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Thursday, July 4, 1850.
The London Sawyers, though not a numerous body, still require
full consideration, as belonging to a trade which has been extensively
superseded by machinery.
According to the last census the number of sawyers in Great Britain in 1841 was 29,593; of these 23,360 resided in England, 4,550 in Scotland, 1,508 in Wales, and the remaining 175 in the British Isles. About one-tenth part of the whole of the sawyers in Great Britain were then located in the metropolis, the number in London being 2,978, of whom only 186 were under twenty years of age. Strange to say, one of the sawyers above twenty was a female! At the time of taking the previous census the number of the Metropolitan Sawyers above twenty years of age was 2,180; so that, from 1831 to 1841, the London trade had increased 612. Since then, however, I am informed that the number has declined nearly one half. The number of steam saw-mills in the metropolis, in 1841, was 15; at the present moment, they are 68, including those for cutting veneers as well as timber and deals.
The increase and decrease in the number of sawyers in the different parts of the country is a curious and important point to ascertain. By calculations, made from the Government Returns of 1831 and 1841, I find that the greatest addition to the number of sawyers took place in Lanark, where the population, between 1831 and 1841, increased 48 percent., and the sawyers no less than 230 per cent. - thus making an increase of 182 per cent, over and above that of the population. The next county in rotation is Sutherland, where the sawyers have increased 156 per cent, beyond the population. After this comes Pembroke, showing an increase of 121 per cent.; Radnor and Cardigan, 100 per cent, each; the North Riding of Yorkshire, 87 per cent.; Inverness, 82; Berwick, 76; Renfrew, 75; and Cornwall, 73 per cent. above that of the population. In all of these counties, however, the population increased considerably; whereas in Dumfries, where the population decreased 1 per cent., the number of sawyers at the same time increased as much as 111 percent., so that the total increase was equal to 112 per cent.
The great decrease in the number of sawyers seems to have occurred in the following counties, that which shows the greatest diminution of all is Linlithgow, where the population increased 44 percent., whilst the sawyers decreased 33 per cent. After this comes Caithness; here the sawyers decreased 63 per cent. and the population increased 1 per cent. At Clackmannan the population increased 31 per cent., while the number of sawyers was augmented only 3 per cent.
In Aberdeen, Peebles, and Perth, there was an actual decrease, in each county respectively, of 7, 14, and 18 percent., on the number of sawyers in 1841, compared with the number in 1831. Whether a comparative increase in the wages of the sawyers took place between 1831 and 1841, in those counties where the hands decreased - or whether there was a corresponding fall in the prices that the men obtained for their work in counties where the sawyers increased - I have no means of determining. Supposing the amount of work to be done to have remained the same, it is clear that, according to the law of "supply and demand," a rise or fall in the wages inversely proportional to the decrease or increase of the hands would have been the necessary result.
England, upon the whole, shows an increase of sawyers to the amount of 23 per cent, above that of the population; Wales, 44 percent.; and Scotland, 25 per cent. Great Britain altogether gives an increase of 24 per cent.; a decrease in the wages of the sawyers, throughout the country, therefore, should have occurred to an equal extent.
Of sawyers there are four kinds - viz., the hardwood and timber sawyers, the cooper's stave, and the shipwright sawyers. The hardwood sawyers are generally employed in cutting mahogany, rosewood, and all kinds of foreign fancy woods. This work demands the greatest skill in sawing. It requires special nicety in cutting, because the timber is more valuable, and a "bungler" might be the cause of great loss to his employer. A hardwood sawyer can generally turn his hand to timber sawing, but the timber sawyers are seldom able to accomplish the cutting of hard woods. Timber sawyers are mostly engaged in cutting for carpenters and builders. The work of the cooper's stave sawyers consists principally in cutting "doublets" out of the foreign wood. The shipwright sawyers cut the "futtocks" and planks for ships. Timber sawing, by manual labour, has been unchanged within the recollection of the oldest man in the trade. One elderly man assured me that his grandfather, a sawyer, had told him that the work was always the same in his day. Two men work in a pit, which is generally 6 feet deep, and 4 feet 6 inches wide. These two men are termed the topman and pitman, according as they work above or in the pit. The pits are of two kinds, "scaffold" and "sunk" pits; the scaffold pit being raised from the ground, and almost always constructed of timber, while the sunk pit is dug into the earth. The men saw the trunks of trees, as well as the deals brought from the Baltic or Canada, when it is necessary to reduce them in thickness. Nearly all the English trees are roughly sawn in the woods where they are felled. Oaks felled in the Royal forests for building are sawn within the forest itself, a pit being dug as contiguous as possible to the fallen trees. The tree is lopped of its branches, and hewn; or, in other words, shaped or roughly squared with the axe for the readier work of the sawyers. Some of the timber hewers, however, are sufficiently skilful to chop the trees almost as smoothly as if it were planed. Oak is always "rended" (stripped of its bark), for tanning purposes. In some country places it is not an unfrequent thing for sawyers to sink a pit close by the building being erected, and then to saw the timber required for the frame-work of the house. In London, however, at present, this is seldom or never done. The general rule is, that "timber" is sawn at the yards, either by the steam machinery of the merchant, or by the manual labour of the sawyers in his employ. For ship timbers, the entire oak is generally sawn, for one oak is sometimes used for one of the curvilinear planks of the "futtocks" (the part above the keel). Ship timber sawing is confined to the ship-builders' yards; machinery is seldom employed for sawing the timber used by ship or barge builders, which is generally sawn curved. For planking, and the "straight cuts" in ship building, however, machinery is used. Sometimes two whole oaks are merely squared for the "beams" of the deck. For coopers' work, the timber (oak) comes in "staves" from the Baltic or America, and runs from 2ft. to 9ft. long, with an average of 6 inches wide and 3 inches thick. The thickness of the stave is sawn through to the substance required. "Doublets" (of which I have given an account from a cooper's stave-sawyer) are the most difficult parts of the stafe-sawyer's work. The straight sawn staves, which may be done by machinery, are used for milk and other pails, brewers' vats, and for cabinet work, such as drawer bottoms, &c. The staves are "hewn" abroad, and generally out of the trunks of the inferior trees (rarely out of the branches), and hewn to the sizes most convenient for stowage. The process observed by the shipwrights' or coopers' sawyers is the same as that of the timber and hardwood sawyers; it is all carried on in the pits. These four classes of the trades, with the exception of the cooper's stave sawyers, are greatly reduced in numbers. It is generally considered in the trade that there were five and twenty years ago. Formerly there used to be a great many shipwright sawyers along the banks of the Thames, but now, lam informed, the greater part of the yards are shut up, and many of the sawyers and shipwrights have emigrated to America. The year after the strike in 1833 there were 1,500 sawyers on the books of the union, exclusive of the cooper, staves, and shipwright sawyers; and now there are not more than 320 members belonging to the three district societies. The great decrease in the numbers of the trade is owing to the introduction of machinery. The first steam saw-mill set up in the neighbourhood of London was established at Battersea, about the year 1806 or 1807. It was erected principally for the cutting of veneers, and the trade, though aware that it could not fail to take the work from them, still believed that it never could do so to the extent that it has. "We knew," says my informant, "that the mills could cut the veneers better and thinner than what we could, and more in an inch, which is a great object of course in valuable woods, but still we never expected that steam power would be applied to the cutting of timber and deals. Since that time the mills have gone on increasing gradually, year after year, until now there are twenty regularly at work between Stangate and London-bridge, and no less than sixty-eight altogether, scattered throughout the metropolis."
The trade society of sawyers is divided into six districts. The first of these is the West London, which extends from Back-hill, near Hatton-garden, to Brentford; the second, or City District, reaches from Back-hill to St. George's-in-the-East; while the third, or Surrey District, runs from Dockhead, Bermondsey, to Westminster. These three belong to the general or timber and hardwood sawyers. The fourth district is in connection with the coopers' stave sawyers, and extends from Southwark-bridge to the Commercial Docks on the one side of the river, and to Limehouse on the other. The districts frequented by the shipwright-sawyers are Limehouse and Rotherhithe. Each class (excepting the shipwright-sawyers) has a trade society; and the following table shows the number of members belonging to each society, as well as the "non-society men" in each district, together with the total number and the aggregate total of the London operative sawyers generally:-
|Society Men||Non-Society Men||Total Society and Non-society Men in each District|
West London District
Total General Sawyers
Southwark, or Coopers' Stave Sawyers
Total Shipwright Sawyers
Aggregate Total of Society and Non-society Men
The houses of call at which the different societies meet have
nothing whatever to do with the obtaining of employment for the men (as in the
tailors' trade), but are simply places of meeting to discuss the affairs of the
trade. The mode adopted by men wishing to obtain employment is making inquiry at
the different yards. Concerning "benefits," or sums given in cases of
affliction or distress, there are a few such provisions in connection with the trade societies, though they have no
provident funds, such as the superannuation and vocation funds of other trades. The way in
which assistance is rendered to the sick, and to the widow of a member of the
trade societies, is by voluntary subscriptions, obtained either by petition or
raffle from 30s. to ?3 being the sum usually collected in this
manner, while, in the case of death, ?5 is sometimes obtained in the city. The
shipwright sawyers have a benefit society, called "The Good Samaritan," to
render assistance to each other, in case of accident or death. Here the weekly
contributions are 3d., and the "benefits" received from ?1 to ?10.
The weekly contributions paid by the members of the trade societies, are 2d. in the West London and City districts, and 3d. in the Surrey and Southwark. The chief part of the money thus obtained is devoted to "trade purposes," and the remainder to philanthropic objects. These "trade purposes" consist principally of means adopted to uphold the wages of the trade - and the philanthropic objects, in the payment of small sums to the aged and infirm members, as well as those suffering from accidents. The tramps belonging to country societies are relieved by some of the London bodies. They are usually furnished with a card of the society to which they belong, and duplicates of these cards are kept at one or other of the London district houses. The operative sawyers of the metropolis are in correspondence with almost all the societies throughout the country, and the country societies are likewise in correspondence with each other, especially those in the north of England, where the greatest number of sawyers are located.
A tramp, upon arriving in town and producing the card of his society at one of the London houses of call, receives from the metropolitan society the sum of 5s. The country societies usually give from ls. to 2s. tramps, and in some cases a supper and abed. The object of this relief to tramps is to assist a man in getting employment in another town, and the donations are given only to those parties who subscribe to some recognized society throughout the kingdom. Once a year an account of the money thus dispensed to tramps is taken; the delegates of the different country societies meeting annually in the north of England for that purpose. In the case of London, however, the districts meet in "central committee," and then make out a statement of the sum which has been disbursed by them throughout the year; this they forward to the different societies in the country. Of late years the London operative sawyers, I am informed, have been greatly opposed to any active resistance to their employers. The last strike among them took place in the years 1833 and 1834, and since that time they have generally sought to remedy any difference between them and their masters by more conciliatory measures. As an instance of this, I was furnished with copies of some circulars that had been sent round to the leading timber merchants on the occasion of the last disagreement. The tone of these was courteous and manly - neither cringing nor insulting - and spoke volumes for the intellectual and moral advance of the class since the days when Richardson's mill was destroyed by them.
The majority of the London sawyers, I am informed by some of the most intelligent and experienced members of the trade, are countrymen. They are generally the sons of village carpenters or wheelwrights, though some have been "bred and born" in the trade, as they say. As a body of men they are essentially unpolitical. I could not hear of one Chartist among them; and, although suffering greatly from machinery, I found few with what may be called violent or even strong opinions upon the subject. They spoke of the destruction of Richardson's Saw-mill as one of the follies and barbarisms of past days, and were quite alive to the importance of machinery as a means of producing wealth in a community. They also felt satisfied that it was quite out of their power to stop the progress of it. As a body of men I found them especially peaceable, and apparently of very simple and kindly dispositions. They are not what can be called an educated class, but those whom I saw were certainly distinguished for their natural good sense. They are usually believed to be of intemperate habits, and I am informed that in the palmy days of the trade there was good reason for the belief. But since then work has declined, and they have become much more sober. There are many teetotallers now among them; it is supposed that about one in ten has taken the pledge, and one in twenty kept it. The cause of the intemperance of the sawyers, say my informants, was their extremely hard labour, and the thirst produced by their great exertion. Moreover, it was the custom of their employers, until within the last 15 years, to pay the men in public-houses. Since then, however, the sawyers have received their wages at the counting- houses of the timber merchants; and this, in connection with the general advance of intelligence among the body, has gone far to diminish the intemperance of the trade. The coffee-shops, again, I am assured, have added greatly to the sobriety of the operative sawyers. The large reduction which has taken place in the earnings of the sawyers has not been attended with any serious alteration in their habits. As a general rule, neither their wives nor their children "go out to work;" and since the decline of their trade no marked change in this respect has occurred. The majority of the men are certainly beyond the middle age - many that I saw were between sixty and seventy years. Cooper's stave-sawyers, however, are younger men. This is accounted for by the fact that since the decline of the trade of the "general sawyers," very few fresh hands have been brought into the trade, while many of the younger men have emigrated or sought some other employment - whereas the old men have been not only loath to leave to the country, but unable to turn their hand to a new business. The coopers stave-sawyers, however, have considerably increased in number, owing to the difficulty of machinery to effect their work; hence, many of the other sawyers have taken to this branch. A large number of the general sawyers have been compelled to seek parish relief. Within the Lambeth workhouse alone, I am informed, there are as many as sixteen sawyers, besides others, in the receipt of out-door relief. Formerly there was in connection with each district society a fund for assisting the aged and infirm, but within the last fifteen years this has been done away with; and, as before stated, there are neither benefit nor superannuation funds belonging to two of the trade societies at the present day. The Surrey District Society, however, has recently started a "philanthropic fund" in connection with its trade society. As a rule, however, the men and their families are wholly unprovided for, either in case of sickness, old age, accident, or death, so that in the event of any affliction coming upon them, the parish alone is their refuge. From all I can gather, it appears that the general sawyers have declined in numbers at least two-fifths, and that only one-third of those now remaining can obtain full employment; another third have about three or four days' work in the week, and the other third but one day or two, and often none at all. The slack season with the general and coopers' stave-sawyers commences about a month before, and continues till a month after, Christmas. With the shipwright sawyers, however, the winter is the busiest time.
I shall now give an account of the earnings and condition of each of the different classes of sawyers above described, beginning with those engaged in the cutting of timber and hard wood. After which I purpose describing some of the principal steam saw-mills in London, and showing the amount of manual labour that they have superseded. To this I shall append a statement of two of the most intelligent men in the trade concerning the effect of machinery upon the working classes generally. In doing this I trust I need not remind the reader that the opinions there expressed are those of the working men themselves, who have been allowed to state their sentiments, because, suffering severely from machinery, it was considered to be but fair to express their thoughts and feelings upon this subject. It is right I should add, that I have found not one man in the trade opposed to machinery, in the abstract. The main objection of the operatives appear to be, that machinery benefits the capitalist, at the expense of the working man.
From "a pair" of deal or general sawyers, whom I found at their work, I had the following statement. The "pitman" said-
"I have been above thirty years a sawyer and a pitman; that is, the sawyer who works in the pit. We work in pairs - the topman and the pitman. The topman's part is the most difficult certainly, as he directs the saw to do her work (we always call the saw a she) according to the line. Every piece of timber is lined (chalked). When I first knew the trade things was much better. Me and my mate could earn between us then, ?4 10s. a week easy. Top and pit men is paid alike, and has always been so. Now it is with great difficulty that we can make ?3 a week the pair of us; and when we earn ?3,we receive only ?2 l5s., for ld. out of every shilling is deducted. The employer stops the ld.; it's called 'pence,' for the finding of tools, all of which the master now provides for us." (Another man gave me a full account of the "pence," and calculated the amount of profit made by it.) "That wasn't the case till machinery got into full operation, twenty years ago, or somewhere thereabout." "I believe" (said the other man, the top sawyer), "the first steam saw-mill was started at the foot of Westminster-bridge by a man named Smart, thirty-five years ago, or so. We thought nothing about that then. Smart sawed deals. Master got harder and harder upon us. Our last strike was in the first year of the cholera, in 1833 I believe. We are paid for a twelve-foot deal 3 ?d. a cut. Other deals are paid at the same rate. They do it cheapest at saw-mills, but not the best for working purposes as carpenters can't 'bring it up' so well; that is, it's so well adapted for work, because the machinery can't humour the grain. You see, sir, machinery is a ruining of all of us. Where there was 200 pair of sawyers there's not 50 now. We struck to keep up the prices of that day, which was 3 ?d. a cut in our yard, but the masters got so many hands in from the country and other cheap ways, even if the fellow knew nothing about a saw before, that we was obliged to give way. Ours is very hard work; the general hours is from six to seven. The year through the utmost we average a man is 25s. a week when the pence is paid. We are obligated to drink beer to keep our strength up, and that to from 6d. to 10d. worth a day; but there's no compulsion in any way as to beer. Some drink more than 10d. worth in a day, but that's more than sufficient. Our men can't afford to be what you may call drunkards (but p'r'aps one can't call them exactly sober men). The lazy fellows somehow - and I don't know how - do manage to get drunk pretty often. The wood we saw now is cut much greener than it used to be, and is worse to manage. We get English wood as it falls - oak, ash, elm, beech, and sycamore - them's the principal; and we have to trim it, knock the knots off and the bark off, but the oak comes to us stripped. For trimming the wood we're poorly paid. For ash, elm, beech, and all trees we have 6s. per 100 feet; the masters agree it's worth ls. more. A man couldn't make 20s. a week at that, and the pence' to be stopped out of it. I've been a top man for more than thirty years - I should say about thirty-five. Top and pit sawyers very seldom change places, only for a make-shift. The top-man, though it's the most difficult part, gets no more than the pit man, not a morsel, and he has to keep the saw in order, and he's answerable for all work to the master. The easiest wood of all to saw is American pine; it gives to the saw easiest. English timber (elm, beech, and sycamore) is the hardest. Oak's another thing; it's difficult to get it ready to fit it for sawing, but not harder to saw than elm. With a log of mahogany the top-man must humour the saw so as to cut to the master's orders, and masters are very exacting. If we vexes 'em, they puts us on spruce deals, which are the hardest deals to cut. We can't make above 2s. 6d. a man a day of it, and they keep us at it as long as they think fit. In spruce deals we have to cut what the saw-mills can't well cut; they can cut it, certainly, but they charge higher; for there's only one cut (two boards) in a spruce fir, and it takes them as much time to cut one cut as to cut ten, I've known, in 1821, when George IV, was crowned, 80 pairs of men in two sawpits, where now there isn't a single one, The pits, all of them I think, is coming to a close, and the business is going to the dogs, or the sawmills, for it's all one. Many sawyers is now glad to go in for labourers to saw-yards, for piling and placing the timber, at 3s. or 4s. a day - perhaps only with two days' work a week - because they can't get employment at sawing. One of our saws - they run from five to seven feet - will cost ?1 for five feet, and on to 30s. for seven feet, without the frame, which may cost 10s. The weight of a 7-foot saw is from 60 to 70lbs., for two men to pull up and down all day, at the rate of, say ten strokes, or seventy feet, a minute, or 4,200 feet an hour; and that's, as you say, 42,000 feet in a day of ten hours - so that we lift upwards of half-a-hundredweight nearly eight miles high in our day's work. The resistance of the saw - as it pulls like so many hooks coming down and catching - is not an easy calculation. A scientific man - it's ten years ago, I think - calculated, and reckoned that each down stroke (for the up stroke is only a lift up of the saw, like) was equal to lifting 86lb. My opinion is, and I judge by experience and by lifting weights, that he was right; others think so, too. I don't know what he calculated it for." (The man then, at my request, went into another calculation as to weight, of course with my assistance with the figures.) "A force of 86lbs. is required for each down stroke: 10 in a minute is a force of 430lbs. put out by each man every minute, and that's a power of 25,800lbs. an hour. In a day of ten hours, the whole amount of power is equal to 25,800lbs., or more than 18,428 stone; and divide that by 8, and that'll show how many hundred weights - more than 2,303, or upwards of 115 tons a day. The strength's put out equal by the two sawyers, top and pit, generally; and it ought to be always, when each man does his part properly, and like a workman. Provisions has been cheap for some time, and that's a great thing for working men. If we says a word about better pay, or the grievance of the 'pence,' masters stops our mouths with machinery. A 'pair' of sawyers will do three dozen cuts of 12 feet deals a day, or four dozen of battens. A 'cut' is nine inches through in a deal and seven in a batten. The saw may go in a deal and seven in a batten, The saw may go ahead half an inch a stroke as near as may be. Sawyers is generally healthy men and not short-lived."
From another Deal Sawyer, who had made it his more particular
inquiry, I had the following information concerning the "pence" alluded to
in the preceding statement:
"Putting on the pence," he said, "was one of the sort of things masters have recourse to when they don't want to seem to reduce men's wages right out. They do it by side-winds. The pence is a great saving to the masters. A good saw, which may cost 20s. at the outside, will last eight months. Suppose a pair of sawyers earn ?3 a week between them less the pence (which is a penny out of every shilling), that's 5s. stopped for the saw. And suppose in a yard in regular work, and in a pretty brisk time, they work six months, or 26 weeks, at the same rate, the master then has received ?6 10s. for what cost him 20s., and that's a profit of ?5 10s. The saw will then last two months longer, which is ?2 more profit, or ?7 10s. in all. To be sure, there's the frame, which may cost, at the utmost, 10s., but one frame, unless there's an accident, will serve for four or five saws. If you reckon, besides this, 1s. a week for files and other costs of tools (though it's not 1s.), the master's clear profit out of the pence will be ?5 15s., or say ?5 10s. out of each saw, or 200 per cent. Now, suppose eight frames are kept on the way, as may be the case in some few yards still, then the master will clear ?60 in all by the 'pence.' It does not matter as regards the master's profits on the pence, in the long run, whether work be slack or brisk, for when it's slack his saws last all the longer, only he doesn't turn over his ?5 10s. profit so quick - that's all."
A tall hale-looking man, with an appearance of great
respectability, gave me the following account of Ship-timber Sawing:
"I have been a sawyer of ship timbers these forty years. I worked a few years in the country, and then I came to London. When I first worked in London we were paid 5s. a day, but we now work by the piece, except on a few things. Piece work came to be the regular system 24 or 25 years ago. We are paid the same prices for our labour as I've ever known, but there's not work enough for us, that's where the times are worse. We - that is the pair of us - are paid for sawing English oak, 7s. for 100 feet. We work topmen and pitmen, as in other pits, and are paid each man alike. Sometimes, by agreement, the topman has 1s. or 2s. extra, on account of having the saw to keep in order. We are paid the same price for Memel oak, but that's little used; it's chiefly English that we has to cut, and we've the same price for Quebec oak, and foreign elm, and for teak. There's a good deal of teak cut now. Africa (African oak) is so hard that we have 10s. 6d. per 100ft. for it. For Dantzic and Quebec firs, such as are used for the planking of ships, we get 4s. 6d. We cut the oak used for building 1,000 ton ships in first, second, and third 'futtocks;' that's for the outward sides of the vessel, such as meet the water over the keel. First futtocks are cut 14 inches thick, and as long of course as the tree runs. Second futtocks are 12 inches thick, and thirds 11 inches, For smaller tonnages the futtocks are cut less thick in proportion, down to six inches, which is the thinnest cut, and is used for building small schooners. The floor' bottom of a ship of 1 ,000 tons is cut 15 inches thick, and for smaller craft in the same way down to six. I now reckon 40s. a man an excellent week's work, but it's not often we make that, for there's more than six months in the year very bad, when oft enough we'll not make half-a-crown a day; so the average for the year now runs between 15s. and 40s., or something less, a week. We have no 'pence' to pay, as in some saw-yards, but we have to find our own tools, Our saws are 6? to 7 feet long. An average one will cost 19s., but the price varies according to the breadth, and that varies from one to eleven inches, though we use narrow saws most. A saw will last us twelve months, as a general calculation, when it's used three days a week. We sometimes saw circular blocks, just the shape of a wooden trencher, for ship-building, and then we are paid by the day, 5s. and 6s. Machinery ruins the saw trade; and now they've come to saw circular, for shipbuilders' use, by steam machinery, worse luck. As yet there's only one steam-mill for ship-timber sawing, besides the Government one at Woolwich. For little masters in the general trade the steam-mills are an accommodation, as credit's given them, and men, of course, must have their Saturday nights. Accidents are very frequent among us. We have no sick fund, but I belong to a general benefit society, as do some others, The men drink a good deal; our work is hard, and four pints of beer a day is a moderate allowance. We are not paid at a public-house, and have no grievances of that sort to complain of, nor any grievances that I know of; for we're fairly treated between master and man. We are slack now. There's many ships brought here ready built, from America mostly. They don't last so long as English-built ships, and have often to be refastened; but if a merchant can insure what does he care? The teak we are now sawing runs 20ft. to 50ft. long. The English oak goes from 20ft. to 70ft. There's nothing like good English oak, sir - nothing."
A man whom I found residing with his wife and children in a little place of apparently two rooms made the following statement as to cooper's stave sawing. He lived, with many others of the same class, in one of very many alleys that run from the river side, behind the site of what was once the Globe Theatre, to Guildford-street, Southwark. The alleys are built with the utmost economy of space; some of them are almost too narrow for the passage of a horse. I saw nothing, however, to call filth. Abutting on one of the narrowest of these alleys are high dark wooden palings, from behind which come the smell and lowing of cows, a circumstance rather in contrast with the thick packing of human habitations on all sides:
"I have been twenty years a cooper's stave sawyer," he said. "We use different saws to those of the deal sawyers. They are smaller in the teeth, and only four feet long. A saw and frame will weigh 50lb. on an average, and I reckon that we pull 60lbs. weight every stroke. We make 50 strokes a minute up and down. I'm sure of it. We work very quick, That's 200 feet a minute, or 4,000 yards an hour - about 2? miles. We are top-sawyers and pitmen. Both are paid alike, though the topman has the hardest work. When I first knew the business times was much better. I could then earn ?2 a week, and my mate the same, comfortably, the year through. Now we can each of us earn 25s. on an average the year through. We are paid by the piece. For 6-foot Dantzic or Memel straight cut staves 1s. 7d. per dozen cuts is paid us. We may have one or two cuts in each stave. For Quebec staves of the same length, or even if not quite so long, 1s. 8d.; Quebec hogsheads, 1s. 4d. They run about five feet; Dantzic hogsheads, about 4 feet, 1s. 2d.; brandy pipes, about 5 feet, 1s. 4d.; barrel straight cuts (for beer barrels), between 3 and 4 feet, 1s.; if we cut them into 'doublets' - and in doublets it's easier work for the cooper, for we thin the stave for his purpose - we have 2d. a dozen extra. The master gets more profit by it, but we have only 2d. a dozen, and other sizes in proportion, up to 4d. These are the principal staves; the others are for vinegar kilderkins and small barrels (9 or 18 gallons), and paid in proportion. We work two or three different sorts of timber, but all of them oak; all foreign, Baltic or American. We saw the staves from the timber as it's brought by the ships; it's cleaved (cleft), or chopped, to our purpose abroad. In the winter of '47-8 we were on strike sixteen weeks, but only me and two mates stood out for that time. They reduced us in the doublets 6d., from 1s. 11d, for the long staves to 1s. 5d., and for straight cuts to 1s. 4d., while others were reduced in the same proportion. We formed a committee among ourselves and got our prices back again, however. We did it in a month, after forming a society, though some stave-yards didn't manage it for six or nine months. The masters gave way when they got busy. Our masters can get their staves sawn cheaper at a steam-mill by 6d. a dozen the bigger ones, the straight cuts; but the machine can't make all the turns wanted in the stave - thank God for that. For straight cuts they are working us out. We haven't many straight cuts now to what we had; less by the working sawyer from 10s. to 15s. a week wages. Some masters - mine's one - don't like to send their staves to a steam-mills for straight cuts, for it the timber for the staves be crooked we can cut them to more advantage to the master than the steam-mills can. We take our money in the counting-house. I have been paid, in another employ, at a public-house, and we were obliged to take our beer from there every day, but when we formed our committee we put a stop to all that bad system. It was time, for some of us had to go home with nothing on a Saturday night. Sawing is very hard work, and requires four pints of beer a day to support a man, but many drink a great deal more. The public-house system made men drunkards - I'm sure it did, sir, I confine myself to four pints, which is enough for me. I know of no teetotallers among us. Accidents are common with sawyers. I've fallen many times, and have been cut all to pieces, so to say, by the saw." (He showed me some scars on his arms.) "We have a sick fund. Take sawyers altogether, they're fond of a drop, but I don't think them rougher than other people when they're in liquor. We are nearly all married men with families. Families seems a sort of gift to poor men, instead of to rich ones. I have known sawyers working at 70 years old, hard work as it is. We live as long as other people, I think. We pay no 'pence,' but have to find our own saws, A saw may cost from 7s. to 10s., and the frame 5s.,when a new frame is wanted. A frame will last five or six saws. A saw will last us about five or six months in average use.
Another man, in the same calling, gave me information confirming all the preceding, and said further:
"The timber sawn by coopers' stave sawyers is sawn as it's brought in from foreign parts, and it's brought in all the different lengths, and breadths, and thicknesses that are required for coopering. I'm of opinion that stave-sawyers are safe from being put to one side, for a good while, anyhow, by steam, in sawing 'doublets.' The timber runs irregular like, and is crooked sometimes. It's chiefly cleaved,' as we call it (cleft), with a hatchet, or whatever tools they have in those foreign parts. Out of the centre of one of these staves we saw a portion of wood, beginning almost at a point, and spreading out gradually to the 'bouge, that's the centre, where the bulge is the greatest. Then, when the bouge is reached, we saw along the other part of the wood, just in the same round inclining form as in the first part cut this way, which is like a quarter of an orange flattened out, is used by coopers for the heads of barrels, the two equal sides that are sawn from off the middle parts are the doublets, which are in this way ready hollowed and curved in the inner part, for cooper's work. Steam won't easy do that, sir."
The first steam-mill for the sawing of planks was established (as is mentioned in the statement of a sawyer previously given) about thirty-six years ago, by Mr. Smart, near Westminster-bridge. For perhaps twenty years before that period horses had been employed to supersede men's labour. The principle on which these horse-mills were constructed was not dissimilar to that now in use in the steam saw-mills. The horses then did the work of the engine now - working nine saws at once, but with perhaps only half the motive power of steam as regards velocity. About forty-five years ago a party of sawyers one night walked abruptly into the largest of these horse saw-mills - that of Mr. Richardson, of Limehouse - and with sledgehammers and crow-bars utterly demolished the whole apparatus, which was the work of but a few minutes. The men did not carry a single fragment away with them after the work of demolition had been done, and they studiously abstained from any other act of violence, and even from any act or words of insult. Their plea was, that these horse-mills would bring them and their families to the parish, by making beasts do the work of men, and that they had a right to protect themselves the best way they could, as no man, they said, merely for his own profit, had any right to inflict ruin upon a large body. So I was assured, and such feelings were at that period not uncommon among the ruder class of labourers. These horse-mills were but little remunerative, and Mr. Richardson did not think it worth his while to replace his machinery. It lay scattered about his yard until within 20 or 30 years ago. Another horse-mill, that of Mr. Lett, was demolished in the same way, not long after, by a party of sawyers; and the other proprietors of such places - there were perhaps about six in all - either discontinued the use of horses through fear, or the working of their mills because less remunerative, and they were gradually done away with. I had these particulars from a very intelligent man, now engaged in the sawing business. They were beyond his own recollection; but he had often heard his father, who passed a long life in the capacity of a sawyer, relate the circumstances. My informant was not altogether positive as to dates - he gave them to the best of his recollection. Yet, without this precipitate violence, horse saw-mills would have been discontinued, "for a very sufficient reason," said my informant, "because they didn't pay, I feel pretty well satisfied. Horses, you see, sir, must eat their oats of a night, or whether they are at work or not, but steam consumes coals only when at work."
Steam saw-mills continued to be gradually established throughout the metropolis until they now number 68 - six at least of the proprietors being also timber merchants. These mills average three "frames" each, a frame holding nine saws. In case all the means of these mills were called into operation at one time, 1,755 saws would be at work. Of these the straight saws make 160 "revolutions," as each up or down motion of the saw is technically called, in a minute, the "revolution" being four feet in length. The circular saws, for cutting deals and timber, describe a diameter of from 18 to 36 inches, 18 inches being the most frequent size, perhaps comprising seven-eighths of the circular saws in the London mills. The "circulars" may number one-tenth of the straight saws, and these "circulars" perform 1,800 revolutions in a minute. Of the space thus traversed I have given some curious particulars from an experienced man. Another gentleman, himself the conductor of a steam saw-mill - and I have to thank him also for other valuable and curious information - took pains, at my request, to calculate the number of sawyers superseded by the application of steam power. These, from the best data, he gives as 750 "pairs," or 1,500 men.
In the course of my inquiries I visited a steam saw-mill. It is situated close upon the river, being, indeed, a wharf as well as a mill. Overhead is a lofty roof of thin light-coloured timber, through which the light came with a pleasant yellow hue. A timber frontage, in some parts of the nature of a casement, looks on the river. When the machinery was not at work all was pleasant and quiet, but when eighteen saws were in full operation - that number being employed on my visit - there was anything but quiet. The usual noise of a steam-engine had the addition of the grinding sound of the saws, jumping, as it would seem to any one ignorant of the agency employed, up and down most rapidly - while at intervals, through all this combination of sounds, was heard the ripple of the Thames dashing close up to the river front of the mill, for it was then high water, and a strong breeze was blowing. The steam-engine occupies one corner of the premises, and is partly detached. The wheels and machinery by which the mill is worked are beneath the timber flooring of the yard, the main shaft occupying the centre. The frame is simply nine upright, saws, each four feet in length, moving up and down as the timber is sawn, and at a distance from each other, according to the substance the plank is to be sawn. When the machinery is set a-going, the plank, by means familiar to engineers, is made to adjust itself to the action of the saws, being gradually advanced as each cut has been executed. A frame-worker attends to the due adjustment of the timber, however, as well as to the renewal of the saws when the teeth have become blunted by the rapid and severe friction. The machinery, when viewed at work under the flooring through the trap-doors, presents a very curious appearance. The imperfect light throws many of the wheels into the gloom, the brighter parts flashing to the eye, while the reverberation conveys the notion of extended space and far multiplied machinery.
Two engines, each of 10-horse power - and fewer are never fixed in any mill - cost from ?650 to ?800; about ?700 being perhaps the most usual expense. These engines consume a ton of coals in a day of twelve hours, and a quart of machine oil.
Some further particulars concerning steam saw-mills I give in the words of a well-informed and observant man long familiar with their working:
"I have been several years - I can't say precisely how many - acquainted with all the parts of the labour required in a steam saw-mill. I am now a foreman. For the management of two engines, each of 10-horse power, or one of 20, there are, besides the foreman, who overlooks the business generally, five men employed - an engine-driver, a saw-sharpener, two frame-workers, and a labourer. The business of the engine-driver and the saw-sharpener everybody can understand; the frame-worker attends to the frames, replacing the saws when it's necessary, and looking to the deals being in a proper position, and all connected with the frames; and the labourer piles the deals which sawn, and does all the 'odd jobs.' He is paid from 3s. to 4s. a day, and the others from 5s. to 6s. The steam-mill saws go from 8 to 10 'runs' - 9 inches is a run - through 12 feet spruce deals, before they require sharpening; through some deals the saw will go more runs. The best and quickest sharpeners, by far, are men who have been used to work as topmen in sawpits; they are better than cutlers. The men's saws, in the pits, require sharpening rather oftener than steam-mill saws. Their saws have teeth - called 'space' - 5/8 or ? apart. Steam-mill saws are closer-toothed, and cut finer, and therefore cleaner. The steam saws are made of inferior steel to those of the pit sawyers; they cost about 5s. a piece. It takes a quarter of an hour to replace the nine saws in a frame when they become blunted. One saw will last six months. Our saw sharpener does nothing else. The topman uses half-round files for his sharpening; the steam-mill saw sharpeners use round files. In our steam-mills we can't cut staves for coopers; that is, we can cut them straight, of course, but not in doublets, which is the main trade. We can't so well cut elm, oak, or ash, as the sawyers. Indeed, we can only outdo the sawyers altogether in deals; but they're more used for general purposes than all other woods put together - far more. Timber merchants who have their own steam-mills have, for some things, to employ sawyers still. We cut deals at 2s. 6d. a dozen, which, by men's labour, costs 3s. 6d. A twenty-horse power engine will do the work of thirty 'pairs' of sawyers - that's sixty men - in a day, in sawing deals, but only deals. Our saws penetrate one-eighth of an inch each 'revolution.' The pit-sawyers penetrate from a quarter to half an inch, according to the quality of the deals. They have more 'holt' (grasp or purchase) on their saws, and so can work them deeper into the wood. A pair of sawyers would most likely beat one saw worked by steam. Our saw would go twice as quick as theirs, but their cuts would go twice as far as ours. Owing to the 'holt,' the pit sawdust is much coarser than ours. One of our frames will make from 3 to 4 sacks of sawdust in a day; almost twice as much as a pair of sawyers will make in a week. A sack, which is generally sold at 6d., is 4 bushels. Some sawmills - our every now and then - can't dispose of their dust quick enough, and have to burn it. It's chiefly sold to 'dust' public-house tap-rooms, and those sort of places. Of all the single consumers, no doubt Astley's is the greatest. Doll-stuffers use it too, but a single sack will stuff a famous lot of dolls. Very few saw-mills, if any, can be said to be paying. But there's the capital sunk in the machinery, and a small return is better than its standing idle. The work is irregular, and many take long credit. Small orders, too, though they must be done, are anything but a profit. A frame makes ten cuts as easy as one. A circular saw, worked by steam, performs 1,800 revolutions in a minute. Take the usual diameter of 18 inches, and, of course, the saw describes a circumference of 54 inches, or one yard and a half, and does it 1,800 times. So that in a minute one mile and a half is done, with 60 yards to spare; and, not reckoning the 60 yards at all, but supposing there was no stop in the working, 90 miles an hour, which, at no more than 10 hours in a day, is 900 miles. The straight saws perform 160 revolutions, each of 4 feet, in a minute, which gives 213 yards a minute, or within 15 yards of 7? miles an hour. Reckon 1,000 of these saws going just now, and that's performing a distance (not minding the fifteen yards) of 7,250 miles an hour. Or, if all the saws were going (1,755), of 12,223 ? miles an hour. Of course, that's supposing there is not stop. The penetration through the timber under these circumstances would be between 22 and 23 miles, at an eighth of an inch each cut."
Concerning the operation of the steam saw-mills upon the working men, I had the following statement from two picked men: they were general sawyers. One, who was 55 years old, had been 40 years in the trade; and the other, who was 49, had had 35 years' experience in it. "I can recollect," said the younger, "when I could save more money in a week than I can now earn in the same time. Ah! then, if a man was a goodish sawyer, and out of work, he would have twenty or thirty people after him. Often, when I've been going along London streets, with my saw on my back, a timber-merchant or a cabinet maker would hail me, and cry, 'Halloa, ho, do you want any work, my man?' and often they gave a sum of money for a good sawyer to come and work for them. The elder man said, "My father was a sawyer, and often I've heard him say that the trade was better in his younger days than even it was in mine. He used to speak of what it was seventy year ago; the wages weren't better in his younger days than they were in mine, but the work was - there was fewer hands, you see. I have heard him say that him and his mate has earned one pound a day. He became a timber merchant afterwards, and he's told me that he'd paid a pair of sawyers that he had in his employ ?24 in the month. They were veneer sawyers, and that was the finest and best paid work in the trade - now that's all gone from us. There an't one regular veneer sawyer left in the trade. All veneers are cut at present by machinery. Thirty years ago, when London wasn't half so big, there was three times as many sawyers as there are now, and one pair in every ten out of these used to cut veneers. In every timber yard the first 'pair' was generally employed cutting veneers. In the neighbourhood where I live, the sawyers are not half so many as they were. At R-----'s yard, where they used to keep nine pair, they hasn't more than three, and yet the work's increased to that extent that it would keep twenty saws going where only nine was employed before. At S-----'s there used to be nineteen pairs of sawyers constantly at work, and now there's not employment for one pair. I think I have heard my father say that there was as many as 3,000 pairs in the metropolis. Why, not more than twenty year ago one master sawyer used to have as many as five apprentices. In the year '26 it was about as good a time for sawyers as ever it was - there was a good demand for men, and good wages." "I can remember it better," said the oldest of the two; "but, never mind, that's the last time that the trade's been what you may call good. It began to decline between '26 and '27 - just about Fauntleroy's bankruptcy. I remember the saw mills began to get more general from that period. I can't recollect when the horse saw-mills was fust put up. Several cabinet-makers used to have hand-mills of their own, which consisted of circular saws in a bench, and worked by a couple of labourers. One of the horse-mills - I remember it was over about Pedler's acre - was said to kill a horse a day. The first steam-mill that was set up was at Battersea. It was a Frenchman (Brunel) that took out the patent for cutting veneers by steam - that's above forty years ago. The steam-mill had been up two or three years when I first came to London, and that was in 1810. 1 recollect seeing some shortly after I got to town. They was cut more true than any sawyer could do them, but not half as well as they are done now. The first that was done was eight in the inch, and now they can cut 14, as thin as a wafer, and that's impossible for the best sawyer in the world to do. I have cut as many as eight in the inch myself, but then the wood was very shallow - eight or nine inches deep. The general run of veneers cut by hand was about six in the inch. It wasn't until some five or six years after the first steam saw-mill for veneers was setup that one was erected for deals, and some time after that they were used to cut timber. About 1827, they began to get general, and as fast as the saw-mills have been starting up so we have been going down. We only have the rough work, and what the saw-mills can't or won't do. We get chiefly 'one cuts' to do, because the saw-mills can't do that kind of work so well as we can. A sawyer formerly took apprentices." "I was an apprentice for seven years," said the younger man. "And I worked along with my father," said the other. "It was a rule in our trade that the eldest son was entitled to his father's business. Now I don't see a sawyer in London who has an apprentice. Formerly we would allow no man to work at our trade unless he had been apprenticed or articled for three years; now it's open to any man, and yet none that I know of come into it. Many that I am acquainted with have left it, and many more would be glad to get away from it. I was one of the enumerators at the taking of the last census in the district in which I now live, and now I think there are not more than half as many sawyers as what there were then; the old hands die off, and no young ones fill up their places. Some few sawyers perhaps put their boys to the trade because they haven't the means to apprentice them to anything else, and the boy, you see, by working with his father, will bring in something at the end of the week. All that the two earns then goes to one home. I know many sawyers that have emigrated, and among them have been some of the best workmen, and some of the most intelligent. The trade, we think, will keep dwindling and dwindling every year; but machinery, we think, will never be able to take it all from us. I haven't been at work not a day this week. Some times we are worked to death, and sometimes we are picking our fingers. At the beginning of the week we are often obligated to have extra hands, and at the end of the week we are standing still, may be. There may be some few in large firms who may have constant work; but the most of our trade is idle more than half their time. It puzzles me how they live, some of them. Twenty-six years ago, my average wages was 35s. a week all the year through. I don't think the average wages of our trade, take the good with the bad, are above ?1, and formerly it was full double that. Why, twenty years ago we used to have a trade dinner every year, somewhere out of town, and to go up to the tavern - wherever it was - in grand purcession, with bands of music and flags flying (we had a union jack that cost forty odd pound then), and the dinner of the whole of the districts used to come to near upon 50 guineas. After all this I leaves you to judge what our opinion is about machinery. Of course we looks upon it as a curse. We have no chance to compete with a machine; it isn't taxed, you see, as we are. I look upon machinery as an injury to society generally, because if it drives the hands out of our trade they must go into some other, so that working men is continually pressing one upon another. If machinery can cut the wood cheaper than we can, it's a gain to the timber merchant, he is enabled to reduce the price, and so some part of society may be a gainer by it, but we think society loses more than it gets. Supposing a machine to do the work of 100 pair of sawyers, then of course it throws 200 men out of employ; and these 200 men have families, and they are all benefited by the employment of the working man's labour. But in the case of machinery only one man is benefited" (this I found to be the common opinion of the operatives); "the money all goes to him and the others are left to starve, or else for society to support, either as paupers or felons, so that society, in the present state of things, after all, loses more than it gains. We see that as science advances the comfort of the working man declines. We believe machinery to be a blessing if rightly managed. It only works for one class at present, but the time will work for all parties." (The carpenters, it will be seen in my next letter, hold the same opinion.) "Let machinery go on increasing as it does, and there will come a time when the labour of the many will be entirely done away with; and then what will society gain when it has to keep the whole of the labouring classes? We can see machinery improving every day, so that there is less work for the people and more paupers. Our bread is being taken out of our mouths, and our children left to starve. I am quite satisfied that those who have nothing but their labour to depend upon get up every morning less independent than they went to bed. The many long heads that are scheming how to deprive men of their work is quite sufficient to bring that about. It's no use emigrating either. Let a working man go where he will, machinery pursues him. In America it's worse for sawyers, if possible, than here. There the sawing is all done by water-mills, and wood is so plentiful and so cheap that if they spoil a bit, it ain't no matter. Working-men is much disheartened at the increase of machinery, when they're a standing at the corner of streets idle and starving and see carts coming out of the yard filled with planks that they ought to have had. You see, sir, when some are injured by any alteration, they gets compensation; but here is our trade cut up altogether, and what compensation do we get? We are left to starve without the least care. I have paid 1s. 10d. for a quartern loaf before now, and I could get it much easier than I can now. When I get up in the morning, I don't know whether I shall be able to earn a 6d. before nightfall. I have been at work ever since I was eight years old, and I'm a pretty good example of what the working man has to look for; and what's the good of it all? Even the machines, some of them, can't hardly raise the price of the coals to get their fire up. When they first set up they had 6d. a foot for cutting veneers, and now they have only ld. Machinery's very powerful, sir, but competition is much stronger.