Thursday, 28 October 2010

Oh half-term where did you go?

Britain's bread hangs by Lancashire's thread.

Yesterday, we visited Queen Street Mill in Burnley. It has a fine example of,

"[an] original Lancashire boiler, the 500 horse power tandem compound steam engine “PEACE”, the line shafting which runs throughout the mill and the 19th century looms connected to it."
It's a fascinating place. It continued to work until it was forced to close in the 1980s as it was unable to compete with cheaper manufacturing methods. The working steam engine was so interesting, particularly watching the man setting it all up.

They have many old looms and other weaving paraphernalia. The history is fascinating, looking at the old working practices and the equipment.

A working day in the Victorian mill started at 6.00 am, at 8.00 am they had half an hour for breakfast, then at 12 noon they had an hour for dinner, then the looms worked until 5.30 pm. They worked a six day week - but they finished earlier on a Saturday.

I was rather amused by this old 'rules' poster from 1851. So I bought it on a printed tea-towel.

"If two persons are known to be in one Necessary together they shall be fined 3d each; and if any Man or Boy go into the Women's Necessary he shall be instantly dismissed."

"The Masters would recommend that all their workpeople Wash themselves every morning, but they shall wash themselves at least twice every week, Monday morning and Thursday morning; and any found not washed will be fined 3d for each offence".
Fascinating and rather amusing. With all the fines for this that and the other I'm amazed that they managed to actually make any money. The workers were paid for piece work, that is they were paid for the amount they produced. If anything broke down or if the steam engine wasn't working then it was the workers who suffered.

Instead of working until a task had been finished, and then taking it to the employer's warehouse and picking up new work, factory workers' lives were governed by the clock and by the need to produce as much as possible during their long working hours. They were paid according to the output of the machine. Printed rules were pinned up to maintain work discipline, and people were fined for late arrival or for breaking the rules. Children were sometimes subjected to beatings for falling asleep over their work, especially in the early years, when some were contracted out by workhouses as 'pauper apprentices' and badly abused. BBC

The cotton mills employed a large female workforce.

Throughout the period, a high proportion of factory workers were women (more than 60 per cent of the workforce at the end of the period) and children, many of whom were taken out of school at the earliest opportunity to boost the family's earning power. Women were heavily concentrated into weaving, the preparation of cotton for spinning in the dirty and dusty conditions of the cardroom, and ring spinning, a new technology which appeared in the 1880s. Especially unusual was the high proportion of married women, who formed more than one-third of the female labour force in certain weaving towns. BBC

At the top of my post, you can see an old photograph of a cotton mill weaving shed. The noise is horrendous - and as you can see from the following video (click link) only one loom is being worked and the noise is deafening. See this short video here: Lady making calico at queen street textile mill. Most mill workers suffered from hearing problems. In order to communicate workers used 'mee maw'.
mee maw

Verb. To pull faces. From the exaggerated expressions made on the faces of conversing mill workers, in an attempt to make themselves understood over the din of machinery. [Lancashire use. 1900s?] (from here)

My great-grandmother worked in the mills - in fact most of my ancestors were weavers (and some were hatters). She was profoundly deaf.


This morning we went over to church and met up with some other children. My friend had organised a treasure hunt and some other games to play. They had lots of fun. After dinner (lunch) Chatterbox went to a friend's house to play and for tea and Squidge and I went on an autumnal walk. Squidge wants to make a 'garden in a box'. So hubs has brought home some boxes from work and we are going to arrange Squidge's finds like a little autumnal garden tomorrow.

After our walk Squidge arranged the table for tea. She wanted to make it pretty. Didn't she do well? :)

I can't believe that it's Thursday evening and half-term week is almost over. It's far too short.


  1. The mill sounds fascinating! My adopted grandparents were from Blackburn, so (inevitably) were from mill working families. My female ancestors in the 19th century were strawplaiters making plait to be used for hats - it was a huge cottage industry locally. Even very little girls often attended "plait schools".

  2. the mill does sound fascinating. another point though...the mee maw...reminds me of The Big Bang Theory show that I watch. Sheldon calls his grandmother mee maw. after seeing your definition...I'm not sure why. :) maybe I'll see if there are any more definitions.

  3. Bookworm - how interesting. Weaving was our family's 'cottage' industry until the mills opened and then it was into the mills!