Category Archives: Census

Child Employment in the Silk Industry 1815-1871 – Part 1

Once you get into your family history, you progress from names and dates to finding about the lives and times of your ancestors. Their employment is a significant part of this discovery process, because it formed a big part of their lives. And although not quite cradle to grave, this work was often from early childhood.

The first time l looked at censuses in any detail was over 30 years ago to produce an analysis of child employment in the silk industry between 1815-1871. Although I do have ancestors in the textile industry, so far I’ve not discovered any in the silk branch. 

It was also the first time I looked at the various parliamentary inquiries into child employment, and discovered what a wealth of information they supplied about working conditions and employment practices. And this in the words of those involved – employers and employees. So a name-rich source to which you may find an ancestor gave evidence. But even if you don’t find your ancestor named, they provide a fantastic insight into their work and conditions.

I’m going to share a summary of this essentially old pre-Internet piece of research (updated with some more recent information) in case it helps anyone else: Either directly for those with silk industry antecedents; or indirectly to show what type of occupational information can be gleaned from primary sources.

It is quite lengthy so I will split it into four posts. The research covers:

  • a general overview of the industry;
  • the nature of the work; and
  • the reasons for, and decline of, child employment in this area.

I will also look at the Factory Acts, and the reasons why initially they only had the partial inclusion of child silk workers.

Background
I chose 1815 as the starting point, as the end of the Napoleonic Wars marked a significant date for the English silk industry, paving the way for free trade and the lifting of protectionism. The years 1815-1820 also marked a period of recession with an influx of returning soldiers seeking employment driving wages down. And, although there was protectionism at this start point, more goods were sneaking in to the country once the Napoleonic Wars ended. 1871 is the finishing point as it coincides with the first census after the passing of the 1870 Education Act.

Silk weaving reached England on a small scale in the mid-fifteenth century. It developed in the mid-sixteenth century when Spanish religious persecutions forced Flemish weavers to seek refuge in the Spitalfields area of London. However it was not until the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, which forced the French Protestant Huguenots to flee the country, that the English silk industry took off in any big way. The refugees included many skilled silk workers from Tours and Lyons, and these too settled in the Spitalfields area.

In this period the industry was domestic in nature. Manufacturers employed weavers as outworkers and supplied them with yarn. These weavers then spun it on their own looms in their own homes or workshops and took the finished product back to the manufacturer who inspected and weighed it, docked money for imperfections, and paid the weaver.

With the patent in 1718 of Thomas Lombe’s silk machine, which converted the filaments of raw silk into yarns and threads, the final main obstacle to English silk production was removed. Previously the silk weaving industry had to import expensive thrown silk. Now the raw silk could be imported and then turned into thrown silk in England. A rapid expansion of the silk throwing industry followed the expiration of Lombe’s patent rights in 1732. This led to the increased development of purpose-built silk throwing and spinning mills.

Yet even after this date the home-based character of silk-weaving branch continued. Factory weaving did take place though, especially from the 1820s onwards when Jacquard mechanisms attached to looms enabled the weaving of ever more complex patterns. Often these were too large for a domestic situation. This, along with the development of power looms, led to an increase in factory based weaving bringing the processes of silk throwing (spinning), warping, dyeing and weaving under one roof.

The protectionist attitude of the attitude of the British government meant between 1765-1826 fully manufactured silk imports were prohibited and duties on other silks were proportionately high. This gave an impetus the English industry. However this protectionism came to an end in 1826 when the importation of foreign silk goods became legal. Despite the levy of a duty of around 30% on Continental goods, it still posed a treat to the English industry, especially given the superior quality of French silks.

The main areas of the silk industry in the 19th century were Lancashire and Cheshire, particularly around Manchester and Macclesfield. Other significant centres included Derby, London and Coventry.

How many children in the silk industry and what did they do?
For this I looked at the census figures as well as various Select Committees and Royal Commissions investigating child employment in general. The numbers of children involved in silk manufacturing compared to the overall total population are shown in Tables 1-3. Whilst Table 1 is not directly comparable, being for Great Britain rather than England & Wales, it is illustrative. They show that the silk industry underwent a gradual but noticeable decline in adult as well as child employment. Numbers were skewed towards female operatives. Also in 1851 and 1861, when looking at overall data, the peak age for those employed in silk manufacture across both sexes was the 15- Quinquennial band.

Table 4, from the Factories Inquiry Commission supplementary report of 1834, shows figures from a sample of silk factories in Manchester, Macclesfield and Congleton employing 5,260 operatives. Children were almost exclusively employed in the throwing departments. Their principal job was tying knots when the silk thread broke, each child being in charge of a certain number of threads. Various Select Committees examining child labour in factories reported on this. In 1816-17 it was estimated that a child was in charge of about 20 threads; by 1831-32 this has doubled “on account of the competition which exists between masters; one undersells the other, consequently the master endeavours to get an equal quantity of work done for less money.” By the time of the 1866 report into children’s employment it was down to 12.The children also had an element of responsibility, being accountable for the thread which passed through their hands. This was high value especially when compared to others textiles. Even if the silk was of a good quality that it would not break so often, still a great deal of vigilance was required.

A good description of the jobs children were employed in is provided by James Sharpley for the silk throwsters Messrs Brocklehurst who operated mills in Huddersfield and Macclesfield. As reported in the “Royal Commission on Children Employed in Factories: Supplementary Report” published in 1834 he described their work and progression. “The processes of silk working ascend in difficulties of management, winding being the first and easiest; it is best and cheapest performed by children under twelve years, and thus requires also the most numerous body of workers; about twelve years of age many of the most expert are advanced to the next and more difficult processes, that is, the girls to the cleaning the silk thread, doubling several threads together, etc; and at fourteen or fifteen many of the girls are again advanced to the winding and warping the dyed silk for the weavers, which are the highest kinds of employment; the boys at fourteen are often promoted to the throwing mills, and at sixteen many of them learn to weave silk.

Spinning, twisting and throwing were all used to describe the formation of a rope-like twist of the silken filament, to give it strength. It could be undertaken by machine or hand. A description of the hand process can be found in Lord Ashley’s (the later Earl of Shaftesbury) Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Employment of Children. Sub-commissioner Samuel Scriven described it as such in 1841:

For twisting it is necessary to have what are designated shades which are buildings of at least 30 or 35 yards in length, of two or more rooms, rented separately by one, two or four men having one gate and a boy called a helper… the upper storey is generally occupied by children, young persons or grown women as ‘piecers’, ‘winders’ and ‘doublers’ attending to their reels and bobbins, driven by the exertions of one man… He (the boy) takes first a rod containing four bobbins of silk from the twister who stands at his gate or wheel, and having fastened the ends, runs to the ‘cross’ at the extreme end of the room, round which he passes the threads of each bobbin and returns to the ‘gate’. He is despatched on a second expedition of the same kind, and returns as before, he then runs up to the cross and detaches the threads and comes to the roller. Supposing the master to make twelve rolls a day, the boy necessarily runs fourteen miles, and this is barefooted.

Hand Silk Throwing/Spinning – The Penny Magazine Vol 12, April 1843


Other jobs included “warp picking“, that is taking small defects out of the threads of warp before the weaver receives it; picking up waste; acting as helpers to weavers; or winding in a domestic situation.

For more information about the silk industry and its process “The Penny Magazine” Volume 12 April 1843 has an article “A Day at  Derby Silk Mill.

By this period the silk industry was principally a factory occupation. However it did still exist in a domestic form too. I’ve already referred to the weaving side. But silk throwing, the twisting of the tread of silk from the cocoon which takes the place of spinning, could still be undertaken in the home and sent to the factories for finishing and weaving. In the same 1834 publication J.S. Ward of Bruton, Somerset, mentioned that, besides his factory employees, he employed women and children winding and twisting silk in their own homes. The raw silk was given to the undertaker who would be engaged by the factory to return the silk full weight wound, doubled or twisted. These undertakers would in turn sub-let this work “hence it is that almost every house becomes a domestic manufactury, the husband, the wife, and their children….being occupied in the upper room which is devoted to the purposes of winding, doubling or weaving.” This practice still thrived into the 1860’s.

Besides being engaged as outworkers, children also played a part in handloom weaving. In the silk industry this still continued. For intricate, top quality pieces the handloom was superior to the power loom, due to the delicacy of the material. Outworkers who own looms worked by the piece for manufacturers. Children did not weave, but wound for the family. Children were generally taken from school at around the ages of nine or ten to do this.

Looking at the growing factory branch of the industry, the ages at which children were employed is shown in Tables 1-3. However these are only from 1851 onwards and it is necessary to look at parliamentary papers to get an idea about ages prior to this year. In 1816-17 it appears that children worked from the age of six. By the raft of reports in the 1830’s this increased to eight.  Table 4 (above) and Table 5 (below) give a flavour.
Even in the 1866 report into children’s employment H.W. Lord found cases of children aged eight working, though more typically it was nine. Some manufacturers in the 1830’s claimed their practice was not to take children under the age of nine or ten, but often parents would deceive them. George Senior, from the silk firm of William Harter in Manchester, said “the parents always tell the children to answer ‘going ten’ when they are asked their ages” and Stephen Brown, of Colchester, backed this up.

In my next post I will examine in more detail the ages, wages, working conditions and health of these child silk industry workers.

Shropshire, Staffordshire, Shrouds and Shoes – Part 1

This is, I hope, going to be an on-going record of my progress in researching a family tree from scratch. This recurring section of my blog will record my research highs, lows, successes and failures, brick walls and hopefully their demolition. I have no set timetable to complete this, so there may be gaps of several weeks between updates. But finally I aim to piece together the history of my husband’s family and write some individual stories. Part 1 describes the preliminary phase of my research.

This particular project is inspired by my mother-in-law. A few weeks ago she announced she had a family bible, complete with a record of a couple’s marriage and the births and deaths of their children.  There was also a series of non-conformist quarterly meeting cards. She was unclear exactly how they connected to her and  so she loaned me the impressively weighty Victorian tome to see if I could discover more.  Within days she added to this treasure, with the discovery of a totally unrelated bundle of documents containing assorted certificates, an apprentice indenture, baptism and burial documentation, and a will linking to various branches of her maternal and paternal line along with some others connected to my now deceased father-in-law’s family.

19th century family bible

19th century family bible

So a wealth of documents to get me started,  far more than other families I have researched.  I feel a bit like a kid in a sweet-shop – so many choices. But I am focussing on one branch at a time rather than adopting a scattergun approach. And I am being disciplined in recording my information sources, as well as any searches (both succesful and unsuccesful), far more so than when I started our researching my family tree. Hopefully this will save time as I progress.

With this in mind my first line of research is my mother-in-law’s paternal line, starting with her father William John Haynes. The reason for starting here is that his is the most complete set of documents in the parcel of papers, with his birth, marriage and death certificates along with various other papers chronicling the key stages of his life. The bible does not relate to this branch of the family.

William Haynes’ birth certificate states that he was born on 27 February 1904 at Elford Hill, Eccleshall, Staffordshire. He was the son of master wheelwright, Joseph Thomas Haynes and his wife Maria (neé Yates).   By the time of William’s marriage to Ada Eardley on 15 September 1929, William’s father was described as  a funeral undertaker. This information was a catalyst for a rather unusual memory for my mother-in-law. She recalled staying at her grandfather’s house and sleeping in a bedroom full of shrouds! According to GRO indexes he died in 1958, in his early 90’s.

A preliminary search revealed that J Haynes undertakers still exists at Eccleshall, with the website providing a brief resumé of the buisness.[1] So in my later research I intend exploring the life and business of Joseph Thomas Haynes.

However, based on the information provided by my mother-in-law, my first week or so’s research has centred around the 1841-1911 census returns and the odd foray into parish records. Using this combination of online sources I have constucted a basic skeleton of a family tree.  This is reproduced below.

Haynes Family Tree

Haynes Family Tree

The census search has proved fairly routine. No real difficulties tracking back to 1841. I used both the Ancestry and FindMyPast UK sites to do this. The only minor hurdle was finding William’s great grandfather, James Haynes, in the 1851 census. Although he was there in the 1841 census and then from 1861-1871, there was no trace of him in 1851. At this point I consulted on-line parish registers available for Shropshire on FindMyPast. Through the censuses I had located seven possible children[2] for James Haynes and his wife Ann. I then identified their baptisms in the Parish Registers for the parishes of Edgmond, Longford and Church Aston in Shopshire. This provided the breakthrough. The youngest children bore the surname “Haynes Parker” or “Parker Haynes”.  Only the youngest child George was born post-GRO registration. His baptism in 1838  is under the name Haynes-Parker, his GRO registration surname is Parker with Haynes being listed as a middle name.[3]  Eldest child, John, was baptised on 10 January 1824 at Edgmond Parish Church with the surname Parker and no mention of Haynes.  From this information it was now easy to locate James in the 1851 census – recorded under the name Parker not Haynes.

It also proved a breakthrough in locating James’ marriage. At the time of the 1851 census James’ mother-in-law Ann Hamlet resided with the James and Ann. The Parish Register of Stoke on Tern, Shropshire has a marriage on 31 March 1823 between James Parker and Ann Hamlet.  The Shropshire Parish Registers also provide a possible baptism for James in June 1797 at Lilleshall[4], illegitimate son of Ann Parker.

So if possible I would like to find out a little more about the reason behind this transistion of surname from Parker to Haynes, which took place during the late 1820’s to the early 1860s.

James’ son Joseph (1834) is the grandfather of William  Haynes. Born in around 1834 the Shropshire Parish Registers show that he was married by licence at Aston in Edgmond on 10 February 1859.  His bride was Mary Webb, daughter of William.  My husband says there is a family story that they are somehow connected to Captain Matthew Webb, the first recorded person to swim the English Channel. As yet, even despite this now shared surname, I have found no evidence to support the anecdote. My husband’s Webb Ancestry from the 1800’s appears to be Staffordshire based, with pre-1800s possibly Shropshire. A preliminary look at Captain Webb shows he was born in Shropshire in 1848. But it is something else to explore.

Of more immediate interest is an occupational connection between William Webb and the Haynes male line. They were all wheelwrights. By the turn of the 19th century the Haynes family  were diversifiying  adding building, joinery, carpentry and undertaking to their trade skill set.  In the late 1860’s they moved from Shropshire to Stone, Staffordshire to ply their trade and appear to have been extremely succesful at it. I had a quick look at the image archive on the Staffordshire Past-Track website[5] and was amazed to find images of  Haynes and Sons, Wheelwrights. This contains photographs of family events as well as ones of their business, including images of portable bandstands (one produced below)[6] manufactured by the family firm.  So again this is another aspect of the family history I intend exploring.

12 May 1910: Proclamation of the Accession of George V, Stone read from the portable bandstand in Granville Square. The portable band stand seen here was the first of its kind and was manufactured by Haynes and Sons, wheelwrights, of Station Road, Stone, and was purchased by Stone Urban District Council. See Copyright footnote at  [6]

12 May 1910: Proclamation of the Accession of George V, Stone read from the portable bandstand in Granville Square. The portable band stand seen here was the first of its kind and was manufactured by Haynes and Sons, wheelwrights, of Station Road, Stone, and was purchased by Stone Urban District Council. See Copyright footnote at [6]

Finally I quickly looked at the family details of William’s mother Maria (neé Yates). Her father John was a shoemaker, born in around 1830 in Stone, Staffordshire. John’s wife Ann and all his children were engaged in this trade. I traced John back to the 1841 census, living in the household of bricklayer James Thornhill and Ann. Other household members included George Yates (14) and Joseph Yates (7). From GRO indexes it appears that James Thornhill married Ann in 1838.[7]  So this is a certificate I would like to obtain to see if Ann’s name was Yates and to find out her background to see how this fits in with John.

I think the most satisfying aspect of researching my mother-in-law’s tree is her sheer delight at each new discovery. Of late she has struggled with memory issues, but this research is rekindling long forgotten episodes in her life.  It is an absolute joy for all concerned when some new find triggers the recollection of something buried deep in the recesses of her mind; or, because she knows I am working on her tree, she suddenly recalls some other fact or story. For example she thought her family routes were in Staffordshire, but when I identified a significant Shropshire connection she recalled her parents visiting family in that county. So this process is proving fascinating for me and an interest for her.

My next steps will be to try to flesh out the tree further with online parish records and the ordering of BMD certificates (oh, for that certificate price reduction, but sadly this research cannot wait!). Then to try to fill in the details of the individuals, their occupations and the times and areas in which they lived. I will return to this portion of my blog later in the summer.

Sources:   

[1] http://www.robertnicholls.co.uk/our-history/7.html

[2] I say possible because of the omission of family relationship details on the 1841 census.

[3] GRO Ref: Q3 1838 PARKER  George Haynes Newport  Vol 18 Pg 124

[4] The 1851 and 1861 censuses record his birthplace as Lilleshall, 1871 Woodcote,

[5] Staffordshire Past-Track website:  http://www.staffspasttrack.og.uk/

[6] With thanks to Staffordshire Past-Track and Mr David Haynes for allowing me to use this image. Copyright is retained by David Haynes who has kindly made his collection available to Staffordshire Past-Track for non-commercial private study & educational use. Additional information about permitted uses of content and commercial enquiries is available via the Copyright statement Copyright Statement on Staffordshire Past-Track. Re-distribution of resources in any form is only permitted subject to strict adherence to the guidelines in the full Terms and Conditions statement.

[7] GRO Ref: Q3 1838 Stoke on Trent Vol 17 Page 147