrewd, eccentric, and fortunate Lackington - himself originally a shoemaker, and afterwards the most extensive bookseller in London, amassing a very large fortune, and always taking pride in the strange and humble story of its beginning - purposed, as we gather from his 'Memoirs,' the writing of a no less sized volume than a 'folio' on this very subject. He did not, however, do so, though there are materials enough - Sir Cloudesley Shovel, the admiral; and Mingh, another admiral; and Fox, the founder of the important sect of Friends; and the compatriot of Luther, Hans Sachs, the poet of Nuremburg; and another German, the celebrated Jacob Bohmen; and the learned Baudouin, who wrote himself an historical treatise on the ancient shoe; and a host of reverends -Thorpe, Huntingdon, Bradburn, Watson, Carey, Morrison; the occult Sibley, and the astronomical Partridge; the politicians Hurdy and Holcroft - the latter more than politician; and the strong-minded Gifford; and Drew; and William Parsons, the comparison of Franklin; and Robert Bloomfield, the poet, and his two brothers, George and Nathaniel - brothers in hardship as well as in blood; and Savage; and Blackett; and Strothers; and Bennett; and Woodhouse; and Elliot; and Gill; and Service; and Johnstone; and Gavin Wilson; and Fremolee, of Brussels; and Whittier, of the American Boston; and many others, together with some score of my own acquaintance; the list, in short, is almost unending of men who either drew force of character, learning, or inspiration, from the humble workshop of the shoemaker."
I now proceed to give a description of the trade of boot and
shoe making as it is conducted in the metropolis. In the first place, the
workpeople are divided into two classes - the "men's-men" and the
"women's-men," or the makers of the men's and the makers of the women's goods.
In addition to these two departments, there is the strong and the stop
trade. With each of these branches I purpose dealing separately. In the
present letter it is my intention to treat solely of the men's business, and
more particularly of that branch of it which is called the Western Division, as
contradistinguished from the City or Eastern Division of the trade. The
journeymen are divided into closers and makers - a distinction
which, in all the better description of shops is rigidly observed, and a
distinction moreover which is, I understand, peculiar to this country, and
rigorously maintained in London more than elsewhere. The French workman both
closes the boot and makes it, and in respect of skill in closing is decidedly
inferior to the English. In the United States the French system prevails, and in
the society laws of the trade a division of the branches is expressly forbidden
in nearly all the great American towns.
The closer - strictly - deals only with the upperpart of the boot or shoe; the maker afterwards affixes "the bottom stuff" - the insoles, soles, and heels - and so completes it. The material is given to the closer at the shop of his employer, having first gone through the hands of the clicker, or cutter-out. The clicker's share of the work must be done with the greatest nicety, so as to adapt the proportions of the leather he cuts to the measurement of the foot, or else, as a workman expressed it to me, "there can be no success in a boot." The closer's work is light compared to that of the maker, and a portion of it is done by women - indeed, the closing of the shoe is principally in the hands of females, many of them the wives and daughters of the workmen. The most "skilled" portion of the labour is, however, almost always done by the man; and invariably so. I understand, in the closing of top-boots (called "Jockeys" by the trade). Mr Devlin (to whose book of "The Shoemaker," with its clear practical knowledge and its pleasant antiquarian lore, evincing an extensive study of our older dramatic and general literature, I cheerfully acknowledge my obligation) says, of the closing and fashion of the hunting boots, "We have had the most - indeed, almost the sole - practice of them, the fashion and the wear being exclusively British. In Hungary, as I have read in some book of travels, when they put up The English Gentleman' as a sign, he is uniformly dressed in top-boots; so is he written of abroad in all personal descriptions; and so made to strut about in all dramatic entertainments, as if this sort of boot alone were our one grand characteristic. Latterly, however, we are falling from our individuality; top-boots have become scarce among us, and, consequently, top-boot closers also. The work on which the best hands are now employed is the closing of Wellingtons and button boots - the latter being comparatively a recent introduction. The establishment of new fashions, and the occasional demand for articles of the older and the foreign modes for fancy-dress balls, require great readiness and ingenuity in the adaptation of his skill in all the artisans employed - the clicker, the closer, and the maker. For some of her Majesty's fancy balls these artisans were hurriedly required to make boots and shoes of the form or fashion of which they were previously ignorant.
The closer's work, called "the legs," is handed, when completed, to the maker (called the boot or shoe man), who finishes it, as I have stated.
All descriptions of workmen in that part of the trade which I now treat of (the West-end union trade) work at their own abodes, where some have the aid of apprentices.
The division of labour above detailed ensures the production of the highest degree of excellence in the workmanship of a boot. The only inconvenience that I heard complained of, as a consequence of this division, was that the maker had sometimes to be idle until the closer finished his (the first portion of the labour). Indeed, such remarks as "I'm fast for want of my legs," or "I'm sitting still, waiting for my legs," are common among the makers.
In so extensive a manufacture there are, of course, many subdivisions among the operatives; but these are less numerous than they were. The "shoeman," for instance, was formerly a perfectly distinct class, the best shops employing men solely to make shoes. Now, the shoeman almost always is employed in the making of button or laced boots, as well as shoes, and in some shops "has his turn at the making of Wellington boots. Among the subdivisions are those of the jobbing closer, employed in repairing the upper part of the shoe or boot (technically termed "the vamp" or "the legs"); the pump-man, or the maker of a shoe with a single sole, or rather a shoe without a welt; and the goloshe-m an. The binders of shoes are women and girls, concerning whose condition I shall speak in another letter.
I now come to speak of the union of "men's-men" working at the Western division of the trade. The Union, or West-end body of Associated Shoemakers, consists, at the present time, of seven divisions, each division having its own place of meeting, and each meeting being officered by a clerk or secretary, as well as a delegate; the seven delegates of the seven divisions forming a committee, to whom is "delegated" the duty of taking all "returns" at the times of the assembly of the members - and as these returns are cast up in the total, so the sense of the whole seven divisions is obtained "for" or "against" any particular measure which has become the subject of shoemaker legislation. The only other officer of the society is a general secretary, who has a moderate permanent salary, sufficient to keep him without doing any other work - the present holder of the office being a functionary of long standing, and much esteemed by the body. This officer has furnished me with the following particulars in connection with the society: - Number of men in Union in the quarter ending April, 1849, 790; in the July quarter of the same year, 890; and in the September quarter, 860; while in January of the present year there were 820 names on the trade-books. "I find," he adds, in giving these figures, "there has been but little alteration in our numbers during the last twenty years."
"Wages," he also states, "in the first-rate shops, remained stationary from 1812 to 1830, when, after a struggle of six months, a reduction on the making and closing combined of a pair of boots took place, and shoes and jobbing were reduced in proportion. In 1838 a sort of equalization on the payments made by a lower class of employers was attempted with considerable success, and since that time things have in general remained in the same state in regard to the first and second-rate shops, although those of an inferior order have reduced more and more, and are also becoming daily more numerous than ever."
The immediate object of these unions is to uphold the rate of wages paid to the journeymen. For this purpose it has generally been the custom to publish a statement of the wages or prices paid by the employers for the different kinds of work after any alteration has been agreed upon. Before giving the tables of wages which have been adopted by the trade, I should, however, explain that the workmen are divided into flints, refractories, and scabs. The "flint" is the man who will not work for one farthing less than the wages recognised by his union; the "refractory" is the man who shirks the regulations, but still professes to be a union man; and the "scab" is the man who works for a lower rate of wages, and will work for a shop on strike at a reduced rate of wages, or in violation of any other rule of the union. The trade is also divided into legal (or "wages ) and i/legal (or "scab ) shops - respectively equivalent to what I described among the tailors as the honourable and dishonourable branches of the trade; and the legal shops are subdivided into high, low, and middling, according to the prices. The "legal" shops are those giving any of the scales of wages allowed by the unions; the "illegal" are those who get their work done at the lowest rate of wages that they can. Among the staunch men of the trade, the words "He's nothing but a scab," expresses a high degree of contempt.
I must now allude to the measures that have been resorted to by the workmen in order to effect an increase, or to prevent a decrease, in the rate of their remuneration - viz., the strikes. Many of the older workmen make these their epochs. "It was before (or after) the great strike of 1812" - or, "It was before the change in 1830," are not uncommon phrases. The strike of 1812, I am informed by an intelligent bootman, was for a rise of 6d. a pair on the wages both for closing and making, "all round" - that is, on every description of work in boots and shoes, together with certain allowances for "extras". The masters, at that time, after holding out for thirteen weeks, gave way, yielding to all the demands of the men. "The scabs had no chance in those days," said my informant, "the wages-men had it all their own way; they could do anything, and there were no slop-shops then. Some scabs went to Mr. Hoby 'occasioning' (that is, asking whether he 'had occasion for another hand'), but he said to them, 'I can do nothing; go to my masters (the journeymen) in the Parr's head, Swallow-street' (the sign of the public-house used by the men that managed the strike) ." This was the last general strike of the trade; for in 1830, though the shoemakers joined the grand union of all the trades, walking with them in procession with a petition on behalf of the Dorchester labourers - the procession, six deep, extending from Copenhagen-fields to Kennington-common - they did not "strike" for an advance, but only resisted the attempt of the masters to lower their wages.
Such, then, are the divisions, and the laws and customs of the craft. There is still one other important matter, in connection with the trade, that requires to be set forth before proceeding to give the statements of the men themselves. I refer to the alteration of the duties upon foreign boots which has taken place within the present century. To these the majority of the workmen attribute a considerable part of the decline of their wages. For, as regards the principles of free-trade, I found the shoemakers anything but ardent supporters of the new commercial policy - indeed they often enough expressed (as is natural) an opinion that in their own particular craft there should be some protection or legislative restriction as to wages. As a proof of the anti-free-trade feeling existing among the shoemakers, my attention was directed by one person to the following passage in a report issued by the Central Association of Metropolitan Trades in 1842:-
"Now, the only discernible
object of the proposers of the new tariff, if any object can be discerned through the mist of obscurity in which
involved, is to increase the amount of revenue on this and similar articles, by
encouraging their importation at considerably reduced duties. For this purpose,
then, the duty on
Women's leather boots and shoes is reduced 1s. 6d per pair
Men's boots 2s. 5d. "
Men's shoes 1s. 0d. "
The consequence of this reduction of duty will unquestionably be a vast increase of revenue - for, when a similar reduction took place in 1826, the revenue, in the short space of two years, rose from 6451. to 12,8351. But what were the consequences of this increase in 1828, to the workmen engaged in this branch of trade? Why, it deprived hundreds and thousands of their means of subsistence, and reduced them to such a state of destitution that 120 shoemakers were in the workhouse of the parish of Westminster alone, where previous to the reduction there had been only three. And what will be the consequences of the present reduction of duty? Why, the recurrence of that destitution and misery experienced in 1828.
In order to obtain a full statement from one of the most
intelligent members of the West-end trade as to the causes which the
journeymen shoemakers consider to have been instrumental in causing a reduction
in their earnings, I consulted the Society upon the subject. Hearing that there
was to be a meeting of twenty-one delegates from the various sections of the
Western Division, concerning the interests of the trade, and having been
informed that these delegates had been chosen, by the sections which they
represented as the most intelligent and experienced of the bodies to which they
belonged, I requested that the twenty-one when assembled would select, from
among them, one who could give me an account of the principal circumstances
affecting the trade.
I was furnished with the address of an individual who certainly was a favourable specimen of his class. He was a fine sample of the English artisan. His children (there were three) were especially remarkable for their cleanliness, telling of the careful matron, and they played about the room, while the man sat at work, in a manner that showed little restraint in the presence of their father. Indeed it was easy to see, as well by the tidiness of the room as by the conduct of the children, that both the workman and his wife were very superior persons. The man had clearly the interests of his class deeply at heart, and spoke of such failings of his brother artisans as were alluded to in conversation with much concern and an evident anxiety for their welfare. He was tolerant, dispassionate, and almost philosophic in his tone of thought, and had a strong literary taste and a love of reflection. He talked as he worked.
"I am a boot-closer, working for the best shop," he said. "I am not fully employed. I have an equal share of work with my shopmates, and try to fill up my spare time with what we call 'by-strokes' (that is by seeking for extra employment at other shops). I get the best prices. In the course of last season I have made, with an apprentice and my wife's assistance, and working Sunday and all the rest of the week, and sitting up for two entire nights in the course of that time - with all this I have made, I say, as much as £3. How much I myself earned of that sum I cannot say - I might have done half of it. I think I could earn 35s. for one week at a time in the season, but then I couldn't keep it up at that rate. I can myself, without any assistance, earn with comfort 27s. a week when I can get it. To do that much, however, I must sit at my work for 14 hours every day. Out of the 27s. I shall have to pay about 1s. 6d. for grindery, and 9d. for oil for my light. So that my clear weeks earnings at the best would be between 24s. and 25s. When I was a single man my average earnings throughout the year came to £1 2s. 6d. per week, but I had a good seat of work all that time. I think my average wages during that time were, in the season (that is from April to July), about 26s. a week, and out of the season about £1 a week. Single-handed I think I earn about the same now. A great number of closers earn less than I do; some may earn a little more. I think that, to take the average of the closers generally, throughout the town, their income would be about £1 a week. In some individual instances the weekly earnings might be as low as 15s.; but I know that the accounts taken of the earnings of the whole trade, in and out of union, in 1837, gave an average of 17s. a week to each of the 13,000 individuals who then followed the business in London. Since that time wages have gone down about 15 per cent. At this rate I calculate the average wages of our body would be about 15s. per man - some, of course, getting more, and others less. But the hands generally have less to do than what they had in 1838, owing to the greater number of people working at the trade. I should say that all through the trade, taking one hand with another, each man has 10 per cent, less work to do; so that I calculate, if an average was taken of our earnings now, the same as in 1837, it would be found that we should be earning generally 13s. 6d. a week each. In 1812 the boot-makers received their highest wages. If an average could have been taken then of the earnings of the trade, one with another, I think it would have been about 35s. per man. The great decrease (from 35s. to 13s. 6d. a week) that has taken place is not so much owing to the decrease of wages as to the increase of hands, and the consequent decrease of the work coming to each man. I know myself that my late master used to earn £2 per week on an average many years back, but of late years lam sure he has not made 15s. a week. I have, moreover, often heard it said that in former times three men (with two sons each to assist them) have drawn £21 as wages in one week from their employer. This gives very nearly £2 8s. per week per man, or 8s. each per day. And now a man must work hard to get 5s., even when fully employed. But he not only has less pay now, but has less work to do. There are a great many causes, I think, for this great reduction in our wages and our earnings.
These are chiefly - the importation of foreign goods, the increase of the Northampton goods, and the competition of the masters and the men themselves. Concerning the importation of French goods, I consider the effect they have in reducing our wages to be this: - Boots and shoes are produced in France and introduced into this country at a lower cost. The English masters, therefore, in order to compete with foreigners, reduce our wages as a necessary result. The reason why we cannot produce boots so cheap as the French is owing to the difference of rents, and the mode of living in France and England. I myself lived for some time in Boulogne, and my rent there was one-half less than what I paid here. A man, if he is short of work, may take it out of his stomach - he can eat a meal or two less; but he can't have it out of his rent - that must go on, either asleep or awake. Again, my living cost me much less in France than it does in this country, even now. I got only half the wages there that I did here, and yet I lived more happily and comfortably. The quantity of employment that I got there was much about the same as here. But these are not the only reasons why the French can produce cheaper than we can. The fact is, one workman there will have from six to seven boys (in a factory where I worked this was the case, and I knew it was generally so). I don't know what wages were given to the lads, but the workman himself used to draw from 70 to 80 francs weekly, and had full employment. Another reason why the French can produce cheaper than we can, you see, sir, because the French have not our immense national debt to bear them down; and all these things considered, I maintain that it is impossible for an English workman to compete with a Frenchman. Again, there is a great rage for everything French, and so there is not the same employment for us. French goods is the fashion of the day. This is certainly not due to any superiority on the part of the workman, which is evident from the fact that an English workman readily obtains employment in France, and - in Boulogne certainly - gets half a franc more for making boots than a Frenchman. As to the injury that the introduction of French boots into England has done the English workman, I will mention this fact, that immediately the duty upon them was reduced, our wages were reduced likewise. This, I think, was in 1842 (Sir Robert Peel's tariff). Our wages then fell 15 per cent., and have never got up since, and besides this, the quantity of employment among us had decreased most materially. The Northampton goods injure us to an equal, if not a greater extent. They produce even cheaper than the Frenchmen, but then it is done upon the factory system. The greatest part of the boots made there are produced, as in France, by a number of lads working under one master, and this is carried on even to a greater extent than in France. In fact, it is a common saying among us that every child in Northampton has a leather apron. The Northamptoners have nearly cut the French out of the market. Most of the French boots sold in London are Northampton made - for there, from the employment of a greater number of children than in France, they produce cheaper still. Again, the rents of the Northampton people are much lower than here; in fact it is the London rents that eat the people up. But a greater evil than all is the competition among the masters; almost every one, excepting the most respectable of them, is trying to force a trade by underselling the others. This, of course, masters may do in two ways - either by the reduction of their own profile, or by cutting down the wages of the working-men. The cheap men may, perhaps, take a little off their profits, but in general they undersell their neighbours by means of taking as much as they can off our wages. These are always the first thing they attack. Masters tell us that their customers can get boots elsewhere at a lower price, and they must either reduce their prices or lose their customers altogether. This competition among the masters is one of the chief causes of the competition among the working-men. A workman being paid less for his work is obliged to do more, in order to get a living at his trade. Let us say that he does half as much again as he used to do - then doesn't it stand to reason that there must be less work left for the others to do; and hence, on a reduction of wages a number must be thrown out of employ. Again, in order to gain a competency at the low-price work, an operative employs his wife, and, in many cases, two or three lads to help him, and then he finds that he can produce a greater quantity at a less price than other workmen. He then, in order to keep all the boys in full employ, offers to the employers to do their work at a less price than the usual wages. So that you see the masters compete and the men compete, and between them the trade is being ruined as fast as it can. Yes, it ultimately must come to that. I often lie awake and think of the evils in our trade, but can't see how it's to be altered. I trace it in this way. The cheap French and Northampton goods deprive the employers of their regular customers, and that causes them to compete with the cheap shops, and consequently to cut down our wages. Then this in its turn causes the workmen to compete, and to underwork one another, in order to obtain employment. I tell you what it is, sir, we shall shortly have the same system in London as in France and Northampton, unless something is done to stop it. A man's own children will soon be the means of driving him from the market altogether, or compelling him to come down to their rate of wages; and if we are forced to put our children to work directly they are able, they cannot receive any education whatever, and then their minds and bodies will be both stunted. Of course, that must have a demoralizing effect upon the next generation. For my own part, as the trade is going down every day, I could not think of bringing up my boys to it, considering their future welfare - and what else am Ito do with them I can't say. My earnings are so small now and my income so much reduced, that I shouldn't have the means to apprentice them to any other trade. In the years '45, '46, and '47 I was in a much better condition than I am now. Then I was able to take my periodicals in. I used to have near a shilling's worth of them every week, sir. I took in Chamber's Journal. I took in "Knight's Cyclopaedia," and others of the same kind. I used to have my weekly newspaper, too. But since '48 I have not had the most of them, and I now take in none at all - I can't afford it. In '45 and '46, I was able to live better than I do now. The cheap provisions have done me no good whatever. "My husband," interrupted the wife, has been making less since food has been getting cheaper. In '46 his work was more regular than it is now. When we were first married the wages were 1s. 4d. a pair of boots more than they are at present, and more of them to do. Two years ago the meat was very dear, I recollected, and the potatoes and bread too; but there is no fault to be found with the present price of provisions. But since they have been getting cheaper, I am sure that our comforts have been decreasing rather than increasing. Why, sir, if it goes on this way, the workhouse stares us in the face. But the intention we have is to go into a club this winter, and raise funds to emigrate to America, unless the trade improves greatly, which we see no prospect of." "I don't see myself (said the man at work) how it is to be altered. I, like thousands of others of the working men, have been struggling hard for these many years, and yet I get no forwarder. Last year I went back in my rent £10, and how I am to fetch it up I can't say. I suppose I must go to the loan-office, and pay through the nose for the money. I should be the happiest mortal alive, and be contented, if I could be certain of a fair quantity of employment and a fair rate of wages for it, but it's vexatious in the extreme to an industriously inclined working man to go to seek work and be unable to get it." "I was in shop (said the wife) three-quarters of an hour this morning, and only two got served out of eight. This is one of the best shops in London, and the worst time is passed now. Just before Christmas last year my husband only got 5s., and that was to pay rent and to keep six of us. I haven't had £1 from the shop in any one week since a long time before Christmas, sir." "Not since the end of October." "Last week (said the man) was the best we have had for these three months, and that was 17s. 1d. One week, a little while ago, our earnings were 9s. 2d., another 7s. 8d., and another 12s.
I shall continue this subject in my next letter.