Living Conditions in the 1800s


Elizabeth Bentley, called in; and Examined.What age are you? — Twenty-three.

Where do you live? — At Leeds.

What time did you begin to work at a factory? — When I was six years old.

At whose factory did you work? — Mr. Busk's.

What kind of mill is it? — Flax-mill.

What was your business in that mill? — I was a little doffer.

What were your hours of labour in that mill? — From 5 in the morning till 9 at night, when they were thronged.

For how long a time together have you worked that excessive length of time? — For about half a year.

What were your usual hours when you were not so thronged? — From 6 in the morning till 7 at night.

What time was allowed for your meals? — Forty minutes at noon.

Had you any time to get your breakfast or drinking? — No, we got it as we could.

And when your work was bad, you had hardly any time to eat it at all? — No; we were obliged to leave it or take it home, and when we did not take it, the overlooker took it, and gave it to his pigs.

Do you consider doffing a laborious employment? — Yes.

Explain what it is you had to do? — When the frames are full, they have to stop the frames, and take the flyers off, and take the full bobbins off, and carry them to the roller; and then put empty ones on, and set the frame going again.

Does that keep you constantly on your feet? — Yes, there are so many frames, and they run so quick.

Your labour is very excessive? — Yes; you have not time for any thing.

Suppose you flagged a little, or were too late, what would they do? — Strap us.

Are they in the habit of strapping those who are last in doffing? — Yes.

Constantly? — Yes.

Girls as well as boys? — Yes.

Have you ever been strapped? — Yes.

Severely? — Yes.

Could you eat your food well in that factory? — No, indeed I had not much to eat, and the little I had I could not eat it, my appetite was so poor, and being covered with dust; and it was no use to take it home, I could not eat it, and the overlooker took it, and gave it to the pigs.

You are speaking of the breakfast? — Yes.

How far had you to go for dinner? — We could not go home to dinner.

Where did you dine? — In the mill.

Did you live far from the mill? — Yes, two miles.

Had you a clock? — No, we had not.

Supposing you had not been in time enough in the morning at these mills, what would have been the consequence? — We should have been quartered.

What do you mean by that? — If we were a quarter of an hour too late, they would take off half an hour; we only got a penny an hour, and they would take a halfpenny more.

The fine was much more considerable than the loss of time? — Yes.

Were you also beaten for being too late? — No, I was never beaten myself, I have seen the boys beaten for being too late.

Were you generally there in time? — Yes; my mother had been up at 4 o'clock in the morning, and at 2 o'clock in the morning; the colliers used to go to their work about 3 or 4 o'clock, and when she heard them stirring she has got up out of her warm bed, and gone out and asked them the time; and I have sometimes been at Hunslet Car at 2 o'clock in the morning, when it was streaming down with rain, and we have had to stay until the mill was opened.

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