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WORK AND PLAY.
ON THE INNER LIFE OF WORKSHOPS
IN all phases of life, there is, I fancy, a sort of inner
life - a life behind the scenes-that is known only to the initiated. At least, I
know that such is the case in respect to the social life of the working classes;
and in none of the many phases that go to make up the sum total of such social
life is this more fully exemplified than in the life of workshops. To those
particularly wise people who believe that one half of the world - the half
namely to which they belong - does know how the other half live, those
embodiments of all the talents who arise in the House of Parliament and other
public places, and in an I am Sir Oracle strain assert their thorough and
absolute knowledge of the wants, wishes, habits, virtues, and vices of the
working-classes, life in a workshop will appear a very simple thing indeed. The
people of this class would tell you that the be-all and end-all of workshop life
was to labour for so many hours a day for a stipulated amount of money, and that
all that was necessary to qualify a man for this life was that he should be
possessed of a certain degree of technical skill, or physical power, or a
combination of both. And it is by no means surprising that this should be an
outsider's idea of what consti-[-84-]tutes the life of a workshop. At the first
glance, it seems the most natural, and is, as far as it goes, a really
correct view of the case; and a view that is strengthened and confirmed from the
circumstance that when visitors are taken through those "show"
workshops, which naturally form one of the sights of a manufacturing country,
particular care is taken both by masters and workmen to arrange "the
show" in a manner that must impress sight-seers with the notion that work,
and work alone, is the beginning and end of workshop life. But any working man
who entered a workshop with such an idea in his mind, and with no other
qualification than being able to use his tools, would soon find himself in very
evil case. For him the shop would be "made hot" - so hot, that, as a
rule, he would have to leave it; and might thank his planets if he was fortunate
enough to escape personal violence. This, however, is only a hypothetical case,
for such a monster as a working man who considered work, even during his working
hours, to be his being's end and aim is happily for himself rarely to be met
with in the flesh.
There are traditions, customs, and usages interwoven with, and indeed in a great measure constituting, the inner and social life of workshops, a knowledge of which is as essential to the comfort of those whose lot is cast amongst them, as technical proficiency is necessary to obtaining or retaining employment. To these unwritten, but perfectly understood and all-powerful laws of workshop life, all working men - whatever may be their private opinion - must in some degree bow. The social phase of life in a workshop - the phase embodied in the customs and traditions of "the trade" - is generally the first into which the beginner is initiated. When an apprentice enters a shop, he will in all probability [-85-] be taught to "keep nix" before he is told the names of the tools; and though the apprentice, everything around him being novel, would prefer being enlightened regarding the elementary mysteries of his trade to being put to keep nix, this merely shows his want of wisdom. Keeping nix is a really important job, and one the efficient discharge of which is supposed to imply the possession of considerable ability on the part of the apprentice, and which elevates him in the estimation of those who are to bring him up in the way he should go. Keeping nix, consists in keeping a bright look-out for the approach of managers or foremen, so as to be able to give prompt and timely notice to men who may be skulking, or having a sly read or smoke, or who are engaged on "corporation work" - that is, work of their own. The boy who can keep nix well - who can detect the approach of those in authority, while they are yet afar off, and give warning to those over whose safety he has been watching, without betraying any agitation, or making any movement that might excite the suspicion of the enemy - will win the respect of his mates; he will be regarded by them as a treasure, a youth of promise. But should he be so slow or so unfortunate as to allow his mates to be "dropped on while he is upon guard, then woe to him! Curses loud and deep will be heaped upon his thick head; a stout stick and his back will probably be made acquainted; and from that time forth, until he has redeemed his tarnished reputation by doing something specially meritorious in the nix keeping way, he will be regarded as one concerning whose capacity to learn his trade there are grave doubts.
Another accomplishment which an apprentice has generally to learn before settling down to the acquisition of the art and mystery of his trade, is that of [-86-] smuggling drink into the shop in a bold and scientific manner. As drunkenness has for years past been giving way to moderation among the working classes, the practice of smuggling drink into workshops has also decreased. There are now many working men who are not only guiltless of this pernicious practice, but totally opposed to its being carried on by others, and who would, were it in their power, save the apprentices from being implicated in it. For not only does a boy run the risk of being disgraced and punished if he is detected in bringing in the drink, but the "sups" with which he is rewarded on these occasions often lay the foundation of drunken habits. But an apprentice lad in a large workshop is the servant of many masters, and is bound to do the bidding alike of the soberest man and greatest "lushington," who, in virtue of their position as mechanics, are placed in authority over him. And though a boy, of course, could refuse to bring drink into the shop for any man, he is, practically speaking, compelled to do so, for he cannot afford to deny a favour to a man upon whose goodwill depends the question as to whether he is to be a good or bad workman. For, though it is nominally the master to whom he is bound, who has to teach him his trade, it is on the goodwill of the skilled workman of the establishment that he has really to depend for being initiated into those little "wrinkles" and specialities the knowledge of which makes the difference between the good and the bad or only ordinary workman. And it not unfrequently happens that the lushingtons, the thirsty souls who towards eleven o'clock in the day find themselves afflicted with a craving for a hair of the dog that bit them over-night, and significantly observe in the hearing of an apprentice, that they could do nicely with a pint if they could get it, and then, upon getting no [-87-] response to this hint, pathetically ask, "Do you think you could manage it for us, Billy?" are the cleverest workmen, and the kindest to boys, and the very men whose good graces the fathers or friends of the boys recommend them to cultivate; and thus a boy is often compelled, against his own better feeling, to turn smuggler. This smuggling calls into action a far greater degree and combination of talent than is required for keeping nix; and a clever smuggler-that is, one who can conceal a can or bottle about his clothes in a manner that gives little or no indication of its existence, who can deftly scale a wall, or boldly walk out through a workshop gate as though he were bound upon some perfectly lawful errand, who can instantly and unhesitatingly frame a plausible answer should he be stopped and questioned, and, above all, who is prompt in device, and swift and decisive in action, in the way of getting rid of his contraband cargo should he be detected or captured in the act of running the blockade-is regarded by the lushingtons as a gem among boys, who must turn out a first-rate workman; and to him they will, in due course of time, teach the cunningest trade wrinkles of which they are the masters.
Nor must the young apprentice, however he may be burning to penetrate the mysteries of the trade in which he has secretly resolved to become a shining light, dream of quietly devoting himself to the pursuit of technical knowledge, until he has undergone a further initiation into the nature of workshop life, by having a number of stock tricks played off upon him by the older apprentices. These tricks generally turn upon the new apprentice's ignorance, or only partial understanding of what he sees going on around him, and vary in different trades. A common spirit pervades [-88-] them, however, and a brief description of some of those practised in the trade to which I belong, will serve to show what manner of tricks they be.
The lads of a large workshop devote the first day or two of the appearance of a new boy amongst them, to questioning him about himself and relatives, and more especially as to his designs about becoming the Stephenson or Watt of his day: in a word, to "taking his measure." Having ascertained his degree of gullibility, their next step will probably be to send him to the most ill-tempered man in the shop, with instructions to address him by some offensive nickname, and ask him for the loan of a half-round square, or some other non-existent and impossible tool: his reception by the man to whom he is sent on this fool's errand, and who is a stock victim of this particular pleasantry, will be both astonishing and disagreeable. After this they will profess sorrow for the trick, and offer to make atonement by teaching him how to handle his hammer and chisel. When they have got him fairly to work, one of them will jerk the elbow of his hammer arm, and by that means cause him to hit his chisel hand. If he knocks a piece of skin off it, that is considered to add piquancy to the joke; and when he pulls a face and wrings his hand, he is told that it couldn't have hurt him, as it wasn't on him a minute. Encouraged by success in these preliminary experiments, the more determined of the practical jokers proceed to lay a new and much more elaborate trap for "the new nipper" - a trap into which the doomed boy is, despite the caution which his previous experience may have engendered in his mind, almost certain to fall unless he is warned against it. In all workshops the men frequently get small chippings of iron, or some other material with which they are working, into their eyes, and when this hap-[-89-]pens they at once go to one of their mates, who, seeing what has occurred, places the patient with his face to the light, turns up the top eyelid - on the inside of which any particle of cold matter that enters and remains in the eye is almost certain to be found; with his penknife or "scriber" he then takes off the irritating substance. Many mechanics - but more especially stonemasons, and that class of engineers technically known as "fitters" - attain a remarkable degree of proficiency in cleaning eyes in this manner; and I have more than once seen an ordinary working mechanic take a minute particle of iron-part of a "splash" - or a still more difficult thing to see, a grain of sand from a grindstone - out of eyes that a number of doctors had declared to be suffering from weakness, and not from the presence in them of any foreign substance. This operation an apprentice will probably see performed before he has been in the shop many hours, and the sight of it soon becomes quite familiar to him. He sees that a steady hand and eye are all that are required for doing it, and that being able to do it is a most useful qualification in the trade to which he is destined, and he probably wonders whether he could do it, and mentally decides that he has no doubt that he could, as he sees other lads successful. Things being in this state, one of his fellow-apprentices gets into conversation with him, and while they are talking up rushes another apprentice, apparently in great agony, and holding one of his eyes open with his fingers, thus sufficiently indicating that he has got something in his eye. On seeing this, he who has been talking to the new boy is struck with consternation, and looking at his own hands, which are in a dreadfully dirty state, excitedly exclaims, "By jingo, Bill, here's Harry got something in his eye; just take it out for him; I can't [-90-] touch him with these hands." Eager to at once relieve the agony of his brother apprentice, and try his own prentice hand at a surgical operation, he immediately draws out his penknife, goes up to the suffering youth, places him in position, peers anxiously into the eye - and receives a mouthful of water plump in the face. The successful completion of the plot elicits a burst of laughter from those who arranged it, and who have by this time gathered round their discomfited victim. Occasionally, however, this trick is made to cut backwards. It is generally pretty well known when it is going to be played off upon any boy, and if it should happen that the principal performer in it - the one who is to fill his mouth with water and pretend to have something in his eye - is, from being fast or disobliging, disliked by the men, some of them will let the intended victim know what is in preparation for him. He is instructed to go up to the gentleman who is supposed to have something in his eye, as though he intended to search for it, and when he gets well within reach, to give the afflicted youth a sharp flat-handed slap upon the mouth, and watch the result. Which result, if the lad carries out his instructions properly, will be, that his would-be victimizer will be as nearly as possible choked.
Having by a more or less painful experience obtained a knowledge of those phases of the inner life of a workshop that apply more especially to boys, and having by a fight or two settled which of the other apprentices may or may not venture to fag him, and having selected a mate with whom to go for walks in the evenings and on Sundays, and exchange confidences concerning their respective sweethearts (for by this time he will have learned that in order to be in any degree worthy of his age and generation he must [-91-] have a girl - even if he has to invent one) - the young apprentice may begin to think of settling quietly down to the study of his trade. He will now be left unmolested to practise with the simpler tools at this time entrusted to him, and to wonder within himself whether he will ever be able to acquire that extraordinary degree of deftness in handling them which he sees possessed by the workmen around him; he will be left to learn by observation and inquiry "the ins and outs" of the strange things that he sees going on around him, and otherwise to generally qualify himself to witch the world with noble workmanship, and realize his idea of becoming in time one of the great men of the profession. For the next two or three years he will go on pretty smoothly, gradually improving in proficiency as a workman, and, as a rule, getting "disenchanted" as he becomes familiar with the intricacies of the trade. During this period he will get upon terms of equality with most of the apprentices, and be in a position to lord it over some of the younger of them, though himself not as yet allowed to mix as an equal with the journeymen. From some of these he will in the meantime receive kind and considerate treatment, while from others he will get ill-treatment. Whenever any of these men abuse him, he will probably console himself by confiding to his chosen companion that he intends to pay Mr. So-and-so for all this on the day on which he comes out of his time. And though these vows are as rarely kept as the resolution to become the Stephenson of his day, I once did see a young man fulfil a vow of this kind. As soon as the clock struck twelve on the day on which his indentures expired he threw down his tools, and immediately "pitched into" a workman who had habitually ill-used him during the first three years of his apprenticeship. Having [-92-] first given the man a sound thrashing, he deigned to explain his reasons for doing so thus:-" I always told you when you used to knock me about when 1 first came to the trade that I would pay you off for it when I was out of my time; and now if I send anyone to you for my character you can tell that I keep my word." But though until he is getting into the last year of his time an apprentice is practically treated as a boy by the journeymen, and is bound up to the last day of his apprenticeship to do their bidding, when he has once got through his greenhorn period he will by means of a little observation, and putting of two and two together, be able to obtain a tolerably accurate general insight into those customs and usages of workshop life, a knowledge of which will be absolutely essential to his "knowing his way about," when in course of time he has to go out in the world as a journeyman. Among the first things that will attract his attention will probably be the curiosities of smoking as carried on among the men in a workshop. Most working men are smokers, and some of them very constant smokers,-an ordinary allowance of tobacco for many of them being an ounce a day, some of them use considerably more than that; and while all smoke more or less, and the rules of the shop prohibit smoking during working hours, it is scarcely a matter for surprise that working men should find out or make curious holes and corners to which to repair to "have a smoke" unseen. And so though a boy may regret this state of things, as it necessitates his being put to keep nix, and being thrashed if he should allow the surreptitious smokers to be discovered, he will hardly consider it strange. But when he sees men going about day after day begging tobacco of their shopmates, and sees a man [-93-] offering one of his fellow workmen his tobacco-box to help himself from, giving another a bit which he takes from the box himself, and evidently weighs by eye and hand, and absolutely denying having any tobacco in his possession to a third, he may fairly be excused for wondering what it all means; but it is only in time and by close observation that he can thoroughly understand the mysteries of tobacco cadging or profit by the lessons they teach. This tobacco cadging in workshops, although carried by some men of sponging proclivities to a most degrading extent, is in its origin and up to a certain extent easily accounted for and perfectly justifiable. In hurrying to his work in the morning a man may forget his tobacco-box, or his tobacco may get exhausted in the forenoon, and he may forget to renew or not have an opportunity of renewing his stock at dinner time, and so may be tobaccoless in the afternoon, or a man who has brought out a sufficient supply for himself in the morning may fall short during the latter part of the day from having accommodated a number of mates with pipesful. And under such circumstances as these it is perfectly legitimate for a man to ask one of his fellow-workmen for a pipe of tobacco. Taking ad. vantage of this state of affairs the spongers have reduced tobacco-begging to a system. They have all the stock excuses of the honest smokers, and expend a good deal of time in inventing new ones. The lender takes especial care not to trust a "cadger" with his box. For when once a cadging smoker gets his will of a box, he will cram his pipe as tight as he possibly can-afterwards drawing the tobacco out and making two ordinary charges of it. Other cadgers keep a special begging-pipe, that is, one with an unusually large bowl. There is an anecdote current [-94-] among smokers showing how a Jesuit of the workshop put off the cadgers in a successful manner, while at the same time saving his conscience from the guilt of a direct falsehood. "I haven't got a bit in the world," this personage would say when asked for a pipe of tobacco, at the same time producing an empty box in confirmation of his asseveration; but presently he would be seen in some of the secret smoking-places calmly enjoying his pipe. This occurred so frequently, that his shopmates began to ask him where he got his tobacco from, since, according to his own account, he never had a bit in the world. "I trust to Providence," was his answer. His fellow-workmen could riot, however, bring themselves to believe in such a visible and continuous manifestation of it, and on his being strictly questioned, it presently appeared that the conscientious man kept two tobacco-boxes, one of which he called the World, and the other Providence. He only kept tobacco in the latter, and so could always show that he had not a bit in the world.
One of the customs which forms part of the inner life of a workshop, with the existence of which an apprentice will be made aware at the very outset of his career, but a knowledge of the incidental details and ceremonials of which he will have to gather from after experience, is the payment of "footings" (sums of money to be spent in drink). This is a custom that would, doubtless, be more honoured in the breach than in the observance. The call for footings is generally made at times singularly inopportune for those who have to pay them, and in those cases -where it is the rule of a shop for each new corner to pay a footing, the demand for it often amounts to absolute cruelty. A man may have been out of work for weeks, or even months, and he may have a wife and children [-95-] in want of bread in some distant town, or he may have been tramping and have pledged or sold all his clothes except the much-worn working suit in which he stands ; and from some or all of these reasons he may be sick in body and mind. And yet out of his first week's wages he must pay his footing, must give a part of his earnings to be spent in drink, while his wife and family are hungry and he is himself without a second shirt. This is not always or even frequently the case, nor would it be the case in any instance, if the men who asked for the footing saw the matter in that light, and if a man in such a position had only the courage to say- Well, I would like to pay my footing, but I have been out of work for some time, and my family and myself are very badly off just at present. If a man when asked for his footing on entering a new shop would say something of this kind, the claim to the footing would be abandoned. But working men, when demanding this species of black mail, do not look at the matter in this way, I am sure; they merely consider that it is the rule of the shop, that they have paid it, and that they have consequently a right to expect others to pay it; again, no man likes to plead poverty to those with whom he is associating as an equal; and so the new corner gives part of the first money he has earned for months to be spent wastefully in a public-house. And perhaps in a few months afterwards, when he has ceased to think of these things and has "got his back up again," he will be one of the foremost in inflicting upon some other new workman all that he has suffered himself in this respect. Nor are the sufferings which they may inflict upon those who have to pay them the only evils connected with the system of footings the invariable custom of spending [-96-] the money in drink has a decided tendency to create or to encourage habits of dissipation. The footings, which may range from five shillings to a sovereign each, are generally allowed to accumulate until they amount to some considerable sum, - a sum that will give a rather dangerous allowance of drink to every man entitled to participate in them. When they have reached what is considered a sufficient amount, those interested appoint a house and an evening for spending the money. During the drinking (the landlord of the house is expected to add to it at his own expense), the healths of those -whose footings have founded the feast, and other suitable toasts are drank, and those who are "good company" sing their favourite songs, give their favourite recitations, and recount their choicest anecdotes, and by the time that these matters have been got through all present will be getting mellow. The exhaustion of the gratuitous drink brings the proceedings of the evening to a temporary standstill, and some of the steadier men will avail themselves of the pause to withdraw; but such a proceeding as this would be regarded by the lushingtons as a sinful waste of their opportunities, and they accordingly resolve to cultivate them still further by making sixpenny or shilling "whips round" among themselves. Thus the lushingtons fall to their pipes and glasses again. Those who when in their cups talk "shop" - and many do, since work is the only subject on which many of them can talk - will begin to display their knowledge now. With no other tools or material than the stem of a pipe, beer sloppings, and a public-house table, they will in a few minutes erect stupendous palaces, construct locomotives and steamers capable of unheard-of speed, design ordnance of hitherto undreamt of destructive powers, and otherwise [-97-] demonstrate that they could, if they were so minded, revolutionize the mechanical world by merely making known a few of their original ideas. From kindred spirits these talkers will receive the admiration which they consider due to their genius; but there is often some unappreciative hearer whose impatience of talking "shop" breaks out at last, and then discord comes in. Sometimes, however, the original ground of quarrel will be a charge of not drinking fair. To drink the greater part of a pot which you are asked to share with a man who does not know how good beer is for him, or to claim the first drink at, and as nearly as possible to empty, a pot for which you have tossed and lost, is, according to the lushington code of honour, not only admissible but even commendable; but for a lushington to drink unfairly of beer which is the common and equally paid for property of a number of brother lushingtons, is a thing to be contemplated with horror, and resented as such a dastardly deed should be. But whatever may be the first cause of a quarrel, when a meeting convened for the purpose of spending footings passes the whipping-round stage, it is certain to result in a general row; of which those engaged in it retain but a dim recollection on the following morning.
But there will not be wanting signs and tokens by which those learned in the ways of workshops will be able to form a tolerably accurate idea of the general character of the past night's proceedings. When one man asks of another, "Well, how do you feel this morning?" and the other answers, "Awful dickey !" and when the first speaker then goes on to ask, in a hesitating tone, "Let's see, Bill, where did I leave you last night?" and Bill replies, "Why, I'm blest if I know," you may put it down for certain that they and their mates have drunk "not wisely, but too well." And [-98-] when you find men with black eyes or damaged noses, trying to ascertain who they have been "scrapping with, or what they have been scrapping about, you will know that the proceedings of the previous evening have not been of an altogether pacific nature. And the unfortunate younger apprentices know to their sorrow when there has been a spree overnight by their being kept hard at work blockade-running during the morning, and cursed and cuffed by those men whom an overdose of drink makes ill-tempered.
That the payment of footings is an undesirable custom is an opinion now entertained by many of the most intelligent of the working classes, and the influence of these men has been so far effective, that it has gradually brought about a considerable curtailment in the number of occasions upon which footings were at one time paid. Formerly footings had to be paid for exceedingly slight causes - such as obtaining any little promotion in the shop, or commencing or finishing a piece-work job, or each time that a child was born unto a man: in some shops every time that a man put on a new article of clothing he was expected to stand treat. But now the only times at which, as a rule, footings are paid, are on a man's first entering a shop, or a boy's entering upon his apprenticeship, and again on his becoming a journeyman, and on a man's marriage. In many shops, and throughout some trades or branches of trades, footings are only asked for on the three last-named occasions; the hardship which may be inflicted upon a man by making him pay a footing on entering a new shop having in course of time been made apparent to many of even the least thinking of working men.
But while the payment of a footing with a boy is never thrown away, the treatment which an apprentice [-99-] receives from the men in a workshop will depend in a great measure upon himself. If he is lazy, ill-tempered, or impudent, and stands to the letter of the law in obliging or yielding obedience to the men, he will be treated accordingly-that is to say, the men will stand to the letter of the law in teaching him his trade, and complain of him whenever his conduct gives occasion for doing so. Boys who are at once willing and dull are the ones with whom men, from a twofold motive of kindness and a regard to their own credit, take the most pains but they naturally have the greatest degree of pleasure in teaching those who are sharp as well as obliging. Nor does their concern for the welfare of their apprentices cease on the boys becoming journeymen, as the "old hands" will continue for years to take the warmest interest in the progress of those whom they have taught their trade. On completing his term of apprenticeship, and springing at once from a wage of eight or ten to one of thirty shillings or upwards per week, the new-fledged journeyman is generally as eager to pay his footing to those who are now his brother journeymen as they are to receive it; and a newly-married man is generally found to be liberally disposed towards his shopmates. Indeed it would be surprising if it were not so, for while a sovereign is the utmost expected from him, he receives, in the iron trade at least, an ovation from his shopmates, on his return to work after his marriage, that would be cheap at five times that amount. On the occasion of his marriage, a working man takes a few days holiday, and on the day on which he returns to work does not come to the shop until after breakfast. Then he receives his ovation in the shape of what is technically called "a ringing in." Some of his intimates will know on what day he is to return, and at breakfast [-100-] time on that day everything is got ready for welcoming him. Scouts are placed along the road he has to come, in order to signal his approach, and in the meantime the men and boys in the shop stand, hammer in hand, around boilers, plates of iron suspended from beams, or anything else that comes handy that will give out a good ringing sound when struck. The arrival of the subject of the demonstration is duly announced by the scouts; all stand to their posts, and, the instant he enters the shop, strike up, producing a thundering peal. In a large establishment, the Benedict of the occasion may have to pass through several shops before reaching the particular one in which he works. In that case the ringers in each shop, having rung him through their particular department, follow him as he passes out of it, until the whole body of them are assembled in his own shop, and then the peal reaches its grand climax. When it is considered that there are perhaps as many as five or six hundred men, all skilled in the use of the hammer, all hammering their best on high or sharp sounding material, the intensity of the peal may, and indeed must, be imagined, since it cannot be described. The ringing-in is continued for about five minutes, and then the proceedings are wound up with a hearty cheer. If such a demonstration as this is not cheap at a sovereign, then nothing in the shape of a demonstration can be cheap at any price.
By acting upon the principle of being seen but not heard, he will be allowed to join the groups of workmen who at meal-times gather together in winter round the workshop stoves, and in summer in favourite shady places, to have a chat. Listening to the conversation that goes on, he hears the travellers' tales of those who have been on tramp, which tales are to the apprentice what [-101-] "Robinson Crusoe" and a course of Captain Marryat and Fenimore Cooper are to the schoolboy, and which set him (the apprentice) secretly longing - poor innocent, romantic youth! - for the time when he shall be on tramp, "regularly hard-up," meeting interesting and picturesque companions, and resorting to all kinds of adventurous shifts for his living. He also, to his surprise, hears the great men of the trade - the men whom he has seen belauded in newspapers and books, whose works are among the great achievements of the age, and whose names he has learned to venerate - coolly spoken of as old Billy or old Jacky So-and-so - hears their characters discussed, and their peculiarities descanted upon and imitated as though they were mere ordinary mortals, and finds, in short, that as no man is a hero to his valet, so no master is a hero to his workman. He will hear that old Tom Smith of Boychester (who is one of the greatest men of the day in his profession, and a reputed millionaire) is, although fiery-tempered, "a good old sort" at bottom - that he is a real clever fellow, who has forgotten more than most men in the trade ever knew - that he knows a good workman when he has got one, and will always pay such a workman well, and, in a word, that he is an admirable master. He will hear, on the other hand, that Jemmy Brown- the great Brown of the Patent Works, Hammerton - is a duffer, the Pecksniff of the trade, and that it is to old Scotty, his clever manager, that the credit of the inventions which Jemmy patents in his own name is really due. He will hear that old Davy Robinson's shop is the very worst shop to work in, principally because old Davy goes prowling about the shop all day long, watching his workmen, sometimes standing staring at one man for five or ten minutes at a spell, and thus [-102-] flurrying those men whom he does not inspire with a longing to rush at him and knock him down; and in connexion with this phase of Davy's character there is a stock anecdote told. Seeing a new workman gazing about him, Davy sharply asked him, "What are you looking for?" "Saturday night, you old varmint!" replied the man, never supposing for a moment that the shabbily dressed old fellow who had spoken to him was anything more than some over-officious clerk or time-keeper. Upon receiving which answer, Davy took to his heels and ran up the shop, shouting out to his foreman, "Mills, Mills! here's a fellow looking for Saturday night, and it's only Thursday morning! Sack him! sack him!"
This kind of talk about tramping adventures, and the characteristics or peculiarities of masters, workmen, or workshops, is what has the greatest attraction for the apprentice during that period of his workshop career in which he is allowed upon sufferance to join groups of gossiping workmen in the capacity of a silent listener. As he gets older, however, and begins to look forward to the termination of his apprenticeship, his interest in the topics of workshop conversation begins to centre more in those matters that relate more directly and generally to his comfortable pursuit of his trade in the future. The men of every trade speak of their trade among themselves as the trade, and this he learns in time to do, and he is taught both by the precept and example of his mates, that he must respect the trade and its written and unwritten laws, and that in any matter affecting the trade generally he must sacrifice personal interest, or private opinion, to what the trade has rightly or wrongly ruled is for the general good. He will, as he approaches journeymanhood, begin to listen with interest [-103-] to the story of those strikes or locks-out that have become historical in the trade, and of the proceedings of those masters or men who distinguished themselves in them. He will hear, with commendable trade horror, of the existence of a proscribed and hated race of beings called nobsticks or black sheep, and he will be taught, in effect, that whenever he meets one of these obnoxious creatures - wretches in human form, who never having learned the craft in a legitimate manner, are guilty of trying to get a living by working at it, or who having duly acquired their craftsmanship, presume to exercise it under circumstances objectionable to the trade - it will be his duty to strike the caitiff down. In some districts he will hear instances gleefully recounted in which nobsticks have been literally struck down, for personal ill-usage was at one time invariably resorted to in dealing with these offensive characters, and is occasionally still practised towards them, when the means usually adopted by the more civilized workmen of the present day, of threatening to strike, has failed in getting them removed. From the talk of the old hands about strikes, locks-out, nobsticks, and other kindred subjects, the apprentice obtains an insight into those technical trade points which are so frequently the grounds of disputes between masters and workmen. He will learn at what times and under what circumstances he will be justified in demanding and holding out for "walking money"- money claimed in consideration of men being sent to work at such a distance from the shop as necessitates their rising earlier in the morning and getting home later in the evening than usual; or "dirty money"- money demanded by men who are put upon repairs, or other work that involves extra wear and tear of clothes; and on what [-104-] kind of jobs it will be advisable to "kick" the master for "allowance"- allowance being drink or money to get drink, asked for by men who are employed upon work requiring an unusual degree of physical exertion, or that has to be carried on in very hot or very cold places, or upon the successful completion of any unusually large or difficult piece of work. He will learn exactly how far he may go in doing any work that does not strictly fall within his own branch of trade; what rate of payment to demand for overtime under various circumstances; with whom he may or may not work; in what jobs he may demand or object to the assistance of a labourer, and a variety of other useful matters pertaining to trade and workshop etiquette.
And while at this time and in these things he may see much of the weaknesses and prejudices of his class, he will during the same period learn things that will show him that his class, as a class, have their noble as well as ignoble qualities. He will be taught to consider the intimation "he's in the trade," an all-sufficient reason for extending the hand of friendship to all fellow-craftsmen, irrespective of position and appearance, and he will find that the greatest kindness is extended to a brother of the craft at the time that he stands most in need of it-namely, when he is out of work; and he will see that whenever special misfortune overtakes a man, his shopmates are always prepared to enter into a subscription to relieve his wants, so far as a little money will do so. He will see men "pitching into" their work in the hardest style, in order that they may be able to give a hand to a mate who through illness is unable to do his full share, but who, from having a family dependent upon him, must stick to his work as long as he possibly [-105-] can; and he will not unfrequently see a young man - even when trade is at the dullest - voluntarily offering himself for "the sack," in order to save a married man from it; and when, as sometimes happens in times of dull trade, the men of an establishment are called together, and it is put to them whether they will all agree to go upon short time until trade gets brisker, to save some of their number from being discharged, he will invariably find the old hands, those who are sure of being kept, the first to advocate short time. Apart from such general matters as these, no one can be long in a workshop without witnessing special acts of generosity between mate and mate. And upon the whole, while the apprentice who has entered a workshop entertaining great ideas concerning "the dignity of labour," and the superiority of the "intelligent artisan," will as he nears the termination of his apprenticeship, find that workmen are not all that his boyish fancy had painted them, he will probably conclude that, all things considered, their virtues outweigh their faults.
On entering the last year of his time, the apprentice begins to find himself regarded by the journeymen as though lie were already "a man and a brother." He is now allowed to "put in his word," or express his opinion freely among them; he can command the younger apprentices with equal authority; and although, being still legally an apprentice, he is generally only drawing apprentice's pay, he will be doing journeyman's work, and if he should happen to be attached to a piece-work gang under a liberal leading hand, he may also be receiving something hike journeyman's pay. Being treated by the men as a man, and being in everything but law really a man, he naturally wishes to put away childish things, and would fain [-106-] sever the connexion between himself and the younger apprentices, in those matters in which they still claim him as their own. Thus, on the days on which the boys have a half holiday, he would rather not march through Coventry with them, for their noisy boyish rejoicings, as they rush whooping out of the shop, and the comparisons which he imagines will be drawn between him and the youngest and smallest of them, grate upon the dignity of his scarcely confirmed manhood. But he knows that he must go out, for even the men who may sympathize with his feelings rule it so, lest from old apprentices neglecting to take an allowed holiday, it should in course of time come to be taken from the younger boys. Apart from' this consideration, he knows that were he to attempt to remain in the shop the boys would return and "smallgang" him, an operation of which he will by this time have learned to have a salutary fear. Smallganging is the workshop phrase for an attack by a number of boys upon some particularly obnoxious man; and as it is rarely resorted to except in the case of some brutal ill-disposed fellow, who richly deserves chastisement, it may be regarded as a commendable institution. To people of the muscular Christianity persuasion, it may seem incredible that a number of boys should with impunity attack, bonnet, and soundly thrash a big able-bodied man. But ah, Guy Livingstone! if you were tackled by a dozen or more strong plucky boys, who had had a year or two's experience of workshop life, and were burning under a sense of injury, you would - improbable as it may appear to you - inevitably be conquered. You might "sling out from the hip," and settle one or two of the attacking party, but in the end they would prove literally too many for you. There are few who have had [-107-] any considerable experience of workshop life who have not seen this result accomplished upon men of first-rate build and strength, and as even in its very mildest form, smallganging is a decidedly disagreeable operation for the party on whom it is performed, working men have a well-grounded dread of it, which is a great protection to the boys.
In the last six months of his time the apprentice is - if he is qualified in other respects - eligible for admission to a trade club - (and it is at that time that the majority of the men who acquire their trade by a legal apprenticeship do join such clubs, and if of a provident disposition they will probably have joined one of the large friendly societies at a still earlier date). Thus upon completing his apprenticeship he will enter the world in every respect a full- fledged journeyman.
The life and education of the workshop, as I have attempted to show by briefly epitomizing the career of an apprentice during his "seven long years," is twofold - technical and social. What a knowledge of the world is to the man of the world, a knowledge of the social life of workshops is to the working man; it will enable him to push through where others would stick; to make friends readily; to avoid those whose acquaintance would be unprofitable; to get mates to put in a good word for him when he is out of work; and to go on smoothly with those with whom he is connected when in work. On the other hand, a man who is ignorant of the social part of workshop life, or who lacks tact in practising it, will, although he may be a good man and clever workman, find the workshop world a harsh, unsympathetic, and unjust world to him.
[-nb. grey numbers in brackets indicate page number, (ie. where new page begins), ed.-]