What was it like to work in one of these cotton mills?

William Ainsworth (1807-1862) helped his father and brother run some mills in Preston.  The ‘RULES TO BE OBEYED BY THE OPERATIVES’ in his mill in Cotton Court were unbelievable. They bore evidence of long working hours, restrictions on personal freedom, and a ruthless system of fines, which the management did not fail to enforce in the courts.

Agreeing to work in a spinning factory was agreeing to an impersonal life of discipline and control.   Mills had strict rules and regulations which by today’s standards seem shocking. For instance, in a typical mill you could be fined for the following misdemeanours:

Any spinner found with his window open…………..….. 1 0

Any spinner found dirty at work……………………..…… 1 0

Any spinner leaving his oil can out of its place………… 1 0

Any spinner heard whistling……………………………….. 1 0

Any spinner being five minutes after last bell rings…….. 1 0

Any spinner being sick and cannot find another spinner to give satisfaction must pay for steam per day……………………. 6

– Political Register, August 20, 1823 (Hammond, p. 19)

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Fishergate, Preston

Following are some similar fines from a mill east of Preston.

Rules to be observed in the Power Loom Manufactory, W. &; R. Turner, Helmshore.

A list of fines attendant on neglect thereof

April 1836

Any weaver or spinner being absent Five Minutes after the Bell Rings 3d

If Absent more than Five Minutes, or entering the Room before the Bell Rings 1 s

Any Weaver or Spinner allowing Ends of Pullings to lay upon the floor, 3d

Any Weaver or Spinner allowing Bobbins to lay upon the Floor, or otherwise than in Skip of Jenny 3d

Any weaver mixing the Warp Ends with the Weft Pulllings 2d

Any Weaver taking away the Weft of another 3d

Any Weaver taking or exchanging Shuttles 3d

Any weaver mixing empty Bobbins with full ones 2d

Any Weavers quarreling, each 1s

Any Weavers fighting or striking each other, each 1s

Any Weaver or Spinner leaving the  Room between Bell Hours, except by leave 1s

Any Weaver after having downed or finished his or her Piece, neglecting to put in all the Pullings and rolling them up (Warp and Weft separate) in his or her Piece 6d

Any weaver leaving his or her Loom and going to that of another 3d…

The list goes on, but the document is torn and words are missing.

Suddenly my modern hours and rules don’t seem so bad after all.

In the next post our journey through the world of Preston’s cotton brings us to the American Civil War!