Tag: Clothing

Isabella Ormston Ford, (1855-1924)

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/great-victorians/isabella-ormston-ford-1855-1924/

  As well as writing about Victorian Occupations, I think its helpful to consider some of those great philanthropists who sought to help those working in the terrible conditions in which so many of the working classes found themselves. During the 19th Century, especially in the latter years, the concerns over sweating and the abuse… Read more »

The post Isabella Ormston Ford, (1855-1924) appeared first on Amanda Wilkinson’s Victorian Occupations.

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/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

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

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.

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