A report produced in 1843 for the Children's Employment Commission

A Willenhall Journeyman and His Wife, 1841
Children’s Employment Commission 1843. Evidence collected by R. H. Home.

James Hughes, aged 47, journeyman keymaker:

Has lived in Willenhall above 20 years; has seen children of the age of 10 and 12, who were indoor apprentices of a small master, ill used and beaten sadly, and made to go without their meals. They had good beds to lie and were well clothed; but the master had no patience to speak to the boys; was always in an ill-humour with them; never saw him otherwise. As to their doing their work, he'll make ‘em do that of course, if they work till 11 o’clock at night; has worked himself for this master, but could not get a living out of him; because of he earned l2s. a week the master took 3s.2d. discount; calls this 5s.6d. discount in the pound. When he has paid 2s. a week to the book - the money he has borrowed of the master - and 2s. for his rent, then 3s. 2d. discount, he has only 4s.10d. (out of l2s.) to live upon a week and maintain his wife, who is a cripple, and one child too young to work.

Has another child, a girl of 14:, who is a cripple also; does not know how his wife and daughter became cripples - but the crippling came. The small masters, and the large ones too, almost always make the journeymen hire themselves to them for a time, generally for a year, and lend them money to begin with; the man has to give a written contract, which the master keeps; the man keeps no copy; the master would not give him a copy if he asked for it. The master puts down in a book the weekly payments the man makes of his debt, but he would not put down the same in a book kept by the man. If all the money of the debt is not paid off at the year's end by the weekly instalments the man has to remain with the master as much longer as will pay it by the same weekly instalments.

Has not worked now these five weeks; has only got 8s. in last six weeks; thinks he might just as well walk about idle with nothing to eat as work from morning to night and have nothing to eat. There are more than him working in the same branch, who are doing the same; they cannot live by such wages. His wife was once ‘prenticed to a woman who got up all manner of tailoring, and as she was a cripple she got a bit of patching given her now and then, or what not of mending old clothes, and sometimes got as much as 8d. in one day. That was how they lived at those times; sometimes she got more, and then both fare alike, one with the other. They have no blankets; they cover themselves at night with an old bag. Has buried thirteen children.

(All dirt and rags; utterly destitute; with a composed air of habitual endurance.)

Jane Hughes, aged 50, wife of James Hughes:

Is a cripple; has no clothes to cover her at night, except what she wears in the day, and a sheet; she bought it for a penny a yard when she lay in with her last child; it was stuff that came off brown sugar bags, as thin as a piece of brown paper. Fetch it down, Jen! Has had 15 children - buried all but two. Has nothing in her bedroom. 0h, go up and look! - its soon seen, ha! Ha! Ha!

(The bedroom had nothing in it but an old broken bedstead, with a dirty old bag upon the sacking, which had burst in the middle, and hung down nearly touching the floor. The floor and stairs were perfectly clean. The cripple was full of animal spirits, and in utter destitution).

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