Page images
PDF

and doors, cupboards, staircases, and other joiner's work was
always going on, and the men employed all lived in the small
streets surrounding the shop. The working hours were from
six to half-past five, with one and a half hours out for meals,
leaving a working day of ten hours.
Having nothing else to do, I used to spend the greater
part of my time in the shop, seeing the men work, doing little
jobs occasionally, and listening to their conversation. These
were no doubt an average sample of London mechanics, and
were on the whole quite as respectable a set of men as any
in a similar position to-day. I soon became quite at home
in the shop, and got to know the peculiarities of each of the
men. I heard their talk together, their jokes and chaff, their
wishes and their ideas, and all those little touches of character
which come out in the familiar intercourse of the workshop.
My general impression is that there was very little swearing
among them, much less than became common thirty years
later, and perhaps about as much as among a similar class of
men to-day. Neither was there much coarseness or indecency
in their talk, far less indeed than I met with among pro-
fessional young men a few years afterwards. One of the best
of the workmen was a very loose character—a kind of
Lothario or Don Juan by his own account—who would often
talk about his adventures, and boast of them as the very
essence of his life. He was a very good and amusing talker,
and helped to make the time pass in the monotony of the
shop ; but occasionally, when he became too explicit or too
boastful, the foreman, who was a rather serious though very
agreeable man, would gently call him to order, and repudiate
altogether his praises of the joys of immorality. But I never
once heard such foul language as was not uncommonly used
among themselves by young men of a much higher class and
much more education.
Of course, I heard incidentally a good deal about how
they lived, and knew exactly what they earned, and I am
thus enabled to correct some very erroneous statements which
have been made of late years as to the condition of artisans
in the early part of the nineteenth century, before the repeal

[ocr errors]

of the corn-laws. Perhaps the most glaring and the most numerous of these errors are due to Sir Robert Giffen, who, being considered an official statistical authority, continues to be quoted to the Present day as if his statements were to be absolutely relied on. More often quoted than any other of his writings is his “Progress of the Working Classes in the last Half Century" given as a Presidential Address to the Statistical Society in 1883, and issued as a pamphlet, price threepence, in 1884, at the request of several friends, including Mr. Gladstone, who styled it “a masterly paper.” It would occupy a whole chapter to expose the errors and the fallacies that Pervade this paper, and I must therefore confine myself to two points only, that of the rise of wages and of the food of skilled artisans. Mr. Giffen gives the weekly wages of carpenters at Manchester as 24, fifty years ago and 34s. in 1883, an increase of 42 per cent, but he omits to give prices for London. In the Report of the Industrial Remuneration Conference, Mr. J. G. Hutchinson gives the wages at Greenwich in 1832 as 32s. 6d, and in 1876 as 39s. 8d., a rise of only 22 per cent. Again, Mrs. Ellis, a Huddersfield pattern-weaver, told the conference that Mr. Giffen's statements in the same table, of the earnings of her fellow-workers, were grossly inaccurate. He gave them as 25s. a week against 16s. fifty years earlier, whereas they were only earning an average of 20s, in 1883. The wages where my brother worked were 30s. a week for all the men employed. We see, therefore, that Mr. Giffen's general statement that wages have risen “in most cases from 50 to 1oo per cent.” is open to the gravest doubt; while even if it were nearly accurate, it would not by any means prove what he claims—that these workers are very much better off than they were fifty years earlier. He certainly saves himself, verbally, by terming it an “apparent rise,” but he never attempts to get at the real rise, and throughout his argument hardly refers to this point again. Yet it is a most important one, on account of the fact which he notices, that, at the date of his paper as now, in all the building trades wages are reckoned and paid by the hour, instead of by the day as at the VOL. I. G

earlier period, when also men were rarely discharged except at
the week end. Then, again, Mr. Giffen speaks of the shorter
hours of work which from “one or two scattered notices” he
estimates at nearly 20 per cent, and then adds, “The work-
man gets from 50 to 100 per cent. more money for 20 per
cent. less work; in round figures, he has gained from 70 to
120 per cent. in fifty years in money return.” What a con-
clusion for a statistician, from a very limited comparison of
wages obtained almost wholly from the masters, and from
“one or two scattered notices,” as regards hours of work
But it is when he deals with the real value or purchasing
power of this greatly exaggerated increase of wages that we
find the grossest errors and the wildest declamation. After
just remarking that “sugar and such articles” have decreased
greatly in price, that clothing is also cheaper, and that though
house-rent has gone up, “it cannot have gone up so much as
to neutralize to any serious extent the great rise in the money
wages of the workman,” he admits that the increase in the
price of meat is considerable. And then comes this amazing
statement: “The truth is, however, that meat fifty years ago
was not an article of the workman's diet as it has since
become. He had little more concern with its price than with
the price of diamonds.”
I was so perfectly astounded at this statement that I at
once made a few inquiries. A very intelligent man, a printer
in the City, gave me facts from his own observation. About
the time referred to, his father kept a public-house in or near
Greenwich, much frequented by mechanics and other work-
men, who came there in considerable numbers to have their
dinner. He assured me that almost without exception they
had fresh meat, which they either brought ready cooked, or
had purchased on their way to work and cooked in a
frying-pan or gridiron at the kitchen fire, many of them
bringing large chops or steaks of good quality. Remember-
ing the cheapness of meat when I was a boy, and remember-
ing also the well-to-do appearance of the carpenters in Mr.
Webster's shop, I wrote to ask my brother how they lived
during the twelve years he was in London, the last six working

[ocr errors]

as a journeyman in large shops and living on journeyman's wages. His statement is as follows :

“Having been Personally associated with the workers in the building trade about half a century ago (from 1835 to 1845), I feel qualified to describe the social condition of skilled mechanics at that period, more especially that of the carPenters and joiners. At that time every kind of work was done by hand, no machines except hand-tools were ever used,

even boards of all thicknesses being sawn on the premises by

hand labour out of thick Planks from Northern Europe or Canada.

“The wages of good work hours; and 6d. an hour was variation from that time, a fair amount of work, a

men were 5s, a day of ten added or deducted for any No wages were paid except for

nd if the work was temporarily *Pended by rain or otherwise, no compensation was given

or expected. All the joiner's work was done in shops, gene

rally well lighted and with good sanitary conditions; nothing

but the rough carpenter's work was done in buildings before

the roof was on. Working hours were from 6 a.m. to 5.3O p.m.,

with an hour and a half out for breakfast and dinner. Men

were paid weekly on Saturday evening, and were generally

discharged at that time, and the last two hours and a half

were allowed for grinding tools.

“The best workmen were seldom discharged unless in

very dull times. At many shops men often worked for years

without ever losing time except through sickness or accident;

but, of course, these were the very best men. There Were

always some out of work, especially in winter or in times of

depression.

“As regards their social condition, the skilled work

man with his 30s. a week, if a single man of steady and

frugal habits, could save half his wages and have proper

food, lodging, and clothing suitable to his position. His furnished lodging of one room would cost 4. a week, and his three meals a day, taken at the eating-houses and coffee-shops, would not cost more than 8*. d ". his working clothes were cheap, and * * ave One superior suit for Sundays and holidays. Of course, if he were of a gay disposition, he would spend more and save less, but that would not be the indispensable outlay of a working man.

“In the case of a married man with a family, it would, of course, be more difficult to save money, but I have known men live well and respectably, bring up a family, and put by regularly for the expected ‘rainy day,’ and eventually build their own house, and start in business, in a small way at first, and become masters and gain a competence; but these are exceptional cases.

“The generality of carpenters and joiners with a family would live in lodgings of two or three rooms with their own furniture (much of which the man could make in his spare time in the evening), paying 5s. or 6s. a week, and with a careful and industrious wife could live well on their wages, clothe and educate their children, and still have something to put by. I have never known a carpenter in work, whether married or single, that did not have a good dinner of meat and vegetables every day, and on Sundays something extra ; they always had beer for dinner and often at their work about ten o'clock, and sometimes in the afternoon.

“As near as I can recollect the prices of provisions were for meat from 6d. to 8d. a pound, bread 7d. the four-pound loaf, butter Iod, cheese 8d., and sugar 6d. to 9d. The bricklayers had about the same wages as the carpenters, but owing to lost time during bad weather, they were generally not so well off, or generally so well housed and fed, but I never heard or knew of any destitution or want among them. Of the social condition of the plasterers, painters, and other house finishers I know less, but all appeared well satisfied with their condition, and, at all events, no general dissatisfaction was expressed.”

It is, I think, quite clear from this statement of my brother's that the standard of comfort of the skilled artisan was as high fifty years ago as it is now, notwithstanding his somewhat lower wages and his working ten instead of nine hours a day.

« EelmineJätka »