Parliamentary Testimony: Evidence Given Before the Sadler Committee

[Click on image to enlarge] In 1832, Member of Parliament Michael Sadler initiated and chaired a parliamentary investigation of the conditions of work in textile factories. The evidence collected, which extends to many volumes, consists of interviews like the following. As a result of the investigation, laws were passed limiting the number of hours women and children could be employed in textile factories.


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. >> note 1

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

What were your usual hours of labour 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 anytime 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.

— Yes.

Girls as well as boys?
— Yes.

Have you ever been strapped?
— Yes.

— Yes.

Is the strap used so as to hurt you excessively?
— Yes, it is.

Were you strapped if you were too much fatigued to keep up with the machinery?
— Yes; the overlooker I was under was a very severe man, and when we had been fatigued and worn out, and had not baskets to put the bobbins in, we used to put them in the window bottoms, and that broke the panes, sometimes, and I broke one one time, and the overlooker strapped me on the arm, and it rose a blister, and I ran home to my mother.

How long did you work at Mr. Busk's?
— Three or four years.

Where did you go then?
— Benyon's factory.

That was where you were about 10 years?
— Yes.

What were you then?
— A weigher in the card room.

How long did you work there?
— From half-past 5 till 8 at night.

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

Any time at breakfast or drinking?
— Yes, for the card rooms, but not for the spinning rooms, a quarter of an hour to get their breakfast.

And the same for their drinking?
— Yes.

So that the spinners in that room worked from half-past 5 till 9 at night?
— Yes.

Having only forty minutes' rest?
— Yes.

The carding room is more oppressive than the spinning department?
— Yes, it is so dusty they cannot see each other for dust.

It is on that account they are allowed a relaxation of those few minutes?
— Yes; the cards get so soon filled up with waste and dirt, they are obliged to stop them or they would take fire.

There is a convenience in that stoppage?
— Yes, it as much for their benefit as for the working people.

When it was not necessary no such indulgence was allowed?
— No.

— No.

Were the children beat up to their labour there?
— Yes.

With what?
— A strap; I have seen the overlooker go to the top end of the room, where the little girls hug >> note 2 the can to the backminders; he has taken a strap, and a whistle in his mouth, and sometimes he has got a chain and chained them, and strapped them all down the room.

All the children?
— No, only those hugging the cans.

What was his reason for that?
— He was angry.

Had the children committed any fault?
— They were too slow.

Were the children excessively fatigued at that time?
— Yes, it was in the afternoon.

Were the girls struck so as to leave marks upon their skin?
— Yes, they have had black marks many times, and their parents dare not come to him about it, they were afraid of losing their work.

If the parents were to complain of this excessive ill-usage, the probable consequence would be the loss of the situation of the child?
— Yes.

In what part of the mill did you work?
— In-the card-room.

It was exceedingly dusty?
— Yes.

Did it affect your health?
— Yes; it was so dusty, the dust got upon my lungs, and the work was so hard; I was middling strong when I went there, but the work was so bad; I got so bad in health, that when I pulled the baskets down, I pulled my bones out of their places.

You dragged the baskets?
— Yes; down the rooms to where they are worked.

And as you had been weakened by excessive labour, you could not stand that labour?
— No.

It has had the effect of pulling your shoulders out?
— Yes; it was a great basket that stood higher than this table a good deal.

How heavy was it?
— I cannot say; it was a very large one, that was full of weights up-heaped, and pulling the basket pulled my shoulders out of its place, and my ribs have grown over it

You continued at that work?
— Yes.

You think that work is too much for children?
— Yes.

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