Framework Knitters – Report of the Commissioners to the House of Lords, 1845.

The main work in Barrow for many years was framework knitting. Whole families rented knitting frames and produced, mostly, hose (or long socks) as a cottage industry. In 1845 the House of Lords appointed Commissioners to investigate the trade at a time when wide frames and increased mechanisation were being introduced in factories. Three Barrow men were invited to give evidence, and this is reproduced here. It seems that they had genuine grievances, but that not much changed after the commissioners had made their report. This is a fascinating insight into the lives, and language, of Barrow people in the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign. There are also intriguing suggestions of corruption within the charitable institutions of the village!

Some explanation of the terms used might help:

6s. 3d. means six shillings and three pence. A shilling is equivalent to 5p, and there were 12 pennies to a shilling. So, for example, 6s. 3d. would be about 31p today.

Waste is basically fluff. The yarn sheds fluff as it is woven but, since the yarn was bought by weight, poor quality yarn will make fewer products while costing the knitter the same.

Spurious items are those made in factories where, for example, a sock heel was cut with scissors and then stitched, rather than being properly woven around the corner. Also, a frame knitter would shape the sock up the leg by increasing the number of stitches, whereas a spurious item was made the same size all the way up and then dampened and stretched to give the shape. Spurious items would fall to bits quickly, and would shrink or go out of shape when washed. However, the companies often sold them as genuinely wrought (worked) to unsuspecting customers.

Trucking is the practice of paying in goods rather than money, or of using tokens which have to be spent in an overpriced company shop.

Allotments would have allowed the families to grow their own food, but the time involved would have been hard to come by, as you will read.

Volume 24 of the commissioners’ report contains all the Leicestershire evidence, and runs to 500 pages. The numbers before each question start at 0001 and extend to 8353 by the end of the book.

John Neale, of Barrow-upon-Soar, Frame-work Knitter, Wrought-hose Branch, examined.

Were you deputed to come here and give evidence on this inquiry?—Yes, I was, with the other witnesses, Ellis and Spittlehouse, to give evidence on behalf of the frame-work knitters of Barrow.
How many frames are there in Barrow ?—About 250.
Are they all narrow frames, or are there any wide ones ?—All wrought frames, with the exception of one.
Are they in full work now, or only partially ?—Full work. I believe to the best of my knowledge they are.
Do you work direct to the warehouse ?—Yes.
Is your frame in your own house ?—Yes.
How many frames have you in it ?—I have five in my shop.
What are they employed in ?—They are all on wrought hose, angola, and what we call mohair, and cotton.
Are there journeymen working the others, or are they your own children ?—My own children, my wife, my wife's father, and myself.
What are you making ?—I am making wrought hose and mohair.
Women's or men's ?—I hardly know what we call them: the split size. What they make of them I am not prepared to say exactly; what we call the women's width, and slender men's length.
What are they paid a dozen?—7s. 9d. per dozen.
And what do you reckon a fair week's work on that?—On the average I reckon a dozen a-week ; and I believe that is not the average of all. I reckon a dozen to be about the average of my own earnings.
And do you consider that a fair week?—Yes.
Is not that a small quantity?—Yes; but it is what I consider for myself, one week with another.
And what outgoings have you from that ?—3d. for the frame-rent and 8d. for the seam¬ing; and there are some small outgoings, which I am not prepared exactly to say, for needles, and so on. This time of year we do not need candles; in winter-time it is about 3d. a-week for candles.
Have you generally full work, or are you subject to stint much?—Of late we have had full work; but some 12 months, or rather better, ago, we were not fully employed; it was with difficulty that we could obtain employment.
In periods of stint, do you generally pay full frame-rent?—Yes, the full frame-rents, let the quantity be what it will; if not above half a week's work, there are always the full frame-rent and charges to pay.
And that is the general practice here, is it?—Yes, without any exception.
Do you work to a Loughborough house?—Yes, to Cartwright and Warner, and have done so for upwards of 20 years.
Have you any account to give me of the general condition of the hands at Barrow?
—I have not made out any list.
What do you consider their general state now ?—I am not probably so well acquainted as some of my brethren are, who will give you evidence; they will answer the question rather better than myself.
Is there any particular grievance or hardship you consider you labour under in reference to your trade ?—Yes, I am of a decided opinion that the grievance we are labouring under at the present time is as respects the spuriousness of the work that is made. Since I began I find that we have regularly been on the decline very much, and our prices have been reduced in consequence of that; not only the prices being reduced, but we have not had full labour.
How many years are you speaking of now since the introduction of that spurious branch as affecting you ?—I am not prepared to say the year exactly, but I might say eight or ten years. I have to say this, that since I have worked to this present warehouse my earnings are not more than half what they used to be when I first began, and I am sure we have to be more diligent and labour more hours.
And have your charges increased in any way?—No, the charges are about the same they used to be; only twice in the year the employer used to give us a week's rent, but we have not that privilege now, but it used to be since I worked to them.
Is any allowance made you for waste, or anything of that sort ?—Nothing at all.
Are you liable to make much waste ?—Yes, we are liable to waste, be as cautious and careful as ever we can.
To what extent do you think that affects your earnings?—I am not prepared to say that; I have not thought on the subject so much as my brethren.
Are there any allotments of land at Barrow?—No, not at the present time, I believe.
Have any efforts been made to get bits of land ?—Yes, I believe there have.
Do you know why they did not succeed?—No, I do not, for I have not heard any¬
thing of it very lately.
Is there any free-school at Barrow ?—Yes.
Are the frame-work knitters able to take advantage of it to send their children?— Under some circumstances I believe they are. I am not prepared to say now whether there are any go to it; but I think the conditions of the school, if they were acted upon accord¬ing to the donor's will, are held out to the frame-work knitters' children. The reason why not so many go is, the depression of trade. We frame-work knitters, when our children get to that age they ought to go to school to learn, have to put them to work to earn us a little money to help us get our bread. I and my father have seven children, but none of mine have ever been, for I have been obliged to put them to earn something as soon as they could and before they ought. In consequence of that, they have not had the education they ought to have had; they have not enjoyed the privilege of the gentleman who left the money for the purpose.
Do any of them attend Sunday-school?—Yes; I am a member of the Wesleyan con¬nexion, and have been for 30 years. They have a school, and there is one at the Established Church. We have scholars to the amount of 200.
Is that the general education they receive, the Sunday-school?—Yes, the major part of them; and I am a scholar, but not to that extent as some, but chiefly most of my educa¬tion in my younger days I received in the Sunday-school.
Are the wages paid in ready money to the hands at Barrow?—Yes, they are.
There is no trucking there?—None at all. No trucking at the house where I work, and I think we have nobody in Barrow that does truck.
Is there anything you wish to add to your evidence ?—None that, I know of.
Is there anything you look to as a remedy that you wish to speak to?—No; my brethren will be better able to speak to that, I think, as I was rather taken by surprise.
[The Witness withdrew.]

Samuel Spittlehouse, of Barrow, Frame-work Knitter, Wrought-hose Branch, examined.

Were you deputed with the last witness to give evidence here on behalf of the frame¬work knitters of Barrow ?—Yes, I was.
Is the number of frames about 250, as stated by the last witness, correct?—Yes, it is quite correct.
At present the hands are tolerably well employed ?—Generally so, as far as regards the work; I believe there are none out of employment, if my memory serves me right.
What is the general manufacture of the place?—The angola, merino chiefly, with a few exceptions, employed under Messrs. Cartwright and Warner. I must say not more than 30 hands, but what are employed by that house in that branch.
Therefore they have been tolerably well as to work, you say ?—Yes; trade has gene¬rally been very brisk with Messrs. Warner, and in consequence they filled the town with work.
Have wages been steady with you?—There has been a reduction of wages in one frame; that is, there has been a putting in of extra labour at the same price, taking out leads, giving extra-sized stuff; so getting a benefit by what I call pilfering out of the poor man's pocket. Such hose as were 15 months ago at 8s. 6d. a dozen, that extra work put in them amounts to nearly 9d. a dozen, and now they are paid 7s. 9d. I am prepared to say that within the last 15 months.
Do you state that there are greater lengths required?—The lengths are much greater. There may be some little advance, but they have a certain way of taking out leads and reducing the price, and the putting stouter stuff, and giving them out for the same size; and what they allowed for shifting four stitches and splicing the heel makes 6d a dozen, and no allowance for them, that makes 9d., as well as 6d., that makes Is. 3d. within the last 15 months, or from that to 18; and the doubling at the bottoms, that is, working two threads, that used to be allowed 6d. more. I have had that, and now they allow nothing.
So that will be a positive reduction in money amount and extra labour required, making the total extent of reduction you have stated ?—Yes, quite so.
Are those introductions of additional labour in the work made with the consent of the hands, or imposed upon the hands without their consent?—They are imposed on the hands under defraud, speaking of the least honest. They allowed extra for it formerly. I remember one instance in Mr. Warner's warehouse where they allowed it. Next season one of the hands spoke about what was allowed, and he said,  No, they could not now allow anything of the sort; trade was bad, and they could not get shut of the goods, except at a reduction of prices; that it was not in their power. It was not by the consent of the hands, they were compelled to do it by the necessity of poverty; and if they did not do it, other hands who were out of employment, who had not the common necessaries of life, would have done it; and there was the threat that if we did not do it, they would take away the work. Mr. Cartwright said,  There are plenty who stand ready for your machine.
And under those circumstances you were obliged to submit to it?—Quite so.
Are the frames mostly worked by journeymen there ?—There are very few journey¬men there. Generally speaking, the frames are employed by the master of the family. There are a few journeymen ; I should think not more than 30 in the whole village.
They are chiefly heads of families working the frames; will they average, as they have been stated, from five to seven?—I should think I might say from three to five, one shop with another; I think some may have six and seven, but many have got three; I think it is somewhere thereabout.
Are there many females working in those frames ?—Not so many females are employed in the parish of Barrow as in Sileby. The number of females is very few with us. The people, the greater part of them, have sent them out to service, in different stages of life. Many of the females are employed in lace-running.
Do the frame-work knitters continue to bring their children up to the trade ?—Well, their circumstances in life are such, they are compelled to put them to it as soon as thev can work almost, in consequence of not having anything else to put them to; and that must tend to keep them down. I do not know above two exceptions or three, in Barrow, of people who are situated so as to put their children to any other branch. Some have gone to the lime-pits, the hardest labour performed by man.
There are only two exceptions?—There are very few exceptions indeed.
Have they generally given their children any education?—Very few; for as soon as they are seven or eight years of age they are obliged to work. I can speak of myself. My father had the rearing of 11 of us, and I was the youngest but one. I was never allowed to go, because it was not in his power to send me to any school except the Sunday-school. I never went to a day-school to use a pen in my life. I was put to frame-work knitting between eight and nine years of age.
In the frame ?—Yes.
Is that now the general condition of the people there?—Yes, I am quite prepared to say so. Before they can work we generally draw them up to the way of winding as I was. When I used to go to a little bit of a day-school where I learned the alphabet, then I was conveyed on to the place where I wound, I was not big enough to sit down; I had to stand behind the wheel to wind a quantity of yarn for the purposes of my brother and sister to work up, they being rather older than myself.
Are there any peculiar grievances under which you consider the frame-work knitters are labouring ?—I believe that the greatest grievance, and the cause of the reduction of prices bringing us to this low ebb, spring mainly from the work being made in such an abundance, frames making two, three, and four at once, and the scissors. The scissors were the first com¬mencement of it, because until the scissors were introduced, work was never carried out to such a length as is now performed.
What do you think is the average of the earnings of the parish of Barrow?—I am quite on the outside when I say, taking old and young, male and female, it is 2s. 6d. a week.
And what do you think the average earnings of a fully employed: able-bodied man would be ?—I should say not more than 6s.
What are the average hours of working so far as you know?—14 hours actual em¬ployment, allowing two hours for meals, making 16 hours in the whole.
Are those the hours you work yourself ?—I regularly work 15 hours.
Do you find any delay in getting stuff from the warehouse ?—No, not much: it takes us three parts of a day, in consequence of the hands being so numerous ; it takes three parts of the day generally for a person who has to come to the warehouse before they get back to their employment, so that it is little more than five days out of the six for actual work. Then Monday you have to begin the work, and it occupies about half a day to get the-machine ready by oiling it and getting, the article ready for manufacture. It is my opinion, that what would be beneficial to the trade would be a tax, or something of that kind, laid on the wide frames. I have no doubt that would work them out, that is my decided opinion. The big manufacturers have all those wide frames, and get the work done in such abundance, and we are not in the possession of the common necessaries of life, while they are getting very rich. That amendment might be adopted, and would have a beneficial effect. I believe the hands themselves have a deal of hard work, but they are very little more remunerated for their labour than what we are. If they get 3d. or 6d. more it comes out of their carcase; they are com¬pelled to have extra support because their labour is so very hard.
Is there anything else you would wish to add?—On a former occasion they used to allow a quarter of an ounce in the pound for waste; but that system has not been carried out for a number of years, and many certain persons have paid for waste, and been bad of their accounts. I have been compelled to pay to a very great extent; yet they have objected to taking any waste in except what is workable. If you were to enter our shop you would soon be convinced of the truth of our statement, from the quantity of waste lying by us, and by seeing how it flies from our bobbins in the course of one day, and then you would be able to make an estimate of what it, would be in the course of six or twelve months.
8151. You have no ticket from the warehouse, or anything of that sort'?
There are no middle-men at Barrow ?—No, no middle-men in the parish.
Do you know anything of the allotment system at Barrow ?—No, I do not know any-
thing particularly; there has been a club or society formed in some means to use efforts to obtain a small quantity of land. There is a certain portion of land in the liberty left, 32 acres, for the poor; it is occupied generally by the biggest farmers in the town, and they have pro¬mised that we should have it in allotments. It is not performed at present this year, nor will it be any other, without they are forced to it.
Who gets the rent of the 32 acres?—They have given no account of it for 17 years; no account is carried on in any shape.
Is there no annual distribution of the proceeds of the 32 acres?—?No, there is not. And there is something else; there is a property in the ground and stone sold to one person, and he has paid money to the amount of £150 besides the rent. That is given no account of; that is out of the 32 acres.
And they have sold stone out of some portion of this land, you mean?—Yes, they have sold the stone.
Are you sure there is no annual account given of it?—No; I have been in the parish from my cradle, and have heard nothing of it; they say it has been given towards supplying the expense of the poor, and not given to us.
Do you know whether Barrow was visited by the Charity Commissioners a few years ago?—1 cannot say; I have no recollection of it; I think not; I think I can positively say not one came to Barrow. There were £20 given by a gentleman besides, when he was alive, that has completely been lost; it ought to be given away on St Thomas's day. But that has no reference to the 32 acres. It is the general opinion that there is as much charity land and donations in Barrow as would support the greatest part of the poor, if it was done rightly by. There are two noble institutions as hospitals, and a deal of charities about Barrow.
Are the present trustees of the charity of the 32 acres living at Barrow?—Yes, they are both of Barrow.
Has any formal application been made for this land—the 32 acres?—Yes; and the trustees have promised to comply, and they have said they would give the parties occupying it notice, and one got notice, for three acres, last Lady-day; but they used it only as a blind.
[ The Witness withdrew.]

Joseph Ellis, of Barrow, Frame-work Knitter, Wrought-hose Branch, -examined.

You were deputed with the other witnesses to give evidence before this Commission?
—I was.
What are the stockings you hold in your hands?—These are the articles I am making at the present time,
What stockings are those called?—These are merino, worked in a 26-gauge frame.
Those are properly fashioned throughout?—They are.
How many dozen can you make in a week?—-By working very hard I can make 1 1/2 dozen.
And what do you .get a dozen making them?—6s. 3d. first hand.
And what are your outgoings ?—About 2s. 6d.
Have you heard the evidence given by the other two witnesses?—I have, and I can give you no further intelligence.
You think it is correct, as far as it regards the condition of the people at Barrow ?—
Yes, I do; I do not know I can add anything to what they have said, except this :—I brought
these stockings for the purpose of telling you the price they were before the strike of 1814.
Those stockings then were about 19s. a dozen, and now we only receive 6s. 3d. a dozen for working
the same article.
Is the fashion about the same?—Yes.
What would the weight of them be?—About 3 lbs. 12 ozs.
Do you agree with the last witness, that the spurious work has cut up your trade?
—Yes; that is the sole ruination of our trade, the scissors and the big frames. I quite agree that the taxation would do a deal of good in that respect.

[The Witness withdrew.]

Keith Chaplin. 01509 412196

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