Henry Harrisse.

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

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you note bits of pure white rock salt, almost
as clear as crystal. In the lowering roof
above you all is sparkle and glitter. There
are streaks and splashes of brown, red, chrome,
and terra-cotta-like strata, all containing rock
salt. Here the rock is dark with marl ; there
black with blasting ; but everywhere it is a
geological curiosity.

The mine, which is fort} acres in extent,
has a quarter of a mile of " face " or working.
Along it groups of men hewers, drillers, and
shot firers are busv at their toil. The only
invention probably that has facilitated salt
mining since the discovery of rock salt in the





seventeenth century, is the compressed-air
cutter a broad iron framework fitted with a
horizontal iron wheel strongly and sharply-
spiked, that cuts deeply into the rock at the
rate of 180 revolutions per minute. But at
the time of my visit the cutter was idle, or
rather awaiting adaptation, for in future it
will be worked by an electric motor. In the
fitful light of man\- candles adhering to the
rock salt face, the miners toiled unremittingly.
Beneath each drill hole two men faced each

retire a few yards from the drill hole, and
cluster against the wall of rock, hugging the
face of the strata. The shot fires with a loud,
reverberating report that fills the mine with
weird echoes and rumblings, and flings half a
ton of rock salt banging and clattering far out
from the face. But the explosion, startling to
the uninitiated, is only an incident to the
hewers, and they are soon bus}- with pickaxe
at their working place again, preparing for
the next blast.

other, half naked, and swung their muscular
arms and their picks, systematically nicking
into the base of the rock a herring-bone ridge
that appeared to make little impression upon
the strata, and yet so undermined it that the
coming shot would have sufficient room to
turn over. The driller, busy at the rock
above, about a yard higher than the hewers,
did not use a hammer. With his stemmer or
drill, an iron rod eight feet in length and
diamond pointed, he slowly twisted and
ground a hole into the interior of the rock.
Then he rammed home the coarse powder
and applied the time fuse. The latter, a straw
filled with fine powder and ignited by a bit of
candle wick, is only three seconds in burning.
A warning is given before it is lighted, and
the miners move away. They do not, as in a
coal mine, hurry this way and that. They

Meantime the rock salt from top or bottom
bed is broken with wedge and hammer into
handy si/.e for transit in the tubs, which are
run or " ferried " along the tramways to the
shafts and sent to the surface. The men
descend the mine at seven o clock in the
morning, break off for breakfast or " snap " at
ten, and for dinner at one, and go up the
shaft at three o clock in the afternoon, when
their clay s toil is done. They are burly,
muscular, good-humoured, and apparently
contented. The work does not, like some
methods of alkali manufacture, undermine
the constitution or sap the vitality, and you
come across heart}- workers, vigorous though
grey-bearded, in the recesses of the mine.

Salt from the brine is used for the table
and a variety of domestic purposes ; rock salt
is utilised as food for animals and as a fertiliser



of land, and in many other ways. In fact,
salt in one form or other assists the metal
refiner, the soap maker, the glass manu

facturer, and the calico printer, fixing the
colouring. It is absolutely necessary for a
variety of purposes in chemical manufacture,
notably in the preparation of hydrochloric
acid, soda crystals, caustic soda, carbonate of
soda, and bleaching powder.

In and around Xorthwich are extensive
works which employ a large number of
hands in the alkali industry. The Salt
Union and other firms provide work in
brine pit, rock salt mine, and in the pro
duction of chemical compounds ; and on the
new premises of the Electrolytic Alkali
Company, at Middlewich, Leblanc s sulphur
process has been superseded by electricity.
The current, as it passes through the
brine - filled cells, separates the sodium
from the chlorine, the former yielding soda
crystals, the latter passing automatically

away to the bleaching powder
chambers. Rock salt mining
is not an expanding industry, and fewer
mines are in full" working ; but there
is practically no limit to the demand for
salt from brine, or for the chemicals of
which it forms a component part, and
gigantic loads are sent by boat from the
river Weaver, by sea, canal, and train to our
great cities, and to nearly every part of the
world, including Iceland and the Faroe
Islands. The weight of white and rock salt
exported from and coasted in Britain exceeds
1,000,000 tons per year, Liverpool, Runcorn,
Weston, the Manchester Ship Canal, Fleet-
wood, Middlesbrough, Stockton, and West
Hartlepool handling the largest consignments.
At both British and foreign dinner table the
superstition obtains that it is " unlucky to
spill the salt," but with such an abundant
supply you surely may, without wastefulness,
checkmate misfortune by flinging a liberal
pinch over your left shoulder.


(The illustrations accompanying tliis article are from photographs by Mr. T. Ernest Leigh, Winsford.)



THE evolution of contrivances for the
measurement of time forms one of
the most fascinating chapters in the
history of mechanical invention. Generations
before the power of steam was dreamed of
John Harrison succeeded in devising a
marine chronometer which in many of its
details is the parent of all modern watches,
and he received a grant from the State of
^2O,OOO in recognition of his genius and
patience. The mechanism of a timepiece
is a wonderland to child and man alike ;
yet, complex as it is, it is merely an arrange
ment of the simple mechanical powers, and
one of the oldest clocks in existence was
fashioned out of pieces of wood, and of wood
alone. For many centuries English watch
makers stood in the front rank of the
industry, and their superior workmanship
was recognised even in Shakespeare s day,
for has he not made one of his characters,
in Loves Labour s Losf, describe a woman as

" Like a German clock,
Still a-repairing ; ever out of frame ;
And never going aright."

In recent years the manufacture of cheap
clocks and watches by means of swiftly

running machinery has been undertaken in
the United States and in certain parts of
Europe, and the watch industry of Switzer
land, encouraged by a well-equipped system
of technical training, has made serious inroads
upon the prosperous industry which made
Clerkenwell in the old days one of the most
thriving hives of labour in the kingdom.
To speak of English watch and clock
making, however, as a dying craft is very
wide of the mark indeed. At this moment
of writing Clerkenwell is as busy as it can
be with orders for American account, and
Great Britain still stands without a rival in
the fabrication of chronometers, hall clocks,
office " dials," turret clocks, and several other
branches of the industry.

The Lancashire town of Prescot has
established itself as the chief centre of the
manufacture of watch materials in this
country. Long before it turned its attention
to watch-making it was already famed for
its skill in the manipulation of small tools
and files ; and to-day, under the fostering
care of a pioneer enthusiast, it has lifted
itself above ordinary competition by the
enterprise which it has displayed in devising
machinery for turning out wheels and plates




and pinions to exact gauges, so as
to be interchangeable in the early
stages of the birth of a watch. The
work is carried on partly on the
factory system and partly in the
homes of the workpeople, and many
of the operations are conducted by
women and girls, whereby the initial
cost of the skeleton of a watch is
<rreatlv reduced. This skeleton, con-

o *

sisting of a framework which holds
together the barrel, the fusee or cone,
the four wheels forming the " train,"
and the pinions, is called the " move
ment," and most manufacturers now
adays begin their operations upon
rough movements procured from the
Prescot factories. A large company
has been formed for the purpose of
carrying the work through its further
stages in order to produce the finished
watch in Prescot itself, and it is able
in this way to produce an inexpensive
English watch which competes in point of
price with foreign articles of the same class.
It is, however, to the makers of the better-
class work that one should turn for a more
typical survey of the process by which a
watch is made.

The most prominent feature in the picture
is the amazing extent to which the industry
has carried the principle of the division of
labour. A cutter of wheels out of sheet
brass, working with a
treadle, is able to earn 303.
per week, but, as we have




seen, the watch-maker usually begins by
purchasing and overhauling the rough move
ment. The first step is to place this in the
hands of the escapement maker, who may
easily earn ^3 per week, and he in his
turn passes the mechanism on to the jeweller,
who fills the holes bored by his immediate
employer with the jewel holes required. Let
it be noted that the jeweller is quite distinct
from the jewel holer, whose task it is to
drill cup-shaped depressions in tiny rubies,
sapphires, or garnets by means
of a hard point set in a lathe
and operated with a slide rest.
In the case of ladies
watches this hole may
not exceed 4 ^th of
an inch in diameter,
yet its curve is
carefully trimmed
in order to reduce
the friction of the
axle of the wheel
which rests upon it.
As much as i8s.
per pair may be
paid by the whole
sale maker for these holes, and as a watch of
fair quality should contain four or five pairs
it will be understood that in this detail alone
there is a distinct element of cost. Diamonds


are seldom used, except to the balance
cocks of English watches, and the import
ance of hardness will be appreciated when
it is mentioned that the balance wheel,
turning upon an axle only ^th of an inch
in diameter, would, if it travelled bicycle
fashion, cover a distance of twenty-two
miles every day. Some of these processes
may be studied in the photographs, which
have been specially secured with the courte
ous co-operation of Messrs. George Oram
and Son, of Clerkenwell.

compromise was recently made by a valuable

female polisher to tin- trade, who agreed to
continue her labours after marriage, but only
in the case of her husband s own work.

\\ hile these operations are in progress
another workman is engaged upon the
patient task of tapping a length of steel wire
with innumerable taps, until it is reduced to
a flat ribbon, in which form it becomes
known as the hair spring. These pieces of
mechanism are produced in Birmingham and
London, usually by manual labour. Steam


A large proportion of jew r el holes are
drilled by girls, and it is gratifying to know
that America has to come to London for
a good deal of its requirements in this
department. There is a factory in Hertford
shire in which a dozen girls are constantly
employed upon this delicate operation, and
in this connection it may be added that the
labour of polishing the parts of the watch is
frequently entrusted to the nimble fingers
of women. In other branches of the industry
the feminine element is also to be met with,
although women workers usually abandon the
trade when they are married, and therefore
seldom acquire the extreme skill which comes
from a lifetime of practice. An amusing

rolling is resorted to in Geneva and Besancon,
but there is a well-founded prejudice among
the best makers for the slower process, which
is indispensable in the case of chronometers.

The making of the dial involves the
attention of several distinct trades. A plate
of copper is placed before an enameller, who
solders the feet upon its rim, and then
besmears it with a powder which is melted
by heat and spread evenly upon the surface.
The polishing of the white surface is an art
in itself, and this being done, and the surface
fired, it is passed on to the dial painter,
whose days are spent in the task of painting
the figures upon the dial with a deft brush.
The figures are hereupon burnt in with the




aid of a charcoal furnace, and the seconds
dial, when required, is formed by cutting a
disc out of the hour dial, and cementing a
thinner disc into the orifice, to allow the
second hand to lie in the hollow so formed.

The several parts are now taken in charge
by the springer and timer, the expert whose
lot it is to attach the spring to the balance,
to poise the balance, and to adjust the
whole until accurate time is recorded. But
before this the watch passes to the finisher
and examiner, who also has to enlist the
services of the case maker. The case is
made by drawing gold or silver wire
through hardened steel plates upon a draw
bench, bending the ribbons so obtained into
the shape of the circular bezels and the
band, inserting into the rim of one bezel the
flattened or domed disc which forms the
back, and into the other the watch glass.
Before the case is finished, however, it is
submitted to the tender mercies of the Assay
Office of the Goldsmiths Hall, where it
obtains the hall-mark, and after its return
to the maker the back is engine-turned if
necessary, although the proportion of engine-
turned cases now called for is a very small
percentage of the total output of the trade.

The number of gold cases hall-marked in
the year 1901 was 6,592, and of silver 3,764.

One final ordeal is reserved for the watches
of the better class, that of being sent to the
Ke\v Observatory for the purpose of being
tested. At a cost of a guinea the watch is
kept under observation for forty-five days,
divided into eight periods, each of which
tests the capabilities of the watch under
fixed conditions, such as " watch with dial
up in the refrigerator," " watch with dial up
in the oven."

This department, which represents the
refinement of watch-making, and is as far
removed as the poles from the imported
article which is offered for a few shillings
less than the cost of a pair of jewel holes
brings us by a natural transition to the
manufacture of marine chronometers, a
branch of the industry in which Great
Britain has always been supreme. A box
chronometer is to all intents and purposes
a magnified watch, except that it possesses
several delicate means of compensating for
variations of temperature, violent jerking,
the magnetic deflection caused by the iron
in the ship, and so forth. Otherwise the
same order of manufacture, by the same



specialised craftsmen, is followed, although
the copper dial is usually silvered instead
of being enamelled, and the hall-marked
case for the pocket is replaced by a
mahogany case, in whose interior is fixed
a ring hung upon gimbals to preserve the
horizontality of the dial in all \veathers.

Marine chronometers and deck watches
intended for the use of the Royal Xavv are
tested, not at Kew, but at the Royal
Observatory, Green \vich, where the instru
ments are under continuous observation for
no fewer than twenty-nine weeks, and are
subjected to a range of temperature from
39 to 104 F. In the last recorded year the
number received for this purpose was 1,118,
including 24 for the Indian Government.

The mechanism of a lever clock differs in
degree only from that of a watch. A pendu
lum clock, in which the force of gravitation
is harnessed for the service of man, dispenses
with the spring balance, and requires methods
of adjustment of its own. Both descriptions
of clocks, however, are usually manufactured
on the factor}- principle, and there is not
the same division of labour as in the case
of the smaller instruments. Let us walk
through a typical factory, and follow the
birth of a clock through its various stages.

The wheel blanks having been stamped
out of the solid sheet of metal, are poised
in a cutting machine whose hard steel
cutters revolve at a great speed, and cut
the notches with absolute precision. Solid
steel pinions are made in the same way,
while lantern pinions are formed out of
sections of pinion wire, which are still in
some instances cut by hand. In other
departments the barrels, axles, pendulum
bobs, escapements, and so forth are pro
duced, and at length the several parts are
assembled in the room where they arc put
together to form the finished movement.
Elsewhere, in an apartment whose dusti-
ness is properly quarantined from the rest
of the factory, expert carpenters fashion
the wooden cases, which vary in intricacy
from the simple drop case of an office
timepiece to the choice pieces of cabinet
work which are used for the grandfather
clocks and the drawing-room instruments.
There cannot be a doubt but that the
French makers have captured a large

section of this trade by their attention to
the artistic side of the industry, although
they have never been able to touch seriously
the massive hall cases which Englishmen

There is another department of this industry
in which England is still without a rival,
and that is the production of turret clocks,
especially when associated with striking and
chiming mechanism. A clock was erected
in Canterbury Cathedral in the year 1292,
and there was a striking clock in West
minster as far back as 1368. Since that
time the course of invention has been steady,
and a landmark in the history of the industry
was reached in 1859, when the great West
minster clock, designed by Sir Edmund
Beckett, and built by Dent, was put into
position. Special appliances have to be
employed in the manufacture of apparatus
of this kind, because of the mechanical

difficulties pre
sented by the
sheer weight of
the m o v i n g
parts, the great






risk of damage through exposure to all
weathers, and other considerations. When
a striking train is attached to the timepiece
all the parts have to be strengthened ac
cordingly. The triumph of engineering is
reached in such clocks as that erected in
the Clock Tower at Westminster or in the
tower of the Toronto Town Hall, the largest
clock in the New World, whose four dial
faces alone have a weight of fifteen tons,
of which the opal glass of the transparent
faces is responsible for three tons. This was
produced in Messrs. Gillet and Johnston s
steam factory at Croydon, where the photo
graphs illustrative of this section of the
industry were specially taken, by the courtesy
of the proprietor.

A passing reference may be permitted to
the art of bell casting, which at Croydon is
carried on under the same roof as that which
shelters the makers* of wheels and pendulums.
An iron core is buried in a pit, with a cover
ing mould, and the bell metal a mixture of
copper and tin is run into the mould w r ith
extreme care, the resultant casting being left
to cool, sometimes for several days, before

it is dug up again. The task of turning
down the surface is achieved by reversing
the bell and fixing it into a huge vice, the
cutting tool being devised to travel round
the periphery. By means of carillon
machines, which are actuated by barrels
upon which the airs are pinned out, clocks
may be made to play a hymn tune or a
national air every three hours, and as seven
airs are usually put upon one cylinder a
change may be made upon each day of the
week. This, however, is to be regarded
rather as one of the auxiliary industries
connected with the making of clocks and
watches, which also demands the exertions
of the glass-blower, the leather case maker,
the key manufacturer, and a score of crafts
men whose services are requisitioned in order
to complete the instrument.

It will be perceived from this brief survey
of the trade that the old days, when a watch
and clock maker was apprenticed to his
trade, and began by cutting up pinion wire,
passing thence to all the other parts of the
mechanism, have gone never to return. In
the year 1858 the British Horological Institute



was formed, and it is doing useful work in
providing young watch and clock makers with
the means of pursuing their theoretical
studies at evening classes, while they are
engaged upon the practical study of their
craft during the day. The course may be
pursued for two winters, and it is gratifying
to know that the sons of master manu
facturers may be found seated side by side
with their fathers workmen in thus acquiring
the lessons taught by centuries of experience
in this absorbing pursuit.

The comparatively small place occupied
by the factory system may be gauged from
the figures furnished by the Chief Inspector
of Factories and Workshops for 1901. He
reported 74 factories in the country, with
3,501 operatives, of whom 1,554 were female,
and out of this number of women no less
than 582 were under the age of eighteen. In
other words, watch-making is still very largely,
as it has always been, a home industry.

Customs statistics must always be treated
with caution, but it may be added in con
clusion that during a recent year the
number of watches and clocks imported into
Great Britain from every source was 1,98^,147
and 1,546,210 respectively. The average
value of each watch was 13*., and of each
clock 6s. 6d., thus showing that the foreign

o *>

influx is to be feared mainly in the cheapest
branches of the trade. The value of the
parts of watches imported was less than
,24,000, a great change having been
brought about by the recent Act of Parlia
ment which makes it an offence to put
foreign movements into English hall-marked
cases. Of the imported watches and clocks
about 5 P er cent, are re-exported, and in
addition to these there was during the
year in question ;m exportation of British
watches, clocks, and parts to the extent
f ^3 6 2 f which 13,380 went to the
United States. ^ Q _ HARMR<

(The illustrations accompanying tin s article are from photographs specially t^kcn by Cassell t j ( < .. Ltd.)




SOME idea of the vastness of this interest
ing industry may be gathered from the
simple statement of fact that there are
no fewer than 4,100,000 cows in the British
Isles, and that the quantity of milk consumed
London alone reaches the astonishing


amount of at least 50,000,000 gallons per
annum. Day and night, year in and year

Ten thousand pairs of hands, at least, are
necessary to draw the milk from the cows
for, as yet, milking machines have not ousted
the dairy maid and man from their morning
and evening work. Then there is the work
of preparing the milk for the evening and
morning trains. The consumption of the
lacteal fluid has increased so greatly during

out, many thousands of men and women are
ever toiling throughout the whole length and
breadth of the land, urged by the ever pressing
demand for milk to drink. Fifty years ago
the city and suburban dairies supplied London
with all the milk it required. In a great
number of instances the cows were kept in
unhealthy sheds in overcrowded and often
fever-stricken localities. Those evil days are
no more ; the milk used now comes from the
country or from suburbs with a reasonable
claim to be termed rural. Needless to say,
the health of the big city has vastly improved
thereby, while the increased demand in the
country finds a great deal of employment for
those who would otherwise crowd in to try
their fortunes in the vortex of London life.


the last ten years that railway companies
running trains into London have laid them
selves out for the business, and it is now no
unusual sight to see a dozen trains entering,
say, the Great Western terminus at Padding-
ton every morning and evening as fast as
the platforms are ready for them. Each of
these special milk trains is made up of about

Online LibraryHenry HarrisseBritain at work; a pictorial description of our national industries → online text (page 34 of 39)