Tag: Victorians

Isabella Ormston Ford, (1855-1924)

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  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 »

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J is for Jam Maker

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

“Any adventurous jam-maker can be sure, by settling in London, of getting as many female workers as he likes for about 7s. a week – certainly not a subsistence wage in London; and having got them he may treat them pretty much as he likes. He may turn them off for weeks or months in slack times; they will be there as soon as he chooses to open his doors again. He may work them day and night in busy seasons until they are broken down with fatigue and sleeplessness; and they will agree with the law which says it is all right.  He may work them under conditions fatal to health, and they will take it as all in the day’s work. The one thing which will never happen is that he should be ‘short of hands’”[1]

 

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries jam making was carried out across the country – everywhere from village kitchens employing one or two women producing small batches of jams and preserves from fruits in season, to the vast London and Liverpool based factories, each employing thousands of workers.  Rapidly jam making became an occupation frequently reported as being problematic, both in terms of the wages being paid which were very low, but also as a dangerous environment, regularly appearing in the newspapers reporting deaths and serious injuries in the factories.

stock-illustration-26136989-workers-in-a-victorian-jam-factory

Jam makers were considered to be at the lower end of the working classes.  They are regularly described in reports as being of a ‘rough’ nature, they needed to have no special skills or experience – simply to be able to work for long hours and strong enough to deal with the vats of fruit and vast, heavy jam pans or pallets of jars.  Jam factories were taken to court for making women work overtime – as in the case of Messrs. Machonochie Brothers, who were summed to court for employing women after hours. Under the Factory Acts, women were not allowed to be employed after 9pm, however, Miss Deane, a Government inspector, visited the factory on August 5th 1898 and found three girls, one of which was only 14, working at 9.30pm, having been in work since 8am. The girl concerned had had an hour for dinner and another hour for tea, but was still washing bottles 13 hours after starting work that day.  Surprisingly, the judge found in favour of the employers, suggesting that, “if workshops were carried out on the ideal plan suggested, businesses could not be carried on at a fair profit.”[2]   In 1892 dozens of women employed at Pink’s jam factory held a strike at the reduction in their pay. Due to the surplus of women seeking employment and the lack of employment legislation to protect women in work, they were replaced immediately from the scores of women waiting at the gate in the hope of work.

Work in jam factories was seasonal and as such the factories worked extremely long hours in the fruiting season. Giving details of her factory duties, one elderly widow in Liverpool explained how:

“Oranges come in about Christmas, and marmalade making goes on till the end of March; rhubarb starts in May, followed by gooseberries and stone fruit. When the stone fruit is finished there is a week or two of pickling onions, but there is nothing from the beginning of October to Christmas.”[3]

During the slack time the widow explained that she had to take to charing – there was no work at the factory.  Women working full time could expect to earn a full time wage of 10/- or 11/- a week when busy, but only 5/- a week during the quieter months, with one woman stating that she only earned 2/- a week off season.

Work in the jam factories was hard – it is named by Clementina Black as being one of the occupations for women which would be considered more dangerous than a housewife’s heavy load of washing and cleaning.  “Some of them lifted pans of 56lbs weight, some washed bottles, some pulped fruit or stacked jars, or put fruit into bottles.”[4]  The work carried out by the stackers and lifters was considered very heavy – the 56lb pans (converted to 25kg) would be considered over 9kg (19lb) heavier than can safely be carried by a woman at work today.  This put an immense strain on the women, most of whom were under nourished, and frequently pregnant. All of the women questioned for Women’s Industrial Council worked in the factories through necessity – mostly due to being widowed, or their husbands being injured, sick, or unable to find regular work. None of the families were bringing in what would be considered at the time a subsistence wage, and, therefore, the physical condition of the women was argued to be weaker than the norm.  Black herself questioned whether “the carrying or piling up of pans or trays weights half a hundred-weight each can be suitable for women who are expecting the birth of a child,”[5]    and this seemed to be borne out in Liverpool where Ms Newcombe-Fox suggested that there appeared to be increased mortality among the children of jam makers – this being blamed on the mothers working to near their ‘time’, and the strain of the nature of the work.

Beyond the normal strains of working such long hours doing strenuous work, the factories could be, by their very nature, dangerous places to work. In 1893 the parents of Delilah Figgins, 15 years of age) insisted that their daughter’s death, 10 days after beginning work at Messrs. Pink in Bermondsey, was due to the insanitary conditions in which she was forced to work.  She had complained, as had her sister, that the oranges she was sorting were frequently rotten, that the smell was appalling and that her hands were scratched and then soaked in the putrid liquid. Worse still, the girls were not allowed to leave the factory for their meal breaks, being forced to eat their meals surrounded by the rotting fruit. Whilst the coroner found that her death was due to septicaemia, most likely due to a bruise on her leg becoming infected, Pinks were informed that the work girls (over 600 of them) “should have their meals in another part of the building, as it was not a proper thing from a humane point of view for them to have their meals among the [rotting] oranges in their work-room.”[6]  In 1895, Eliza Wrightly was killed at Pink’s, having fallen into a pan of boiling apples. Again, Pinks were instructed to create a safer working environment – the open pans of boiling fruit causing frequent injury, and asked to ensure that covers were placed over the pans to prevent further fatalities.[7]   In 1900 Rosalie Reed was killed at Keiller’s Jam Factory. “In the course of her work at the factory, the girl had to pass along a gangway just by the side of which was a hole 10 feet wide and 24 feet deep. Into the hole the exhaust boiling water was allowed to run, and clouds of steam continually rose. There was, said several witnesses, no protection to the pit, and no light except a lantern. One evening the girl was missed. Nothing more was seen or heard of her until her body was found next day in the boiling water. A witness declared no fence was placed around the hole until two days after the accident.”[8]

With the combination of long hours, hard, heavy work, dangerous conditions and low wages jam making attracted women who needed work at any cost, and, as lamented by social commentators of the time, the conditions in which many worked worsened.  Pinks were able to dismiss on the spot a large section of their finishing workforce who dared to strike as so many other women were willing to work for worsening pay in awful conditions.

 

It would be wrong of course to suggest that all jam manufactories were terrible and there were some notable exceptions. The work was always going to be hard, and the pay low, but some, like Wilkin and Son’s in Tiptree, and the Hartley factory in Aintree were bright airy places. Hartley’s made a point of inviting the press and the medical profession into their factories to show off their staff, the housing they provided and the conditions in which the fruit was grown and prepared – Sir James Barr, one of Liverpool’s most eminent physicians stated that “neither he, nor his professional friends would have any hesitation in eating any of the Hartley jam.”[9]

pinks

Ending on a happier note, having failed to convince their employers in 1892 of the injustice of falling wages, in 1911 the women of Pink’s factory joined with thousands of others to strike again, and this time they won:

“In the summer of 1911, 15,000 women in Bermondsey, South London came out on strike against low wages and bad working conditions in the district. Thirty firms, including a number of jam and biscuit factories, were affected by the strike. The National Federation of Women Workers moved all available staff into the area to help organise the women and the Women’s Trade Union League launched a financial appeal. Many concessions were obtained and at Pinks’ jam factory, the wage rose from 9 to 11 shillings per week”[10]

 

 

[1] Helen Bosanquet, ‘A Study in Women’s Wages’, The Economic Journal, Vol. 12. No. 45. March 1902, pp 42-43.

[2] Jam Factory Overtime, Reynold’s Newspaper, (London, England), Sunday, August 28th 1898.

[3] Clementina Black, Married Women’s Work, (London, Virago, 1983) p. 189.

[4] Clementina Black, Married Women’s Work, (London, Virago, 1983) p. 45.

[5] Clementina Black, Married Women’s Work, (London, Virago, 1983) p. 46.

[6] Work in a Jam Factory, Birmingham Daily Post, (Birmingham, England), 8 April 1893

[7] Jam Making Fatality, Berrow’s Worcester Journal, (Worcester, England) 26 October 1895

[8] A Girl’s Terrible Death, Courier and Argus (Dundee, Scotland) 19 November 1900

[9] Visit to a Jam Factory, Daily Mail, (London, England) 21 July 1906.

[10] http://www.unionhistory.info/equalpay/display.php?irn=100299&QueryPage=%2Fequalpay%2Fabout.php

J is for Jam Maker

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/l/j-is-for-jam-maker/

“Any adventurous jam-maker can be sure, by settling in London, of getting as many female workers as he likes for about 7s. a week – certainly not a subsistence wage in London; and having got them he may treat them pretty much as he likes. He may turn them off for weeks or months in slack times; they will be there as soon as he chooses to open his doors again. He may work them day and night in busy seasons until they are broken down with fatigue and sleeplessness; and they will agree with the law which says it is all right.  He may work them under conditions fatal to health, and they will take it as all in the day’s work. The one thing which will never happen is that he should be ‘short of hands’”[1]

 

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries jam making was carried out across the country – everywhere from village kitchens employing one or two women producing small batches of jams and preserves from fruits in season, to the vast London and Liverpool based factories, each employing thousands of workers.  Rapidly jam making became an occupation frequently reported as being problematic, both in terms of the wages being paid which were very low, but also as a dangerous environment, regularly appearing in the newspapers reporting deaths and serious injuries in the factories.

stock-illustration-26136989-workers-in-a-victorian-jam-factory

Jam makers were considered to be at the lower end of the working classes.  They are regularly described in reports as being of a ‘rough’ nature, they needed to have no special skills or experience – simply to be able to work for long hours and strong enough to deal with the vats of fruit and vast, heavy jam pans or pallets of jars.  Jam factories were taken to court for making women work overtime – as in the case of Messrs. Machonochie Brothers, who were summed to court for employing women after hours. Under the Factory Acts, women were not allowed to be employed after 9pm, however, Miss Deane, a Government inspector, visited the factory on August 5th 1898 and found three girls, one of which was only 14, working at 9.30pm, having been in work since 8am. The girl concerned had had an hour for dinner and another hour for tea, but was still washing bottles 13 hours after starting work that day.  Surprisingly, the judge found in favour of the employers, suggesting that, “if workshops were carried out on the ideal plan suggested, businesses could not be carried on at a fair profit.”[2]   In 1892 dozens of women employed at Pink’s jam factory held a strike at the reduction in their pay. Due to the surplus of women seeking employment and the lack of employment legislation to protect women in work, they were replaced immediately from the scores of women waiting at the gate in the hope of work.

Work in jam factories was seasonal and as such the factories worked extremely long hours in the fruiting season. Giving details of her factory duties, one elderly widow in Liverpool explained how:

“Oranges come in about Christmas, and marmalade making goes on till the end of March; rhubarb starts in May, followed by gooseberries and stone fruit. When the stone fruit is finished there is a week or two of pickling onions, but there is nothing from the beginning of October to Christmas.”[3]

During the slack time the widow explained that she had to take to charing – there was no work at the factory.  Women working full time could expect to earn a full time wage of 10/- or 11/- a week when busy, but only 5/- a week during the quieter months, with one woman stating that she only earned 2/- a week off season.

Work in the jam factories was hard – it is named by Clementina Black as being one of the occupations for women which would be considered more dangerous than a housewife’s heavy load of washing and cleaning.  “Some of them lifted pans of 56lbs weight, some washed bottles, some pulped fruit or stacked jars, or put fruit into bottles.”[4]  The work carried out by the stackers and lifters was considered very heavy – the 56lb pans (converted to 25kg) would be considered over 9kg (19lb) heavier than can safely be carried by a woman at work today.  This put an immense strain on the women, most of whom were under nourished, and frequently pregnant. All of the women questioned for Women’s Industrial Council worked in the factories through necessity – mostly due to being widowed, or their husbands being injured, sick, or unable to find regular work. None of the families were bringing in what would be considered at the time a subsistence wage, and, therefore, the physical condition of the women was argued to be weaker than the norm.  Black herself questioned whether “the carrying or piling up of pans or trays weights half a hundred-weight each can be suitable for women who are expecting the birth of a child,”[5]    and this seemed to be borne out in Liverpool where Ms Newcombe-Fox suggested that there appeared to be increased mortality among the children of jam makers – this being blamed on the mothers working to near their ‘time’, and the strain of the nature of the work.

Beyond the normal strains of working such long hours doing strenuous work, the factories could be, by their very nature, dangerous places to work. In 1893 the parents of Delilah Figgins, 15 years of age) insisted that their daughter’s death, 10 days after beginning work at Messrs. Pink in Bermondsey, was due to the insanitary conditions in which she was forced to work.  She had complained, as had her sister, that the oranges she was sorting were frequently rotten, that the smell was appalling and that her hands were scratched and then soaked in the putrid liquid. Worse still, the girls were not allowed to leave the factory for their meal breaks, being forced to eat their meals surrounded by the rotting fruit. Whilst the coroner found that her death was due to septicaemia, most likely due to a bruise on her leg becoming infected, Pinks were informed that the work girls (over 600 of them) “should have their meals in another part of the building, as it was not a proper thing from a humane point of view for them to have their meals among the [rotting] oranges in their work-room.”[6]  In 1895, Eliza Wrightly was killed at Pink’s, having fallen into a pan of boiling apples. Again, Pinks were instructed to create a safer working environment – the open pans of boiling fruit causing frequent injury, and asked to ensure that covers were placed over the pans to prevent further fatalities.[7]   In 1900 Rosalie Reed was killed at Keiller’s Jam Factory. “In the course of her work at the factory, the girl had to pass along a gangway just by the side of which was a hole 10 feet wide and 24 feet deep. Into the hole the exhaust boiling water was allowed to run, and clouds of steam continually rose. There was, said several witnesses, no protection to the pit, and no light except a lantern. One evening the girl was missed. Nothing more was seen or heard of her until her body was found next day in the boiling water. A witness declared no fence was placed around the hole until two days after the accident.”[8]

With the combination of long hours, hard, heavy work, dangerous conditions and low wages jam making attracted women who needed work at any cost, and, as lamented by social commentators of the time, the conditions in which many worked worsened.  Pinks were able to dismiss on the spot a large section of their finishing workforce who dared to strike as so many other women were willing to work for worsening pay in awful conditions.

 

It would be wrong of course to suggest that all jam manufactories were terrible and there were some notable exceptions. The work was always going to be hard, and the pay low, but some, like Wilkin and Son’s in Tiptree, and the Hartley factory in Aintree were bright airy places. Hartley’s made a point of inviting the press and the medical profession into their factories to show off their staff, the housing they provided and the conditions in which the fruit was grown and prepared – Sir James Barr, one of Liverpool’s most eminent physicians stated that “neither he, nor his professional friends would have any hesitation in eating any of the Hartley jam.”[9]

pinks

Ending on a happier note, having failed to convince their employers in 1892 of the injustice of falling wages, in 1911 the women of Pink’s factory joined with thousands of others to strike again, and this time they won:

“In the summer of 1911, 15,000 women in Bermondsey, South London came out on strike against low wages and bad working conditions in the district. Thirty firms, including a number of jam and biscuit factories, were affected by the strike. The National Federation of Women Workers moved all available staff into the area to help organise the women and the Women’s Trade Union League launched a financial appeal. Many concessions were obtained and at Pinks’ jam factory, the wage rose from 9 to 11 shillings per week”[10]

 

 

[1] Helen Bosanquet, ‘A Study in Women’s Wages’, The Economic Journal, Vol. 12. No. 45. March 1902, pp 42-43.

[2] Jam Factory Overtime, Reynold’s Newspaper, (London, England), Sunday, August 28th 1898.

[3] Clementina Black, Married Women’s Work, (London, Virago, 1983) p. 189.

[4] Clementina Black, Married Women’s Work, (London, Virago, 1983) p. 45.

[5] Clementina Black, Married Women’s Work, (London, Virago, 1983) p. 46.

[6] Work in a Jam Factory, Birmingham Daily Post, (Birmingham, England), 8 April 1893

[7] Jam Making Fatality, Berrow’s Worcester Journal, (Worcester, England) 26 October 1895

[8] A Girl’s Terrible Death, Courier and Argus (Dundee, Scotland) 19 November 1900

[9] Visit to a Jam Factory, Daily Mail, (London, England) 21 July 1906.

[10] http://www.unionhistory.info/equalpay/display.php?irn=100299&QueryPage=%2Fequalpay%2Fabout.php

A is for Artificial Flower Makers

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This post was originally featured on , on . You can read the original article here at http://victorianoccupations.co.uk/uncategorized/a-is-for-artificial-flower-makers-2/

A is for Artificial Flower Makers

One of the very few predominantly female occupations to appear consistently in urban and suburban census enumerators’ books throughout the period 1851-1901 is that of artificial flower maker, or artificial florist.  It is rare to find an urban enumerator’s book from the period which does not include at least one woman recording herself as an artificial flower maker, in most cases numerous women appear as such, despite the fact that making artificial flowers was generally a poorly paid and seasonal occupation. Artificial flowers were to be seen everywhere in Victorian Britain; it was not unusual for Hanson cabs to have a bunch in their windows,[1] and women’s clothing was regularly decorated with them.

2008BT6507_jpg_ds

Figure 1: Bonnet c1845 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Bonnets were adorned with masses of blooms and leaves, as were dresses and coats, giving a splash of colour to an otherwise plain garment. Even the working-classes had their bonnets trimmed with artificial flowers, which at as little as a penny a bunch, were affordable to many of those who were in the higher ranks of the working-classes.  As such, artifical flower making was a big business, and thousands of women were employed both in factories, and in their homes, making the little blooms for a few shillings a day.

In a time when many of the options for home-working involved time consuming, tedious and frequently dangerous work, artificial flower making was arguably one of better options open to women, and there was real potential, if working enough hours, for a woman to earn enough money to help to support her family.

When we talk about artificial flower makers, it is perhaps best to acknowledge that, for most of the working-class married women involved in the profession, it was more a case of artificial flower mounting – also known as ‘sticking and papering’, or ‘sticking and wiring’, than artificial flower making.  Like most piece work jobs of the time, much of the better paid, more highly skilled work, was carried out in the factories, the more basic ‘finishing’ work being the kind farmed out to the women working in their homes, with few women involved in creating the entire flower, or flower spray, most simply making the leaves, or the flowers, or putting together the sprays of flowers made by other women.

We can still read of the experiences of many of the women carrying out this work, for example:

‘Mrs A. therefore, as the family increased, took up the occupation of “sticking and papering”; that is to say she spent what spare time she could command in affixing little artificial green leaves to stalks of wire, and in winding around the wire strips of thing green paper. The leaves, thus provided with stalks, were packed together in dozens, and the payment for doing a gross varied from 1 ¾ d to 2 ½ d; the gross took about an hour. Mrs A. worked usually from 9.30 in the morning, to the same hour at night, less some two or three hours occupied by housework,  preparation of meals etc., and earned – when work was not slack – from 5/- to 7/6 a week.’[2]

Mrs A. lived in London with her husband, who also worked full time, and her four children. As well as somehow managing to work from early morning to late at night, working on average 72 hours a week, and covering some 3,360 stalks in those 72 hours, she also had to travel to the factory to collect her supplies for her work, and to take back to her employer, the stalks she had completed. At times she could send one of her children to enable her carry out her household chores – but all of this travelling across London also cost money and time. When her wages were combined with her husband’s, they barely covered the cost of the rent, which, when paid, left only 4/1 ½ a week per head for everything else that they required, their heating, food, clothing and household goods.  Clementina Black explains how this was totally inadequate and meant that hard working families were cast into even deeper poverty, despite the mother and the father working long hours.  Black describes in colourful, and emotionally laden terms how Mr and Mrs A. were a ‘model pair’, who didn’t marry early (she calculates them having married when Mrs A would have been in her late 20s), and how her children, although ‘pale and delicate’, were well-kept; ‘they had lost none’.[3]

Mrs A. is an example of a ‘sticker and paperer’ – Black also introduces us to the ‘sticker and mounter’ – the women who were provided with the flowers and leaves already prepared (by the likes of Mrs A.), and who then formed bunches of flowers (as seen on the bonnet illustrated above) for clothing and decoration. As with everything else in this form of work, there were high quality flowers prepared with the finest materials by skilled workers, and some, which Black notes, were arguably for the lower end of the market:

‘No. 2 presented the investigator with a specimen of her work, a poor flattened sample of execution. It consisted of leaves which, from their form, appear intended to represent rose leaves, but of which the colour, an unshaded emerald green, belongs to no rose leaf that ever grew. The leaves, made of a sort of calico and waxed are mounted in four groups, two or three leaves, one of five, and one of seven, and the wire stalks of these groups are then bound together with fine wire so that each spray seems to grow from a main stem. Each bunch thus comprises eighteen leaves, and for the making up a dozen branches the worker was paid 2d. For sprays of one rose, one bud, and three leaves, tied up in dozens, she was paid 3/9 a gross.”[4]

Through contemporary social surveys it is possible to get close to the women making the flowers, and to observe the conditions in which they were working.  It is also possible to see the ways in which their working conditions, and, arguably more importantly, wages changed over the decades as cheaper imports drove down prices and changing working patterns, such as the training of blind children to mount artificial flowers in institutions, created a situation where some home-working women were forced to work longer hours, for less money.

Of course, artificial florists were not alone in seeing their hours increase as their wages decreased, but their wages appear to have taken a particularly severe downward turn in the latter years of the nineteenth-century.  When comparing reports on the income and working conditions of these women in Booth’s study of the trades of the East End of London, published in 1893 with the work carried out by a team of social researchers led by Clementina Black c1905-1908, it is possible to see in graphic detail how fast, and how far, the women’s labour had been devalued. What is interesting to note is that in Black’s survey, some women suggest that their wages have plummeted, whereas others insist that either their piece rate has not changed, or, had dropped, but had recently improved again.[5]

In Booth’s survey we see that: ‘skilled hands, mounters, can earn 18s a week, and rose makers at home can earn over 20s’[6]  This clearly shows a how wages have dropped by the time Black carries out her survey (15 years later).

Artificial florists were everywhere – it was a job that a woman could do in her own home, with little experience, and which could supplement the household income, and if not actually raise the family out of poverty maybe at least ensure that the roof stayed over their heads for another week.


[1] C. Black, Married Women’s Work, (London, Virago, 1983), p. 35

[2] Black, p. 31

[3] Black, p.  33

[4] Black, p. 35

[5] Black, pp. 31-36

[6] C. Booth, Life and Labour of the people in London: The trades of East London, (London, Macmillan and Co, 1893), p. 294

A is for Artificial Flower Makers

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/a/a-is-for-artificial-flower-makers-2/

A is for Artificial Flower Makers

One of the very few predominantly female occupations to appear consistently in urban and suburban census enumerators’ books throughout the period 1851-1901 is that of artificial flower maker, or artificial florist.  It is rare to find an urban enumerator’s book from the period which does not include at least one woman recording herself as an artificial flower maker, in most cases numerous women appear as such, despite the fact that making artificial flowers was generally a poorly paid and seasonal occupation. Artificial flowers were to be seen everywhere in Victorian Britain; it was not unusual for Hanson cabs to have a bunch in their windows,[1] and women’s clothing was regularly decorated with them.

2008BT6507_jpg_ds

Figure 1: Bonnet c1845 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Bonnets were adorned with masses of blooms and leaves, as were dresses and coats, giving a splash of colour to an otherwise plain garment. Even the working-classes had their bonnets trimmed with artificial flowers, which at as little as a penny a bunch, were affordable to many of those who were in the higher ranks of the working-classes.  As such, artifical flower making was a big business, and thousands of women were employed both in factories, and in their homes, making the little blooms for a few shillings a day.

In a time when many of the options for home-working involved time consuming, tedious and frequently dangerous work, artificial flower making was arguably one of better options open to women, and there was real potential, if working enough hours, for a woman to earn enough money to help to support her family.

When we talk about artificial flower makers, it is perhaps best to acknowledge that, for most of the working-class married women involved in the profession, it was more a case of artificial flower mounting – also known as ‘sticking and papering’, or ‘sticking and wiring’, than artificial flower making.  Like most piece work jobs of the time, much of the better paid, more highly skilled work, was carried out in the factories, the more basic ‘finishing’ work being the kind farmed out to the women working in their homes, with few women involved in creating the entire flower, or flower spray, most simply making the leaves, or the flowers, or putting together the sprays of flowers made by other women.

We can still read of the experiences of many of the women carrying out this work, for example:

‘Mrs A. therefore, as the family increased, took up the occupation of “sticking and papering”; that is to say she spent what spare time she could command in affixing little artificial green leaves to stalks of wire, and in winding around the wire strips of thing green paper. The leaves, thus provided with stalks, were packed together in dozens, and the payment for doing a gross varied from 1 ¾ d to 2 ½ d; the gross took about an hour. Mrs A. worked usually from 9.30 in the morning, to the same hour at night, less some two or three hours occupied by housework,  preparation of meals etc., and earned – when work was not slack – from 5/- to 7/6 a week.’[2]

Mrs A. lived in London with her husband, who also worked full time, and her four children. As well as somehow managing to work from early morning to late at night, working on average 72 hours a week, and covering some 3,360 stalks in those 72 hours, she also had to travel to the factory to collect her supplies for her work, and to take back to her employer, the stalks she had completed. At times she could send one of her children to enable her carry out her household chores – but all of this travelling across London also cost money and time. When her wages were combined with her husband’s, they barely covered the cost of the rent, which, when paid, left only 4/1 ½ a week per head for everything else that they required, their heating, food, clothing and household goods.  Clementina Black explains how this was totally inadequate and meant that hard working families were cast into even deeper poverty, despite the mother and the father working long hours.  Black describes in colourful, and emotionally laden terms how Mr and Mrs A. were a ‘model pair’, who didn’t marry early (she calculates them having married when Mrs A would have been in her late 20s), and how her children, although ‘pale and delicate’, were well-kept; ‘they had lost none’.[3]

Mrs A. is an example of a ‘sticker and paperer’ – Black also introduces us to the ‘sticker and mounter’ – the women who were provided with the flowers and leaves already prepared (by the likes of Mrs A.), and who then formed bunches of flowers (as seen on the bonnet illustrated above) for clothing and decoration. As with everything else in this form of work, there were high quality flowers prepared with the finest materials by skilled workers, and some, which Black notes, were arguably for the lower end of the market:

‘No. 2 presented the investigator with a specimen of her work, a poor flattened sample of execution. It consisted of leaves which, from their form, appear intended to represent rose leaves, but of which the colour, an unshaded emerald green, belongs to no rose leaf that ever grew. The leaves, made of a sort of calico and waxed are mounted in four groups, two or three leaves, one of five, and one of seven, and the wire stalks of these groups are then bound together with fine wire so that each spray seems to grow from a main stem. Each bunch thus comprises eighteen leaves, and for the making up a dozen branches the worker was paid 2d. For sprays of one rose, one bud, and three leaves, tied up in dozens, she was paid 3/9 a gross.”[4]

Through contemporary social surveys it is possible to get close to the women making the flowers, and to observe the conditions in which they were working.  It is also possible to see the ways in which their working conditions, and, arguably more importantly, wages changed over the decades as cheaper imports drove down prices and changing working patterns, such as the training of blind children to mount artificial flowers in institutions, created a situation where some home-working women were forced to work longer hours, for less money.

Of course, artificial florists were not alone in seeing their hours increase as their wages decreased, but their wages appear to have taken a particularly severe downward turn in the latter years of the nineteenth-century.  When comparing reports on the income and working conditions of these women in Booth’s study of the trades of the East End of London, published in 1893 with the work carried out by a team of social researchers led by Clementina Black c1905-1908, it is possible to see in graphic detail how fast, and how far, the women’s labour had been devalued. What is interesting to note is that in Black’s survey, some women suggest that their wages have plummeted, whereas others insist that either their piece rate has not changed, or, had dropped, but had recently improved again.[5]

In Booth’s survey we see that: ‘skilled hands, mounters, can earn 18s a week, and rose makers at home can earn over 20s’[6]  This clearly shows a how wages have dropped by the time Black carries out her survey (15 years later).

Artificial florists were everywhere – it was a job that a woman could do in her own home, with little experience, and which could supplement the household income, and if not actually raise the family out of poverty maybe at least ensure that the roof stayed over their heads for another week.


[1] C. Black, Married Women’s Work, (London, Virago, 1983), p. 35

[2] Black, p. 31

[3] Black, p.  33

[4] Black, p. 35

[5] Black, pp. 31-36

[6] C. Booth, Life and Labour of the people in London: The trades of East London, (London, Macmillan and Co, 1893), p. 294

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