Tag: Camberwell

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

E is for Embroideress

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/e-is-for-embroideress/

When deciding which predominantly female occupation to write about for the E in our alphabet I had to make a difficult decision between Envelope Folder and Embroideress. There are, of course, a surprisingly large number of other ‘E’s in the census – Errand girls were frequently recorded, Eating House Keepers, a couple of Electric Primer Testers in 1901 in Camberwell, Enamel Painters and even an Electrical Fitter (a surprising occupation for a woman), but in the end, after careful consideration and reading around the various occupations, it seemed that the embroideresses had an interesting story to tell, although I must confess, had I managed to get more information on that Electrical Fitter and the Electric Primer Testers they may well  have made the A-Z!

Embroideresses were everywhere in Victorian England. Most towns and villages had at least one working in the community, and when you consider the extent to which the clothes of the rich and the uniforms of service personnel at all levels were richly embroidered in the nineteenth-century, it is unsurprising that they made up such a significant part of the workforce.

court dress

Court Dress, 1860-65 c Victorian and Albert Museum, London

They were skilled women – although, in the homes of the middle and upper-classes embroidery was a skill taught to all young ladies – the actual work of embroidering on an industrial scale, with the perfection required to produce piece after identical piece, each to an extremely high standard, required the dexterity and skill of a top needlewoman.

In the  image here of this beautiful court dress dating from 1860-65 the detail is staggering. The edge of the train is worked on a machine, but the roses and morning glories covering the skirt, bodice and train are each worked by hand.
The most skilful of these women served anything from a four to seven year apprenticeship, however their work was far from guaranteed.image here of this beautiful court dress dating from 1860-65 the detail is staggering. The edge of the train is worked on a machine, but the roses and morning glories covering the skirt, bodice and train are each worked by hand.  The most skilful of these women served anything from a four to seven year apprenticeship, however their work was far from guaranteed.

In the mid nineteenth-century many women worked, not on the glorious dresses shown here, but on the collars and uniforms of the services. What is forgotten in our days of mass produced garments and materials, is that every single badge, every stripe, every motif, every collar on every military uniform, every police uniform, every service garment, every clerical robe, had to be hand embroidered.

In an article written in The Morning Chronicle, in January 1850, an embroideress described the type of work she was doing.[1]

embroideress

This particular woman, who had worked for many years as an embroideress having served a seven year apprenticeship, was preparing collars and badges for a vast array of different services and forces. She explains in the news article how the work available to her had dropped significantly in the previous five years, and that she was becoming concerned that soon there would not be a sufficient income to keep her. This was to become worse when, in 1854, the military suggested the removal of gold embroidery from their epaulettes and collars, a ‘threat’ which threw the livelihoods of military embroideresses into turmoil. Throughout September, the Morning Post posted letters written by these women:[2]

Fetch (2)

By the 1870s the occupation of embroideress was certainly not so common as it had once been – but to lay the blame purely at the feet of the military would be unfair. As with everything else in Victorian Britain, embroidery was becoming industrialised. Machines were now able to do much of the work that the skilled women of the mid century had once done, but they were still very much needed, to the extent that ‘white work’ – the beautiful embroidery carried out on white linen with white silk – was suggested as a skill to be taught to destitute girls and women in need of an occupation in order to make a living by organisations such as the Charity Organisation Society in 1899.

By the turn of the century embroidery was still such a significant source of income that it is one of the named occupations examined by the Women’s Industrial Council for their survey of married women’s work. It is here that we can see quite how far though the availability of work, and more importantly the wages, had fallen since the heyday of the mid 1840s.  Whereas the embroideress interviewed for The Morning Chronicle had earnt as much as 29s a week, and regularly could earn 12s a week in 1850, by 1910 the women were now earning only 8-9s making policemen’s armlets or worsted lettering for railway uniform collars.  Women working on decorated garments were also paid a low rate, but for these there was also the cost of the silks:

No. 7 (the WIC did not name the women they interviewed) was an able and superior woman who, with her daughter, embroidered children’s garments, making their own designs. She did not begin to work until she was 40 years old, when the family circumstances became impoverished. She designed her own patterns, and made samples which she sent to her employers, assigning a rate for each. The manufacturers generally gave her an order for the pattern they preferred, and usually accepted her rate. Rates varied from 2/- a dozen for small collars, to 18/- a dozen for pelisses. No. 7 provided the embroidering silk, which she bought from her employers by the pound, at a cost of 1½d for a skein for 14 threads. She showed the investigator a cape embroidered from a design of hers by her daughter. It had taken two hours, and just over two skeins of silk. The payment was to be 9/- a dozen, and the deduction of 3d for silk leaves a net total of 6d per cape. The mother thought her takings, which varied from 5/- to 20/- a week – averaged about 12/-, taking the year through. Fares were a heavy item; she lived far from the centre. She said there was a great competition even for work so skilled and responsible as hers, and that the garments were sold so cheaply as to produce underpayment.[3]  

Although work for embroideresses declined throughout the Victorian period, for women who were facing destitution it was an attractive alternative to other ‘female’ occupations such as charring and washing. For the women who had served their apprenticeships, the reduction in work, and the increase in industrial embroidery (which they all considered inferior and very poor in quality) was heartbreaking – the feeling coming through the remaining letters and documents is one of hopelessness and fear. For some, particularly those working on gold embroidery at the turn of the century, however, the news was not so bad. Black refers to a woman known as No.8 who earned in excess of 30/- a week, on occasion £2 – her trade? –  making an apron for ‘an Eastern potentate which had three pounds of god upon it’, and making ‘all kinds of elaborate things for the Freemasons.’[4] Maybe it was a case not so much of what you knew and how skilled you were, as who you knew….


[1] LABOUR AND THE POOR IN THE METROPOLITAN, RURAL, AND MANUFACTURING DISTRICTS OF ENGLAND AND WALES .
The Morning Chronicle (London, England), Tuesday, January 8, 1850; Issue 25029.

[2] MILITARY EMBROIDERY . The Morning Post (London, England), Friday, September 08, 1854; pg. 4; Issue 25174. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II.

[3] C. Black, Married Women’s Work, (London, Virago, 1984), p.102

[4] C. Black, Married Women’s Work, (London, Virago, 1984), p.103

E is for Embroideress

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/e/e-is-for-embroideress/

When deciding which predominantly female occupation to write about for the E in our alphabet I had to make a difficult decision between Envelope Folder and Embroideress. There are, of course, a surprisingly large number of other ‘E’s in the census – Errand girls were frequently recorded, Eating House Keepers, a couple of Electric Primer Testers in 1901 in Camberwell, Enamel Painters and even an Electrical Fitter (a surprising occupation for a woman), but in the end, after careful consideration and reading around the various occupations, it seemed that the embroideresses had an interesting story to tell, although I must confess, had I managed to get more information on that Electrical Fitter and the Electric Primer Testers they may well  have made the A-Z!

Embroideresses were everywhere in Victorian England. Most towns and villages had at least one working in the community, and when you consider the extent to which the clothes of the rich and the uniforms of service personnel at all levels were richly embroidered in the nineteenth-century, it is unsurprising that they made up such a significant part of the workforce.

court dress

Court Dress, 1860-65 c Victorian and Albert Museum, London

They were skilled women – although, in the homes of the middle and upper-classes embroidery was a skill taught to all young ladies – the actual work of embroidering on an industrial scale, with the perfection required to produce piece after identical piece, each to an extremely high standard, required the dexterity and skill of a top needlewoman.

In the  image here of this beautiful court dress dating from 1860-65 the detail is staggering. The edge of the train is worked on a machine, but the roses and morning glories covering the skirt, bodice and train are each worked by hand.
The most skilful of these women served anything from a four to seven year apprenticeship, however their work was far from guaranteed.image here of this beautiful court dress dating from 1860-65 the detail is staggering. The edge of the train is worked on a machine, but the roses and morning glories covering the skirt, bodice and train are each worked by hand.  The most skilful of these women served anything from a four to seven year apprenticeship, however their work was far from guaranteed.

In the mid nineteenth-century many women worked, not on the glorious dresses shown here, but on the collars and uniforms of the services. What is forgotten in our days of mass produced garments and materials, is that every single badge, every stripe, every motif, every collar on every military uniform, every police uniform, every service garment, every clerical robe, had to be hand embroidered.

In an article written in The Morning Chronicle, in January 1850, an embroideress described the type of work she was doing.[1]

embroideress

This particular woman, who had worked for many years as an embroideress having served a seven year apprenticeship, was preparing collars and badges for a vast array of different services and forces. She explains in the news article how the work available to her had dropped significantly in the previous five years, and that she was becoming concerned that soon there would not be a sufficient income to keep her. This was to become worse when, in 1854, the military suggested the removal of gold embroidery from their epaulettes and collars, a ‘threat’ which threw the livelihoods of military embroideresses into turmoil. Throughout September, the Morning Post posted letters written by these women:[2]

Fetch (2)

By the 1870s the occupation of embroideress was certainly not so common as it had once been – but to lay the blame purely at the feet of the military would be unfair. As with everything else in Victorian Britain, embroidery was becoming industrialised. Machines were now able to do much of the work that the skilled women of the mid century had once done, but they were still very much needed, to the extent that ‘white work’ – the beautiful embroidery carried out on white linen with white silk – was suggested as a skill to be taught to destitute girls and women in need of an occupation in order to make a living by organisations such as the Charity Organisation Society in 1899.

By the turn of the century embroidery was still such a significant source of income that it is one of the named occupations examined by the Women’s Industrial Council for their survey of married women’s work. It is here that we can see quite how far though the availability of work, and more importantly the wages, had fallen since the heyday of the mid 1840s.  Whereas the embroideress interviewed for The Morning Chronicle had earnt as much as 29s a week, and regularly could earn 12s a week in 1850, by 1910 the women were now earning only 8-9s making policemen’s armlets or worsted lettering for railway uniform collars.  Women working on decorated garments were also paid a low rate, but for these there was also the cost of the silks:

No. 7 (the WIC did not name the women they interviewed) was an able and superior woman who, with her daughter, embroidered children’s garments, making their own designs. She did not begin to work until she was 40 years old, when the family circumstances became impoverished. She designed her own patterns, and made samples which she sent to her employers, assigning a rate for each. The manufacturers generally gave her an order for the pattern they preferred, and usually accepted her rate. Rates varied from 2/- a dozen for small collars, to 18/- a dozen for pelisses. No. 7 provided the embroidering silk, which she bought from her employers by the pound, at a cost of 1½d for a skein for 14 threads. She showed the investigator a cape embroidered from a design of hers by her daughter. It had taken two hours, and just over two skeins of silk. The payment was to be 9/- a dozen, and the deduction of 3d for silk leaves a net total of 6d per cape. The mother thought her takings, which varied from 5/- to 20/- a week – averaged about 12/-, taking the year through. Fares were a heavy item; she lived far from the centre. She said there was a great competition even for work so skilled and responsible as hers, and that the garments were sold so cheaply as to produce underpayment.[3]  

Although work for embroideresses declined throughout the Victorian period, for women who were facing destitution it was an attractive alternative to other ‘female’ occupations such as charring and washing. For the women who had served their apprenticeships, the reduction in work, and the increase in industrial embroidery (which they all considered inferior and very poor in quality) was heartbreaking – the feeling coming through the remaining letters and documents is one of hopelessness and fear. For some, particularly those working on gold embroidery at the turn of the century, however, the news was not so bad. Black refers to a woman known as No.8 who earned in excess of 30/- a week, on occasion £2 – her trade? –  making an apron for ‘an Eastern potentate which had three pounds of god upon it’, and making ‘all kinds of elaborate things for the Freemasons.’[4] Maybe it was a case not so much of what you knew and how skilled you were, as who you knew….


[1] LABOUR AND THE POOR IN THE METROPOLITAN, RURAL, AND MANUFACTURING DISTRICTS OF ENGLAND AND WALES .
The Morning Chronicle (London, England), Tuesday, January 8, 1850; Issue 25029.

[2] MILITARY EMBROIDERY . The Morning Post (London, England), Friday, September 08, 1854; pg. 4; Issue 25174. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II.

[3] C. Black, Married Women’s Work, (London, Virago, 1984), p.102

[4] C. Black, Married Women’s Work, (London, Virago, 1984), p.103

The post E is for Embroideress appeared first on Amanda Wilkinson’s Victorian Occupations.