Chapter VI


The Match business stands clearly entitled to a prominent place in this book. In selecting a specimen of what has been done, and is still going on, in this line, I feel that I could not have done better than describe the Works of Messrs. Bryant and May, Fairfield, Bow, as sufficient to convey a favourable idea of all others in the trade. I do not say that the other Works which I have not visited are equally extensive, or that, except in the adoption of a principle, they are of like importance. Nevertheless, I make no comparisons except so far as is necessary to convey that this trade, which, as a whole, affords extensive employment to labourers, and calls into use large sums of capital for Industrial purposes, may be taken as in its best condition at the Works above named. I observe that, as compared with the past, the business of making matches has been and is marvellously delivered from drudgery; employment for work-people is enlarged; and the amount made in wages by the workers is greatly increased. That so much is already accomplished is a matter of great public moment. But from what I see before me here and elsewhere, as I pass from one manufactory to another, I expect and believe that some of those problems in political economy, so difficult of solution, as between capital and labour, are being worked out advantageously to all, whilst the real and proper relation of these to one another is being made so obvious that any tyro may see it. It is abundantly evident that capitalists who invest their money in any trade are real benefactors. Also that the owners of Industries in East London do all the more for the common good because they act upon the sound commercial principle that, whether it be those who invest money, or they who contribute skill or supply labour, the one who refuses to do his part is the first to suffer, while the careless and the selfish always suffer most, whatever be the class of Industry undertaken. These remarks apply to the Match trade in which I found as much to support them as I discovered in any other trade. I have the pleasure to record that I was most courteously received and shown over the premises by Mr. Wilberforce Bryant. The chief factory of this firm is in Fairfield-road, Bow, but wood-cutting and other branches are carried on by them at other places in the locality. They also give out materials to be made into boxes at the workpeople's own places. Taking all the branches, however, including the printing of labels the number of hands to which they give employment is not fewer than 5,000. Into the principal factory the wood is brought from the factory where it is slit into pieces, each of which is converted into two matches. The wood so prepared, being in splits, is placed on an iron plate, heated till it is like a hot hearth, where it is speedily dried. These dried splits are passed through a machine, which, by a most ingenious invention, places them into frames, so that the of dipping them in the stuff that ignites becomes a very simple as well as a most interesting thing to look at. When dipped the matches are placed in a room of a fairly warm temperature, where they are dried by heat. When dried they are handed over to be cut. This process is very simple, and yet such is the incalculable quantity made by the firm, that a large number of females are employed at it. The cutting machine is like a hay-knife, and the double matches, destined to be single from henceforth, are taken by the operatives in handfulls, placed under the knife, and severed at one cut. The matches being now made are packed into boxes, and these in frames, by which, as corn is measured in a bushel, the quantity done by each worker is ascertained, so that she may be paid accordingly. All the hands are paid on the piece-work plan. Women can earn about ten shillings or twelve shillings weekly, if they work steadily, and little girls in proportion. Before going any further into detail, I must, in justice to facts too palpable to be overlooked, mention that if even this firm were the only as they are the chief employers of labour in this line, their being in the locality is a matter on which rich and poor may be congratulated. I must, however, take leave to emphasis this statement, to which I have also elsewhere called special attention. Certain persons unacquainted with facts, have the idea that this firm, so far from being of use in the locality, do much to oppress labourers. Probably few of the calumnies afloat respecting East London are more baseless than this one; and therefore I trust no one will, without due inquiry at least, persist in its propagation. Employment given to men as it is by manufacturers of matches, is very important, and indirectly affects favourably the ratepayers of a district. But employment for women and girls, at once wholesome and remunerative, is a desideratum to a neighbourhood, in a politico-economic sense, the importance of which is oftener understood by its absence than discovered while it exists. Working in their own houses at the boxes, or in the factory in making matches, is by no means unwholesome. There is at present so small a quantity of phosphorus, even in common matches, that there is not the slightest danger to health in working any of the processes of manufacture. When the trade was first introduced matches were made in dwelling-houses, or in living or bed-rooms, and so clumsy was the mode of dipping, and so careless were the makers as to what stuff they used that an effluvium of a most offensive and unhealthy character, was a constant concomitant of the trade. All this is changed. The sanitary condition of these Works is as good as it could be in any other factory. This is in some degree owing to the absence of anything specially unhealthy in the trade itself. Nevertheless, it is only fair to add that it is chiefly because of the most careful possible attention to sanitary arrangements, which I find to be observed. Those peculiar matches which will ignite only on the prepared paper attached to their own boxes, are such as if even a baby placed a bunch of them in its mouth it would suffer no harm. But the great advantage of these matches is that their general use would reduce the danger of accidental fire to a minimum. Servants sometimes object to these because they cannot take a few in a paper to their bed-rooms, for they will not light by being scratched against furniture, wall-paper, or even the floor. This, however, is greatly in favour of their use; and if house-keepers would only be a little more careful of match boxes, they would find that using this class of match would be a great improvement in many more respects than that of preventing the possibility of the house being set on fire, by an injudicious use of this necessary portion of family supplies. Matches are one of our recent inventions, and one of the most important to trade. This line of business admits of the profitable use of a large amount of capital. The sum staked by this firm, for example, is a fact to the point. It also gives employment to tradesmen of various kinds, and to commercial clerks, as well as labourers. It is also one of the several, by no means unimportant, commodities of commerce, from which carriers derive income, and on which shopkeepers, and even itinerant street vendors of goods, - for dealing in which but a small capital is required, - make a part of their living. It is not to be wondered, therefore, that a Statesman whose ability in finance is of the highest order, when he nevertheless made the mistake of attempting to put a tax on matches, got into sad disrepute. Had he succeeded he would have done no good to any one, and might have crippled a growing and important trade. Were he, or some other reformer of public manners, to put a prohibitory tax on that class of 'match-making' which intrudes by advertisements or otherwise into the sacred precincts of matrimonial arrangements, then would not only that large community who, as 'one man,' protested against an attempt to tax lucifers, not resist its enforcements, but all who respect public morality and long to see people, as a whole, elevated, would greatly rejoice. The business of Messrs. Bryant and May has been growing gradually, from a moderately small beginning, from about or even a quarter of a century. How much longer or how much more it is to be expanded I do not venture to guess. One thing, however, is certain, that, considering the orderly manner in which this factory is kept, the provisions for its safety against accidental fire, and more than all, the healthy and remunerative employment given by its proprietors, one would only be wishing well to East London generally by expressing a desire to see the business of the firm increased indefinitely. The several rooms in the Works are in the hands of foremen. The workers are well conducted, and the appearance of the place, and the people at work in it, are each suggestive of industry, good order, and a fair day's wages being earned by a fair day's work. In addition to the now called common matches and their own specialite - the patent safety kind - this firm make wax matches. This branch of the work is the most interesting of all. The cotton wick is run several times through a composition until it is properly coated, and then it is reeled unto drums, each of which hold 150 miles of taper. The taper is then cut into lengths by machinery, improved in many points since its invention. After which it is dipped in the stuff which, when subjected to friction, lights the match. The ventilation in this part of the Works is specially good, so that no smell of either fatty matter, wax, or phosphorus is felt. Fans driven by a neat, small horizontal engine are used here for sanitary and other purposes. But the best evidence that these Works are healthy is that during the visitation of cholera only one of all the hands in the employment of the firm died. The wood, and other materials used, enter at given places, pass on through various stages without doubling their journey, and keep travelling forward after being made into matches, until boxed, labelled, covered, and packed for shipment or for delivery amongst the oil-men, or at the warehouses of the country carriers. The whole process is a good specimen of what genius, aided by industry, and supported by capital, is doing in East London. The manufacturers of this division of London are entitled to rank amongst the foremost of employers, not only in their own locality, but any where, and amongst these this firm deserves a first position. But in regard to the trade under notice, I congratulate all such persons as have to eke out a small income by doing a little work, if they only live near a match factory. Besides, small as seems the payment for certain work in this line, any part of the employment to be had at such places is better paid and less toilsome than some sewing. Still more, there is not the slightest danger of workers being deprived of one farthing of their earnings by 'sweating interlopers,' or rather idle, cunning, and cruel-hearted loafers, who, in some trades, live on a part of poor women's earnings under pretence of going between them and the masters. It is true that as a relief to those under the pangs of genteel poverty, match-box making at home, or working in the match factory, is not so secret as needlework. But the income is sadly against the latter as compared with the former. But it does not follow that because making matches is better paid than certain kinds of sewing, that either are fairly remunerated. I admit that in both departments larger wages ought to be paid; but I cannot help seeing that it is at the door of the public the blame lies, chiefly because they are so low, competition in trade is the immediate cause of badly paid labour. But behind that there is also another and a stronger cause at work, namely, the unwillingness of consumers of goods to pay such a price as would admit of better wages being given to women and girls, in such trades as those in which low wages prevail. The very public, therefore, who clamour against employers of female labour, which is rewarded on the lowest current scale, and they chiefly if not alone are to blame for the state of things they censure. The difference is the same, however, as between sewing at home and working in match factory; and many a one is driven to that one which brings the lesser wages because public opinion calls it the more respectable. But the day seems to be drawing close when, without instruction from those from whom it ought to have come by virtue of their calling, people are learning that persons are not to be judged by the employment they are engaged in, but by the manner in which they do their work. The eastern division of London might, however, without violating a particle of propriety, boast against any other division as to means for meeting the demands of those classes who live by industry, and instead of an address in the E postal district suggesting a low type of gentility, it ought to be associated with such honourable things as enterprise, honest labour, and either considerable wealth floating about and doing good to society, or that exercise of one's mental and bodily powers in labour, which constitutes the noblest of manly virtues, in a politico-economic sense, and to which we generally apply the name of independence.

Messrs. Palmer and Son have a large factory at Old Ford. In passing this establishment with merely this mention, I do not overlook its importance, nor do I disregard the enterprise of its proprietors in the match trade. In addition to the firms named, there are also Messrs. Letchford and Company (Limited), Messrs. Hynam, Pace, and Bell and Black, in the trade. These all afford labour to industrious people; and by the use of capital, more or less in amount, according to the extent of their Works, help on that general prosperity in this division of London, which renders it just now one of the most progressive places - especially in manufacturing - in the United Kingdom. The advantage to the East of London in becoming a manufacturing place of note is not to be estimated wholly by the benefits which working people derive from getting employment, but extends itself to shopkeepers and owners of property. The present state of things is all the more to be rejoiced in, because such are the regulations now (voluntarily as a rule) adopted for health and safety to life and property, that even to the most fastidious of those who live in ease and affluence there is seldom any just cause of complaint because of anything offensive to either eye, ear, or nasal organs.

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