|the local history of Stoke-on-Trent, England
'When I Was a Child' - autobiography of Charles Shaw
a first hand account of life as a child worker in the North Staffordshire
Potteries in the 1840's
Chapter 8 - Paying Wages at Public-Houses
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As I have mentioned wages, I must describe the paying of wages on a Saturday night. We usually left the works between five and six o'clock. The custom was to pay three or four men, with their helpers, in one lump sum, say a five-pound note, and some odd sovereigns.
It would have been just as easy for the employers to get silver or half-sovereigns, so that each worker could get his or her pay direct. No such thoughtful providence, however, existed. The wages were fastened up in one lump until loosened at some public-house.
The men, of course, soon ate their portion of food, and began the drinking, which, with short intervals, would not cease perhaps till the following Tuesday night. As the drinking went on they became talkative and effusive. Boys and women would be asked to drink and pressed to drink. In the case of the boys this sometimes meant semi-intoxication before the wages were received.
Boys, I know, have been sent home drunk with the miserable pittance of two or three shillings in their pockets for working a week in the way I have described. Meantime the publican kept the change back. Apparently he was counting untold pound-piles of silver, and if asked for the change, replied he was getting on as fast as he could, and that other folks were before them. Not until he was assured of a fair return for his " change,'' or until he saw his adult customers were settled for a night's booze, did he bring out the change. This may be said for the publican's honesty, I never remember a dispute about the change being wrong.
When all were paid, the women and boys were sent home, the night's booze properly set in, and towards ten o'clock, poor wretched women would appear and entreat their husbands to go home. When this failed, they pleaded for money, as they had not a penny with which to pay the week's bills or to provide for the morrow. In some cases they would meet with brutal resistance, followed by a look of despair in the face of many a poor woman. In others they met with boisterous fun and a ready yielding of a portion of money.
If they sent for change to a shop for a sovereign, they did not get twenty shillings for it. It was put in the scales and weighed, and something nearly always deducted for short weight as alleged. I remember going to a shop of an old gentleman who was a class leader.I put down a sovereign, and he took it up and put it in the scales he had on the counter. After weighing it, with a beaming face he looked at me and said, " My boy, I can only allow you nineteen shillings and sixpence for this, as it is light." He was always a very amiable man, and of high reputation, but I have wondered if he only got nineteen shillings and sixpence for that sovereign from his banker. Advantage was taken of the ignorance of the people.
What would be said now if a man who earned a pound a week had two and a half per cent, deducted for being paid in silver. Such a sovereign paid forty times to a wage-earner would be fully redeemed. Did the Royal Mint ever get that sovereign presented to it for nothing after its fortieth change ? Yet even in those days, when the total product of labour and capital was so unequally divided, we heard of the rapacity of the working classes, though they were robbed by good men in details outside their labour, robbed, of course, within certain constitutional usages which took away the odium and dishonour of personal guilt. We heard of their reckless and wicked attempts to get more than they ought to have.
Nations sometimes have volcanic, political and social disturbances. Let us hope that in our old country the forces of wrong and discontent will pass away in happier and more equal adjustments between all classes, and that the sweetening and endearing influence of brotherhood will spread security and confidence throughout all their ranks.
Wood heads the list of manufacturers who issued the following notice in
I have referred to the holiday feeling prevailing on Monday, especially in the workshops. In winter-time the girls would make a mess of toffy, boiled on one of the stove pots. In summer, and right into the autumn, visits would be made to the market-place, and carrots, turnips (to be eaten raw) and fruits would be bought. As we were near Cheshire, cheap and good vegetables and fruit could be bought. We didn't call them " fruit banquets " in those days, as those sterner times were not given to such luscious phrases.
These Monday indulgences, owing to paucity of means, generally meant the lessening of even the plain fare which came later in the week. With the boys the Monday's dinner generally consisted of slices of currant dumpling, which had been left from Sunday's dinner, and which frugal mothers had an eye to when the family dumpling was made on the Sunday. These slices of currant dumpling were considered delicious compared with thick bread and thin butter spread on it and half dried in.
Now was the time for Wonnox to display his marvellous faculties for winning portions of the currant dumpling. But who was Wonnox ? Well, he was a wedger of clay for the throwers. He was half-idiotic, with a broad back, sturdy limbs, a coarse face with two small holes in it in which rolled small, restless, ferrety eyes. His nose was a huge flat centre-piece, which might have been a ball of clay placed there and which someone had flattened. His mouth was a cavernous-looking place, with no feature about it but that of capaciousness. It was what Bismarck in a later day has described as a "carpet bag mouth."
Another Monday and Tuesday entertainment consisted in rough play when the men were drinking on the premises. One favourite form of this was to place a green ware vessel, sufficiently dried to hold water, over a door partially open, and send for someone as if the visit were eagerly desired. The 'cuter folks always gave the door a shove before they entered the shop, and down came the water on the floor. But those in a hurry, or the thoughtless, or the simple, went forward, and got the full contents of the vessel amid the uproarious jeers of those who were looking on.
Our employer was away in his country mansion, and while entertaining his guests, his workpeople, all unknown to him, were wallowing in drunkenness, or brutal enjoyments, or degrading indulgences for boys and girls to witness. But " the cash nexus " was the only " nexus " which connected him with his workpeople, and if this were right, what matter what else were wrong.
Yet I remember what vile terms were used in relation to working men in those days, especially if they sought by a strike to better their condition, or expressed any desire for political enfranchisement. How like an unreal but ghastly comedy all this looks now.
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previous: New Experiences in a New Situation
The Wedgwood Family and Enoch Wood - a history walk around Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent. The purpose of the walk is to look at the transformation of the town which occurred between 1714 when George I came to the throne and the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837.