Oral History

Mr George Carter of Stoke Golding talks about the conditions under which the Frame Work Knitters Wrought-hose Branch live and work

Please Note The figures at the beginning of the line, correspond with the numbers at the foot of each report; and the figures at the end of the line, refers to the MS. Paging of the Volumes arranged for The House of Commons.

Interviewed: Mr George Carter

4741. Have the framework knitters of Stoke Golding had any meeting in reference to this Commission? --- Yes.

4742. Were you deputed to come here and give evidence on their behalf? --- Yes.

4743. What is the paper you hold in your hand? --- It is an account of the earnings and expenses of the framework knitters.

4744. When was it taken? --- On 14th of May

[The witness delivered in the same, and it was read, as follows]

4745. How many frames are there in Stoke Golding? --- 217. I have taken in the paper three classes, the best, the worst, and the middle class.

4746. This paper contains an account of 17 families? --- Yes 17.

4747. Were they selected, or taken as they came? --- We took a part of them as they came, and then, to bring in the middle classes, we missed some houses where the cases ran equally, so as to bring a fair statement before you. That was our object for taking it in that way. For instance, we went to one row of houses, and the rents were the same, and the families ran about the same, and the earnings were much the same, so we only brought one case out of that row.

4748. You think this may be taken as a fair average specimen of the condition of the framework knitters there? --- Yes, I urged upon every man to give such as account as he would give upon oath before you, if you should require him; and I believe - knowing the condition, as I have an opportunity of seeing most of the families every week - I believe it to be a fair statement of their earnings and expenditure.

4749. Are they always paid their wages in ready money now at Stoke Golding? --- The wages are always paid in ready money now at Stoke Golding; it was different till about November last when Hinckley raised a cry about the truck system, or else they are all employed by what are called bagman; with the exception of 10 frames in the village that send their work to Leicester, the rest are employed by what we call bagman.

4750. Do you believe that the truck system is quite put down there at present? --- It is carried on in an under way, which the law cannot touch. I believe the money is paid to workmen in the warehouse, and that the same parties who sold the goods before, sell them now; then the workmen go from the warehouse into the shop close by, and then pay their money and have their goods.

4751. Is the shop kept by a relative of the manufacturer's? --- The shop I am particularly alluding to is kept by the mother, and the son employs the hands; there are other employers that keep themselves, though they pay ready money for their wages.

4752. Do you find that those who do not deal with the shop get work as readily as those who do? --- I believe not; it is not the case in a difficult time of trade. I can answer for that on this ground. I had a daughter that worked to Mr L-----, he is one of the employers, and during a slack time of trade we used to buy our flour at another shop, and he sent me word that he was getting nothing out of the stockings, and if I did not lay the money out at the shop, he could not employ my daughter; consequently I used to have a stone and a half of flour, which was 2d a stone worse than I was buying it at the former shop I dealt with.

4753. Have any information been laid against any one in Stoke Golding for trucking? --- Not of late years; the people were in a state that they dare not come out, and the parish would not defend them. They are under Gilbert's Act, that parish, so that they have not the benefit of a board of Guardians.

4754. Are the number of frame increased in Stole Golding? --- Yes.

4755. Are many of them worked by young people? --- Yes there are a great many of them worked by the families of the parents; I have more than one in the list.

4756. What reason is given for their bringing up their children to the same trade? --- Because they cannot get them employment in any other way.

4757. Have the wages much diminished there since you have known the place? --- Oh yes, very much indeed; they are working at less than half price since I have known the trade. When I was a youth myself, I recollect that in 1811 the price was double to what it is now in Stoke Golding, for many kinds of work; it is the wrought trade.

4758. Have the charges remained the same, or have they increased? --- The frame-rents have been increased, I believe, in the wrought trade. We have been subject to many evils through the cut-up work, the spurious work; a position which I can perhaps illustrate by showing a specimen better than I can by telling you, because, before the cut-up work there was none of this stuff known, and this imposes upon the stocking maker a great deal of trouble.

[The Witness produced the article spoken of.]

4759. What do you call that work? --- We call it "striping."

4760. And that striping has been recently introduced, has it? --- Yes there was none of it known till the cup-ups came in. This is another kind of work [producing a stocking]. This is called "cashmere;" they dye them without colouring the cotton at the top, but that is all imposed upon the stocking-maker without any extra price; I generally attribute that to the cut-ups, the manufacturers wishing to distinguish their wrought stockings from cut-ups. There is another imposition [producing another stocking] that is in putting in two plain in the stocking without any extra remuneration, and in the finer gauges 1s, that is now taken off.

4761. And you consider that there is a considerable improvement in manufacture, but a much greater cost of labour to the workmen, without any proportionate remuneration for what extra labour? --- Yes.

4762. What other point do you wish to bring before the Commission? --- The high price of frame-rent I believe to be a great evil. The truck system, though it is suppressed now, has been a great evil. It was carried on at Stoke as late as February last, and the bad disposition of our employers was shown; they wanted to make us work so low, when I think they could avoid it, for, if I am rightly informed, within the last three months the worsted has risen from 3d to 4d a pound, and they give that price to the manufacturer of worsted without grumbling; and now that we have reasonably asked them to give us 3d a dozen in advance, some of them will not give it. I think that sufficient to show that they are badly disposed towards us. The next evil I have to complain of is, having so small a portion of land to our houses, and the high price of the rent we pay, together with having to pay the rates. I thought it perhaps was not known to Her Majesty's Government the poor men had to pay the rates; but it is the case in our village, except we have a family of four children then we are exempt.

4763. What rates are you now speaking of? --- The poor-rates and the church-rates. They are repairing the church at the present time and repewing it, and there is to be a rate of 20d in the pound; so that a person renting a house and paying 1s 9d a week will have to pay 2s 3d to the rate; the poor-rate is in proportion, and is about 3d a week. The next evil is, that there used to be four drachms to the pound allowed for waste that is not allowed now; and to prepare our worsted for working, we are obliged to be a serious expense in buying soap and oil to work it, otherwise the stocking would not be fit to be seen, and when we wind it there is a great deal of this stuff flies out and is waste, and cannot be all gathered up; some is gathered up, and some of the employers take it in, but a great deal flies away and cannot be got together again, therefore it increases the expenses.

4764. That would apply only to those heads of families who take the work out? --- Yes I consider there are some national evils, but I forbear entering into them, because I think they have been laid before you by more talented men than myself; But I think they have been a cause, in part, of the distress.

4765. Has there been any great increase in the number of small masters in the Hinckley trade, of late years, bagmen? --- In Stoke Golding, in the time that I referred to, 1811, they used to manufacture their own, and now there are four employers, and they are bagmen.

4766. What number of hands do they employ, do you know? --- I cannot say; the frames are employed, all the 217 frames, with the exception of 10 or 15; I should say they employ 200.

4767. And up to as late as February last you say the truck system was very prevalent there? --- Yes.

4768. That has been checked by the recent prosecutions in this neighbourhood I suppose? --- Yes.

4769. What is the state of the houses of the people in Stoke Golding? --- Some of them are pretty well, and some very bad; there is very little land to them, and some none at all.

4770. Have they any allotments there? --- No, they have not at this present time; this very day there could not be bough a pennyworth of vegetables in the village; we suffer much from that. There is some trust land left for the repair of the streets; we tried to get that, but we failed in the attempt, or at least we have hitherto, but there are some little hopes we shall get it. The fact is, the trustees gave the tenant notice to quit the ground on Lady-day last, and he refused, and they have at present declined to take out a prosecution against him; 'tis not decided yet, but they hold out the promise we shall have it. We entered, by the hopes of having this allotment land, into a sort of subscription, and almost every house in the village subscribed something towards paying the expenses; that shows that every person had a desire to get a bit of land.

4771. How many acres is the trust land? --- 16 acres of land we asked for; we have no waste or common land in the village.

4772. Have you noticed much change in the condition of the people for better or worse of late years? --- Much for the worse. As a proof of that, there is a Baptist place of worship in the village, and last Sunday was their school sermons, and they have been in the habit of getting 3/. or 4/. on the days of anniversary, and on Sunday last they got only 25s. The poor children are very wretched; we have no benevolent funds for the relief of the sick, nor the relief of anything else; we have not any charitable institution of any kind; however wretched the case may be, there is no relief.

4773. Have you no sick club? --- Yes, there is a sick club, but the men have to provide that for themselves.

4774. Is that well supported? --- It is rather better supported by the farmers in the village than it was some time age; they got aware that it would go down if they did not come out, and they gave their annual subscription; some of them did at the rate of 13s a year.

4775. That is in aid of the funds? --- Yes, and it is sinking every year; and I attribute the cause of its sinking to the men being brought down to such a low state of poverty that it brings on disease.

4776. Is there not a free school in the parish? --- Yes; and 72 acres of land were left many years ago by Mrs. Esther Hodges, of Somerset House, according to what is on a vault in the church.

4777. That is for the free education of the children of the poor? --- Yes, the poor inhabitants of the parish of Stoke Golding.

4778. Do any of the framework knitters avail themselves of it to send their children there? --- They cannot afford it, they cannot spare them; they are obliged to put them to seaming as soon as they are of a height, or as soon as they can see the eye of the needle they are put to seaming; they are obliged to be, in fact, so that there is no opportunity of sending them. Since Mr. Bourn, the curate of the parish and the master of the grammar-school, has been there, he is kinder; he gives the poor boys the opportunity of going on the Monday if they can, so then they work the rest part of the week; or else, before he came, they had used to be but about three go, and there are more than 600 inhabitants in the village.

4779. What is the view taken at Stoke Golding of the best remedy for improving the existing state of things? --- I think a stamp upon all goods for what they are would be a great benefit; that a percentage be paid instead of frame-rents; and that a penalty for trucking should be imprisonment instead of fine, and it should be more fully explained what trucking is. What I mean by that is to avoid, if possible this underhand work, where the law cannot touch them.

4780. In order to meet indirect trucking, you mean? --- Yes; and further, we think that the law should allow four drachms for waste on worsted.

4781. Would not the proportion that ought to be allowed depend upon, very much, the quality of the yarn? --- Yes, that used to be allowed when the yarn was spun by the hand-spinner, when there was not a tenth part of the waste that there is now. The law should protect us from the bad disposition of our employers.

4782. In what way? --- In the year 1816, the latter end of the year, trade was bad and wages reduced very low. In 1817 the hosiers met and made a statement and gave a stated price, which tended generally to the benefit of the stocking makers, and it was continued for some time. Then they broke it and got it down. In 1819 they thought there was a necessity for an alteration, and they made such an alteration as they thought proper, by adding two leads, which would made a difference in the stocking. They allowed in 1819 the price I have before named for the two plain, and that was taken of in 1821, to the best of my knowledge. The next remedy I would propose is, that the allotment system should be carried out in every place.

The Witness Mr George Carter withdrew.