I think you would have to be really poor of imagination not to feel something at seeing the handwriting of an ancestor. I am staring at the marriage certificate of James Hampson and Sarah Tildsley who were married on December 9th 1838 in the parish church of Eccles.
And sometime just a decade after their marriage they took the momentous step and left for Canada with their five children the eldest of whom must have been no more than eleven and the youngest just about two years old. It is a story I have begun to tell, http://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/making-new-start-canada-in-1851.html and like all such stories there is so much more.
James Hampson was born in 1816 and Sarah a year later and they reflected something of the changes that were happening to Pendleton. Both came from families which were connected with the new Pendleton which was a place of cotton mills, dye works and coal mines. Sarah’s father was an engineer and both James and his father were cotton dyers. By the 1840s this part of the northwest had become a centre for the manufacture of cotton. In 1842 there were 412 cotton mills employing thousands of workers in what is now the Greater Manchester area while Manchester alone had 41 factories.
And cotton dyeing is an essential part of the cotton process. Many of the dye works were situated along the banks of the River Irwell utilising the steady flow of water. Before the 1850s the process still relied on natural dyes using the flowers, berries, leaves, barks and roots of plants and herbs. As such the work would not have been as dangerous as it was to become with the introduction of chemical dyes.
But it must still have been very uncomfortable. James would have constantly been exposed to hot and cold water and dyes which left his hands stained different colours. He would also have worked longer hours than other cotton workers. Long after the government had begun to regulate working hours in the cotton industry a Royal Commission in 1855 found that many bleaching, dyeing and printing workers regularly put in fifteen or sixteen hours a day and often continued for several days and nights without stopping.
Looking out from their home the Hampson’s would have been faced with a row of one up one down back to back houses which backed on to Miners Row. Theirs might have been a slightly bigger house but the detailed 1848 OS map shows that their nearest water pump was some distance away.
And while there are was sill dotted with plenty of open land it must have been obvious that in the next few decades all of it would be developed for more industrial and residential use.
The rural appearance of where they lived should not blind us to the fact that it must have been a hard life.
Hours were long and wages were low. Engels quotes from the Factory Inspector, Leonard Horner in October 1844
“The state of things in the matter of wages is greatly perverted in certain branches of cotton manufacture in Lancashire; there are hundreds of young men, between twenty and thirty, employed as piecers and other wise who do not get more than eight or nine shillings a week, while children under thirteen years, working under the same roof, earn five shillings, and young girls from sixteen to twenty years, ten to 12 shillings per week” *
Wages fluctuated with the trade cycle.** In 1833 the highest wages were paid to men between the ages of 31 to 36, with huge disparities recorded for women and children. Their wages could also be docked for minor misdemeanours ranging from lateness to leaving a window open.***
Now trying to make sense of wages one hundred and sixty-years later is always fraught with difficulty. However Engels living in 1845 was in no doubt that the above wage levels were not good. And this had a direct impact on the standard of living. Their food was basic and monotonous. The staples were bread, oatcakes, watery porridge, potatoes, and a little bacon. Sometimes the porridge was flavoured with onions. Porridge was also made in thick lumps so it could be eaten with the hands at work. Tripe (sheep stomach lining), slink (calf born too early), and broxy (diseased sheep) were regarded as treats by the poorest.
Many workers were still paid on a Saturday evening and by then the quality of food at the markets was poor.
“The potatoes which the workers buy are usually poor, the vegetables wilted and the cheese old and poor quality, the bacon rancid, the meat lean, tough, taken from old , often diseased cattle”****
An observation Engels followed up the report that on January 6th 1844 eleven meat sellers had been fined for selling tainted meat. Added to this there was the adulteration of food as this report from The Liverpool Mercury shows
Salt butter is moulded into the form of pounds of fresh butter, and cased over with fresh. In other instances a pound of fresh is conspicuously placed to be tasted; but that pound is not sold; and in other instances salt butter, washed is moulded and sold as fresh...pounded rice and other cheap materials are mixed in sugar, and sold at full monopoly price. A chemical substance...the refuse of the soap manufactories...is also mixed with other substances and sold as sugar...chicory is mixed in good coffee. Chicory, or some similarly cheap substance, is skilfully moulded into the form of the coffee berry, and it is mixed with the bulk very liberally...cocoa is extensively adulterated with fine brown earth, wrought up with mutton fat; so as to amalgamate with portions of the real article...the leaves of tea are mingled with sloe levies and other abominations. Used leaves are also re-dried, and re-coloured on hot copper plates, and sold as tea. Pepper is adulterated with dust from husks etc; port wine is altogether manufactured (from spirits, dyes etc.), it being notorious that more port wine is drunk in this country than is made in Portugal. Nasty things of all sorts are mixed with weed tobacco in all its manufactured forms.” *****
Hard work, long hour’s poor housing and a poor diet left its mark on the health of people. In 1842 the average life expectancy of the working class in Manchester was just 17 years of age. There is no reason to suppose it was any better in Salford. Indeed infant mortality in Salford in 1850 was much higher than the national average.******
'...their complexion is sallow and pallid--with a peculiar flatness of feature, ...their stature low--the average height of four hundred men, measured at different times, and different places, being five feet six inches...their limbs slender, and playing badly and ungracefully...a very general bowing of the legs...great numbers of girls and women walking lamely or awkwardly, with raised chests and spinal flexures...nearly all have flat feet, accompanied with a down-tread, differing very widely from the elasticity of action in the foot and ankle, attendant upon perfect formation...hair thin and straight--many of the men having but little beard, and that in patches of a few hairs...' *******
Given all this it is easy to see why a family might choose an alternative and the 1840s were a hard time for all but the rich and there were schemes to resettle working families across the Empire. This was a policy that was actively pursued by the Poor Law Commissioners with parochial aid or assistance from local landlords. The Commissioners reported that over 2, 000 had gone to Canada in 1841 which was an increase on the year before, and that assistance was also being given to move to Australia and New Zealand.
*Horner Leonard Factory Inspector quoted by Engels Frederick The Conditions of the Working Class in England 1845 page 170
**Frow, Edmund & Ruth, Radical Salford 1984 page 34
***Frow, page 4
****Engels page 101
*****Liverpool Mercury quoted in Engels, Friedrick page 102
******In 1850 infant mortality was 175 per thousand compared to 150 nationally
*******Gaskell P, The Manufacturing Population of England, London, 1833
Pictures; Marriage certificate from the collection of Jacquie Pember-Barnum, 1848 OS map for Lancashire and Union Street Mill,Ancoats, Austin and Gahey, 1835, m52534, Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council