Henry Harrisse.

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

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their neighbours. The constant flow of quick
chatter that goes on, in spite of unsurpassably
rapid work, shows that the privilege is
appreciated. That it shall not be abused
and noisy behaviour ensue, is the responsi
bility of the men and women, heads of
departments, who ceaselessly perambulate
each workshop, watching a moment here and
there whether the " hands " are giving proper
care to each item as it passes quickly through
their clever fingers



It is also pleasant to record that in the
particular factory under our notice there-
exist various schemes for the amusing or
improving of hours of leisure ; an interesting
fact disclosed by an inquiry as to what use
is put the stage which crosses one end of
a long hall with tables and benches where the
women and girls assemble during the daily
dinner hour. The factory owns its own
orchestra, composed of a score of men,

conducted by an overseer, and musical
entertainments are periodically given, to
which some of the girls contribute vocal
items of more or less merit. Occasionally a
play is undertaken, when everybody possessing
any dramatic talent is entrusted with a part.

Such a state of things betokens the exist
ence of a very satisfactory feeling of sympathy
between employers and employed, and one
could wish that it were more prevalent.




Photo . Casscll & Co., Ltd.



r I A H K picturesquely whitewashed and

J. thatched cottages of " gallant little

Wales " are the home although, alas !

not such a busy one as in the good old clays

of several useful and beautiful domestic

industries, of which, if we except spinning and

weaving as fast outgrowing their humble

origin, the old-time art of quilting may now

be said to be the chief

Many a careful housewife sets the " cawl "
(broth) before her Taffy, and celebrates her
tea-drinking, in her kitchen amidst the baking
" plank " bread and the pathetically recognis
able portions of her slaughtered piggy, that
the quilting frame may occupy the parlour.
To be sure, a Welsh cooking place is a rarely
artistic corner with its flagged floor, lattice
window, ancient oak settle and dresser, the
last a picture in itself, with "old Swansea
and the forgotten but now prized " lustre
china, and collectors would rejoice in an

In small cottages the importance of the
quilting frame banishes even the great bed
with Taffy and the tea parties to the kitchen,
where its checked gingham canopy and ample
proportions touch the rafters and barely
squeeze between the wall and the ingle nook.

Sunday alone supersedes " the frame,"
when the quilting room becomes the " Bible
parlour." The work is tucked away, the old

three-legged table is dragged forth and orna
mented with a crochet mat on which " the
Book" is reverently laid, and the family bury
ing cards hanging on the walls are the only
connecting link between seventh-day smart
ness and workaday week-days.

The quilting frame is simply two lengths of
wood, generally black with age, connected by
two cross bars and raised on supports about
four feet from the ground. It is capable 01
reduction or enlargement by means of holes
and wooden pegs. A ribbon of coarse web
bing, to which the quilt is tacked, is nailed to
the inner side of each length and crossbar.
The method of work is ingenious but excel
lent. The material to be quilted is carefully
measured into quarters and eighths before ; t
is tacked in the frame, so that the vegetable
down stuffing may be evenly distributed. A
pound to a pound and a half is used for each
quilt, and this is quartered and halved again
to correspond with the divisions on the
fabric. When all is ready, the top piece 01
material is laid on and the work begins.
The advantage of the vegetable down stuffing
over the eiderdown stuffing is that it washes
beautifully, and, owing to the close stitching
of the Welsh workers, without fear of dis
placement. Lately eyelet holes have been
introduced, so the quilts are now well ven
tilated as well as sanitary.



The patterns of the stitchings have an old-
world charm all their o\vn. The design
invariably starts from a round and elaborately
sewn centre, and spreads outwards in quaint
branches of leaves, flowers and fruit. I asked
an old dame where she learnt her patterns.
" From my mother," said she. " And where
did your mother learn them ? " " From little
Annie s great-grandmother, to be sure," she
replied, puzzled by the simplicity of the
question. And so it is ; the little flowers and
leaves originally cut out from nature in paper
with the stamen and veins carefully chalked
in have been handed down from generation to
treneration, suggesting that the Welsh are

<~> oo *z>

rather imitative than initiative in art ; how
ever, the result of these copyings is a very
charming and original form of convention-


ality. The design is always clearly indicated
by the laboriously neat runnings, no smallest
detail being neglected.

Finer and prettier materials, such as wash
ing silks and chintzes, are being introduced,
and the Welsh quilts are now things of beauty
as well as of everlasting wear. Especially
attractive are the bassinette covers, which are
a most successful departure. Formerly the
quilts were of dark blue or red homespun
cotton and much heavier. Folks required
counterpanes that would wear then, as the}
were, and in fact still are, handed down with


Photo: Cassttl & Co., Ltd.

the oak and china to posterity. The present
day quilts resemble dainty wadded bed
spreads rather than eiderdowns.

There is a regular local demand for the
cotton-covered counterpane, and man} of the
cottage workers, when enterprise in more
attractive materials is suggested, say they
have quite enough to do with orders from
the neighbouring farmers, a good solid quilt
being a necessary portion of a well-to-do
girl s dowry, and an elaborately stitched one
as usual a wedding gift in the little kingdom
as are fish knives in England.

The Welsh quilters are too apt to be
content with this local trade, and are afraid
to try, or perhaps fail to see the possibility
of a larger market for their labours an
unprofitable attitude these bustling times. A
band of devoted Welsh ladies calling them
selves " The Welsh Industries Association "
are doing much, by bringing up the quilting
industry to the needs of to-day, and by
putting the workers in touch with the buyers,
to remedy this. They are accomplishing,
in fact, for their country what the Scotch
and Irish ladies have done for the crofters
and the linen workers of Ireland. Royalty
led the way by ordering some of these charm
ing counterpanes, and now there is a general
trade growing up beside the old local one,


and a depot devoted to Welsh handicrafts in
London which is paying well.

Quilting is laborious work ; a slightly one
sided stoop in consequence of the old frames
being too low, and a curious " crook " of the
left forefinger from feeling if the needle is
through, are sometimes noticeable. Seven to
nine days, working six or seven hours daily, are
required for a full-sized quilt. The average
cost is slightly under that of an eiderdown
cover, but, of course, varies with the material
used. There are over 1,400 Welsh families
employing their leisure hours in quilting.


They turn quite naturally from cooking or
washing to the frames, and in spite of hard
lives and roughened hands the work is deli
cately clean and fresh. It is pretty to hear
them singing their folk songs as they bend
over the stitching.

The art of knitting is the youngest of the
important textile manufactures. Its peculi
arity consists in the use of a single thread
for the entire texture, and the forming from
that single thread of an especially strong yet
elastic looped web. It was at one time as
national a Welsh industry as weaving, but
the introduction of the stocking machine
has revolutionised it.

Women knitting as they drive the kine,
or trudge to market, and pedlars with long

sticks of swinging hose over their shoulders
buying up the stockings from cottage to
cottage to sell at Merthyr and other " works "
districts are no longer seen. The change


has been, and still is, severely felt, but the
Welsh knitters have taken not unkindly to
the machine, and that it is not to be found
in every cottage is due to its initial expense-
Some manufacturers hire out machines to
" operatives," a plan that seems to work
well. Most of the domestic knitting machines
now in use are of American origin. They
are the narrow hand machines and the wide

hand machines.
These two are ex
clusively used in the
houses of the "opera
tives." Power rotary
frames and power
round frames driven
by water power or
steam are used in
the factories ; some
of these machines
require the attend
ance of only one
female, and yet the
s u b - 1 e 1 1 i n g of
domestic knitters
remains a peculiar
feature of the trade.
The chief reasons
which tend to keep
up the hand-frame
work are the diffi
culty of doing certain

things by machinery, or of doing them as
well as they would be clone by hand, and the
great cost of the new factory frames, together
with the fact that manufacturers have already
property in the existing hand machines.

The best hand-machine knitter cannot do
more than 1,000 loops a minute of worsted
and 1,500 of silk. The present power-frame,
makes 250,000 loops a minute.

\Vomen in their own cottages earn 8s. to
i os. a week. In factories they are employed
in mending, stamping, turning and folding
the hose, and earn rather more. On the
hiring-out of machines system over 1,300
people are now employed.

The Tregaron and Llandilo districts are
flourishing stocking centres, and the click of


the machine is constantly heard from cottage
doors, but it is doubtful if the Welsh them
selves do not prefer the hand-made stockings
to be seen on the stalls at every market and
fair ; at any rate, there is still a good deal of
hand knitting done by the rural people, and
recently a fresh impetus has been given by
the revival of hand-knitted golfing and shoot
ing stockings. The finish of the hand-made
hose is certainly softer and finer than that
of machine-made goods.

But hosier} 7 is not the only product of
the bus\- cottage knitters ; shawls, gloves,
children s gaiters, cardigan jackets, and
jerseys come fresh, and often beautiful, from
the little frames, and the white, hand-manu
factured goods made from the wool of the
pure bred mountain sheep are especially
worthy. The " Welsh wig," a sort of nightcap
in black worsted, is still fabricated and worn
under the "Jim Crow" hat; instead of the
white frilled caps and the " high " hat of
old, now almost as extinct as the dodo
the last one I saw was being buried by
an old dame to save it from the ridicule of
the younger generation ! Wales general ly,
and especially Carmarthenshire, with its man} 7
strong, rapid streams, rivers, and waterfalls, is a
country peculiarly adapted to the generating
of electrical power ; and thinkers who have
the interest of the Welsh at heart foresee a
rosy and not far distant future when every
cottager will apply electricity to his knitting
machine or power loom. This would do
more, perhaps, than anything
to increase the output of the
country and check the move
ment to the large towns, and
consequent depopulation of
the rural districts. While the
rustic folks are slow of action
and content with local con
sumption, the energetic ones
\\ill seek in fresh fields a
market for their push and
enterprise ; and since it seems
to be for the benefit of the
nation as well as for the in
dividual that the worker should
remain on the land, the value
of keeping the home together
by profitable employment
cannot be overrated.

Netting is immediately related to knitting,
but is distinguished by the knotting of the
intersections of the cord. In Wales, as else
where, it is one of the most ancient arts, being
practised by primitive tribes at all times. In
the old days the Welsh netting industry
chiefly consisted of the finer sorts, such
as curtains, d oyleys, and the now almost
defunct antimacassar. When these articles
flourished the trade was considerable, and the
art being easily learned, and the implements
simple and inexpensive, workers were plenti
ful. Then antimacassars went out of vogue,
and the netters endured a long period of
depression. Lately they have commenced the
manufacture of the coarser and more useful
forms of their art ; for many and varied are
the purposes to which netting can be applied.
A young but flourishing cottage industry
now exists, and seems likely to grow up
quickly and do well in the making of fishing
nets, nets for catching game, for defending
the cherries and strawberries from the ravages
of feathered transgressors of the law, for the
temporary division of fields, and for ham

Xet making, in spite of the introduction
of several netting machines since the nine
teenth century, continues to be a handicraft,
possibly because of the wonderful dexterity
which a little practice in meshing develops.
The old "twine" nets are being superseded
by cotton nets, the latter being much more

easily handled and stored. , ,



<" ud -



NEEDLES and pins, those indispensable
little articles so closely linked together
by long custom and universal require
ment, differ as widely in the methods of their


manufacture as in the materials of which they
are made. Ee\v people realise how complicated
is the process by which needles are turned
out, or how long it has taken to bring them
to their present perfection of finish.

Thousands of years ago our barbarian
ancestors were content to sew their primitive
garments of skins together with pointed,
skewer-like strips of bone and ivory. The
Egyptians, Chinese, Indians, and others
progressed far enough towards the evolution
of the modern needle to make fine sewing
implements of bronze, some of which, found
in Egyptian tombs, must be quite four
thousand years old.

From these needles of ivory and bronze
to the delicate, highly finished ones that may
be bought at the present day in packets of
twelve, and sometimes twenty-five, for a
penny, is a far cry indeed, and the steps
by which the one has grown out of the
other are many and varied, and steadily

progressive. A complete history of the
needle would probably fill volumes ; suffice
it to say that it begins on British soil with
the establishment of a needle manufactory
at Long Crendon, in Buckinghamshire, in
the year 1650, for although needles are
said to have been made in London by an
Indian in 1545, and again by a negro in
Cheapside in the reign of Mary, their manu
facture as an industry was not begun in
this country until the above date. Before
then English seamstresses were dependent
on Spain and Germany for their tools, and
a needle was naturally, in those days, a
thing to treasure, as readers of the quaint
and amusing old play which turns entirely
on the loss of " Gammer Gurton s " solitary
needle are well aware. Later, the needle
industry travelled to Redditch, which has
since remained its centre. The town and
neighbourhood teem with factories, one of
the best known being that of Messrs.
Henry Milward and Sons, to whose courtesy


the writer is indebted for much interesting
information, and at whose manufactory our
pictures illustrating the processes of Needle
Making were taken.




The weekly output of neecues averages
between seven and eight millions, a fact that
makes one ponder on the amount of sewing
done, or possibly the quantity of needles
lost all over the world, for they are exported
to America, China, India, and Africa, besides
being sent to London, the Colonies, and
the Continent.

To gain some idea of the quantity of work,
ingenuity, and organisation represented by
these facts one should, in imagination at
least, pay a visit to the factory, and follow
the wanderings of an embryo needle through
the various departments of that busy little

It may surprise a good many to learn
that no fewer than twenty-
two separate processes are
required to make the tiny
steel instrument familiar
to everyone, but the fact
gives one an idea of the
perfection to which its
manufacture has been
brought. A needle made
in the year of Queen Vic
toria s accession is .shown
in the factor}-, and a
comparison of it with one
made to-day shows what
strides the industry has
made even in one reign,
and what patience and

inventiveness have been brought to bear
upon it. A thick, badly shaped shaft, white
in colour, with an irregular point, a head
much larger than the body of the object,
and a roughly-drilled circular eye : such was
the needle with which the seamstresses of
1837 had to sew. The modern needle is
fine, with an evenly tapered point, a head no
wider than the shaft, an eye perfectly smooth
inside and well shaped, and a polish like
glass, so that it slips easily through the
material sewn.

To understand to what a pitch of perfection
needle making has been brought, one has only
to examine the " calyx-eyed " needle, one of
the latest developments of the article. As
it is threaded through a slit in the top of the
head instead of in the ordinary way, there
must be sufficient elasticity to allow the
thread to pass into the eye without being
frayed or cut, and at the same time the sides
of the head must be capable of springing
together again so as to prevent the cotton
from slipping out after the needle is threaded.
It is evident that to ensure this elasticity
the needle must be tempered with the
greatest regularity ; and extreme care has
to be taken to make the sides of the slit
perfect!) smooth, so that the thread will not
be cut whilst passing through it.

The needle makes its first appearance at
the factory in the form of a piece of steel


i So


wire cut into a length for two needles, and
it has to undergo many vicissitudes before
emerging as a finished article. It is thrown
into furnaces, rasped by files, held relent
lessly to grindstones, punched by heavy
weights, rolled under great wooden rollers
for days, and generally maltreated, but it
comes triumphantly through its trials, to be
snugly ensconced in a dainty packet and
sent into the world, carefully labelled, the
verv best of its kind.

The first process the wire lengths undergo

each one is kept revolving, so that the
resulting point is uniform and even all
round. " Pointing " was formerly clone by
hand, but the fine steel and stone dust was
so dangerous to the operator that, in spite
of the thick mufflers they wore over the
mouth to prevent its inhalation, few of the
" pointers " lived beyond the age of forty.
In the pointing machine now used this dust
is blown away through a pipe, by a steam
fan, into a chamber specially constructed for
the purpose.


is the important one known as " rubbing."
Fastened into bundles by means of rin<rs
passed round their ends, they are placed in
a furnace, heated, and then taken out and
laid on an iron-topped table, where a curved
bar or " file " proceeds to rub them steadily,
the bundles revolving all the time and thus
bringing each wire in turn under the action
of the file. This both straightens and
anneals the wires, which are delivered from
the file only to be placed at the mere)- of
the " pointing-stone."

By means of a rubber-covered wheel the
needles are carried across the concave face
of a stone driven at great speed by steam ;

After the small preliminary operation of
brightening that part of the wires where the
eyes are to come, known as " skimming," to
prevent any extraneous matter from being
stamped in, they are carried off to the
stamping machine, where the impressions
for the eyes are made preparatory to piercing
the latter.

Each wire is placed in turn on an anvil
in which is set a die of the impression to be
made, and a weight set with a similar die
falls upon it, thus making an impression on
both sides of the wire at the same time.
Although stamping is now generally done
by machine, it is still sometimes performed




by foot power, the workmen being so dexter
ous in this department that they can turn
out between 27,000 and 28,000 wires per clay,
a number not far short of the machine output.
Up to this stage of the needle s development
the work has been done by men, but here
woman steps in, appropriately enough, to
make the eye, so essential a part of the

Seated in rows behind the " eyeing "
machines, tidy-looking white-aproned women
feed the endless revolving screws which carry
the wires under two punches exactly the
same size and shape as the impression
already made on them. When these have
descended and pierced
the required openings
in each wire (it will
be remembered that
each length is made
into two needles
placed head to head),
a small fork pushes
the wire aside and
gives the next one a
friendly push into its
place. For certain
branches of work
hand screw - presses
are used, and, al
though the operation
is much slower, the
hand-ever will eye
20,000 to 25,000
needles per da}-.

This process, it is scarcely necessary
to state, requires great care and skill.
The wires, which now bear a re
cognisable resemblance to their final
shape, are next strung or " spitted "
on wire passed through both eyes
and handed to the " filer," who files
off the burr made by stamping and,
breaking the double wire into two
lots of needles, files their rough
square heads into neatly rounded
form. The needles, as they may
now be called, are then threaded on
fine, slightly roughened wires, which
hang from iron bars like miniature
clothes - line props, along a table.
The table is capable of being moved
backwards and forwards by a crank,
and the motion, shaking the needles violently,
rubs the inside of the eye smooth against
the rough wire. This " burnishing " is to
prevent the fraying of the thread when the
needles are in use.

Although now perfect in shape the needles
are still useless, being soft enough to double
up in the fingers. Into the furnace the}- go
again, on iron pans, and after a certain time
are taken out and slid into a vat of oil.
Their sudden immersion hardens them, but
they are now at the other extreme and very
brittle, so they arc tempered by a special
patented apparatus which gives them the
necessary elasticity.



1 8

play 1

" Scouring," the next process, has a large
mill devoted entirely to it, where the needles
spend about nine days wrapped up, in
company with soap and emery powder, in
thick canvas, being rolled backwards and
forwards under heavy "runners" of wood.
When finally released from the scouring mill
they are perfect!}- smooth, highly polished,
and dark in colour.

Women next pick out by hand all broken
or imperfect needles, arrange them in order
with the heads all at one end of a row, and
take away any that have in some way
become shorter than their fellows. The
speed and certainty with which this is done
is truly amazing.

The grindstone again comes into
" finish " the heads and sharpen
up the points, and then the
needles receive their final polish.
The " wrapping-room," in which
they are made up into packets
read\- for sale, is interesting
chiefly on account of the
machine at work there counting
out with quite uncanny clever
ness bunches of twenty-five
assorted needles and delivering
them on a tray to the " sticker "
read\- to put up. This work
is also done by women, who
are largely employed in the
making of these especially
feminine articles.

Almost more indispensable than needles
are their companion necessaries, pins, but
the mode of their manufacture is very much
simpler, one machine doing nearly all the
work that in the earlier days of pin-making

Online LibraryHenry HarrisseBritain at work; a pictorial description of our national industries → online text (page 18 of 39)