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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

Christian Auer

Working Conditions

62. A Weaver’s Day, 1864

Texte intégral

1The 1833 Factory Act stipulated that children under the age of nine were prohibited from working in textile factories; children between nine and thirteen were to work no more than nine hours a day. In 1842, the Mines Act prohibited females and boys under ten from working underground. Successive Acts in 1844 and 1847 established the ten-hour day for females and the six and a half-hour day for children under thirteen.

2The Commissioners of the Children’s Employment Commission that gave their report in 1864 looked at the manufacture of clothing industry and hosiery in Scotland.

3Parliamentary Papers, 1864, XXII, Children’s Employment Commission, Second Report of the Commissioners, Appendix to Second Report, Reports and Evidence of Assistant Commissioners, Evidence of George Boyd, 1862, Great Eastern Road, hand-loom weaver, p. 227.

George Boyd, Great Eastern Road, hand-loom weaver. —I have worked in or been through all the hand-loom weaving districts in the south of Scotland, e. g. Ayrshire, Lanark, Girvan, Kilmarnock, Maybole, Kilsyth, etc., and places where all kinds of materials were worked up or made, e.g. wool, cotton, silk, grass, gauze figured and plain etc. At all, the hours and mode of work are just about the same on the whole, there being however no fixed limit, but each individual working just as circumstances impel. What we call a regular weaver’s day in small work places is from 6 a. m. till 10 p. m., but if a man has a large family and is industrious he will work much longer, and I have known men who have wrought till 1 a. m. before getting any supper. It is very prevalent to work till 12 and 1, and I have done so myself; indeed in the winter time 12 is more regular for many than any other hour. But it is cruel work, and any one would tell you so. I believe that I am not off three quarters of an hour all day: a quarter of an hour or 20 minutes is the outside that I get for any meal I take. This is not general, but a married man with a family to provide for cannot get an hour for a meal, and does not look for it.

  • 11 A Scottish word for ‘over’.

You may say that from 10 to 12 is the age for putting children on a loom, choosing a light web for them. It is too soon. They ought to be at school, that is the plain of it. For six months they are more loss than profit; you have to dress their web and help them so much that it would be better to want them. But it is the practice which they get and the hope of earning something soon which causes it. I put on one of my girls at 9 years old, and it may have been putting her ower11 young which has made her bad now. I should be putting on my boy there, now 10 years old, but there is so little work now that men do not put their sons to it. It is not worth it. If any children are put on it is most commonly girls, or boys merely till they are put out to public works and other things. I could count nearly 100 small shops altered into dwellings in this part of the town within the last three or four years, and this is the general way. I had my own looms and shop, but I now have to rent a loom out for 1s. a week for tear and wear, and the man finding me work.

About a year ago I was on a committee for forwarding an emigration scheme for hand-loom weavers, and collecting information which was published. We took the average wages of 150 men just as we met them, scattered in different parts of the city and engaged on all kinds of fabrics, and found them to be from 7s. to 8s., to be safe, say 8s. a week. Two or three were as high as 12s., and some on white work were as low as 4s. 3d. In town a room and kitchen above and a four-loom shop below is the most universal system, sometimes a six-loom shop, but in country districts “a but and a ben,” i.e. a room with part divided off for a loom or two, is very common. Some of the shops are so damp that a fire has no effect upon them; I have seen some quite wet. But there is not one in ten of the small shops now in Glasgow that there were. The system now is getting all for factories with a large number of hand-looms, say 300 or more. One has 500 and no power-looms; in some there are both power and handlooms. All large factories, whether they have power or not, work the same (i.e. factory) hours. As I am informed, some who have laid out money on power-looms say that if they had known the result they never would have done it. They have the expense of the machinery, and heavy wages to pay, and the fabric, it is thought, cannot be made so correct, and sells for less, so that, as I understand, the hand-loom is considered nearly as remunerative, except that orders can be executed quicker by steam.

I have eight children living, some grown up, and have had nine. Only two of them have ever been at school, and neither of these for a year. All that any know beyond this I have taught them myself, but I shall be content if the younger can only read. I might have got them free education, but only at the parish school, by humbling myself as a pauper. That will never do. Though I never applied, I believe that I must plead poverty, and get a line signed by the minister and elder. It is a poor thing for a man to demean himself and plead for that which is a natural right. Education is a natural right. If the mind is not fed how can it grow? The state should educate, and see that a child gets its due. I would let people say what they liked about interfering with our independence. There has never been so much murders as till within the last two years, and these all come from want of proper bringing up.


11 A Scottish word for ‘over’.

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