Tag: working-class women

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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Schools and Sanitation – Rowhedge grows….

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  In this fourth and final post of the history of Rowhedge in the 19th century I’ll be focusing primarily on school life and the strength of the villagers as they fought off all on-comers in their attempts to bring a degree of drainage and sanitation to the village – a situation described as ‘a… Read more »

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The tailoresses of Rowhedge

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  Rowhedge Rowhedge was, and still is, a small village on the banks of the River Colne in Essex. It is a place where for generations the men worked as fishermen, while the women stayed at home, holding together a family, a home, and in many cases also working. That it became a focus for… Read more »

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C is for Crossing Sweeper

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Crossing Sweeper   Continuing with the series on street life in Victorian London, the crossing sweeper was as much a part of this world as the costermongers, flower girls, mush-fakers, pure finders and the numerous other members of the London underclass.  Roads and pathways were filthy, covered in mud, rotting vegetable matter and the ever… Read more »

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J is for Jam Maker

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“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

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“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

I is for Ironer

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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)

H is for Hawker

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

‘Napoleon called us “a nation of shopkeepers.” The remark would have been infinitely more degrading if he had called us a nation of hawkers, but certainly quite as true, for there is not one portion or spot of this island but is overrun with them.’[1]

costermonger

The Coster-Girl

Throughout the nineteenth-century, hawkers, street-sellers and costermongers were a common sight in towns and villages throughout Great Britain. In London the streets were filled with stalls, barrows and women and children carrying baskets selling items as diverse as cat meat, second-hand clothing and coffee.  Hawkers and costermongers were as much a part of life as Tesco and Sainsburys are today. The number of people involved in hawking was extremely high;  in the years 1849-1851 Henry Mayhew estimated that there were between 30,000-40,000 relying for their income on street selling, an occupation which frequently involved the entire family, from the eldest to very young children. He calculated these figures by first acquiring figures relating to the amount of street sellers frequenting the major fruit, vegetable and meat markets in the capital per day, and then:

‘a survey was made as to the number of stalls in the streets of London – forty-six miles of the principal thorough fares were travelled over, and an account taken of the “standings”. Thus it was found that there were upon an average upwards of fourteen stalls to the mile, of which five-sixths were fish and fruit stalls. Now, according to the Metropolitan Police Returns, there are 2,000 miles of street throughout London, and calculating that the stalls through the whole of the metropolis run upon an average only four to the mile, we shall thus find that there are 8,000 stalls altogether in London… I am informed, on the best authority, that twice as many costers ‘go rounds’ as have standings; hence we come to the conclusion that there are 18,000 itinerant and stationary street sellers… in the metropolis; and reckoning the same proportion of wives and children as before, we have thus 45,000 men, women and children obtaining a living in this manner.’[2]

Of these, a significant number were registered hawkers, each paying up to £2 a year (by the late nineteenth century) for their licence – but it is thought that a large minority were unlicenced, casual sellers, working illegally and constantly in fear of the police.

 

Mayhew interviews a number of hawkers and through this we have a window into their lives, what caused them to resort to making a living this way, and we see a way of live that is perhaps surprising to us with our modern notions of Victorian propriety, for Mayhew’s investigations bring to light the fact that very few couples who made their living as costermongers were married.

‘The costermongers, taken as a body, entertain the most imperfect idea of the sanctity of marriage. To their undeveloped minds it merely consists in the fact of a man and woman living together, and sharing the gains they may each earn by selling in the street. The father and mother of the girl look upon it as a convenient means of shifting the support of their child over to another’s exertions; and so thoroughly do they believe this to be the end and aim of matrimony, that the expense of a church ceremony is considered as a useless waste of money, and the new pair are received by their companions as cordially as if every form of law and religion had been complied with.’[3]

Mayhew suggests that only a small proportion of hawkers and costermongers were married in the legal sense, however, in their society this, he argues, was the norm. During an interview with an eighteen year old girl working the streets as an apple seller, she told him, ‘I dare say there ain’t ten out of a hundred gals what’s living with men, what’s been married Church of England fashion.’[4]

 

The women most certainly don’t appear from the records to have had an easy life – he discusses how the men would beat their wives and children for any minor misdemeanour, including talking to another man, or not bringing home enough money, their working day running from four or five in the morning, often until very late at night.  Income was sparse and unreliable, and the children working from the age of seven, alone on the streets, could make the difference between the family surviving, or being forced to enter the workhouse. ‘The gals begins working very early in our work; the parents makes them go out when a’most babies. There’s a little gal, I’m sure she an’t more than half-past seven, that stands selling water-cresses next my stall, and mother was saying, “Only look there, how that little one has to get her living afore she a’most knows what a penn’orth means.”’[5] 

 

Alongside the forcing of children to work the streets there is, in pamphlets, and in Mayhew’s work, the insinuation that a number of girls apparently working as hawkers were, in fact, working primarily as prostitutes.  In 1858 Felix Folio discussed how, ‘prostitution is also carried on, in our large manufacturing towns, under the cloak of hawking. Good looking young girls, coquettishly dressed, carry a basket of fruit, generally oranges, when in season, and call at public-house and other places during the day, and at night they visit the vicinities of theatres and casinoes.’[6] Flower-sellers were also notorious, particularly in London, for being associated with prostitution. Mayhew interviewed a nineteen year old girl who had been in and out of prison since she was thirteen and who’s father would refuse to feed her unless she bought home ‘a good bit of money’. She admitted that she had fallen in with a group of ‘loose’ flower sellers, and she supposed that her parents were well aware of how she made her income. Certainly flower selling was still involved, but she was a prostitute rather than purely a street-seller.  Of course, we cannot and should not assume that all hawkers and costermongers were criminals or that all of the girls were prostitutes – far from it. Many were decent people trying to make a living, some very successfully, but the under-classes, those who had no regular employment and lived hand to mouth, day to day, would see street-selling as a way to gain some type of income, no matter how small, needing no skill or training unlike so many of the other occupations open to women.

 

At the end of the nineteenth century the Women’s Industrial Council again looked at the problem of hawking, and the reasons why women took to the streets with their barrows and baskets, and their interviews with a number of women of different ages, with different incomes, highlights the problems faced, and the dire wages hawkers could hope to bring home. One, a widow with five children, only two of them in work, sold in the streets from 10-1 daily, buying fresh goods in the afternoon and mending and cleaning them which would suggest that she was dealing in second-hand goods, possibly clothing; she stated that most days she earned nothing at all. A second woman who gave her age as between 40 and 50 years, and was a mother of seven children, six of whom were still in school, had spent her whole life as a fish hawker, her husband and her son both being involved in the family trade. Her story shows how precarious hawking could be in that some weeks the family would make £1, whilst others they would lose £1. Another married woman typified those who had fallen on hard times and been forced to take to the streets to sell. Her husband who had held down a steady job through much of their marriage had been made redundant and, there being no further work available, had set up a barrow which she helped to run. Similarly a young widow found herself in a position where she was forced to work the streets selling flowers to make ends meet – however, this was no longer possible, her wages were dropping quickly as her customers bought seeds and grew their own flowers, and she was frequently bringing home less than 6d a day – totally insufficient for a widow with two small children.[7]

 

Hawking was, for many, what might be considered a fluid occupation. Some were born to it, raised from very young (there is evidence that babies were suckled while their mothers manned the barrow) to work the streets, but for others it was a last resort – a way of making a few pence that might make the difference between paying the rent and putting bread on the table (literally bread – many of the interviews show that anything else was a rare treat) and having to enter the workhouse. At its best, when sales were high, it was possible to make a decent living, particularly for the ‘professional’ hawker, and the women involved seemed pleased with their lot and proud of their work. When times were tough, however, it was a thankless task, dodging the local police, frequently not having enough income to purchase more stock, and, if Mayhew is to be believed, being beaten senseless by an angry partner on a regular basis.

 

 

[1] Felix Folio, ‘The hawkers and street dealers of Manchester and the North of England manufacturing districts generally… being some account of their dealings, dodings and doings’, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Collection, 1858.

[2] H.Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor, (Wordsworth Editions Ltd, Ware, 2008), p. 9

[3] Mayhew, p. 56

[4] Mayhew, p. 62

[5] Mayhew, p. 61

[6] Folio , ‘The hawkers and street dealers of Manchester and the North of England manufacturing districts generally… being some account of their dealings, dodings and doings’, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Collection, 1858. p.32

[7] C. Black, Married Women’s Work, (London, Virago, 1983), pp. 48-51

H is for Hawker

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/h-is-for-hawker/

‘Napoleon called us “a nation of shopkeepers.” The remark would have been infinitely more degrading if he had called us a nation of hawkers, but certainly quite as true, for there is not one portion or spot of this island but is overrun with them.’[1]

costermonger

The Coster-Girl

Throughout the nineteenth-century, hawkers, street-sellers and costermongers were a common sight in towns and villages throughout Great Britain. In London the streets were filled with stalls, barrows and women and children carrying baskets selling items as diverse as cat meat, second-hand clothing and coffee.  Hawkers and costermongers were as much a part of life as Tesco and Sainsburys are today. The number of people involved in hawking was extremely high;  in the years 1849-1851 Henry Mayhew estimated that there were between 30,000-40,000 relying for their income on street selling, an occupation which frequently involved the entire family, from the eldest to very young children. He calculated these figures by first acquiring figures relating to the amount of street sellers frequenting the major fruit, vegetable and meat markets in the capital per day, and then:

‘a survey was made as to the number of stalls in the streets of London – forty-six miles of the principal thorough fares were travelled over, and an account taken of the “standings”. Thus it was found that there were upon an average upwards of fourteen stalls to the mile, of which five-sixths were fish and fruit stalls. Now, according to the Metropolitan Police Returns, there are 2,000 miles of street throughout London, and calculating that the stalls through the whole of the metropolis run upon an average only four to the mile, we shall thus find that there are 8,000 stalls altogether in London… I am informed, on the best authority, that twice as many costers ‘go rounds’ as have standings; hence we come to the conclusion that there are 18,000 itinerant and stationary street sellers… in the metropolis; and reckoning the same proportion of wives and children as before, we have thus 45,000 men, women and children obtaining a living in this manner.’[2]

Of these, a significant number were registered hawkers, each paying up to £2 a year (by the late nineteenth century) for their licence – but it is thought that a large minority were unlicenced, casual sellers, working illegally and constantly in fear of the police.

 

Mayhew interviews a number of hawkers and through this we have a window into their lives, what caused them to resort to making a living this way, and we see a way of live that is perhaps surprising to us with our modern notions of Victorian propriety, for Mayhew’s investigations bring to light the fact that very few couples who made their living as costermongers were married.

‘The costermongers, taken as a body, entertain the most imperfect idea of the sanctity of marriage. To their undeveloped minds it merely consists in the fact of a man and woman living together, and sharing the gains they may each earn by selling in the street. The father and mother of the girl look upon it as a convenient means of shifting the support of their child over to another’s exertions; and so thoroughly do they believe this to be the end and aim of matrimony, that the expense of a church ceremony is considered as a useless waste of money, and the new pair are received by their companions as cordially as if every form of law and religion had been complied with.’[3]

Mayhew suggests that only a small proportion of hawkers and costermongers were married in the legal sense, however, in their society this, he argues, was the norm. During an interview with an eighteen year old girl working the streets as an apple seller, she told him, ‘I dare say there ain’t ten out of a hundred gals what’s living with men, what’s been married Church of England fashion.’[4]

 

The women most certainly don’t appear from the records to have had an easy life – he discusses how the men would beat their wives and children for any minor misdemeanour, including talking to another man, or not bringing home enough money, their working day running from four or five in the morning, often until very late at night.  Income was sparse and unreliable, and the children working from the age of seven, alone on the streets, could make the difference between the family surviving, or being forced to enter the workhouse. ‘The gals begins working very early in our work; the parents makes them go out when a’most babies. There’s a little gal, I’m sure she an’t more than half-past seven, that stands selling water-cresses next my stall, and mother was saying, “Only look there, how that little one has to get her living afore she a’most knows what a penn’orth means.”’[5] 

 

Alongside the forcing of children to work the streets there is, in pamphlets, and in Mayhew’s work, the insinuation that a number of girls apparently working as hawkers were, in fact, working primarily as prostitutes.  In 1858 Felix Folio discussed how, ‘prostitution is also carried on, in our large manufacturing towns, under the cloak of hawking. Good looking young girls, coquettishly dressed, carry a basket of fruit, generally oranges, when in season, and call at public-house and other places during the day, and at night they visit the vicinities of theatres and casinoes.’[6] Flower-sellers were also notorious, particularly in London, for being associated with prostitution. Mayhew interviewed a nineteen year old girl who had been in and out of prison since she was thirteen and who’s father would refuse to feed her unless she bought home ‘a good bit of money’. She admitted that she had fallen in with a group of ‘loose’ flower sellers, and she supposed that her parents were well aware of how she made her income. Certainly flower selling was still involved, but she was a prostitute rather than purely a street-seller.  Of course, we cannot and should not assume that all hawkers and costermongers were criminals or that all of the girls were prostitutes – far from it. Many were decent people trying to make a living, some very successfully, but the under-classes, those who had no regular employment and lived hand to mouth, day to day, would see street-selling as a way to gain some type of income, no matter how small, needing no skill or training unlike so many of the other occupations open to women.

 

At the end of the nineteenth century the Women’s Industrial Council again looked at the problem of hawking, and the reasons why women took to the streets with their barrows and baskets, and their interviews with a number of women of different ages, with different incomes, highlights the problems faced, and the dire wages hawkers could hope to bring home. One, a widow with five children, only two of them in work, sold in the streets from 10-1 daily, buying fresh goods in the afternoon and mending and cleaning them which would suggest that she was dealing in second-hand goods, possibly clothing; she stated that most days she earned nothing at all. A second woman who gave her age as between 40 and 50 years, and was a mother of seven children, six of whom were still in school, had spent her whole life as a fish hawker, her husband and her son both being involved in the family trade. Her story shows how precarious hawking could be in that some weeks the family would make £1, whilst others they would lose £1. Another married woman typified those who had fallen on hard times and been forced to take to the streets to sell. Her husband who had held down a steady job through much of their marriage had been made redundant and, there being no further work available, had set up a barrow which she helped to run. Similarly a young widow found herself in a position where she was forced to work the streets selling flowers to make ends meet – however, this was no longer possible, her wages were dropping quickly as her customers bought seeds and grew their own flowers, and she was frequently bringing home less than 6d a day – totally insufficient for a widow with two small children.[7]

 

Hawking was, for many, what might be considered a fluid occupation. Some were born to it, raised from very young (there is evidence that babies were suckled while their mothers manned the barrow) to work the streets, but for others it was a last resort – a way of making a few pence that might make the difference between paying the rent and putting bread on the table (literally bread – many of the interviews show that anything else was a rare treat) and having to enter the workhouse. At its best, when sales were high, it was possible to make a decent living, particularly for the ‘professional’ hawker, and the women involved seemed pleased with their lot and proud of their work. When times were tough, however, it was a thankless task, dodging the local police, frequently not having enough income to purchase more stock, and, if Mayhew is to be believed, being beaten senseless by an angry partner on a regular basis.

 

 

[1] Felix Folio, ‘The hawkers and street dealers of Manchester and the North of England manufacturing districts generally… being some account of their dealings, dodings and doings’, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Collection, 1858.

[2] H.Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor, (Wordsworth Editions Ltd, Ware, 2008), p. 9

[3] Mayhew, p. 56

[4] Mayhew, p. 62

[5] Mayhew, p. 61

[6] Folio , ‘The hawkers and street dealers of Manchester and the North of England manufacturing districts generally… being some account of their dealings, dodings and doings’, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Collection, 1858. p.32

[7] C. Black, Married Women’s Work, (London, Virago, 1983), pp. 48-51