Henry Harrisse.

Britain at work; a pictorial description of our national industries online

. (page 10 of 39)
Online LibraryHenry HarrisseBritain at work; a pictorial description of our national industries → online text (page 10 of 39)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

At the outset the manufacturers made ladies
hats as well as those for men and boys ; but
as the years passed the ladies hat trade was
transferred to Luton and Dunstable, and
St. Albans devoted itself more especially
to straw gear for the mere males. It is
argued by the merchants in the cathedral
city that the St. Albans trade is more
reliable and remunerative than that of Luton,
though that of Luton is more extensive, and
the reason assigned is that masculine hats
are not so much affected by fashion as are
those for ladies. The St. Albans manu
facturers, by the way, have not quite a

rhoto: Cane/I & Co., Ltd.


prognostications were, fortunately for Luton"
and the district, proved to be unfounded,
and from the time of the introduction of
machinery into the work the story of the
town has been one of continuous progress ;
so much s:> that, whereas in the middle of
last century the population stood at only
a few thousands, there arc to-day close upon
40,000 residents. These are not wholly
dependent upon the straw trade, however,
for there are various other industries, and
the number of these is constantly being
increased in consequence of the zeal and
enterprise of the leading public men.

So far as St. Albans is concerned, it has
to be said that the Straw Hat trade was
taken up there something like forty years
ago and that it has flourished exceedingly.

monopoly in the department of men s and
boys hats, for at both Luton and Dunstable
considerable attention has been devoted to
this branch during the last few years, when
the hot summers have led to the donning of
straw hats by all sorts and conditions of
men, and this attention has brought a
large increase of trade. There is much
force in the suggestion as to the trade
of Luton being dependent upon the
smile or the frown of Fashion. This fact,
coupled with the proximity of the town to
London, docs not permit of anything being"
" behind the fair."

Any review of the straw trade which
omitted allusion to the local bleaching and
dyeing industry would be incomplete. This
has been brought to a high state of perfection



: Casse l & Co., Lid.


in Luton and district, and the English dyers
of plait can challenge the competition of the
\vorld. Year by year the principal firms
seem to improve in regard to the exquisite
tints which they succeed in procuring.
Large quantities of straw plait are annually
sent to Luton from abroad to be dyed,
and are re-exported to America, Canada,
Australia, German} , I ranee and elsewhere.
In regard to the fashions in hats it ought to
be said that though there has been a run at
times on the fancy varieties, the sailor shape
has always been popular with the ladies. In
the matter of patterns and combinations of
materials there has been an entire change since
the tijne when the Straw Hat and Bonnet

trade came into prominence. Formerly a
manufacturer could go on almost indefinitely
making up hats from a specific shape ; nowa
days it is a common thing for orders to be
received by the merchants for single hats, this
necessarily rendering it incumbent upon the
makers to be constantly inventing new pat
terns. Originality is as much an essential in
the Straw Hat trade as it is in the fabrication
of the plait wherewith to make the hats, and
it is to the skilful designer that the bulk of the
profits go. The straw trade is one that affords
ample scope for enterprise, and that those en
gaged in it in the past have been pushful is
proved by the fact that very large fortunes
have been made by the principal traders.




A SIM FLIC statement in figures will often
give to a reader a better idea of the

extent of a business undertaking than
pages of descriptive writing. But when the
figures run into billions the limits of the
human understanding are almost reached,
and the average man experiences only a
sense of bewilderment when he sees the
numbers in print.

The billions of packets, of course, imply
a huge machinery which is at work day and
night throughout the British Isles, and a
staff of workers with whom the most minute
division of labour is a necessity, in order to
produce that smooth and rapid movement
on which the whole business depends. The
counter clerk who sells the penny stamp,
and the postman who delivers the letter,
are the two officials who are known best
to the public, but the different officers who
conduct the operations which come between
the transactions mentioned are almost un
known outside the walls of their own offices.
In the London district alone there are 5,414


persons employed in the sorting of postal
packets, and there arc 658 persons engaged
in superintending this particular \vork. The
postmen of London number 8,776, and there
is a miscellaneous postal force, including
mail officers, messengers, etc., of 1,753
persons. These are all employed in the
work of the delivery and the despatch of
"His Majestv s Mails" in London.

A very large proportion of these officials
are at work at the head office, St. Martin s-
le-Grand, or at the sorting offices. Mount
Pleasant, and here is to be seen on a large
scale the same routine which oes on at
every district branch and head
United Kingdom.

What becomes of a
disappeared down the

ffice in the

letter after


which swallows thousands
dail at

it has

of postal packets
St. Martin s-le-Grand ? The first
process is verv simple. The letters are
taken from the collecting box, and are
turned out just as they are on to what is
called the "facing" table. Here the letters


are " faced " : that is to say, they are placed
in such a position that the postage label is
in the right-hand corner, and is ready for
the stamper. At this table the first attempt
to divide the correspondence is made, and
large letters, packets, and newspapers are
weeded out for separate treatment. Then
the letters are removed to the stamping
tables, where they are impressed by ma
chinery with a stamp indicating the time

six p.m., and, given favourable conditions
of weather, it will be delivered at the
Muckle - Flagga Lighthouse on Thursday

The letter is dropped into the box, and
goes through the various processes we have
described : is sorted into the Scotch division ;
is sub-sorted into a pigeon-hole, and after
wards into a bundle labelled " Aberdeen
forward." The bundle is dropped into a
bag inscribed with the words " London to
Aberdeen," and one of the familiar red vans
conveys the bag to Euston. The bag is
handed over to the sorters in charge of the
two Post Office sorting vehicles, which are
run in the down Special Mail Train leaving
Euston for the North at 8.30 p.m. On this
train is a mail carriage that runs direct to
Aberdeen, in which our letter is placed, and

f/ioto: // .(A //. Saimis.-.n, Shetland.


and place of posting, and the
postage stamp is cancelled.
New electric motor stamping
machines are now used for this
purpose. The stamped letters
are passed on to the sorting
tables, where they are divided
into sections representing the
great railway lines of the king
dom London, Scotland, Ireland, and several
large provincial towns receiving special treat
ment. A survival of old mail-coach days exists
in the name which is given to the various
sections into which letters are sorted. They
are called " roads," and on the sorting frames
will be found inscriptions such as Chester
Road, Carlisle Road, or Worcester Road.

As an object le-son in the work of the
Post Office, let us trace the progress of a
letter from London to the Muckle-Elatrira

o r~>

Lighthouse, on the island named Muckle-
Flagga, to the north of the island of Unst,
Shetland, the most northerly point in the
British Isles. We post our letter at St.
Martin s-le-Grand on a Sunday night at


Aberdeen is reached at 7.35 a.m. on Monday.
So far the course of the letter has been
simple and rapid, the remaining stages will
show how much considerations of weather
still affect postal operations in many parts
of the country, and how dependent the
Post Office is sometimes on quite primitive
means of locomotion.

The bag containing the Shetland letter
on arrival at Aberdeen is quickly conveyed
to the Aberdeen Post Office, where it is
opened, and the letters are again sub-divided.
The letter for Muckle-Flagga finds its way
into a pigeon-hole labelled " Lerwick," and
an experienced sorter then checks all the
packets for the Shetland Isles very carefully,

9 2


as, in consequence of the remoteness of the
group, serious delay would ensue if any
were mis-sent. Then they are tied in
separate bundles, and are placed in not
an ordinary mail bag but a strong water
proof sack, labelled " Aberdeen to Lcrwick,"
and at 1.45 the same day (Monday) the
bag is conveyed to the mail steamer, which
starts at 2 p.m. for Scalloway, on the west
side of Shetland, where it arrives about
2 p.m. on Tuesday. The mails are removed
from the vessel, and placed on a mail coach,
for conveyance to Lerwick, on the east side
of the island, which at this point is six

in an hour, the distance
being three miles. But
the tide in Yell Sound
has a speed of nine miles
an hour, and, in a gale
of wind, is the terror of

Ulsta is the landing-
place on the other side,
and we are now in the
island of Yell. A mail
car takes our letter five
and a half miles to Buna-
voe, and another car from
there to Cullivoe, twenty
miles further on, and the
letter is opposite the
island of Unst at 3 p.m.
on Wednesday. The
ferryman who plies be
tween the islands of Yell
and Unst, across a channel
one mile in width, takes charge of the letter,
and he should arrive at Tranavoe, in Unst,
about 3.30 p.m. There a mail car awaits to
carry the letter eleven and a half miles across
the island of Unst, and it arrives at Harolds-
wick at 6.30 p.m. the same day.

And the last stage of the letter arrives
when the following morning a foot postman
starts for the shore station of the Muckle-
Flagga Lighthouse, where he delivers the
packet. But here it may lie for weeks
before the people on the shore can com
municate with those in the lighthouse. The
British Isles in these northern latitudes end


miles wide. Our bag is opened at Lerwick, in grand and dangerous rocks, and it is

and once more the Shetland letter undergoes
the process of sub-sorting. It is stamped,
and placed in another bag, labelled " Lerwick
to Haroldswick," in the island of Unst. The
bag is conveyed by the Lerwick and Moss-

upon one of these, rising to a height of
two hundred feet, that the Muckle-Flagga
Lighthouse is erected, the real Ultima Thule
of North Britain.

In order to observe more closely another

bank mail car, leaving Lerwick at 9.15 p.m. department of Post Office work, let us get

Tuesday. The Shetland Isles are seventy- back to London. Travelling post offices, in

three miles from north to south, and this which postal work is conducted in trains

stage means a long drive with a break of which are in motion, run every night from

a few hours at Voe. Mossbank, which is
on Yell Sound, the dangerous channel that
separates the island of Yell from the

Kuston Square to Aberdeen and Holyhcad,
from Paddington to Penzance, from Waterloo
to Southampton and Dorchester, from Bristol

Shetland mainland, is reached at 7.30 a.m. to Newcastle, and in Ireland between Dublin

on Wednesday. Here the bag for Harolds- and Belfast and Dublin and Cork. At

wick is put on a ferry boat, which starts at different points on the route of each train

8 a.m., and is due to reach the other side are erected standards and nets for the



despatch and receipt of mails. Bags are
dropped, and others are collected, as the
mail train rushes along. The bag to be
forwarded is suspended from a projecting
arm at the station ; is so knocked off by
a projection from the train in full motion
as to fall into a net which is attached to

of letters goes on merrily : the car is fitted
up in all respects like an ordinary sorting
office. The cost of the conveyance of the
mails by railway amounts to more than one
and a-half million pounds annually.

The letters posted in London for large
provincial towns, such as Leeds, Liverpool,

the mail carriage, and is for the moment
stretched out to receive it ; while at the
same time the bag to be left behind, being
hung out from the mail carriage, is in like
manner so struck off as to be caught in a
net fixed at the station the whole of the
complex movement being so instantaneous
that the eye cannot follow it.

Inside the travelling post office the sorting


or Bristol, are despatched in bags direct to
these towns, where the postal organisation
follows more or less the lines of the London
head office. Some of the new provincial
head offices are among the finest buildings
in the kingdom. Leeds, in particular,
possesses a magnificent post office. It is
the Central Exchange for the trunk tele
phone wires, and it has, therefore, been



necessary to make special provision for
this department of post office business.
Electricity, indeed, plays a most important
part over the whole building, and the only
portion of the premises to which there is a
supply of gas is the kitchen, where it is
used for cooking purposes. Even in the
heating of the wax used in sealing the mail
ba-j s electricitv is brought into use. The


wax is placed in small copper pans which
rest on electrical hot plates.

The undelivered postal packet is always
a sourc5 of great distress to the Postmaster-
General when he makes his annual report,
and it would seem that either the British
public is growing more careless or its faith
in the omniscience of the Post Office is
increasing. Take, for example, the case of
Leeds, where in one year there were 31,990
letters which could neither be delivered to
the addressees nor returned to the senders.
In other large towns the figures are not less

Property of the value of ^"680,000 was
found in one year in letters opened in the

Returned Letter Offices in the United
Kingdom. Strangest of all phenomena in
the statistics of human frailty is the fact
that 345,690 packets have been posted during
a period of twelve months without an address,
and they actually contained cash and paper
money to the value of nearly ^7,500.

The statistics of the post office in a large
town like Liverpool are interesting. The
population is about 700,000, and in
one ordinary week there were deliv
ered in the district 1,724,938 letters;
716 postmen are employed in the dis
trict; and there are 447 town letter
boxes. Liverpool is an exceptionally
bus\- post office centre, because of
the foreign mails which are made
up here. Those for West Africa
have to be enclosed in waterproof
bags, as at some places they are
thrown overboard, and are washed
ashore through the surf.

The chief differences between Lon
don and a provincial town as far as
the post office is concerned consist
in the cross posts and rural district
systems which are in existence in
the big country offices. In the Liver
pool district there are five district and
twelve sub-district offices, at which
the postmen not only deliver and
collect but stamp and primarily sort
the letters they collect. A country
postman in these districts is a man
from whom much is expected.

Before the year 1897 there- were
hundreds of places which had never
boasted of a free deliver}- of letters. The
inhabitants of man} isolated rural districts
had to make their own arrangements for
getting their letters from the nearest town.
But this is now altered, and the extension
of rural posts is practically complete. The
rural post office is in miniature what the
big town office is, with the important ex
ception that the sorting is here reduced to
a minimum.

This sketch of the work of the Post Office
in the British Isles would be incomplete
without some reference to the mail routes
to the Continent. By far the greater number
of Continental mails go via Dover and Calais,
and by this route goes every week, on Friday



evenings, the Indian mail. The carriage of
the mails by the packet service costs the
Government nearly 25,000 a year, and in
cases of delay the Post Office has the right
to fine the contracting company 5 for
twenty minutes, and > for every additional
fifteen minutes. The London to Dover
mail train has a sorting carriage attached
every night, but on Fridays the number of
basis carried is greatlv in excess of other

o o ^

days. The bags of the

infrequently number over

of which weighs on an

They do not all come

the same train or cross

but they unite at Calais, and cross the

Continent to Brindisi in charge of a man

from the London office.

The total number of persons employed
in the Post Office in the United Kingdom
is over 1/3,000, of whom about 35,ooo are
women. Of these, by far the larger pro-

with his Majesty s mails,
or in addition to telegraph,

Indian mail not
1, 800, each one
average 50 Ib.
down to Dover by
by the same boat,

bank duties.
course, under
special treat
the parcel is

portion deal
either solely

money order, and savings
The parcel post comes, of
our title, but it calls for no
ment, as in so many ways
governed by the same conditions as the
letter, and we have always included it in
the term " postal packet." The number of
parcels conveyed by the Post Office in one
year, according to the most recent return,
is 81,017,000, and a large number of these
are carried on the back of the long-suffering
postman ; yet there are critics of the Post
Office who have complained of the gait of
the average postman ; they have asserted
that he does not carry himself well, that
he seems depressed, and takes a cynical
view of things. Both mentally and
physically he seems overburdened with the
responsibility and the weight of " His
Majesty s Mails."


Cassdl & Co., l.t.i.


9 6


NPROMISING though it may appear,


Lv the production of gas from coal presents
some interesting and, indeed, weirdly
picturesque features.

The essential principle is, of course, the
subjection of certain classes of coal to great
heat in a closed vessel, when a part of the
substance passes off as gas, and can be
collected to burn with a luminous flame at
the end of a pipe. Imagine, therefore, long
lines of small, black, round doors, one line set
above another, in a long, black wall, having
black pipes rising upward from near the
doors, to a long black box at the top of the
wall. The wide roof above is dark and
ding\", and heaps of coal opposite the round
doors add to the prevailing hue. From this
big black cavern the magicians of manu
facturers produce the brilliant artificial light
which is to illuminate so many hours of

Suddenly a group of men come on duty.
One of them swings open a door, and flames


burst wildly forth, lighting up the dingy
building with a weird arid lurid glare ; but
the three men for there are three to a gang
or group who work together here speedily
rake out the fiery hot mass from within, and
it falls through an opening in the floor-
protected by a sheet of iron to the shed
below, where other men are waiting to quench
it with water.

Hissing and steaming, the stuff quickly
cools, and is now known as coke. The small
will be sifted from the large, the small cinder
being known as " breeze." Coke is the coal
from which the gas has been " distilled " or
extracted ; the door whence it came is the
entrance to the retort ; while the building is
known as the Retort House, in which the
coal gas is actually produced.

Having cleared out all the coke, the men
proceed to re-charge the retort. If experi
enced and well up to their duty, they work
with a swing and a rhythm of action which is
good to see. Their object, of course, is to
get the door of that fiery
furnace closed as soon as

While one man, with a
regular sway of his body and
a swing of his arms, throws
one shovelful after another
of coal into the white-hot
opening, his comrades are
filling the scoop. This in
strument is like a long pipe
cut lengthwise midway in
two, and is fitted with a long
cross-handle at the end.

\Yhen it is full the leader
of the group gives the word ;
each of the three men throws
a couple of shovelfuls to the
end of the retort, the leader
grasps the cross-handle, his
companions lift the scoop in
the middle by means of an
iron rod placed underneath,
and it is then run smartly
into the retort over the




rod, turned briskly,
and pulled out empty
with a flourish ! The
whole process is so
deftly and system
atically performed
that probably about
the same amount of
coal is shot into the
retort on each occa
sion. The perform
ance is gone through
twice for each retort,
and by this method
the vessels are
charged according to
their capacity for
yielding the best

T h e w o r k i s

arduous in the great heat, and in large
establishments a group of men are allowed
a spell of rest at the lapse of each half-hour,
their shift of work occupying about eight
hours before they leave. But, again, in some
works machines running on rails in front
of the lines of doors are used to rake out
the glowing coke and re-charge with fresh
coal. Six hours is about the length of time
which the coal is allowed to remain in the
retorts to give off its gas. The retorts are
usually made of the most stubborn fireclay,
and are three inches or so in thickness.
They are built together very solidly over
furnaces, and are almost continuously kept
white-hot. The heat of the furnaces is in
tense, being considerably over 2,000 degrees
Fahr. The temperature may be tested in
an interesting manner by placing a piece of
platinum in the furnace and, when hot, plung
ing it immediately into water ; the rise in
temperature of the water is then taken, and
an approximate estimate formed of the heat
in the furnace.

But we must follow the adventures of the
gas. It rises from the heated coal in the
closed retort, and escapes through the pipes
to the large black box above, which contains
tar water, and is called the hydraulic main.
The pipes dip into the water, and by this
arrangement the gas is prevented from
returning to the retort. Both tar and
water arc condensed from the gas, and an

overflow pipe leads them down to the tar

But the gas itself passes on by a pipe
running out from the overflow pipe above the
tar well to the condensers. These consist of
an arrangement of numerous bent pipes, of
which there are several types, kept cold, their
frigidity causing more tar to be collected, and
from these pipes the tar slowly trickles down
to a tar well. After passing through the
condensers the gas is still very impure, and
has to be washed and scrubbed, and treated
with lime to free it from its ammonia and
sulphuretted hydrogen.

The " washer " consists essentially of a suit
able receptacle containing water, and the gas
is simply sent through this water, which
dissolves some of its impurities ; but in the
" scrubber," through which it next passes, it
is led up a large pipe or tower filled with deal
boards, or with coke having water trickling
over it. The washer and scrubber are com
bined in some manufactories, but in any case
the water soon smells strongly of ammonia,
and indicates the quantity of that chemical
which is being extracted from the gas.
Again, by another system of scrubbing, the
gas is drawn up through a confined space
through which spray is made to descend.

An " exhauster," consisting usually of a
fan or pump, which is fixed further on

9 8


^enerallv at the station meter house draws

o -

the gas from the retort through all its mazy
windings, a steam-jet injector being also

Online LibraryHenry HarrisseBritain at work; a pictorial description of our national industries → online text (page 10 of 39)