Front Page Titles (by Subject) Minutes of a Conversation on Friday, the 22 th of May, 1837, between Mr. Thompson, Mr. Edmund Ashworth, and Mr. Senior. * - Letters on the Factory Act
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Minutes of a Conversation on Friday, the 22 th of May, 1837, between Mr. Thompson, Mr. Edmund Ashworth, and Mr. Senior. * - Nassau William Senior, Letters on the Factory Act 
Letters on the Factory Act, as it affects the Cotton Manufacture (London: B. Fellowes, 1837).
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Minutesof a Conversation on Friday, the 22th of May, 1837, between Mr. Thompson, Mr. Edmund Ashworth, and Mr. Senior.*
The following paper was read by Mr. Thomson:—
A belief that whatever regulations are permanently established by the legislature for cotton-mills, will sooner or later be imposed on calico printers, has made me watch with interest the operation of the present enactments. The calico printers are, in fact, much more obnoxious to reproach than the spinners, for they now employ children at a much earlier age, work them harder, and work them longer. An ordinary day’s work in a print ground is 10 hours of actual labour; but at the busy season, in spring and autumn, or during the shipping months, the hours of actual labour are extended to 12 or 14, and sometimes (with a relay) through the night. If the law interfered to prevent this, it would not be a question of profit to the manufacturer, but of employment for the people. Time is an element in the calculations of a manufacture, dependent on season, taste, and fashion. That which one month fetches a high profit, in the next is sold for none at all, and, in the following, to a heavy loss. A calico printer cannot work to a stock as a spinner or weaver, whose production being the same from year to year, is saleable some time or other. The consequence is, that the printer is often idle for weeks, and often again has double the work he can perform in the ordinary hours of labour. It is the same in all countries,—France, Switzerland, Germany, and the north of Europe. It is irremediable: and the law that imposed restrictions on the hours of labour in calico printing would destroy the trade, and involve masters and labourers in common ruin.
The factory system of education is wholly inapplicable to calico printing. The child is actually a part of a machine, like a lynch pin; and just as when the pin is out, the wheel comes off, so a tier-boy absent stops his master. I once proposed to try the experiment. In order to educate 300 children, I intended to form them into classes of 30 each, and place each class for one hour under a schoolmaster; and thus, in 10 hours per day, to give to the whole number one hour’s education per day. The schoolmaster’s salary would have been 12s. per week; the wages, at 2s. 6d. each per week, of 30 supernumeraries, to replace the class, would have been 4l. 7s.; but I abandoned it, on finding that the only result would be the giving an inadequate, and, in fact, almost useless education, at the expense of about 250l. a year. To have doubled the time would have doubled the expense.
A more grave objection than the expense was, that the children would have been sent into school dirty from their employment, their minds unprepared, or ill-prepared, for a sudden transition from mere animal labour to mental, and for a short period only, and then back to work again. The relay system would require a doubling of the hands, which, in very few situations, are to be had.
Having abandoned this project, I adopted with success a system, which throws on the parents the onus of attending to the education of their children, and secures it by making it their interest. Apprenticeships in the various branches of calico printing, viz. pattern drawing, engraving, block cutting, block printing, are eagerly sought after by parents for their children, as leading to high wages. I have made the ability to read and write at 14 years of age an indispensable qualification. The effect of this is strikingly shown in the demand for teaching which it has produced. The Sunday schools of the Established Church not teaching writing, as being a secular employment, were deserted for those of the Methodists and Catholics. The children have been allured back to the Establishment by gratuitous night schools twice a week, when writing and arithmetic are taught. Such apprentices as are already indentured, though not qualified, have received notice, that if they are not able to pass an examination at the expiration of their apprenticeships, they will not be employed as journeymen. Lastly, notice has been given, that after the 1st of July, 1838, no child, whatever its age, will be received into the manufactory who cannot read; and it forms a part of my plan, considerably to extend the qualification for apprenticeships as soon as certain arrangements regarding the schools of the neighborhood, now in contemplation, are carried into effect.
Mr. Ashworth.—We have found so much advantage from our people being able to read and write, that, although opposed in feeling to the compulsory education forced upon us by the present Factory Law, we are anxious to see a law of the nation, a general law, enforcing education on all trades, by making it unlawful for any child, unable to read and write, to be found working out of its parent’s house.
Q. Have you any, and what objection to a law forbidding a parent to obtain profit from the labour of his child, until that child had made a certain proficiency in reading and writing?
A. Except within its own parent’s house, under his own roof. I suggest this limitation, on the ground that it would be too much an infringement upon domestic society, to interfere with the parent’s arrangements in his own house. I never expect a law to be well observed, unless obedience is made the interest of those affected by it. The regulation which I propose by holding out education as the condition for a parent’s receiving a lucrative return for his children’s labour out of the house, would effectually induce him to see to their attaining it. But at the same time, there must be the facility of obtaining that education. There must be both the motive and the means—the means must be provided by Government. At present such means do not exist.
Q. Do you see no objection to the Legislature imposing a condition on parents whose children work from home, and none on those whose children work at home?
A. I do not see any: There are few families in which the children can permanently obtain their livelihood in their parents’ house; sooner or later they all quit it.
Q. Supposing there were an indisposition to promote this education, on the part of the parents, or a total indifference to it, would not the proposed law occasion a preference of domestic employment to that which would lead the children abroad; of hand-loom weaving, for instance, to factory work?
A. I think not; parents may be, and unhappily often are, indifferent to the education of their children, but not to their getting good wages, or to their advancement in the world; and those objects are best obtained by sending them from home. A child can be earlier and more effectually profitable to his parent, by attending a factory than a hand-loom. Children cannot become weavers till the age of ten, eleven, or twelve; they are admitted to the factories at nine, and generally they are able to get more in a factory at eleven, than they would in their father’s house at eleven. Again, hand-loom weaving is a declining trade; mill occupations are an increasing and improving trade.
Q. (To Mr. Thomson.)—What amount of education would you consider sufficient for the children in your employ?
A. Constant attendance at the Sunday school, morning and afternoon, and attendance at the night school twice a week for two hours each night.
Q. That would be,—how many hours on Sunday?
A. On Sunday that would be six hours.
Q. Six hours in school?
A. Three hours in the morning, and three hours in the afternoon.
Q. With the attendance at church, that would make from eight to nine hours a-day, on Sunday?
A. Generally, young children who attend Sunday schools, do not attend the church service—at least, not regularly, but in sections, as there may be accommodation.
Q. The whole time given to education would be ten hours per week?
A. It would.
Q. But in your paper, you described one hour a day on the week days, which, with the 6 hours on Sunday, makes 12 hours a-week, as inadequate?
A. Two hours of continued attention are much more than twice as efficient as a single hour. The first quarter of an hour and the last are generally wasted: I think the two hours would be usefully employed.
In fact, however, I was assuming the adoption of the proposal, that no child unable to read, or perhaps to write, should be admitted into a factory. The ten hours a week, therefore, which I have just mentioned, would be employed only in keeping up and extending an education of which the foundation had been previously laid.
Mr. Ashworth.—If a national course of education were enforced, and children received in Infant Schools up to seven years of age, and in the National School from seven to ten years of age, they would then, nine-tenths of them, have sufficient education for the general profession of artisans.
Mr. Thomson.—On such a plan I am now proceeding at Clithero. Two schools, an infant, and a British or National school, are now in a course of erection; the operation of which will render unnecessary the present restrictions.
Q. What restrictions?
A. I speak of my own regulations with regard to the non-admission of apprentices who cannot read and write.
Q. You think, that if your regulations were applied to the cotton manufacture, the education clauses of the Factory Act would be unnecessary?
A. I do.
Q. What effect did your plan produce on the desire and means of procuring education in your neighbourhood?
A. It produced a great desire on the part of the parents to have their children taught reading and writing, when they found that without these qualifications they were refused apprenticeships, and admission into situations that were eagerly sought after. The new demand in the town for education was so considerable, that new schools, both day and night schools, were formed by private schoolmasters. There are now three schools more than there were before this regulation; and, as I mentioned before, those who have the management of the Church of England Sunday school, have found it necessary to open schools for reading, writing, and arithmetic, two nights in the week, to prevent the children from being drawn off to the schools of the Methodists and Catholics, where writing is taught on the Sunday.
Q. Had you any difficulty in obtaining schoolmasters?
A. No difficulty in obtaining schoolmasters to teach reading, nor indeed to teach writing; but great difficulty in obtaining masters with higher qualifications. In the lower classes, when a man can do nothing else for his livelihood, he becomes a schoolmaster; men whose failure in life is often to be attributed to their own improvident and vicious habits.
Mr. Ashworth.—In reference to the practicability of applying national education, I would say that I have been lately engaged in taking, or rather in having taken for me, the statistics of education of the borough of Bolton, containing about 54,000 inhabitants. There were 61 schools; and of the 61 schoolmasters there were only 13 who had been educated for the profession; 25 had taken it up from poverty, and the remainder for a livelihood. With such masters little can be done; but with able teachers great progress might be made, at little expense. We have lately established a school in Bolton, under the title of “The Bolton British School,” on the “London British and Foreign School” system, where we educate 500 children, at the cost of twopence each per week. They consider three years a sufficient length of time to teach them reading, writing, and arithmetic, and some acquaintance with mechanical drawing. Such an education can be given between the ages of seven and ten.
Q. (To Mr. Thomson.)—Do you think that those whom you have admitted to apprenticeships, as capable of reading and writing, can read so as to amuse themselves?
A. They cannot all read fluently; some do: but if we had exacted too much at first, we should have had no hands. We found that the parents cared little or nothing about their children’s education, for its own sake; mere exhortations would have driven them away; it was only by making it decidedly their interest, that I could do any thing. It was this that led me to adopt the plan detailed in my paper. I found from experience, that the parents themselves would never do any thing for the education of their children; that even where schools exist, as they do in our neighbourhood, they never enforced the attendance of the children, and never took any pains to procure education for them; so that it was necessary not only to explain to them that it was their duty, but to make it their immediate and direct interest.
Q. In many cases, are not the parents jealous of their children being better educated than themselves? Do they not dislike it?
A. I have never seen that feeling.
Mr. Ashworth.—And I have never seen it.
Q. Then it is indifference on their parts, not dislike?
A. Indifference, rather than dislike.
Mr. Thomson.—The lower classes are not sensible of the advantages of education.
Mr. Ashworth.—I have generally found them so ignorant, as not to know the disadvantages they laboured under. It is to be observed, that when a case does occur that an individual can both read and write, and becomes more successful in his business, the rest of the community seldom refer his success to his education, but to some other cause, such as superior conduct; and very often attribute the whole of it to what they call a gift of intellect. The great objection which I have to the mode in which education is now provided in the manufacturing districts, is that it is given on Sundays. Too many of the young people are brought up with the feeling, that they have performed their duties by simply attending a school, and not a place of worship, on the Sabbath day; and at a great number of those schools, but little of real religious instruction is given. None but the Church teaches religion; the Church does teach the fundamental principles of religion; but you cannot find any others that do so. I feel it to be lamentable, that the Sabbath should be the only day in the week devoted to receiving instruction—that we rob the Sabbath of its peculiar service, in order that we may devote the whole of the working days to work. At the same time, the instruction to which the appropriate duties of the Sabbath are sacrificed, is not such as best fits the child for its employment during the week. The result is, that the children receive neither good social, nor good religious instruction.
What I wish would be, that sufficient secular instruction should be given in the working days, and that such instruction should be given to them on the Sabbath as might be peculiar to their religious profession.
I have seen the evil, in many cases, of persons growing up to manhood, and feeling satisfied in their moral duty by simply attending at a Sunday school, and not attaching themselves to any religious body or profession. I speak of this now, not from any isolated case, but generally as an evil growing up to be combated in a succeeding generation.
Q. I think the chapel connected with your school is Independent?
A. We have three. I speak now looking at Bolton, where there are 9000 children educated out of a population of 54,000; and, as Mr. Thomson has previously said, the schools where writing is taught are much followed: on the other hand, some of the promoters of such schools, joining with me in opinion that the Sabbath day is too much devoted to secular education, have shown a wish to abolish writing in their schools, and those schools have consequently sunk in the estimation of the scholars.
Q. Would you yourself consider writing as too secular?
Mr. Ashworth.—I should decidedly say, too secular for Sunday. At the same time, my religious profession have no Sunday schools.* They hold that the Sabbath should be wholly devoted to its peculiar service.
Mr. Thomson.—If the schools of the Established Church would dispense with a peculiar test as to their weekly schools, that is, would admit the children of other denominations, without compelling them to learn the Catechism,—and their own Sunday schools, and the Sunday schools of each sect of Christians were made schools for religious instruction,—it would be a great improvement.
Q. But according to your scheme of an evening school for only two hours on two days in the week, would it be possible to give a sufficient quantity of mere intellectual instruction, if the Sunday were wholly devoted to religious and moral instruction?
Mr. Thomson.—This is leaving out my proposal of the children going till seven years of age to an infant school, and for three years afterwards to a national or British school.
Mr. Ashworth.—I may further say, I have tried most perseveringly evening schools, and so long as I attended them personally, success resulted; but when it was left to the inclination of the parents and the children, without my almost compulsory superintendence, it fell away.
Q. I was told at Manchester, that the children in the cotton factories were, on the whole, better educated than the children of the same class in other employments: do you think that it is so?
Mr. Ashworth.—As respects the children of English parents, the children in cotton factories are not better educated than those in other factory employments in Lancashire; because the education which they receive is not peculiar to the cotton manufacture. But as far as my own experience goes, I should say, that the factory children are better educated than children in other parts of the country; certainly better than the children of the agricultural labourers. The manufacturing parents are, as I have already stated, indifferent to the education of their children. The agricultural parents are often positively hostile. In a part of the south, which I have frequently visited, parents have often asked, “Will my boys be any better ploughmen or spade-labourers for learning to read and write?” A school which was established there by a near connexion of my own, on his own estate, and at his own expense, was very unwillingly attended, and only in obedience to his express desire; and so unpopular was education in the neighbourhood, that a clergyman used his influence to prevent the attendance of the children at the school, although no sectarian religious instruction was given to the children; and there was no Sunday school. The clergyman and his wife actually went from door to door, to forbid their going. There is a feeling in that district, that education would spoil the labouring classes. We cannot combat this prejudice throughout the whole country, without the aid of the Legislature.
Q. There is another subject upon which I wish for Mr. Ashworth’s and Mr. Thomson’s opinions. I have stated in my letters to Mr. Poulett Thomson, that it was represented to us that a great number of prosecutions had been brought under the Factory Act, for mere formal offences. I have stated that the manufacturers complained to us that a master may be called before a magistrate, exposed, and fined, for overworking a child, because a child has remained a minute too long within the walls of the mill, from heedlessness, or from dislike of being turned out in the snow, or, perhaps, as part of a conspiracy to make the Act intolerable. I have also said, that they object to being liable to be accused, convicted, and fined, for making false entries in the time-book, because one of 80 children has one day come at half-past eight, and gone at half-past four, instead of coming at eight and going at four, the hours fixed for it, and entered in the time-book on the supposition that they had been adhered to; and that it is to avoid this danger that the relay system had been generally unattempted or disused. I have also said, that the manufacturers have objected to being convicted and fined for neglecting the education of the children, because they had been unable to force a child to school, or have allowed one to work without a regular certificate of school attendance; that they say the children will work, and will not go to school; and that the mill-owner, whose time is filled with other things, cannot employ it in preventing 80 urchins from truancy. In a letter which I had the day before yesterday from Mr. Horner, he states his disbelief that any mill-occupier has ever been fined for such offences as the two first, and his conviction that no punishment had been inflicted except for wilful violations of the substance of the law. What is your opinion on these statements?
Mr. Ashworth.—I do not personally know of any cases of such convictions; but we conceive ourselves liable to them, inasmuch as we are obliged to keep an account at the mill of the time of the children coming and going,—neglect of which subjects us to a penalty. Again, we send the children to a school at about ten minutes’ distance; the schoolmaster gives a certificate of the attendance of those children at the school: if we have not that certificate we are liable to a penalty; and again, we are liable to a penalty if a child has been only an hour, or an hour and a half, at school, instead of two hours.
Q. But do you employ the children without a certificate?
A.We do employ them without a certificate, when they are not possessed of one, otherwise the machinery must remain idle. It is utterly impossible for any manufacturer to employ a moderate number of hands without being liable to a penalty every day.
Q. What proportion do you suppose of your hands, speaking generally, have certificates?
A. 10 per cent. require certificates.
Q. Are you able to comply with the requisitions of the Act, as to the entries in the time-book?
A. Of the time of their coming in the morning, and our driving them away, we are; but as respects the intermediate time of their going out of the mill to the school, and their return from the school to the mill, we are not able to control their attendance.
Q. Therefore, in point of fact, you are liable to prosecution, from some source or another, for almost all the children you employ.
A. Yes; as to the fifty that go in and out of our mill, we are liable every day to penalties, which might be enforced against us, on proofs derived from our own records. This plan gives the superintendents great power of annoyance, if we were to thwart them; and although I do not know of any particular cases of conviction, for mere formal offences, still the general opinion is, that it is within the power of any superintendent to obtain a conviction from any manufacturer. It is the general feeling, that we are entirely in the hands of the superintendent, by his having so very many points upon which he can enforce a penalty under regulations made by his superior, which it is almost imposssible literally to observe; and although I do not know personally of any such convictions, it is the general opinion that such convictions have taken place.
Mr. Thomson.—I know that the masters complain, that convictions have taken place upon the most frivolous accusations.
Q. Do you think that the substitution of a test for education, instead of the education clauses, would effect the object, without the inconvenience?
A. Mr. Ashworth.—I think that it would be, inasmuch as it would then become the interest of the parents to see to the education of their children; at present they feel averse to the small degree of compulsion which is now exercised over them. The answers of many of our men, when reproved for the irregular attendance of their children at school, have been to that effect.
Q. Would it be an improvement if the master were altogether exonerated, and the parent only fined.
Mr. Ashworth.—In such cases the school, and the schoolmaster, would have to be provided by some other authority; at present, the responsibility as to providing a school rests in effect with the master. The present law enforces the attendance of the scholars, but not their proficiency; and I know many cases where the attendance is merely nominal, and little or no education is attempted to be enforced.
Q. Your school appeared to me, when I visited it, to be conducted by an excellent master, and to be efficient; do you find that the goodness of the education thus supplied, increases, or rather creates a wish in the children to attend it, and in the parents to send them?
A. The system we have adopted, which is that of the British and Foreign School Society, renders the studies of the children much less irksome; and when the attendance is entire, not mixed with mill labour, the children attend very cheerfully, but those who belong to the mills, go for short periods, are compelled to wash, and clean themselves previous to entering the school, and then immediately enter their classes, and attend to rather a laborious mental duty for two hours, therefore feel averse to it; we have more truants from those who come from the mill, than from all our other scholars put together, although the number from the mill is only one-fourth of the whole.
r. clay, printer, bread-street-hill.
[* ]Mr. Thomson’s print-works, at Primrose, near Clithero, are among the most extensive in the kingdom.
[* ]Mr. Ashworth is a member of the Society of Friends.