Victorian London - Professions and Trades - Food and Drink - Bakers

A MOVEMENT, as may be known, has lately been made towards meliorating the condition of the London operative bakers, which, from the following evidence of Dr Guy, laid before parliament, must be acknowledged to be bad enough.
    The journeymen bakers of London are almost with· out exception overworked. From 18 to 20 hours of continuous occupation, with perhaps a nap of from an hour to two hours on a board, may be stated as the rule with the large majority of the trade. It often happens towards the end of the week that the poor fellows are employed without rest or sleep for more than 48 hours on a stretch. The wages which the men receive varies from 10s. to L.1, 10s. a-week. The average will be about 16s. or 17s. .A foreman will get from L.l to L.l, 10s.; a second hand 16s. to L.1, 1s.; and a third hand from 10s. to 14s., in addition to an allowance of bread and flour. Considering the rate of wages in other trades, and the amount of work required of them, they are very badly paid. One reason of the low wages of journeymen bakers is undue competition. A man can set up as a master baker with very moderate capital; hence this trade is naturally overstocked, and profits are reduced so low, that many of the masters can only live by overworking and underpaying their men. Another circumstance which tends to reduce wages, and which is at least as effective as competition itself, is the bad state of health of the journeymen bakers, brought on by the very overwork of which I have been speaking. In all sickly trades there must always be a great number of men thrown out of work by illness; young healthy recruits are constantly coming up from the country to supply their place; and thus the labour market is overstocked, and that, too, with men impoverished by illness, and too glad to be taken into employment on almost any terms.   I do not attribute their liability to disease entirely to overwork. They are exposed to heat, which, while it exhausts them, renders them liable to colds, and seems to favour determination of blood to the head; to dust from the flour, which irritates the lungs; and to severe exertion, which leads to palpitation, diseases of the heart, and apoplectic seizures. There is also in the habits of the journeymen bakers something which tends still further to impair their health. They do not employ the only holiday they have in the week - the Saturday evening - in a manner likely to recruit their strength, preserve their health, or improve their morals. They meet at public-houses- not merely for the purpose-of' recreation, but when out of work, they use them as places of call. The bakers, I believe, have the character of being a dissipated body of men; but exposure to heat, overwork, and one evening in the week only for recreation, are circumstances favourable neither to mind nor body. They have not even the Sunday to themselves; for in the morning, and at noon of Sunday, they have to attend to the baking of dinners. They might go to church in the afternoon; but it is the natural tendency of the overwork to which they are subject to indispose them to frequent the church. The bakers, as a class, are short-lived. There are few old or even middle-aged men among them. The oldest man I saw was 65, but I believe there are a few older men at work. The average of the whole 111 was only 30¾ years. I look upon this low average age of the journeymen bakers as a proof of the unhealthiness of their occupation. It is only to be accounted for by premature death, and the constant influx of young men to supply the place of the deceased. I found none in what may be termed robust health; that is to say, with healthy florid complexions: The diseases to which the bakers are most subject are rheumatic fever, erysipelas, inflammation of the lungs, and consumption; but especially the last two are their most severe and fatal maladies. The less severe diseases of which they complain are colds, rheumatism, indigestion, bowel complaints, skin diseases, and bleeding at the nose. Ruptures are common among them. I should think that there is no class of men, excepting perhaps the grinders of Sheffield, so liable to severe diseases of the chest as the bakers.
    Of 111 whom I examined, 19 had had some severe and lingering disease of the lungs, and 89 complained of being subject to less severe disorders of the chest. If the two numbers be added together, no less than 108 habitual or severe diseases of the lungs will have to be divided among 111 men. I attribute in part the dissipated habits with which the bakers are charged to their being overworked. People who have but one evening to themselves in the week, who have no time to cultivate their minds, and who are always in a state of bodily exhaustion, must be in great danger of finding the public-house too attractive. The bakers are exerting themselves for the abolition of night-work; and from what I can understand. there would be no difficulty in doing away with it altogether, except the opposition of a minority of under-priced bakers, whose profits arise from exacting an excess of labour from the men; that is to say, the majority of the trade are the slaves, of the minority. The great majority of the bakers are from Scotland, a large number from Devonshire, and several from the other western counties: a few from Ireland. Scotland is the great nursery of bakers. The master bakers in Scotland and the western counties of England are in the habit of employing only apprentices, who are dismissed as soon as they are out of their time, and are thrown on the English labour-market. Most of them, I believe, come to London; and this adds to the competition by which the wages of labour are beaten down. Dr Guy further mentions that the great majority of masters and men look alone for a remedy to the interference of the legislature. It would seem almost unnecessary to say that any expectations of this kind must prove fallacious. Further than the general enforcement of certain sanitary regulations, nothing can be advantageously done by the legislature, unless it be the abolition of the window duties. But strangely enough, the very legislators who are seen lamenting over the darkened condition of the workshops in which the poor operative bakers of London are doomed to toil, divided, if we mistake not, against the repeal of the duties levied on windows. As regards the general question, it is extremely difficult to see how, according to existing tastes, and in present circumstances, the condition of operative London bakers is to be improved: A loud and very just complaint is made against night-work; but all know that this is caused by the public demand for hot rolls at breakfast, and there can be no possible remedy till the use of that species of bread is abandoned: then comes the excessive competition among employers, which renders the smallest saving necessary; and lastly, the great overabundance of labour in proportion to the demand. Although one of the most slavish and deadly professions, young men crowd into it without the slightest regard for consequences. The vast redundancy in the labour-market is, in short, the main cause of the sufferings endured by the bakers; and we fear that this evil, to such an extent as may seem desirable, is not likely soon to be remedied.

Chambers Edinburgh Journal, 1848


THE LONDON BAKERS.

IF we estimate the population of London at two millions and a quarter; if we suppose that of this enormous population every mouth consumes more or less bread, in some form or other; if we consider, moreover, that all this vast amount of bread is, with scarcely an exception, baked in bake-houses, and not made at home, it is evident that the condition of the poor fellows who manufacture it - to English men and English women, is matter of quite as much interest, to say the least, as the state of Quashee growing pumpkins in Jamaica, or serenading "Buffalo gals" on the banks of the Ohio. Mr. John Lillwall, a gentleman favourably known for philanthropic effort, more especially in connection with the Early Closing Association, has endeavoured to awaken the public to a sense of the wretched condition of the journeymen bakers of the metropolis. Twice has he read a paper on the subject before the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science. The last paper on this subject, entitled "Bondage in the Bakehouse" has just been put into our hands. It is our authority for the statements we now propose to make, and in quoting from it, it is our intention to serve the cause which Mr. Lillwall has at heart. Mr. Lillwall says, during the last twelve or fifteen years he has personally, as the agent of the Early-Closing Association, instituted inquiries into the condition of numerous sections of the industrial classes, and has also taken some pains to become acquainted with similar investigations made by other gentlemen, and the information thus acquired has convinced him that, with perhaps, the exception of the unhappy persons employed in bleach works, there is no body of men so painfully placed as the journeyman bakers. Their case may be described in a few short sentences.
    In London, as also in some of the larger provincial towns, a considerable proportion of these men are required to work both night and day. For instance, they commence their week's labour on Sunday at 11p.m. and continue at it till about 4 p.m. the following day. During the dreary hours of the night, when most other persons are in bed, and when all nature may be supposed to be at rest, these men are engaged in preparing the dough, and baking the bread; and when at length morning comes, instead of then taking repose, they have, as it were, to begin afresh, being required to deliver that same bread to the out-door customers, sometimes carrying a hundredweight or more on their backs, and at others, conveying it in hand-trucks,- in either case an extremely laborious operation, which often occupies them till late in the afternoon.
    To these men, all days and nights are alike through the week, up till Thursday, when matters too often become still worse, especially in the case of the "underselling" shops, where, in a large number of cases, the men are required to work on continuously from 11p.m. on the evening mentioned, till late on Saturday afternoon, making in all forty hours' labour at a stretch. It must also be borne in mind that in the case of many, if not most situations, this class of journeymen have to be in attendance on Sunday from about 10a.m. till 2p.m. to see to the "dinner-bakings."
    Taking it altogether, therefore, it will be found that a large portion of these men are employed weekly for the almost incredible period of 112 hours - averaging upwards of eighteen hours per day out of the twenty-four - reckoning six days to the week. It is true that in some establishments, those who begin at 11 o'clock at night get finished by 1 or 2 o'clock on the morrow, but then it is also true that in the case of other shops of this class the operatives do not get done before 5 or 6 p.m.
    Now, out of 112 hours per week, that so many of these men are thus required to labour, the only respites they have is to snatch their meals (often barely sufficing for that purpose) and from an hour to an hour and a half during the night, when they usually lay themselves down upon the hard boards in the bake-house, breathing all the time the same hot, unwholesome atmosphere which they inhale during the other tedious hours of the night. Now, it must be evident that these brief intermissions from active labour - participated in under such circumstances - are next to useless as periods of rest and refreshment, more especially as the men dare not trust themselves to get into a sound sleep (even if they could do so), lest they should lie too long, and thereby get into trouble by spoiling the bread.
    [The weekly wages of these men range from 12s. to 18s. with the allowance of half-a-quartern loaf to each person per day.]
    Further, it is notorious that most of the London bake-houses are the veriest dungeons - dismal, dirty and pestiferous. A journeyman whom Mr. Lillwall examined relative to this point, stated:
    "Our bake-house is beneath the causeway. The bake-houses generally are very unwholesome, the drainage is bad, and we get offensive fumes from the gas pipes, water-closets, and other causes, frequently making us quite sick."
    The annexed upon the same point is from a lecture by Dr. Guy:-
    "The following memoranda collected by a journeyman baker, and put into my hand by Mr. Reid, will serve to illustrate the present condition of the bake-houses:-
1. Under-ground - two ovens - no day light - no ventilation - very hot and sulphurous
2. Under-ground - no day light - often flooded - very had smells - overrun with rats - no ventilation.
3. Under-ground - two ovens - no day-light - very hot and sulphurous - low ceiling - no ventilation but what comes from the doors - very large business.
4. Under-ground - three ovens - use gas at all times - very hot and sulphurous.
5. Under-ground bake-house - very dark - obliged to use gas - not high enough for a man 5 ft. 9 in. to stand upright in without hitting his head - very hot - one oven.
6. Two ovens - very dark - full of cold draughts - the rain falls on the man that works at one of the ovens - very small bed in the flour loft.
 7. Two ovens - half under-ground - no daylight - no ventilation, but what comes in at the door - privy on top of the oven - very hot.
8. Under-ground - bake-house very small and hot - ventilation from a hatchway - the men are obliged to go out for air to recover themselves before they can eat.
9. The privy in the bake-house - bed-room under the stairs.
10. Half under-ground - small bake-house - privy in it - very bad smells."
     Dr. Guy remarks that the statements compressed in the foregoing memoranda are in conformity with the results of his own observation.
    Most of the journeymen are single persons, and sleep and board on the premises, and here again they are, in many cases, exposed to still further evil, connected with their bed-room accommodation. The following upon this point was told Mr. Lillwall by the operative whom he has already quoted:-
    "The bed-rooms of the journeymen are too often under-ground, adjoining the bake-house, and are therefore intolerably hot and miserable. In the case of some of the under-selling shops, there is no bed-room of any kind provided; here the man are necessitated to sleep on the boards of the bake-house, as they can."
    The evil results of the system may be thus summed up: 1. Physical - It must naturally be supposed that the effort these long hours of labour, taken in connection with such defective sanatory arrangements, and with the sudden transitions from extreme heat to nipping cold during part of the year, to which the bakers are exposed, must be seriously destructive of the health of these men. Experience proves this to be but too truly the case.
    Dr. Guy, of King's College Hospital, a high authority on such subjects, states:
    "I found none [of the journeymen bakers examined] in which may be termed robust health, that is to say, with healthy florid complexions. Only 14 in the 100 had a tolerably healthy appearance, while the carpenters who may be said to be in the enjoyment of robust health amounted to about 72 per cent., and the proportion is still greater for men working out of doors. Out of 111 bakers, 19 had some severe and lingering disease of the lungs, and 29 complained of being subject to less severe disorders of the chest."
    The Sanatory Commissioners - "We understand you to say they are extremely sickly?"
    "Extremely so. No less than 70 in the 100 complained of being subject to some disease or other, of whom several were suffering from more than one complaint, while the proportion so complaining among the brick-makers was 36 per cent.; among the bricklayers' labourers, 25 per cent.; among carpenters, 26 per cent.; among scavenges, 19 per cent.; and among the silk printers, 18 per cent."
    Mr. Edge, surgeon, of Manchester, states:-
    "I have met with more than twice as many cases of disease among the bakers than among all other artisans put together, the number of men in each case being equal."
    Referring to a deputation of journeymen who waited upon him, he observes:-
    "They came to me in a body late in the evening, and on entering the waiting-room, the effect was startling - so many shrunken, pale, anxious countenances, combined with the ghastly looked of some of them, and their dusty habiliments, it seemed more like a visit from the tenants of the tomb, than from what ought to have been hearty, sound-constitutioned men."
    An intelligent journeyman stated to Mr. Lillwall-
    "I have known, I may say, hundreds of journeymen bakers, who have died off at an early age, the victims of overwork, and the other evils connected with the business, to which they had been exposed. I have visited many at the hospitals, and have known some scores who, with broken constitutions - while yet under 30 years of age - have been obliged to return to the country [where they probably became paupers and speedily died]. I know many journeymen bakers now, who are constantly ill. Asthma, rheumatism, and tightness of the chest are the complaints from which they most commonly suffer."
    To show the state of exhaustion which these men have daily to sustain, Mr. Lillwall mentions the following incident, recently furnished him by a master baker:-
    "When, as a journeyman, engaged in delivering  bread to the out-door customers, after ringing the area bell, I have fell fast asleep before the servant could reach the door, and have been awoke by the cry, 'What! baker, asleep again?' On returning home to tea after finishing work, I have many times fallen asleep with the food in my mouth."
    The following, mentioned to Mr. Lillwall by a foreman, bears upon the same point:-
    "It was only last week that I saw some of our men sleeping in the midst of their duties. In such cases when one calls out to arouse them they awake in a great fright. Through sleeping at their work, it often happens that they form the dough the wrong shape: for instance, when they should make round loaves, they make bricks and vice versa. As foreman, I am obliged to be constantly rousing them out of their sleep. As matters stand, there is no help for it."
    The following further remarkable vases was furnished Mr. Lillwall by a master baker:-
    "I knew a journeyman who, on Saturday afternoon, when his work and its excitement were fairly finished for the week, was accustomed to fall into such a death-like stupor that, drag him about the house as they may, or do whatever else they could, it was all but impossible, to wake him till he had had his sleep out."
    Surely no further evidence need be adduced to prove the terrible physical effects of the system of protracted labour to which the journeymen bakers are exposed.
    2. MORAL AND RELIGIOUS. - Most unhappily, the evil does not stop here, but, on the contrary, the consequences to the higher nature of these men is still more melancholy and ruinous. Church-going, as a habit, Mr. Lillwall believes to be almost unheard of among them. While living in a country distinguished before any other on the earth for its profession of Christianity and for its self-denying efforts to extend the blessings of the Gospel of peace and goodwill towards men, to all parts of the habitable globe, the journeyman bakers are practically cut off from all participation in the blessings which that Gospel is designed to confer. In this all-important particular, no body of men in heathendom could well be in a worse plight. A man who filled the position of foreman made the following statement to Mr. Lillwall a short time since:-
    "Journeymen bakers rarely ever go to a place of worship. For instance, out of nine men employed where I work, not one ever goes excepting myself. They are so languid that many times they do not even change their dress on Sunday, but lie about in the bake-house or at their respective 'Houses of Call,' without even being cleaned. In fact, this is generally the case. On occasion, however, I did persuade one of our men to go with me to chapel but he slept most of the time, so I found it was of little use."
    Another member of the trade stated as follows:-
    "The journeymen very rarely go to church. If they have any little private business to see to, they transact it on a Sunday, having no leisure on any other day. When they have nothing to see to, most of my fellow-workmen sleep the greater part of Sunday, which is not to be wondered at, as they are so thoroughly exhausted by want of rest."
    At a meeting of journeyman bakers held a short time back at the offices of the Early Closing Association one of the delegates stated that he had been in London about fifteen years, had resided in six different establishments, and during that lengthened period he could not remember the case of one single fellow-workman who attended a place of worship regularly.
    3. MENTAL - Referring to the low state of intelligence of these men, a master baker recently observed to Mr. Lillwall:-
    "As you may suppose, the journeymen, as a class, are most ignorant, having no opportunity to mix and converse with other men:- if they by chance get hold of a newspaper they are sure to fall asleep over it. I have seen this scores of times, and used to do it myself." He added, that he could only account for the journeymen bearing with this state of things on the ground that they have so little opportunity to meet together, and are, moreover, in too exhausted an dispirited a state to do so. So much is the latter the case, he said, that when a man gets to forty years of age, he is generally what is called "used up," and has a great difficulty in obtaining employment, the masters being afraid lest he could not get through the work which would fall to his lot.
    As has been before intimated, the deadening blighting effect of the system in question upon the moral nature of this large body of men is inexpressibly deplorable, and entails a heavy responsibility upon the public, who have so long, it is believed, unwittingly tolerated, not to say helped to perpetuate it.
    Exhausted by the inordinate amount of work exacted of them, how strong is the temptation during the brief periods which they can snatch from labour and sleep, systematically to repair to the ale-house to stir up their languid frames by means of stimulating draughts! No wonder, then, if in course of time they abandon themselves to dissipated habits.
    In past years, active steps were taken by the London Operative Bakers to shake off the yoke by which they were manacled - numerous public meetings were held upon the subject, and finally an attempt was made by Lord Robert Grosvenor (now Lord Ebury), who all through that struggle, warmly espoused the cause of these men - to get their grievances redressed by legislative enactment. His Lordship, who was ably supposed by Dr. Guy, having failed in his benevolent endeavours, the movement was soon after brought to a dead-lock, and ultimately to an end. From that time until now, the Early Closing Association has readily availed itself of every fitting opportunity, both at its public meetings and in its various publications, to advocate the emancipation of these persons from their terrible thraldom.
    In Scotland the journeymen bakers shook off their yoke some years since. The result has been eminently satisfactory. Rescued from the system by which they were crushed and goaded into habits of intemperance, they have since - as in the case of the Factory Operatives under the Ten Hours' Act, and other classes in similar circumstances - rapidly risen in the social scale, while the interests of the masters, so far from having been prejudiced by the change, have been greatly promoted by means of it.
    A movement has again recently been commenced in the Metropolis by the operatives themselves, in which they are nobly backed by many of the masters.
    The desire is to carry out a similar social reform in the case of the Metropolis to what has been state to have been done in Scotland, by abolishing night-work, and restricting the period of labour to 12 hours per day, inclusive of meal time. That is to say, in lieu of the men working from 11 p.m. to 3 or 4 o'clock the following day, subject o the short respites already described, it is proposed that they shall commence their labours at 4 a.m., and work continuously on, with the exception of meal time, till 4 p.m., and then finish. Happily, this plan has already been tried by many masters, and from inquiries Mr. Lillwall has made from those who have tried the experiment, he finds that the difficulties to be surmounted have proved to be more imaginary than real, and that, upon the whole, the change is likely here, as in Scotland, to work satisfactorily.
    In conclusion, Mr. Lillwall says:- "But it seems to me that, after all, an alteration which still involves men getting out of their beds at the uncomfortable hour of from 3 to half past 3 o'clock in the morning, leaves the improvement in their condition seriously incomplete. I find that the only actual obstacle in the way of their commencing work at the more reasonable hour of 5.30a.m. or 6 a.m., is the demand on the part of the public for hot rolls for breakfast. Now I cannot believe but that families will relinquish this most unwholesome indulgence when they learn that by so doing they will so materially conduce to the comfort and welfare of some ten or twelve thousand human beings (speaking of London alone), who hitherto have suffered so grievously, and yet so submissively, in ministering to their enjoyment."
    Let our humane readers in London and our large towns think of this, and as far as lies in their power, ameliorate the "Bondage of the Bake-house."

The National Magazine, 1860


THE BAKERS OF LONDON

BY ONE OF THE TRADE

IT is calculated that there are three thousand master bakers and fourteen thousand journeymen in London and its suburbs. Perhaps one thousand of these masters are their own foremen, that is, put in the oven their batches of bread and take a general oversight of their work, leaving the more mechanical parts to those they employ. The other two thousand masters employ the most skilful workmen they can get as their foremen, into whose hands they commit the entire charge of their work.
    Of the fourteen thousand journeymen perhaps four thousand are lads and boys, who are, after. a fashion, able to put a loaf into shape before it is put in the oven; the other ten thou and may be classed as the journeymen proper, men who have served an apprenticeship to the business, or have been working at it for a number of years as boy, lad, and man, and have thus passed through the different grades of third hand, second hand, single hand, Scotch forehand, foreman, and master.
    One great peculiarity of the metropolitan baking trade is that there are no apprentices trained to the business by regular indenture. The practical education of most of those who supply the bakers' labour market is obtained in Scotland, Germany, and the provincial towns and country districts of England. Another peculiarity is that almost every master baker in London and it suburbs has been a journeyman. It is not a common thing for the sons to take after the fathers in carrying on the baking trade which the father may have begun, and by which he may have obtained money enough to retire upon. There are exceptions to this rule, but very few. One very remarkable exception is that of the well known Mr. Dodson's business in Blackman Street, Borough, which has been in the same family for upward of two hundred years, and seems to be in as thriving a condition now as ever it was. The ordinary way in which businesses change hands is by sale, through the millers and flour factors who supply the shops with flour.
    It is not a little curious, and may be very suggestive to those who might be inclined to enter on the manufacture of bread on a large scale, that with one exception no attempt in that line has ever succeeded in London. The exception referred to is that of Mr. Neville whose two factories, one in Bingfield Street, Islington, and one at Loughborough Park, Brixton, make about one thousand sacks of flour into bread per week. The League Bread Company, Stevens's Machine Bread Making Company, and the Aerated Bread Company using Dr. Dauglish's patents, have all been less successful undertakings. There was a tremendous furore created about machine-made bread some years ago, when the Stevens's Machine Bread Making Company was formed. A great gathering of scientific men and others had a dinner-party to inaugurate the commencement of a new era in bread-making. High-flown speeches were delivered, but the humbler calculations of outlay and income, profit and loss, were not duly considered . There is no doubt that where a business is sufficiently large to admit of steam being used as a motive power, the use of a properly-constructed machine, meeting the various peculiarities required in the making of dough, is of very great importance in the manufacture of bread. But the small amount of business done by most shops in the trade renders the use of a machine about as necessary in the bakehouse as it would be in our kitchens for the cook to make her puddings with. A large business,such as Spikings and Co., of Dover Street, Piccadilly - who, by the way, use steam machinery in the making of all their dough, and possess the most perfect machine for making dough the writer has yet seen - will use sometimes a hundred and twenty sacks of flour a week. One in the East End (McCash, Broadway, Stratford) is said to use ninety sacks. A few range from forty to seventy, a number from twenty to thirty, but the very great majority only make from eight to twelve sacks per week, so that the average of all the businesses carried on within the Post-office radius will be about fifteen sacks a week.
    Some businesses make bread only, and one of the most remarkable men in the trade say that he is the only genuine baker who makes nothing but bread; all others are interlopers. Some make fancy bread, biscuit , and cake , and that used to be the characteristic of what were called "full-priced shops;" but, since the establishment of those enormous biscuit factories, such as Peak, Frean, and Co., Huntley and Palmers, etc., almost all bakers' shops sell biscuits as well as bread.
    The way in which many trades are altering their original conditions in these days has a singular illustration in the case of the bakers. Some few years ago, when Huntley and Palmer's people began to supply the grocer with biscuits, many master bakers were very wroth with the grocer as interfering with their business. "If you sell biscuit, I shall sell tea" was the remark, and forthwith some one was found to supply the bakers with tea, packed in quantities ready for sale; and now a large proportion of bakers ell tea as well as bread and biscuits. In like manner the publicans now sell tea because the grocer ell wines and spirits.
    Some miller use all the flour they make to supply their own shop , and some of them have as many as ten or fifteen. They rent the shop, put a man in possession, who is nominally master, engaging men for the work, and this man is paid either so much per sack of flour that he makes into bread, or the miller requires a given price for a given number of loaves, say ninety per sack, and whatever value is over that amount is the shopkeeper's means of living.
    It will easily be seen that a less value of returns per sack will pay a miller in this direct way, than would pay a miller in the ordinary way of business, who supplies bakers with flour and takes the ordinary risks of trade. This it is which has given rise to what are called cheap shops and cutting prices, and led the way to that gross abuse of competition which culminates in flaring placards in bakers' shop-windows announcing "Glorious news," "Down again." It would be sound wisdom in the public, and especially the working classes, if in dealing with a baker they avoided such shops. The cheap bread is made from flour of the most inferior wheats, and adulterated in every possible form; if tested by a qualified analyst, it would be pronounced almost unfit for human food. In the trade its technical name is "old mahogany."
    Time was, in the memory of the old men in the trade, when the work of a baker in London was something frightful to be engaged in. They began work at ten or eleven o'clock at night; had a sleep of a couple of hours, technically called a "pitch." With these two hours' interval, from ten or eleven o'clock till four or five o'clock next day, every day, they were busy at work, and on Saturday afternoon and Sabbath-day, cooked and carried home dinners, pies, and puddings. A very great change for the better has taken place in their condition since then. The cooking of dinners on the Sabbath is still carried on in various parts of London, but to nothing like the extent it was in former days. In the West End of London it is being rapidly done away with.
    At present the journeymen begin work at eleven or twelve o'clock at night, still having perhaps an hour's "pitch," and work on till eight or nine o'clock in the morning, when a considerable proportion of them go out with basket, barrow, truck, or cart, and serve customers. This takes up their time till perhaps twelve, one, or two o'clock in the day; then the bread they have served out has to be booked into their employer's ledger; after which they are ready to go to bed, and prepare for rising to work again about the usual hour of midnight. One of the worst features of this mode of work is, that on the Sabbath evening it is the same as on other evenings of the week. It is often with a sore heart that married men have to leave their home to go to the bakehouse on the evening of the Lord's day.
    The writer had occasion to be in a bakehouse one Saturday afternoon at five o'clock, and found the foreman having a "pitch" on some sacks in a comer, while the other men were busy getting the dough ready for being put into the oven. On asking the men at what time they began work on the previous evening, they answered at ten o'clock, so that, as the work they had in hand would take them two hours to finish, they would have to work twenty-one hours; and this they had to do every Saturday, as almost double quantity of bread is required on that day; and the wages paid these men was 30s,. the foreman, 24s, 22s, and 19s. the other three, with so much bread per man.
    In the matter of wages there is great diversity of custom. There is so much money, and what is called "the run of the bakehouse "- that is, in shops where biscuits and cakes are made, the men are allowed to use what bread, butter, and sugar they require. In shops where bread only is made, they are allowed what bread and potatoes they require. In addition to this, married men get so much bread and flour per week, and one very liberal firm gives so much beer money. Keeping this in mind, we may state that some few foremen get over £2 per week; a number get 35s., a larger number 30s., but the great majority from 24s. to 28s. Second hands get from 19s. to 22s., third hands from 16s. to 18s., lads who can mould or shape a loaf, from 10s. to 14s.
    The unhealthiness of London bakehouses has long been notorious. The causes of it are not far to seek. Long hours of labour, confined space, a heated and impure atmosphere, and flour dust being constantly inhaled by the mouth and nostrils, very soon tell on the most robust Scotchman who ever came to London. Many years ago, Dr. Guy directed attention to this, and stated, as the result of a special investigation ho had made in the course of his own practice, that nine-tenths of the diseases of bakers are diseases of the chest, directly traceable to the causes mentioned. And in a report recently published on the "Sanitary Condition of the Whitechapel District" by the inspector, Dr. Liddel, the unhealthiness of the bakehouses in it is denounced in terms of stem reproof. He says that, although the Bakehouse Regulation Act was passed in 1863, in the seventy-four bakehouses of that district there were twenty-seven unclean, twenty-three deficient in light and ventilation, giving also other details which may make the reader feel thankful he does not live in Whitechapel. But it may be that in other districts of London where the poor are heaped together, a near approach to the same condition of things may exist. Let the district medical inspectors and officers of health see to this, and let the examination be more than the formality, as, to my knowledge, it too often is.
    A few words I may add, in conclusion, about the recent strike in the trade. The workmen made the demand that from 4 A.M. to 4 P.M. be the hours. of labour, and all work done after that time be paid according to a fixed rate. The masters replied that as different shops made different classes of goods, and served a different class of customers, a uniform time of labour could not be carried out, and proposed that twelve hours should be counted a day's labour, agreeing to the rule as to overtime, but stipulating that each shop be left to choose the time most suitable to its business. It may be stated as the reason of the employers' answer, that many bakers' shops only supply private families, and others the shops called "chandlers'" shops, to sell bread for a certain percentage. Others again supply hotels, warehouses, and the nobility, and make enormous quantities of rolls, and small goods in every conceivable variety of shape, which all require longer or shorter time to get ready, but must be served to their customers for breakfast.
    The men stuck fast to their demand, the masters refused to agree to it, and the strike took place. A demand for increased wages was also made, and in the case of some employers both time and wages were given; but now things are just about where they were before the strike took place. The elements of future strife are seething underneath the apparent calm, and it might be wise for both masters and men if they tried honestly on either side to find a means of extrication from a condition of labour which no man of sense or benevolence can reflect on without regret. I venture to suggest that better bakehouses, with more oven accommodation than at present exists, should be provided by masters; also that an arrangement be made, if there must be nightwork, to meet the requirements of the public; then let ten hours' labour be counted as a day, with increased wages for nightwork, and thus a step might be gained by the journeymen. Of one thing we may be sure, that in the arrangements of an labour for the future, the requirements of physical and moral health must be more considered than in times past, both for social and political reasons.

Leisure Hour, 1873


see also Our Social Bees, by Andrew Wynter

see also 'Fetching Home the Christmas Dinner'


see also In Strange Company, by James Greenwood - click here


see also The Little World of London, by Charles Manby Smith


see also Mystic London, by Charles Maurice Davies


see also Episodes in an Obscure Life, by Richard Rowe