Scriven's Report on Child Labour in the pottery industry
Wages, employments of families and children



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Wages, employments of families and children

[ wages ] [ employment of families ] [ employment of children ]


12) Their wages are considered the best of any staple trade in the kingdom, averaging, when in full work-that is, 12 hours per day, or 72 hours per week (deducting 1.30 hour for meals): -




Slip Makers






Plate, Dish, and Saucer Makers




Moulders and Modellers




Oven Man (per Oven)




Painters, Landscape and Flower






Ground layers




Slip Assistants


Throwers Women


Turner's Treader


Oven Assistants






Jiggers, Mould-runners, Oven-boys, Dipper's-boys, Cutters, Handlers, Apprentice Painters, and Figure Makers, boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 18, average weekly 2s. 0d.

employments of families

13) The processes being such as to admit of the employment of whole families father, mother, and some two, three, or more children - their united earnings are sometimes 3. or 4. per week: but, proverbially improvident, and adopting the adage,- "sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof", they squander the proceeds of their labour in gaudy dress, or at the skittle-ground and ale-house; so that, when overtaken by illness or other casualty, and thrown for a few days out of work, they resort to their masters for a loan, or to the parish workhouse for relief.

employments of children

14) The employments of children are various and dissimilar; in some of the rooms great numbers are congregated together, while in others there are only one or two; the painting, burnishing, gilding, flower-making, moulding, figure-making, and engraving, constitute literally schools of art, under the superintendence of- masters and mistresses. 

In the first and second are to be seen the apprentice boys and girls (each working in separate rooms), whose ages vary from 8 to 17: the boys are seldom taken before 14. Both serve an apprenticeship of seven years, and receive in the first year 1s. per week, 1s. 6d. the second, 2s. the third, 2s. 6d. the fourth; for the fifth and sixth they get half price of the adult journeyman or women, and on the seventh their, full price, allowing a drawback to the master of 4d. in the 1s. 

They are seen sitting at their clean tables, at a comfortable distance from each other, and in an airy, commodious, and warm room, well ventilated, and heated by a stove or hot plate, on which they dress their meals. The women who superintend their work are generally selected from among the rest on the premises on account of their good moral conduct and long servitude. 

They commence their duties at six in the morning in summer, and at seven in winter, and leave at six. In the midst of their occupations (which have in reality more the character of accomplishments) they are allowed the indulgence of singing hymns. I have often visited their rooms unexpectedly, and been charmed with the melody of their voices. In personal appearance they are healthy, clean, and well conducted.


15) The processes and departments to which I beg leave to direct your especial attention are the dipping, scouring, throwing, plate, saucer, and dish making, and printing, as those in which very young children are found. 

The effects I have observed in the first and second, on many of the older hands, and the evidence I have recorded from all, have satisfied me that they are the most pernicious and destructive in the whole process of potting. It is true that in many instances persons have been known to have worked as dippers many years without any material consequences resulting, or being perceptible, and they will tell you "'tis not so bad now as formerly, when a greater proportion of the poisonous metal entered into the composition of the liquid;" 

but even in them, whose constitutions may have been less susceptible of its influences, I have been able to trace in their dull and cadaverous countenances its insidious workings. In most of the rooms there are one or two adults, with their attendant boys, whose business it is to bring the ware in its rough, or, in the phraseology of the potter, in its biscuit state, from the warehouse or painting-room to the tub. By constant handling, the fingers become so smooth and delicate that they sometimes bleed, and thereby render the process of absorption more certain and rapid. 

The dipping itself; performed by the man, is momentary, and, when completed, the article is passed on to the boys for shelving and drying; the liquid consists of borax, soda, potash, with whiting, stone, and carbonate of lead, finely ground and mixed together with water; for coarse goods a large proportion of lead is used, and in some cases arsenic. Both men and boys have their hands and cloths almost always saturated with it; and reckless of the danger they incur, seldom or ever change, or use precautionary measures, frequently taking their meals in the same room, sufficiently satisfied to wipe their hands on their aprons. 

I have never seen rooms provided for cleansing, although it appear in some of the returned schedules that there is plenty of water and at their command. From their disregard of prophylactic measures; you will not be surprised that paralysis, colica pictonum, epilepsy, and a host of other nervous diseases; are to be met with in all their aggravated forms. 

The most constant, however, is that of partial paralysis of the extensors of the hands in men, and of epilepsy in children, accompanied at all times with obstinate constipation of the bowels and derangement of the alimentary canal. 

But the strongest assurance that can be adduced of the deleterious effect that this process has on children, to be found in the evidence of the men themselves, who, when their affections have been appealed to as fathers of families, have invariably, to the question "Would bring your own son to the dipping-tub?" replied "No" and in the instance of John Cooper he continued because I love my child, and would rather that should live." 

the average amount of weekly wages for men in this department is 30s., for boys 5s., which is higher than in many others, and obtained as an equivalent for "the risk they run." This pay is a strong temptation to the thoughtless and improvident parent, who, regardless of consequences to their offspring, permit them, so long as they reap the advantages of their labour, to continue in this pest-house. 

Phthisis is a very prevalent disease here. It has been asserted by some writers that the oxides of lead by absorption is very capable of rousing it into action, and the dipping-tub, already sufficiently notorious for its poisonous contents, is made to swell the number of its victims. I confess that, throughout my inquiry I have not been able to attribute any case to it, and am therefore disposed to believe that this malady, so common, owes its rise and progress to other processes, and these are in the scouring, ground-laying, sifting-rooms, and hot-houses.


16) In the two first it is rare to find young children. As, however, I may not have occasion to refer to them again, it may be as well to convey some information as to the kind of work carried on. When china ware is to he fired it is first placed in coarse earthen vessels called saggers - these contain a quantity of finely pulverized flint; this, during the firing, attaches itself strongly to the china; some two, three, or more young women, are employed to scour it off with sand-paper and brushes; the particles float abundantly in the atmosphere of the room, and cover their persons just as plentifully as flour does the miller; in every act of respiration a considerable quantity is deposited on the mucous surfaces of the fauces, trachaea, and bronchial tubes, and being acutely angular and irritating soon occasions thickening of these membranes, as evidenced by their small weak voices: asthma, chronic cough, tubercular development, consumption, soon follows, and death. 

Some of them will escape for a time, whilst others become easy preys. The ground-laying is generally performed by men, and consists in dapping the ware with the metallic oxides by means of a piece of cotton wool, the ware being previously moistened with some adhesive fluid. The air becomes charged as in scouring, and the consequences are of the like character.


17) The class of children whose physical condition has the strongest claims to consideration is that of the "jiggers" and "mould-runners", who, by the very nature of their work, are rendered pale weak diminutive and unhealthy; they are employed by the dish, saucer, and plate makers; their hours are half past five in the morning to six at night, but in numberless instances they, are required to labour on to eight, nine, or ten, and this in an atmosphere varying from 100 to 120 degrees; all these extra hours being occasioned, nine times out of ten, by the selfishness or irregularities of their unworthy taskmasters. 

The men work by the piece: however much there may be on hand to accomplish they seldom or ever work after Saturday noon, and often not before the following Tuesday or Wednesday morning, but spend the hard earnings of the previous days idly and unprofitably; once gone, they again "buckle to", and work like horses. 

Each man employs two boys, one to turn the jigger, or horizontal wheel, from morning to night; the other to carry the ware just formed from the "whirler" to the hot-house and moulds back. These hot-houses are rooms within rooms, closely confined except at the door, and without windows. 

In the centre stands a large cast-iron stove, heated to redness, increasing the temperature often to 130 degrees. I have burst two thermometers at that point. During this inclement season I have seen these boys running to and fro on errands, or to their dinners, without stockings, shoes or jackets, and with perspiration standing on their foreheads, after labouring like little slaves, with the mercury 20 degrees below freezing. 

The results of such transitions are soon realised, and many die of consumption, asthma, and acute inflammations. It is admitted on all hands that their work is the most arduous and fatiguing of all others. Of this there is abundant proof on turning to the evidence of John Johnson (No; 48), Longport which is confirmed by many others. It will appear that a good workman can; and frequently does, make eight score dozen saucers a week, each dozen counting thirty-six pieces: each piece is carried twice to and fro, and weighs (mould and bat) two pounds, but, as two pieces are carried at the same time, they will count but as one, and as four pounds on every trip.


18) Let us first calculate the weight absolutely borne, then the distance run bare-footed. Eight times 20 is 160: 36 times 160 is 5760 pieces, of two pounds each, carried in six days of only 72 hours, which, multiplied by 4 (the weight of two moulds and bats), gives 23,040 pounds; divided by 6, the number of working-days in the week, will give 3840 pounds a day, of twelve hours, without deducting the so-called one and a half hour for meals, which, by the way, they never get.

19) The average distance from the whirler to the centre of the stove is an honest 7 yards; the same back will make 14: 14 times 5760 yards gives 80,640, or 45 miles 1440 yards in a week, which, divided by 6, gives 7 miles 1120 yards per day: besides this, they have to mount one, two, or three steps, to place the pieces upon the shelves.

But this is not enough; their master requires them, whilst he is taking his pipe or his pot, to wedge the clay in the yard, collect the half dried pieces from the shelves again, to come half an hour or more before him in the morning, to get coals in, ashes out, and sweep and make ready for him the room, or anything else that may be wanted, and probably has to walk a mile before and after his work: If the master's propensities prompt him to loiter away the early days of the week, he works the extra hours on "middle days", to make up his losses; thus the child, the almost infant child, is taxed with three or four hours' increased exertion, to the sacrifice of his health, his morals, and every domestic comfort that he would otherwise enjoy, and this without the least remuneration, as, in every case, his wages are the same whether he works the twelve hours or sixteen. 

The evil is lamented by the honest workman, by the children, by their parents, and universally by the manufacturers; - who acknowledge their inability to correct it themselves without incurring the risk of exciting tumult, and thereby occasioning some delay in the execution of their orders, as the processes are so linked in with each other, that, by losing one set of men, the others are rendered useless. Should a remedy be suggested, the children would have reason to hail the day of their emancipation from toil little removed from slavery.


20) My attention was particularly directed to the little "handlers:" they are engaged very young to make handles for cups, &c. For this purpose two blocks of plaster of Paris are used with the half figure moulded on each, so that when brought together a perfect whole is formed out of the clay placed between by pressure. To accomplish this they throw themselves with all their strength upon the mould, and wriggle themselves whilst in the horizontal position, the blocks bearing forcibly on their chests. The sternum and ribs not having acquired sufficient maturity, it is easy to believe that this practice is likely to flatten the chest, interfere with the functions of the heart and lungs, and thereby become another prolific source of consumptive disease. I have stripped and examined some scores, but must admit that I have found but few of such cases as I have described.


21) In the printing-room there may be one or more presses, depending on the size of the room. To each press there is one male printer, two female transferrers, and one cutter; this last is an easy employment, and undertaken by very young girls. 

The moral training of these children depends on the character of the printers; if they are profligates or drunkards they are sure to suffer, as their minds are impressed with the language and indecent examples of those in authority over them, and they are unfortunately too commonly practised, the women being often worse than the men.


22) In the "throwing", "turning", "sagger", "sorting", and "placing" rooms; "slip-kilns", and "ovens", children are only occasionally found. In the first these there is one man with two women; in the second, one young woman with one man, often alone; these are said to be the emporiums of profligacy; from oral evidence of the magistrates and clergy, and from some of the manufacturers themselves, I find that sexual intercourse in these departments is of very common occurrence, and that bastardy, the natural result is thought very lightly of. 

The excellent rector of Longton (Dr. Vale) observes: - "the young girls consorting with males in the works have no sense of the sin of whoredom, or of the bestiality of uncleanness."


23) The subject of apprenticeship is one which appears to me to be of immense importance, as influencing the moral characters of a vast number of persons engaged in the peculiar trade of potting. From the circumstance of my inquiries being limited to children under 13 years of age, this subject has not hitherto engaged my attention.. However, as soon as I received information of the extension of the inquiry, I immediately directed my attention to the collection of evidence with the view to show the actual condition of the latter.

24) On a reference to the printed lists filled up by the manufacturers, there will appear to be some thousands employed, between the ages of 13 and 21; these, with few exceptions, are bound or a period of seven years, in the form and manner here annexed, as twifflers, saucer-makers painters and pressers. 

But the binding is only nominal, and for this reason, that the parents are often unable, always unwilling, to pay the stamp-duty of 1s., or even meet the master with 10s. half way. In some few cases, where employers have a competent, well- disposed, and active lad, taken either from the stove or jigger, they will sometimes secure his services by providing the stamp themselves; but, where they take 40, 50, or 60, it is too much to expect that they would make it a general rule. 

What results ? That which is daily seen. A lad serves two, or three, or more years, already at half the journeyman's wages, over which he holds undivided control long before he has acquired a sufficient knowledge of its real value; he will leave not only his parents' roof at 15 or 16, and take up his abode with some worthless workmate, and squander his earnings in profligacy and drunkenness, but will leave also his master's employ, and seek labour at higher prices in a distant locality, laughing to derision any efforts that may be made to reclaim him from a life of vice and idleness. 

He may be summoned before a magistrate: what then ? The case is dismissed, as this functionary finds, on an examination of the document, that he cannot adjudicate on, or take cognizance of it, as it is an illegal instrument.


25) But the mischief does not stop here. The manufacturer suffers. The several departments of the trade are like so many spokes of a wheel; take one away, and the rest will break down; abstract the plate-makers or pressers, the oven ceases to our forth its volumes of smoke; the dipper, printer, cutter, transferrer, painter, burnisher, all stand still: and ask the reason, and they are answered, "Richard Roe has run away, and master canna fetch him back." 

The good journeyman suffers; for Richard Roe, under pretence of his master having no further use for him, or of his having served his time, finds a place at better wages than he had before, but under that which the honest workman should receive; who, by this spurious importation, is obliged to enter into an unfair competition, necessarily depreciating his own value, or is thrown out of employ. 

The proportion of stamped indentures, as compared with others, is shown by the return of the distributor of the district, and is as 13 to 3000, or more. I am led to infer, from sources of good information, that if this duty was diminished from 20s. to 5s., every manufacturer would avail himself of the benefit, behaving a direct interest in the advancement of his servant, who would become a better workman; the parent would benefit, by receiving the wages of his child as a compensation for his board and lodging; society would benefit, by rearing up around it steady and industrious youths; and I believe the Government would benefit, by a considerable increase of its revenue, from sources perhaps hitherto considered as only trifling.


26) Manufacturers pay their workpeople every Saturday afternoon in the shape of "wage bills; these are given to the heads of the several departments; take, for example, the printing-room, where 12 men, 24 women, and 12 children are employed: one man receives a list from the counting-house of the whole party, with the amount due to each carried out against their names. 

They then go "a changing" to some favourite public-house or beer-shop, of which by the way, there are upwards of 400 of the lowest description. The landlord "takes care to secure sufficient coin to meet the demand, and invariably expects a percentage, or that a certain quantity of beer shall be "drunk on the premises", for the privilege bestowed. 

I need not observe, that these dens of immorality are, on these occasions, crowded, and are calculated to produce much mischief. Some of the better-disposed of the people obtain their change of respectable tradesmen, who gain a profit by the sale of goods, or receive five per cent discount. 

There are other practices peculiar to the people them selves which have a bad tendency, and are called by them "wedding ales", "foot ales", and "changing or parting ales." By this is understood, when a party in either department is married, or joins or leaves for another place, he or she is expected to treat all round, and may expect rough usage if they refuse to accede to the "law." 

I have seen young women who had taken the teetotal-vow, placarded on the walls and beams of their workshops for not submitting to the exaction; and this in one of the largest and best regulated factories that I have met with.


27) No machinery, in the common acceptation of the term, is required, except at the grinding-mills, which are generally detached from the premises, and in which children have no duties to perform. Surgical diseases are therefore of seldom occurrence.



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