Henry Harrisse.

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

. (page 29 of 39)
Online LibraryHenry HarrisseBritain at work; a pictorial description of our national industries → online text (page 29 of 39)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

hat he returned to the scene of the ex
plosion. The walls of the mixing-house
were blown down and the inside was in
flames. A man all alight rushed out of
the ruins. Buckets of water were thrown
over him, but he soon expired. Three
other men were found among the debris. A
powder van, at the time of the explosion,
with a canvas covering, was standing in
front of the mixing-hous^ to be loaded
with charges for the mills. The horse took
fright and galloped off with the van in
flames. Fortunately, it took a direction
away from the powder houses ; fortunately,

too, no powder had been loaded into the

From the mixing-house the "green charge"
is taken to the incorporating mill. Here
it undergoes a process designed to combine
the different ingredients as intimately as
mechanical means can combine different
substances. It is spread out evenly upon
a circular iron bed, " liquored " with about
two pints of water to diminish the chances
of ignition, and subjected to the crushing
force that two iron edge runners of four
tons weight each, revolving eight times to
the minute, may be imagined
to exercise. This pulverising
goes on for from two to
eight hours, according to the
quality of powder desired to
be made. No one need be
in attendance here, and no
one wishes to be, for the
operation is the most dan
gerous in the factory ; but
now and then a man goes
in to oil the machinery and
to clamp the charges. Above
each bed is a water-tank, so
adjusted that any force from
below, such as an explosion
in the bed would occasion,
makes it and all the other
tanks in the group tilt over
and discharge their contents right upon the

From the incorporating mills of which,
by the way, there are fifty at Faversham
the powder, now a dark grey or brown
colour, is taken to the press-house and
pressed by means of hydraulic power
between copper plates into cakes about an
inch thick and as hard as sandstone. This
gives a certain texture to the mixture, and
lends to the homogeneity already acquired
in the incorporating mill. These hard cakes
are next broken into pieces with wooden
mallets and put through a set of breakers
that reduces the pieces to the size of a
walnut. The operation that finally reduces
the size goes by the name of " corning,"
and consists of putting the pieces of cake
through gun-metal rolls. Glazing, stoving,
and dusting are the remaining processes.
In glazing, the powder is tossed about or



churned, so to speak, among graphite, and
therebv takes on the gloss we are ac
customed to see it with. Stoving is to
drive off the moisture, and dusting is
reallv sifting, whereby the powder, now in
different sizes, is separated into classes
according to size. It is thereafter packed
into small canvas bags or canisters or
barrels all specially made or taken to the
cartridge-filling houses to be loaded into
cartridge cases.

Although there are explosives made more
dangerous than gunpowder, and a cubic
inch of gunpowder is capable of exerting
on ignition, by the gases it instantaneously
generates, a pressure all round of thirty tons
to the square inch. Xo wonder those that
know it best tamper with it least ! Yet
with all the precautions we have seen taken
in powder factories, pieces of iron, stones,
and even lucifer matches have been found

in barrels of gunpowder. It would be
interesting and edifying to know by what
means such substances got there.

Cartridge filling is also carried on at


Messrs. Mall s wors.
women, and under all
have seen adopted in
The part they play is

This is done
the safeguards we
the powder house.- :.

purely mechanical ;

nothing is left to their judgment by
reason of the perfect appliances used in
the process, which, though interesting, no
description apart from diagrammatic illus
tration could render intelligible. Canisters,
boxes, and barrels, which have to be of a
special nature, are made on the premises-
There are also smiths and millwrights, and
all the different kinds of artificers required
to keep the machinery in order and quick
to detect flaws during the frequent in
spections to which the whole works are
periodically subjected.






^\"\ ^"ITHIN a twelve-mile radius of Man-
> \ Chester there is a population nearly
as great as that of London, and the
thronging people are engaged in every variety
of industry. But the notion obtains that
Lancashire stretching far north of the Mersey
has one trade that it deals only with cotton.
Nor is this deduction altogether foolish.
Though the County Palatine makes every
thing, from ponderous machinery to exquisite
art furniture and quaintly decorated clogs,
the importation, sale, carriage, unpacking,
spinning, weaving, sizing, dyeing, bleaching,
printing, packing, and exportation of cotton
gives the \\ iciest range of employment to its
busy workers.

India, now one of England s chief markets
for cotton goods, was, singularly enough, not
only a pioneer in steel-making, but the birth
place of the cotton industry. The trend
eastward of that industry was slow. Egypt,
which has, since the British occupation,
developed a profitable cotton-growing in
the Delta that extends, roughly, from
Alexandria to Cairo and Port Said, \vas
formerly dependent upon India for its

manufactured goods. How the crafts of
spinning and weaving were introduced into
Great Britain is a mystery. Possibly, like
the " Moonstone " in Wilkie Collins s story,
they were brought stealthily, and safeguarded
as great secrets. The earliest operatives
were of Flemish origin, and they combed
wool before they dabbled in cotton. Lanca
shire, chiefly because of the humidity of its
atmosphere, became the great spinning and
weaving ground, and as far back as the
seventeenth century Manchester wove linen
yarn shipped from Ireland, and worked cotton
wool, bought in London, into fustians and
dimities. India, meantime, aroused the
bitterest jealousy of the home mill-workers
by its importation of cotton fabrics ; and the
gentlemen of that period were taunted with
flaunting in calico shirts and silk stockings
from Moorshedabad ! The strife between
the woollen and cotton manufacturers reached
the House of Commons, and the wearing of
cotton garments was prohibited by enactment ;
yet the ladies, with charming inconsequence,
delighted to walk abroad in painted calicoes !
The perversity of fashion really led to the



foundation of the cotton industry, for it was
by close imitation of the Indian fabrics that
the Lancashire manufacturers secured a
market. Mechanical skill was concentrated
on the production of machinery capable of
making a yarn strong enough to be used as
a warp, and invention has scarcely had an
idle moment since. Kay, \Yyatt, and Paul
introduced fly shuttle, spinning by rollers,
and carding ; and Hargreaves, with his
" spinning jenny," and Arkwright, with his
" spinning frame," or " water frame," revolu
tionised the cotton industry. From his
Cromford Mill, in 1.773, Arkwright sent out
the first British-made piece of calico ; but
the operatives detested his patents and
methods, and rioted against the use of the
" spinning jenny " and the " spinning frame."
Both these machines were in turn superseded
by Crompton s " mule," or " muslin wheel,"
and by Cartwright s power loom, and many
other improvements have since been made
in spinning and weaving.

English people who have read the story
" Uncle Tom s Cabin " have a tolerably good
idea of an American cotton plantation ; but
they seldom realise how vital the crop is to
home industry and to national comfort. The
grim incident of the cotton famine has faded
from memory, and only a plantation blight,

or a war with the States, could reveal to us
the misery and despair that steamships with
out cotton cargoes, silent mills, and idle
hands would mean. Still, Great Britain has
not to look to America alone for its cotton
supply. Egypt sends thousands of bales ;
and its cotton, long of staple and brown in
tint, is used for the making of the finer counts
of yarn. India, too, is a cotton grower, and
her produce, to some extent, is manipulated
in England, though the great bulk of her
crop is worked up on the Continent and in
India. The Indian staple is, however, shorter,
and only suitable for coarser counts. The
modern liking is for finer counts, and
consequently the American and the Egyptian
crops have the readiest market.

The American cotton crop is handled
chiefly from September in one year to
October in the next, but it arrives in the
largest batches at English and Continental
ports in November, December, January, and
February. It is grown in Alabama, Arkansas,
Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North
and South Carolina, and Texas, and it is
shipped from New York, Savannah, Brunswick,
Charleston, New Orleans, Galvcston, Phila
delphia, Baltimore, and Pensacola. The total
bulk of American cotton from a season s
growth has been estimated by an expert







at about 1 1,000,000 bales, and of this quantity
about 2,500,000 bales are exported to Great
Britain, and nearly as much to Continental ports.
Ireland, Glasgow, and Bristol have their
distinctive cotton industries ; but the mills
of Lancashire, Derbyshire, and Cheshire take
the largest share of the supply. Liverpool
and the railways still clo a considerable traffic
in raw cotton, but the Manchester Ship Canal
is also becoming a
valuable agent of
transit, and unloads,
roughl} , at the home
clocks, 550,000 bales
of cotton yearly.

An American bale
weighs 460 Ib. and
an Egyptian about
770 Ib. The cotton
product from the
Nile delta is generally
reckoned, however, in
can tars of 98 Ib. each.
The supply of raw
cotton from America,
Egypt, and India is
slightly increasing,
but the consumption
is increasing also, and

that so rapidly that not only
spinners but manufacturers and
merchants are getting in a flutter.
Xo fewer than 30,000,000 bales of
cotton will, it is estimated, be
required, even within the next
twenty-five years, to meet the
world s annual demand for yarn
and cloth ; and, dependent as we
are on America for our chief
supply, there is undoubtedly im
perative need for the cultivation
of cotton in every available part
of the British Empire.

The environment of a cotton
mill, however picturesquely the
big building has been placed in
sylvan valley or by rippling brook,
is apt to get dingy. Man s toil
has a ruthless influence upon
nature. There is an absence of
verdure, as though the grass had
been mistaken for cotton, and
worked up in the weaving shed.
The cotton mill, great or small, has been
gradually pushed out of Manchester, which
is chiefly engaged in the warehousing, sale,
and despatch of manufactured goods.
Shouldered away, as it were, by commercial
energy from the city, the cotton mill has
asserted itself in town, village, and dale in
the vicinity, as closely as possible to the vast
central market. The hand-loom weaver still

E. / . Cani-vcll,




survives in several districts, and even pursues
his humble calling, amid the machinery rattle
at Blackburn ; but the manufacture of cotton
has developed so extensively that some of
the mills, fitted with the latest appliances,
specialise and confine themselves solely to
spinning or to weaving, or other of the many
processes through which the cotton passes
on its bustling way from the ship s hold
to the wearer s back or into use in the

" You should go through a mill that does

machines, which looser, its fibres and partially
cleanse it. Then it is moved to the lapper,
from which it emerges in fleecy roll, to claim
the attention of intermediate lapper, or
scutching machine. 1 1 ere it is mixed, beaten,
cleansed, and lapped again. In fact, it goes
through a gradation of these processes, a
system of stern discipline, that pounds and
purifies it till it leaves the finishing scutcher
in a felt-like fleece, in readiness for manipula
tion by the carding machines. The latter
make the cotton cleaner than ever, but their


everything if you wish to get a good idea
of the industry." said a Manchester merchant
on Change to the writer. " Here s just the
man. What he doesn t know about cotton
isn t worth knowing ! "

And, going through a spinning and
weaving mill in South Lancashire, under
the guidance of this shrewd expert, one
was impressed by two things the compre
hensive adaptation of machinery to cotton
manufacture, and the silent deftness and
ingenuity of the human workers in intense
heat and brain-cracking turmoil.

On entering the mill, you seem to feel that
it is dominated by a great mechanical and
nimble-fingered giant. The bale-breaker that
mechanically opens the bale is not in use
in this building ; but no sooner have you,
on the ground floor, noticed the huge bale
of raw cotton from America or Egypt in
the rough than you find it in the opening

chief purpose is to straighten and lengthen
the fibre, which is passed through the rollers,
combed or carded, fined till it is almost as
delicate in texture as a spider s web, gathered
in fan-like shape, and drawn into sliver,
practically formed into ribbon, about an inch
broad, which disappears into the revolving
can in a continuous coil. On other machines
it is subjected to various doublings and
drawings, with the main objects of elongating
and fining ; and in the slubbing frame the
slivers, or ribbons of cotton, are passed
through rollers, and wound on large bobbins.
Even then the product of the far-away
plantation is -given no rest. It is doubled,
twisted, and wound on smaller bobbins,
then passed through the roving frame, and
ultimately drawn and spun into yarn in
the " mule."

The yarn is finished in the cop. Taking
nothing for granted, the inevitable question



arises, " \\ hat is a cop ? " " Well, a cop is
a cop." The reply is more unsatisfactory than
the one given to the more ancient query,
"What is an archdeacon?" But ultimately
the necessary information is evolved from
the practical mind. A cop reminds one of
a boy s stock of kite string. It is a long
length of cotton neatly wound around a
short spindle ; a length of yarn built up
in a form that \vill stand taking up and
knocking about, either for sale or for further
use in the mill.

Then comes initiation into the mysteries
of "warp" and " weft." The "warp" is the
strong thread that runs the long way of the
calico, that is practically the foundation, the
fabric of the useful draper}-. The " weft " is
the softer thread, the filling that weaves its
close tracery across the warp, and gives
texture to the manufacture. The warp yarn
is wound around bobbin and beam in the
process of weaving and warping ; but it is
in the sizing frame that it really gains its
additional strength to bear the friction of
the loom. Farina, sago, china clay, flour,
tallow, paraffin wax are among many of
the substances that go to make the size
which slimes and thickens the thread before
the adroit dropper marks its particular length
and it goes on to the weaver s beam. Either
the drawing or the twisting of the thread
ends is neccssarv to prepare it for operation
in the loom, and the stranger, watching the
operative, a silent and swift Cagliostro, join
ing, as it seems, with dexterous twist of
thumb and finger, the yarn ends from the
he-aids to the thread ends on the weaver s
beam, is as much impressed with the skill
and concentration of the manual industry
as he is with the machinery effort.

It is in the weaving shed that the latter is
most assertive. There seems to be a vigorous
rivalry between the over-pick looms and the
under-pick looms as to which shall make the
most noise. One has heard of the long arm
of the law, of destiny, and of fate ; but the
long arm, or picking stick, of the over-pick
loom is infinitely more irresistible. It stands
no nonsense as it flings itself to and fro, in
aggressive coquetry with the racing shuttle
and the weaver s nimble fingers. A modern
weaving shed, in intensity of clatter from
hundreds of rapidly working looms, is a

pandemonium in which gossip by voice is
impossible, for Jove the thunderer could not
make himself heard in the din. He would
have to become mortal, and, adopting the
adroit method of the weaver, speak by signs,
by the silent but expressive movement of the
lips. Yet the huge shed is an enlightening-
place. You note the skilful tend of loom by
weaver, the strike of the picker, the lightning-
shoot of the shuttle, and the move of " slay "
and shuttle, pressing each thread of weft
forward to the warp, deftly weaving the
cotton cloth, which a few days hence will
be on shipboard for export or on draper s

Calico, or cotton cloth, is worked up in a
thousand ways to make the infinite variety
of Manchester goods for home use and export,
and in calico printing art and invention help
industry in the manufacture of attractive
fabrics, one of the modern developments
being the application of electricity as a motive
power to drive the machines. One of the
most interesting manipulations of cotton is
that by which it is converted into the familiar
i flannelette." The cotton made from coarse
counts is subjected to a " teasing " or " raising "
process, which fluffs the fibre from the yarn,
and produces a material soft and warm to the
touch, like flannel, and yet much cheaper.
Its price has brought it into use in nearly
every home of limited income, and the
poorest folks, unable to purchase the best
quality flannel, are warmly clad by the
imitation. But the material is always in a
vortex of controversy. Many a coroner has
condemned it because it is easy of ignition.
Many a maker has eulogised it on the plea
that flannelette, quarter the cost of flannel,
is indispensable to the comfort of the working
classes, and that the loss of life by burning
fatality is more than counterbalanced by the
virtue of its wear as a safeguard against colds,
chills, and pneumonia. Fortunately the
controversy may soon be set at rest.
Scientific experiment has strengthened the
position of the manufacturer ; and it is
claimed that flannelette, by chemical agency,
can now be rendered non-inflammable !

The cotton mills of Lancashire contain,
roughly, 44,000,000 spindles and nearly
700,000 looms, employing at least half a
million hands, and there are, in addition,


Photo: Cassetl & O., !.:.<.




man) 7 other mills and factories that spin and
manufacture textile fabrics. Practically 2,000
firms are engaged in the cotton industry, and
there is scarcely a country, civilised or bar
barous, to which the output, fine or coarse,
gaudy or plain, is not sent.

The tendency in the cotton industry is
towards better working conditions and
shorter hours. Even steaming in weaving
sheds, which some manufacturers consider
vital to the make of cotton cloth, may
ultimately be legislated out of the mill.
Meantime the operative adapts himself to
new methods of work, and his old pugnacity
in social life has been superseded by homely
philosophy and quaint humour. On his
annual holiday, in the " wakes week," with
his savings from the " going-away club " in
his pocket, he is a plutocrat, notwithstanding
his hearty ways and whimsical dialect. But
it is on Change that the wealth and power of
the industry is the most impressively indicated.

The great " cotton lords," once wealth}- and
influential enough to arouse Bismarck s envy,
have not altogether disappeared from "the

boards." But the trade has gradually diversi
fied and extended till there are 8,000 three-
guinea subscribers to the Manchester Royal
Exchange, the largest exchange in Europe.
Nearly all these men are engaged in selling
or buying cotton, raw or manufactured, or
doing business in some commodity necessary
for the equipment or work of mill. The
scriptural reminder that a good name is
better than riches has been placed high up
in the gilded dome of the vast hall. More
easily within the range of vision are the
latest quotations for consols, the bank rate,
and the cotton prices. The telephone, the
telegraph, and the special messenger are so
alert that there is no longer necessity for the
merchant to signal the state of the market,
whether buoyant or depressed, by the tip
backward or forward of his silk hat. The
great throng on Change know to a fraction
how far to go in business enterprise. They
have their fingers on the commercial pulse of
the world, and they make the most of " the
golden moments in the stream of life."




\ S Orcr

L\ the

it Britain enjt

Photo ; i-a^cil - CO., Ltd.

prcmacy of the world,
it follows as a matter of
course that her manufac
turing cities and towns
provide a field of extra
ordinary range for clerical
employment An ever-
increasing army of Eng
lishmen are engaged in
keeping the ledgers which
are literally detailed charts
of our gigantic trade. And
their ranks are annually
supplemented by an influx
of foreigners, principally
Germans and Frenchmen,
who remain here only
long enough to master the
language, our methods of doing business,
and the nature of our world-wide commercial
connections, before returning to their own
country to use the knowledge thus acquired
against their instructors.

Boys destined to become clerks generally
enter offices at any age from twelve to
fifteen. Ever}- class supplies its quota of
recruits. The public school lad is often sent
into the City in the hope that a business
training, backed by social influence, may
secure him a dignified and lucrative position
in the higher walks of commercial life. The
Board school, however, furnishes the majority
of embryo clerks. The office-boy stands at
the foot of the ladder, so far as the clerical
industry is concerned, and his services are
generally valued at about five or six shillings
a week. The day may come when his income
will be reckoned by hundreds, even by
thousands. But the ladder which he has
to climb has many gradations. He begins
by acquiring a knowledge of office routine.
He is expected to reach the counting house
in the morning before his seniors. He
indexes the letters, takes charge of the
stamps, and goes on errands if required. It
is all very simple, very monotonous, but the

discipline is priceless in preparing him for
a lite in which brilliancy is useless in com
parison with accuracy, honesty, punctuality,
neatness, and character. In evcrv office,
even those devoted to the same line of trade,
the daily round of duties differs in details.
But sound business principles, like Euclid s
axioms, are a fixed quantitv.

I here are, in round numbers, 150,000
clerks in London, or practicallv twice as
many as in any other European city, and
the proportion probably also holds good even
in the case of Xew York. Economic causes
suffice to explain the rush for clerkships.
British trade is now represented by an annual
turnover of about ^900,000,000 sterling. In
proportion as trade expands, as the figures,
neatly arranged in the form of national
export and import returns, attain to more and
more bewildering dimensions, employment
for clerks multiplies. For it must be remem
bered that the petty totals, which in the
aggregate amount to these colossal millions,
have to be cast up, and cast up again, checked,
and audited by hundreds of thousands of
youths and men, ere they flow through one
channel or another into the hands of Board
of Trade officials, to be thrown into the form
of Blue-books. The clerical industry differs
from every other
in that no form of
trade is i nde-
p e n d e n t of i t.
The world - wide
contractor, the
millionaire com
pany-promoter, the
West - End shop
keeper, the East-
End huckster, as
well a s t h e

Online LibraryHenry HarrisseBritain at work; a pictorial description of our national industries → online text (page 29 of 39)