Table of Contents for The Huddersfield Industrial Society Limited: Fifty Years of Progress, 1860-1910 (1910) by Owen Balmforth:
Our Society was founded in the year 1860 — just fifty years ago. The men and women of that day had lived through some very dark and evil times. The social and economic condition of the people was deplorable in the extreme. The working classes were deprived of the Parliamentary franchise; they had no share in the closer and more important matters of local self-government. The conditions of labour were degrading in their severity, working hours were long, and wages low; child labour was rampant to a degree which nowadays seems almost unbelievable. The prices of food and other necessaries were extraordinarily high; poverty prevailed to an alarming extent; disease and death rates reached a very high ﬁgure. As for education, this, alas! was a luxury quite beyond the reach of working people.
As a natural result of this sad condition of things, the people were sullen, bitter, and resentful. Any agitation on constitutional lines was difﬁcult and almost futile — so much so that some, in their helplessness and ignorance, like the extreme Chartists, had recourse to physical force; or, like the Plug Rioters in 1842, wreaked their vengeance upon employers of labour. With bread at famine prices, work scarce, and little hope of political or social reform, the feelings of the people found expression in the poem from which the above verse is taken.
Let us glance a little in detail at the conditions of life among the Working classes at this period, and we will conﬁne our illustrations to the state of things existing locally, in Huddersﬁeld and district.
From a printed document dated September 10th, 1829, the following extract is copied:—
In 1834 Mr. E.S. Cayley, who represented the North Riding of Yorkshire in Parliament, wrote some “Essays on Commercial Economy,” in which he quotes from the foregoing report on the state of the population in Huddersﬁeld in 1829 these ﬁgures:— “660 inhabitants each earn 6s. 11d. per week, 421 earn 3s. 6d., 2,439 earn 2s. 9d., and 13,226 earn only 1s. 3d.”
Let us refer to handloom weaving, which was our staple industry. Before a Select Committee of the House of Commons, which sat in 1825, it was stated in evidence by a John Swift, of Newsome, that Mr. Joshua Boothroyd, of Almondbury, who employed 300 men upon looms in their own homes, paid those who were weaving “checks” an average wage of 10s. 6d. per week, and out of that each man had to pay his winder. Referring to another employer, Mr. Eli Chadwick, who had sixty men as shawl and waistcoat weavers, witness said that a sober and steady man might average, with a winder, 20s. per week, which would leave him about 17s.
Another witness named Amos Cowgill, of Lepton, said the weekly wages in his neighbourhood, for a twelve months' book, would be about I5s. He was weaving a low quality of “toilinettes,” and he could make 12s., independently of winding. He had to work fourteen or ﬁfteen hours a day. He said the woollen cloth weavers about Huddersﬁeld were kept well employed at that time, and their earnings, when all was cleared off, would be 12s. 6d. for a full week. Therefore about the year 1825 we may set down the net average earnings of the hand- loom weavers in Huddersﬁeld as ranging from 9s. to 17s., the wide margin being due to the irregularity and varying qualities of work.
Coming down later to the years 1852-3 we have most trustworthy evidence of the earnings of a young married couple — both handloom weavers — who lived within a mile of the Huddersﬁeld Town Hall. Both are now dead, but they were friends of mine when living, and I can vouch for their character as being industrious, upright, and honourable. The man was a remarkably intelligent and public-spirited citizen. I have seen the original manuscript record of this couple’s earnings for two years. It is headed, “The following is a correct account of our incomes in the years 1852-3.” And then follow each sum they both received week by week. The totals are added up, and they show that for the 104 weeks the wife earned £24. 10s., or 4s. 8½d. weekly, and the husband £66. 7s. 7d., or 12s. 9d. weekly, making a combined total of 17s. 5½d. per week for the labour of two adult human beings. In any civilised state of society it ought to be impossible to ﬁnd a married woman engaged in earning her own bread, and yet, if this woman had not been so engaged, they would have been obliged to subsist upon 12s. 9d. per week. What opportunity is there upon such a miserable income for living that full, free, and higher life which ought to be within the reach of every child born? I have also a letter written by the same man to a friend in America two years later, dated May, 1855. I give one or two extracts to show what the conditions of life were like among the artisans of Huddersﬁeld ﬁfty-ﬁve years ago. The writer says:—
The excessive hours and unhealthy surroundings in which little children of tender age were employed must have left their mark upon succeeding generations, and would prevent any moral inﬂuences from exercising their due power in the development of character. If, as the poet tells us, “the child is father to the man,” what kind of men and women can we expect as the outgrowth of children who pass their lives shut off from all opportunities of education or recreation? We do not expect to gather ﬁgs from thistles, and when Robert Owen ﬁrst directed attention to the early education of infants he advocated a method of training human character which our statesmen at length wisely and completely adopted.
I have examined the Huddersﬁeld Overseers’ book, in which was entered the list of parish apprentices from 1800 to 1810, and ﬁnd that a number of little children were apprenticed from the Huddersﬁeld Workhouse, to go to work at the early ages of seven, eight, and nine years. Listen to the story of what should be “the happy days of childhood,” as told before a House of Commons Select Committee in the year 1832. The witness is named Abram Whitehead. He says:—
Here is the evidence of another Huddersﬁeld witness (before the same Committee), himself an actual worker in the mill. His name is Joseph Habergam. He says:—
Here is the testimony of a local clergyman. A public meeting was held in Huddersﬁeld on November 22nd, 1843, addressed by the late Mr. Walter, of the Times newspaper, and others. Among the speakers was the Rev. Wyndam Madden (Incumbent of Woodhouse, near Huddersﬁeld). He said he could remember, in 1825, seeing from his residence (being on a hill that overlooked Huddersﬁeld) the factories of Huddersﬁeld illuminated all night. He would relate an instance which had come under his own observation. He had visited one of his poor people, and saw a girl in bed. He asked what was the matter, and if she was sick. The answer was, “No, she was tired, and had been working too hard.” He asked for particulars. That child had been in the factory from six in the morning on Monday until six o’clock on Tuesday night. On Wednesday morning she again went to work till Thursday night. Thursday night she came home, and slept that night if she could. She went on Friday, and remained until ﬁve o’clock on Saturday night. He observed that this was cruel. She replied, “If I don't go they will get another, and some must do it.” He said, “It was impossible, and that they could not subsist thus,” but they said, “The men and the children worked, and got rest at different times beneath the machines.”
Sir Robert Peel, addressing the House of Commons in February, 1818, said, “It was his intention, if possible, to prevent the recurrence of such a misfortune as that which had lately taken place. He alluded to the seventeen poor children who were lately burnt in the night in a cotton factory.” This sad fatality occurred in that month at a mill at Colne Bridge, Bradley, within this borough, and the monument erected over the victims may be seen in Kirkheaton churchyard.
Such were the conditions of child labour in Huddersﬁeld in the early years of last century. Well might Mrs. Browning write that touching poem, “The Cry Of the Children,” wherein she says—
Now let us compare, to some extent, the
in Huddersﬁeld to-day with ninety years ago. The grocery book kept by the Overseers of the Poor in Huddersﬁeld in the years 1816 to 1819, in which are entered day by day the purchases of provisions made by them for the Workhouse, contains the following ﬁgures. In the second column are the prices charged to-day by our local Co-operative Store. Of course, there are various qualities and various prices, but we will take the price for a good article:—
[ TABLE OF PRICES ]
As an indication of the amount of poverty existing in those early days, I may point out that the poor-rate in Huddersﬁeld in the year 1815 was 16s. in the £; to-day it is only 10d. The amount of outdoor relief actually paid locally in 1863 was £14,008, and in 1908 only £13,766, or a decrease of £242. The total number of persons in receipt of relief, indoor and outdoor, in 1863 was 4,557, and in 1908 only 2,892, or a decrease of 1,665, notwithstanding an increase of the population of the Union during that time of 35,000.
The condition of things ﬁfty years ago, from a sanitary and health point of view, were very lamentable indeed. For the three years immediately preceding the incorporation of the borough — 1865 to 1868 — the death rate was 23.9 per thousand; last year the death rate was only 16.30 per thousand, a saving of about 700 lives per year.
According to eminent statisticians, every individual life represents an average value of £150. If this be applied to the 700 lives saved last year, there is a saving of no less than £105,000 in one year, without reckoning the loss caused by sickness and consequent loss of wages. Infantile mortality and deaths from consumption were nearly double what they are to-day, and the mortality from scarlet fever has decreased in a greater ratio still. Men and women live longer, sickness is diminished, scientiﬁcally equipped hospitals and inﬁrmaries now exist, while efﬁcient and kindly nurses make regular visits to the homes of the poor.
Lastly, how few were the opportunities of obtaining even the rudiments of education I Fifty years ago the facilities for education were very meagre indeed. Before the House of Commons Select Committee (already referred to), which sat in 1832, the following statements were made by the two Huddersﬁeld witnesses. Abram Whitehead said:—
The other witness, J. Habergam, said:—
The Government Blue Book for 1864 gives the total attendance at elementary schools in the borough as 2,500, while for last year (1909) the average attendance in the borough was as follows:— Council Schools, 8,192; Denominational schools, 6,049; total, 14,241; and the average number of names on the books reached 16,090. There was no school accommodation in Huddersﬁeld for several thousands of children of school age, and actually one-half the children were either running about the streets or at work, receiving no education at all. And of those comparatively few children whose names were on the books only about one-half were in regular attendance. How different to-day, when practically every child is at school!
The Mechanics’ Institute was begun in the year 1841, in the Old British School in Outcote Bank. From the Annual Report, dated May, 1844, I ﬁnd there were at that time 410 students, now there are 1,600; library, 458 volumes, now 9,000 ; yearly income £83, now £12,000.
It is almost a wonder that amid all these difﬁculties, this physical suffering, and this overwhelming poverty both of body and mind, there should be found even a few choice spirits, possessing, may be, a little more public spirit and determination of character than their fellows, who should dream dreams and see visions, and in their endeavours to catch the gleam, should ﬁnd a way out of this slough of despond.
How a few men in Huddersﬁeld strove in their day and generation to improve the lot of their fellow-men will be told in the following pages.