Jim Lawton

My grandfather on my father's side was a mill worker, my uncle worked for Metrovicks, and as a young man I worked at Naylor Brothers' pipe works in Cawthorne, the engine sheds at Longsight in Manchester and, like my uncle, I worked for a couple of years at AEI, Metropolitan Vickers as was, in Trafford park. All these jobs were on the shop floor, or closely associated with it, and this has given me an abiding respect for those who work with their hands in conditions which few office workers can begin to imagine.

I have always been interested in industrial archeology and social history and like my parents I've always been a socialist. Perhaps this is why ballads and broadsides about work in factories, mills and mines hold a special attraction for me.

I might also add that my childhood home in Upper Cumberworth was situated on a kind of industrial divide. Only four miles to the South lies Penistone, then the northern outpost of the Sheffield steel industry, a couple of miles North and you were in weaving country, and to the East at Clayton West was the edge of the Yorkshire coal field. To the West there is nothing much, the moors beginning in a couple of miles, and then you were in industrial Lancashire, with its cotton mills and engineering.

 
The Little Piecer

Buzzer's blowing Willy lad,
Lights are blazing down below,
Come on best get ready lad,
It almost time to go.

Sithy old Wilson's shut his gate,
Henry Cartwright's crossin't fold,
Come on lad best not be late,
The mornin's black and cold.

Kettle's boiled, your cocoa's brewed,
Y'll find a bun on't cellar head,
Sun has touched on yonder hill,
Come on lad, it's time for't mill.

Buzzer's blowing Willy lad,
Lights are blazing down below,
Come on best get ready lad,
It almost time to go.

 

"I go at 5 o'clock in the morning ...
and go home sometimes at 9, sometimes 10 at
night. On Friday we work all night sometimes.
I go on Friday at breakfast time; on Friday night
at 6 o'clock I go home to bed for four hours.
I feel very tired when I leave on Saturday morning.
My feet are often blood raw and they pain me."
 
- boy of 12, 1855

 
   

The Four Loom Weaver

A'm a four loom weaver as many a one knows.
A've nowt to eat and A've worn out me clothes.
Mi clogs are both brokken and stockin's A've none.
Tha'd scarce gi' mi tuppence for all A've got on.

Now our church parson's been tellin' mi long,
Aa things might improve if A'd nobbut howd me tongue,
Well A've hodden it se long that A'm near aart o' breath,
An' A feel in my 'eart that A'll soon clem to death.

Old Bill's o' Dan's sent the bailiffs one day,
For a shop-score I owed 'im that Ah couldn't pay,
But he were too late, for owd Billy o' Bent
Ad sent 'orse n cart,
Tekken my goods f't rent.

We held aat fer six weeks, thought each day were the last,
We tarried, we shifted till nah we're quite fast,
We dined upon nettles while nettles were good
And the Waterloo porridge were t'best on us food.

Yar Margaret said if she'd clothes to put on,
She'd go up to London to see the great man,
An' if things didn't alter when there her had bin
She swore she'd fight with blood right up to the end.

A'm a four loom weaver as many a one knows,
A've nowt to eat and A've wore aht me clothes
Clogs I 'ave none nor no looms to weave on
And A've wovven missen t't far end.

 

 
Not only is there not a breath of sweet air in these truly infernal scenes, but there is the abominable and pernicious stink of the gas to assist in the murderous effects of the heat. In addition to the noxious effluvia of the gas, mixed with the steam, there are the dust, and what is called cotton-flyings or fuz, which the unfortunate creatures have to inhale; and . . .the notorious fact is that well constitutioned men are rendered old and past labour at forty years of age, and that children are rendered decrepit and deformed, and thousands upon thousands of them slaughtered by consumptions, before they arrive at the age of sixteen.

[Quoted from Pike, Human Documents of the Industrial Revolution in Britain,
60-61, by Duiker and Spielvogel, World History, 780.]