The Manchester Cotton WorkersCategory: 19th century
The population employed in the cotton factories rises at five o’clock in the morning, works in the mills from six till eight o’clock, and returns home for half an hour or forty minutes to breakfast. This meal generally consists of tea or coffee with a little bread. The tea is almost always of a bad quality, and little or no milk is added. The operatives return to the mills and workshops until twelve o’clock, when an hour is allowed for dinner. Amongst those who obtain the lower rates of wages this meal generally consists of boiled potatoes. The family sits round the table, and each rapidly appropriates his portion on a plate, or, they all plunge their spoons into the dish, and with an animal eagerness satisfy the cravings of their appetite. At the expiration of the hour, they are all again employed in the workshops or mills, where they continue until seven o’clock or a later hour, when they generally again indulge in the use of tea.
The population nourished on this ailment is crowded into one dense mass, in cottages separated by narrow, unpaved, and almost pestilential streets; in an atmosphere loaded with the smoke and exhalations of a large manufacturing city. The operatives are congregated in rooms and workshops during twelve hours in the day, in the enervating, heated atmosphere, which is frequently loaded with dust or filaments of cotton, or impure from constant respiration, or from other causes. They are engaged in an employment which absorbs their attention, and unremittingly employs their physical energies.
Besides the negative results-the total abstraction of every moral and intellectual stimulus-the absence of variety-banishment from the grateful air and the cheering influences of light, the physical energies are exhausted by incessant toil, and imperfect nutrition.
Domestic economy is neglected, domestic comforts are unknown. A meal of the coarsest food is prepared with heedless haste, and devoured with equal precipitation. Home has no other relation to him than that of shelter few pleasures are there - it chiefly presents to him a scene of physical exhaustion, from which he is glad to escape. His house is ill furnished, uncleanly, often ill ventilated, perhaps damp; his food is meagre and innutritious; lie is debilitated any hypochondriacal.
These artizans are frequently subject to a disease, in which the sensibility of the stomach and bowels is morbidly excited. Whilst this state continues, the patient loses flesh, his features are sharpened, the skin becomes pale, leaden coloured, or of the yellow hue which is observed in those who have suffered from the influence of tropical climates. The strength fails, all the capacities of physical enjoyment are destroyed, and the paroxysms of corporeal are aggravated by the horrors of a disordered imagination, till they lead to gloomy apprehension, to the deepest depression, and almost to despair.
From: Industrialisation and Culture. 1830-1914