Every job, craft and industry has its own language – sometimes the terms are easy to understand, sometimes they sound like something completely different from what they are, and sometimes there is absolutely no clue as to what they could possibly be.
I was writing about a family history recently and the family I was investigating had lived in Oldham, where I used to live, and had been in the cotton industry – working in one of the many mills. When I looked their occupations I had no idea what they might be, but eventually came across an interesting page which explained all.
Bobbin carrier and bobbin maker, yes easy! So do beamers, beam twisters and beam warpers make twist and warp beams? Well, obviously not, in fact a beam is a huge bobbin, the beamer takes cones of thread by the hundred and organises them to make the warp ready for weaving, so that should explain that… well sort of.
Mule spinner, scutcher, self-actor minder, slasher, stripper and grinder, throstle spinner, and twist winder… just some of the terms to conjure with!
As you might imagine there were different areas of the mill (factory) where different operations took place, including the winding room, weaving shed, card room, workshop and warehouse. Included in the list of occupations were the half-timers…
A child who spent half the day at school and the other half earning money in a mill. Typically they would start work at 6 am, work in the mill until 1 pm, then go to school until 4 pm. It was quite common for them to fall asleep during lessons.
What’s shocking about that is that in those mills there were a sort of regulation for children working there – in the sweatshops and mills of far away countries where even tiny children labour, there is no regulation at all. We might not be directly responsible for employing them, but every time we buy a cheap item of clothing from one of those places, that is exactly what we are doing.