Master Potters in Georgian Burslem (1714-1837)
The Workers at Enoch Wood & Sons
on child labour in the Potteries
In the early 19th century the firm was the larges employer in Burslem with a work force of 1,100 by 1833. The only other firm of a comparable size was Davenport's in Longport.
Evidence about working conditions at the factory can be found in the report presented by John Spencer to the Factory Inquiry Commission in 1833 and in the report by Samuel Scriven "On the Employment pf Children and Young Persons in the District of the Staffordshire Potteries" presented to the Royal Commission on Children's Employment in 1841. The evidence from 2 of the 3 children interviewed by Samuel Scriven is reproduced below. It was said that the firm was a good employer and Mary Proudlove, the superintendent of the girls' painting room, claimed that children were "not allowed to come to the factory before 11" but the children's evidence shows that this must have been a very recent development.
Messrs. Enoch and E. Woods, 3 Earthenware Factories, Burslem.
No. 198.– Mary Ann Bailey, aged 12: – I have been apprenticed to Mr. Wood two years; I cannot read or write; I never went to day-school since I was a little girl, then I went to learn to spell; I do not go to Sunday school, 'cause mother is ill; I shall go when she gets better; shall go to Wesleyans. My father is a sagger maker; have two brothers who work with father, they have two days work a week; I come to work at seven and leave at five. I do not go to evening school; there are evening school in town but I do not go. In our room there are 16 girls working with me; six out of them cannot read their names: Ana Boules, Ann Lovett, Eliza Broad, Hannah Garner, Ann Holland, and myself; these are all under 13: 9 out of the whole 16 can write. I get bread and cheese and coffee for breakfast, and pork-pie for dinner; sometimes meat and tatees; always get enough; have got clothes enough: three frocks: I like my work very much, my mistress is very good to me; me get holidays three or four times a year; are never punished except by getting another piece or two to do if we do not behave. When we are good girls we give over sooner than usual.
No. 199.– Mary Proudlaw, aged 26: – I have been the superintendent of the girls painting-room about three years; during that time I had many opportunities of acquiring a knowledge of the moral and religious characters of the girls who work in this department, and of others in the factories; my impression is, that those who work in the painting departments are generally well conduced, virtuous and good; they have moral and religious duties instilled into their minds by the examples shown them: in Sunday schools, and in many instances to in the works where they are not associated with immoral characters; they are very deficient, however, in point of education; but this is to be accounted for by their coming so early to work, and thereby losing those opportunities which children in the same sphere of life have by their attendance in day-schools; I am very certain that the Sunday-schools do great good, and think children would be in a sad state without them. I have observed in your examination of the children in this room that six out of sixteen could not read; I believe it to be the fault of their parents, in not sending them to a day-school before they came to work and to nothing else; they are not necessarily required to come before nine or ten; they are not allowed to come in this factory before 11, it is not so in other places, or has it been the practice here until lately. I think in a general way that they are pretty well fed and clothed, and judge, from what I see daily, that their meals are wholesome and good; I wish it to be understood that my observations do not apply to the printing department and others; there the children come earlier to work, and are in constant contact with loose men and women; I can see the difference in their behavior at school, they are rude, and their language is vulgar. (Signed) MARY PROUDLAW
No. 200.– George Guest, aged 11: – I work for John Moss, and run moulds to and fro from the stove to the jigger-box. Wm. Moss turns jiggers; I ought to be at work at half past six, when the quarter bell rings; I am allowed half an hour for breakfast, and take it in stove room; I do not take half an hour to eat it, not more than ten minutes; must eat it as sharp as I can; I can please myself though about that; I take it quick 'cause John takes his quick and gets to work pretty sharp; should like a play in the yard, but caana have it; I go home to dinner and then take my hour; leave work at six on Mondays, and at half-past eight other days; when I get home my legs ache; I am too tired to play then, but get my supper and go to bed. Sometimes father tells me to read a chapter: he prays to us every night; I can read pretty well; don't write, but I shall try soon; I am going to get the Catechism off soon; bought one with my earnings last Sunday at. chapel; father is a dipper, he is not always at work; he is now at Mr. Allcock's; mother has been dead a year; l have three brothers and sisters, they work; I feel running in and out the stove, and sometimes catch cold; would rather work 10 hours than 14; but if I was to get less money would rather work late and get more beef. I get 3s. a-week, always carry it home to father; we should not have been what we are if we had not been teetotalers; I have signed four years; father used to be a great drunkard before; he is now a good father and steady: he is in a Rackabite club; I am in a club to, the boys club; I paid 6d on going in, and 1d a month after; if I am bad I get something out to keep me.
questions/comments/contributions? email: Steve Birks