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Thursday, July 11, 1850
The number of carpenters and joiners in Great Britain at the
time of taking the last census in 1841, amounted to 162,977. Of this number
128,000 were resident in England, 24,000 in Scotland, 8,000 in Wales, and 2,000
in the British Isles. There are no means of ascertaining the entire number of
carpenters and joiners in the kingdom at any previous period, because the census
of 1831 (which was the first that took any account of the occupations of the
people) gave only the number of handicraftsmen and labourers who were 20 years
of age and upwards. If, however, we compare the number of carpenters and joiners
of that age who were resident in the different counties in 1831 with those
located in the same places ten years afterwards, we shall arrive at many curious
results; for by such means we shall be enabled to see how this particular craft
has increased or declined in particular parts of the country - and then, by
ascertaining the rate of wages in those districts, we shall at the same time
learn how far the weekly income of the workman has been influenced by the
principle of supply and demand. I regret that, at present, I have no means of
making the comparison as regards the wages of the carpenters at the two
decennial periods; still, to know the rate of increase in a particular craft is
of the utmost importance in all questions of social economy, and I have
therefore been at considerable pains in arriving at the following results.
The greatest increase among the carpenters - in comparison with the increase of population - took place in Carnarvonshire, where the trade was augmented no less than 223 per cent. more than the general population of that county. The next greatest increase occurred in Renfrewshire, where the number in the trade rose to 151 per cent. above that of the population; and the next in Merionethshire, in which county the increase was 107 per cent. above the people generally. Then came Lanarkshire, where the carpenters increased 97 per cent.; in Durham, 60 per cent.; Bute, 53 per cent.; and Radnorshire, 47 per cent.; while in Yorkshire the increase of carpenters was 46 per cent, above the increase of the population. The following counties show, on the whole, an increase of carpenters, but in a less degree than the population:- Linlithgow shows an increase from 1831-41, but in the ratio of 22 per cent, less than that of the population. The population of Sussex increased 14 per cent., whilst the number of carpenters remained nearly the same. The increase of the carpenters in Cardiganshire was 8 per cent. below that of the population. Rutland 7 per cent., Breconshire 8 per cent., Dumbarton 4 per cent., Warwick 2 per cent., and Norfolk 1 per cent.
An actual decrease of the carpenters occurred in the following counties:- In Caithness the population increased 1 per cent., whilst the carpenters decreased 14 per cent., making a difference on the whole of 15 per cent. In Elgin the population was augmented by 2 per cent., while the number of carpenters diminished 9 per cent., making a total decrease of 11 per cent. In Roxburgh the population increased 10 per cent., but the carpenters decreased 8 per cent., or 18 per cent. on the whole. At Kinross, Peebles, and Perth both the population and the carpenters have decreased, though the carpenters in a greater degree than the population. The increase of carpenters over and above the increase of the population in the three divisions of Great Britain is as follows: -
England, increase of carpenters, 14per cent.
Scotland, ditto . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 "
Wales, ditto . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37 "
The increase of the carpenters in the metropolis has been less than the population, and stands thus: - Increase of population, 32 per cent.; carpenters, 28 per cent.; so that the London carpenters increased at the rate of 4 per cent. less than the general London population.
I refrain from drawing any conclusions as to the increase or decrease in the rate of wages in the counties above-mentioned, because I am without any authentic facts for so doing; and I therefore leave it to others, who are in a position to make the comparison, to show how the weekly income of the carpenters in the several counties above enumerated has been affected by the increase or decrease of their numbers.
It is with the carpenters and joiners of the metropolis that I have specially to deal. These, as I said before, numbered in 1841 as many as 18,321 individuals, of whom 16,965 were males, and 83 females, of 20years of age and upwards - and 1,273 males below that age. But among the 18,000 individuals given in the census of 1841, both masters and working men are included, so that to arrive at a correct estimate as to the number of operatives in the metropolis we must take the number of London carpenters who are in business for themselves (and these, according to the "Post-office Directory," are 1,239), and deducting them from the 18,321 individuals cited in the census, we shall come to the conclusion that there were somewhere about 17,000 operative carpenters resident in the metropolis nine years ago; and, presuming the trade to have increased since that period at the same rate as it did in the ten years previous, it follows that there are at this present time upwards of 20,000 operative carpenters in London.
Numerically considered then, the carpenters rank amongst the most important of the working classes of the metropolis. The domestic servants, the labourers, the boot and shoe makers, the tailors, the dressmakers, and the clerks, alone take precedence of them in this respect.
About three-fourths or four-fifths of the carpenters working in the metropolis, I am informed, are from the country; for it is only within the last fifteen or twenty years that the London masters have taken apprentices. Before that time apprentices were taken - with but a few exceptions - only in the City, and those who served their time there did so solely with the view of "taking up their freedom" afterwards. Large masters in London would not then be troubled with lads, though small jobbing masters generally took one or two. Now, however, there is scarcely a master in London but what has some youths in his employ, and many of the large builders have as many lads and "improvers" as they have men, while some of them have even more. All these are used as a means of reducing the cost of men's labour. "When I first came to town, twenty years ago" (said one of the carpenters whom I saw), "I never knew a lad to be employed in any of the large firms in which I worked. As a proof of this, he told me, he never worked at that time but with one "Cockney," that is to say with a person who had been regularly brought up to the carpenter's business in London. Twenty years ago it was usual for the country carpenters to come up to London immediately after having served their apprenticeship; some did this to better their condition, the wages in town being double what they were in the west of England, and some came up to improve themselves in the business and then to return. At that time one-third at least of the number that came to London would go back into the country to settle after two or three years' practice in town. At the present time, however, it is estimated that not one in twelve who come to town from the country ever return. A great number of country carpenters are still attracted to London under the belief that the wages here maintain their former rate. When they arrive in the metropolis they find out to their cost that they can obtain employment only among the speculative builders and petty masters, where but two-thirds of the regular wages of the trade are given; and when once they take to this kind of work, it becomes impossible for them, unless very prudent indeed, ever to get away from it. This, I am informed, is one of the principal reasons of the over population of the London trade - for the work in the metropolis is now sufficient to give employment only to two-thirds of the hands. Another cause of the trade being over stocked is the reduction of wages that has taken place among those working for the speculative builders and petty masters, for I have before shown that the necessary consequences of under-pay is over-work - that is to say, if the wages of the "non-society" carpenters and joiners have been reduced one-third, then each man will endeavour to do one-third more work in his struggle to obtain the same amount of income as he previously did. Again, it will be found that a new race of employers has sprung up in the metropolis of late years, who are known among the trade as "strapping masters," from the fact of their forcing the men to do double as much work in a day as was formerly expected of them. Hence it is clear, that though the London carpenters have increased 4 per cent. less than the general population of the metropolis, still each of the operatives has been compelled of late years, either by the strapping masters, or a reduction of wages, to get through twice or three times as much work as formerly, and thus the trade has become as overstocked by each hand doing double work, as it would have been if the hands themselves had been doubled.
The carpenters and joiners that work for the low speculating builders are, generally speaking, quite a different class of men to those who are in "society." As a rule, to which, of course, there are many exceptions, they are men of dissipated habits. What little they get I am assured is spent in beer or gin, and they have seldom a second suit to their backs. They are generally to be seen on a Sunday lounging about the suburbs of London with their working clothes on, and their rules sticking from their side pockets - the only difference in their attire being, perhaps, that they have a clean shirt and a clean pair of shoes.
The great majority of the hands that work for the speculating builders are young men who have come up from the country, hoping to better their condition. About one-fourth of these who work for the speculative builders are, it is said, men of depraved and intemperate habits, and have scarcely a tool amongst them. The better class of workmen would rather part with the clothes off their backs and the beds from under them, than make away with their tools; so that it is only in cases of the most abject distress that a skilful joiner seeks to raise money upon the implements of his trade. When this is the case, I am told, it is usual for the operatives in "society" to club together, and lend a person so circumstanced, some one tool and some another, until a sufficient "kit" is raised for him to go to work with.
The majority of carpenters who are settled in London are married men with families, and mostly live in lodgings; many of the working, however, are householders, paying as much as ?70 per year rent, and letting off apartments, so as to be wholly or nearly rent free. In London there are several of what may be termed colonies of working carpenters. A great many reside in Lambeth, a large number in Marylebone, in the vicinity of Lisson-grove, and a considerable proportion are to be found in Westminster. This is to be accounted for by the fact that several of the principal firms are established in these quarters. The carpenters who live in lodgings mostly occupy a floor unfurnished, and pay from five to seven shillings rent; but men with large families generally contrive to be householders, from the fact that children are usually objected to in respectable lodgings, so that they must either live in some low neighbourhood or else pay an exhorbitant rent for their residences in a better district. The more respectable portion of the carpenters and joiners "will not allow" their wives to do any other work than attend to their domestic and family duties, though some few of the wives of the better class of workmen take in washing or keep small "general shops." The children of the carpenters are mostly well brought up, the fathers educating them to the best of their ability. They are generally sent to day schools. The cause of the carpenters being so anxious about the education of their children lies in the fact that they themselves find the necessity of a knowledge of arithmetic, geometry, and drawing in the different branches of their business. Many of the more skilful carpenters I am informed, are excellent draughtsmen, and well versed in the higher branches of mathematics. A working carpenter seldom sees his children except on a Sunday, for on the week day he leaves home early in the morning, before they are up, and returns from his work after they are in bed. Carpenters often work miles away from their homes, and seldom or never take a meal in their own houses, except on a Sunday. Either they carry their provisions with them to the shop, or else they resort to the coffee-shops, public-houses, and eating-houses for their meals. In the more respectable firms where they are employed, a "labourer" is kept to boil water for them, and fetch them any necessaries they may require, and the meals are generally taken at the "bench-end," under which a cupboard is fitted up for them to keep their provisions in. In those shops where the glue is heated by steam the men will sometimes bring a dumpling or pudding and potatoes with them in the morning, and cook these in a glue-pot which they keep for the purpose. In firms where the glue is dissolved by means of hot plates small tins are provided, on which they cook their steaks, rashers of bacon, red herrings, or anything else that they may desire. These arrangements, I am informed, are of great convenience to the men, and in those shops where such things are not allowed they are mostly driven to the public houses for their food. The men speak very highly indeed of both the Cubitts, in whose establishments the arrangements are especially conducive to the comforts as well as the intellectual improvement of the men. (I shall prepares the work fixes it also. Large houses prefer having different hands for these departments, as the work is better and readier done than way, and the men are kept in the shop instead of every one running away out to fix each article as he makes it. In this manner a great deal of time would be lost. Again, the 'benchman,' or man who works in the shop, has always his chest of tools ready by his side; whereas the fixer requires nothing but a basket, which he takes with him to the job. The duty ofa fixer is to put up the sashes, frames, shutters, doors (sometimes the staircases), skirtings, cupboards, recesses, architraves, and mouldings, and lay the floors. The preparers are generally the better workmen.
In a large establishment of the best order the joiners' work is first given out to a surveyor - generally one in the master builder's employ. These surveyors are also called "clerks of the works." In one establishment alone there are about 200 surveyors, clerks, and foremen. The architect is usually independent of these. The business of the surveyor is to take the architect's plans, make drawings in detail from them, and give specifications of the cost of the respective parts. His experience, aided by references to the books of the firm, enables him to do this. A plan is made for every story, and the surveyor has to see that all the architect's provisions for the form and elevation of the building are carried out as regards the joiners' work. The surveyor or foreman also "lays out" the carpenters' work, and gives instructions, plans, and details to guide the carpenter in its execution. In small establishments the master "lays out" both the carpenters' and joiners' work himself.
The trade, commercially speaking, divides itself, like all others of the present day, into two distinct branches, viz., the "honourable" and "dishonourable" masters - that is to say, those who have a regard for the welfare and comforts of their men, and those who care only for themselves and seek to grow rich by underselling their fellow-tradesmen, as well as by under-paying the workmen in their employ. As regards skill, these two branches of course divide themselves again in to the substantial and the slop trade. The men belonging to the "honourable" part of the trade are mostly paid by the day - the wages being 5s. for ten hours' work (or sixpence per hour), from six to six, with the allowance of an hour for dinner, and half-an- hour each for breakfast and tea. Sometimes the better class of workmen are paid by the piece, and then the prices are regulated by some trade book, as Skyring's/Carpenters, and others. Generally the operatives object to piece work. Such a mode of payment, they say, induces a man to "scamp" his work; that is, to devote less time and labour to the skilful execution of it than he would were he paid by the day. Again, they urge, that when a man is paid by the piece there is no necessity for the work being done under the eye of the mater or his foreman. So long as it is completed to the satisfaction of the employer, it is no matter where or by whom it is executed. Hence the journeyman is at liberty to hire whoever he pleases to help him with it, or even to do it for him, and as this assistance is sure to be paid by him at a less rate than he himself receives, the system of piece-work thus becomes one of the prime causes of the reduction of wages, while the operative is ultimately transformed by it into the middleman or "sweater," living on the toil and degradation of his fellow working men. The evil effects of this system have been already fully set forth in these letters while treating of the operative tailors of London; and it will be seen, when I come to treat of the speculative builders, that the same system among the carpenters and joiners seems to be attended with the same pernicious results. There it will be found that all the regulations which are observed to ensure skilled labour are utterly disregarded; the work is scamped and the operative is underpaid, and he not only loses thereby his self-respect and self reliance, but sinks into drunkenness and demoralisation. The workman is, moreover, made the means of carrying out the system which results in his own degradation. The houses of a "building lawyers" or "speculating builders" are let to a general contractor; he sub-lets the work, mostly by the piece, to others, who are usually journeymen, and these sub-contracting journeymen sub-let again to others even lower than themselves. By this process men gradually become mere machines, and lose all the moral and intellectual characteristics which distinguish the skilled artisan. Some masters reduce the wages of their workmen, not by smaller payments, but by exacting a greater quantity of work. They compel those in their employ to "scamp it - that is, to crowd into ten hours, work which fairly requires for its skilful execution fifteen, or give an account of these in my next letter. In some shops as many as from 200 to 300 men are employed, and one of my informants, who worked in as large a shop as any in London, says that among the 300 benchmen employed at his master's, there were not more than six drunkards, and these men were held in general disrepute among their fellow-work men. Before the men leave their work in the large shops, it is usual for them to change their working clothes for other which they keep in a little cupboard under their bench. Their appearance in the street is as respectable as that of any tradesman.
Such is an account of the social condition of the London carpenters and joiners, gleaned from my own investigation, as well as from information supplied to me by the most intelligent and truthful of the operatives. I shall give a description of the several branches of the trade.
The term carpenter, I am told, is applicable to any one who cuts, fashions, and joins timber for building. Those who do the work of houses are house carpenters, while those who build ships are ship carpenters. Correctly speaking, however, the framer of a building is the carpenter and the finisher the Joiner: nor, as I learn from the most intelligent of the workmen, can there be an interchange of the labour of these two branches without an inferior degree of skill in the execution of the work being the consequence. "In my opinion," said one experienced carpenter to me, "to have the trade right well done carpenters should never be put to joiners' work, nor joiners to carpenters'. When a man's been long at carpentering, if he's put to joinering he's often too rough and rapid; and a joiner, in the same way, is too fine and finicking-like for carpenters' work. Some men will tell you that they can do one kind of work as well as another; and so they may if they're only middling hands; but the best carpenter is always cleverest and quickest at his own branch, and the best joiner at his."
The carpenter makes and fixes the roof of a building, the skeleton parts of the floors before the boards are laid, and the wood-work for partitions. He prepares and fixes the "girders," which are the large beams that form the main support of the floors; the "binding joists," which are the smaller beams connected with the girders, and on which the floor-boards are laid (by the joiner); and in large houses he also constructs the "ceiling joists," which are a series of still smaller beams, to which the laths for carrying the plaster of the ceiling are attached - indeed, he does all the ponderous part of the wood-work appertaining to a building.
The joiner is generally termed - in contradistinction to the carpenter, who mostly works at the building, and seldom uses a plane - a "shop-hand" or a "benchman," from the fact of most of his work being prepared in the shop, and executed at the bench. Should the carpenter require to smooth the surface of a piece of timber, he rigs up a bench on the premises, on two barrels, as he best can. This, however, is by no means an ordinary occurrence, the rule in the trade being that all which the plane passes over is joiners' work. Joinery is, consequently, of a more finished description, and more subdivided than mere carpentry, though the spirit of competition is fast trenching upon these subdivisions, and thereby upon that peculiar fineness of skill which the confining men to one class of work secures. In large establishments, where the division of labour is still maintained, different hands are employed on the staircases, the window- frames and sashes, the doors, the shutters, the flooring and skirting (for which inferior workmen are usually employed); while the other portions, such as the cupboards, are disposed of in any way most convenient to the master.
In the best descriptions of joiners' work a very high degree of skill is displayed. Let any one look at the delicacy of a window-frame, and then recollect that it is so adjusted by the skill of the workman as to be able to bear a heavy degree of pressure and to resist a great degree of violence, and yet to be light and elegant in its structure, "By keeping men to a particular sort of work," I was told by one of themselves, "it is done finer, firmer, and quicker. For instance, for such exact work as window-sash making a different kit of tools is used to that for other kinds of work, and men kept to such work are readier and handier at it, so that time is gained and fewer mistakes made." In a large shop where many hands are employed the joiners' work is prepared and fitted together, ready for fixing, in the shop; frequently it is even painted there. The workmen engaged in this manner are termed preparers, and when their work is completed the fixers adjust or "fix" it on the building; and thus, again, a more perfect workmanship is attained. "With small masters," said a fixer to me, "the same joiner as even twenty hours; so that the master obtains an amount of work which has been heretofore recognised as sufficient for a day and a half, or even two days, in one day; or in other words, he gets 7s. 6d. or 10s. worth of work for the 5s. which he pays for the day's labour, while the skill of the operative is deteriorated, with the usual deplorable consequences.
Of the carpenters and joiners now in London 1,770 or about one-tenth of the entire number, are "in society." Their houses of call are almost invariably held in public-houses. The objects of these societies are twofold - the upholding of the wages of their trade, and rendering assistance to the aged, disabled, or unemployed of their own body. The members meet periodically at their respective houses of call and contribute such a sum per week (varying from 1 ?d. to 4d.) as is deemed necessary under the circumstances of the trade and the society. Some of the societies are managed by a check steward and three committee men; others have two auditors instead; others again a president, secretary, steward, check steward, and committee men. The officers are all paid from the funds of the society. As regards the initiation of a new member, he is proposed at one meeting, and, if considered eligible, he is admitted on the following meeting night. The expulsion of a member from society is for the following offences:- If he works under the standard rate of wages; if he goes into the country to work for his employer without having his expenses paid; and (where the society is opposed to the short-hour system) if he works short hours.
The houses of call at which these "societies" are held constitute the labour market (so to speak) of the trade. Each house of call is provided with a book, in which the unemployed members, names are inscribed in rotation, and the secretary attends twice a day to call over the names of those enrolled, and to receive notice from any other member who may be out of work. If a master wants a hand he sends to the house of call, and the first in rotation has the right of engagement. If he do not accept it his name is placed last on the list, and the next in rotation has the opportunity in like manner to accept or refuse the engagement. Now, however, it has become almost a general rule for men to call upon the masters or their foremen to solicit work. Besides what may be called the commercial objects of the society, such as upholding a fair rate of wages, there are others of a philanthropic and provident nature. In some cases they have vacation or winter funds, and in others mutual loan funds and building societies. For loss of tools by fire, security is given, from ?5 to the whole amount, and by theft to half those sums. Where they have a winter fund, the unemployed members receive from 10s. to 12s. per week, but these winter funds are now giving way to loan societies and mutual building societies among the working men. Some of these loan societies charge 5 per cent, for moneys advanced upon personal security; other lend it out without the payment of interest, to be refunded by instalments when the borrower gets into employment again. The mutual building societies afford partial employment to members out of work, averaging from three days to a week, according to the number of applicants. These three last mentioned arrangements are provided for from the overplus money of the society, and require no extra contribution. There is one society, which has connected with it a Joint Stock Building Company, and is registered according to Act of Parliament - the whole of the members being connected with it. They contribute 1s. per month, for ?5 shares, with the privilege of working out the whole amount of their share. Their unemployed members are "taken on" for a week, at ?1 per week, in rotation, until the whole of those who are out of work get their turn, and then "go out and in" in rotation. If a man does not pay his contribution to his trade society for four months, he receives notice from the Secretary, and if he neglects payment for two months after such notice he is liable to be expelled, but extreme rigour is seldom exercise on this head. "Tramps" have not been relieved from the society's funds since the great union in 1834. The men are now generally opposed to strikes. The only thing approximating thereunto is "the short hour system." When trade is falling off, a master, not wishing to discharge his hands, proposes to the men to work so many hours less. In some societies this is not allowed, and their members, under such circumstances, are requested to "come out," and on doing so they receive from 12s. to 15s. a week till other work be obtained. Other societies permit the short-hour system. There are no superannuation funds. One of the secretaries informed me that the constant attendance of the men at their houses of call, which are, as I have said, nearly all public-houses, produced the pernicious effects to be expected; and I would here venture to impress upon the more intelligent members of the trade who are anxious for the social and moral improvement of their fellow workmen the advantage of holding their meetings at some other place.
Concerning trade societies in general, one of the most intelligent working men that I have yet met with made these observations to me:
"The public generally suppose that combinations of working men are a great evil, because they see only one side of the question. Their impressions are that trade societies are instituted only to obtain an increase of wages, and that they are necessarily connected with strikes. One of the objects of our 'societies' is certainly to prevent the extortions of the capitalist upon the working men, by maintaining the present rate of wages; but this is only one of their objects. Another object of our combinations is to support the aged, and the sick, and the unemployed. To show you, sir, how the public are benefited by these institutions, I will make a calculation as to the number of men who are kept from the workhouse by such means. Now, supposing there are 100 different trades in London, and that each of these trades have 10 societies in connection with them, then we have 1,000 different trade societies, dispersed throughout the Metropolis. A fair average as to the members belonging to each of these societies would be 100, and that would make a total of 100,000 individuals contributing to, and entitled to receive benefits in case of need from such institutions. I think not more than two per cent of this number ever put by a sixpence out of their earnings as a fund against sickness, accident, or old age; but, to be safe, let us say 5 per cent, or 5,000 out of the 100,000, and then we should have 95,000 working men in London, who, in case of their being unable to work, would have to come upon the parish for relief. In the society to which I belong, and which has 450 members appertaining to it, we paid upwards of ?600 to men out of work in the winter. We supported on an average 80 men who were unemployed for 13 weeks, and gave them 12s. a week each. Two-thirds of this number had nothing else to depend upon. But say that each of the trade societies in the metropolis distributes only ?100 among 100 men, in the winter (ours, I have told you, gave ?600 to 450 while out of employment), and twice that amount among the aged or disabled every year, and this is a very low estimate; and then we have just upon ?300,000 per annum given by the working-classes towards the support of their own poor, so that I don't think these trade combinations are quite so injurious to society as capitalists generally imagine. If they do uphold the rate of wages, at least this improved rate is used as a means of benefiting not only their own class, but the public, by keeping down the poor-rates generally."
I shall now proceed to give the statements of the men employed at the several branches of the "honourable" trade, reserving for my next letter a description of the causes and effects of the cheap or slop trade in connection with the carpenters' business. The following information I received from a highly respectable journeyman carpenter working for the best shops at the best prices:
"I have known the London trade between twenty and thirty years. I came up from Lancashire, where I served an apprenticeship. I have worked all that time entirely at carpentering. No doubt I am a pure carpenter, as you call it, never having worked at anything else. Before I got married, eighteen years ago, I tried to make some odds and ends of furniture for myself, but I couldn't manage them at all to please myself, except in the frame of a bedstead, so I got a cabinet maker to finish my chairs and tables for me." My informant then described the nature of the carpenter's work, and expressed an opinion that to have it executed in the first style a workman should do nothing else.) "I have always had 5s. a day, and in busy times and long days have made 33s. and 35s. a week, by working over time. I have always been able to keep my family, my wife and two children, comfortably, and without my wife's having to do anything but the house work and washing. One of my children is now a nurse-maid in a gentleman's family, and the other is about old enough to go and learn some trade. Certainly, I shan't put him to my own trade, for, though I get on well enough in it, it's different for new hands, for scamping masters get more hold every day. There's very few masters in my line will take apprentices; but I could set him on as the son of a journeyman. If I'd come to London now, instead of when I did, I might have got work quite as readily perhaps - for I didn't get it within a month when I did come; but then I was among friends; but I should have had to work for inferior wages, and scamping spoils a man's craft. He's not much fit for first-rate work after that. lam better off now than ever I was, because learn the same, and all my expenses, except rent, are lower. I have a trifle in the savings bank. But then, you'll understand, sir, I'm a sort of exception, because I've had regular work, twelve months in the year, for these ten or twelve years, and never less than nine months before that. I know several men who have been forced to scamp it - good hands, too - but driven to it to keep their families. What can a man do if 21s. a week is better than nothing. I am a society man, and always have been. I consider mine skilled labour, no doubt of it. To put together, and fit, and adjust, and then fix, the roof of a mansion so that it cannot warp or shrink - for if it does the rain's sure to come in through the slates - must be skilled labour, or I don't know what is. Sometimes we make the roof, or rather the parts of it, in the shop, and cart it to the building to fix. We principally work at the building, however. There's no rule; it all depends upon weather and convenience. The foreman generally know on what work to put the men so as best to suit, but in no shop I've been it has there been a fixed and regular division of the carpenters into one set as roofers, and another for the other work. Our work is more dangerous than the joiners, as we have to work more on scaffolding, and to mount ladders; but I can't say that accidents are frequent among us. If there's an accident at a building by a fall, it's mostly the labourers. I'm satisfied that the carpenters on the best sort of work are as well conducted and as intelligent as any class of mechanics. With scamping masters character is no recommendation, or very little. A very good hand I know was sometime out of work, and applied to a scamping master, and said, 'Mr. - would vouch for his being a good workman and a sober man.' 'D-n your soberness,' was answered to him, 'what do I care for that? What I want is plenty of work done.' Men get not to care for their characters when they come to be knocked about by such masters. I myself know three men, at least, that were sober and respectable when in good work: they're scamping it now, and drink all they can get. One of them's a married man, and his wife has to go out washing, and his family's in rags. We find our own tools, and a first-rate kit of carpenters tools, with duplicates and everything proper, may cost new, and at first hand, onto ?30; but perhaps not very many have more than ?15 worth, and some have to get on as well as they can with from ?5 to ?10 worth, or less than ?5; but then, of course, they must keep renewing them. It's generally all up with a carpenter if he's popped his tools, and has to get them from his uncle's when he wants them. If they are in heavy, he hardly ever gets a fair start with them all again. I never knew one do it, and I have known very industrious men forced to pledge almost all their kit. We use saws a good deal, and sharpening them is a great cost to us. Wear and tear of tools I reckon at well on to 2s. a week. That's for six days' regular work. In the winter there's mostly a slack, as building, of course, ain't so freely carried on in heavy rain, and frost and snow, and dark short days. Some carpenters have nine months of it, and not a few either have six months' work of it in a year; others just what they can catch.
A very intelligent man gave me the following information as to the best description of joiners' work:
"I have been twelve years a journeyman joiner in London. I consider a joiner a man who works in a building, and usually at a bench, at everything the plane goes over, such as doors, windows, sashes and frames, closets, skirting, flooring; but that's generally sawn and planed at the mills, and we merely lay it - in fact, the joiner is the preparer, fixer, and finisher of a building. The other work is the carpenter's, such as the roof, 8w. I have been ten years in one shop, in the honourable trade, where we have as good wages and as good usage as in any shop, and where between 400 and 500 hands in all branches are employed. The wages paid us are 5s. a day for ten hours, from six in the morning to half-past five. Half an hour is allowed for breakfast, an hour for dinner, and half an hour for tea, but that is generally waived, and so we leave work at half-past five. For over-hours we are paid at the same rate, 6d. an hour, unless it be after ten at night, when we have 9d. an hour. On Sunday double time is allowed - that is, 1s. an hour, as is the case in repairing Somerset-house, the Admiralty, and other Government offices, where Sunday labour is resorted to not to interrupt business. I never knew any man to object to work on a Sunday. I would not if I felt it to be a matter of necessity. If it was not a necessity I would object. In our firm over- hours are not frequent, but in some few shops the men now work until eight o'clock. The trade is greatly opposed to over-time, because it keeps many men out of employment, but sometimes it is unavoidable. We prepare the doors, &c., which we make in the workshops (I speak of large and honourable firms), and then take them to the building to be fixed. In each workshop there is a foreman, whose business it is to see that the work is properly done. In a very busy time in our firm he has an assistant, and does not work himself. He overlooks all the men, whether forty-six benches, as in our shop, which is a double shop, or in an establishment where there may be only eight or ten; but smaller masters, or jobbing or speculative builders, frequently act as their own foremen, having sometimes 'a leading hand,' who works like the other men, but may have 2s. a week extra. He 'sets out' the work, and works himself when not so employed. We have no control - I mean our society has none - over the number of apprentices, or rather boys or youths a master chooses to take. Some take an unconscionable number. At ----'s they had to every one man five or six boys or youths, not apprenticed, but learning the trade. That firm's knocked in the head now, but the same system prevails, though not so extensively. In our shop we have only one apprentice and three other boys (one is my son). We never think now, though it was the case, of requiring seven years' apprenticeship for admission into our society. The men's sons had always an exemption from this rule. One of the great evils of the trade, as regards working joiners, is the system of the masters having 'improvers.' These are young men, generally out of their time, who want 'improvement' in their business, and who often come recommended from the country, where the master joiners have many customers; or they are connected with friends of the master, and so are put on. These 'improvers' are paid from 18s. to 24s. a week, of course superseding experienced hands at the regular wages. 'Improvers' are very seldom worth the money they receive; indeed, their object is to learn their business perfectly. The foreman don't trust them with the finest and nicest work of work, such as the frame, the sash, and their staircase, unless he sees they have great capabilities; so that after all, seven-eighths of them don't improve' much, but the public don't know good work from bad, and in consequence it appears cheap; and so wages get dragged down, and good hands are superseded. We seldom in our firm work by contract, but it's coming on; it's forced on the master - but then our work is very superior. Competition is ruining fine work, what you may call skilled labour, for there's not the time allowed to do it. Now, for a contract for a large building, honourable masters, treating and paying their men fairly, will take it say at ?20,000. Another firm will undertake it at ?14,000 or ?15,000 (just look at the Builder about that). To make up the difference, they must use - the cheap contractors must - inferior timber, put together anyway, inferior and under-paid workmen, 'improvers,' and boys. The clerk of the works sees to the safety of the building; some are easy, and pretty easily managed; others are very strict. All Government work is done by contract, and at the lowest rates - slop wages generally. The Woods and Forests allow 28s. a week, and if an 'honourable' master gets the job he has to pay 30s., as society men won't work under. The new Houses of Parliament are, however, an exception to this rule. The best hands are in society. I have regular work, and have nothing to complain of that way; but for all that I would like to leave the country, for there's worse times coming.
From another joiner, to whom I was referred as one of the most intelligent me in the trade, I had the following statement:
"I have known the London trade for twenty-one years. When I first knew the trade wages were the same as they are now, 5s. a day. Indeed, older men have told me that there has been no change in the rate of our wages for between thirty and forty years. About sixteen or eighteen years ago 5s. 6d. a day was gained generally throughout the trade - at least from all the principal employers; but then the advance was acquired through a strike, which did more harm than good by creating ill-feeling between masters and men, and from the time lost and the expenses incurred in completing the strike. The 5s. 6d. a day didn't continue, as well as I can recollect, above a twelvemonth, not generally, though some few hands kept it longer, but masters kept giving new hands 5s. a day, and so got ride of the 5s. 6d. gradually. The strike was more, or as much, from party spirit as from a real regard for the interests of the journeymen's trade. Before the strike the very superior hands could command 6s. a day, but that's not the case now. Twenty-one years ago it wasn't so easy or so cheap to get to London as it is now, and men came then really for improvement, and went back to their own country places; now they come here and stick here longer than they used to so, especially the west of England men. Wages are lower in Somersetshire, Devon, and Dorset, than in any other part of England. As you go north wages are better. The joiners wages in those three counties are only 14s. or 15s. a week - it's an extraordinary man who gets 16s. there. They're handy men, many of them, when they come to London. There are so many apprentices taken in those counties, who, when out of their time, must find another market for their labour. When they come to London they don't undersell, unless occasionally, the regular hands, and respectable masters don't expect it. 5s. a day is a very low rate of wages, when the expense of tools is considered. Ours is one of the worst paid trades in the universe. My tools now would cost me ?30 replacing, and no man in a respectable shop can get on with tools less in value than from ?20 to ?30. The masters find us no tools but extra moulding planes. The wear and tear of our tools is not less than 1s. 6d. a week cost to the workman, and from the loss of chisels and gouges, as well as from their wearing out, and from the expense of saw sharpening. For saws you must find you own files and sharpen them yourself, or pay 4d. for the mere filing of a saw; 6d. if there is anything more required. Our saws require sharpening twice a week on the average. Lead pencils now cost 8d. a dozen, such as twenty years since cost 2s. A pencil may last two months, so it's little matter. I average wear and tear, &c., of tools, at 1s. 6d. a week. I reckon that ten months' work is the year's average of employment, take the trade throughout London. Some have only four months in the year, and it's incredible how they live. There was a time, within these ten years say, when masters would keep a good man on at some inconvenience to themselves, but that's not the case now. Some shops are fairly besieged every Monday morning by men seeking work. It's within the last ten years that the great falling off in our trade has occurred, and it gets worse and worse. This is owing, I am convinced, to the increase of population, and of workmen, and to the decrease of men's labour, through greater use of machinery. Building now is generally a matter of speculation more than a matter of fair and regular trade, and so men seek to get it done in the cheapest instead of the best way. Our book of prices, Skyring's, and he's low enough for doors, gives 10s. 6d. for making a two-inch double-moulded door, but some 'scamping masters,' as we call the slop-masters, give only 5s., so that a man to make his 5s. a day at those prices must do double work, and for longer hours, at a rate that's killing him, or make the door in a very inferior way. I have known men work hard from six in the morning to nine at night, and in winter find their own candles, and not make 5s., or only 5s., then. That's the case now at Notting-hill, but that part is not the worst. Haverstock-hill and by the Brecknock Arms, Camden-town, is now amongst the worst parts of London. St. John's-wood was very bad, but building there's about over now. Some of those houses fetch low prices if they have to be sold a second time, the skirtings and doors and other work being so shrunk; but that' san after consideration, for at the time they're run up, the men who build them only look to sell them once. Machinery was first brought into competition with us in flooring boards. At first they were only planed by machinery, and the edges cut. I first heard of this planing 21 years ago. The next step was to grove (groove) and tongue the flooring. Formerly, grooves and tongues were made by hand. The joiners thought nothing at first of the planing of these boards by machinery, as only a certain class were put upon sash planing - it was beneath their dignity generally, and I have known men leave a shop rather than do it. Joiners' work is noisy, and they can't talk when carrying it on, and that may account for joiners not being such politicians or thinkers as shoemakers or tailors. The next introduction of machinery, as regards our trade, was the preparation of mouldings for doors, architraves, cornices, and base mouldings; base mouldings are the ornamental tops of the plinth or skirting. Wainscotting is coming into vogue again in some of the better sort of houses - a good deal so of late years, and especially in those in the Gothic style; but machinery affects that less, if anything, than in the general trade. It's almost purely joiners' work. In the trade wainscotting is called 'dadoing.' These are the principal things in which machinery has affected our trade, unless it be in hothouses, the roofs of which are frequently moulded by machinery, which can work ten mouldings where a workman can do one; but it's only the capitalists, the great masters, that are paid by employing the moulding machinery - it won't pay the others. These introductions have injured our trade, because only one-fifth of the workmen are now required in those particular branches. But in one instance machinery has done us good. Mr. ----- invented a very ingenious process for cutting tracing in the Gothic woodwork for churches and chapels. This introduced a taste for these things and a demand for wood carving, and this has been a benefit to the trade. The machine, too, cannot work the tracing right up to the point of a mitre, so that the joiner's work, though apparently superseded by the invention, has actually been increased by it, through the greater demand. But that's a mere trifle to the extent of work and the number of men supplanted by machinery. As the matter is at present carried on, at least one-sixth of the labour of working joiners through London is superseded in this way. It's not the mills that do all this mischief, for in Mr.-----'s, the great builder's, premises one-half of the labour is performed by his own machinery. It's not certain, however, that in our business machinery is so very profitable to the master as in a cotton factory. Machinery, besides, never does such work as moulding so perfectly as we can do it. We often have to trim and refit such mouldings."
An experienced man gave me the following statement concerning greenhouse work:
"I have known the hot-house building, and similar branches of the trade - often called 'decorating' - for three or four years, and before that I was a joiner. There is no difference, I have ascertained, in a horticultural joiner's trade, as regards wages, for the last twenty or thirty years. The wages are the same as the joiners', and the same hours. Our work, for gardens, is more a matter of taste than house work, in which certain plans are laid down and must be observed. In hothouses the chief distinctive work is the framing, as the sashes are pure joiners' work. We make also cucumber-frames, summer-houses, conservatories, greenhouses, forcing-houses, lattice and trellice work for the training of climbing plants, and for ornamental purposes - in short, everything connected with gardens. Within these few years, say seven years, there has been a great increase in the demand for this kind of work, especially in greenhouses and conservatories. Not one-tenth of the men employed in this kind of work have been apprenticed to it solely; they are mostly joiners, for men when out of work must turn their hands to anything. Machinery affects our trade, in the preparation of sash bars, which contain the glass. They are chiefly stuck,' made by machinery. We can't compete with it. They charge 7s. to 8s. per 100 feet run for bars, finding the material, and having all ready prepared for use. The material, the timber, will cost two-thirds of that sum, and the labour would be, on an average, 3s. 6d. Our work, however, is considerably truer than their's. We can work with our tools to a great nicety, and that can't be done by the machine. None of their mouldings are perfectly regular. If the timber be crooked, the machine works it crooked to the timber, but we don't. Nearly all the mouldings for cucumber boxes and for general purposes are prepared by machinery. The manual labour so superseded is in my opinion one-fifth; and that drives men to undertake any job, and to go in as day workmen, and then look out for another job. Ours is chiefly outdoor work, and is very uncertain, as we can't fix' in wet weather. Within seven years iron and metal (composition) roofs, for hothouse and conservatories, have come into rather general use, having a lighter appearance than wood. Perhaps, however, there are nearly twice as many wood as iron or metal roofs made. Metal roofs (they're generally all called so) are fixtures usually. Another system of ventilation is pursued in them, either by a general ventilator at the top of the roof, which is the commonest way, or by perforated glass, the panes then overlapping one another, with an interval between to admit the air. In the wood work, we have sliding frames for ventilation, the upper frame being pulled down over the bottom sash, which is a fixture, the top being then left open for the admission of the air. I have been engaged in constructing hot-houses for nursery grounds and gentlemen's gardens both, from 100 to 150 feet long, for all purposes. The nurserymen have generally the larger hot houses. There is a sort of mania for them now, and more especially since the improved system of heating by hot water came in, within these five or six years. A large-sized boiler, 24 inches diameter, is calculated to heat 1,000 feet run. If for a pinery, this heat is from underneath, in pipes fixed in brick archways, and is forced upwards. If for grapes, the hot-water pipes are laid on the ground, and the same for flowers. Only for pines, or fruits of any kind are the pipes laid underground. The heat may be regulated; it may be concentrated in one part, or may be diffused through a hot-house or any adjacent buildings by means of stop valves, which can be opened or shut at pleasure. This process is better for ripening fruit than sunshine, as it is more regular. We have no society, and I don't know the number in the trade. Our average employment for regular hands is not more than eight or nine months in the year, for those nine months the wages are 30s. in the week. Many, however, get only employment at this work two or three months in the year, and then they look out for any kind of wood work. I know of none regularly doing horticultural work cheaper, but there is slop work got up for the trade, and that can only be done by parties taking less than the regular wages; and that's almost always by inferior workmen. A good hand can get his wages. Slop masters palm off inferior work as the best, and in the long run they'll drag us all down to bad work and bad wages. It's influencing us now. Masters say, 'I can get this done at this or that low rate,' and I have to drive on to meet their views. Masters are beaten oft enough by the slop-masters, and bad men are ruining good ones. Few persons are judges of work. Only to-day a gentleman called wanting a hothouse to be built; he said he could get it done, when the price was named to him, at so much less at -----'s. He was told that one great job which had been done at this cheap slop house had all to be re-done. A great part of the bad work is brought in by slop-masters, but the public themselves, even gentlemen, go about asking prices and cheapening tradesmen in my line, who, to meet the times, must put in, and do put in, inferior materials and use machine labour, even when it's not suitable at al. Gentlemen will offer from ?1 to ?8 less than a fair price for a hot-house. I have known one who wanted a green-house, call at our place, and state that he could get the fixing done cheaper than we could. He offered for the wood work what was the cost of the material alone. 'There's the duty off timber,' said he, 'and the duty off glass.' He was told that wages were the same, and he replied, 'Well, then, you should reduce them too.' (Hothouses are lower since the duty was taken off glass.) He was then told that to work at his price either the timber- merchant or the working man must be robbed. He replied, I'll call tomorrow and tempt you with another guinea, and show you the money, and then I know you'll take it.' He is a man worth ?20,000 a year and more, and left his carriage at a distance to pass as a humbler man."
From a sash-maker, one of the best hands, I received the subjoined narrative:
"I have worked at sash-making ten years, regular. I have done very little else all that time. For nine years I was solely employed at making sashes. In most of the large shops they let the sash-work now to what is termed a taskmaster, and then he employs his own hands. This is done in many shops where the best prices are paid. The sash-maker in a shop is a party who makes nothing else but the sashes and frames. I have been in London 25 years; sash-making was not a distinct branch of the trade then - it is only since there has been so much contract work, and the master-builders, large and small, have taken to letting the different parts of a house out to different hands, that separate men have been employed for sash-making. By giving the different parts out to different hands, the work, I think, is done in half the time, because a man has all his tools ready and set, and in general work a great deal of time is lost in shifting from one kind of work to another. The tools require to be altered for each class of work. When a man is always doing one job, he can do it almost without noticing his tools. The sash- maker, to whom the work is let, is never paid by the day, but always by the piece; the price is so much per foot for the different kinds of sashes. Common 2-inch or 1?-inch sashes, are about 4?d. per foot (either 'scribed' or 'mitred'); the better kind of deal sashes (which run about 2? inches) are 6d. the foot. These are the prices in good shops - they may be a halfpenny more or less in different places. The party to whom the sashes are let at these prices is called the taskmaster; and he seldom does anything himself except setting the work out and superintending. The work itself is done by men whom he employs, and these he always pays by the day. The taskmaster in good shops generally gives 5s. a day, and I knew one hand who had as much as 6s., but this was an exception rather than the rule. Usually the taskmasters try to cut the workman down as much as possible. Frequently they will give only 28s. a week in the best shops. The taskmaster generally works in the shop of the employer the same as the men, and the employer seldom troubles his head about what he gives those who work under him. A taskmaster will generally have from three to five, and sometimes as many as twenty hands at work for him. The taskmaster will often make 5s. out of the labour of each of the regular sash-makers that he employs under him. I have known one taskmaster to make as much as ?10a week out of ten men that he had working for him. We, of course, could measure the work as well as he could, and calculate what he got out of our labour. The taskmaster system is a very bad one for the working men, or, indeed, any system is bad where one working man is put to make money out of his fellows, for he must either employ cheap or very ready hands to get anything out of the job. It either leads to strapping - that is to making men work unusually hard - or else to making them work at unusually low prices. This is one of the reasons why a man cannot find work directly he turns the middle age. Nothing but young strapping hands will do for the taskmasters. The cause of this hurry and scurry, and scramble, and scamping of work, and reducing of wages, is the contract system. First of all, gentlemen and others will have the work done as cheap as possible - the lowest estimate has the preference in contract work. Then masters go to work cutting under one another, just to get the job; and after that why, of course, they must make it up out of the men's muscles and bones. Before this contract system there was no such thing as letting and sub-letting of work, and one journeyman living and preying upon another. When I first came to town, such a thing as piece-work was hardly known, and if a man got a job that way, he was pretty well ousted from society for it - but now piece-work is as common as day- work; so much so, that the usual question among journeymen is whether they have the job by the day or piece. Piece-work is the worst of all things to be introduced into a trade. It has been the great evil, and will be the downfall of our trade; for directly men are paid by the piece, then of course they can employ others to assist them at lower wages than the regular pay, and then begins all kinds of scheming, strapping, and ultimately, starving of the men."
In my next letter I purpose entering more fully into the effects of the contract system.