Victorian London - Professions and Trades - Clothing - Coat makers

see also Henry Mayhew, Letter XVI - click here


    Regarding the coat trade, the best part of it is in the hands of the Jews, who principally employ their co-religionists of both sexes. They are more skilful workers than the Gentiles. Last winter there were only 62 Jewish tailoresses on the Jewish register out of work, though there were many tailors. The best class of bespoke work pays very good wages. Machinists 7s to 9s 6d.; pressers 5s to 8s 6d; and women rarely under 2s 6d to 5s. The worst sweating takes place in the lower stratum where there are no contracts. (There are contracts in the upper stratum). She adds "There is nothing to complain of in the wages in the coat trade, but hours are irregular and shops insanitary." Her remarks, however, apply only to the branch of the trade which she knew best, that is to say, "the bespoke trade with the West End shops and City". For such work as this, the sweaters, whether Jews or Gentiles, pay very good wages, though the hours are long. Miss Potter said that lower wages are, as a rule, paid to out-workers than to those working in workshops, because "the outdoor work is very irresponsible, and very bad, so that the employers have to take it out in one way or another. There is an enormous amount of good spoiled and not brought in to time, and that sort of thing, so that the honest have to pay for the dishonest." She confirmed that a statement of Mr Moses, to the effect that Jewish contractors would not take the lowest class of work. "There is the very lowest layer of the coat trade," she said, "that work is done by men and women at their own homes. It really does not pay the contractor to take it out. That is the sort of coat that is done for 7d or 8d; it hardly pays the Jewish contractor to take that coat out, so that that is done to a great extent by Gentile women." This remark, it must be remembered, applies only to better grades of the coat trade, and not the small slop shops, or to the sweater who carries on his business in his own house. The prices which Mr Burnett found would appear to contradict Miss Potter's evidence, but the figures are reconcilable, as they apply to different classes of goods. Mr Burnett saw a man making some boys' Chesterfield coats, they were remarkably well made, and beautifully hand-stitched. His price for them was 3s 6d. He was busy with some others, which were heavily trimmed with fur, for these he received 4s 6d. He was making some big official overcoats for the officers of the Water Company, which were also remarkably well made and stitched with silk, and he received only 3s 6d for these kinds of coats also. In Fashion-street a man was making double-breasted coats, with eight button-holes, at 1s 4d. He said that every time he takes more coats out further reductions are attempted. A firm, which has the reputation among sweaters of being the best-paying house in the trade, was paying 4s 6d each for coats, which were sold at 2l 2s.  In Green-street an employer produced an order ticket for 60 black diagonal coats, at 1s 2d each; these coats were braided with five pockets, three of which had flaps. Another sweater, Mr Burnett also stated, was busy with pilot overcoats, with velvet collars, silk stitched, at 2s 9d each, for which he had to find his own trimmings. In Spitalfields, a Polish Jew, with a staff of five males and four females, often worked in the slack season on coats for which he received only 9d each.

Select Committee of the House of Lords, Report on the Sweating System,
Parliamentary Papers 1890, Vol.XVII