HL Deb 11 July 1871 vol 207 cc1401-11

, in rising to move an Address to the Crown relative to the state of children employed in brickfields, said: My Lords, this numerous class is excluded, only by a technicality, from the protection enjoyed by children engaged in other occupations, and yet they stand as urgently in need of legislative care. Your Lordships will perhaps remember that, in 1842, after the Factories Act had been in operation a few years, I moved for a general inquiry into the employment of children and young persons in various departments of trade. That Commission made its Report, and upon it certain remedial measures were granted; and in 1862 I moved for a renewal and an extension of the Commission and for further inquiries, several trades having in the meanwhile risen up and others having become extinct. The result of their inquiries was the passing of the Factories Act Extension Act and the Workshops Act; and I am glad to be able to say that for both these beneficial measures the country is indebted to both sides of this and the other House, and to the Governments which have respectively done their best to enact these laws. When, however, the trades to be included in the operations were to be settled, the children and young persons engaged in the manufacture of bricks and drainage-tiles—for what reason I cannot say—were excluded, those employed in pottery and porcelain works alone being included. Now, the state of things existing in the brickfields has risen to such a height of cruelty and abomination that a cry has gone forth through the whole country, and I most earnestly appeal to your Lordships to step in and arrest it. I shall not require much time to prove my case. I will only cite the evidence drawn from the Reports of the Commissioners, the Report of Mr. Inspector Baker, and a pamphlet by George Smith, of Coalville, near Leicester, the zealous and long-tried friend of these sufferers, and who has himself been a lad in the brickfields, and has described what he endured during his childhood. The brickyards in this country number about 3,000; there being more in some parts of the country than in others, and the number of children and young persons employed in them amount to nearly 30,000, their ages varying from 3½ to 17. A very large proportion of them, especially in the Midland districts, are females; and the hours during which they are kept to this monstrous toil are from 14 to 16 per day. Such being their tender age and their sex, I feel sure that your Lordships, after I have produced some illustrations on unquestionable evidence of the cruelty and hardship to which these persons are exposed, will readily assent to my Motion. I will first quote the evidence of Mr. Smith, who has worked in a brickyard for many years. Here are his words— As a child and lad I have myself gone through what thousands are going through to-day. It is the very bondage of toil, and a home of evil training. When seven years of age I was employed in making bricks. At nine years of age my employment consisted in continually carrying about 40 lb of clay upon my head from the clay heap to the table on which the bricks were made. When there was no clay I had to carry the same weight of bricks. This labour had to be performed, almost without intermission, for 13 hours daily. Sometimes my labours were increased by my having to work all night at the kilns. In a yard which he described were several children, Mostly nine to ten years. They were of both sexes, and in a half-naked state. Their employment consisted in carrying the damp clay on their heads to the brick makers, and carrying the made bricks to the 'floors' on which they are placed to dry. Their employment lasts about 13 hours daily, during which they traverse a distance of about 20 miles. It may be asked why the Inspector did not interfere? He could not, the Act not applying to establishments in which less than 50 persons are employed. … As a further proof of the severe and extremely heavy nature of the toil undergone by the children, I would submit to your inspection a lump of solid clay, weighing 43 lb. This, in a wet state, was taken a few days ago from off the head of a child nine years of age, who had daily to walk a distance of 12½ miles, half that distance being traversed while carrying this heavy burden. The clay was taken from the child, and the calculation made by me, in the presence of both master and men. To give an idea of the physical effects, Mr. Smith continued— I had a child weighed very recently, and although he was somewhat over eight years of age, he weighed but 52½lb. and was employed carrying 43lb weight of clay on his head an average distance of 15 miles daily, and worked 73 hours a week. This is only an average case of what many thousands of poor children are doing in England at the present time, and we need not wonder at their stunted and haggard appearance, when we take into account the tender age at which they are sent to their Egyptian tasks. Your Lordships will understand that Mr. Smith's testimony may be received without the slightest hesitation, for it has been before the public for sometime and has been circulated in the brickyards, while nobody has ventured to gainsay it. The description given by Mr. Smith applies to what is actually being done and suffered by thousands of children at the present moment. Can, then, your Lordships wonder at their degraded condition, when you consider the tender age when they are condemned to such an Egyptian bondage? Let us now take the evidence, quoted by Mr. Inspector Baker, of a master brickmaker, as to what he has seen in many yards but has corrected in his own. This is a specimen he gives of the work— Those who carry clay to the moulders, called clay carriers, remove on an average 21 lb to 40 lb of clay on the head and about 10 lb to 20 lb in their arms; say one of 10 years old, carrying in all 30 lb of clay, each journey of 40 yards, and traversing 250 journeys per day, removing 3½ tons a distance of 40 yards daily, walks 4½ miles in doing it and 4½ miles back; walks three miles in 'rearing,' 'gorming,' and 'hacking' the bricks, and, on an average, two miles going to and returning from work, giving a total distance traversed by the younger clay carriers of 14 miles. I will next quote the observations of a distinguished American writer, a distinguished and venerable man of whom your Lordships must, have heard, Mr. Elihu Burritt. Speaking of a little girl about 13 years of age, whom he saw during an inspection of the fields, he said— She first took up a mass of the cold clay, weighing about 25 lb upon her head, and while balancing it there, she squatted to the heap without bending her body, and took up a mass of equal weight with both hands against her stomach, and with the two burdens walked about a rood and deposited them on the moulding bench. No wonder, we thought, that the colour in her cheeks was an unhealthy flush. With a mass of cold clay held against her stomach, and bending under another on her head, for 10 or 12 hours in a day, it seemed a marvel that there could be any red blood in her veins at all. How such a child could ever grow an inch in any direction after being put to this occupation was another mystery. Certainly not an inch could be added to her stature in all the working days of her life. She could only grow at night and on Sundays. Now this is not exaggerated by an hair's breadth. Indeed, from my own personal observation I can state that it is under the mark in regard to the abominations which are practised. But, mark, my Lords, the fact mentioned—"a mass of cold clay held against the stomach," and this for many consecutive hours during the day by poor little females just emerging into puberty. The thing is horrible. The moral results are such as may be expected. Let us again hear Mr. Smith— Of course, the natural results ensue. Ignorance and immorality prevail to a fearful extent among the workmen and children so employed. How could it be otherwise? All goodness and purity seems to become stamped out of these people, and were I to relate what could be related, the whole country would become sickened and horrified. The master brick maker bore the same testimony in equally strong language. Those are his words— But there are often phases of evil connected with work in brickyards and clay yards generally which I must not overlook, especially the demoralizing effects ever accruing from the mixed employment of the sexes. A flippancy and familiarity of manners with boys and men grow daily on the young girls. Then, the want of respect and delicacy towards females exhibits itself in every act, word, and look, for the lads grow so precocious, and the girls so coarse in their language and manners from close companionship at work, that in most cases the modesty of female life gradually becomes a byword instead of a reality, and they sing unblushingly before all, while at work, the lewdest and most disgusting songs till oftentimes stopped short by the entrance of the master or foreman. The overtime work is still more objectionable, because boys and girls, men and women, are less under the watchful eye of the master, nor looked upon by the eye of day. All these things—the criminality, levity, coarse phrases, sinful oaths, lewd gestures, and conduct of the adults and youths, exercise a terrible influence for evil on the young children. The whole may be summed up in the words of Mr. Inspector Baker, who has so judiciously and calmly carried the present Act into operation, and who, after visiting these brickfields, deeply regretted their exclusion from the beneficial provisions of the Act— I consider the employment of children in brickyards absolutely cruel, and that the degradation of the female character in them is most complete. I have known parents in receipt of two, three, and four pounds a-week send their children out to work at clay works, for a few shillings per week, hung in rags, while the parents themselves rioted at home in luxuries and drink. My Lords, shall we ever hear again the old objection, so often rung in our cars, that children may, in the matter of labour and wage, be safely left in the arms of parental kindness? I trust, never. My Lords, I will add the testimony of my own experience. I went down to a brickfield and made a considerable inspection. On approaching I first saw at a distance what appeared like eight or ten pillars of clay, which, I thought, were placed there in order to indicate how deep the clay had been worked. On walking up I found to my astonishment that those pillars were living beings, They were so like the ground on which they stood, their features were so indistinguishable, their dress so besoiled and covered with clay, their flesh so like their dress, that until I approached and saw them move I believed them to be products of the earth. When I approached they were so scared at seeing anything not like themselves that they ran away screaming, as though something Satanic was approaching. I followed them to their work, and there I saw what Elihu Burritt has so well described. I saw little children three parts naked tottering under the weight of wet clay, some of it on their heads and some on their shoulders, and little girls holding up their shifts with large masses of wet, cold, and dripping clay pressing on the abdomen. Moreover, the unhappy children were exposed to the most sudden transitions of heat and cold; for after carrying their burdens of wet clay they had to endure the heat of the kiln and to enter places where the heat was so fierce, that I was not myself able to remain more than two or three minutes. Can it be denied that in these brickfields men, women, and children, especially poor female children, are brought down to a point of degradation and suffering lower than the beasts of the field? No man with a sense of humanity or with the aspirations of a Christian could go through those places and not feel that what he saw was a disgrace to the country, and ought not for a moment to be allowed to continue. Therefore, my Lords, I hope that not a day will be permitted to pass until an Address is sent up to the Queen, praying Her Majesty to take the condition of those poor people into her gracious consideration, in order that such abominations maybe brought speedily to an end. Let it not be said that these things are the result of poverty and necessity. No doubt there is much poverty and necessity—I have myself seen too many cases—but confirming the words of Inspector Baker, avarice, and where poverty does not exist, profligacy have stifled all the feelings of nature, and these poor children are sent to slave in the brickfields in order that they may minister to the luxury and rapacity of their parents. On this point the master brickmaker said— I have known parents in receipt of two, three, and four pounds a week send their children out to work in the clay fields for a few shillings per week, hung in rags, while the parents themselves rioted at home or in the pothouses, in every form of beastly excess. When children are thus treated by the parents it is time for the State to come forward and stand in the place of the parents, and rescue the children in the earliest stage of what must otherwise be a life-long degradation. I need not urge further arguments in support of my Motion. In those days, when the right of every child to be educated is no longer contested, I am certain that the benefit of that just and humane provision will not be denied to these small and helpless sufferers. The principle of State protection to those who are unable to protect themselves has been admitted over and over again, as well as that they are entitled to such a limitation of the hours of labour as will enable them to enjoy some physical repose, and acquire the elements of education. I do not believe that in the whole of England a person can now be found to question that right. It has also been proved that the Factories Act has worked, in every instance, for the benefit both of the employers and the employed. The employers now admit that they have suffered none of the evils which some of them anticipated from the Acts; and the employed, on their side, admit that under the present limitation of the hours of labour, labour so far from having lost its price has risen in value. I may mention that this very day I have received a letter from a very high authority saying that the limitations of the Factory Acts have been brought into operation in the Middlesex yards, and in some of the yards in Kent, with this result—that the work done by the men is not only better, but is greatly increased in quantity, because the effect of the limitation of the hours of labour and of the regular, but restricted attendance of the children, is that no time can be thrown away or lost in idleness. It seems to me, moreover, to be a matter of great importance in these days that Parliament should do all it can to wipe away such blots as those to which my Motion refers. The more that Parliament interferes to abate the difficulties of the labouring classes and to assert and protect their rights the greater will be the union between the Parliament and the people; and the final reason why I now call upon your Lordships to repress this great evil is in the justice we owe to that immense majority of English employers who have cordially accepted the Factories Extension and the Workshops Acts. It is greatly to their credit that such numbers of them have made these large concessions, and have cheerfully consented to carry into effect these Acts, because they believe them to be for the benefit of the whole community; and it is very unjust that the fair fame of the great body of English employers should suffer reproach because a small, but a very rapacious number of them refuse to give their workpeople the benefit of these wise provisions.

Moved that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty to take into Her consideration the state of the children in the brickfields as reported by the Commissioners in 1864, with a view to their being brought under the protection of the Factory Acts.—(The Earl of Shaftesbury.)


said, that he was sure the Motion would be unanimously accepted by their Lordships. He could fully bear testimony to the necessity for action in the matter. Middlesex was a county in which a very considerable number of persons were employed in the clay industry; and although, perhaps, the darkest features of the description drawn by the noble Earl would not be found in the Middlesex clay fields, he was yet prepared to say that few subjects better merited the attention of Parliament. Its evils were such as could only be cured by the action of the Legislature. There were considerable difficulties in limiting children's labour in brickmaking, partly arising from the custom of the trade, and partly from the peculiar character of the manufacture itself. Brickfields were generally divided into certain sections, each of which was worked by a separate gang, the man at the head of it paying it, while he himself was paid by the master brickmaker. A gang consisted generally of two strong men and one woman; the other three members of it might be, and generally were, children, whose age varied from 6 to 13 years. Each gang was only just strong enough to carry out the work assigned to it, so that if any one member was absent the whole work of the gang was stopped. The ordinary hours of labour in summer were from 5 in the morning to 7 in the evening, with three short intervals for meals; and the three children in each gang were, for the reason that he had explained, obliged to work the whole of that time. There was another reason why the work of the brickfield, although intermitted, was extremely severe at times. The manufacture could only be carried on in fine weather; so that not only were there months together in the winter when no work could be done, but even a 10 minutes' shower in the summer time put a stop to the whole of the labour for that day. The natural result was that there was a great desire on the part of the employers and of the labourers themselves to work every hour that they could; and he had been told by the manager of a brickfield that they thought they did very well if they kept it within 60 hours a week. He had already pointed out that the evil was one which could only be cured by the intervention of Parliament; and under any circumstances some difficulties must be experienced, because in this instance they would have to apply the half-time system not to children who were employed day after day all the year, but to children for whose labour there was a great demand in fine summer weather, and none at all in many of the winter months. The employment of girls in these brickfields was a serious point. The effect of that employment was the entire deterioration of their moral character. In this part of England the girls so occupied in summer went out to service in the winter, and returned to the brickfields in the summer, being tempted by the higher wages; but the outdoor work and life so roughed them that generally they could only obtain in the winter months places of the wost kind, and they were unfitted to become wives and mothers. He trusted that the appeal now made by the noble Earl would meet with a ready response from their Lordships, and that a remedy would be speedily applied, and would be effectual.


said, the noble Earl (the Earl of Shaftesbury) had drawn a most graphic picture of the condition of the labourers in our brickfields, and he regretted that he was obliged to corroborate what he had stated. No one could deny that the reports that had been made from time to time of the condition of these persons were deplorable. The noble Earl had said that brickfields were excluded from the Act of 1864; but he must remind the House that they were included under the two Acts passed in 1867, one of which included all brickyards employing more than 50 people, and the other—the Workshops Act—included all brickyards employing less than 50 people. There was no doubt that those workshops in which the smaller number was employed had not the provisions of the Workshops Act applied to them. No one who had listened to the description which the noble Earl opposite had given could deny that he had made out a case for the interference of the Legislature. A Bill had been introduced in "another place" by the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) to extend the application of the Act of 1864 to brickfields; but with the view of obviating the necessity of having two Bills, where one was sufficient, he (the Earl of Morley) proposed to introduce into the Bill of which he had the honour to move the second reading on the previous night the main provisions contained in the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Sheffield. The chief points of these provisions were that no female under the age of 16, and no boy under 10, should be employed in a brickfield under any circumstances. The provisions now carried out under the Workshops Act would, if the Bill became law this Session—of which, notwithstanding the scant encouragement given by the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury) last night, he was sanguine — be enforced by the local authorities, and would not therefore, as in many instances, become a dead letter.


said, he also could corroborate the statements of the noble Earl in moving the Address. On reading Mr. Smith's pamphlet he thought the statements contained in it utterly monstrous, but he had seen the gentleman himself and questioned him very closely about them. After a careful cross-examination he had arrived at the conclusion that, if anything, the writer had rather understated his case. Many of their Lordships would remember the state of things disclosed by the Committee appointed to inquire into the gang system, as connected with agriculture. But great as was the amount of vice disclosed by that inquiry it fell very far short of what might be seen and heard every day in some of the brickfields. There was, also, one very important difference between the two cases. The difficulty of legislating for the agricultural poor had always been that the wages of the agricultural labourer were so very low that he was often removed one stage from the workhouse. But that was not the case with brickfield labourers. He had ascertained from Mr. Smith that the average wages which a workman received in the brickyards were sufficient to maintain him and his family in decency and comfort if he was only steady and sober. But working men in these yards were in the habit of working only a certain number of days in the week and spending Sunday in "fuddling." As a consequence, they were unfit to go to work on Monday, and very frequently they did not return to work on Tuesday, and even on Wednesday there were many absentees. The wretched children were constantly kept at such work as could be intrusted to them in the absence of the adults; and the men after returning to work in the middle of the week had to make up in the last three days for the time they had lost by drunkenness, and this re-acted upon the children. This state of things was absolutely intolerable, and the result was what might be expected—an utter absence of modesty—vice beginning at an age when vice ought to be utterly unknown, stunted frames arising from over work and vicious indulgence, songs and stories of an improper character, young women universally becoming mothers before they were wives and bringing up their children to the same wretched fate to which they themselves had been brought up long before they could be considered accountable beings. He regretted that the terms of the present Motion had not been extended to females as well as children. He knew the difficulties of legislating in that direction, but Parliament had already banished females from underground work, and he would not be unwilling if their Lordships would go the length of asking Her Majesty to widen the scope of the Commission, and inquire how far the labour of females could be dispensed with. There would not be a single doubt in the minds of their Lordships as to the desirability of stepping in and protecting those wretched people who were not able to protect themselves.

Motion agreed to.