William Dodd was born into a poor family living in Kendal on 18th June 1804. At the age of five William was sent to work as a card-maker and the following year was employed in a local textile factory. William's three sisters also worked at the same factory. During busy periods William and his sisters worked an 18 hour day.
Dodd's first job was as a piecer. As he was later to point out this work put a great deal of pressure on the "right knee, which is always the first joint to give way." Within a few years Dodd was a cripple: "My joints were like so many rusty hinges, that had laid for years. I had to get up an hour earlier, and, with the broom under one arm as a crutch, and a stick on my hand, walk over the house till I had got my joints in working order."
In 1819 found work at Isaac and William Wilson's textile mill in Kendal. William Dodd became an overlooker with responsibility for checking the ages of children working in the factory. Dodd attended evening classes given by a local schoolmaster. Once Dodd had been taught to read and write he was asked by his employer to help with clerical work in the factory.
Dodd, who was now badly crippled, found working at Wilson's textile mill increasingly difficult and in 1837 left to form his own school. Dodd taught reading, writing and arithmetic but after a few months he lost the right to rent the rooms he was using as a school.
Dodd made several attempts to find a wife but he claims he was rejected because he was a cripple. After being refused by several women of his own age a friend told him "that after a certain age women would take up with anything." He became friends with a woman much older than himself. In his autobiography he described how she reacted when he asked her to marry him: "I saw a slight curl of the upper lip - her eyes then began to descend, till they settled the intensity of their gaze upon my knees. At the moment, I wished the earth to open and swallow me up."
After this rejection Dodd decided that he would "live and die a bachelor". He now moved to London where he looked for work as a clerk. Unable to find permanent work, Dodd was forced to do a wide variety of temporary jobs.
In 1839 Dodd was employed by John Kirby as a clerk but by In the spring of 1840 the pain in his joints became intolerable. According to Dodd his right wrist now measured "twelve inches round". William was sent to St. Thomas' Hospital and the doctors eventually decided that he would have to have his right arm amputated. A doctor told him that "on dissection, the bones of the forearm presented a very curious appearance - something similar to an empty honeycomb, the marrow having totally disappeared."
Dodd decided to write a book about his experiences as a child worker. When the manuscript was finished he sent it to Lord Ashley who arranged for it to be published as A Narrative of the Experience and Sufferings of William Dodd a Factory Cripple. Lord Ashley decided to employ Dodd to collect information about the treatment of children in textile factories. William Dodd's research was published as The Factory System: Illustrated in 1842.
William Dodd's books created a great deal of controversy. Dodd was attacked in the House of Commons as an unreliable source of information. John Bright: "I have in my hand two publications; one is The Adventures of William Dodd he Factory Cripple and the other is entitled The Factory System - both books have gone forth to the public under the sanction of the noble Lord Ashley. I do not wish to go into the particulars of the character of this man, for it is not necessary to my case, but I can demonstrate, that his books and statements are wholly unworthy of credit. Dodd states that from the hardships he endured in a factory, he was "done up" at the age of thirty-two, whereas I can prove that he was treated with uniform kindness, which he repaid by gross immorality of conduct, and for which he was discharged from his employment." As a result of this attack Lord Ashley decided to sack Dodd.
Dodd, who had been paid 45s. a week by Ashley, decided to emigrate to the U.S.A. He continued to write books and in 1847 his book The Labouring Classes of England was published in Boston. It is not known when William Dodd died.
At the age of six I became a piecer. The duties of the piecer will not be clearly understood by the reader, unless he is acquainted with the machine for spinning woollen yarn, called a billy. A billy is a machine somewhat similar in form to the letter H, one side being stationary, and the other moveable, and capable of being pushed close in under the stationary part, almost like the drawer of a side table; the moveable part, or carriage, runs backwards and forwards, by means of six iron wheels, upon three iron rails, as a carriage on a railroad. In this carriage are the spindles, from 70 to 100 in number, all turned by one wheel, which is in the care of the spinner. When the spinner brings the carriage close up under the fixed part of the machine, he is able, to obtain a certain length of carding for each spindle, say 10 or 12 inches, which he draws back, and spins into yarn; this done, he winds the yarn round the spindles, brings the carriage close up as before, and again obtains a fresh supply of cardings.
These cardings are taken up by the piecer in the left hand, about twenty at a time. He holds them about four inches from one end, the other end hanging down; these he takes, with the right hand, one at a time, for the purpose of piecing, and laying the ends of the cardings about 2 inches over each other, he rubs them together on the canvas cloth with his flat hand. He is obliged to be very expert, in order to keep the spinner well supplied. A good piecer will supply from 30 to 40 spindles with cardings.
The number of cardings a piecer has through his fingers in a day is very great; each piecing requires three or four rubs, over a space of three or four inches; and the continual friction of the hand in rubbing the piecing upon the coarse wrapper wears off the skin, and causes the finger to bleed. The position in which the piecer stands to his work is with the right foot forward, and his right side facing the frame: the motion he makes in going along in front of the frame, for the purpose of piecing, is neither forwards or backwards, but in a sliding direction, constantly keeping his right side towards the frame. In this position he continues during the day, with his hands, feet, and eyes constantly in motion. It will be easily seen, that the chief weight of his body rests upon his right knee, which is almost always the first joint to give way.
I have frequently worked at the frame till I could scarcely get home, and in this state have been stopped by people in the streets who noticed me shuffling along, and advised me to work no more in the factories; but I was not my own master. During the day, I frequently counted the clock, and calculated how many hours I had still to remain at work; my evenings were spent in preparing for the following day - in rubbing my knees, ankles, elbows, and wrists with oil, etc. I went to bed, to cry myself to sleep, and pray that the Lord would take me to himself before morning.
My legs became distorted. Standing in the easiest position, when the feet are about 14 inches apart, the knees and thighs are then pressing close together, so that the legs form a sort of arch for the support of the body. One evil arising from the bending and curving of the legs is the blood-vessels must go wrong. One serious evil resulting from the imperfect circulation of the blood, is the drying up of the marrow in the bones. The bones then decay.
In the spring of 1840, I began to feel some painful symptoms in my right wrist, arising from the general weakness of my joints, brought on in the factories. The swelling and pain increased; and although I had the advice of medical practitioners, it was all to no purpose; and, having been off work for a length of time, and my resources failing, I was under the necessity of entering St. Thomas's Hospital where every care and attention was paid to me. It soon became evident to all who saw me, that I must, very soon, lose either my hand or my life. A consultation was held by the surgeons of the hospital, who came to the conclusion, that amputation was absolutely necessary. On the 18th of July, I underwent the operation. The hand being taken off a little below the elbow. This, another plan to raise myself above want, and keep myself out of the workhouse, was frustrated and dashed.
I have in my hand two publications; one is The Adventures of William Dodd the Factory Cripple and the other is entitled The Factory System - both books have gone forth to the public under the sanction of the noble Lord Ashley. I do not wish to go into the particulars of the character of this man, for it is not necessary to my case, but I can demonstrate, that his books and statements are wholly unworthy of credit. Dodd states that from the hardships he endured in a factory, he was "done up" at the age of thirty-two, whereas I can prove that he was treated with uniform kindness, which he repaid by gross immorality of conduct, and for which he was discharged from his employment.
John Reed is a sadly deformed young man living in Cromford. He tells his pitiful tale as follows: "I went to work at the cotton factory of Messrs. Arkwright at the age of nine. I was then a fine strong, healthy lad, and straight in every limb. I had at first instance 2s. per week, for seventy-two hours' work. I continued to work in this factory for ten years, getting gradually advanced in wages, till I had 6s. 3d. per week; which is the highest wages I ever had. I gradually became a cripple, till at the age of nineteen I was unable to stand at the machine, and I was obliged to give it up. The total amount of my earnings was about 130 shillings, and for this sum I have been made a miserable cripple, as you see, and cast off by those who reaped the benefit of my labour, without a single penny."
Here is a young man, who was evidently intended by nature for a stout-made man, crippled in the prime of life, and all his earthly prospects blasted for ever! Such a cripple I have seldom met with. He cannot stand without a stick in one hand, and leaning on a chair with the other; his legs are twisted in all manner of forms. His body, from the forehead to the knees, forms a curve, similar to the letter C. He dares not go from home, if he could; people stare at him so. He is now learning to make children's first shoes, and hopes ultimately to be able to get a living in this manner.
I have taken several walks in the neighbourhood of this beautiful and romantic place, and seen the splendid castle, and other buildings belonging to the Arkwrights, and could not avoid contrasting in my mind the present condition of this wealthy family, with the humble condition of its founder in 1768. One might expect that those who have thus risen to such wealth and eminence, would have some compassion upon their poor cripples. If it is only that they need to have them pointed out, and that their attention has hitherto not been drawn to them, I would hope and trust this case of John Reed will yet come under their notice.