Taken from the ‘Commission on Child Labour’ of 1841, looking at the employment of children in the button trade. Folios 129 to 133. Evidence collected by RD Grainger Esq. from Hammond, Turner & Sons at their Snow Hill manufactory. These folios contain a number of statements, all of which can be seen here, reproduced in this post is the statement from Joseph Corbett.
Mr. Joseph Corbett
Has been employed more than 40 years at Messrs Turner’s as a button burnisher. The average wages in this trade, in full work, are from 30s. to 35s. a week, but there is often a want of employment. Has often been consulted by the mechanics generally on occasions when they required advice. Has been applied to by mechanics in reference to the objects of this inquiry. Has taken an active part in public proceedings connected with the trade of the town. Was one of a deputation consisting of two from the button-makers appointed to wait on His late Majesty George IV., and other branches of the royal family, nobility, &c., in order to induce them to encourage the trade. On this occasion received several votes of thanks from the masters and men. In 1837 was again appointed a deputy to wait on Viscount Melbourne relative to the distressed state of the nation.
The witness handed in the statement marked [G.]
[G] Statement of Mr. Joseph Corbett
1. Children of both sexes are
sent to work at too tender an age, particularly female children. During their
childhood, at a time when fresh air and freedom from confinement are so
essential, they toil throughout the day, acquiring not the least domestic instruction
to fit them for wives and mothers. I will name one instance, and this applies
to the general condition of females doomed to, and brought up amongst,
My mother worked in a manufactory from a very early age. She was clever and
industrious; and, moreover, she had the reputation of being Virtuous. She was
regarded as an excellent match for a working man. She was married early. She
became the mother of 11 children. I am the eldest. To the best of her ability
she performed the important duties of a wife and mother. She was lamentably
deficient in domestic knowledge; in that most important of all human
instruction, how to make the home and the fire-side to possess a charm for her
husband and children, she had never received one single lesson.
She had children apace. As she recovered from her lying-in, so she went to
work, the babe being brought to her at stated times to receive nourishment. As
the family increased, so anything like comfort disappeared altogether.
Poor thing, the power to make home cheerful and comfortable was never given to
her. She knew not the value of cherishing in my father’s mind a love of
domestic objects. My heart aches when I reflect upon her anxious and laborious
Not one moment’s happiness did I ever see under my father’s roof. All this
dismal state of things I can distinctly trace to the entire and perfect absence
of all training and instruction to my mother. He became intemperate; and his
intemperance made her necessitous. She made many efforts to abstain from
shop-work; but her pecuniary necessities forced her back into the shop. The
family was large, and every moment was required at home.
I have known her, after the close of a hard day’s work, sit up nearly all night
for several nights together washing and mending of clothes. My father could
have no comfort here. These domestic obligations, which in a well regulated
house, (even in that of a working man, where, there are prudence and good
management,) would be done so as not to annoy the husband; to my father they
were a source of annoyance; and he from an ignorant and mistaken notion sought
comfort in an alehouse.
My mother’s ignorance of household duties; my father’s consequent irritability
and intemperance; the frightful poverty; the constant quarrelling, the
pernicious example to my brothers and sisters; the bad effect upon the future
conduct of my brothers; one and all of us being forced out to work, so young,
that our feeble earnings would produce only 1s. a week; cold and hunger, and
the innumerable sufferings of my childhood, crowd upon my mind and overpower
me. They keep alive a deep anxiety for the emancipation of the thousands of
families in this great town and neighbourhood, who are in a similar state of
horrible misery. My own experience tells me that the instruction of the female
in the work of a house, in teaching them to produce cheerfulness and comfort at
the fire-side, would prevent a great amount of misery and crime. There would be
fewer drunken husbands and disobedient children. As a working man, within my
own observation female education is disgracefully neglected. I attach more
importance to it than to anything else. They impart the first impression to the
young susceptible mind; they model the child from which is formed the future
2. As regards males and females promiscuously together in one manufactory, I do
consider it as having a most immoral tendency. I have always found, where the
intercourse was promiscuous, the females to be careless in their dress,
indecent in their conversation, unchaste in their conduct; in fact, they are
inferior in all respects to those who are kept apart from the male sex. Look at
the young women employed the higher department of the manufactory, the
warehouse for instance, under the superintending care of a master of sober and
moral character. Here will be neatness of dress, decent and becoming
conversation, and attention to business. Intellectual education, whether from a
Sunday school or other sources, produces a marked distinction of improvement.
It is not difficult to imagine a young female, of pleasing face and person,
exposed, by being placed in a manufactory, to the lewd remarks and
familiarities of the coarse and dissipated of the other sex. Perhaps not one
idea of virtue was ever established in the mind of this susceptible and
credulous creature. She is now put in the certain path to ruin and seduction.
She is often treated as an inferior being; until some infamous seducer flatters
to obtain her ruin. She is the victim of her own confiding and unsuspecting
nature, but she is branded for being extremely vicious.
Suppose the weekly earnings of a female to be 6s, and this is above the
average, out of this she has to pay for lodgings, for clothes, and for the
making of them too, for she cannot make them herself never having been taught;
her washing after work-hours, she will do herself; in her outlay she most be
frugal to keep clear of the inconveniences of debt.
There can be little or no saving in this instance. Suppose the poor creature to
be put to half time, or to be thrown out of work all together, she has no
parents, no friends to fall back upon, resources she can have none; what then
is the alternative?
The answer is obvious.
3. With respect to “turn outs,” much bad feeling is oftentimes created by the
unwillingness of a principal to listen to the complaints of their work-people;
to talk over kindly; and with a good feeling, their mutual differences. By this
means misunderstandings would be made clear; concessions made; unjust and
unfounded suspicions on both sides prevented; and the painful suffering to
families, and loss of property to the masters need not take place.
It is a fact that in my trade, at our place, no “turn out” ever took place; and
yet our list of prices is a standard for the town; my shopmates were all well
informed, and still more my employer was open at all times to easy access. He
never refused to listen to the most trifling complaint. The manager also was a
man of an amiable disposition.
His mediations were just and satisfactory to both parties. I remember with
pleasure the testimony of a silver snuff-box being presented to him for his
honourable and conciliatory conduct.—(Inscription: “Presented to Mr. Joseph
Conway, as a tribute of respect, by a few friends in the employ of Messrs.
Hammond, Turner, and Son, May the 7th, 1828.”)
The only instance of anything like disaffection took place at our manufactory
in the beginning of 1838. It had no reference to prices. It was concerning
privileges. A wrong notion prevailed. The best informed were open to
conviction, and kept to their work; the others, 4 of them, who were extremely
ignorant, left their work, but soon afterwards repented of their precipitate
and short-sighted conduct.
4. I have seen the entire ruin of many families from the waste of money and bad
conduct of fathers and sons seeking amusement and pastime in an ale-house. From
no other single cause alone does half so much demoralization and misery
Here I am forced back to the painful scenes of my childhood. Thousand and millions
resort to the ale-house for conversation and amusement; and it would be
anything but paternal on the part of Government to break up, or attempt to
break up these places, without furnishing them with other recreative resources,
as for instance, gymnastic exercises, quoits, cricket, &c.; public gardens,
walks, baths, reading-rooms; &c.
Having worked in a manufactory 40 years, the effects of ignorance amongst the
working people have been the cause of much uneasiness to myself.
The better a man was educated the better workman he made; and more civil and
obliging to his employers, and the more respected and valued by them. I speak
from the experience and observation of many years. Instruction and kindness
towards the working classes has an elevating tendency. Women’s minds are often
debased by the coarse and brutal conduct and conversation of their masters. The
one mode of treatment creates better servants, and therefore better domestic
characters; the other produces viciousness and brutality of feeling.
If the rich knew how much they could accomplish by condescension and example
they would not be so scanty of kindness to the poor.
As a proof what kindness may produce, I will speak of my own place of work.
An aunt was employed upwards of 70 years; my mother 30 years; my father 30
years; myself upwards of 40 years; a son, who works under me, is now within a
few days of being of age. Others have worked at the manufactory from periods of
10 to 50 years.
December 7, 1840. (Signed) JOSEPH CORBETT.
[Note.—This most creditable statement, the product of a Birmingham mechanic, is
inserted without a single alteration of any kind.]