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Thursday, February 14, 1850
I now come to the Cheap and Slop Shoe Trade. It will be
seen that the lowness of prices is maintained by the same iniquitous means as in
the tailors' trade. Every meanness and petty cheat is practised upon the working
man to reduce his wages, and to increase the gains of the slop capitalist for
whom he labours. Not a trade have I investigated where the cheap prices have
been maintained by the ordinary operation of the laws of commerce.
For the present the shoemakers shall speak for themselves. One fact, however, the reader will not fail to perceive - that the distress of the workmen at the East-end is in no way referable to the importation of French boots into this country. The evil can be ascribed to nothing else than the insatiable greed of those who employ them. The slop shoemakers are, if possible, in a worse state than the slop tailors.
As an exponent of the horrors of this system, let me first give the narrative of a poor shoebinder - a widow woman - a struggling, industrious, honest creature, to whom I was directed as a fair specimen of the class. It will be seen that I found the poor creature literally starving - and that, after toiling night and day to support herself. She was without a home, and was indebted to the sympathy of friends - as poor as herself - for her share of her wretched abode where I visited her. I never yet saw so much patience under so much suffering, nor such benevolence amid such privation: -
"I have got no home, sir," she said. "My work wouldn't allow me to pay rent - no, that it wouldn't at the price we have now. I live with this good woman and her husband. The rent is half-a-crown a week, and they allow me to live with them rent free. We all live in this one room together - there are five of us, four sleep in one bed; that is the man and the wife and the two children, and I lie on the floor. If it wasn't for them I must go to the workhouse; out of what little learn I couldn't possibly pay rent. I bind shoes, or boots generally; but boot work is not to be had at this time of the year. I do the same for the shoe as the boot-closer does for the boot - that, is I prepare the upper for the maker to sew the sole to. I have 15d. a dozen for binding what are termed slippers. By a slipper I do not mean a loose easy shoe to be worn when the ordinary walking ones are off, but any kind of cheap shoe - that is what is termed a slipper in the trade. A shoe we call a tie shoe - one that ties on the instep. For binding these I get 1s. 6d. a dozen, and for the slippers 1s. 3d. I work for a slop shoe warehouse. I can only bind five pair of slippers in a day often hours, and to do that much I must sit close. My average earnings in a day I calculate at 6 ¼d. I have sometimes done half a dozen, but then I have worked a great deal by candlelight, and it doesn't pay for that. In a week I can make 3s. 1½d. by sitting close to my work - getting only up to my meals, and not being long over them. The way in which I take my meals generally is what I call worrying the victuals. I get regular employment. I have been twenty-two years at the business. When I first began I could earn 2s. a day, or 12s. a week, easily, by myself, and do for my family as well. To sit the hours that I do now I could earn 14s. a week well then. These slippers that used to be 3½d. a pair binding, are now come to 1¼d.; the shoes that used to be 4d. a pair are 1½d. The boots that we were paid 1s. for binding have come down to 5d., and extra work put into them as well - the closer's work is put upon the binder's work now - that is to say, the binder has now to stab the leather goloshe onto the uppers' of the women's boots. Formerly this was done by the closer. The binder at that time had merely to stitch the uppers together, and after that they were given out to the closer to stab on the leather goloshe. Fourteen or fifteen years ago this was altered, and the binders had to learn the stabbing and buy the tools to do it with, without any increase in the price. Before that I could have bound a pair of boots in three hours; but afterwards it took me nearly double the time to finish them. I never heard the cause of the alteration, but I know it took place immediately after a great strike among the women's men. The working men were forced to give in, and the employers immediately reduced the wages. The first reduction that took place with me was about 17 years ago, and since that time wages have been regularly going down. The employers always take advantage of the winter to cut something off our pay, saying they don't want the goods till the spring. The excuse is always that the trade is slack in the winter months, and they tell us if we don't like to do it, we may leave it. There's plenty, they say, that wants employment. I never knew the wages to rise in the spring when business is brisk - never once in the whole of the 22 years that I have been connected with the trade - that is the policy of the employers. When I first began the business there were but very few slop shoe warehouses. We mostly worked for the shops direct; this, indeed, was the practise for the first fourteen years that I was at the trade. After that time the slop shoe warehouses kept increasing very fast, and they supplied the shops instead of ourselves. The shopkeepers said they couldn't make them up as cheap as they could buy them of the warehouses; and so the manufacture passed from the shopkeepers to the warehouses. I only know one shop now that makes up the articles - formerly almost all manufactured their own goods. You see, there are two profits to be got instead of one, and of those the second profit comes out of the pockets of such as we who can't even afford a home. I don't think the number of binders has increased so much as the wages have decreased of late years; indeed within the last 15 years the trade has not been worth putting a person to; but I fancy the lowering of the wages is to be accounted for solely by the masters taking advantage of the slack in the winter to cut down our pay. If there is any increase of hands it has risen from the low prices paid to the shoemakers, for now they are obliged to put all their family to work at some branch or other of their trade. My husband was a post-boy at a large posting-yard in Whitechapel. He has been dead five years this month. His business was cut up by the railways, and his earnings before he died were half what he used to get in better times. When he was alive, and doing well, we had a comfortable home. Our joint earnings were, upon an average, £3 a week, for a great many years after we were married. Our wages kept coming down every twelvemonth from about ten years back. However, I struggled on until he died. My husband was fond of drink, and had saved nothing in his better times. When he died I was left with my only daughter, and nothing but my trade to keep me and her. My girl was ill with a rheumatic fever, and had lost the use of her limbs. She is dead. After my husband's death, I could earn at shoebinding from 6s. to 7s. a week. I paid 1s. 6d. a week rent, and I had 5s. left to keep the two of us. I did manage to make a shift with this somehow, and appear a little respectable, but it was indeed a hard struggle. We never knew what a bit of butter was, not yet sugar, for six months round; but still, so long as I had my child, I went on happily and contentedly. At last it pleased God to take my only comfort from me. Then I went to service for a twelvemonth. My health was giving way under work, for I had to toil night and day to get even bread. I often haven't been in bed for three nights together; and yet with all this I couldn't get enough to keep me. I was being fairly starved to death while doing the hardest work. I went to service at is., and had my board and lodging found me, of course. But my health had been so cut up by the little nourishment I could get while working my trade, that I couldn't do the work of my place - so I was forced to leave it and take to shoebinding again. Since that time I have been laid up with erysipelas, and then I was forced to part with everything I had in the world to keep body and soul together. All the little furniture I had got together, except my bed, is gone; and if it was not for the good friends lam with now I should be in the workhouse. The husband of the good woman here is a painter by trade. He has had no constant employment for this five years past. Occasionally he gets an odd job when out with his frame in the street. "Sometimes he brings me home sixpence," said his wife. Here the man took one of the children on his knee, and the poor little thing began asking for something to eat. I happened to hear this, and on inquiring, I found that they had none to give it. "I was obliged to sell a dish this morning, sir," said the woman, "to get the only meal of bread we have had to-day, and how we are to get another loaf I do not know." She told me she was within a week of her confinement, and not a rag of baby linen in the house. Indeed the poor things were literally starving, the whole of them. "I give them and the little ones what learn," said the poor shoe-binder, "and we all starve together as contentedly as we can. ""I went down to the workhouse a few days ago (said the wife), to ask them to take me in to be confined, and they told me to come before the board on Friday night, but then I asked what can I do with my husband and children. They must go in too, was the answer; and so we must break up even the poor little home we have; but then you know, sir, it is a home; and once broken up we should never be able to get it together again. We are all under the doctor's hands. My husband is suffering from determination of blood to the head, and has been ill for this month past."
The following narrative, which I had from the lips of a man whom I have known for some few months, and whose family have been kept from starvation during the winter by the funds placed at the disposal of The Morning Chronicle, is a statement which forms a fit sequel to the foregoing. I can vouch for the integrity and industry of the man, for he has been long employed in making boots and shoes for the poor people who applied for relief at the office of this Journal; and a more hard-working and sober man I have seldom met with.
"I have lived at the East-end nearly two years. Some months back, I took a shop in Great Saffron-hill, Holborn; being a low neighbourhood, and having a good stock to start with, I thought in such a place we might do. I bought and sold old clothes, mended old boots, &c., for sale; but all my efforts were useless. I lived there four months; and as fast as I sold my property the money was spent to support my family. Not being able to obtain employment, we began here to feel the pinching of the poverty, and got in arrear for rent. The folks we lived with were Jews; they was kind to an extreme, knowing our circumstances. I had an acquaintance in Bethnal-green, street, poor, but honest people, who very kindly offered an asylum for us in their house till things should mend with us. We accepted the kind offer. I in vain endeavoured to get work in my own line, a man's man. Then I turned my attention to women's work; it was a great struggle to get a crust for six of us. I worked in the top room with my dear friend and his family, and their privations often made my heart ache. We were too poor to assist each other. It was common for us to have breakfast about twelve, and dinner, tea, and supper last thing at night. Our two families numbered fifteen persons. When I became better acquainted with women's work, and longing to return to my own domestic privacy, my friend agreed that we should have the kitchen at 1s. 3d. per week. We lived there eleven months, but out of my scanty earnings we were not able to pay much of the rent, My friend never asked us for it. The kitchen we lived in was damp, dark, and dirty. The ceiling was six feet only from the floor. The health of myself, wife, and children suffered much here, with the bad quality of food we were obliged to eat, bad ventilation, and many hours of toil. My wife was kind and affectionate, and loved her children with that kind of affection which a mother only can feel. We used to look on those little beings with hearts ready to break. We saw them waste day after day, almost forgetting to notice the havoc that mental anxiety and the attendant miseries of poverty made upon ourselves. I was at this time making cloth button boots, that were said to be women's, but which were as large as men's; the foreparts must not be less than half an inch thick, stitched with a square French blade, military heels, and top pieces, braided on with copper sprigs; the price for making 1s. 5d. per pair. I was obliged to work from five or six in the morning till twelve at night. At this work, bad as the pay was, we could, by long hours, get bread and coffee, and school-money for two children - meat we could not get. I could not get Sunday's dinner. My children had, with myself and wife, been used, in our better days (formerly we kept a shop), to have a comfortable dinner, and it was months before they got used to do without. We felt much hurt when the children told other children that they had had no dinner. But at last we got them used to it. We would reserve 2d. on Saturday night to buy pudding for them on Sunday; we thought that if they told their playmates they had pudding for dinner that would do. They, with ourselves, are now so used to do without, that Sunday's dinner, and other little comforts connected with a working man's Sunday, are looked upon as things that were. I thought things could not be worse than they were at this time, but experience has taught me the contrary. I was next obliged to take slop work, women's lasting springs at 6½d. per pair; they were to be made solid and square; lasting spring-heel boots, with patent fronts, 7d. a pair - the commoner the work the more difficult and bad the stuff is to use. Common as the work was, should the bottom thumb soft,' or should there be the least foulness in the lasting, we must either pay for the boots or alter the work. With this miserable work, I was obliged to set my poor wife down to sew, while bread we could not buy much of. We lived upon boiled rice and hard biscuits, sold at 2d. per pound at the East-end. About this time we thought we would emigrate, if we could get the means. I calculated the time it would take to save £20, and we resolved to prolong the hours of labour, and cut short a meal a day, and save 1s. or more each day. We commenced with a resolution to better our condition by emigration, and to obtain the means in the way described. At the end of three weeks we abandoned the idea. Our strength was spent; we were ill through over exertion, and the want of proper nourishment to keep up physical strength. Knowing that I was a sober man, and that none of my difficulties were brought on by my improvidence, I resolved to lay my condition before some of the noblemen of this country, feeling certain in my own mind that if the beggar and imposter could obtain money, I, with truth on my side, would be sure to find friends among them in my sad situation. I made known my past and present condition to several noblemen, in order, if possible, to obtain the means to emigrate. I have letters in my possession, which I received from some of them, but in no solitary instance did I obtain one penny. Once I had a promise from Lord of £1 if I could obtain the rest. My heart sickened within me; despair seemed to lay hold of me. I knew not how to turn. I next obtained work at making women's leather shoes for a retail shop, 8d. a pair; patent shoes, 9d. I took a room better ventilated, though I did not know how to pay the rent. Hope still kept me alive. I had 100 circulars printed. I wandered through wet and cold, leaving one at any house wherein I thought dwelt hearts who had a care for suffering humanity. I went from house to house like a thief, my natural independence was gone. I felt as if my heart would break, as door after door, as well as the hearts within, were shut against every appeal I made. I did not obtain one halfpenny. I had many things which I had purchased, which I was wont to look upon with pleasure, and felt a deep regret to part with them. My dear little ones wanted; so day after day we sold and pawned, till we became a perfect wreck. I was next advised by a friend to seek workhouse relief. My friend gave me reasons for wishing me to apply to a workhouse. After many hard struggles to screw my courage to the sticking place, I did go. My business being a useful one, they wished myself and family to go into the house, and would not relieve us out. I would sooner have died in the street than consented to part from my family in such a way. I returned home, and cursed in my heart such a country as England, which seemed to deny the only privilege that I felt that I wanted - labour sufficiently remunerative to support my children without becoming a pauper. Thus, sir, every effort on my part failed, and I was obliged to settle down to do as best I could. lam waiting the will of God, and he who has so often saved me and my family from starvation, will assuredly help me out of my present difficulties. I reckon my average earnings this last year at 10s. per week. This last ten months I have been making women's enamelled shoes, spring heels (must be made well), at 7d. per pair. I had one seat of work, which I was obliged to take, having none else, where I was compelled to sleep and work, and pay 2s. 6d. a week rent, which, with my home-rent (3s. 6d. a week), made 6s. a week in all - so I was obliged to leave in a fortnight."
The only means of escape from the inevitable poverty which sooner or later overwhelms those in connection with the cheap shoe trade is, by the employment of the whole family of children as soon as they are able to be put to the trade. I give the statement of such a man residing in the suburbs of London, and working with three girls to help him: - "I have known the business," he said, "many years, but was not brought up to it. I took it up because my wife's father was in the trade, and taught me. I was a weaver originally, but it is a bad business, and I had only my wife and myself able to work. At that time my wife and I, by hard work, could earn £1 a week: on the same work we could not now earn 12s. a week. As soon as the children grew old enough the failing off in the wages compelled us to put them to work one by one - as soon as a child could make threads. One began to do that between eight and nine. I have had a large family, and with very hard work too. We have had to lie on straw oft enough. Now three daughters, my wife, and myself work together, in chamber-mastering; the whole of us may earn, one week with another, 28s. a week, and out of that I have eight to support. Out of that 28s. I have to pay for grindery and candles, which cost me 1s. a week the year through. I now make children's shoes for the wholesale houses and anybody. About two years ago I travelled from Thomas-street, Bethnal-green, to Oxford-street, 'on the hawk.' I then positively had nothing in my inside, and in Holborn I had to lean against a house through weakness from hunger. I was compelled, as I could sell nothing at that end of the town, to walk down to Whitechapel at ten at night. I went into a shop near Mile-end turnpike, and the same articles (children's patent leather shoes) that I received Ss. a dozen for from the wholesale houses, I was compelled to sell to the shopkeeper for 6s. 6d. This is a very frequent case - very frequent, with persons circumstanced as I am, and so trade is injured and only some hard man gains by it. From people being obliged to work twice the hours they once did work, or that in reason the ought to work, a glut of hands was the consequence, and the masters were led to make reductions in the wages. They took advantage of our poverty and lowered the wages, so as to undersell each other, and command business. My daughters have to work fifteen hours a day that we may make the sum I've told you. They seemed to have no spirit and no animation in them; in fact, such very hard work takes the youth out of them. They have no time to enjoy their youth, and, with all their work, they can't present the respectable appearance they ought. "I" (interposed my informant's wife) "often feel faintness and oppression from my hard work, as if my blood did not circulate. I sit and work on the seat, and was once told by an eminent physician that I suffered from my sedentary employment, and that I ought to go, now and then, to a dance. He might as well have advised me to go to court." "Indeed," resumed the husband, "if we wished to get to the Literary and Scientific Institution Lectures, or to a dance, then we had to work on a Sunday to do it. I used to work for Mr. ---, in the City, off and on. His way was to say, when I took in goods to offer for sale,' Oh, I don't want them - don't want them;' when all the time he did want them, but for a less price. That's the way he generally goes on to get the better of the poor people. He will take the work from a poor man, most frequently on a Saturday night, and saying, It won't suit me, it won't suit me,' throw it into the passage. He treats men worse than dogs; - but he thrives, sir, and is of the sort to thrive."
This family system of working is one of the means by which the cheap system is maintained. The party pursuing it, though forced to resort to it for the maintenance of his wife and children, whom his own unaided labour is incapable of supporting, is enabled to produce the goods at so cheap a rate that it is impossible for a single-handed artizan to do the work at the same price, and live. Another means by which the cheap prices are maintained is the apprentice system, concerning which I received the following statements: -
"My employer had seven apprentices when I was with him; of these two were parish apprentices (I was one), and the other five from the Refuge for the Destitute, at Hoxton. With each Refuge boy he got £5, and three suits of clothes, and a kit (tools). With the parish boys of Covent-garden and St. Andrew's, Holborn, he got £5 and two suits of clothes, reckoning what the boy wore as one. My employer was a journeyman, and by having all us boys he was able to get up work very cheap, though he received good wages for it. We boys had no allowance in money - only board, lodging, and clothing. The board was middling, the lodging was too, and there was nothing to complain about in the clothing. He was severe in the way of flogging. I ran away six times myself, but was forced to go back again, as I had no money and no friend in the world. When I first ran away I complained to Mr.--- the magistrate, and he was going to give me six weeks. He said it would do me good; but Mr. --- interfered, and I was let go. I don't know what he was going to give six weeks for, unless it was for having a black eye that my master had given me with the stirrup. Of the seven only one served his time out. He let me off two years before my time was up, as we couldn't agree. The mischief of taking so many apprentices is this: - The master gets money with them from the parish, and can feed them much as he likes as to quality and quantity; and if they run away soon, the master's none the worse, for he's got the money, and can get another boy and more money; and so boys are sent out to turn vagrants when they run away, as such boys have no friends. Of us seven boys (at the wages our employer got) one could earn 19s., another 15s., another l2s., another 10s., and the rest not less than 8s. each, for all worked sixteen hours a-day - that's £4 8s. a week for the seven, or £225 10s. a year. You must recollect I reckon this on nearly the best wages in the women's trade. My employer you may call a sweater, and he made money fast, though he drank a good deal. We seldom saw him when he was drunk; but he did pitch into us when he was getting sober. Look how easily such a man with apprentices can undersell others when he wants to work as cheap as possible for the great slop warehouses. They serve haberdashers so cheap that oft it's starvation wages for the men who work for the same shops."
Akin to the system of using a large number of apprentices, is that of employing boys and girls to displace the work of men, at the less laborious parts of the trade. To such a pitch is this carried, that there is a market in Bethnal-green, where children stand twice a week to be hired as binders and sewers. Hence it will be easily understood that it is impossible for the skilled and grown artizan to compete with the labour of mere children, who are thus literally brought into the market to undersell him.
Concerning this market for boys and girls, in Bethnal-green, I received the following statements from shopkeepers on the spot: - "Mr. H--- has lived there 16 years. The market-days are Monday and Tuesday mornings, from seven to nine. The ages of persons who assemble there vary from 10 to 20, and they are often of the worst character, and a decided nuisance to the inhabitants. A great many of both sexes congregate together, and most days there are three females to one male. They consist of sewing boys, shoe binders, winders for weavers, and girls for all kinds of slop needlework, girls for domestic work, nursing children, &c. No one can testify for a fact, that they (the females) are prostitutes: but by their general conduct they are fit for anything. The market, some years since, was held at the top of Abbey-street; but on account of the nuisance it was removed to the other end of Abbey-street. When the schools were built the nuisance became so intolerable that it was removed to a railway arch in White-street, Bethnal-green. There are two policemen on marketing mornings to keep order, but my informant says they require four to keep them in anything like subjection."
Mrs. F--- fully corroborated this statement, with additional particulars: -
"The general character of the persons who meet here twice a week may be taken as of the worst description. Those that are engaged are taken without character, for the best of reasons - they have none -in particular the females. The language they use is of the most disgusting and filthy kind."
Mr. N---, a lodger in Mrs. F---'s house, says:-
"A friend of mine engaged one from the market a few days since. She only had her half a day. When she went home to dinner she found that she had stolen a coat worth £3, and a good shawl. She has never seen her since. Another respectable person had a girl who stole some silver spoons, and many valuable little articles."
Other persons' statements are only corroborative of the above, and the general opinion of all persons whom I questioned on the subject, is that they are, with few exceptions, thieves; and few people will take a second boy or girl from the market. They are summed up as a dirty, vicious, and depraved set. Occasionally a decent little boy or girl may be met with, but they stand at a distance from the others (the mob), and have a father, mother, or some friend with them, to see to whom they are going.
To show the sort of labour supplied by such boys as are to be met with at the market I have described, and the way in which it is remunerated, I give the statement of a sharp little fellow not yet 13, and little even for that tender age: -
"My parents are living," he said; "my father being a shoe-man - a man's-man. He works in a bulk (stall); but work is very bad with him. My mother makes hat-boxes for the shops at 1s. 6d. per dozen, finding the stuff - it gives her 6d. profit, and takes a day to make them. I wanted a few halfpence for myself, but most of all I wanted clothes. If I hadn't been at work this week I shouldn't have had this jacket out of pawn. I knew a boy who took me to where he worked, and I got a job there. I gave three months work for being taught. The general thing is to give 10s. and three months' work, but my father was too poor to pay the 10s. It's about a year ago since I began to learn the trade. I can now sew a dozen pairs of slippers a day. Slippers they call them, that's the right name of them, but you would call them women's boots or pumps. The work is made ready for me, and I stitch the sole to the upper. I get three-farthings a pair, that's 9d. a day. I work six days in the week when my master has work, but sometimes he turns lazy after he's been drinking, and lies in bed all day. He's kind to me, and I ain't got no missus. There are a great many boys like me, employed the same way. Some boys can make three dozen a day. There's plenty of boys can sew faster than men. Men got no more at such work than we do. I give the money I earn to my mother; she's very poor, and it's help to her. I have had seven masters, but was never badly used. I sometimes work from six in the morning to ten at night. I can neither read nor write - I wish I could. Do you know of any school, sir, where I could learn on a Sunday?"
I now give a statement by a girl employed in the same description of work as the boy. She was 16, but showed nothing of the buoyancy of youth, as if constant toil had worn down her animal spirits: -
"I can make a dozen pairs of slippers (pump boots and shoes) a day, and get ¾d. a pair for them. I put the last between my knees, and hold it with a stirrup, just as you see the men work. I have parents living - they are very poor, and I put myself to this trade. I was at service as a little maid-of-all- work, but wasn't well treated, and thought I would put myself to slipper-sewing. Before I got to service I was bound prentice to learn lint-making for doctors' shops. I was bound till I was 21, having my board and lodging and clothes; but I left above two years ago. I was only 8 when I left. I left because my master beat me and the other girls - there was six of us; he beat us all with a strap. I was black and blue. But for that treatment, I should have been there still. My present master and mistress are kind to me. I have had other masters among slipper-making, but they were all kind to me. I got taught for only a month's work, because I was handy at it. I've seen it done so often. I live at home, and give my earnings to my mother. I am at work every day, and make 4s. 6d. a week. I like my work better than service. It's more independent."
Another of the evils of the cheap shoe trade is the chamber-master system, as it is termed. The chamber-master is a petty tradesman, who employs a number of the worst and cheapest hands to manufacture the goods on his premises. He has no shop, but is either employed directly by the warehouses, or else he makes up a large quantity on speculation at the lowest possible rate, and then hawks them round to the trade.
The following is a statement of journeyman slipper maker, concerning different evils to the men working under a chamber-master:
"I have only been at the trade four years. I know there is a great amount of misery existing among married hands; being a single man, and having a comfortable home with my father and mother, I have not as yet felt any of the miseries consequent on competition. I have only worked in one of the slipper-making barracks, Mr. ---, of --- street; his house is private, and has a respectable exterior. In one large room at the top of the house, in which were two beds, eight men worked. One had boys to sew. One man had two sewers; the quickest man at work I ever saw. With his two sewers he could make thirty-one pairs a day (sew-round). The dirt and filth of the room were almost incredible: weeks would elapse, and the room not be swept. We sat up to our knees in shreads (leather cuttings). Fleas were in abundance; and a dirtier set of creatures could not be imagined. Some would not wash themselves once a week. The pan in which we wet our leather was used for indecent purposes, and not emptied for a week or two. The place stank. The man I worked for was once a journeyman; started for himself, with a loan, by cutting down the wages of makers and binders. He has got on well, and has forgot he once worked on the seat himself. I left him because he would charge 6d. a week to sit to work in his house. Whether the men work there or not, they must pay 6d. a week. The man I mentioned as being a quick workman has left him, and set up chamber-master in opposition to his late employer, and is endeavouring to cut him out of the warehouses by underselling him. I work for this one. This "ready" man was a costermonger a few years since, and learnt to sew. There is another man that I know, named , who has sew-round made for 3s. 6d. a dozen. He was a costermonger, is now a chamber-master, and lives in Pancras-road, Somers-town. Though slippers of all descriptions are made so cheap by the makers, they have only the soles and uppers given out of the shop, and the men must find insoles, stiffenings, and bottom filling, besides good paste, hemp, wax, hairs, and candlelight. The cost of the above mentioned things is on the average ¾d. a pair. We are obliged to have sewing boys. Men that are quick at work, and practice what is called ready moves, can do well in the season."
The lodging-house system which is resorted to by the chamber-master in order to eke out his petty profits is equivalent to the worst forms of "sweating under the cheap tailors. I now give the statement of a pale and sickly-looking man, concerning this system:
"I am fifty-three - (he looked much older) - and I work with Mr. ---, a chamber-master. I now get 8d. and 9d. a pair for the same work as ten years ago I got 2s. 6d. forat the West-end, and five years ago 1s. 3d. and 1s. 6d. at Stoke Newington. My master only employs three men now besides myself; but he generally employs eight men, and they sleep in the two rooms they work in. We all sleep in one room, two in a bed. Chamber-masters have a deal of competition to serve the great rich firms of ---, and ---, and ---. These rich men screw down the chamber-master, and the chamber- master screws down his journeymen - poor men like me - and gets some boys and girls, and cuts down our wages. I can now earn 9s. a week, working twelve hours a day, allowing time for meals; but of that 9s. I have to pay my employer 4s. for lodging (half a bed), tea and coffee. The lodging and beds are not so bad as in some places. Some such places are awful. I have heard men say so, but I have not yet come to the worst, though it's a wretched existence as it is. The tea and coffee is not so bad. I find my own bread. Such a room as we sleep in could be got (unfurnished) at 2s. a week, so that my employer gets 8s. a week from the four of us as profit on his room, and for the use of his bedding and a chair or two; there's nothing else, except it be what the tea and coffee cost him. I reckon that neither the tea nor coffee stands him in a halfpenny a pint; but call it a halfpenny (Sunday is free but it is laid on to the others) and that's 4d. a day, or 2s. a week - that's far too high - but take it at that, and he then gets 6s. a week profit, just out of the lodging of us; that's £15 l2s. a year profit, and when he has the eight men a-going, of course its twice that, or £31 4s. - say at least £20 a year for an average. We are paid every evening - the money for our lodging and tea and coffee being deducted. My employer is a master on his own account, and will sell retail, when he can, as well as supply the great houses. This is a very common system in this district (Bethnal-green)."
The "strong" trade suffer under the same grievances as those above described. Concerning the "strong" trade, as carried on in a "slaughter" house in Westminster, I give the statement of a man now employed by a firm in ---.
"I have been in the trade about 16 years. At that time I could earn 15s. a week, take the year through. The treatment of the men was always bad, but it's worse now, a great deal. I will tell what it is now, both as to earnings and the accommodation and treatment of myself and the other men employed with me. The house where we work, generally twelve of us - there were eleven to-day - was formerly a pork butcher's. The room the twelve of us work in was a hay loft, it is above the room we sleep in; it is lighted by skylights. The room where we sleep is rather smaller than where we work. The length is 20 feet, the width 15 feet, height 7 feet. The window width is 1 ft. 10 in., and its length 1 ft. 2 in. The room is very seldom washed; the walls are damp, and there is always a dreadful stench, made up of all sorts of bad smells; it's not one of them, but a lot of stinks together. No wonder I look pale. This very sleeping-room was Mr. ---'s slaughter-house, where he killed his pigs, and where human pigs are kept now. In this room, the dimensions of which I have given you, are four beds - not such bad beds - and in them sleep eight men, two in each. There has been three in a bed. There is no ventilation, as the window will not open. From the stench I cannot, often enough, get to sleep until two or three in the morning, let me be as tired as I may. I and my mates are compelled to have from the employer what is called tea and coffee. I can't tell what the tea is, but it is curious tasting; it is indeed, sir; and the coffee is so bad that burnt beans, not good enough for horses, would make better. We call it slosh,' but that's too good a name. We find our own dinner, but can cook nothing on the premises, unless with the leave of the mistress, who makes it a great compliment to grant a favour, such as the loan of a gridiron. If you become too troublesome, there's a discharge ticket for you; but we havn't so very much to cook. Half-a-pound of steak between two - it costs 2½d. - is the usual thing; we call that sort of steak block ornaments' - what the butchers dress their blocks with - it's reckoned a luxury with us. Tea is like breakfast, only tea (as it's called) instead of coffee (as it's called), and for each meal we have to allow 1½d., finding our own bread and butter - that is whenwe can afford butter. The payment for the coffee and tea is exacted in this way: We are paid every night for the work we do in the day, and out of the payment due, the master every Monday stops is. for lodging, tea and coffee, and ad. every night after for lodging, tea and coffee; so that there can be no arrears from the men, and that pays him 3s. ad. a week, Sunday included. Whether I am there or not I have to pay for my tea and coffee. I must pay for it if I am miles off, if I'm employed there. If a man be off on a visit to his friends, as I know has happened, for five days, he must pay for it, though neither tea nor coffee has been made for him. Every man must lodge on the premises, and if a man employed be a married man, he must have a room for his wife and himself; but I have known a married man who had to pay for his lodgings with this master at another shop (for he has three) though he didn't lodge there; all circumstanced that way must pay or lose their work. That's the master's system. We work on those considerations. The men feel they are in a state of slavery. My master has the false measurement in his size-stick. We often feel languid; but shoemakers, particularly the strong men, mustn't complain when they're ill, unless they're ready for the hospital. I average, take the year through, about 9s. a week. I feel degraded by the way I'm employed, and we all do, but how are we to get out of it? It's just degradation or starvation, and I'm not quite ready for starvation."
Another man, connected with the same trade, gave this statement:
"I am a married man with a wife and family at D---. I 'occasioned' Mr. D--- in --- ---. He asked if I was married, and when he learnt I was, he said he could not give me work, for he had a bed unoccupied. He offered me work if I would lodge in the house as a single man. I was obliged to accept his offer through necessity. The first work I got was the lowest priced, and I had to buy all my grindery of him, for that truck system flourishes with him; for a ball of hemp I had to pay 2½d., the regular price being 1½d., and other things in proportion. The room I work in I sleep in, and in it are two beds. Six men work in it. The floor is half an inch thick with dirt, and is washed out once a year at the Whitsun holidays. My master has the false-size stick, and pays some men 1s. 8d. a pair for what, with true measure, I receive 2s., which is the lowest rate. The men humbugged with the 1s. 8d. curse him, but not to his face - they must put up with the pinch of the corn."
My informant then repeated the fact that a man who did not lodge in the house, being employed there, must pay 2s. a week for his lodgings all the same. "I have often heard my employer say, in the summer, when men have left, trying to better themselves, 'Ah, they soon will come back to my Refuge for the Destitute, d--n 'em, when they want to warm their hands in cold weather, and I shall say, No - d--- you, go where the sun shined all the summer; but stop,' he'll say again, 'I have a bed empty - you can go to that.' And the man says, 'I've a family.' The master says, 'You must go to h-unless you take my lodgings.' That's the way he talks. There is no truck system except in grindery with this master, and there is no accommodation for common decency. As for cooking, there is one frying-pan among fifteen men, and that won't hold half-pound o'steak. The lodgings are dens, God knows. learn 10s. a week on the average, and the grindery costs me 1s. 3d. out of that, and my lodgings 2s."
Another man in the same employ said: "Please to let this be made public. In the rooms where we work we sleep, making our own beds - middling flock beds, but very filthy and dirty. I saw a troop of 'Scotch greys' creeping about the quilt the other day; Scotch greys are the regular household troops there; it's a sort of head-quarters for them in that there refuge for the destitute. You understand, sir, what Scotch greys are - the vulgar call them lice, sir. Two rooms with five beds bring my employer in 21s. a week (he may pay 5s. rent for them). One of the men has a boy of 14, but very little, and though he sleeps with his father, he is charged 1s. a week. About fifteen years ago I was a country lad, and had two choices - to starve, or go in a place like G---'s (a similar concern). At that time I preferred water to beer or spirits; but I had no home, the refuge was no home. I could not read by any fire-side, for there was no fire-side and no chair to sit on. By degrees I made a sort of home in a tap-room; and it grew and grew until I was fond of beer, and found myself a fuddler. That's a certain evil of the system. Men must find an hour of comfort, and it can only be found in the public-house. It creates drunkenness and ruins health. At P---'s, nine men out of ten had the itch at one time, master and missus and all. Men at these places have to violate decency in a way I cannot describe to you."
The next statement was one concerning a master who was represented as fair in his dealings, but the grievance endured was this:
"We (said one of his workmen) have to work in a cellar seven feet below the pavement, very unhealthy. In winter we burn candles oft enough all day, and must find them ourselves. Sixteen men have worked in the place, but there are now only eight, because the unhealthiness deters men, badly as they may be off. I have suffered much. Heaviness, headache, and sickness are common enough. A doctor said that no man could be healthy there, and there is no place of convenience. I have nothing else to complain of, as he is a fair man, and I earn 9s. a week on the average; but for my impaired health, owing to the place I work in, I could earn 14s. a week on the same work."