Abraham Whitehead

Abraham Whitehead was a cloth merchant from Holmfirth who joined the campaign for factory legislation. He was interviewed by Michael Sadler and his House of Commons Committee on 21st May, 1832.

Primary Sources

(1) Abraham Whitehead was interviewed by Michael Sadler and his House of Commons Committee on 21st May, 1832.

Question: Where do you reside?

Answer: At Scholes, near Holmfirth.

Question: Is not that in the centre of very considerable woollen-mills?

Answer: Yes, for the space of three or four miles. I live nearly in the centre of thirty or forty woollen-mills.

Question: Have you had the opportunity of observing the manner in which these mills are regulated and conducted?

Answer: Yes.

Question: At how early an age are children employed?

Answer: The youngest age at which children are employed is never under five, but some are employed between five and six, in woollen-mills, as piecers.

Question: How early have you observed these young children going to their work?

Answer: I have frequently seen them going to work between five and six in the morning.

Question: How late in the evening have you seen them returning from work.

Answer: Between nine and ten in the evening.

Question: How do they get their breakfast?

Answer: They get their breakfast as they eat; they eat and work; there is generally a pot of water porridge, with a little treacle in it, placed at the end of the machine.

Question: Do they frequently fall into errors and mistakes in piecing?

Answer: Yes, the errors they make when they are fatigued is that instead of placing the cording in this way (he described it with his hands), they are apt to place them obliquely, and that causes a flying, which makes bad yard; and when the spinner sees that, he takes his strap, or the billy-roller, and he smites the child.

Question: What moral effect do you think it has on the minds of the children who labour at this early period of life?

Answer: I have seen a little boy, only this winter, who works in the mill, and who lives within two hundred or three hundred yards of my own door; he is not yet six years old, and I have seen him, when he had a few coppers in his pocket, go to a beer shop, call for a glass of ale, and drink as boldly as any full-grown man, cursing and swearing.

Question: Can children employed in this way obtain any instructions from day-schools?

Answer: There is no possibility of that; but since this Factory Bill has been agitated, when I have been at mills the children have gathered round me for a minute or two, as I have passed along, and have said: "When shall we have to work ten hours a day? Will you get the Ten Hours' Bill? We shall have a rare time then; surely somebody will set up a night school, I will learn to write, that I will."