Chapter I


This factory is owned by Messrs. Wm. Ritchie & Sons, of London and Dundee. The works stand on about four acres of ground, one half of which is covered in, and the rest an open space or shed. On my visit to this place, Captain Ritchie, M.P., with that courtesy which so highly adorns any rank, walked over the premises with me, rendering me every assistance in acquiring the information I desired, in order to describe the works of his firm. The number of hands employed is about 1,000, many of them girls and women, and the wages paid is about £26,000 annually. The product of these 'hands' in yarn is 158,400,000 yards weekly, and the jute cloth produced in the same period measures 150,000 yards. The quantity of jute manufactured every week is about 60 tons. The goods produced find their way to both home and foreign markets. Obviously Messrs. Ritchie treat their employés well, and no one could fail to see these contented looking people at work without feeling that they were not undeserving of good treatment. When the new Factory Act came into operation it was necessary that three hours less of labor should be required weekly. It would have been competent, according to the Act, to refuse to admit the workers as early as formerly in the morning. At the Stratford Jute Factory this would be the best arrangement for the masters. Or half-an-hour more could have been added to the dinner hour, or half-an-hour taken off the time of leaving off work in the evening. The frrm, however, placed themselves in the hands of the operatives in the matter, and, providing a ballot box, gave each one an opportunity of signifying his or her wish as to whether the half hour should be given in the morning, at dinner time, or in the evening. The result was that the hands voted almost unanimously for getting away half-an-hour earlier in the evening. The effect of this course on the part of the employers must have been to inspire the ernployés with confidence. Its influence cannot have failed to arouse more self-respect; and probably in a jute factory, as well as in every other place in this world, the power of so-called little things makes itself felt to an extent beyond all calculation, whether for good or evil. As a rule the working classes are just as impressionable as other people. Too little is often expected of employés, and the result is, self-respect is blunted, and the outcome is nothing, or something worse. David Livingstone once worked in a factory; but he was the most quiet, industrious, and obedient lad in the place, and his memory casts a halo around the calling. Amongst the greatest men, especially of the present age, many were factory or foundry workers. But not one of those who rose to greatness was ever known to be a slovenly worker, an idler, a fidgetty 'hand,' in the least above his work, or unwilling to obey orders. In entering the premises I found myself in the mechanic's shop, where mending, and in some cases making machinery, is carried on. Passing from this place I came into the store-house of the jute in bales. Here I learnt that one of the great advantages Messrs. Ritchie possess in being in London is that they are near to the warehouses in which the jute is transferred from the ship. In fact these Works, which were erected in 1864, are an exemplification of the principle that the nearer the manufactory is to the ship side, where its raw material must be imported, the larger will be the profits in all states of trade. I can never pass by evidences of the adoption of a principle in respect to textile and fibrous manufactures, without remembering the past of these trades in the United Kingdom. I also hope that reform may soon set in, so that we may not lose our prestige, or allow others to pre-occupy the markets of the world. When the cotton trade began, in the end of last century, to be developed, flax was gradually put aside to make room for the new and foreign fibre. The introduction of machinery instead of hand labor and especially the adoption of steam power, have acted like a propeller, and driven us into a position in regard to the respective claims of flax and cotton, which demands careful and immediate consideration. The jute trade, however, can only be stimulated the more we cling to our natural department, flax, leaving cotton to take its proper place for the time to come. In order to place cotton and flax each in its own place, it is necessary that whichever leaves the largest profit should be chosen. Also that the places selected for the work ought to be those in which, all things considered, the greatest amount of labor could be performed at the smallest cost. But passing from flax and cotton, the factory at Stratford is a sermon in bricks and mortar, as to the selection of a good site in which to spin jute and make cloth for guano bags, Indian corn bags, as well as packing cloths, sacking, and the various other products of this comparatively new fibre in the United Kingdom, which is filling a place of the greatest importance amongst our textile manufactures. In the room next to the storehouses the first processes of manufacture are carried on. Here the bales are opened and the fibre sorted. There are several machines in this room. To one is committed, by skilful hands, the jute, so that it may be softened and oiled. By another the prepared fibre is transferred, and receives its first formation into that which eventually terminates in yarn. These processes are very interesting and to any one unused to mills in which flax, cotton, hemp, or jute are spun, they must be a rare curiosity, and that chiefly because of their simplicity, in which obviously lies their efficiency. On the machine into which the oiled jute goes, there is a dial plate, the hands of which move according to the charge put into the machine, so that according to the grist of yarn to be made, which governs the weight of cloth, the operator may see how to regulate the supply. In fact, the whole place is like clockwork, whether it be in the carding, the drawing, the roving, the spinning, the winding, the weaving, the measuring, the callendering, the cutting into lengths, or the packing departments, these processes forming simply a series of skilled labors, ending in a result before fixed upon. There are 4,000 spindles at work and 184 looms as well as hydraulic presses and other appliances. A jute mill differs from a flax mill in many respects, and in one particularly which must touch the pocket of the proprietors. Flax machinery and linen looms cost a great deal; but while I presume to no special knowledge on the subject, beyond an idea that metal is worth something, new or old, and that the more there is of it the greater the value, I must say that, even bought in the cheapest market, the machinery in this factory must represent an investment of money which gives its owners a stake in the locality, and forbids the possibility of their being uninterested in any matter affecting, however remotely, East London interests. We do not live in a thinking age, else I should venture to assume that a glance across the two acres of polished iron to be here seen at work would suggest that, were it not for capitalists able and willing to invest money in mills, 1,000 sets of busy fingers could not be employed. Besides, that seems a very advantageous division of labour which renders it as practicable for the operative boy, girl, woman, or man who has no money capital to invest - character and skill are capital - to earn a fair, and, as in the case under notice, a liberal wage, as it is for masters to gain a just remuneration for their brain work, and a fair interest on the money at stake, after providing against wear and tear, fluctuations of markets, and bad debts. Next comes the carding process, which takes hold of the softened and oiled jute now already put into shape; the drawing then does its share, then the roving comes in, and finally, in the progress towards yarn, spinning completes the process. The labourers at all these machines mast be attentive. They have to learn how to do their respective parts. They are not overworked, and seem to be exceedingly facile in all their movements, that of changing empty bobbins for full ones included. There is a foreman in each department, whose disciplinarian powers seem but little taxed. But to those who lead the workpeople, that order which is so marked a feature of the place, is nevertheless no doubt largely due. There is no reeling machinery, yet the yarn is reeled in a very simple way, suited however, only to such a strong thread as jute. There is no warping machinery, but there is a winding process. The yarn gets into the beam of the loom in a way at once ingenious and efficient, and, once there, weaving is one of the easiest things possible. The girls or women who 'tent' the looms have a nice job. It requires a watchful eye and nimble fingers, but is neither toilsome nor difficult to understand. The bobbin in which the weft is wound has in it no quill, or cane, or wooden barrel, an improvement which shows what invention can do. The cloth, being woven, is taken away in cuts, measured and examined, according to the results of which the weavers are paid. If the cloth be turned out badly, a reproof, a fine, or dismissal follows, according to whether the offence be a first, a second, or an oft-repeated one. The goods are then weighed, damped, callendered, packed and pressed, all of which processes, like the manufacturing, are done skilfully, and like clockwork. The dial plates already noticed prevail all over the works, and serve a most important end in each case. The hydraulic press in use is a monster. It leaves a bale of goods as hard to the touch as iron, and, inasmuch as carriages and freights are paid not by weight but by measurement, no machine in the Works is a better economiser than this one. The motive power by which all the machinery is set and kept in motion is steam-power, and be it remembered that this costs money just as much as hand labour or jute. There are four powerful engines at work, representing some 600 or 700 horse-power. These are very fine specimens of their kind, and are kept in a way most creditable to those who have charge of them. One seldom sees a fireman or engine-driver with a clean face or spotlessly white hands but, to the credit of stokers and engineers as a class be it recorded, they are seldom slovenly in their habits of work, or keep a dirty engine. The engine-house at the Stratford Jute Works is a picture of good care, and a look at it makes one feel that they are ' not eye-servants ' who work here. I feel it impossible, however, to go minutely into many things I have only touched, and I have had to pass over others I should have liked to mention. But my object being to give some idea of an East London Industry, I trust, with all defects of description, the premises have been on the whole fairly placed before the public. There are two small engines, usually used as auxiliaries, ready at a moment's notice to pour water on every spot of the mill in case of fire. It is a pleasant thing to find that the jute trade is so well conducted, and that a branch of the textile family has been introduced and carried on in the very place in which, according to existing capabilities, it is most at home.

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