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Minutes of the evidence taken before the Committee on the Factories Bill

In 1832 a Parliamentary Select Committee was set up to investigate conditions in factories, with a view to passing legislation to restrict working hours of females and children. This is part of the evidence taken by the committee.  The questions are numbered 4442-4465 in the original document.

Mark Best: 2 June 1832.

One of the Witnesses has stated, that in some mills it was so mixed with the material of the work, that the refuse hangs about the mouth when they are eating their food; is that the case?
In a dusty place it will fly about till they can scarcely see themselves.

How can the dust hang round their mouths?
It does in those dusty rooms, the card rooms.

Is it a common thing for them to clean their food which has been in these dusty rooms?
Yes, it is necessary sometimes to do so.

Were they always able to eat their food then?
Sometimes in those dusty places it takes away their appetite, and they cannot eat it, and some of them are obliged to desist from their labour two or three times a week.

Speaking of the long hours of labour, how were those children treated when they were kept at their work for such a time?
In those rooms I have been in, spinning rooms, they have small boys and girls to doff the bobbins off, and those that are the last they beat with a strap to make them look sharp.

Do you mean to say they beat them at Mr. Marshall's and the rest you have named?

Did you perceive that the beating was worse towards the termination of the day, when the children got fatigued?
Yes, when they were fatigued and tired they were obliged to use them worse to make them keep up.

Have you reason to think that in any of those mills the masters or the managers were aware that the children were thus beaten and strapped?
Yes, they knew it very well; they encouraged them to do it. Mr. Stirk's was the last place I was at, and the young Mr. Stirk made a strap for me himself, and told me to use it freely, and make them look sharp.

Will you describe the sort of straps which are made use of?
They are about a foot and a half long, and there is a stick at the end: and that end they beat them with is cut in the direction of my fingers, thus, having five of six thongs, some of them.

Are some of them set in a handle?
Yes, and some are not.

Some of them are regularly made for the purpose?

You say you had one of them delivered to you by a master, who urged you to make use of it and to lay it on freely?

Is Mr. Stirk's a large establishment?
No, not very large.

Do you think that you could have got the quantity of work out of the children for so great a number of hours without that cruel treatment?
No, I dare say I should not, for that number of hours I could not, I think; it is a long time; I think they could not, without beating them, get the quantity of work they want. The speed of the machinery is calculated, and they know how much work it will do, and unless they are driven and flogged up, they cannot get the quantity of work they want from them.

So that the children have to be kept up to their work, more particularly towards the evening by this flogging?

Were they fined as well as beaten occasionally?

For what were they fined?
For various things; if they were caught combing their hair before they went home, or washing themselves; they were fined for such things as those.

What reason was there for fining them for washing themselves?
It was to prevent their doing such things.

Do you know on what account they wished to prevent their washing and combing themselves? Was it to prevent their taking up time?
Yes, it was.

Was there any other reason for preventing it?
If they caught them doing any other frivolous thing, such as cleaning their shoes or doing anything so as to go home decent at night.

Did they fine them for doing this during the hours of work, or for doing it after the house of work were over?
If they did it, it was in case of their doing it when the work was going on.

Were the children allowed, when the work went on well, to clean themselves at all in this manner?
No, they did not allow them to do any such thing; they do not even allow them to speak to one another.

So that there was profound silence enjoined?

Would they allow the girls to do a little sewing when the work was going on well?
No, they would fine them for it if they caught them at it.

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