A guide to trace your ancestors from Lurgan, County Armagh and from the County of Armagh

The Sessional Papers Of The House Of Lords, Hand-Loom Weavers 1840

The Sessional Papers Printed By Order Of


Or Presented By Royal Command, In The Session 1840,
Subject Of This Volume: Hand-Loom Weavers.
Report Of C. G. Otway, Esq.



From the district of Dromore I proceed to Lurgan, county Armagh, where I found the linen trade still carried on to a great extent by the weavers, who combined the office of both weavers and manufacturers. The weavers in this district generally hold small portions of land, from four to ten acres, purchase or grow their own flax, spin their own yarn, and weave their own cloth, and then dispose of it in the town market at Lurgan, which is one of the principal brown linen markets of the north of Ireland, next to Ballymena, which is the most extensive. Ballymena presents the strange and important feature that, while all the other brown markets of the kingdom have been rapidly declining, it has been increasing. The inquiry into that important district of the linen trade was conducted by Mr. Muggeridge. The numbers of pieces sold each market day at Lurgan market, on the average of the last two years, was stated to be 3,000. This does not include the pieces sold by private contract, of which there were no means of obtaining a return. The weavers who work for employers who put out work I found able to earn more than the weavers who made up goods on their own account for the town market. Few of the weavers were able to run the chances of the market, and are often obliged to sacrifice their goods sooner than return without selling them; they are, in many cases, obliged to seek for work from employers, to which they have a great dislike, until forced so to do by absolute necessity. Lawns, from 12ºº to 22ºº are the principal descriptions of linens sold in the Lurgan market; there is also a considerable quantity of double and single damask and linens, from 10ºº to 18ºº.  From the apparent briskness and quantity of cloth, and persons in the market, I should, as a stranger, have imagined that the old system of the linen trade was in full vigour. The buyers stand upon elevated benches of stones, purchasing the cloth during the hour allotted for the sale. It was curious to see the crowds of weavers thrusting up their webs of cloth to the elevated buyers, and the anxiety with which they endeavoured to attract attention to their respective webs. The width of the web is marked on the cloth by the seal-masters, before they are exposed for sale; when the price per yard is agreed on, the buyer marks it on the cloth, and the seller takes it back to the seal-master to measure the length, and to see that it is marketable. If the seal-masters performed their duty, this process should be gone through before the cloth is offered for sale. The seller then, when the cloth is sealed, brings it back to the office of the buyer, to deliver it and get his money. The seal-master is answerable to the buyer that the web is not faulty, and that it is the length and breadth marked on it.
Most numerous are the frauds practised on and by the seal-masters. The weavers often underlap the web, efface the seal and the mark of the price at which it was sold, and offer it to other buyers; they also endeavour to stretch the cloth after it is sold, and often injure and tear the web in the effort to do so. Cloth, thus stretched shrinks again; and after the buyer brings it home he finds it is short of the quantity marked on it; he then summons the inspector of linens; he again summons the seal-master, who then endeavours to recover from the weaver, but is often baffled by the circumstance of the weavers giving fictitious names. The income of the inspector arises from the fines of the seal-master; he has a direct interest in the continuance of this injurious system of litigation, and is exposed to the constant temptation of a compromise with the seal-master. Nothing can be more injurious than the whole system. The seal-masters and inspector not only are a tax on the weaver, who pays so much for the marking of the web, but they prevent the buyer from using that circumspection which all purchasers should use. The system holds out not only temptations to fraud to the weavers, but to the seal-masters, who are generally also weavers, and sellers of cloth in the market. There seems to have been no care whatever bestowed on their selection.
A seal-master, if he followed the provision of the Linen Act, could not seal and measure more than 10 webs between the time the webs come in and the hour appointed for the sale to commence at 10 o’clock. For the sealing of each web of 25 yards long the seal-master is entitled to 1 d. In order to obtain as many pence as he can within the limited time, he evades the duties imposed by the Act, and only measurers the breadth of the web, which is done in an instant, and then seals it. The web is thus offered for sale without any real protection from fraud to the buyer. After each web is sold, it is returned to the seller, who has the custody of it until four o’clock, the hour for delivery and payment. During this interval the seller brings the web back to the seal-master, in order to get it measured, examined, and sealed at both ends. Had this process taken place before it was exposed for sale, and if the buyer, after the agreement for sale, did not return the cloth to the weaver, much of the fraud and inconvenience which now take place would be obviated.
I should earnestly recommend the abolition of both seal-masters, inspectors, and trustees, and the leaving of the market open for the buyer and seller to arrange their own bargains as their mutual interest would point out. The only drawback in my mind is, that I fear the adoption of any better regulations might tend to keep longer alive the old system of weavers making up cloth on their own account, and selling it in the market, a system which is gradually dying away, and which is, in my opinion, most injurious to the linen trade; but the present system of seal-master and inspector, as at present practically acted on, is too great a nuisance any longer to be continued.
There is a custom which is called “selling on redemption” adopted in this district. A number of small manufacturers hire out chains and weft to weavers. When the weaver makes the cloth, he brings it to the market, and when he can effect a sale, he pays 1 s. for the hire of the chain and weft, in addition to the price of the yarn; if he can only effect a sale with 6 d. profit over the value of the raw material, the hirer out of the yarn gets the 6 d. By far the greater portion of the weavers who manufacture for the market on their own account are holders of small farms of from five to fifteen acres. This circumstance not only induces but enables them to continue at the old system. Had they not in most cases the land to fall back upon; they could not stand against the fluctuations of the market, and would be obliged to look for work from employers who give out work. But though the farm enables the operative for a time to continue to weave on his own account, between the fluctuations of the profits he receives from weaving on this system, and the division of his attention between his farm and his loom, he generally becomes insolvent, unable to keep the farm, and obliged to take out work from employers in order to support himself. The agriculture of this district is not equal to that of the county Down, from the circumstances of a large portion of the holders of small farms being still weavers; but I am informed as this cause has decreased, the system of agriculture has been greatly improved. The weavers who work for employers are generally holders of small patches of land from one to three acres; and I have met some individuals who held large farms of land, who took out webs from manufacturers. It has been stated that, on an average, all the weavers who take out work are engaged on hire as agricultural labourers for one month in the year, besides the time they devote to their own small patches of land. Nearly the entire population of the parishes of Drumcree, Shankhill and Seagoe, is composed of weavers; and the wages of agricultural labour during harvest and seed-time are high. It is stated that there is full employment for all the hand-loom weavers, that many more young persons wove now than formerly, and that the females who used formerly to spin the hand-spun yarn, now in general weave. The average number of looms in each family amounts to two or three; those weavers who have not looms of their own, hire them, and they are charged for them 10 s. a year. Journeymen generally pay 3 s. 6 d. a week, for which sum they are provided in food and lodgings, looms, winding of the weft, dressing, and tallow. In cases where a person, not a weaver, wishes to get his child brought up in the trade, he binds him, on a stamped indenture, for from three to five years, to a weaver; there is no fee paid, and the value of the child’s labour is supposed to compensate for the trouble of teaching him, and the expense of board, lodging, and a 1l. per annum which the child gets for clothes. I found that the weavers employed by manufacturers on from 12ºº to 22ºº lawns could on the average earn clear, above all expenses 6 s. a week on each loom by fair work.  The depression of the trade in the year 1837 tended greatly to lower the average of the last three years, but the average earnings for that period may be reckoned, taking one hundred with the other, at 5 s. a week on each loom. A rise of 1 s. set on all lawns above 16ºº had just taken place. One-seventh of the looms on lawns from 16ºº to 20ºº are worked by girls, and one-third by boys under 17 years of age. The ages at which children are put to the loom is stated to be 12, and a girl of 16 is stated to be able to earn as much as a man of 30.  German, Dutch, and French yarn is generally used for the weft of the finer lawns, and its introduction into this country has tended to improve the quality of the lawns now made up, and greatly to extend the market for them. Mr. Druid, foreman to Mr. Greer, linen manufacturer states “On 10/4 wide sheeting, 10ºº, 26 yards to the piece, we pay 13 s. 6 d. for the weaving; did pay, three weeks ago, only 12 s. 6 d. It will eight or nine fair days’ work to weave the piece, at from 12 to 14 hours’ work each day. On 5/8 diaper damask napkins, we pay 9 s. the piece of 36 yards. A good weaver will weave the pieces in a week. The weaver has to wind the weft, which stands in about 5½ d or 6 d., and to provide light dressing, and tallow, which amounts to 6 d. a week. Apprentice boys of 14 to 15 can and do weave this. We employ 120 looms (reckoning all kinds); 7 s. to 8 s.  would be a fair average of the earnings of our weavers. Out of 120 looms, one-fourth are worked by girls under the age of 22, one-third by boys under the age of 20. A weaver makes most on the finer sets. The linen trade is now on the rise. There is as much made now as ever there was, and more than there was 25 years ago.”  Edward Hamilton, a cambric weaver, in part of his evidence, says “I put my boys on the loom at 12, and my girls at 11; the girls can weave as well as the boys. After a years’ teaching, they can earn 1 s. a day on 15ºº lawns; they are paid 6 s. 6 d. the piece for weaving, and can weave a piece in a week by 16 hours a day work. I have a wee girl who never gets off the loom from day-light in the morning until 10 o’clock at night. She is only 13 years of age. She can earn 8 d. or 10 d. a day. The work is light 13ºº lawns. On a 15ºº lawn I could only make 1 s. a day. The youngsters could make more than I could on a 17ºº lawn. I could make 1 s. 6 d. a day; it is the readiest strike there is for making money. The expenses of light, dressing, tallow, and winding of weft, we have to deduct out of our earnings; besides a day in going to the office with and bringing home on each web”
I visited and examined several double damask and single damask and diaper weavers. I found in one house four double damask looms, which cost one of them 40l.the others 30l. each; the weaver on the first set could earn 4 s. 3 d. a day, after deducting the expenses of winding weft, dressing and warping; on the second best set 2 s. 9½ d. a day, after deducting the expenses of winding of weft, dressing and warping; on the third set 2 s. 4 d., after deducting the expense of winding, dressing and warping; on the fourth set, 2 s. 1½ d. a day, deducting the expense of winding, dressing and warping. It was also stated that, before the fall in 1837, the webs on which they now get 3 s. 7 d. a yard for the weaving they got 4 s. 4 d.; the loom on which they got 1 s. 3 d. a yard for weaving, 1 s. 5½ d.; the loom on which they get 1 s. 6 d. a yard, 1 s. 8½ d., and it was also stated, that, before the fall, prices had been stationary for many years. The persons who worked the looms were three fine young men, sons of the person who owned the house, and an apprentice; the ages of the persons employed were 17 to 28.
In a single-damask and diaper weaver’s house I visited, and who I examined, I found that on five looms he had employed in their house, not more than 4 s. 9 d. a week net profit was made on each; a young girl of 14 wove on one, a boy of 13 on another, an apprentice of 16 on the fourth, another lad of 16 on the third, and the owner of the house on the fifth. The weaver stated he could make 8 s. a loom on the average in 1836, before the fall in 1837. I give these two instances in respect to the earnings of damask and diaper weavers, as being the highest and lowest I met.
The plain linen weavers I found could earn on coarse sets of from 10ºº to 14ºº, 4 s. 4 d. a week, above all expenses on from 14ºº to 17ºº, 6 s.; on from 17ºº to 20ºº, 7 s. 6 d.; on from 20ºº to 23ºº, 11 s. The profits of the weavers who make up webs in the brown market, I found it impossible accurately to ascertain, for such a period as would enable me to strike a fair average; however, all the evidence on this head goes to prove that they make less than those employed by manufacturers, and that their profits are most injuriously fluctuating.


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