Tag: Bethnal Green

I is for Ironer

This post was originally published on this site

This post was originally featured on , on . You can read the original article here at http://victorianoccupations.co.uk/uncategorized/i-is-for-ironer/

In 1901 over 180,000 women were recorded in the census as working in laundries as washerwomen, ironers and manglers.  Every town and village had women working at laundries, small hand laundries existed by the thousands in large towns and the suburbs of London. Alongside these were homebased workers, and also the vast, steam driven laundries employing hundreds of women.

b4cf8eb0116881f2387582c817580755

Unlike today with our automated laundry systems and electric irons with steam facilities, doing the laundry in the 19th century was hard physical work, and to do it correctly required skill. A report in The Pall Mall Gazette or 1890 describes how the process was being taught to fortunate young girls in a number of School Board Schools in London.

“Every girl of the right sort delights in a doll’s washing, and so it is little wonder that the large class-rooms at five different centres which serve pro tem as wash-houses and laundries become the school paradise and promotion to a laundry class is eagerly earned by good attendance and steady work… Twelve little irons have heating on gas stoves, and soon, three at a table, the little laundresses are smoothing, glazing and goffering. Little glossing-irons are produced, and such a gloss do collars and cuffs receive as shall astonish the proud fathers and brothers who are to wear them on the following Sunday.”[1]

Saltaire_School_laundry

Many books and newspapers carried advice on how to launder and iron – in many the advice is simply to take the ironing to a professional – “Laundry-work, like everything else, requires care, attention and neatness. Scorched linen and smutty collars, although too often seen where the washing is done at home, ought not to be, any more than at the large laundries where ironing is paid for by the article and everything badly ironed is returned by the manager to be redone.”[2]  The author advises that: “The irons must be hot (yet not hot enough to scorch) and smooth. Some ironers stir the starch round with a wax candle when it is made, or put a scrap of butter in it to prevent the irons sticking; others rub the irons on the knife-board (dusting them afterwards) for the same purpose. But one great secret is to have bright, clean irons, and to starch the articles evenly – not ot have llumps of starch sticking here and there. Firm pressure upon the iron is necessary, and a good ironer knows how to fold each article neatly and daintily.”[3]

Ironing was a complicated, drawn out process – the irons needed to be heated on the stove taking care not to get smut and dirt on the hot plate, and then the clothes were pressed. An iron was not just an iron – there were multiple irons of different sizes for different jobs including the glossing-iron and for frills a goffering-iron.

irons

Each needed heating, and then placing back on the stove to heat up again as they cooled – however, if the iron was too hot it would scorch and maintaining the heat meant standing alongside a stove – hot, physically demanding work.  It was a job that required a great deal of experience and skill to do correctly, the little girls in the Board Schools were being prepared to care for their own homes and washing, but also to be able to work in the hand and steam laundries :

“Washing is carried on in low, ill-ventilated rooms, the walls and ceilings of which stream with moisture, the floors of which are broken and undrained, so that the workers stand in a slop of dirty water, while wet flannels dangle round their heads, and their cotton dresses are soaked with steam and perspiration. In another room, more often than not, built overhead, the ironers ply their work around a gas-stove radiating noxious fumes, while the heat draws a damp steam up through the boards. The ironers literally drip with heat, and towards night-time their failing strength is stimulated by draughts of beer, which, bought wholesale and retailed, yields a profit to the employer. Even in well-managed laundries, the workers often take their meals sitting on turned-up pails with their feet in the water.”[4]

Not only were the conditions the women were working in appalling, the hours worked were described as ‘murderous’.  Writing in 1896 Miss March Phillips, creating a report on Women’s Industrial Life, wrote that Monday was frequently a short day for ironers – the washing needed to be washed first after all, but on Tuesday through to Friday most would work until 11 or 12 at night, frequently later still in the season. It was suggested that it was nothing unusual to finish work at around 3am on a Saturday morning, sleep for a few hours, and then begin again at 8am working though until Saturday afternoon.[5]  The work was dangerous, the machinery used could result in fatal injuries and was frequently insufficiently fenced, and sanitary conditions were found to be very poor in many instances.   In 1894, The report on the employment of women, by the Lady Assistant Commissioners, described ironers were the best paid workers in commercial laundries, and how women with children preferred to work in hand laundries as these were generally not requiring ironers to work on a Monday, thus giving them a free day to tend to their households.  Jessie Boucherett, the author of the report suggested that this was not a job for young girls, the heat in the ironing room which frequently reached 80-100 degrees was simply too much for them, not to mention the skill required to ‘get up’ (press) the more complicated garments – petticoats, ruffled shirts etc – was beyond their experience.

Ironing then was a job for experienced, older women, who were paid the best wages in the laundry.   Charles Booth states that while “women at the tub received from 2s to 3s a day… shirt and collar ironers earn from 8s to 15s a week according to capacity, and work from four to six days… Shirt and collar ironers who do clean work for shirt and collar warehouses are better paid. The work must be done well, and 4s to 5s a day can be earned.”[6]  This certainly compared favourably with the wages for laundresses in general – girls of 15 were expected to work for 70 to 80 hours a weeks for 5s in many instances.

Clementina Black, however, suggested that the wages were getting lower by the early years of the twentieth century and following interviews with over 60 women she found that many were on a lower wage than Booth suggested.  She illustrates the home life of these women, and paints a picture of abject poverty, in many instances the women working to support a sick husband, the children sick themselves and the mothers struggling to find childcare to support her while she went to work.

“Case No. 60 was that of a woman with a consumptive husband and five children ranging from 16 years to 9 months old. The occupied at a rent of 6/6 a top flat of two rooms in the neighbourhood of one of the great markets. The buildings were, in the investigator’s words, “tucked away down a long passage, each block with a separate staircase leading off – dirty and, I should think, dangerous in case of fire. The postman I asked for directions, who said he had been in the district for 18 years, declared there were no such buildings”. The wife, who went out to her work, earned, at the highest, 14/- a week, but some weeks only 7/- or 8/-… Two of the younger children were very delicate, and these remained at home in the care of the consumptive father, who could only go out ot work in warm weather. It was his custom to go hopping – always to the same farm – every year, and he was paid £1 a week. The whole family accompanied him, and the wife reported of the previous autumn’s migration that it “quite set her up” for the winter. It seems difficult to believe, however, that four or five weeks in the fresh and healthy air of a hop garden could do away with the effects upon the babies’ health of weeks and weeks shut up in the society of a father possessing but half a lung. The poor fellow was a devoted parent, who among other services cooked midday meals for all his children. But what must have been his reflections during the long hours of tendance upon a pair of tiny, weakly children whose chances of life his very presence was diminishing.”[7]

This family were not alone in their struggles – ironing, while better paid that general laundry, simply could not pay enough to provide even a basic standard of living for a family where the father was either sick, had died or had deserted.  The hours worked and the wages paid caused frequent calls for laundries to come under the Factory Act, thus reducing hours and improving safety. This campaign, however, although called for in many circles, was argued in 1893 to be overlooking: “the danger and injustice  of legislation which puts grown-up women on the level of “young persons and children”, and so lowers the market value of their labour. Too many of the well intended, but unjust restrictions of women’s hours of work have put them out of trades where wages were good and the work not unsuitable.”[8]     The article goes on to quote an extract from the Laundry Journal:

“ Perhaps the most ticklish question of all is that of overtime. Now overtime, under the Act is a difficult matter to deal with, as it will mainly affect the ironers, practically all of the young persons and women. How hardly the matter of overtime may bear on a trade is vividly illustrated by the labour dispute at the Lower Croft  Bleach Works, Bury. It seems that the work at the Lower Croft is mainly of the fancy goods description, necessitating a rush of work at certain seasons. Overtime is absolutely necessary. But the Bleach Works are under the provisions of the Factory Act, and the overtime clauses must not be evaded. Consequently at the Lower Croft boys and women were dispensed with, and the light labour given to old men and cripples, men who were not able to do hard work and earn full wages, but who were glad to do the light labour of the boys and women for the same wages these would have received.”

Ironing then was a job carried out by tens of thousands of women across Britain, hot, exhausting work in dangerous conditions which paid very little for the skill required. They were arguably at the top of the laundry pile so to speak – but their lives were hard, and their work harder.

 

 

 

[1] Little Laundresses at Work, The Pall Mall Gazette, (London, England, February 17th 1890)

[2] Country Housekeeping, Myra’s Journal of Dress and Fashion, (London, England, Saturday, July 01, 1882)

[3] Country Housekeeping, 1882

[4] Miss March Phillips, ‘Women’s Industrial Life’, The Monthly Packet, (London, England, Friday May 1st, 1896) P 530

[5] Miss Phillips

[6] Charles Booth, Life and Labour of the People in London: The Trades of East London, (London, Macmillan and Co, 1893) P 295.

[7] Clementina Black, Married Women’s Work, (London, Virago, 1983), pp. 23-24.

[8] Article 2 – Laundries and Legislation, The Englishwoman’s Review, (London, England, Monday October 16th 1893)

I is for Ironer

This post was originally published on this site

This post was originally featured on , on . You can read the original article here at http://victorianoccupations.co.uk/i/i-is-for-ironer/

In 1901 over 180,000 women were recorded in the census as working in laundries as washerwomen, ironers and manglers.  Every town and village had women working at laundries, small hand laundries existed by the thousands in large towns and the suburbs of London. Alongside these were homebased workers, and also the vast, steam driven laundries employing hundreds of women.

b4cf8eb0116881f2387582c817580755

Unlike today with our automated laundry systems and electric irons with steam facilities, doing the laundry in the 19th century was hard physical work, and to do it correctly required skill. A report in The Pall Mall Gazette or 1890 describes how the process was being taught to fortunate young girls in a number of School Board Schools in London.

“Every girl of the right sort delights in a doll’s washing, and so it is little wonder that the large class-rooms at five different centres which serve pro tem as wash-houses and laundries become the school paradise and promotion to a laundry class is eagerly earned by good attendance and steady work… Twelve little irons have heating on gas stoves, and soon, three at a table, the little laundresses are smoothing, glazing and goffering. Little glossing-irons are produced, and such a gloss do collars and cuffs receive as shall astonish the proud fathers and brothers who are to wear them on the following Sunday.”[1]

Saltaire_School_laundry

Many books and newspapers carried advice on how to launder and iron – in many the advice is simply to take the ironing to a professional – “Laundry-work, like everything else, requires care, attention and neatness. Scorched linen and smutty collars, although too often seen where the washing is done at home, ought not to be, any more than at the large laundries where ironing is paid for by the article and everything badly ironed is returned by the manager to be redone.”[2]  The author advises that: “The irons must be hot (yet not hot enough to scorch) and smooth. Some ironers stir the starch round with a wax candle when it is made, or put a scrap of butter in it to prevent the irons sticking; others rub the irons on the knife-board (dusting them afterwards) for the same purpose. But one great secret is to have bright, clean irons, and to starch the articles evenly – not ot have llumps of starch sticking here and there. Firm pressure upon the iron is necessary, and a good ironer knows how to fold each article neatly and daintily.”[3]

Ironing was a complicated, drawn out process – the irons needed to be heated on the stove taking care not to get smut and dirt on the hot plate, and then the clothes were pressed. An iron was not just an iron – there were multiple irons of different sizes for different jobs including the glossing-iron and for frills a goffering-iron.

irons

Each needed heating, and then placing back on the stove to heat up again as they cooled – however, if the iron was too hot it would scorch and maintaining the heat meant standing alongside a stove – hot, physically demanding work.  It was a job that required a great deal of experience and skill to do correctly, the little girls in the Board Schools were being prepared to care for their own homes and washing, but also to be able to work in the hand and steam laundries :

“Washing is carried on in low, ill-ventilated rooms, the walls and ceilings of which stream with moisture, the floors of which are broken and undrained, so that the workers stand in a slop of dirty water, while wet flannels dangle round their heads, and their cotton dresses are soaked with steam and perspiration. In another room, more often than not, built overhead, the ironers ply their work around a gas-stove radiating noxious fumes, while the heat draws a damp steam up through the boards. The ironers literally drip with heat, and towards night-time their failing strength is stimulated by draughts of beer, which, bought wholesale and retailed, yields a profit to the employer. Even in well-managed laundries, the workers often take their meals sitting on turned-up pails with their feet in the water.”[4]

Not only were the conditions the women were working in appalling, the hours worked were described as ‘murderous’.  Writing in 1896 Miss March Phillips, creating a report on Women’s Industrial Life, wrote that Monday was frequently a short day for ironers – the washing needed to be washed first after all, but on Tuesday through to Friday most would work until 11 or 12 at night, frequently later still in the season. It was suggested that it was nothing unusual to finish work at around 3am on a Saturday morning, sleep for a few hours, and then begin again at 8am working though until Saturday afternoon.[5]  The work was dangerous, the machinery used could result in fatal injuries and was frequently insufficiently fenced, and sanitary conditions were found to be very poor in many instances.   In 1894, The report on the employment of women, by the Lady Assistant Commissioners, described ironers were the best paid workers in commercial laundries, and how women with children preferred to work in hand laundries as these were generally not requiring ironers to work on a Monday, thus giving them a free day to tend to their households.  Jessie Boucherett, the author of the report suggested that this was not a job for young girls, the heat in the ironing room which frequently reached 80-100 degrees was simply too much for them, not to mention the skill required to ‘get up’ (press) the more complicated garments – petticoats, ruffled shirts etc – was beyond their experience.

Ironing then was a job for experienced, older women, who were paid the best wages in the laundry.   Charles Booth states that while “women at the tub received from 2s to 3s a day… shirt and collar ironers earn from 8s to 15s a week according to capacity, and work from four to six days… Shirt and collar ironers who do clean work for shirt and collar warehouses are better paid. The work must be done well, and 4s to 5s a day can be earned.”[6]  This certainly compared favourably with the wages for laundresses in general – girls of 15 were expected to work for 70 to 80 hours a weeks for 5s in many instances.

Clementina Black, however, suggested that the wages were getting lower by the early years of the twentieth century and following interviews with over 60 women she found that many were on a lower wage than Booth suggested.  She illustrates the home life of these women, and paints a picture of abject poverty, in many instances the women working to support a sick husband, the children sick themselves and the mothers struggling to find childcare to support her while she went to work.

“Case No. 60 was that of a woman with a consumptive husband and five children ranging from 16 years to 9 months old. The occupied at a rent of 6/6 a top flat of two rooms in the neighbourhood of one of the great markets. The buildings were, in the investigator’s words, “tucked away down a long passage, each block with a separate staircase leading off – dirty and, I should think, dangerous in case of fire. The postman I asked for directions, who said he had been in the district for 18 years, declared there were no such buildings”. The wife, who went out to her work, earned, at the highest, 14/- a week, but some weeks only 7/- or 8/-… Two of the younger children were very delicate, and these remained at home in the care of the consumptive father, who could only go out ot work in warm weather. It was his custom to go hopping – always to the same farm – every year, and he was paid £1 a week. The whole family accompanied him, and the wife reported of the previous autumn’s migration that it “quite set her up” for the winter. It seems difficult to believe, however, that four or five weeks in the fresh and healthy air of a hop garden could do away with the effects upon the babies’ health of weeks and weeks shut up in the society of a father possessing but half a lung. The poor fellow was a devoted parent, who among other services cooked midday meals for all his children. But what must have been his reflections during the long hours of tendance upon a pair of tiny, weakly children whose chances of life his very presence was diminishing.”[7]

This family were not alone in their struggles – ironing, while better paid that general laundry, simply could not pay enough to provide even a basic standard of living for a family where the father was either sick, had died or had deserted.  The hours worked and the wages paid caused frequent calls for laundries to come under the Factory Act, thus reducing hours and improving safety. This campaign, however, although called for in many circles, was argued in 1893 to be overlooking: “the danger and injustice  of legislation which puts grown-up women on the level of “young persons and children”, and so lowers the market value of their labour. Too many of the well intended, but unjust restrictions of women’s hours of work have put them out of trades where wages were good and the work not unsuitable.”[8]     The article goes on to quote an extract from the Laundry Journal:

“ Perhaps the most ticklish question of all is that of overtime. Now overtime, under the Act is a difficult matter to deal with, as it will mainly affect the ironers, practically all of the young persons and women. How hardly the matter of overtime may bear on a trade is vividly illustrated by the labour dispute at the Lower Croft  Bleach Works, Bury. It seems that the work at the Lower Croft is mainly of the fancy goods description, necessitating a rush of work at certain seasons. Overtime is absolutely necessary. But the Bleach Works are under the provisions of the Factory Act, and the overtime clauses must not be evaded. Consequently at the Lower Croft boys and women were dispensed with, and the light labour given to old men and cripples, men who were not able to do hard work and earn full wages, but who were glad to do the light labour of the boys and women for the same wages these would have received.”

Ironing then was a job carried out by tens of thousands of women across Britain, hot, exhausting work in dangerous conditions which paid very little for the skill required. They were arguably at the top of the laundry pile so to speak – but their lives were hard, and their work harder.

 

 

 

[1] Little Laundresses at Work, The Pall Mall Gazette, (London, England, February 17th 1890)

[2] Country Housekeeping, Myra’s Journal of Dress and Fashion, (London, England, Saturday, July 01, 1882)

[3] Country Housekeeping, 1882

[4] Miss March Phillips, ‘Women’s Industrial Life’, The Monthly Packet, (London, England, Friday May 1st, 1896) P 530

[5] Miss Phillips

[6] Charles Booth, Life and Labour of the People in London: The Trades of East London, (London, Macmillan and Co, 1893) P 295.

[7] Clementina Black, Married Women’s Work, (London, Virago, 1983), pp. 23-24.

[8] Article 2 – Laundries and Legislation, The Englishwoman’s Review, (London, England, Monday October 16th 1893)

F is for Fur Puller

This post was originally published on this site

This post was originally featured on , on . You can read the original article here at http://victorianoccupations.co.uk/uncategorized/f-is-for-fur-puller/

Today, the wearing of fur is uncommon. However, in Victorian society it was commonplace among the middle and upper classes.  Everybody from small babies to the elderly wore fur. The coats of the military fighting in the Crimea were lined with rabbit fur leading to many more women entering the profession as seen in a pamphlet from 1889: ‘At the time of the Crimean war a great many women became fur pullers, for large numbers of rabbit-skins were then wanted to line the coats of soldiers.’[1]  Besides the soldiers’ clothes, furs were used everywhere as seen in this little girl’s cape, made from rabbit fur and lined with satin.

cape

Little girl’s white rabbit fur cape c 1890. c.Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The production of furs for clothing purposes was very much part of daily life, and fur pulling or the more pleasant task of fur sewing was the occupation of thousands of women, most of whom were working in their own homes on piece rates.

Fur pulling was argued to occupy one of the lowest places in the ranks of women’s labour. It was, as argued by Charles Booth, one of the worst for sweating and exploitation, as well as undoubtedly horrific work. The skins, bought in from the colonies – primarily Australia – were treated with chemicals to preserve them, irritating the skin, eyes and lining of the respiratory system of the fur puller. The season for fur work in general ran from May to November, so, ‘the work, which is disagreeable and unhealthy, has to be done in the hottest part of the year, and is done very often in little workshops or in private rooms, often evading inspection altogether.’[2]

Several times a week the women would have to travel (at their own expense) to their ‘shop’ to collect the furs (often, as many complained bitterly, being left to wait for hours thus cutting their ability to earn an income), and then, having returned home, work for on average 10 – 11 hours a day, for on average 1/- to 1/6 a day. The work itself involved using a plucking knife and finger and thumb shields (all needed to be purchased at a cost of 8d for the knife and 6-7d per fortnight for the shields and sharpening) to remove the outer fur, leaving the soft, downy fur which lies close to the skin. As you imagine, the resulting explosion of down covered everything and everyone prompting one woman who worked in her living room with her two children to state: ‘we drink plenty of fur with our tea.’[3]

The picture of the women working is a haunting one; they are scantily clothed in rough, sacking like dresses, open, for the most part, at the throat, and letting the flesh appear through various slits and holes. This garment is matted with fluff or down. The women work and eat and sleep in an atmosphere thick with impalpable hairs, tainted with the sickly smell of the skins. Everything round them is coated with fur, and they themselves look scarcely more human than the animals beside them, from the thick deposit of fur which covers them from head to foot and forces its way into the eyes and nose and lungs of the miserable workers.[4]

The fur that had been pulled was then collected and sent back to the factory for use as a stuffing for cushions, pillows and bed covers. It was weighed and, if considered too light, the woman’s wages would be docked – best, I suppose, not to drink too much of the down with the tea.

A survey of 1897 found that infant mortality rates in families where the mothers were fur pullers was much higher than in those of other professions, they understanding being that the children were also inhaling the chemically treated down causing serious chest complaints.   The investigator remarks on the conditions of the workers and their homes were damning; ‘wretched’, ‘miserable’, ‘very unhealthy and bad for the chest’ and ‘filthy’.[5]  The women themselves also commented on how the work seemed to ‘stuff your chest up,’ and how it was, ‘very bad if you have a baby to suckle in the same room,’ and ‘serves chest cruel bad,’ but that they had to do it to support their family – many of the women being married to husbands who were out of work, or working themselves in low paid, seasonal positions.[6]  The investigator, Mrs Hogg, despairingly wrote: ‘without the abolition of fur pulling as a home industry, it is not easy to see what remedial measures could have much effect.’[7]  This, as is noted by Black c1914, is exactly what happened: ‘fur pulling, a trade in which such evils occurred in an aggravated degree… is not now allowed to be carried on at home.’  A triumph for health and women’s working conditions in the fur trade, but what effect did this legislation have on those women who relied on it, even the few pence that they could earn, to feed and clothe their families?


[1]  Toilers in London; or Inquiries concerning Female Labour in the Metropolis, [Anon] 1889

[2] C. Booth, Life and Labour of the People in London: The Trades of East London, (London, Macmillan and Co, 1893), p. 274

[3] F. G. Hogg, Home Industries of Women in London, (London, The Women’s Industrial Council, 1897), p. 27

[4] Hogg, Home Industries, p.19

[5] Hogg, Home Industries, pp. 26-29

[6] Hogg, Home Industries, p. 27

[7] Hogg, Home Industries, p. 19

F is for Fur Puller

This post was originally published on this site

This post was originally featured on , on . You can read the original article here at http://victorianoccupations.co.uk/f/f-is-for-fur-puller/

Today, the wearing of fur is uncommon. However, in Victorian society it was commonplace among the middle and upper classes.  Everybody from small babies to the elderly wore fur. The coats of the military fighting in the Crimea were lined with rabbit fur leading to many more women entering the profession as seen in a pamphlet from 1889: ‘At the time of the Crimean war a great many women became fur pullers, for large numbers of rabbit-skins were then wanted to line the coats of soldiers.’[1]  Besides the soldiers’ clothes, furs were used everywhere as seen in this little girl’s cape, made from rabbit fur and lined with satin.

cape

Little girl’s white rabbit fur cape c 1890. c.Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The production of furs for clothing purposes was very much part of daily life, and fur pulling or the more pleasant task of fur sewing was the occupation of thousands of women, most of whom were working in their own homes on piece rates.

Fur pulling was argued to occupy one of the lowest places in the ranks of women’s labour. It was, as argued by Charles Booth, one of the worst for sweating and exploitation, as well as undoubtedly horrific work. The skins, bought in from the colonies – primarily Australia – were treated with chemicals to preserve them, irritating the skin, eyes and lining of the respiratory system of the fur puller. The season for fur work in general ran from May to November, so, ‘the work, which is disagreeable and unhealthy, has to be done in the hottest part of the year, and is done very often in little workshops or in private rooms, often evading inspection altogether.’[2]

Several times a week the women would have to travel (at their own expense) to their ‘shop’ to collect the furs (often, as many complained bitterly, being left to wait for hours thus cutting their ability to earn an income), and then, having returned home, work for on average 10 – 11 hours a day, for on average 1/- to 1/6 a day. The work itself involved using a plucking knife and finger and thumb shields (all needed to be purchased at a cost of 8d for the knife and 6-7d per fortnight for the shields and sharpening) to remove the outer fur, leaving the soft, downy fur which lies close to the skin. As you imagine, the resulting explosion of down covered everything and everyone prompting one woman who worked in her living room with her two children to state: ‘we drink plenty of fur with our tea.’[3]

The picture of the women working is a haunting one; they are scantily clothed in rough, sacking like dresses, open, for the most part, at the throat, and letting the flesh appear through various slits and holes. This garment is matted with fluff or down. The women work and eat and sleep in an atmosphere thick with impalpable hairs, tainted with the sickly smell of the skins. Everything round them is coated with fur, and they themselves look scarcely more human than the animals beside them, from the thick deposit of fur which covers them from head to foot and forces its way into the eyes and nose and lungs of the miserable workers.[4]

The fur that had been pulled was then collected and sent back to the factory for use as a stuffing for cushions, pillows and bed covers. It was weighed and, if considered too light, the woman’s wages would be docked – best, I suppose, not to drink too much of the down with the tea.

A survey of 1897 found that infant mortality rates in families where the mothers were fur pullers was much higher than in those of other professions, they understanding being that the children were also inhaling the chemically treated down causing serious chest complaints.   The investigator remarks on the conditions of the workers and their homes were damning; ‘wretched’, ‘miserable’, ‘very unhealthy and bad for the chest’ and ‘filthy’.[5]  The women themselves also commented on how the work seemed to ‘stuff your chest up,’ and how it was, ‘very bad if you have a baby to suckle in the same room,’ and ‘serves chest cruel bad,’ but that they had to do it to support their family – many of the women being married to husbands who were out of work, or working themselves in low paid, seasonal positions.[6]  The investigator, Mrs Hogg, despairingly wrote: ‘without the abolition of fur pulling as a home industry, it is not easy to see what remedial measures could have much effect.’[7]  This, as is noted by Black c1914, is exactly what happened: ‘fur pulling, a trade in which such evils occurred in an aggravated degree… is not now allowed to be carried on at home.’  A triumph for health and women’s working conditions in the fur trade, but what effect did this legislation have on those women who relied on it, even the few pence that they could earn, to feed and clothe their families?


[1]  Toilers in London; or Inquiries concerning Female Labour in the Metropolis, [Anon] 1889

[2] C. Booth, Life and Labour of the People in London: The Trades of East London, (London, Macmillan and Co, 1893), p. 274

[3] F. G. Hogg, Home Industries of Women in London, (London, The Women’s Industrial Council, 1897), p. 27

[4] Hogg, Home Industries, p.19

[5] Hogg, Home Industries, pp. 26-29

[6] Hogg, Home Industries, p. 27

[7] Hogg, Home Industries, p. 19

C is for Charwoman

This post was originally published on this site

This post was originally featured on , on . You can read the original article here at http://victorianoccupations.co.uk/uncategorized/c-is-for-charwoman/

In the census of England and Wales of 1901, there were 111,841 women recorded as being a charwoman, or which 86, 463 were married or widowed. Every single Census Enumerator’s Book studied during the course of my research has charwomen listed, often in great number, and so it seems sensible to consider the role of the charwoman for the letter C in the alphabet.

 

The title, ‘Charwoman’ covers a fairly wide range of activities, but the vast majority were ‘cleaners’ – women going around cleaning other women’s houses. Some of the women they worked for would have been working-class too, but a significant number also cleaned for the middle-classes – the households that either couldn’t afford a full time maid of all work or live in housemaid, or were happy to rely on the cheaper charwomen. Some chars worked doing the cleaning or sometimes even the washing in commercial buildings, however, by the end of the nineteenth-century we see the title, ‘office cleaner’ coming into usage, thereby providing, at least a partial, delineation between domestic and commercial chars.

 

Again, as with B, there are a great deal of occupations beginning with C, some of which also were very popular jobs; Cigar Making for example provided an occupation for a great number of women in most of the London enumeration districts, if not the rural ones, others like Cat Meat Vendor were, understandably, less well populated, but still more so than the single cornet maker seen in a district in Camberwell – here is the list of occupations beginning with C for the same Bethnal Green enumeration district as the Bs:

Cabinet Maker
Cabinet Polisher
Cane Spreader
Cap Front Maker
Cap Maker
Capsule Maker
Captain in Salvation Army
Carpet Bag Maker
Cart Minder in Market
Chair Caner
Chandler’s Shop
Charwoman
Church Servant
Cigar Box Paperer
Cigar Light Seller
Cigar Maker
Cigarette Maker
Cleaner
Coffee House Keeper
Collar Dresser
Collar Ironer
Collar Machinist
Collar Maker
Confectioner
Confectioner’s Assistant
Cook
Cordwainer
Corsage Hand
Costermonger
Cotton Winder

 

None of these, however, come anywhere close to the numbers recorded as being Charwomen in each and every census. By the end of the nineteenth century charwomen had their own Union – the Association of Trained Charwomen and Domestic Workers, which was founded in 1898.  The Women’s Industrial Council was particularly worried about the conditions faced by those working as charwomen, primarily because they were unregulated in any way, their wages, even in comparison to our artificial flower makers, were argued by many (often incorrectly) to be pitiful, and there was absolutely no way to protect them from unscrupulous employers.

 

So why did women put themselves in this position?  All of the contemporary reports and surveys all suggest similar causes, some more charitably than others. Consider this report from the Huddersfield Daily Chronicle of 1881:

 

Fetch

[1]

The key phrase here appears to be: ‘just as the profession of a schoolmistress is the refuge for destitute females of a certain class, so is that of the charwoman a like refuge for another class.’ He (I presume this is a ‘he’) goes on to discuss whether a woman works her way down through the domestic service hierarchy, failing at all else, before landing at the bottom with a resounding crash, and resorting to charring to make a living.  It has to be said that this particular report is rather uncharitable, cruel even, suggesting that those that can will do anything rather than char, which may well have been the case, but charring is argued here to be more than that, charring is a sign of failure in life.

 

Clementina Black was far more charitable.  She discussed at great length (an entire section of the survey was dedicated to the issues surrounding charwomen) how women’s work was unvalued and carried little esteem because any occupation carried out by women would always revert to that of being a domestic drudge, whether in her own home, or someone else’s. To put it simply, Black argued that in every household at that time, where a woman was in residence, that woman would be involved in ‘working’ as a wife, a mother, a nurse and a homemaker, and that work would be unpaid.

‘In a commercial age, work which is unremunerated and a worker who is unpaid are alike of small value and little esteemed. But all women, or with exceptions so few as to be negligible, have been, or are, or will be engaged as unpaid workers in unpaid work, with the consequence that all work done by women and all wage-earning women are paid at a lower rate than would be the case if their work were not cheapened, and it is cheapened because either they will later engage in domestic work, so that they are not worth training for anything else; or they are, in fact, doing unpaid domestic work all the time, and to their employer their value in other work is therefore less; or they have been spending their life in domestic work and cannot therefore claim proficiency in the new industry they may be compelled to turn to.’[2]

She went on to point out how in other industries, agriculture for example, which she insisted used to be unpaid (serfdom? she doesn’t elaborate), organisation and legislation had changed things and she felt that domestic work would and should follow. However, domestic work was problematic in that, in her words, ‘charing, especially, is just the work that every woman with the usual complement of arms and legs and a mind above that of an imbecile is able to perform.’[3] It was, therefore, unspecialised, and needed little training; girls having been brought up from a young age to know how to clean and carry out domestic chores, often working at home having left school, keeping house themselves, while their own mother went cleaning other people’s houses, until the next daughter left school, could take the place of the eldest, who would then go into service.

 

Black, however, claimed that the single greatest reason that women were driven to charring was that of the irregularity of MEN’S work, not that of the women’s. Over the course of nearly twenty years of constant research, the Women’s Industrial Council found that where men’s work was irregular, where their hours were seasonal or unreliable, for example dock workers, it was then that women took to charring. So, charring itself was, in a way, seasonal, in that in the times when men were likely to have more work there were fewer chars, and when the men were not working or their hours reduced, the numbers or charwomen increased hugely. This, in itself, led to greater problems and fed the issue of low pay – the market was drowned with charwoman all wanting to work at similar times – the basic concept of supply and demand keeping down wages.

 

It was not all bad though, charring in itself could be argued to have been an ideal (if low paid) option for working mothers. The hours were fewer, they were worked at the convenience (to a certain extent) of the woman herself, and she could dictate where and when she worked and for whom. Again, turning to Black:

‘Over and over again the women say that it is better than the trade they followed before marriage, which means that it is possible to earn as much, or more, with less expenditure of time; that one can regulate the amount of work one does in a week without losing the job; that the hours admit far more attention to one’s own housework and children than do those worked in any factory, and that you do get for yourself good food, and often something to bring home to the children as well.’[4]

That final phrase says a lot, good food for yourself, and often something to bring home to the children. This goes beyond money, it goes beyond cash for the rent – food, and good, decent food for yourself and the children would have been priceless for a woman working only because her husband was on short hours, or injured or sick.

 

There was also the issue of respectability. To us, the word ‘char’ might bring to mind a drudge in a dirty skirt and apron doing the very worst of the housework. But this wasn’t necessarily the case. Of course some of them would fit the stereotype, but something that is brought up again and again is this idea of working to ‘oblige the lady’ – they are helping out, looking after the lady, thereby raising themselves, if even in their own head, to a higher level and keeping up with the Joness’. Still though, this wasn’t a job that very many women did unless they had to, and many had to. There were a few instances recorded of women charring to provide a higher income that they ‘needed’, but these were few and far between.

 

It is quite interesting to see the wages these women were earning. There hours were not as long as many other occupations, often only (only?!) nine or ten a day, but for that they would be paid on average 2/-, sometimes less. Still, however, this amounts to more in many cases than we have seen so far in artificial flower making and boot making if you average out the hours – it could certainly be said that charring was an extremely useful stopgap. It was something any woman could do, and most did daily anyway, that could be picked up and put down when needed, and which paid a relatively good wage. It is hardly surprising then that in the census we see them in pretty much every parish!


[1] THE LONDON CHARWOMAN .
The Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (West Yorkshire, England), Friday, January 21, 1881; pg. 4; Issue 4201. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II.

[2] C Black, Married Women’s Work, (London, Virago, 1983), p. 106.

[3] Black, p. 107.

[4] Black, p. 109.

C is for Charwoman

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In the census of England and Wales of 1901, there were 111,841 women recorded as being a charwoman, or which 86, 463 were married or widowed. Every single Census Enumerator’s Book studied during the course of my research has charwomen listed, often in great number, and so it seems sensible to consider the role of the charwoman for the letter C in the alphabet.

 

The title, ‘Charwoman’ covers a fairly wide range of activities, but the vast majority were ‘cleaners’ – women going around cleaning other women’s houses. Some of the women they worked for would have been working-class too, but a significant number also cleaned for the middle-classes – the households that either couldn’t afford a full time maid of all work or live in housemaid, or were happy to rely on the cheaper charwomen. Some chars worked doing the cleaning or sometimes even the washing in commercial buildings, however, by the end of the nineteenth-century we see the title, ‘office cleaner’ coming into usage, thereby providing, at least a partial, delineation between domestic and commercial chars.

 

Again, as with B, there are a great deal of occupations beginning with C, some of which also were very popular jobs; Cigar Making for example provided an occupation for a great number of women in most of the London enumeration districts, if not the rural ones, others like Cat Meat Vendor were, understandably, less well populated, but still more so than the single cornet maker seen in a district in Camberwell – here is the list of occupations beginning with C for the same Bethnal Green enumeration district as the Bs:

Cabinet Maker
Cabinet Polisher
Cane Spreader
Cap Front Maker
Cap Maker
Capsule Maker
Captain in Salvation Army
Carpet Bag Maker
Cart Minder in Market
Chair Caner
Chandler’s Shop
Charwoman
Church Servant
Cigar Box Paperer
Cigar Light Seller
Cigar Maker
Cigarette Maker
Cleaner
Coffee House Keeper
Collar Dresser
Collar Ironer
Collar Machinist
Collar Maker
Confectioner
Confectioner’s Assistant
Cook
Cordwainer
Corsage Hand
Costermonger
Cotton Winder

 

None of these, however, come anywhere close to the numbers recorded as being Charwomen in each and every census. By the end of the nineteenth century charwomen had their own Union – the Association of Trained Charwomen and Domestic Workers, which was founded in 1898.  The Women’s Industrial Council was particularly worried about the conditions faced by those working as charwomen, primarily because they were unregulated in any way, their wages, even in comparison to our artificial flower makers, were argued by many (often incorrectly) to be pitiful, and there was absolutely no way to protect them from unscrupulous employers.

 

So why did women put themselves in this position?  All of the contemporary reports and surveys all suggest similar causes, some more charitably than others. Consider this report from the Huddersfield Daily Chronicle of 1881:

 

Fetch

[1]

The key phrase here appears to be: ‘just as the profession of a schoolmistress is the refuge for destitute females of a certain class, so is that of the charwoman a like refuge for another class.’ He (I presume this is a ‘he’) goes on to discuss whether a woman works her way down through the domestic service hierarchy, failing at all else, before landing at the bottom with a resounding crash, and resorting to charring to make a living.  It has to be said that this particular report is rather uncharitable, cruel even, suggesting that those that can will do anything rather than char, which may well have been the case, but charring is argued here to be more than that, charring is a sign of failure in life.

 

Clementina Black was far more charitable.  She discussed at great length (an entire section of the survey was dedicated to the issues surrounding charwomen) how women’s work was unvalued and carried little esteem because any occupation carried out by women would always revert to that of being a domestic drudge, whether in her own home, or someone else’s. To put it simply, Black argued that in every household at that time, where a woman was in residence, that woman would be involved in ‘working’ as a wife, a mother, a nurse and a homemaker, and that work would be unpaid.

‘In a commercial age, work which is unremunerated and a worker who is unpaid are alike of small value and little esteemed. But all women, or with exceptions so few as to be negligible, have been, or are, or will be engaged as unpaid workers in unpaid work, with the consequence that all work done by women and all wage-earning women are paid at a lower rate than would be the case if their work were not cheapened, and it is cheapened because either they will later engage in domestic work, so that they are not worth training for anything else; or they are, in fact, doing unpaid domestic work all the time, and to their employer their value in other work is therefore less; or they have been spending their life in domestic work and cannot therefore claim proficiency in the new industry they may be compelled to turn to.’[2]

She went on to point out how in other industries, agriculture for example, which she insisted used to be unpaid (serfdom? she doesn’t elaborate), organisation and legislation had changed things and she felt that domestic work would and should follow. However, domestic work was problematic in that, in her words, ‘charing, especially, is just the work that every woman with the usual complement of arms and legs and a mind above that of an imbecile is able to perform.’[3] It was, therefore, unspecialised, and needed little training; girls having been brought up from a young age to know how to clean and carry out domestic chores, often working at home having left school, keeping house themselves, while their own mother went cleaning other people’s houses, until the next daughter left school, could take the place of the eldest, who would then go into service.

 

Black, however, claimed that the single greatest reason that women were driven to charring was that of the irregularity of MEN’S work, not that of the women’s. Over the course of nearly twenty years of constant research, the Women’s Industrial Council found that where men’s work was irregular, where their hours were seasonal or unreliable, for example dock workers, it was then that women took to charring. So, charring itself was, in a way, seasonal, in that in the times when men were likely to have more work there were fewer chars, and when the men were not working or their hours reduced, the numbers or charwomen increased hugely. This, in itself, led to greater problems and fed the issue of low pay – the market was drowned with charwoman all wanting to work at similar times – the basic concept of supply and demand keeping down wages.

 

It was not all bad though, charring in itself could be argued to have been an ideal (if low paid) option for working mothers. The hours were fewer, they were worked at the convenience (to a certain extent) of the woman herself, and she could dictate where and when she worked and for whom. Again, turning to Black:

‘Over and over again the women say that it is better than the trade they followed before marriage, which means that it is possible to earn as much, or more, with less expenditure of time; that one can regulate the amount of work one does in a week without losing the job; that the hours admit far more attention to one’s own housework and children than do those worked in any factory, and that you do get for yourself good food, and often something to bring home to the children as well.’[4]

That final phrase says a lot, good food for yourself, and often something to bring home to the children. This goes beyond money, it goes beyond cash for the rent – food, and good, decent food for yourself and the children would have been priceless for a woman working only because her husband was on short hours, or injured or sick.

 

There was also the issue of respectability. To us, the word ‘char’ might bring to mind a drudge in a dirty skirt and apron doing the very worst of the housework. But this wasn’t necessarily the case. Of course some of them would fit the stereotype, but something that is brought up again and again is this idea of working to ‘oblige the lady’ – they are helping out, looking after the lady, thereby raising themselves, if even in their own head, to a higher level and keeping up with the Joness’. Still though, this wasn’t a job that very many women did unless they had to, and many had to. There were a few instances recorded of women charring to provide a higher income that they ‘needed’, but these were few and far between.

 

It is quite interesting to see the wages these women were earning. There hours were not as long as many other occupations, often only (only?!) nine or ten a day, but for that they would be paid on average 2/-, sometimes less. Still, however, this amounts to more in many cases than we have seen so far in artificial flower making and boot making if you average out the hours – it could certainly be said that charring was an extremely useful stopgap. It was something any woman could do, and most did daily anyway, that could be picked up and put down when needed, and which paid a relatively good wage. It is hardly surprising then that in the census we see them in pretty much every parish!


[1] THE LONDON CHARWOMAN .
The Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (West Yorkshire, England), Friday, January 21, 1881; pg. 4; Issue 4201. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II.

[2] C Black, Married Women’s Work, (London, Virago, 1983), p. 106.

[3] Black, p. 107.

[4] Black, p. 109.

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