Henry Harrisse.

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

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weight. The silver crucibles, therefore, are
picked up by an electric crane, which carries
them round the meltinsj house with startling



rapidity to the place where the
moulds stand read} . Here they are
tipped up at an angle that allows
the glistening, fiery liquid to flow out
of the lip of the crucible into the
moulds, which one by one are pushed
under the burning fountain.

If the men have stirred the
materials well, the bars will by this
time be of a uniform composition,
the gold alloyed with one-twelfth of
copper, the silver with three-fortieths.
But the bars are not always homo
geneous, and a fragment is cut from
the first and last bar in each potful,
to send to the assayer. If his report
is unfavourable, it is melted all over
again, and this happens about once in every
twenty times. If, on the other hand, the bars
are found to be up to the standard, they are
cooled, smoothed over at the rough edges, and
transferred once more to the huge balances,
in which the metal that was first weighed on
its entrance in the form of ingot is now
weighed on its exit in the form of bars.

The next stage in the history of money-
making is reached by the arrival of the bars



in the rolling-room. Here a gauger, with a
staff of ten assistants, takes possession of the
bars, which may be of the thickness of half
an inch, and passes them between a succession
of powerful steel rollers. By this means they
are gradually made longer and thinner, until
at length they become thin fillets, slightly
thicker than the coins for which they are
intended. The first machine is called the
breaking-down machine, and it receives each
bar into its inexorable jaws ten times
over. Four other machines carry on in
succession the operation of thinning, but
before a fillet is done with it has to
endure the pressure of these tremendous
rollers more than thirty times.

The strips of metal, which now look
like the brass bands sometimes used for
muslin window blinds, are by this time
ready for the cutting room. First of all,
they are submitted to the tender mercies
of a pair of drags, which have been in
use since the year 1816. By this machine
the strips are dragged over and over
again between two rollers, which give
them an even thickness. Each strip is
then taken to a cutting press, which
punches circular discs out of it at the
rate of 150 per minute. The discs
hereupon are transferred to a machine,
by which they are marked with a pro
jecting rim, and are now ready for the
annealing furnaces. After being raised
to a cherry-red heat, they remain in
these furnaces for a quarter of an hour
at a temperature of about 1,600 degrees



Fahr., and are then cooled in water, washed,
and thrown into beechwood sawdust, which
is supplied by the chairmakers at High

The time has now arrived for the blank
discs to be raised to the dignity of coins
by being- impressed with the portrait of
the Sovereign, and with the other devices
by which the coin is distinguished from all
others of the same sixe, British or foreign,
old or new. This part of the work is

behind a glass partition, and there, taking
up a handful of coins, allows them to fall
individually upon a steel slab, and then, by
the ring, detects any cracked or flawed

The most delicate operation of all has still
to be performed. The coins pass into the
weighing room. Here they are pas-ed down
a tube into an automatic weighing machine,
so tender and sensitive that it has to be
protected from the slightest draught of air


performed by twenty presses, worked by
hydraulic power, and each attended by an
alert operative, who feeds the discs into his
machine at the rate of ten dozen per minute.
This he does hour after hour for seven hours
each day. Each press is able to stamp any
coin, from a farthing to a $ piece, with the
exception of the crown, the peculiarity of
which is that, instead of a " milled " edge, it
is provided with an inscription round the
rim. This is squeezed into the edge of the
coin by means of a collar in three pieces,
and for this purpose a special press, requir
ing the attention of two men, has to be

The coins are now taken away to the
"ringer," as the boy is termed. He sits

by being placed under a glass case. A
sovereign is allowed to vary from the
standard weight by a difference of one-
fifth of a grain more or less, and the result
of passing it under the critical eye or rather
finger of the automatic balance is to throw
it into one of three boxes, according to
whether it is "good," light, or heavy. It is
found by experience that only 2 per cent,
of the silver pieces are above or below the
standard weight allowed, whereas gold pieces
to the number of 12 in every 100 have to be
re-melted and passed through all the pro
cesses of coining over again.

The "good" money is taken out of the
tills as fast as it is weighed. The gold
coinage is now counted into 100 bags, and



taken to its stronghold, there to await its
removal to the Bank of England for
circulation all over the world. The silver
and bron;:e coinage is counted by machinery.
The coins are brought in bags to be taken
up to the centre of the machine, and there
received by the two men at the top, who
empty the bags on to a sloping slab, the
coins falling into a single channel or funnel,
and there by their own weight revolve an
interchangeable cog-wheel, which is inserted
to suit the value of the coins to be counted.
This wheel revolves so many times, accord
ing to the value of the coin, and when a
hundred pounds worth of silver has passed
the wheel stops. When the man below has
collected the coins in bags he releases the
machine, and the operation is repeated.
One link in the chain still calls for a final

word. The patterns which are stamped
upon the two faces of a coin are produced
by means of dies. These are made from the
original matrix engraved by the artist to
whom this responsible task is entrusted, and
only one matrix exists for each design.
From this a punch is produced by enormous
pressure in a die press, and the punch in its
turn is used for the manufacture of the dies,
each of which is not able to stamp more
than 70,000 pieces.

This, then, is a brief outline of the
processes through which the many millions
of coins minted every year on Tower Hill
have to pass, and it is not to be wondered
at that in every part of the world the
British sovereign is accepted as a symbol
of sterling value, of unimpeachable integrity,
and of artistic excellence.


( The illustrations acrnnpain ing tJiis article arc from photographs specially taken for tin purpose, and arc the

copyright of Casscll and Co., Ltd.)







E\V industries appeal to women like the
making of lace. The fabric is so
delicate and fine, so gossamer-like, and
yet so strong , and the tracings are so infinite
in variety and beautiful in design, that woman
regards the product of this manufacture as
a perquisite of her sex. Man is allowed silk
facings to his coat, he has linen handkerchiefs,
and wears woollen socks, but after he is able
to walk he rarely ever uses lace of anv kind.
On the other hand, it is most intimately
associated with all the great occasions of
his sister s life : it forms the principal orna
mentation of baby s christening robe ; it
acids to her charms when later she enters
church as a bride ; in middle age it helps to
throw back the years ; and it is a lace cap
which adorns granny s honoured head as her
days draw gently to their close.

In various ways has the manufacture of
lace been introduced into these islands.
From Greece and the Ionian Isles, by way
of Venice and Flanders, the art has come,
but not always as a free gift. The secrets
of such crafts are carefully guarded, and half
a century ago, when Mother Smith, of the
Presentation Convent at Voughal, conceived

the idea of occupying the children under her
care with this industry, she had to unravel
designs thread bv thread before she could
solve the intricacies of their details.

The making of lace is the occupation of
two distinct classes of workers, who labour
under different conditions and in different
parts of the country. Hand-made lace is
the employment of women and girls, and is
carried on in small country towns and villages,
man\- of which are remote from the railroad
and the busy world s whirl. According to
a petition sent to Parliament a couple of
hundred years ago, the lace manufacture of
England was " the greatest next to the
woollen," and maintained "a multitude of
people," but it is now chiefly confined to
the counties of Devonshire, Bedfordshire,
Oxfordshire, and Buckinghamshire, and to
several parts of Ireland.

Machine-made lace is localised in the
county and district of Nottingham. There
huge factories, many storeys high and built
at the cost of many thousands of pounds,
are busy night and day with the whirr and
hum of immense machines which onlv men
are allowed to work. \\Omen and girls find



a place in the dressing and finishing opera
tions, but so unusual are the conditions under
which they labour, and so exacting the
material over which they have charge, that
Acts of Parliament have been specially
modified for their benefit. It is impossible
to SHY precisely how man} people are
employed in the industry, but the number
may be put at 50,000, about half of whom,
including some 9,000 men, are in the Notting
ham district.

Considering first the manufacture of hand
made lace, it must be pointed out that here
again there are two distinct kinds needle
point, which in the United Kingdom is con
fined to Ireland, and pillow lace, the cottage
industry of England. It is so named because
the worker has a pillow, or cushion, stuffed
with straw and covered with printed calico,
upon her lap as support for the pins round
which she entwines her thread. Upon the
pillow is fastened a sheet of parchment, with
the pattern duly traced and pricked over with
pin-holes at every point where pins require to
be inserted in the course of the work. There
are also at hand a number of bobbins, now
made of wood but formerly of fish bone, each
provided with its quota of linen thread
and attached to one of the pins. Starting

from the first of these, the worker intertwists
and crosses the thread by passing the
bobbins round the pins and over and under
each other. Thirty or forty bobbins are
generally required for one pattern, but in the
execution of the most elaborate kinds of
Honiton, Bedfordshire, or Buckinghamshire
lace as man}- as 1,000 may be necessary.
The size of pillow used varies in the different
lace-making counties, but the method of
work is the same.

In old times the net as well as the flower,
sprig, or "gimp" was made by hand, but
nowadays the net comes from Nottingham,
and generally sprigs only are hand-made.
Lace-making has always been an ideal
cottage industry ; it can be carried on entirely
at home, much or little can be done accord
ing to time and inclination, and the pillow
can be laid down at will. The workers are
able to add materially to the family resources,
and during the hard winter of 1895, when the
fisheries of Devonshire failed to support the
husbands, the nimble fingers of the wives kept
the homes together without the necessity of
applying for relief. Old and young alike are
to be seen at work in the picturesque gardens
and ivy-covered porches, as well as in the
numerous Lace Schools which have done so




much to stimulate the industry. County
Council classes are also now held in various
places some for grown-up people and others
for children, as the earlier they learn the
more proficient are they likely to become.

A different system prevails in Ireland.
Pillows are here no longer needed ; the needle
takes the place of the bobbin, and much of
the work will be found to resemble embroidery.
The modern development of the industry is to
be traced back to the famines of fifty years
a<ro, when the nuns of the Presentation

o *

home in the cottages as well as in the
convents. \Ve may especially note the tam
bour lace of Limerick, which is so called
because the frame on which it is worked
resembles a drum-head or tambourine. On
this is stretched a piece of Nottingham
net, and thread is drawn by a hooked, or
tambour, needle through the meshes accord
ing to a design placed before the worker.
Nothing comes amiss to the Irish lace-maker
Venetian point, Italian reticella work,
Honiton pillow, and other specialities are all


Convent at Youghal, a little to the east of
Cork and Queenstown, selected girls with a
taste for fine needlework, and taught them
to utilise their talent in lace-making. This
district produces the famous " Irish point,"
and tourists from Glengariff to Killarney
are often allowed to see the girls at work in
the more public rooms of the convent, their
fingers busy with the needle as if for dear life.
The patterns are drawn out by the nuns in
their private compartments and passed on
to workers, numbering some fifty or sixty,
under the charge of a sister of the convent.
Though seemingly so light, the lace made
by them possesses very great durability,
and it is almost impossible to rip open
the stitches.

Somewhat similar is the " rose point " of
the convents of County Fermanagh, and many
other districts of Ireland have their own
particular variety, the work being done at

eagerly seized by the nuns to suggest to them
new designs and ways of working.

From these rural and thinly populated
districts, the lovely shores of Lough Erne, the
romantic combes of Devonshire, and the
quaint hamlets of the home counties, we
turn to the busy city of Nottingham, the
birthplace and still the principal centre of
machine-made lace. The process of manu
facture is one of the most intricate and
complicated among Britain s industries, and
the machines used are standing witnesses
to the ingenuity of man. According to Dr.
Ure, one of the most competent of authorities,
they probably surpass, in ingenious mechanism,
those in use in any other industry. He
declared a bobbin-net frame to be as much
beyond the most curious chronometer as
that is beyond a roasting-jack. Despite its
complications, however, the lace machine is
really only a development of Lee s stocking-



frame. The story is too long for telling here.
It must sufHce to say that at the beginning
cf last century Heathcoat invented a machine
which made it possible to twist round each
other an indefinite number of threads, and
to cause each thread to traverse, mesh by
mesh, every other thread in the width of
the fabric being netted. The machine in
general use, the Levers, is an improvement
upon this, and new patents are continually
being registered. To understand the process,
however, we must visit one of the big
Nottingham factories, by preference that of
Messrs. Pratt, Hurst and Co., whose or
ganisation admirablv illustrates the different

o J

conditions under which the various processes
are carried out. These are generally under
taken by distinct firms, but in the case of
Messrs. Pratt, Hurst and Co. occupy separate
factories, each under its own manager. Levers
machines are established in one, curtain
machines in another, bleaching and dressing
take place in a third, and the final operations
and the making-up are carried on in the
warehouse in the district of Nottingham
appropriately known as Lace Market. An
other large firm has its curtain machines in
Scotland, the lace being then brought to
Nottingham for dressing and finishing, owing
to the abundance of female labour in the
lace city.

The first department to be visited is the
designing-room. The designs are complete
drawings, either entirely original or suggested
by old fabrics, and the pattern is afterwards
traced on drafting paper, ruled out into
a network of very small squares, the course
taken by the thread being carefully shown
by the draughtsman. The squares are then
numbered, and the numbers entered as a
column of figures, this being handed over to
an operator, who, with a special machine,
having a keyboard something like a con
certina, punches holes corresponding to the
numbers in narrow strips of thin mill
board, the arrangement of holes being groups
of varying size. The cards, which thus con
tain the essence of the design, are then ready
for transference to the Jacquard in the
machine-room, whither we will follow them.
I he rooms in which the machines are
placed are well lighted and lofty, and the
factories have to be built especially strong to

sustain the tremendous weight on the floor.
Levers machines are about nine feet high,
and from 144 to 220 inches wide, Curtain
machines having a greater w r idth of from i/o
to 360 inches. As many as 4,000 bobbins are
often working in a machine at the same time,
and in the manufacture of the finest lace twice
that number are employed. It is impossible
within the limits at our disposal to describe
the complicated principles on which the
machine works, but an idea may be con
veyed by considering it in its simplest form
as shown in the making of bobbin-net. The
frame, or loom, holds vertically a series of
warp-threads, with sufficient space between
each to allow of a shilling being passed
through edgeways. Behind the threads is
a row of bobbins, which are, however, alto
gether unlike ordinary bobbins. The} 7 consist,
in fact, of two thin discs of brass, rather
larger in diameter than a penny and about
as thick as a shilling, the thread being wound
between them. The bobbins, fixed in what
are known as " carriages," rest in an arrange
ment called a comb-bar or bolt-bar, and
when the machine is set in motion each
bobbin, carrying its thread with it, passes
between two of the parallel and perpendicular
threads of the warp, and is lodged in another
similar bolt-bar in front of the warp. Then
this bolt-bar " shogs," or moves, a space to
the right or left, afterwards lodging the bobbin
on another back bolt-bar one distance beyond
its last space. So the process is continued
through the length of the net, the bobbins,
millions of which are in use in the big factories,
being replaced when their thread is exhausted.
The machines are worked solely by men
boys assisting them by filling the bobbins
with thread. They work in two shifts, and
are paid by the piece, so much per " rack,"
the latter consisting of 240 meshes. Their
hours are rather peculiar. The first shift
comes on at four in the morning, and works
until nine, when the second shift comes on
until one. From one to six the first shift is
again at work, and the second from six to
twelve. Thus each works ten hours a day,
and the machines are idle only four hours.

The above description of a lace machine
applies only to the making of net, those for
pattern lace being more intricate and having
fitted to them the Jacquard apparatus, on





which, as in fancy weaving, the cards act and
give to the warp threads the varying move
ments required by the pattern. Standing in
front of such a machine, one sees a long row
of bobbins passing to and fro through the
thousands of threads forming the warp with
the regularity of a pendulum, the pattern
appearing above after having mechanically
undergone its wonderful transformation from
mere thread. The machines are worked their
whole length, lacing threads which are after
wards drawn out connecting the widths.

the machine revolves. Hence it is taken in
huge baskets to the " piece-room," where the
required shade and colour is indicated by a
ticket fastened to the bundle of the fabric.
In the "dipping-room" it is placed in a
mixture of gum, starch, size, and colouring
materials, being afterwards squeezed between
wooden rollers. Sometimes, however, the
web is at once fastened on a frame and the
" dress " put on the edge and spread over
with brushes, this being done by a class of
young workers known as " wetters." Owing to
the extremely delicate nature of the fabric
it has to be handled with very great care.

The next process takes place in what is
variously known as the stretching, drying,

\Yhile plain net is mostly made
in the larger factories, fancy lace
is popular with those manufac
turers who have only a small number of
machines each. The Curtain machines are
still more bewildering to watch, additional
threads being used, and the Jacquard working
from overhead instead of, as in the Levers,
from the end of the machine. The large
firms, too, have their own special mechanisms,
the secrets of which they guard most jealously.
From the machines the fabric is handed
over to the finishers, mostly women and
girls, whose work is, as we have noted,
generally carried on in separate establish
ments managed by different firms. The first
process is that of bleaching, the feature of
which is the interesting way in which the
superfluous moisture is removed. The mechan
ism consists of a cylindrical vessel of wire
gauze in which the lace is placed, the wate r
being driven off by the rapidity with which

or dressing room. It is of very great length,
from 200 to 400 feet, and is occupied by two
parallel horizontal frames, with an ingenious
arrangement of fans overhead. The frames
consist of two rails, between which the lace
is pulled and fastened by girls, who are re
markably expert at the work. By means of
a winch-handle they gently stretch out the
web until all the meshes are open, delicately
re-adjusting the rails from time to time, as,
in the case of lace made from cotton thread,
the net " swags," or stretches, in drying.
Ladies veils, eighty yards long and six
or seven yards wide, beautifully designed
curtains, and narrow lace for neck and under
wear are here seen extending the whole
length of the room, the threads which divide
them up into the familiar patterns being just




Another very interesting class of lace-
workers are the " menders." Their duty is to
examine minutely every part of the fabric
and repair broken threads and other defects.
The work naturally needs good light and


keen eyesight. To aid them the girls wear
black or blue aprons when dealing with white
lace, and white aprons when mending the
black fabric. They sit on low stools, and
examine the lace by bringing it over their
knees. There are also the " drawers," who
draw out the threads which separate the
patterns as they are made the width of the
machine ; the " clippers," who clip round the
shaped edges of some kinds of lace ; the
" purlers," who put a fine edge upon it ; and

finally, those who roll the narrow lace on the
cards and pack up the curtains reach 7 for sale.
A very high degree of perfection has now
been attained in the manufacture, and only
experts can state with confidence whether
any particular specimen is really hand-made
Spanish lace, costly Barcelona, Brussels
needlepoint, black Chantilly, or the remarkable
imitative production of the newest type of
machine. Foreign competition has, for some
years, been very keen, the German factories
turning out increasing quantities of cotton
lace, and Calais and other French towns
devoting themselves to the silk fabric. But
Nottingham machines are still unexcelled,
and the} 7 are best worked by native hands.




LIEBIG once laid it down that "the
quantity of soap consumed by a nation
would be no inaccurate measure whereby to
estimate its wealth and civilisation. Of two
countries with an equal amount of popula
tion, we may declare with positive certainty
that the wealthiest and most highly civilised
is that which consumes the greatest weight
of soap." Having regard to this remarkable
dictum, we cannot but regret that no data
are available by which to gauge, by this
standard, the relative civilisation of the
countries of the world. One is tempted to
think, however, that like most generalisations
it is not of universal application, and that

Online LibraryHenry HarrisseBritain at work; a pictorial description of our national industries → online text (page 24 of 39)