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Title: A Memoir of Robert Blincoe, an Orphan Boy
Author: Brown, John
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Memoir of Robert Blincoe, an Orphan Boy" ***

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Transcriber’s Note: Obvious printing errors have been corrected, but old
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                             ROBERT BLINCOE,

                             An Orphan Boy;
                         AT SEVEN YEARS OF AGE,

                              TO ENDURE THE

                        Horrors of a Cotton-Mill,

                     THROUGH HIS INFANCY AND YOUTH,




                             BY JOHN BROWN.




The various Acts Of Parliament, which have been passed, to regulate the
treatment of children in the Cotton Spinning Manufactories, betoken the
previous existence of some treatment, so glaringly wrong, as to force
itself upon the attention of the legislature. This Cotton-slave-trade,
like the Negro-slave-trade, did not lack its defenders, and it might have
afforded a sort of sorry consolation to the Negro slaves of America,
had they been informed, that their condition, in having agriculturally
to raise the cotton, was not half so bad, as that of the white
infant-slaves, who had to assist in the spinning of it, when brought to
this country. The religion and the black humanity of Mr. Wilberforce seem
to have been entirely of a foreign nature. Pardon is begged, if an error
is about to be wrongfully imputed—but the Publisher has no knowledge,
that Mr. Wilberforce’s humane advocacy for slaves, was ever of that
homely kind, as to embrace the region of the home-cotton-slave-trade.
And yet, who shall read the Memoir of Robert Blincoe, and say, that the
charity towards slaves should not have begun or ended at home?

       *       *       *       *       *

The Author of this Memoir is now dead; he fell, about two or three years
ago, by his own hand. He united, with a strong feeling for the injuries
and sufferings of others, a high sense of injury when it bore on himself,
whether real or imaginary; and a despondency when his prospects were not
good.—Hence his suicide.—Had he not possessed a fine fellow-feeling with
the child of misfortune, he had never taken such pains to compile the
Memoir of Robert Blincoe, and to collect all the wrongs on paper, on
which he could gain information, about the various sufferers under the
cotton-mill systems. Notes to the Memoir of Robert Blincoe were intended
by the author, in illustration of his strong personal assertions. The
references were marked in the Memoir; but the Notes were not prepared,
or if prepared, have not come to the Publisher’s hand. But, on inquiring
after Robert Blincoe, in Manchester, and mentioning the Memoir of him
written by Mr. Brown, as being in the Publisher’s possession, other
papers, by the same Author, which had been left on a loan of money in
Manchester, were obtained, and these papers seem to have formed the
authorities, from which the Notes to the Memoirs would have been made. So
that, though the Publisher does not presume to make notes for the Author,
nor for himself, to this Memoir, he is prepared to confirm much of the
statement here made, the personalities of Robert Blincoe excepted, should
it be generally challenged.

       *       *       *       *       *

Robert Blincoe, the subject of the Memoir, is now about 35 years of age,
and resides at No. 19, Turner-street, Manchester, where he keeps a small
grocer’s shop. He is also engaged in manufacturing Sheet Wadding and
Cotton Waste-Dealer. The Publisher having no knowledge of Robert Blincoe,
but in common with every reader of this Memoir, can have no personal
feelings towards him, other than those of pity for his past sufferings.
But such a Memoir as this was much wanted, to hand down to posterity,
what was the real character of the complaints about the treatment of
children in our cotton mills, about which a legislation has taken place,
and so much has been said. An amended treatment of children has been
made, the apprenticing system having been abandoned by the masters of the
mills; but the employment is in itself bad for children—first, as their
health—and second, as to their manners and acquirements—the employment
being in a bad atmosphere; and the education, from example, being bad;
the time that should be devoted to a better education, being devoted to
that which is bad. The employment of infant children in the cotton-mills
furnishes a bad means to dissolute parents, to live in idleness and all
sorts of vice, upon the produce of infant labour. There is much of this
in Lancashire, which a little care and looking after, on the part of the
masters of cotton-mills, might easily prevent. But what is to be done?
Most of the extensive manufacturers profit by human misery and become
callous toward it; both from habit and interest. If a remedy be desired,
it must be sought by that part of the working people themselves, who
are alive to their progressing degradation. It will never be sought
fairly out, by those who have no interest in seeking it. And so long as
the majority of the working people squanders its already scanty income
in those pest-houses, those intoxicating nurseries, for vice, idleness
and misery, the public drinking-houses, there is no hope for them of an
amended condition.



Robert Blincoe,



By the time the observant reader has got through the melancholy recital
of the sufferings of Blincoe and his associates in cotton-mill bondage,
he will probably incline to an opinion, that rather than rear destitute
and deserted children, to be thus distorted by excessive toil, and
famished and tortured as those have been, it were incomparably less
cruel to put them at once to death—less cruel that they had never been
born alive; and far more wise that they had never been conceived. In
cases of unauthorized pregnancies, our laws are tender of unconscious
life, perhaps to a faulty extreme; whilst our parochial institutions, as
these pages will prove, after incurring considerable expence to PRESERVE
the lives of those forlorn beings, sweep them off by shoals, under the
sanction of other legal enactments, and consign them to a fate, far worse
than sudden death.

Reared in the most profound ignorance and depravity, these unhappy
beings are, from the hour of their birth, to the last of their
existence, generally cut off from all that is decent in social life.
Their preceptors are the veriest wretches in nature!—their influential
examples all of the worst possible kind. The reports of the Cotton Bill
Committees abundantly prove, that, by forcing those destitute poor to go
into cotton-mills, they have, in very numerous instances, been consigned
to a destiny worse than death without torture. Yet appalling as are many
of the statements, which, through the reports of the Committees, have
found their way before the public, similar acts of delinquencies, of a
hue still darker—even repeated acts of murder, have escaped unnoticed.
Much of the evidence brought forward by the friends of humanity, was
neutralized or frittered away by timidity of their witnesses, or by
the base subserviency of venally unprincipled professional men, who,
influenced by rich capitalists, basely prostituted their talent and
character as physicians, surgeons, and apothecaries, to deceive the
government, to perplex and mislead public opinion, and avert the loud
cry raised against the insatiate avarice and relentless cruelty of their
greedy and unfeeling suborners.

It was in the spring of 1822, after having devoted a considerable time
to the investigating of the effect of the manufacturing system, and
factory establishments, on the health and morals of the manufacturing
populace, that I first heard of the extraordinary sufferings of R.
Blincoe. At the same time, I was told of his earnest wish that those
sufferings should, for the protection of the rising generation of parish
children, be laid before the world. Thus assured, I went to enquire for
him, and was much pleased with his conversation. If this young man had
not been consigned to a cotton-factory, he would probably have been
strong, healthy, and well grown; instead of which, he is diminutive as
to stature, and his knees are grievously distorted. In his manners,
he appeared remarkably gentle; in his language, temperate; in his
statements, cautious and consistent. If, in any part of the ensuing
narrative, there are falsehoods and misrepresentations, the fault rests
solely with himself; for, repeatedly and earnestly, I admonished him to
beware, lest a too keen remembrance of the injustice he had suffered
should lead him to transgress the limits of truth. After I had taken down
his communications, I tested them, by reading the same to other persons,
with whom Blincoe had not had any intercourse on the subject, and who had
partaken of the miseries of the same hard servitude, and by whom they
were in every point confirmed.

ROBERT BLINCOE commenced his melancholy narrative, by stating, that he
was a parish orphan, and knew not either his father or mother. From the
age of four years, he says, “till I had completed my seventh, I was
supported in Saint Pancras poorhouse, near London.” In very pathetic
terms, he frequently censured and regretted the remissness of the
parish officers, who, when they received him into the workhouse, had,
as he seemed to believe, neglected to make any entry, or, at least, any
to which he could obtain access, of his mother’s and father’s name,
occupation, age, or residence. Blincoe argued, and plausibly too, that
those officers would not have received him, if his mother had not proved
her settlement; and he considered it inhuman in the extreme, either to
neglect to record the names of his parents, or, if recorded, to refuse
to give him that information, which, after his attaining his freedom,
he had requested at their hands. His lamentations, on this head, were
truely touching, and evinced a far higher degree of susceptibility of
heart, than could have been expected from the extreme and long continued
wretchedness he had endured in the den of vice and misery, where he
was so long immured. Experience often evinces, that, whilst moderate
adversity mollifies and expands the human heart, extreme and long
continued wretchedness has a direct and powerful contrary tendency, and
renders it impenetrably callous.

In one of our early interviews, tears trickling down his pallid cheeks,
and his voice tremulous and faltering, Blincoe said, “I am worse off
than a child reared in the Foundling Hospital. Those orphans have a name
given them by the heads of that institution, at the time of baptism, to
which they are legally entitled. But I have no name I can call my own.”
He said he perfectly recollected riding in a coach to the workhouse,
accompanied by some female, that he did not however think this female
was his mother, for he had not the least consciousness of having felt
either sorrow or uneasiness at being separated from her, as he very
naturally supposed he should have felt, if that person had been his
mother. Blincoe also appeared to think he had not been nursed by his
mother, but had passed through many hands before he arrived at the
workhouse; because he had no recollection of ever having experienced a
mother’s caresses. It seems, young as he was, he often enquired of the
nurses, when the parents and relations of other children came to see
his young associates, _why no one came to him_, and used to weep, when
he was told, that _no one had ever owned him_, after his being placed
in that house. Some of the nurses stated, that a female, who called
soon after his arrival, inquired for him by the name of “Saint;” and,
when he was produced, gave him a penny-piece, and told him his mother
was dead. If this report were well founded, his mother’s illness was
the cause of his being removed and sent to the workhouse. According to
his own description, he felt with extreme sensibility the loneliness
of his condition, and, at each stage of his future sufferings, during
his severe cotton-mill servitude, it pressed on his heart the heaviest
of all his sorrows—an impassable barrier, “a wall of brass,” cut him
off from all mankind. The sad consciousness, that he stood alone “_a
waif on the world’s wide common_;” that he had no acknowledged claim
of kindred with any human being, rich or poor—that he stood apparently
for ever excluded from every social circle, so constantly occupied his
thoughts, that, together with his sufferings, they imprinted a pensive
character on his features, which probably neither change of fortune, nor
time itself, would ever entirely obliterate. When he was six years old,
and, as the workhouse children were saying their Catechism, it was his
turn to repeat the Fifth Commandment—“Honour thy father and thy mother,
&c.,” he recollects having suddenly burst into tears, and felt greatly
agitated and distressed—his voice faltering, and his limbs trembling.
According to his statement, and his pathetic eloquence, in reciting his
misfortunes, strongly corroborated his assertion, he was a very ready
scholar, and the source of this sudden burst of grief being inquired into
by some of his superiors, he said, “I cry, because _I cannot_ obey one of
God’s commandments, I know not either my father or my mother, I cannot
therefore be a good child and honour my parents.”

It was rumoured, in the ward where Robert Blincoe was placed, that
he owed his existence to the mutual frailties of his mother and a
reverend divine, and was called the young Saint, in allusion to his
priestly descent. This name or appellation he did not long retain, for
he was afterwards called Parson; often, _the young Parson_; and he
recollected hearing it said in his presence, that he was the son of
a parson Blincoe. Whether these allusions were founded in truth, or
were but the vile effusions of vulgar malice, was not, and is not, in
his power to determine, whose bosom they have so painfully agitated.
Another remarkable circumstance in his case, was, that when he was sent
in August, 1799, with a large number of other children, from Saint
Pancras workhouse, to a cotton-mill near Nottingham, he bore amongst his
comrades, the name of _Parson_, and retained it afterwards till he had
served considerably longer than his FOURTEEN YEARS, and then, when his
Indentures were at last relinquished, and not till then, the young man
found he had been apprenticed by the name of Robert Blincoe. I urged the
probability, that his right indenture might, in the change of masters
that took place, or the careless indifference of his last master, have
been given to another boy, and that to the one given to him, bearing the
name of Blincoe, he had no just claim. This reasoning he repelled, by
steadily and consistently asserting, he fully recollected having heard
it said his real name was Blincoe, whilst he remained at Saint Pancras
workhouse. His indentures were dated the 15th August, 1799. If, at this
time, he was seven years of age, which is by no means certain, he was
born in 1792, and in 1796, was placed in Pancras workhouse. With these
remarks I close this preliminary matter, and happy should I be, if the
publication of these facts enables the individual to whom they relate,
to remove the veil which has hitherto deprived him of a knowledge of his
parentage, a privation which he still appears to feel with undiminished
intensity of grief.

Two years have elapsed, since I first began to take notes of Blincoe’s
extraordinary narrative. At the close of 1822 and beginning of 1823,
I was seized with a serious illness, which wholly prevented my
publishing this and other important communications. The testimony of
a respectable surgeon, who attended me, as any in the country, even
ocular demonstration of my enfeebled state, failed to convince some of
the cotton spinners, that my inability was not feigned, to answer some
sinister end; and such atrocious conduct was pursued towards me, as
would have fully justified a prosecution for conspiracy. Animated by
the most opposite views, the worst of miscreants united to vilify and
oppress me; the one wanting to get my papers, in order, by destroying
them, to prevent the enormities of the cotton masters being exposed;
and another, traducing my character, and menacing my life, under an
impression that I had basely sold the declarations and communications
received from oppressed work-people to their masters. By some of those
suspicious, misjudging people, Blincoe was led away. He did not, however,
at any time, or under any circumstances, retract or deny any part of his
communications, and, on the 18th and 19th of March, 1824, of his own free
will, he not only confirmed all that he had communicated in the spring
of 1822, with many other traits of suffering, not then recollected,
but furnished me with them. It has, therefore, stood the test of this
hurricane, without its authenticity being in any one part questioned or
impaired. The authenticity of this narrative is, therefore, entitled
to greater credit, than much of the testimony given by the owners of
cotton-factories, or by professional men on their behalf, as will, in
the course of this narrative, be fully demonstrated, by evidence wholly
incontrovertible. If, therefore, it should be proved, that atrocities
to the same extent, exist no longer; still, its publication, as a
preventative remedy, is no less essential to the protection of parish
paupers and foundlings. If the gentlemen of Manchester and its vicinity,
who acted in 1816, &c., in conjunction with the late Mr. Nathaniel
Gould, had not made the selection of witnesses too much in the power of
incompetent persons, Robert Blincoe would have been selected in 1819, as
the most impressive pleader in behalf of destitute and deserted children.


Of the few adventures of Robert Blincoe, during his residence in old
Saint Pancras workhouse, the principal occurred when he had been there
about two years. He acknowledges he was well fed, decently clad, and
comfortably lodged, and not at all overdone, as regarded work; yet, with
all these blessings in possession, this destitute child grew melancholy.
He relished none of the humble comforts he enjoyed. It was liberty he
wanted. The busy world lay outside the workhouse gates, and those he was
seldom, if ever permitted to pass. He was cooped up in a gloomy, though
liberal sort of a prison-house. His buoyant spirits longed to rove at
large. He was too young to understand the necessity of the restraint
to which he was subjected, and too opinionative to admit it could be
intended for his good. Of the world he knew nothing, and the society
of a workhouse was not very well calculated to delight the mind of a
volatile child. He saw givers, destitute of charity, receivers of insult,
instead of gratitude, witnessed little besides sullenness and discontent,
and heard little but murmurs or malicious and slanderous whispers. The
aged were commonly petulant and miserable—the young demoralized and
wholly destitute of gaiety of heart. From the top to the bottom, the
whole of this motley mass was tainted with dissimulation, and he saw
the most abhorrent hypocrisy in constant operation. Like a bird newly
caged, that flutters from side to side, and foolishly beats its wings
against its prison walls, in hope of obtaining its liberty, so young
Blincoe, weary of confinement and resolved, if possible to be free, often
watched the outer gates of the house, in the hope, that some favourable
opportunity might facilitate his escape. He wistfully measured the height
of the wall, and found it too lofty for him to scale, and too well
guarded were the gates to admit of his egress unnoticed. His spirits, he
says, which were naturally lively and buoyant, sank under this vehement
longing after liberty. His appetite declined, and he wholly forsook his
usual sports and comrades. It is hard to say how this disease of the mind
might have terminated, if an accident had not occurred, which afforded
a chance of emerging from the lifeless monotony of a workhouse, and of
launching into the busy world, with which he longed to mingle.

Blincoe declares, he was so weary of confinement, he would gladly have
exchanged situations with the poorest of the poor children, whom, from
the upper windows of the workhouse, he had seen begging from door to
door, or, as a subterfuge, offering matches for sale. Even the melancholy
note of the sweep-boy, whom, long before day, and in the depths of
winter, in frost, in snow, in rain, in sleet, he heard pacing behind
his surly master, had no terrors for him. So far from it, he envied him
his fortune, and, in the fulness of discontent, thought his own state
incomparably more wretched. The poor child was suffering under a diseased
imagination, from which men of mature years and elaborate culture are
not always free. It filled his heart with perverted feelings—it rendered
the little urchin morose and unthankful, and, as undeserving of as he
was insensible to, the important benefits extended to him by a humane
institution, when helpless, destitute and forlorn.

From this state of early misanthropy, young Blincoe was suddenly
diverted, by a rumour, that filled many a heart among his comrades with
terror, viz. that a day was appointed, when the master-sweeps of the
metropolis were to come and select such a number of boys as apprentices,
till they attained the age of 21 years, as they might deign to take into
their sable fraternity. These tidings, that struck damp to the heart
of the other boys, sounded like heavenly music to the ears of young
Blincoe:—he anxiously inquired of the nurses if the news were true, and
if so, what chance there was of his being one of the elect. The ancient
matrons, amazed at the boy’s temerity and folly, told him how bitterly he
would rue the day that should consign him to that wretched employment,
and bade him pray earnestly to God to protect him from such a destiny.
The young adventurer heard these opinions with silent contempt. Finding,
on farther inquiry, that the rumour was well founded, he applied to
several menials in the house, whom he thought likely to promote his
suit, entreating them to forward his election with all the interest they
could command! Although at this time he was a fine grown boy, being
fearful he might be deemed too low in stature, he accustomed himself
to walk in an erect posture, and went almost a tip-toe;—by a ludicrous
conceit, he used to hang by the hands to the rafters and balustrades,
supposing that an exercise, which could only lengthen his arms, would
produce the same effect on his legs and body. In this course of training
for the contingent honour of being chosen by the master-sweeps, as one
fit for their use,—with a perseverance truly admirable, his tender age
considered, young Blincoe continued till the important day arrived. The
boys were brought forth, many of them in tears, and all except Blincoe,
very sorrowful. Amongst them, by an act unauthorised by his guardians,
young Blincoe contrived to intrude his person. His deportment formed a
striking contrast to that of all his comrades; his seemed unusually high:
he smiled as the grim looking fellows approached him; held his head as
high as he could, and, by every little artifice in his power, strove to
attract their notice, and obtain the honour of their preference. While
this fatherless and motherless child, with an intrepid step, and firm
countenance, thus courted the smiles of the sooty tribe, the rest of
the boys conducted themselves as if they nothing so much dreaded, as to
become the objects of their choice, and shrunk back from their touch as
if they had been tainted by the most deadly contagion. Boy after boy was
taken, in preference to Blincoe, who was often handled, examined, and
rejected. At the close of the show, the number required was elected,
and Blincoe was not among them! He declared, that his chagrin was
inexpressible, when his failure was apparent.

Some of the sweeps complimented him for his spirit, and, to console
him, said, if he made a good use of his time, and contrived to grow a
head taller, he might do very well for a fag, at the end of a couple of
years. This disappointment gave a severe blow to the aspiring ambition
of young Blincoe, whose love of liberty was so ardent, that he cared
little about the sufferings by which, if attained, it was likely to be
alloyed. The boys that were chosen, were not immediately taken away.
Mingling with these, some of them said to our hero, the tears standing
in their eyes:—“why, Parson, can you endure the thoughts of going to be
a chimney-sweep? I wish they would take you instead of me.” “So do I,
with all my heart,” said Blincoe, “for I would rather be any where than
here.” At night, as Blincoe lay tossing about, unable to sleep, because
he had been rejected, his unhappy associates were weeping and wailing,
because they had been accepted! Yet, his heart was not so cold as to
be unaffected by the wailings of those poor children, who, mournfully
anticipating the horrors of their new calling, deplored their misfortune
in the most touching terms. They called upon their parents, who, living
or dead, were alike unable to hear them, to come and save them! What a
difference of feeling amongst children of the same unfortunate class!
The confinement that was so wearisome to young Blincoe, must have been
equally irksome to some of his young associates; therefore, the love
of liberty could not have been its sole cause,—there was another and a
stronger reason—all his comrades had friends, parents, or relations: poor
Blincoe stood alone! no ties of consanguinity or kindred bound him to
any particular portion of society, or to any place—he had no friend to
soothe his troubled mind—no domestic circle to which, though excluded for
a time, he might hope to be reunited. As he stood thus estranged from the
common ties of nature, it is the less to be wondered at, that, propelled
by a violent inclination to a rambling life, and loathing the restraint
imposed by his then condition, he should indulge so preposterous a
notion, as to prefer the wretched state of a sweeping-boy. Speaking on
this subject, Blincoe said to me, “If I could penetrate the source of my
exemption from the sorrow and consternation so forcibly expressed by my
companions, it would probably have been resolved by the peculiarity of my
destiny, and the privation of those endearing ties and ligatures which
cement family circles. When the friends, relatives, parents of other
children came to visit them, the caresses that were sometimes exchanged,
the joy that beamed on the faces of those so favoured, went as daggers to
my heart; not that I cherished a feeling of envy at their good fortune;
but that it taught me more keenly to feel my own forlorn condition.
Sensations, thus, excited, clouded every festive hour, and, young as I
was, the voice of nature, instinct, if you will, forced me to consider
myself as a moral outcast, as a scathed and blighted tree, in the midst
of a verdant lawn.”

I dare not aver, that such were the very words Blincoe used, but they
faithfully convey the spirit and tendency of his language and sentiments.
Blincoe is by no means deficient in understanding: he can be witty,
satirical, and pathetic, by turns, and he never showed himself to such
advantage, as when expatiating upon the desolate state to which his utter
ignorance of his parentage had reduced him.

During Blincoe’s abode at St. Pancras, he was inoculated at the Small Pox
Hospital. He retained a vivid remembrance of the copious doses of salts
he had to swallow, and that his heart heaved, and his hand shook as the
nauseous potion approached his lips. The old nurse seemed to consider
such conduct as being wholly unbecoming a _pauper child_; and chiding
young Blincoe, told him, he ought to “lick his lips,” and say thank
you, for the good and wholesome medicine provided for him at the public
expense; at the same time, very coarsely reminding him of the care that
was taken to save him from an untimely death by catching the small-pox in
the natural way. In the midst of his subsequent afflictions, in Litton
Mill, Blincoe, declared, he often lamented having, by this inoculation,
lost a chance of escaping by an early death, the horrible destiny for
which he was preserved.

From the period of Blincoe’s disappointment, in being rejected by
the sweeps, a sudden calm seems to have succeeded, which lasted till
a rumour ran through the house, that a treaty was on foot between
the Churchwardens and Overseers of St. Pancras, and the owner of a
great cotton factory, in the vicinity of Nottingham, for the disposal
of a large number of children, as apprentices, till they become
twenty-one years of age. This occurred about a twelvemonth after his
chimney-sweep miscarriage. The rumour itself inspired Blincoe with
new life and spirits; he was in a manner intoxicated with joy, when he
found, it was not only confirmed, but that the number required was so
considerable, that it would take off the greater part of the children
in the house,—poor infatuated boy! delighted with the hope of obtaining
a greater degree of liberty than he was allowed in the workhouse,—he
dreamed not of the misery that impended, in the midst of which he could
look back to Pancras as to an Elysium, and bitterly reproach himself for
his ingratitude and folly.

Prior to the show-day of the pauper children to the purveyor or cotton
master, the most illusive and artfully contrived falsehoods were
spread, to fill the minds of those poor infants with the most absurd
and ridiculous errors, as to the real nature of the servitude, to which
they were to be consigned. It was gravely stated to them, according to
Blincoe’s statement, made in the most positive and solemn manner, that
they were all, when they arrived at the cotton-mill, to be transformed
into ladies and gentlemen: that they would be fed on roast beef and
plum-pudding—be allowed to ride their masters’ horses, and have silver
watches, and plenty of cash in their pockets. Nor was it the nurses,
or other inferior persons of the workhouse, with whom this vile
deception originated; but with the parish officers themselves. From the
statement of the victims of cotton-mill bondage, it seems to have been
a constant rule, with those who had the disposal of parish children,
prior to sending them off to cotton-mills, to fill their minds with the
same delusion. Their hopes being thus excited, and their imaginations
inflamed, it was next stated, amongst the innocent victims of fraud and
deception, that no one could be _compelled_ to go, nor any but volunteers

When it was supposed at St. Pancras, that these excitements had operated
sufficiently powerful to induce a ready acquiescence in the proposed
migration, all the children, male and female, who were seven years old,
or considered to be of that age, were assembled in the committee-room,
for the purpose of being publicly examined, touching their health, and
capacity, and what is almost incredible touching their _willingness_ to
go and serve as apprentices, in the way and manner required! There is
something so detestable, in this proceeding, that any one might conclude,
that Blincoe had been misled in his recollections of the particulars;
but so many other sufferers have corroborated his statement, that I can
entertain no doubt of the fact. This exhibition took place in August
1799, and eighty boys and girls as parish apprentices, and till they
had respectively acquired the age of twenty-one years, were made over
by the churchwardens and overseers of Saint Pancras parish, to Messrs.
Lamberts’, cotton-spinners, hosiers and lace-men, of St. Mary’s parish,
Nottingham, the owners of Lowdam Mill. The boys, during the latter part
of their time, were to be instructed in the trade of stocking weaving—the
girls in lace-making. There was no specification whatever, as to the time
their masters were to be allowed to work these poor children, although,
at this period, the most abhorrent cruelties were notoriously known to
be exercised, by the owners of cotton-mills, upon parish apprentices.
According to Blincoe’s testimony, so powerfully had the illusions,
purposely spread to entrap these poor children, operated, and so
completely were their feeble minds excited, by the blandishments held
out to them, that they almost lost their wits. They thought and talked
of nothing but the scenes of luxury and grandeur, in which they were to
move. Nor will the reflecting reader feel surprised at this credulity,
however gross, when he considers the poor infants imagined there were no
greater personages than the superiors, to whom they were, as paupers,
subjected, and that, it was those identical persons, by whom their weak
and feeble intellects had thus been imposed upon. Blincoe describes
his conduct to have been marked by peculiar extravagance. Such was his
impatience, he could scarcely eat or sleep, so anxiously did he wait the
hour of emancipation. The poor deluded young creatures were so inflated
with pride and vanity, that they strutted about like so many dwarfish
and silly kings and queens, in a mock tragedy. “We began” said Blincoe
“to treat our old nurses with airs of insolence and disdain—refused to
associate with children, who, from sickness, or being under age, had not
been accepted; they were commanded to keep their distance; told to know
their betters; forbidden to mingle in our exalted circle! Our little
coterie was a complete epitome of the effects of prosperity in the great
world. No sooner were our hearts cheered by a prospect of good fortune,
than its influence produced the sad effects recited. The germ of those
hateful vices, arrogance, selfishness and ingratitude, began to display
themselves even before we had tasted the intoxicating cup. But our
illusion soon vanished, and we were suddenly awakened from the flattering
dream, which consigned the greater part of us to a fate more severe than
that of the West Indian slaves, who have the good fortune to serve humane
owners.” Such were Blincoe’s reflections in May 1822.

It appears that the interval was not long, which filled up the space
between their examination, acceptance, and departure from St. Pancras
workhouse, upon their way to Nottingham; but short as it was, it left
room for dissension. The boys could not agree who should have the _first
ride_ on their masters’ horses, and violent disputes arose amongst the
girls, on subjects equally ludicrous. It was afterwards whispered at
Lowdam Mill, that the elder girls, previous to leaving Pancras, began to
feel scruples, whether their dignity would allow them to drop the usual
bob-curtsey to the master or matron of the house, or to the governess by
whom they had been instructed to read, or work by the needle. Supposing
all these follies to have been displayed to the very letter, the poor
children were still objects of pity; the guilt rests upon those by whom
they had been so wickedly deceived!

Happy, no doubt, in the thought of transferring the burthen of the future
support of fourscore young paupers to other parishes, the churchwardens
and overseers distinguished the departure of this juvenile colony by acts
of munificence. The children were completely new clothed, and each had
two suits, one for their working, the other for their holiday dress—a
shilling in money, was given to each—a new pocket handkerchief—and a
large piece of gingerbread. As Blincoe had no relative of whom to take
leave, all his anxiety was to get outside the door. According to his own
account, he was the first at the gate, one of the foremost who mounted
the waggon, and the loudest in his cheering. In how far the parents
or relatives of the rest of the children consented to this migration;
if they were at all consulted, or even apprised of its being in
contemplation, formed no part of Blincoe’s communications. All he stated
was, that the whole of the party seemed to start in very high spirits. As
to his own personal conduct, Blincoe asserts, he strutted along dressed
in party-coloured parish clothing, on his way to the waggon, no less
filled with vanity than with delusion: he imagined he was free, when he
was in fact legally converted into a slave; he exulted in the imaginary
possession of personal liberty, when he was in reality a prisoner. The
whole convoy were well guarded by the parish beadles on their way to the
waggons; but those officers, bearing their staves, the children were
taught to consider as a guard of _honour_. In addition to the beadles,
there was an active young man or two, appointed to look after the
passengers of the two large waggons, in their conveyance to Nottingham.
Those vehicles, and very properly too, were so secured, that when once
the grated doors were locked, no one could escape. Plenty of clean
straw was strewed in the beds, and no sooner were the young fry _safely
lodged_ within, than they began throwing it over one another and seemed
delighted with the commencement of their journey. A few hours progress
considerably damped this exultation. The inequality of the road, and
the heavy jolts of the waggon, occasioned them many a bruise. Although
it was the middle of August, the children felt very uncomfortable. The
motion of the heavy clumsey vehicle, and so many children cooped up in
so small a space, produced nausea and other results, such as sometimes
occur in Margate boys. Of the country they passed through, the young
travellers saw very little.—Blincoe thinks the children were suffered
to come out of the waggon to walk through St. Alban’s. After having
passed one night in the waggon, many of the children began to repent,
and express a wish to return. They were told to have patience, till they
arrived at Messrs. Lamberts, when, _no doubt_, those gentlemen would pay
every attention to their wishes, and send back to St. Pancras, those
who might wish to return. Blincoe, as might have been expected, was not
one of those _back-sliders_—he remained steady to his purpose, exulting
in the thought, that every step he advanced brought him nearer to the
desired spot, where so many enviable enjoyments awaited him, and conveyed
him farther and farther from the detested workhouse! Blincoe being so
overjoyed with the fine expectations he was to receive at Lowdam Mill, he
spent his shilling at Leicester in apples.

The greater part of the children were much exhausted, and not a few of
them seriously indisposed, before they arrived at Nottingham. When the
waggons drew up near the dwelling and warehouse of their future master,
a crowd collected to see the _live stock_ that was just imported from
the metropolis, who were pitied, admired, and compared to lambs, led
by butchers to slaughter! Care was taken that they should not hear or
understand much of this sort of discourse. The boys and girls were
distributed, some in the kitchen, others in a large ware-room, washed,
combed and supplied with refreshments; but there were no plum-pudding—no
roast beef, no talk of the horses they were to ride, nor of the watches
and fine clothing that they had been promised. Many looked very mournful;
they had been four days travelling to Nottingham: at a more advanced
period of their lives, a travel to the East Indies might not have been
estimated as a much more important or hazardous undertaking. After
having been well refreshed, the whole of the boys and girls were drawn up
in rows, to be _reviewed by their masters_, their friends and neighbours.
In Blincoe’s estimation, their masters, Messrs. Lamberts’, were “stately
sort of men.” They looked over the children and finding them all right,
according to the INVOICE, exhorted them to behave with proper humility
and decorum. To pay the most prompt and submissive respects to the orders
of those who would be appointed to instruct and superintend them at
Lowdam Mill, and to be diligent and careful, each one to execute his or
her task, and thereby avoid the punishment and disgrace which awaited
idleness, insolence, or disobedience. This harangue, which was delivered
in a severe and dictatorial tone, increased their apprehensions, but
not one durst open a mouth to complain. The masters and their servants
talked of the various sorts of labour to which the children were to
apply themselves, and to the consternation and dismay of Blincoe and
his associates, not the least allusion was made to the many fine things
which had so positively been promised them whilst in London. The
conversation which Blincoe heard, seemed to look forward to close, if not
to unremitting toil, and the poor boy had been filled with expectations,
that he was to work only when it pleased him; to have abundance of money
and fine clothes—a watch in his pocket, to feast on roast beef and
plum-pudding, and to ride his masters horses. His hopes, however were,
not wholly extinguished, because Nottingham was not Lowdam Mill, but his
confidence was greatly reduced, and his tone of exultation much lowered.

The children rested one night at Nottingham in the warehouses of
their new masters—the next day they were led out to see the castle,
Mortimer-hole and other local curiosities, in the forest of Sherwood,
which are so celebrated by bards of ancient times. Many shoes, bonnets,
and many other articles of clothing having been lost upon the journey,
others were supplied—but withal Blincoe found himself treated as a
parish orphan, and he calculated on being received and treated as
if he had been a gentleman’s son sent on a visit to the house of a
friend or relative. By the concurring testimony of other persons who
had been entrapped by similar artifices, it appears certain, that the
_purveyors_ of infant labourers to supply the masters of cotton and silk
factories with cheap labourers, adopted this vile, unmanly expedient,
in most of their transactions. It will be seen, by the evidence of Sir
Robert Peel, Baronet, David Owen, Esq. and other witnesses examined
in 1816, that, when children were first wanted to attend machinery in
cotton-factories, such was the aversion of parents and guardians to
this noxious employment, that scarcely any would submit to consign
their offspring to those mills, the owners of which, under the specious
pretext of diminishing the burdens occasioned by poor-rates, prevailed
on churchwardens and overseers, to put their infant paupers into their
hands. Since then, by a gradual progress of poverty and depravity, in the
county of Lancashire alone, there are some thousand fathers, mothers, and
relatives, who live upon the produce of infant labour, though alloyed by
the dreadful certainty, that their gain is acquired by the sacrifice of
their children’s health and morals, and too frequently of their lives,
whereby the fable of Saturn devouring his children, seems realised in
modern times.


Lowdham Cotton-Mill, situated near a village of that name, stood ten
miles distant from Nottingham, on the Surhill road; thither Robert
Blincoe and his associates were conveyed the next day in carts, and it
was rather late when they arrived. The mill, a large and lofty edifice,
being surmounted by a cupola, Blincoe, at first, mistook for a church,
which raised a laugh at his expense, and some jeering remarks, that he
would soon know what sort of service was performed there. Another said,
he did not doubt but the young cocknies would be very _regular_ in their
_attendance_. When he came in view of the apprentice-house, which was
half a mile distant from the mill, and was told that was _to be his home
for fourteen years to come_, he was not greatly delighted, so closely did
it resemble a workhouse. There was one source of consolation, however,
remaining—it was not surrounded by lofty walls, nor secured by strong
gates, as was the case at Pancras. When the first cart, in which was
young Blincoe, drove up to the door, a number of villagers flocked round,
some of whom exclaimed, “God help the poor wretches.”—“Eh!” said another,
“what a fine collection of children, little do they know to what a life
of slavery they are doomed.”—“The Lord have mercy upon them,” said a
third.—“They’ll find little mercy here,” said a fourth. The speakers
were mostly of the female sex, who, shaking their heads, said,—“Ah! what
fine clear complexions!”—“The roses will soon be out of bloom in the
mill.” Such were a part of the remarks which saluted the ears of these
children, as they entered the Lowdham Mill. In common with his comrades,
Blincoe was greatly dismayed, by the gloomy prognostications, which their
guardians did all they could to check, or prevent the children from
hearing, hurrying them, as rapidly as they could, inside the house.

The young strangers were conducted into a spacious room, fitted up
in the style of the dinner-room, in Pancras old workhouse, viz: with
long, narrow deal tables, and wooden benches. Although the rooms seemed
tolerably clean, there was a certain rank, oily, smell, which Blincoe did
not very much admire. They were ordered to sit down at these tables—the
boys and girls apart. The other apprentices had not left work, when this
supply of children arrived. The supper set before them consisted of
milk-porridge, of a very blue complexion! The bread was partly made of
rye—very black, and so soft, they could scarcely swallow it, as it stuck
like bird-lime to their teeth. Poor Blincoe stared, recollecting this was
not so good a fare as they had been used to at Saint Pancras. Where is
our roast beef and plum-pudding, he said to himself. He contrived, with
some difficulty, to eat about one half of his allowance. As the young
strangers gazed mournfully at each other, the governor and governess,
as the master and mistress of the apprentices were styled, kept walking
round them, and making very coarse remarks. Just as they had passed
Blincoe, some of the girls began making faces, and one flung a dab of
bread against the wall, where it stuck fast, as if it had been plaister.
This caught the eye of the governor—a huge raw-boned man, who had served
in the army, and had been a drill serjeant, unexpectedly, he produced a
large horse-whip, which he clanged in such a sonorous manner, that it
made the house re-echo. In a moment, the face-makers and bread throwers
were reduced to solemn silence and abject submission. Even young Blincoe
was daunted—he had been one of the ring-leaders in these seditious
proceedings; but so powerful was the shock to his nerves, sustained from
the tremendous clang of the horse-whip, it bereft him of all his gaity,
and he sat as demure as a truant-scholar, just previous to his flogging.
Yet the master of the house had not uttered a single threat; nor indeed
had he occasion; his carbuncled nose—his stern and forbidding aspect and
his terrible horse-whip, inspired quite as much terror as was requisite.
Knowing that the apprentices from the mill were coming, this formidable
being retired, to the great relief of the young strangers, but so deep an
impression had he created, they sat erect and formal, scarcely daring to
look beyond the nose. Whilst they were in this subdued and neutralised
state, their attention was suddenly and powerfully attracted by the loud
shouting of many voices, almost instantly the stone-room filled, spacious
as it was, with a multitude of young persons of both sexes; from young
women down to mere children. Their presence was accompanied by a scent of
no very agreeable nature, arising from the grease and dirt acquired in
the avocation.

The boys, generally speaking, had nothing on, but a shirt and trousers.
Some few, and but a few, had jackets and hats. Their coarse shirts
were entirely open at the neck, and their hair looked, as if a comb
had seldom, if ever, been applied! The girls, as well as Blincoe could
recollect, were, like the boys, destitute of shoes and stockings. Their
locks were pinned up, and they were without caps; very few had on, either
jacket or gown; but wore, what, in London, are called pinafores; in
Lancashire, bishops!—that is, long aprons with sleeves, made of coarse
linen, that reached from the neck to the heels. Blincoe was no less
terrified at the sight of the pale, lean, sallow-looking multitude, than
his nostrils were offended by a dense and heavy smell of rank oil or
grease, that arose at their appearance! By comparison, the new comers
appeared like so many ladies and gentlemen. On their first entrance,
some of the old apprentices took a view of the strangers; but the great
bulk first looked after their supper, which consisted of new potatoes,
distributed at a hatch door, that opened into the common room from the
kitchen. At a signal given, the apprentices rushed to this door, and
each, as he made way, received his portion, and withdrew to his place at
the table. Blincoe was startled, seeing the boys pull out the fore-part
of their shirts, and holding it up with both hands, received the hot
boiled potatoes allotted for their supper. The girls, less indecently,
if not less filthily, held up their dirty greasy bishops or aprons, that
were saturated with grease and dirt, and having received their allowance,
scampered off as hard as they could, to their respective places, where,
with a keen appetite, each apprentice devoured her allowance, and seemed
anxiously to look about for more. Next, the hungry crew ran to the tables
of the new comers, and voraciously devoured every crust of bread and
every drop of porridge they had left, and put or answered interrogatories
as occasion required.

Thus unfavourable were the impressions produced by the scene that
presented itself on his first entrance into a cotton-factory. Blincoe was
forcibly struck by the absence of that personal cleanliness which had
been so rigidly enforced at St. Pancras. The apprentices were required
to wash night and morning; but no soap was allowed, and without it, no
dirt could be removed. Their tangled locks covered with cotton flue,
hung about their persons in long wreaths, floating with every movement.
There was no cloth laid on the tables, to which the new comers had been
accustomed in the workhouse—no plates, nor knives, nor forks—to be sure
the latter utensils were not absolutely necessary with a potatoe-supper.
Instead of salt-cellars, as had been allowed at Pancras, a very stingy
allowance of salt was laid on the table, and Blincoe saw no other
beverage drunk, by the old hands, than pump water.

The supper being devoured, in the midst of the gossiping that ensued, the
bell rang, that gave the signal to go to bed. The grim governor entered
to take the charge of the newly arrived boys, and his wife, acting the
same part by the girls, appeared every way suitable to so rough and
unpolished a mate. She was a large grown, robust woman, remarkable for
a rough hoarse voice and ferocious aspect. In a surly, heart-chilling
tone, she bade the girls follow her. Tremblingly and despondingly the
little creatures obeyed, scarcely daring to cast a look at their fellow
travellers, or bid them good night. As Blincoe marked the tear to
start in their eyes and silently trickle down their cheeks, his heart
responsive sank within him. They separated in mournful silence, scarcely
a sigh being heard, nor a word of complaint being uttered.

The room in which Blincoe and several of the boys were deposited, was
up two pair of stairs. The bed places were a sort of cribs, built in
a double tier, all round the chamber. The apprentices slept two in a
bed. The beds were of flock. From the quantity of oil imbibed in the
apprentices’ clothes, and the impurities that accumulated from the oiled
cotton, a most disagreeable odour saluted his nostrils. The governor
called the strangers to him and allotted to each his bed-place and
bed-fellow, not allowing any two of the newly arrived inmates to sleep
together. The boy, with whom Blincoe was to chum, sprang nimbly into his
berth, and without saying a prayer, or any thing else, fell asleep before
Blincoe could undress himself. So completely was he cowed, he could not
restrain his tears. He could not forbear execrating the vile treachery
of which he felt himself the victim; but still he declared, it never
struck him, at least, not till long afterwards, that the _superiors_ of
St. Pancras had deceived him. The fault, he thought, lay with Messrs.
Lamberts, their new masters. When he crept into bed, the stench of the
oily clothes and greasy hide of his sleeping comrade, almost turned his
stomach.—What, between grief and dismay, and this nauseous smell, it was
dawn of day before Blincoe dropt asleep. Over and over again, the poor
child repeated every prayer he had been taught, and strove, by unfeigned
piety, to recommend himself to the friend of the friendless, and the
father of the fatherless. At last, sleep sealed his weary eye-lids—but
short was the repose he was allowed to enjoy—before five o’clock, he was
awakened by his bed-fellow, who springing upright, at the loud tolling
of a bell, told Blincoe to dress with all speed, or the governor would
flog him and deprive him of his breakfast. Before Blincoe had time
to perform this office, the iron door of the chamber, creaking upon
its hinges, was opened, and in came the terrific governor, with the
horse-whip in his hand, and every boy hastily tumbled out of his crib,
and huddled on his clothes with all possible haste! Blincoe and his
fellow travellers were the slowest, not being rightly awake. Blincoe
said “bless me, have you _church-service_ so soon?” “Church-service, you
fool, said one of the larger apprentices, it is to the mill _service_
you are called, and you had better look sharp, or you’ll catch it!”
saying this, off he scampered. Blincoe, who was at first amazed at the
trepidation, that appeared in the apprentices, soon understood the cause.
The grim-looking governor, with the carbuncled nose, bearing the emblem
of arbitrary rule, a horse-whip in his hand, made his appearance, and
stalking round the chamber, looked in every bed-place; as he passed
Blincoe and his young comrades, he bestowed a withering look upon them,
which, fully understanding, they hastened below; arrived there, Blincoe
saw some of the boys washing themselves at a pump, and was directed to
do the same.—The whole mass sat down to breakfast at five o’clock in the
morning. The meal consisted of _black bread_ and _blue milk-porridge_.
Blincoe and his fellow strangers took their places, mingled with the
rest of the apprentices, who, marking their dislike of the bread,
eagerly seized every opportunity of eating it themselves. Blincoe and
his comrades looked wistfully at each other. Consternation sat deeply
imprinted on their features; but every tongue was silent; young as they
were, they had sense enough to perceive the necessity of submission and
the prudence of reserve.

They reached the mill about half past five.—The water was on, from the
bottom to the top, in all the floors, in full movement. Blincoe heard
the burring sound before he reached the portals and smelt the fumes of
the oil with which the axles of twenty thousand wheels and spindles were
bathed. The moment he entered the doors, the noise appalled him, and the
stench seemed intolerable.

He did not recollect that either of the Messrs. Lamberts’ were present
at the mill, on his first entrance. The newly arrived were received by
Mr. Baker, the head manager, and by the overlookers of the respective
rooms. They were mustered in the making-up room; the boys and girls
in separate divisions. After being looked at, and laughed at, they
were dispersed in the various floors of the mill, and set to various
tasks.—Blincoe was assigned to a room, over which a man named _Smith
presided_. The task first allotted to him was, to pick up the loose
cotton, that fell upon the floor. Apparently, nothing could be easier,
and he set to with diligence, although much terrified by the whirling
motion and noise of the machinery, and not a little affected by the dust
and flue with which he was half suffocated. They span coarse numbers;
unused to the stench, he soon felt sick, and by constantly stooping, his
back ached. Blincoe, therefore, took the liberty to sit down; but this
attitude, he soon found, was strictly forbidden in cotton mills. His
task-master (Smith) gave him to understand, he must keep on his legs.
Ho did so, till twelve o’clock, being six hours and a half, without the
least intermission.—Blincoe suffered at once by thirst and hunger—the
moment the bell rang, to announce dinner, all were in motion to get out
as expeditiously as possible. Blincoe ran out amongst the crowd, who
were allowed to go—never, in his life, before did he know the value of
wholesome air so perfectly. He had been sick almost to fainting, and it
revived him instantaneously! The cocknies mingled together, as they made
progress towards the apprentice-house! Such as were playsome made to
each other! and the melancholy seemed to mingle their tears! When they
reached the apprentice-room, each of them had a place assigned at the
homely board! Blincoe does not remember of what his dinner consisted;
but is perfectly sure, that neither roast beef nor plum-pudding made its
appearance—and that the provisions, the cookery, and the mode of serving
it out, were all very much below the standard of the ordinary fare of the
workhouse in which he had been reared.

During the space of a week or ten days, that Blincoe was kept picking
up cotton, he felt at night very great weariness, pains in his back and
ancles; and he heard similar complaints from his associates. They might
have suffered less had they been taken to the mill at five o’clock,
been worked till eight, and then allowed time to eat their breakfast;
but six hours’ confinement, to close work, no matter of what kind, in
an atmosphere as foul as that which circulated in a cotton-mill, is
certainly injurious to the health and growth of children of tender
years. Even in mills worked by water, and where the temperature of the
air is nearly the same within the mill as without, this is the case; but
incomparably more so in mills, such as are found in Manchester, where,
in many, the average heat is from 70 to 90 degrees of Fahrenheit's
scale. After Blincoe had been employed in the way described, he was
_promoted_ to the more important employment of a roving winder. Being
too short of stature, to reach his work, standing on the floor, he was
placed on a block; but this expedient only remedied a part of the evil;
for he was not able by any possible exertion, to keep pace with the
machinery. In vain, the poor child declared it was not in his power to
move quicker. He was beaten by the overlooker, with great severity,
and cursed and reviled from morning till night, till his life become a
burthen to him, and his body discoloured by bruises. In common, with
his fellow apprentices, Blincoe was wholly dependent upon the mercy of
the overlookers, whom he found, generally speaking, a set of brutal,
ferocious, illiterate ruffians, alike void of understanding, as of
humanity! Blincoe complained to Mr. Baker, the manager, and all he said
to him was:—“_do your work well, and you’ll not be beaten_.”—It was
but seldom, either of the masters visited the mill, and when they did,
Blincoe found it was useless to complain. The overlooker, who had charge
of him, had a certain quantity of work to perform in a given time. If
every child did not perform his allotted task, the fault was imputed to
his overlooker, and he was discharged.—On the other hand, a premium was
given, if the full quantity of work was done, and not otherwise. If,
therefore, Messrs. Lamberts had remonstrated, or had reprimanded the
task-masters, by whom the children were thus mercilessly treated, those
task-masters could, and most probably would have said, that if the owners
insisted upon so much work being extracted from the apprentices, and a
greater quantity of yarn produced, than it was possible to effect by fair
and moderate labour, _they must allow them_ severity of punishment, to
keep the children in a state of continual exertion. Blincoe had not, of
course, sense to understand this, the principal, if not the sole cause of
the ferocity of the overlookers—but such was, and is the inhuman policy
prevailing in cotton-mills, and whilst that cause remains unchanged, the
effect inevitably must be the same. Each of the task-masters, to acquire
favour and emolument, urged the poor children to the very utmost!—Such is
the driving system, which still holds its course, and which leads to the
exhaustion and destruction of annual myriads, and to the utmost frightful
crimes;—and such is the force of avarice, there are plenty of spinners,
so depraved, as not only to sacrifice other people’s children, but even
_their own_. Blincoe, was not treated with that sanguinary and murderous
ferocity in this mill which these pages will soon delineate; but from
morning till night, he was continually being beaten, pulled by the hair
of his head, kicked or cursed.

It was the custom, in Lowdham Mills, as it is in most water-mills, to
make the apprentices work up lost time, by working over hours! a custom,
that might not be deemed unreasonable, or found oppressive, if the
regular hours were of moderate duration. Blincoe did not say, that this
custom was abused at Lowdham Mill, in an equal degree, to what it was
in others; but when children of seven years of age, or, by probability,
younger, and to work fourteen hours every day in the week, Sundays
excepted, any addition was severely felt, and they had to stop at the
mill during dinner time, to clean the frames every other day. Once in
ten days, or a fortnight, the whole of the finer machinery used to be
taken to pieces and cleaned, and then they had to remain at the mill from
morning till night, and frequently have been unable to find time to get
any food from this early breakfast till night, after they had left off, a
term frequently extended from fifteen to sixteen hours incessant labour.

As an inducement to the children to volunteer to work, the whole
dinner-hour, a premium of a halfpenny was allowed! Small as was the
bribe, it induced many, and Blincoe amongst the number! On such
occasions, the dinner was brought up in tin cans, and often has Blincoe’s
allowance stood till night, whilst he was almost famished with hunger,
and he has often carried it back, or rather eaten it on the road, cold,
nauseous, and covered with flue.

Being half starved, and cruelly treated by his task-masters—being
spotted as a leopard with bruises: and still believing his ill-treatment
arose from causes beyond the controul of the parish officers, by whom
he had been disposed of to Messrs. Lamberts, Blincoe resolved to
attempt an escape,—to beg his way to London,—to lay his case before
the overseers and churchwardens of Saint Pancras, and not only claim
redress of injuries, but the fulfilment of the grand promises that had
been made to him. “I cannot deny,” said Blincoe, “that I feel a glow
of pride, when I reflect that, at the ago of seven years and a half, I
had courage to resent and to resist oppression, and generosity to feel
for the sufferings of my helpless associates, not one of whom durst
venture to share the peril of the enterprise.—On the other hand,” said
he, “I must give them the credit for sincerity; for, if any one had
been unguarded or perfidious, who knew of my _intended_ expedition, I
should have been put under such restraint, as would have effectually
prevented a successful attempt to run away! I considered my situation so
deplorable, and my state of thraldom so intolerable, that death appeared
as a lesser evil. I was not wholly ignorant of the sufferings I might
have had to encounter, nor that I might perish on the way, from want of
food or shelter, and yet I persevered in an effort, in which, of forty
fellow-sufferers, not one had courage to join, although many had parents
or relatives, to whom to flee for succour, and I had none! So far, young
as I was, I calculated upon difficulty, danger and sufferings.—In one
thing, only, was I deceived; that error consisted in thinking the evils
of my situation intolerable! I had no recollection of calamities so
severe, and consequently no standard by which to regulate my judgment. I
therefore, rashly determined in my own mind, that my condition admitted
of no aggravation,—I was indeed, soon undeceived! I lived, within the
short space of four years, to look back with regret to the comparative
degree of ease, plenty of food, and of all other good things enjoyed at
Lowdham Mill! This sort of knowledge, is, I believe, commonly taught”
said Blincoe, “to all the children of misery, as they sink deeper and
deeper in woe! The first stage appears the most intolerable; but as they
descend, like me, they sink so profoundly in the depths of wretchedness,
that in their melancholy progress, those stages and degrees, which, at
first, appeared as intolerable, lose all their terrors, in accumulated
misery, and the desponding heart, when it takes a retrospective glance
at past sufferings, often arraigns its want of patience and fortitude,
for murmurings measured by present calamities. Their former condition
appeared comfortable! Such was my condition, at a later period, when,
to be released from the greater and heavier misery, which I endured at
Lowdham, with all its evils, and in the very worst shape, I should have
esteemed it as a positive state of happiness.” Such was the philosophical
reasoning of Robert Blincoe, in 1822. But, to proceed,—steady to his
purpose, he embraced the first favourable opportunity of making the
projected attempt to escape! He considered his great danger to lie in
being retaken on the road between Lowdham and Nottingham; but he knew
no other way, and was afraid to make inquiry! When the manager and
overlooker of the room he worked in were busy, Blincoe set off, dressed
in his working clothes. His progress began in a sort of canter, looking
behind him every fifty yards for the first half mile, when, finding
he had not been seen or pursued, he continued his rapid flight till
he reached Burton, and there, as fate decreed, that flight suddenly
terminated; for, as he trotted onwards, a long-shanged, slip-shod tailor,
who worked for Lowdham Mill, slid nimbly from his shop-board, which,
unfortunately for Blincoe, faced the road, and, placing himself full in
the way, with a malicious kind of grin upon his long, lank visage, said
“O! young Parson, where art thou running so fast this way?” saying this,
he seized him by the hand, and led him very loath into his cottage, and,
giving him a seat in the back part of the room, placed himself between
his captive and the door.

Blincoe saw, at one glance, by these precautions, that he was caught.
His indignation was so great at first, he would not give any answer;
noticing which, his false and artful host said to his wife, “Give the
young Parson something to eat and drink,—he is weary, and will be better
able to pursue his journey, after he has rested and refreshed himself!
The Lord commands us to give food to the hungry, and I dare say,”
addressing himself to him, “thou art not so full, but thou canst eat a
bowl of bread and milk.” “I must own, to my shame,” said Blincoe, “the
carnal man, the man of flesh was caught by the bait! I hungered and I
ate, and he gave me so much, and I drank so heartily, that my teeth
disabled my legs! To be sure, my fare was not very costly:—it consisted
of some oaten bread and butter-milk!”

When this sly fox of a tailor found he could eat no more, still
blockading the door, to question Blincoe as to the object of his journey,
which the latter frankly explained,—“Aye, I thought so,” said the
detestable hypocrite, “young parson, I thought so,—I saw Satan behind
thee, jobbing his prong into thy ****!—I saw thee running headlong into
h—ll, when I stept forth to save thee!” This avowal aroused all Blincoe’s
indignation, and he was determined to have a scuffle with his perfidious
host; but he had swallowed so large a portion of butter-milk, and eaten
so much oaten bread, he felt he had lost half his speed! Disdainful,
however, of fraud or denial, he again avowed his intention, and its
cause. The tailor then commenced an harangue upon the deadly sin of a
breach of covenant,—assured Blincoe he was acting under the influence of
Satan! that he was liable to be sent to Bridewell, to be flogged, and,
when sent back to his work, to be debarred of all liberty, and led to and
from the mill with a halter round his neck! Blincoe was neither convinced
by this reasoning, nor intimidated by these denunciations—but, alas! his
gluttonous appetite had disabled him for flight, and being thus disabled,
and thus doubly a captive, he made a merit of necessity, and agreed to
go back, if his host would be his mediator with Mr. Baker, the manager.
This was the precise point to which the jesuitical tailor wished to bring
him. Without relinquishing his seat, the treacherous knave doffed his
paper cap, and skeins of thread that still hung round his long, shaggy
neck,—he combed his black, greasy locks, that hung straight as candles
round his lanthorn jaws,—tied a yellow cotton handkerchief round his
neck,—put on a pair of shoes,—took a _crab-tree_ stick, full of knots,
in his right hand, and grasping Blincoe’s very tight in his left, he
sallied forth on a _work of charity_ as the loathsome hypocrite called
his having entrapped and betrayed a poor oppressed orphan child, fleeing
from slavery and oppression. “In my heart,” said Blincoe, “I detested
the wretch with greater bitterness than my task-master; but he held me
so tight, I could not escape—and the sight of the bit of crab-tree which
he brandished, as he chaunted hymns of thanks-giving, had also no small
share of influence in overawing me,—in short, into the counting-house
this second Judas led me. After an admonition to beware how again I
made an attempt of the kind, the manager gave me a severe but not cruel
chastisement.” As to the _hospitable_ tailor, when he had delivered him
up, he slung away, not waiting to receive Blincoe’s thanks. Whether he
took the _five shillings_, which Blincoe was afterwards told was the
standing reward of those who brought back run-away apprentices, or let it
stand till he had five pounds to receive for such services, he cannot
ascertain; but he was told, this peeping Tom of Burton, had rendered many
a poor child the same sort of kindness. “In consequence of this scurvy
trick,” said Blincoe, “I have never been able to conquer the aversion it
created against Methodists; although I am bound to believe, the wretch
was one of the myriads of _counterfeits_, who flock to their standard
from venal and corrupt motives.”

After Blincoe had received his punishment, every weal and bruise with
which he had started found a fellow. He was handed back to Smith, his
task-master, by whom he was laughed at and jeered unmercifully, and
worked with an increase of severity. When Blincoe left work, his old
associates flocked around him, condoling his misfortune, and offering
him half-pence and bits of bread that they had saved! When they heard
how _godly_ had caught him, their indignation swelled to such a height,
they declared they would drown him in the mill-dam, if ever they had an
opportunity. These condolements were grateful to his wounded pride and
disappointed hopes. As he retired to his miserable bed, the governor,
grinning horribly, made him a low bow in the military style, and gave
him a hearty kick on his _seat of honour_ at the same instant. In this
manner, was he ushered to his bed, laughed at by that portion of the
elder apprentices, who had made similar attempts, and had undergone a
similar or more vindictive punishment. Having abandoned all thoughts of
escape, Blincoe submitted sullenly and patiently to his fate;—he worked
according to his age and stature, as hard as any one in the mill. When
his strength failed, and his limbs refused their office, he endured the
strap or the stick, the cuff or the kick, with as much resignation as any
of his fellow-sufferers. In the faded complexions, and sallow looks of
his associates, he could see, as, in a mirror, his own altered condition!
Many of his comrades had, by this time, been more or less injured by
the machinery. Some had the skin scraped off the knuckles, clean to the
bone, by the fliers; others a finger crushed, a joint or two nipped off
in the cogs of the spinning-frame wheels! When his turn to suffer came,
the fore-finger of his left hand was caught, and almost before he could
cry out, off was the first joint—his lamentations excited no manner of
emotion in the spectators, except a coarse joke—he clapped the mangled
joint, streaming with blood, to the finger, and ran off to Burton, to the
surgeon, who, very composedly put the parts together again, and sent him
back to the mill. Though the pain was so intense, he could scarcely help
crying out every minute, he was not allowed to leave the frame. He said
but little to any one; but was almost continually bemoaning in secret the
cruelty of his fate. Before he was eight years old, Blincoe declared,
that many a time he had been tempted to throw himself out of one of the
upper windows of the factory—but when he came to look at the leap he
purposed taking, his courage failed him—a propensity, he mentioned not as
thinking it evinced any commendable feeling, but as an illustration of
the natural and unavoidable consequences of working children too hard,
and subjecting them to so many severe privations.

About the second year of his servitude, when the whole of the eighty
children sent from Pancras Workhouse, had lost their plump and fresh
appearance, and acquired the pale and sickly hue which distinguished
factory children from all others, a most deplorable accident happened in
Lowdham Mill, and in Blincoe’s presence. A girl, named Mary Richards,
who was thought remarkably handsome when she left the workhouse, and,
who might be nearly or quite ten years of age, attended a drawing frame,
below which, and about a foot from the floor, was a horizontal shaft,
by which the frames above were turned. It happened, one evening, when
most of her comrades had left the mill, and just as she was taking off
the weights, her apron was caught by the shaft. In an instant the poor
girl was drawn by an irresistible force and dashed on the floor. She
uttered the most heart rending shrieks! Blincoe ran towards her, an
agonized and helpless beholder of a scene of horror that exceeds the
power of my pen to delineate! He saw her whirled round and round with
the shaft—he heard the bones of her arms, legs, thighs, &c. successively
snap asunder, crushed, seemingly, to atoms, as the machinery whirled
her round, and drew tighter and tighter her body within the works, her
blood was scattered over the frame and streamed upon the floor, her head
appeared dashed to pieces—at last, her mangled body was jammed in so
fast, between the shafts and the floor, that the water being low and the
wheels off the gear, it stopped the main shaft! When she was extricated,
every bone was found broken!—her head dreadfully crushed!—her clothes
and mangled flesh were, apparently inextricably mixed together, and she
was carried off, as supposed, quite lifeless. “I cannot describe,” said
Blincoe, “my sensations at this appalling scene. I shouted out aloud for
them to stop the wheels! When I saw her blood thrown about like water
from a twirled mop, I fainted.” But neither the spine of her back was
broken, nor were her brains injured, and to the amazement of every one,
who beheld her mangled and horrible state, by the skill of the surgeon,
and the excellence of her constitution, she was saved!—Saved to what
end? the philosopher might ask—to be sent back to the same mill, to
pursue her labours upon crutches, made a cripple for life, without a
shilling indemnity from the parish, or the owners of the mill! Such was
the fate of this poor girl, but, dismal as it was, it will be seen by
the succeeding parts of this narrative, that a lot still more horrible
awaited many of her fellow-sufferers, whom the parish officers of St.
Pancras, pursuant to Acts of Parliament authority, had apprenticed for
fourteen years to the masters of Lowdham Cotton Mill. The dreadful
spectacle Blincoe had witnessed in the racking of Mary Richards, rendered
his employment more odious than ever.

It is already stated, that the food was very ordinary and not very
plentiful; the apprentices were so oppressed by hunger, that the oldest
and most daring sallied out at night and plundered the fields, and
frequent complaints were made, and the apprentices got a very bad name,
which belonged rather to the masters, in whose parsimony it originated!

When Blincoe had served about three years of his time, an event happened
at Lowdham Mill, arising out of the manner in which apprentices were
treated, that wrought a complete revolution there, and led to a new era
in Blincoe’s biography! Among the girls, who were bound apprentices to
Messrs. Lamberts of Nottingham and Lowdham, were two sisters, named Fanny
and Mary Collier, who had a mother residing in London. These young girls
finding their health declining from excess of labour, bad provisions,
and want of wholesome air and exercise, found means to write a letter
to their mother, full of complaints, upon which, the widow undertook a
journey to Lowdham, where she resided a fortnight, during which time, she
was a reserved and shrewd observer of the condition of her own and of
other children, and then returned to the metropolis. As far as Blincoe
remembers these circumstances, Mrs. Collier did not make any complaints
to Messrs. Lamberts, or to the manager! She reserved such representation
for the parish officers of Saint Pancras, which induced them to send
down a parochial committee, to inquire into the state and condition of
the apprentices. One day, just as the dinner was being served out in the
_usual_ slovenly manner, without the least notice of the intended visit
having been previously given, the Committee arrived, without asking or
waiting for permission, they walked into the common room, and tasting
the viands upon the table, they found them such as had been described.
Whether _conscience_ had any concern in the effort to discover and
reform abuses in the mill, said Blincoe, I know not; but this I do know,
that, if they had had a spark of shame, pity or remorse, the sallow,
and sickly appearance of the eighty victims, saying nothing of Mary
Richards, who was for ever rendered a cripple, ought to have filled them
with sorrow and shame, on account of the base and cruel imposition,
that had been practised in 1799. It is more probable, however, that the
atrocious treatment experienced by the thousands and tens of thousands
of orphan children, poured forth from our charitable institutions, and
from parish workhouses, and the dreadful rapidity with which they were
consumed in the various cotton-mills, to which they were transported,
and the sad spectacle exhibited by most of the survivors, were the real
causes, which, in 1802, produced Sir Robert Peel’s Bill, for the relief
and protection of infant paupers employed in cotton-mills. Hence, the
extraordinary liveliness evinced by the overseers and churchwardens
of Saint Pancras might have been occasioned by the dreadful scenes of
cruelty and oppression developed during the progress of that Bill,
which Blincoe never heard of, nor ever saw, till eleven or twelve years
after it had passed into a law. It would be difficult to produce a more
striking instance of the utter contempt, in which the upstart owners of
great establishments treated an act, purposely enacted to restrain their
unparalled cruelty and waste of human life. The act itself declared the
masters, owners, or occupiers of every cotton-mill in Great Britain and
Wales should have a legible copy of the act, placed in some conspicuous
and public part of each mill, and accessible to every one; yet, Blincoe,
who was reared in the cotton-mill, never saw or heard of any such law,
till eleven or twelve years after it had been enacted! When the committee
began their investigation, as to the treatment and condition of the
children sent from St. Pancras Workhouse, Blincoe was called up among
others and admonished to speak the truth and nothing but the truth! So
great however was the terror of the stick and strap, being applied to
their persons, after these great dons should be at a great distance, it
rendered him, and no doubt the great majority of his fellow sufferers
extremely cautious and timid. It is however, likely, that their looks
bespoke their sufferings, and told a tale not to be misunderstood. The
visitors saw their food, dress, bedding, and they caused, in conjunction
with the local magistrate, very great alterations to be made. A new
house was ordered to be erected near the mill, for the use of the
apprentices, in which there were fewer beds to a given space. The
quantity of good and wholesome animal food to be dressed and distributed
in a more decent way, was specified. A much more cleanly and decorous
mode of cookery and serving up the dinner and other meals was ordered.
The apprentices were divided into six classes, and a new set of tin
cans, numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, were made, to be served up to each
individual, according to the class to which he or she may belong, to hold
the soup or porridge! The old governor was discharged, who had given them
all such a fright on their first arrival, and several of the overlookers
were dismissed and new ones introduced;—among the latter description
of persons was a man, who seemed wholly destitute of humanity—his name
was William Woodward—born, I believe, at Cromford, in Derbyshire. The
appearance of this ferocious tyrant at Lowdham Mill proved a much heavier
curse, scourge and affliction to Blincoe, than all the grievances which
had existed, or were removed! As Woodward’s amusement, in tormenting
these poor apprentices, will occupy a large space in the next chapter, I
shall say little of him in this.

It was the ill fortune of Blincoe and his associates, that, shortly after
the reforms specified were introduced, and the hours of labour reduced,
so that their situation became every way incomparably more eligible,
Lowdam Mill stopped working.

At this period, Blincoe had served about four years of his time, and
had learnt to wind rovings, and spin at the throstle, and certainly
earned as much money for his master in the week as would suffice to keep
him a month or longer, in meat, drink and clothes; but he had not been
instructed in any part of the stocking-trade, nor had he acquired such a
degree of knowledge of the cotton-spinning, as might enable him to gain
his bread elsewhere.

At this juncture, if justice had been done, the apprentices would have
reverted to Saint Pancras parish, and not been abandoned as they were,
and turned over to a new master, without any care being taken, that he
should, if he took them, abide by the condition specified in their first
indentures, and act up to the regulations introduced at Lowdham Mill.

Blincoe said, he believed the Messrs. Lamberts wrote to the parish
officers of Saint Pancras, informing them of the situation of the
children, in order that their friends might take back whom they
pleased to claim, and if, in this conclusion, Blincoe is right, and
these officers neglected to take proper measures for the safety and
protection of so large a body of children, as they had sent to Lowdham
Mill, all healthy and straight limbed, they are morally responsible for
the unparalled sufferings to which they were afterwards exposed. When
the subject shall again come before parliament, it will be requisite
to have the conduct of the parish officers on this occasion thoroughly
investigated, not so much from a wish to have their offences visited
with any legal penalty, if such were practicable, as to shew the
necessity of abrogating the power invested in them by act of parliament,
to place children beyond a given distance from the place of their
birth or settlement:—and secondly, to deprive them altogether of the
power of tearing away children from their parents, and sending them
into any manufactories whatever, without the knowledge and consent of
their parents, or next of kin. If the parish officers think proper to
apprentice them to any of the ordinary and established trades, they
ought to have that power independently of their parents. In the mill,
where Blincoe was next consigned, the _parish children_ were considered,
treated, and _consumed as a part of the raw materials_; their strength,
their marrow, their lives, were consumed and converted into money! and as
their livestock consisting of parish apprentices, diminished, new flocks
of victims arrived from various quarters, without the cost of purchase to
supply their place!

It is within the compass of probability, that there have been, and are
yet, instances, wherein the overseers of the poor, and more especially
the _assistant_ overseers, who are mere mercenaries, and serve for pay,
have been, and are, some of them at least, _bribed_ by the owners of
mills for spinning silk, cotton or woollen yarn, to visit the habitation
of the persons receiving parochial aid, and to compel them, when children
are wanting, utterly regardless of education, health, or inclination, to
deliver up their offspring, or by cutting off the parish allowance leave
them to perish for want!

When Messrs. Lamberts gave up the cotton-yarn establishment, carried
on at Lowdham Mill, they permitted all their apprentices who wished to
leave their employment in a cotton-mill, to write to their parents and
friends, and some few found redeemers; the great bulk were, unhappily
left to their fate! Being a foundling, and knowing no soul on earth
to whom he could look up for succour, Robert Blincoe was one of the
unhappy wretches, abandoned to as dismal a destiny as ever befel _a
parish apprentice_. It was his evil fortune, with a multitude of fellow
sufferers, to be turned over _en masse_ to Mr. ELLICE NEEDHAM, of
Highgate Wall, Derbyshire, the master and owner of Litton Mill, near

Before, however, I close this delineation of the character and conduct of
the owners of Lowdham Cotton-Mill—Messrs. William, Charles, and Thomas
Lambert—it is due to them, if living, whatever may be their fortune, and
to their memory, if deceased, to state, that, with the exception of Mary
Richards, who was so dreadfully racked upon a shaft, and her bones mostly
broken, not one of the children sent to their mill by St. Pancras parish,
were injured as to be made a cripple, nor were they deformed in their
knees and ancles. That there were deficiencies as to food and an excess
of labour exacted, is clear, by the alterations which were introduced;
but still, compared with what they soon afterwards suffered, they were
humanely treated.

They were kept decently clad, had a bettermost suit reserved for Sundays
and holidays—were occasionally allowed a little time for play, in the
open air, and upon _Goose fair-day_, which is, or then was, a great
festival at Nottingham—the whole of them were conveyed in carts to that
celebrated place, and regaled with furmety, and sixpence in money was
allowed to the very youngest! They went pretty regularly to Lowdham
Church on Sundays; were not confined within gates and walls, as was the
case at most other mills, where parish apprentices were immured! nor
were there any iron-bars before the windows! They were _worked hard_; but
not so hard as to distort their limbs, nor occasion declines or deaths!
Their food latterly was good, and cleanly cooked. Their bedding, though
coarse, was clean! When they had meat, they were allowed trenchers,
knives, forks and spoons. It will presently be seen, when carried away
from Lowdham Mill, into what a den of vice, disease and famine, filth
and slavery, they were plunged; by what hellions they were worried, and
all in defiance of a positive, and recently made law, on purpose for
their protection, and in the face of the VISITING MAGISTRATE whose visits
were, according to Blincoe’s assertion, too frequently directed to the
luxurious table of the master, to admit even a chance of justice to
the apprentices. May this exposition of crimes and suffering inflicted
upon the friendless, the orphan, the widow’s son, induce honest and
upright men, senators and legislators, effectually to curb the barbarous
propensities of hard-hearted masters, and rescue their nation from a
worse stain, than even the African Slave Trade, horrible as was that
odious traffic, ever inflicted.


The next cotton mill to which poor Blincoe was consigned, together, with
those of his companions in tribulation, who had no friend to redeem them,
from impending misery, belonged to a Mr. Ellice Needham. Like most of
his fraternity, his origin was obscure. He is said to have arisen from
an abject state of poverty, and had it been by honourable industry,
his prosperous fortune had redounded to his credit. Of his primeval
state of poverty, it was his weakness to be ashamed. By the profusion
of his table, and the splendour and frequency of his entertainments, he
seemed to wish to cover and conceal his mean descent. His house, lawns,
equipage, and style of living, completely eclipsed the neighbouring
gentry; yet, boundless was his ostentation, he was in his heart sordidly
mean and parsimonious. His cruelty, in wringing from poor friendless
orphans, the means of supporting his guilty and unbecoming pomp,
sufficiently evinces the baseness of his heart! His mansion, in 1803, and
years later, was at Highgate Wall, near Buxton in Derbyshire.

To this arrogant and unfeeling master, Messrs. Lambert made over the
unexpired term of years for which the greater part of the parish
apprentices had been bound by their respective indentures. What
premium was paid, or, if any, I know not. As this master was neither
a hosier, nor a lace manufacturer, he had not the power to fulfil the
conditions imposed on Messrs. Lamberts, viz. to instruct the girls,
during the last three years of their time, in lace-knitting, and the
boys in stocking-weaving. The consequence was, the poor children lost
those important advantages, and those who survived the term of their
apprenticeship to Ellice Needham, found themselves without that degree
of skill which was requisite to enable them to gain their bread, in
almost any other cotton-mill, and could touch none but the very coarsest

As Messrs. Lamberts were constrained, by circumstances, to stop their
works, it might be, that they had not means to support the apprentices;
but were forced to get rid of them with the utmost expedition. There
have been instances, where, in case of Bankruptcy, parish apprentices
bound to cotton-masters, have been put into carts, driven to the verge of
the parish, and there turned adrift without money—without a friend or a
place to shelter them. According to Blincoe’s account, although Messrs.
Lamberts’ informed the guardians of the poor of St. Pancras parish of
the necessity they were under of giving up their apprentices, or turning
them over to their masters, no steps were taken for the protection of
the friendless children, an imputation, the more extraordinary, when the
promptitude and decision with which they had acted in the case recited,
is considered. It is, therefore, probable, that their activity might
be owing to the horrid tales, that had then burst upon the public,
descriptive of the cruelty and misery, of which parish children placed
out in cotton-mills were the victims. It was in 1802, that Sir Robert
Peel, of Bury, who had the largest number of parish and foundling
children, employed in his cotton-mills, of any cotton-master in Great
Britain, brought forward his bill for their protection. According to
Blincoe’s narrative, the committee from St. Pancras arrived at Lowdham
Mill, at this juncture, and the reforms introduced at Lowdham Mill, were,
therefore, likely to have been owing to the parliamentary agitation of
that question; and nothing can be more highly illustrative of the force
of public opinion, than this proof of its potent effect on the officers
of St. Pancras parish!—Supposing the conjecture to be well founded, at
the time the apprentices were removed from Lowdham Mill, this humane act
had passed into a law, and had become all but a dead-letter!—It may also
have been a reliance upon the effect of that law which induced the parish
officers to leave the children to their fate—what THAT fate was will
presently appear!

It seems, that Mr. Ellice Needham, the master of Litton Mill, went to
Lowdham, to inspect the condition of the apprentices, who had improved
very materially after the introduction of the new regulations. Nothing
could be more kind or condescending than Ellice Needham’s deportment at
Lowdham. To some, he gave money—to all, he promised most liberal and kind
usage—he promised like a Titus—but he performed like a Caligula.

Blincoe could not recollect, with precision, the number of apprentices,
male and female, who were removed in carts from Lowdham to Litton Mill.
The first day’s progress brought them to Cromford, where they halted
for the night. The girls were lodged in dwelling-houses; the boys, on
straw, in a barn or stable! The next morning, the whole party were
marched on foot through the village, as far as Matlock toll-bar, so proud
was Woodward (their conductor) of their healthy appearance! Here they
again mounted their carts! But this improvement is not imputable to the
wholesomeness of cotton-factory employment; but to the effect of the
recent modifications introduced at Lowdham Mill, and to their diminished
hours of toil.

It was in the gloomy month of November, when this removal took place! On
the evening of the second day’s journey, the devoted children reached
Litton Mill. Its situation, at the bottom of a sequestered glen, and
surrounded by rugged rocks, remote from any human habitation, marked a
place fitted for the foul crimes of frequent occurrence which hurried so
many of the friendless victims of insatiate avarice, to an untimely grave.

The savage features of the adjacent scenery impressed a general gloom
upon the convoy, when Woodward pointed out to them the lonely mill to
which they were travelling. As the hands were then at work, all of whom,
except the overlookers, were parish children, the conductor of the new
comers led them through the mill. The effect of the review filled the
mind of Blincoe, and perhaps his unhappy associates, with deep dismay.
The pallid, sickly complexions—the meagre, haggard appearance of the
Litton Mill apprentices, with their filthy and ragged condition, gave him
a sorrowful foretaste of the dismal fate that apparently awaited him.
From the mill, they were escorted to the ’prentice-house, where every
thing wore a discouraging aspect. Their first meal was water-porridge and
oaten cakes—the former thin and ill-made—the latter, baked in flat cakes,
on iron griddles, about an inch thick—and being piled up in heaps, was
liable to heat, ferment and grow mouldy. This was a new and not a very
palatable diet. Whilst Blincoe and many of his comrades went supperless
to bed, their half-starved comrades, the Litton Mill apprentices,
ravenously devoured what the more dainty Lowdham children turned from
with loathing, and told them _their stomachs_ would come to in a few
days, and that they would be glad to pick from a dunghill, the mouldiest
pieces, then so disdainfully flung away.

The lodging-room, the bedding, every thing was inferior to what it was at
Lowdham; and the smell, from oil and filth, incomparably more offensive.
Blincoe passed a restless night, bitterly deploring his hard destiny,
and trembling at the thought of greater sufferings! Soon after four in
the morning, they were summoned to the work, by the ringing of a bell.
Blincoe was put to wind rovings. He soon found an immense difference, in
his situation, having much more work to perform, and being treated with a
brutal severity, hitherto unknown to him.

Blincoe remarked, that few of the apprentices had either knife, fork,
or spoon, to use at table, or hats, shoes, or stockings. At Lowdham,
particularly during the latter part of their stay there, the children
used to wash at the pump, night and day, and were allowed soap! At
Litton mill, they were called out so early, and worked so late, that
little or no attention was given to personal cleanliness! On Friday
night, the apprentices were washed, combed, and shirted! Blincoe found
his companions in a woeful condition—their bodies were literally covered
with weals and contusions—their heads full of wounds, and, in many
cases, lamentably, infested with vermin! The eldest girls had to comb
and wash the younger apprentices—an irksome task, which was carelessly
and partially performed. No soap was allowed—a small quantity of meal
was given as a substitute; and this from the effects of keen hunger,
was generally eaten. The first day’s labour at Litton Mill, convinced
Blincoe, into what a den of vice and misery he was cast. The overlookers
were fierce and brutal, beyond any thing he had ever witnessed at Lowdham
Mill; to which servitude, terrible as it once appeared, he looked back
with regret. In the retrospect of his own conduct, he felt shame and
sorrow—for, compared with what he had to perform and to endure, he now
considered that he had lived in idleness and luxury at Lowdham. The
custom of washing and shifting on Friday night, arose, he said from a
notion, that it was more _profitable_ to allow those ablutions to be then
performed, that the apprentices might be kept to work till _midnight_ on
Saturday, or even beyond that hour. The apprentices slept about fifty
in a room. The governor used to unlock the door of each room when the
first bell rang: having unlocked the last room door, he went back to the
first, with a switch stick in his hand, and if he found any one in bed,
or slowly dressing, he used to lay on without mercy; by which severity,
the rooms were soon empty. The apprentices had their breakfast generally
of water-porridge, called in this part of Derbyshire “stir-pudding,”
and oaten cake, which they took in the mill. The breakfast hour was
eight o’clock; but the machinery did not stop, and so irregular were
their meals, it sometimes did not arrive till ten or eleven o’clock.
At other times, the overlookers would not allow the apprentices to eat
it, and it stood till it grew cold and covered with flue! Skim-milk, or
butter-milk was allowed; but very sparingly, and often in a stinking
state, when it was served out. Forty minutes were allowed for dinner; of
which time, full one half was absorbed in cleaning the frames. Sometimes
the overlookers detained them in the mill the whole dinner-time, on
which occasion, a halfpenny was given, or rather promised. On those
occasions, they had to work the whole day through, generally _sixteen
hours_, _without rest or food_! These excessive labours, accompanied
by comparative starvation, may appear to my reader, as, at first, it
did to me, _incredible_; but Blincoe’s relations, marvellous as it may
appear, was afterwards confirmed by individuals, whose narratives _will
be given_, and with whom no sort of acquaintance or intercourse had
latterly subsisted. Owing to this shamefully protracted time of labour,
to the ferocity with which the children were driven by stripes, cuffs,
and kicks, and to the insufficiency of food, no less than its bad and
unwholesome quality. Blincoe, in common with his fellow-sufferers has
often dropped down at the frames, and been so weary, when, at last,
he left work, he has given a stronger boy a halfpenny, or a part of
his supper, to allow him to lean upon him on his way back to the

Bad as was the food, the cookery was still worse.—The most inferior sort
of Irish-fed bacon was purchased for the consumption of these children,
and this boiled with turnips, put into the water, I cannot say without
washing; but certainly without paring!—Such was the _Sunday_ fare of
the parish children at Litton Mill. When first Blincoe, and the rest
of the children arrived from Lowdham, they noticed many of the other
apprentices had neither spoon nor knife; but had to eat as they could,
meat, thick-porridge, or broth, nor were the new comers long allowed any
such implements. On Sunday, bacon-broth and turnips were served out,
which they eat with oaten-cake, in dirty wooden bowls. It could not be
otherwise, than unpalatable; for the portion of water to be converted
into _broth_, was very ample. In this, rusty, half putrid, fish-fed
bacon, and unpaired turnips were boiled!—A portion of this broth, with
coarse oaten-cake was served out, as the first course of a frequent
Sunday’s dinner. Next, the rusty bacon was portioned out with the
boiled unpared turnips!—There was generally, a large quantity of broth
to spare, which often became very fetid before it was cold. Into this
stuff, no better than hog-wash, a few pails more of water were poured
and some meal stirred in, and the disgusting mess was served out for
supper or the next day’s breakfast, as circumstances required. Blincoe
declared, that the stench of this broth was often so powerful as to turn
his stomach, and yet, bad as it was, keen hunger forced him to eat it.
From all those and other sources of sickness and disease, no one will
be surprised that contagious fevers arose in the mill; nor that the
number of deaths should be such as to require frequent supplies of parish
children, to fill up the vacancies. That such numerous draughts made
from mills, where there was no increase of building or of machinery, or
apparent call for more infant labourers should not have caused parish
officers to institute inquiry, as to the fate of their predecessors,
goes far toward confirming the worst imputations cast by the surviving
sufferers, upon their parochial guardians. The evidence given by Sir
Robert Peel and others, before parliamentary committees, will throw
still further light on this important subject, and prove how generally
the offspring of the poor have been abandoned by their legal guardians,
and left at the disposal of greedy and unfeeling sons of traffic. This
neglect on the part of parish officers, was the producing cause of many
of the avaricious cotton-masters escaping punishment, for offences which
richly merited the gallows. Contagious disease, fatal to the apprentices,
and dangerous to society, was the degree of magnitude, at which, the
independent rich, more, perhaps, from selfish than social feelings,
took alarm, and the public prints exposed a part of the existing abuses
in cotton-mills, of which parish children were the victims. So horrid
were these recitals, and so general and loud the indignation which they
excited, that it reached the inmost recesses of the flinty hearts of
the great cotton-masters. Their fears taught them mercy, when no longer
able to withstand, nor to silence the accusations brought against them
by public-spirited and disinterested opponents. Some of the greatest
delinquents yielded, and even became advocates for the interference of
the legislative power, between themselves and their servants. A reference
to the Appendix will shew that they were accused by the genuine friends
of humanity of aiming, by this concession, to insinuate themselves into
the confidence of their opponents, and thereby neutralize and subdue the
fine spirit by which they found their grasping, vile, insatiate avarice
controlled. Be this as it may, those individuals who took so much pains
to obtain the act of 1802, seem to have given themselves no manner of
trouble, to see it enforced. Almost before the first year expired,
it was considered a dead-letter. Just at this crisis, the cruelties,
exercised on apprentices at Litton Mill, were at their height. Excess of
toil, of filth, and of hunger, led to the poor children being visited
by contagious fevers. This calamity, which often broke, by premature
death, the bands of this vile thraldom, prevailed to such an extent, as
to stop the works. At last, such was Blincoe’s declaration, he had known
forty boys sick at once, being a fourth of the whole number employed
in the mill. From the combined testimony of many apprentices, none
were considered sick, till it was found impossible, by menaces or by
corporeal punishment, to keep them to their work. The medical gentlemen,
who sometimes attended the sick, aware of the cause of the deaths, used
to say, and like a sensible man he spoke:—“It is not drugs, but kitchen
physic they want:” and his general prescription was plenty of good bread,
beef, soup and mutton broth. When I questioned Blincoe and others, why
this medical man did not represent the horrid plight they were in to the
magistrates, he said, the surgeon and magistrates were friends and guests
of the master, and in the frequent habit of feasting with him! Blincoe
was among the number of the sick, and remembers pitch, tobacco, &c.
being burnt in the chamber, and vinegar sprinkled on their beds and on
the floor. Circumstances which sufficiently denote the malignity of the
disease, and the serious apprehensions that were entertained. So great
has the mortality been, that Mr. Needham felt it adviseable to divide the
burials, and a part of the dead were buried in Tadington Church-yard,
although the burial fees were double the charge of those at Tideswell.
Notwithstanding this extraordinary degree of sickness and mortality,
Blincoe declares that the local magistracy took no manner of notice of
these occurrences!!!

It might be hazardous to trust so far to the memory, the integrity, or
the judgment of Blincoe, or to affirm that the conduct of the local
magistrates really was thus culpable—but the imputation is corroborated
by the total silence of the magistrates of this part of Derbyshire, as
to the character and conduct of the owners of Litton Mill, during the
parliamentary investigation of 1816, 17, 18, 19. The concurrent testimony
of Blincoe and several of his fellow-sufferers confirm the fact of
contagious fevers having occurred in this mill; of the numerous deaths
it occasioned; of the consequent division of the funerals; and of the
remarks of the clergyman, by whom the last sad rites were performed; and
also, that, _once_, there was a Coroner’s inquest held! there exists
some difference of opinion, as to the material fact, whether the body
had not been first deposited in the earth, and afterwards taken up.
Not a spark of pity was shewn to the sick of either sex: they were
worked to the very last moment it was possible for them to work: and
when it was no longer possible, if they dropped down, they were put
into a wheel-barrow, and wheeled to the ’prentice-house. According
to Blincoe’s statement, they were left in the common room below, or
carried to their berth in the bed-room, and there left to live or die!
In this melancholy state, all the change that took place in the diet,
was an allowance of some _treacle-tea_, that is, hot water sweetened
with treacle. The doctor was seldom called, till the patient was in
the agonies of death. Generally speaking, the dying experienced less
attention than a sheep or a hog! The owner of Litton Mill was more
tender to those animals; because they cost money, and the anxiety of a
character like Mr. Needham’s could only be excited by the prospect of
a loss of capital! This solicitude was proportioned to the extent of
that risk; and as parish children and destitute orphans could be had
at a less price than sheep or pigs, to supply the place of those that
died, it followed, that they were less thought of. I would not willingly
exaggerate the atrocities I am depicting. I would not act so unwisely as
to overcharge the picture I am drawing; and it is with some degree of
diffidence, I state, in consequence of combined and positive testimony,
that no nurses or _nursing_ was allowed to the sick, further than what
one invalid could do for another! That neither candle nor lamp-light
was allowed, nor the least sign of sympathy or regret manifested! These
facts I admit, are so repugnant to every feeling of Christian charity,
that they wear the aspect of greatly embellished truths, or what is but
little worse, of malignant fabrications. If they are such, the fault is
not mine; for repeatedly, and in the most impressive manner in my power,
I admonished Blincoe and his fellow-sufferers, to abstain from falsehood,
telling him and them, it would be sure to be detected and lead to their
disgrace. What I thought might have more influence with such persons,
I also urged the triumph, such baseness on their part, could confer on
the master cotton spinners, most distinguished by cruelty and tyranny;
yet, still Blincoe and the whole of his former comrades perseveringly
and consistently adhered to the truth of the horrid imputations, and
declared, if they were called upon, they would at any time confirm
their statement. I was bound to give them publicity—if they are founded
in truth. If their great features are correctly delineated, no lapse
of time ought to be allowed to shelter the delinquents. They should
be brought to a public trial; for the imputations extend to too many
acts of torture and of wilful deliberate murder; and to the indulgence
of propensities, as to overpower scepticism. They embrace atrocities
exercised upon poor and friendless boys and girls, of a nature no less
abominable than the worst of those which apply to that disgrace to
womanhood, Elizabeth Brownrig, or more recently, to the unhappy culprit,
Governor Wall. There are yet living, perhaps a hundred witnesses who
have been partakers of these ferocious inflictions. Many of them, though
in the prime of life, are reduced to such a state of decrepitude, as to
flash conviction upon the most incredulous, that it could have resulted
from nothing but the most unexampled and long continued cruelty. From
the continued and relentless exercise of unlimited despotism upon the
truly insulted and most friendless of human beings, upon those, for
whose especial protection, a law had been then recently enacted, which,
had it been enforced, would have efficiently prevented the occurrence
of these crimes, and if I were to assert, that it would be difficult,
if not impossible, from the record of sufferings inflicted upon Negro
slaves, to quote instances of greater atrocity, than what I have, or am
about to develope, I should not exaggerate, nor should I be guilty of
bombast, were I to affirm, that the national character has been, and is
seriously dishonoured by that system of boundless commercial avarice, in
which these detestable crimes originated. It will continue thus shaded,
till a full and fair investigation takes place. There never yet was
a crisis, when, in the commercial world, the march of avarice was so
rapid, or its devastations so extensive upon the morals and well being of
society, as within the period embraced by this narrative; a march that
seems to acquire celerity in proportion to the increasing spread of its
malific _influence_, and to derive _impunity_ from the prodigious wealth
it accumulates in the hands of a few great and unfeeling capitalists,
at the expence of the individual happiness, health, and morals of the
million. This iniquitous system is the prolific parent of that tremendous
flood of vice, which has saturated the manufacturing populace, with the
most appalling depravity. This has reduced those many hundred thousand
weavers, to a state of destitution so extreme, as to render the condition
of the most destitute portion, incomparably worse than that of the
field-slave in the West India plantations, who has the good fortune to
belong to a humane proprietor. This baleful and wide wasting system
throws upon the crown the undeserved odium of being the cause or the
abettor of these dreadful evils, by which the poor weaver is oppressed—an
impression that has neutralized the loyalty of myriads, and fitted them
to become, in the hands of unprincipled demagogues, the source of popular
commotions, of foul and iniquitous conspiracies, of deep and radical
disloyalty. So indurated, so inveterate, is the loathing and aversion
cherished towards the executive government, in all its ramifications,
by a large portion of weavers, that it has induced multitudes wholly to
renounce, to vilify in every practicable manner, to degrade christianity!
I do not, in this declamation, indulge in light, personal, or selfish
motives; for whatever I assert, as positive matter of fact, I hold myself
morally responsible, and stand publicly pledged to substantiate my
assertion, by adducing, if requisite, not alone the authorities on which
I make them, but also to _prove_ the validity of those authorities.

With this digression, I close the present chapter.—In those that follow
there will be found a narrative of crimes which cannot fail to excite,
in an equal degree, horror and incredulity:—at the recital of acts of
wanton, premeditated, gross, and brutal cruelty, scarcely to be equalled
in the annals of the Inquisitorial tribunals of Portugal or Spain; yet
all those acts of murder and wanton cruelties, have been perpetrated by
a solitary master cotton-spinner, who, though perhaps one of the worst
of his tribe, did not stand alone; as will be shewn by evidence that
it cannot be successfully rebutted. Nor was it to be expected that the
criminality of that master spinner could fail to produce corresponding
depravity amongst the wretched apprentices subjected to his rude and
savage dominion. In the eventful life of W—— Pitt, the depth and extent
of that depravity will be strikingly illustrated!—It will be seen that
acts of felony were committed in the vicinity of Litton Mill, by the
parish apprentices, not, if I am rightly informed, from _dishonest
intention_; but from a desire to be transported to Botany Bay; deeming
even that alternative preferable to the endurance of the horrors of the
servitude, to which, as parish apprentices, they had been consigned.


Recurring to the description, given to me by Robert Blincoe, of the
dreadful state of thraldom, in which, with a multitude of juvenile
companions, he was involved at Litton Mill, I am instructed to say, that
as excessive toil, the want of proper time for rest, and of nourishing
wholesome food, gave rise to contagious disease, so a liberal supply
of good provisions and a cessation from toil, quickly restored many
to health; instead of taking warning by the results of these terrible
examples, no sooner were the invalids sent back to the mill, than the
system of over-toil, of boundless cruelty, starvation and torture, was
at once resumed. Let it not however be supposed, that any thing in the
shape of dainties had been dispensed to the sick. Wheaten bread, coarse
pieces of beef boiled down in soup, or mutton for broth, with good
milk or butter-milk, sparingly distributed, formed the extent of those
indulgences. This diet, luxurious as it was considered in Litton Mill,
did not surpass the ordinary standard of the daily fare, that Blincoe had
enjoyed at St. Pancras workhouse, and also, during the latter period of
his stay at Lowdham Mill.

I have not yet done more than to mention the cuffs, kicks, or scourging,
to which, in common with many other of his unhappy comrades, Blincoe
stood exposed, since, by his account, almost from the first hour in which
he entered the Mill, till he arrived at a state of manhood, it was one
continued round of cruel and arbitrary punishment. Blincoe declared, he
was so frequently and immoderately beaten, it became quite familiar; and
if its frequency did not extinguish the sense of feeling, it took away
the terror it excited on his first entrance into this den of ignorance
and crime. I asked him if he could state an average number of times
in which he thought he might in safety say, he had suffered corporeal
punishment in a week. His answer invariably was, that his punishments
were so various and so frequent, it was impossible to state with any
thing approaching to accuracy. If he is to be credited, during his ten
years of hard servitude, his body was never free from contusions, and
from wounds inflicted by the cruel master whom he served, by his sons, or
his brutal and ferocious and merciless overlookers.

It is already stated, that he was put to the back of a stretching-frame,
when he was about eleven years of age, and that often, owing to the
idleness, or the absence of the stretcher, he had his master’s work,
as well as his own to perform. The work being very coarse, the motion
was rapid, and he could not keep up to the ends. For this he was sure
to be unmercifully punished, although, they who punished him knew the
task assigned was beyond what he could perform. There were different
stretchers in the mill; but, according to Blincoe’s account, they were
all of them base and ferocious ruffians. Robert Woodward, who had
escorted the apprentices from Lowdham Mill, was considered the worst of
those illiterate vulgar tyrants. If he made a kick at Blincoe, so great
was his strength, it commonly lifted him off the floor. If he struck him,
even a flat-handed blow, it floored him; If, with a stick, it not only
bruised him, but cut his flesh. It was not enough to use his feet or his
hands, but a stick, a bobby or a rope’s-end. He and others used to throw
rollers one after another, at the poor boy, aiming at his head, which,
of course was uncovered while at work, and nothing delighted the savages
more, than to see Blincoe stagger, and to see the blood gushing out in a
stream! So far were such results from deterring the monsters, that long
before one wound had healed, similar acts of cruelty produced others, so
that, on many occasions, his head was excoriated and bruised to a degree,
that rendered him offensive to himself and others, and so intolerably
painful, as to deprive him of rest at night, however weary he might be.
In consequence of such wounds, his head was over-run by vermin. Being
reduced to this deplorable state, some brute of a quack doctor used to
apply a pitch cap, or plaister to his head. After it had been on a given
time, and when its adhesion was supposed to be complete, the _terrible
doctor_ used to lay forcibly hold of one corner and tear the whole scalp
from off his head at once! This was the common remedy; I should not
exaggerate the agonies it occasioned, were I to affirm, that it must
be equal to any thing inflicted by the American savages, on helpless
prisoners, with their scalping knives and tomahawks.

This same ruffian, (Robert Woodward) who, by the concurrent testimony
of many sufferers, stands depicted, as possessing that innate love of
cruelty which marked a Nero, a Caligula, or a Robespierre, used when
Blincoe could not, or did not keep pace with the machinery, to tie him up
by the wrists to a cross beam and keep him suspended over the machinery
till his agony was extreme. To avoid the machinery, he had to draw up
his legs every time it came out or returned. If he did not lift them
up, he was cruelly beaten over the shins, which were bare; nor was he
released, till growing black in the face, and his head falling over his
shoulder, the wretch thought his victim was near expiring. Then after
some gratuitous knocks and cuffs, he was released and instantly driven to
his toil, and forced to commence, with every appearance of strength and
vigour, though he were so much crippled, as to be scarcely able to stand.
To lift the apprentices up by their ears, shake them violently, and then
dash them down upon the floor with the utmost fury, was one of the many
inhuman sports in Litton Mill, in which the overlookers appeared to take
delight. Frequently has Blincoe been thus treated, till he thought his
ears were torn from his head, and this for very trivial offences, or
omissions. Another of these diabolical amusements consisted in filing the
apprentices’ teeth! Blincoe was once constrained to open his mouth to
receive this punishment, and Robert Woodward applied the file with great
vigour! Having punished him as much as he pleased; the brute said with a
sneer; “I do this to sharpen thy teeth, that thou may’st eat thy Sunday
dinner the better.”

Blincoe declared, that he had often been compelled, on a cold winter’s
day, to work _naked_, except his trousers, and loaded with two half
hundred weights slung behind him, hanging one at each shoulder. Under
this cruel torture, he soon sunk; when, to make the sport last the
longer, Woodward substituted quarter of hundred weights, and thus loaded,
by every painful effort, Blincoe could not lift his arm to the roller.
Woodward has forced him to wear these weights for hours together, and
still to continue at his work! Sometimes, he has been commanded to pull
off his shirt and get into a large square skip, when, the savage, being
sure of his mark, and that, not a blow would be lost, used to beat him
till he was tired! At other times, Blincoe has been hoisted upon other
boys’ shoulders, and beaten with sticks till he has been shockingly
discoloured and covered with contusions and wounds.

What spinners call, a _draw off_, at one of those frames at which Blincoe
worked, required about forty seconds. Woodward has often insisted upon
Blincoe cleaning all the cotton away under the whole frame, in a single
draw, and to go out at the further end, under pain of a severe beating.
On one of these occasions, Blincoe had nearly lost his life, being caught
between the faller and the head piece, his head was jammed between them.
Both his temples were cut open and the blood poured down each side of his
face, the marks to be seen! It was considered next to a miracle, that he
escaped with his life! So far from feeling the least compassion, Woodward
beat him cruelly, because he had not made _more haste_! Blincoe says,
to the best of his recollection, he was twelve years of age, when this
accident happened.

It is a fact, too notorious to be denied, that the most brutal and
ferocious of the spinners, stretchers, rovers, &c. have been in the
habit, from mere wantonness, of inflicting severe punishments upon
piecers, scavengers, frame-tenters, winders, and others of the juvenile
class, subjected to their power, compelling them to eat dirty pieces of
candle, to lick up tobacco spittle, to open their mouths for the filthy
wretches to spit into; all which beastialities have been practised
upon the apprentices at Litton Mill! Among the rest, Blincoe has often
suffered these indignities. What has a tendency to display human nature
in its worst state, is, that most of the overlookers, who acted thus
cruelly, had arrived in the mill as parish apprentices, and, as such, had
undergone all these offensive inflictions!

There was, however, one diversion, which, in all my enquiries as to
cotton-mill _amusements_, I never found paralleled. Of this Robert
Woodward, if I mistake not, has a claim to the honour of being the
_original inventor_. It was thus executed.—A tin can or cylinder, about
three feet high, to receive the rovings, and about nine or ten inches in
diameter, was placed in the midst of the alley or wheel-house, as the
space is called, over which the frames travel at every draw, and pretty
close to the race. Upon this can or hollow cylinder, Blincoe had to
mount; and there to stand upon one foot, holding a long brush extended
in the opposite hand, until the frame came out, about three times in two
minutes, invariably knocking the can from under him, both fell to the
floor. The villian used to place the can so near the race, that there
was considerable danger of Blincoe falling on it, and, if so, it would
probably have lamed him for life if it had not killed him on the spot;
and he had, with the utmost possible celerity, to throw himself flat
upon the floor, that the frame might pass over him! During this short
interval, the amateurs, i.e. Robert Woodward, Charnock, Merrick, &c.
used to set the can upright again, and it required no small share of
ingenuity, in them, to keep time. The frame being returned, poor Blincoe
had to leap on his feet, and again to mount nimbly on the hollow column
of tin, again to extend his arm, holding the long hair brush, and again
sustain a fall, amidst the shouts and yells of these fiends. Thus would
the villians continue to persecute and torment him, till they were tired,
notwithstanding the _sport_ might have been his death. He ran the risk
of a broken bone, or the dislocation of a limb, every time he was thus
thrown down; and the time the monsters thus wasted, they afterwards made
up by additional labour wrung from their wretched victims!

Another of their diversions consisted in tying Blincoe’s hands behind him
and one of his legs up to his hands. He had then only one leg left free
to hop upon, and no use left of his hands to guard him, if he chanced
to fall, and if Blincoe did not move with activity, the overlooker
would strike a blow with his clenched fist, or cut his head open by
flinging rollers. If he fell, he was liable to have his leg or arm broken
dislocated. Every one conversant with cotton-spinning machinery knows the
danger of such _diversions_, and of their cruelty, every one can judge.

There seemed to exist a spirit of emulation, and infernal spirit, it
might with justice be designated, among the overlookers of Litton Mill,
of inventing and inflicting the most novel and singular punishments. For
the sake of being the better able, and more effectually to torment their
victims, the overlookers allowed their thumb and fore-finger nails to
grow to an extreme length, in order that, when they _pinched their ears_,
they might make their nails meet, _marks to be seen_.

Needham himself the owner of the Mill, stands arraigned of having the
cruelty to act thus, very frequently, till their blood ran down their
necks, and so common was the sport, it was scarcely noticed. As regarded
Blincoe, one set of wounds had not seldom time to heal, before another
set was inflicted; the general remedy that Blincoe applied was, the oil
used to keep the machinery in order. The despicable wretches, who thus
revelled in acts of lawless oppression, would often, to indulge the whim
of a moment, fling a roller at a boy’s head, and inflict deep wounds,
and this, frequently, without even a shadow of a fault to allege, or
even a plausible reason to assign in justification! At another time, if
the apprentices stood fair for the infliction of a stripe, with a twig
or the whip, the overlookers would apply it, with the utmost vigour, and
then, bursting into laughter, call it _a —— good hit_! Blincoe declared
he had, times innumerable been thus assailed, and has had his head cut
severely, without daring to complain of the cause. Woodward and others of
the overlookers used to beat him with pieces of the thick leathern straps
made supple by oil, and having an iron buckle at the end, which drew
blood almost every time it was applied, or caused severe contusions.

Among Blincoe’s comrades in affliction, was an orphan boy, who came
from St. Pancras workhouse, whose proper name was James Nottingham;
but better known as “_blackey_,” a nick name that was given to him, on
account of his black hair, eyes, and complexion. According to Blincoe’s
testimony, this poor boy suffered even greater cruelties, than fell to
his own share! by an innumerable number of blows, chiefly inflicted on
his head!—by wounds and contusions, his head swelled enormously, and
he became stupid! To use Blincoe’s significant expression, “his head
was as soft as a boiled turnip,” the scalp on the crown, pitting every
where on the least compression. This poor boy, being reduced to this most
pitiable condition, by unrestrained cruelty, was exposed to innumerable
outrages, and was, at last, incapable of work, and often plundered
of his food!—melancholy and weeping, he used to creep into holes and
corners, to avoid his tormentors. From mere debility, he was inflicted by
incontinency of stools and urine! To punish this infirmity, conformably
as Blincoe declared, to the will of Ellice Needham, the master, his
allowance of broth, butter-milk, porridge, &c. was withheld! During the
summer time, he was mercilessly scourged! In winter, stripped quite
naked, and he was slung, with a rope tied round his shoulders, into the
dam, and dragged to and fro, till he was nearly suffocated. They would
then draw him out, and sit him on a stone, under a pump, and pump upon
his head, in a copious stream, while some stout fellow was employed to
sluice the poor wretch with pails of water, flung with all possible fury
into his face. According to the account I received, not alone Blincoe,
but several other of the Litton Mill apprentices, when these horrid
inflictions had reduced the poor boy to a state of idiotism,—his wrongs
and sufferings,—his dismal condition,—far, from exciting sympathy, but
increased the mirth of these vulgar tyrants! His wasted and debilitated
frame was seldom, if ever, free from wounds and contusions, and his head
covered with running sores and swarming with lice, exhibited a loathsome
object! In consequence of this miserable state of filth and disease, poor
Nottingham has many times had to endure the excruciating torture of the
pitch and scalping cap already named!

Having learnt, in 1822, that this forlorn child of misery was then
at work in a cotton factory, near Oldfield Lane, I went in search of
and found him. At first, he seemed much embarrassed, and when I made
enquiries as to his treatment at Litton Mill, to my surprise, he told me
“he knew nothing whatever about it.” I then, related what Blincoe and
others had named to me, of the horrid tortures he endured. “I dare say,”
said he mildly, “he told you truth, but I have no distinct recollection
of any thing that happened to me during the greater part of the time I
was there! I believe,” said he, “my sufferings was most dreadful, and
that I nearly lost my senses.” From his appearance, I guessed he had not
been so severely worked as others of the poor crippled children whom I
had seen! As well as I can recollect, his knees were not deformed, or if
at all, but very little! He is much below the middle size, as to stature.
His countenance round, and his small and regular features, bore the
character of former sufferings and present tranquility of mind.

In the course of my enquiries respecting this young man, I was much
gratified, by hearing the excellent character given him in the vicinity
of his lodging. Several persons spoke of him as being serious and well
inclined, and his life and conduct irreproachable.

We frequently had our best dinner in the week on a Sunday, and it was
generally broth, meat and turnips, with a little oat-cake, the meat was
of as coarse a sort as could be bought. This being our extra dinner,
we did not wish to part with it too soon, therefore it was a general
practice amongst the ’prentices to save some of it until Monday, in the
care of the governor of the ’prentice-house, and for each one to know
their own. The practice was to cut in their oat-cake, some mark or other,
and lay it on their wooden trenchers. It happened one Sunday we had our
dinner of bacon broth and turnips with a little oat-cake. This Sunday,
one Thomas Linsey, a fellow ’prentice thought he could like a snack,
early in the morning, therefore he took a slice of bacon between two
pieces of oat-cake to bed with him, and put it under his head I cannot
say, under his pillow, because we never was allowed any. The next morning
about three or four o’clock, as it was a usual practice in the summer
time when short of water, for a part of the hands to begin their work
sooner, by this contrivance we was able to work our full time or near.
Linsey was found dead in bed, and as soon as some of the ’prentices knew
of his death, as they slept about 50 in a room, there was a great scuffle
who should have the bacon and oat-cake from under his head, some began
to search his pockets for his tin, this tin he used to eat his victuals
with; some had pieces of broken pots, as no spoons was allowed. It was
reported this Sunday that this pig had died in the Lees, a place so
called at the back of the ’prentice-house. There was no coroner’s inquest
held over Linsey to know the cause of his death. I shall leave the reader
to judge for himself this distressing sight, at so early an hour in the
morning.—This occurred at Litton Mill.

It might be supposed, that these horrid inflictions had been practised,
in this cotton-factory, unknown to the master and proprietor of Litton
Mill; but the testimony, not of Blincoe alone, but of many of his former
associates unknown to him, gave similar statements, and like Blincoe,
described Ellice Needham the master, as equalling the very worst of his
servants in cruelty of heart! So far from having taken any care to stop
their career, he used to animate them by his own example to inflict
punishment in any and every way they pleased. Mr. Needham stands accused
of having been in the habit of knocking down the apprentices with his
clenched fists;—kicking them about when down, beating them to excess with
sticks, or flogging them with horse-whips; of seizing them by they ears,
lifting them from the ground and forcibly dashing them down on the floor,
or pinching them till his nails met! Blincoe declares his oppressors used
to seize him by the hair of his head and tear it off by a handful at a
time, till the crown of his head had become as bald as the back of his
hand! John Needham, following the example of his father, and possessing
unlimited power over the apprentices, lies under the imputation of crimes
of the blackest hue, exercised upon the wretched creatures, from whose
laborious toil, the means of supporting the pomp and luxury in which he
lived were drawn. To boys, he was a tyrant and an oppressor! To the girls
the same, with the additional odium of treating them with an indecency as
disgusting as his cruelty was terrific. Those unhappy creatures were at
once the victims of his ferocity and his lust.

For some trivial offence, Robert Woodward once kicked and beat Robert
Blincoe, till his body was covered with wheals and bruises. Being
tired, or desirous of affording his young master the luxury of amusing
himself on the same subject, he took Blincoe to the counting-house, and
accused him of wilfully spoiling his work. Without waiting to hear
what Blincoe might have to urge in his defence, young Needham eagerly
looked about for a stick; not finding one at hand, he sent Woodward to an
adjacent coppice, called the Twitchell, to cut a supply, and laughingly
bade Blincoe strip naked, and prepare himself for a good _flanking_!
Blincoe obeyed, but to his agreeable surprise, young Needham abstained
from giving him the promised flanking. The fact was, the poor boy’s
body was so dreadfully discoloured and inflamed by contusions, its
appearance terrified the young despot, and he spared him, thinking that
mortification and death might ensue, if he laid on an other “flanking.”
Hence his unexpected order to Blincoe to put on his things! There was
not, at the time, a free spot on which to inflict a blow! His ears
were swollen and excoriated; his head, in the most deplorable state
imaginable; many of the bruises on his body had suppurated! and so
excessive was his soreness, he was forced to sleep on his face, if sleep
he could obtain, in so wretched a condition!

Once a week, and generally after sixteen hours of incessant toil, the
eldest girls had to comb the boys’ heads; an operation, that being alike
painful to the sufferer, as disgusting to the girls, was reluctantly
endured, and inefficiently performed. Hence arose the frequency of
scald-heads and the terrible scalping remedy! Upon an average, the
children were kept to work during a great part, if not all, the time
Blincoe was at Litton Mill, sixteen hours in the day. The result of this
excessive toil, superadded to hunger and torture, and was the death of
many of apprentices, and the entailment of incurable lameness and disease
on many others.

The store pigs and the apprentices used to fare pretty much alike;
but when the swine were hungry, they used to speak and grunt so loud,
they obtained the wash first, to quiet them. The apprentices could be
intimidated, and made to keep still. The fatting pigs fared luxuriously,
compared with the apprentices! They were often regaled with meal-balls
made into dough, and given in the shape of dumplings! Blincoe and others,
who worked in a part of the Mill, whence they could see the swine served,
used to say to one another—“_The pigs are served; it will be our turn
next._” Blincoe and those who were in a part of the building contiguous
to the pigsties, used to keep a sharp eye upon the fatting pigs, and
their meal-balls, and, as soon as he saw the swine-herd withdraw, he used
to slip down stairs, and, stealing slyly towards the trough, plunge his
hand in at the loop holes, and steal as many dumplings as he could grasp!
The food thus obtained from a pigs trough, and, perhaps, defiled by their
filthy chops, was exultingly conveyed to the privy or the duck-hole,
and there devoured with a much keener appetite, than it would have been
by the pigs; but the pigs, though generally esteemed the most stupid of
animals, soon hit upon an expedient, that baffled the hungry boys; for
the instant the meal-balls were put into their troughs, they voraciously
seized them, threw them into the dirt, out of the reach of the boys! Not
this alone; but, made wise by repeated losses, they kept a sharp look
out, and the moment they ascertained the approach of the half-famished
apprentices, they set up so loud a chorus of snorts and grunts, it was
heard in the kitchen, when out rushed the swine-herd, armed with a whip,
from which combined means of protection for the swine, this accidental
source of obtaining a _good dinner_ was soon lost! Such was the contest
carried on for a time at Litton Mill, between the half-famished
apprentices, and the well-fed swine.

I observed to Blincoe, it was not very rational, to rob the pigs, when
they were destined to bleed to supply them with food, as soon as they
grew sufficiently fat! “Oh! you’re mistaken,” said he, “these pigs were
fatted for master’s own table, or were sold at Buxton! We were fed upon
the very worst and cheapest of Irish-fed bacon.” There was, it seems, a
small dairy at Litton Mill; but the butter was all sent to his house.
The butter-milk alone was dispensed, and but very scantily, to the
apprentices. About a table-spoonful of meal was distributed once a week
to the apprentices, with which to wash themselves, instead of soap; but
in nine cases out of ten, it was greedily devoured, and a piece of clay
or sand, or some such thing, substituted: such was the dreadful state of
hunger in which these poor children were kept in this mill.

To attempt a specific statement, how often Blincoe has been kept to work
from five in the morning till midnight, during his period of servitude,
would be hazardous! According to his own testimony, supported by that of
many others, it was, at times of common occurrence, more especially on
the Saturday! In most mills, the adult spinners left off on that day at
_four_ in the afternoon, whilst in these, where parish apprentices were
employed, it was often continued, not only till midnight; but till six
o’clock on the Sunday morning!

Exertion so incessant could not fail to reduce the majority of
apprentices to a state of exhaustion and lassitude, so great as nearly
to disqualify them to benefit by such instructions as an illiterate
clown could afford, who officiated on Sundays as schoolmasters, or by
divine worship, when they were allowed to attend. Nothing could be more
cheerless, than the aspect of these juvenile sufferers, these helpless
outcasts, nor more piteous than the wailings and lamentations of that
portion, chiefly of the tenderest years, whom long familiarity with vice
and misery had not rendered wholly callous.

A blacksmith or mechanic, named William Palfrey, who resided at Litton,
worked in a room under that where Blincoe was employed. He used to be
much disturbed by the shrieks and cries of the boys, whom the manager and
overlookers were almost continually punishing. According to Blincoe’s
declaration, and that of others, human blood has often run from an upper
to a lower floor, shed by these merciless task-masters. Unable to bear
the shrieks of the children, Palfrey used to knock against the floor, so
violently, as to force the boards up, and call out “for shame! for shame!
are you murdering the children?” He spoke to Mr. Needham, and said, he
would not stay in the mill, if such doings were allowed. By this sort of
conduct, the humane blacksmith was a check on the cruelty of the brutal
overlookers, as long as he continued in his shop; but he went away home
at seven o’clock, and as soon as Woodward, Merrick, and Charnock knew
that Palfrey was gone, they used to pay off the day’s score, and to beat
and knock the apprentices about without moderation or provocation, giving
them black eyes, broken heads; saying, “I’ll let you know old Palfrey is
not here now!” To protract the evil hour, the boys, when they used to go
down stairs for rovings, would come back and say—“Palfrey and the joiner
are going to work all night,” and sometimes by this manœuvre, they have
escaped punishment.

It happened one day, when Blincoe was about twelve years old, he went to
the counting-house with a cop, such being the custom at every doffing.
While Blincoe was there, another apprentice, named Isaac Moss, came in on
the same errand. Upon the floor stood the tin treacle can, with about 14
pounds of treacle. The sight arrested the attention of Blincoe, who said
softly, “Moss, there is the treacle can come from Tideswell!”—“Eh,” Moss
exclaimed, “so it is.” Blincoe said, “I have no spoon.” Moss rejoined,
“I have two.” Putting his hand to his bosom and pulling out the bowl of
an iron spoon and another which he kept for another person, down they
sat on the floor opposite to each other, with the can between them and
began operations, lading away as fast as they could! Blincoe had a large
sized mouth, and in good condition, but the ruffian, William Woodward the
manager, brother to Robert Woodward, having struck Moss a severe blow on
the mouth, with a large stick, it had swollen so much, that the poor lad
had the mortification of hardly being able to use it, and Blincoe could
stow away at least three spoonsful to Moss’s one! While the conscious
pair were thus employed, the enemy, unheard and unperceived, stole upon
them. It was a dark night; but there was a fire in the counting-house,
by the light of which, over some glass above the top of the door, that
grim spectre, the terror and the curse of these poor boys, Woodward, saw
their diversion! He stood viewing them some time, when suddenly rushing
upon them, he seized upon them as a cat pounces upon cheese-eating mice!
Blincoe being most active with his feet, as well as with his spoon, after
receiving a few kicks and cuffs, ran off to the factory, leaving Moss in
the power, and at the mercy of William Woodward.

At ten o’clock the factory bell rang, and Blincoe went off to the
apprentice-house, trembling with apprehension and looking wildly around
amongst the apprentices, in hope of seeing his comrade Moss; but Moss
was not to be seen! Presently, an order arrived from Woodward, for the
master of the apprentices to bring down Blincoe! Richard Milner, the
then governor of the apprentices, a corpulent old man, said, “Parson,
what hast thou been doing?”—“Nothing,” said the parson; his tremulous
voice and shaking limbs contradicting his laconic reply; and away they
trudged. When they got to the counting-house, they found Moss stuck erect
in a corner, looking very poorly, his mouth and cheeks all over treacle.
William Woodward, in a gruff voice, said, “So you have been helping to
eat this treacle?”—“I have only eaten a little, Sir.” Upon which, he hit
Blincoe one of his flat-handed slaps, fetching fire from his eyes, and
presently another, another, and another, till Blincoe began to vociferate
for mercy, promising never to eat forbidden treacle any more! Woodward
was full six feet high, with long arms, huge raw bones and immense sized
hands, and when he had tired himself with beating Blincoe, he exclaimed:
“Damn your bloods, you rascals, if you don’t lap up the whole can of
treacle, I’ll murder you on the spot.” This denunciation was music to
Blincoe’s ears, who had never before received such an invitation. To
accommodate the young gentlemen, the governor sent to his own kitchen
for two long spoons, and then, with renewed execrations, Woodward bade
them set to. Moss then crept softly and silently out of his corner,
having been cruelly beaten in Blincoe’s abscence! Looking ruefully at
each other, down the culprits knelt a second time, one on each side of
the treacle can! Blincoe had still the best of the sport; for poor Moss’s
mouth remained deprived of half its external dimensions, and being so
excessively sore, he could hardly get in a tea-spoon, where Blincoe could
shovel in large table-spoonsful! Moss kept fumbling at his lame mouth,
and looking rather spitefully at Blincoe, as if he thought he would eat
all the treacle. Meanwhile Milner and Woodward sat laughing and chatting
by the fire side, often looking at the treacle-eaters, and anxiously
waiting an outcry for quarters! Blincoe ate in a masterly style; but poor
Moss could not acquit himself half as well, the treacle trickling down
his chin, on both sides of his mouth, seeing which, Woodward suddenly
roared out, “Damn you, you villian, if you don’t open your mouth wider,
I’ll open it for you.” Poor Moss trembled; but made no reply, and Blincoe
being willing to make hay while the sun shone, instead of falling off,
seemed, at every mouthful, to acquire fresh vigour! This surprised and
mortified Woodward not a little, who seeing no signs of sickness, hearing
no cry for quarter, and being apprehensive of an application for another
can, got up to reconnoitre, and, to his amazement, found that the _little
Parson_, who was not a vast deal higher than the can, had almost reached
the bottom, and displayed no visible loss or diminution of appetite!

Inexpressibly vexed at being thus outwitted before the governor, he
roared out in a tremendous voice to Milner, “Why damn their bloods,
they’ll eat the whole! Halt, you damned rascals, or, I’ll kill you on
the spot!” In a moment, Blincoe ceased his play, and licked his lips and
spoon, to shew how keen his stomach still was! Milner and Woodward then
took stock, and found, that, out of fourteen pounds, not three remained;
Milner laughed immoderately at Woodward, to think what a luscious mode
of punishment he had found out for treacle stealers!—Woodward being
extremely exasperated, ordered Samuel Brickleton, an overlooker, to
fasten Moss and Blincoe together with handcuffs, of which as well as of
_fetters_, there were plenty at Litton Mill, and then forced them to
carry the can to the apprentice-house between them. When they arrived at
the door, his hand being small, Blincoe contrived to withdraw it from
the handcuff, and ran nimbly off into the room amongst the apprentices,
leaving the treacle can in Moss’s hand. Brickleton, unconscious of
Blincoe’s escape, arrived in the kitchen, where the Governor and his
family resided, looked round, and seeing only one prisoner, cried out,
“Eh! where’s Parson gone.” Moss said, he believed he was gone into the
apprentice-house. Brickleton examined the handcuffs and finding they were
locked, was much puzzled to think how the parson had contrived to get his
hand out. The kind and careful Mrs. Milner, knowing there was money due
to Blincoe, for working his dinner-hour, viz. a farthing a day, proposed
to have it stopped, to pay for the treacle which Woodward had compelled
him to eat, on pain of putting him instantly to death. Such was the law
and equity, which prevailed at Litton Mill! That night, in consequence
of his sumptuous supper, Blincoe was forbidden to enter his bed, and he
laid all night, in the depth of winter, on the hard cold floor.

This part of the subject requires an explanation, as to the equivalent
given by the owner to the apprentices, in lieu of their dinner hour. This
hour consisted, in general, of forty minutes, and not always so many. The
master, to induce the apprentices to work all day long, promised each
three-pence per week, if they worked the whole of the dinner hour, and
they had to eat it, _bite and sup_, at their work, without, spoon, knife,
or fork, and with their dirty oily fingers! They were thus kept on their
feet, from five o’clock in the morning, till nine, ten, and even eleven
o’clock at night, and on Saturdays, sometimes till twelve; because Sunday
was a _day of rest_! Frequently, though almost famishing, the apprentices
could not find time to eat their food at all; but carried it back with
them at night, covered with flue and filth. This liberality did not last
long. The halfpenny was reduced to a farthing, and this farthing was
withheld till it amounted to several shillings, and then, when the master
_pleased_, he would give a shilling or two, and none dare ask for more.
Those whom the overlookers pleased to order so to do, had to work their
dinner hour for nothing, and their comrades used to fetch their dinners,
who, not unfrequently, pilfered a part. The money thus earned, the poor
’prentices used to reserve, to buy wheaten cakes, and red herrings, to
them, luxuries of the most delicious kind. Such was the miserable manner
in which they were fed, that, when they gave the pence to Palfrey (the
smith,) to bring the tempting cake of wheaten flour, and the herring, in
the morning, they used to say to their comrades. “Old Palfrey is to bring
me a cake and herring in the morning. Oh! how greedily I shall devour
them.” They commonly dreamt of these anticipated feasts, and talked of
their expected luxuries in their sleep. When Palfrey arrived, they would,
if they dared, have met him on the stairs, or have followed him to the
smithy; but, in an eager whisper, enquired “have you brought my cake and
herring?” “Aye, lad,” said Palfrey, holding out the expected provisions.
Eagerly they seized the herring and the cake, and the first full bite
generally took off head or tail, as it came first to hand, while the
cake was thrust inside their bosom; for they worked with their shirt
collar open and generally without jackets. The poor souls, who, having
no pence, could have no dainties, would try to snatch a piece slyly, if
it were possible, and if that failed, they would try to beg a morsel. If
the possessor gave a taste, he held the herring so tight, that only a
very small portion could be bitten off, without biting off the ends of
the owner’s fingers, and their whole feast was quickly finished, without
greatly diminishing their appetite. It happened, by some extraordinary
stroke of good fortune, that Blincoe became possessed of a shilling, and
he determined to have what he termed, a proper blow out; he, therefore,
requested Palfrey to bring him six penny wheaten cakes, and half a pound
of butter. Blincoe was then a stretcher, and had, as such, a better
opportunity to receive and eat his dainties unobserved. The cakes he
pulled one by one, from his bosom, and laying them upon the frame, spread
the butter on them with a piece of flat iron, and giving his two comrades
a small part each, he set to and devoured all the rest; but the unusual
quantity and quality nearly made him ill. Blincoe had no appetite for
his dinner or supper, and, he, therefore, let another comrade eat it,
who engaged to give Blincoe his when he happened to lose his appetite.
Such were the prospective and contingent negotiations carried on by these
wretched children, relative to their miserable food.

If Blincoe happened to see any fresh cabbage leaves, potato or turnip
parings, thrown out upon the dunghill, he has ran down with a can full
of sweepings, as an excuse, and as he threw that dirt on the dunghill,
he would eagerly pick the other up, and carry it in his shirt, or in his
can, into the mill, wipe the dirt off as well as he could, and greedily
eat them up. At other times, when they had rice puddings boiled in bags
for dinner—the rice being very bad and full of large maggots, Blincoe not
being able to endure such food, used to go into one of the woods near
the factory, and get what the boys called _bread and cheese_, that is,
hips and hipleaves, clover, or other vegetable, and filling his bosom,
run back to the mill, and eat his trash, instead of fowl rice, with
which neither butter-milk, milk, treacle, nor even a morsel of salt, was

Amongst the most singular punishments inflicted upon Blincoe, was that of
screwing small hand-vices of a pound weight, more or less, to his nose
and ears, one to each part; and these have been kept on, as he worked,
for hours together! This was principally done by Robert Woodward, Merrick
and Charnock. Of these petty despots, Merrick was the most unpardonable,
as he had been a parish apprentice himself, and ought to have had more
compassion. This Merrick was a stretcher, and Blincoe when about 11 or 12
years old, used to stretch for him, while he, Merrick, ate his dinner.
Out of kindness, or because he could not eat it himself, Merrick used
occasionally to leave a small part of his allowance, and tell Blincoe to
go and eat it. On Mondays, it was the custom to give the boys bread and
treacle, and turnip _broth_ made the day before, which generally stunk
to such a degree, that most of the poor creatures could only pick out
the oat bread, the broth being loathsome. Whenever Merrick left a bit
of bread and treacle in the window, Blincoe used to run eagerly at the
prize, and devour it voraciously. On Monday, this overlooker, who was a
most inhuman task-master, sent Blincoe down to the card-room for a basket
of rovings, a descent of four or five stories deep, for this burthen of
considerable weight. During the time he was gone, Merrick rubbed tar upon
the oat cake, and laid it in the window as usual. When Blincoe returned,
the brute said, “go and eat what lies in the window.” Blincoe seeing as
he supposed, so much treacle upon the bread, was surprised; for Merrick
usually licked it clean off, and to his bitter mortification, found,
instead of treacle, it was TAR. Unable to endure the nauseous mouthful,
Blincoe spat it out, whilst Merrick, laughing at him, said, “What the
devil are you spitting it out for.” Poor Blincoe, shaking his head, said,
“You know, mon,” and Blincoe left the remainder of the tarred cake in the
window, when his comrade, Bill Fletcher, a poor lad since dead, who came
from Peak Forest, took up the bread, and scraping off the tar as clean as
he could, ate it up, apparently with a good appetite! To such dreadful
straits were they driven by hunger, the apprentices have been known to
_pick turnips out of the necessary_, which others, who had stolen them,
had thrown there to conceal, and washing them, have devoured the whole,
thinking it too extravagant even to waste the peeling.

Palfrey, the Smith, had the task of rivetting irons upon any of the
apprentices, whom the masters ordered, and those were much like the irons
usually put upon felons! Even young women, if suspected of intending to
run away, had irons riveted on their ancles, and reaching by long links
and rings up to the hips, and in these they were compelled to walk to
and from the mill to work and to sleep! Blincoe asserts, he has known
many girls served in this manner. A handsome-looking girl about the age
of twenty years, who came from the neighbourhood of Cromford, whose name
was Phebe Rag, being driven to desperation by ill-treatment, took the
opportunity, one dinner-time, when she was alone, and when she supposed
no one saw her, to take off her shoes and throw herself into the dam,
at the end of the bridge, next the apprentice-house. Some one passing
along, and seeing a pair of shoes, stopped. The poor girl had sunk once,
and just as she rose above the water he seized her by the hair! Blincoe
thinks it was Thomas Fox, the governor, who succeeded Milner, who rescued
her! She was nearly gone, and it was with some difficulty her life was
saved! When Mr. Needham heard of this, and _being afraid the example
might be contagious_, he ordered James Durant, a journeyman spinner,
who had been apprenticed there, to take her away to her relations at
Cromford, and thus she escaped!

When Blincoe’s time of servitude was near expiring, he and three others,
namely, William Haley, Thomas Gully, and John Emery, the overlookers,
took a resolution, to go out of the factory, at a fixed hour, meaning
not to work so many hours; but, according to Blincoe’s account, neither
he nor his comrades had ever heard up to that time, of any law which
regulated the hours of apprentices working in cotton-mills, nor did they
know what an act of parliament meant, so profound was the ignorance in
which they had been reared! Blincoe and his mutinous comrades, having
left work at the expiration of fourteen hours labour, went off to the
apprentice-house. Upon this, the manager, William Woodward, sent off
an express to the master, (Mr. Needham), at Highgate Wall, a lone and
large mansion about four miles distant. Orders came back, to turn all
four out of the apprentice-house that night; but not to give them any
provisions! Being thus turned out, Blincoe got lodging with Samuel
Brickleton! One or two of his comrades slept in the woods, which luckily
was hay time.—Brickleton’s hospitality did not include provisions, and
having had no food since twelve o’clock the day before, Blincoe was
sorely hungry in the morning, but still he had nought to eat! About
nine o’clock, all four, agreeable to the orders they received the night
before, went to the counting-house at the mill. Mr. Needham was there in
a terrible ill-humour—As soon as he saw Blincoe come in, he took from
his body, his waistcoat and jacket, and fell upon him with his thick
walking-stick, which he quickly broke by the heavy blows laid on poor
Blincoe’s head and shoulders, and he kept on swearing the while, “_I’ll
run you out, you damned rascal._” As soon as he could escape, Blincoe
ran off to his work, when Haley and Emery, who were apprentices, like
Blincoe, caught their share of his fury! At noon, Blincoe went eager
enough to the apprentice house, having had no food for twenty-four hours.
Having in a few minutes, devoured his portion, he ran off at full speed,
without hat, jacket, or waistcoat, his head and body greatly bruised,
towards the residence of a magistrate, named Thornelly, who resided at
Stanton-Hall, a place about six miles beyond Bakewell, and eleven from
Litton-Mill! There resided, at this time, at Ashford, about four miles
from Litton-Mill, a man named Johnny Wild, a stocking-weaver, who had
been his (Blincoe’s) overlooker, when first he went to Lowdham Mill.
Filled with the fond hope of being made at once a gentleman, thither,
poor Blincoe, now twenty years of age, directed his course. Johnny Wild
was sitting at his frame, weaving stockings, and was surprised to see
Blincoe run up to the door like a wild creature, terror in his looks
and reeking with perspiration, without hat, coat, or waistcoat. To him,
Blincoe told the cruel usage he had met with, and the wounds and bruises
he had just received, which were sufficiently visible! Wild and his wife
seemed touched with compassion, at the sad plight Blincoe was in, gave
him a bowl of bread and milk, lent him a hat, and directed him his way.
Thus refreshed, the fugitive set off again, running as fast as he could,
looking often behind him. As he passed through Bakewell, Blincoe thought
it best to slacken his pace, lest some mercenary wretch, suspecting him
to be a Litton Mill apprentice running away, should, in the hope of
receiving a reward of a half-crown piece, seize him and send him back to
prison! As he passed along many seemed to eye him intently; but no one
stopped him. About six o’clock in the evening, being heartily jaded, he
arrived at the house of Mr. Thornelly. It happened, that the magistrate
was at dinner—but some person, in his employ, understanding that Blincoe
came to seek redress for alleged violence, went to the supplicant in
the yard, saying, “Who do you want?”—“Mr. Thornelly.”—What for?—“I am
an apprentice at Litton Mill, master has beat me cruelly, do look at my
shirt?”—“Never mind, never mind,” said this person, “you cannot see Mr.
Thornelly to-day; he is at dinner; there will be a bench of justices
to-morrow, about eleven in the morning, at the Sign of the Bull’s Head,
facing the church at Heam; you must go there.” This place lay about five
miles from Litton Mill, on the Sheffield road. Finding there was nothing
to be done at Stanton-Hall, poor Blincoe began to measure back his weary
stops to Litton Mill! He called at Johnny Wild’s, as he returned, who
allowed him to rest; but, of food, he could not offer any; having a
large family, and being but a poor man, he had none to spare! Blincoe
gave back his hat, and arrived at the apprentice-house between nine
and ten, being then giving-over time! William Woodward, the manager,
whose heavy hand had inflicted blows and cuffs beyond calculation on
poor Blincoe, was about the first person by whom he was accosted! In a
tone, about as gentle as that of a baited-bear, and an aspect much more
savage, said, “Where have you been?”—“To Mr. Thornelly.”—“I’ll Thornelly
you to-morrow,” said he, and turned away. Not knowing what the next
day might bring forth, Blincoe applied for his mess of water-porridge,
which, after a journey of two and twenty miles, tasted highly savory,
and then he retired to his bed, praying God to end his life, or mitigate
its severity—a prayer that was common at Litton Mill!—Sore as he was, he
slept; but it was on his face, his back being too much bruised, to lie
in that position, or even on his side! In the morning, he rose and went
to his stretching frame. Between seven and eight o’clock Blincoe saw
Woodward going to the apprentice-house, from the window of the factory.
Seeing this opportunity, without waiting for breakfast, Blincoe again
made a start, still without hat, waistcoat or coat, towards Heam, to
state to the magistrates the cruel treatment he had received—The day was
fine. The hay was about, and miserable as was poor Blincoe, he could not
but feel delighted with the sweet air and romantic scenery. Having been
thus expeditious, Blincoe was at Heam, an hour and a half too soon. To
amuse himself, he went into the Church-yard. As soon as the magistrates
arrived, from whose hands he came to supplicate for justice, Blincoe went
to the Bull’s Head. The officiating clerk was an attorney named Cheek,
who resided at Whetstone-Hall, a mansion situated within half a mile of
Tideswell. To this person, Blincoe began unbosoming his grief, and in
the earnestness of his harrangue, and fearful, lest the attorney did not
catch every syllable, the half-naked Blincoe crept nearer and nearer;
but Mr. Cheek not relishing the dense, foul scent of oil, grease, and
filth, said, “Well, well, I can hear you, you need not come so near;
stand back.” Poor Blincoe, not a little mortified, obeyed his command,
and, by the time Blincoe’s piteous tale was ended, the magistrates had
mostly arrived, to whom Mr. Cheek, the clerk to the magistrates, read the
paper, which Blincoe supposed contained his intended deposition. Blincoe
was then sworn. One of the magistrates, Blincoe believes it was a Mr.
Middleton, of Leam Hall, said, “Where is Mr. Needham?”—Blincoe replied,
“He’s gone to-day (Tuesday) to Manchester Market.” This prevented their
sending a man and horse to fetch him. One of the magistrates then said to
Blincoe, “Go strait to the mill, to your work.”—“Oh! Sir, he’ll leather
me,” meaning, Mr. Needham would beat him again. “Oh, no! he durst na’—he
durst na’,” said one of the magistrates in reply. Upon this, some one
advised, that a letter should be sent to Mr. Needham, in whose much
dreaded presence, Blincoe had no inclination to appear! Blincoe cannot
recollect who wrote the letter, but thinks it was Mr. Middleton, who
said, “If he leathers you, come to me.” This gentleman resided at a
distance of about eight miles from Litton Mill. Having this powerful
talisman in his possession, Blincoe returned direct to the mill, and,
advancing boldly to Woodward, the manager, said, “Here’s a letter for
Mr. John Needham,” the son of the old master, who is now resident in
Tideswell! Blincoe informed Woodward, he had been at a justice-meeting
at Heam, and as a justice had sent this letter, Woodward did not dare
to lay violent hands upon him. This day, poor Blincoe had to fast till
night, making a complete round of another twenty-four hours of fasting!
On Wednesday, John Needham returned from Manchester market, and appeared,
as usual, at Litton Mill.—The letter, from which Blincoe anticipated such
beneficial results, was handed to the young Squire, by William Woodward,
the manager. He broke the seal, read it through, and ordered Blincoe to
be called out of the factory, from his work. Obedient to the summons, and
not a little alarmed, he appeared before his young master, whose savage
looks shewed, ere he spoke a word, a savage purpose. The first words
were, “Take off your shirt, you damned rascal!” Blincoe obeyed, his head
and back being still very sore. John Needham instantly began flogging him
with a heavy horse-whip, striking him with his utmost force, wherever he
could get a blow. It was in vain Blincoe cried for quarters—in vain he
promised never again to go to a Magistrate, in any case whatever. John
Needham kept on flogging, swearing horribly and threatening furiously,
resting between while, till he had fully satisfied his sense of justice!
He then unlocked the door, and, saying, “You’ll go again, will you?”
bade Blincoe put on his shirt, and go to his work. Away went Blincoe,
scarcely able to stand, and covered with additional bruises from head
to foot. Even this horrid flogging did not deprive Blincoe of his
appetite, nor of his determination to seek redress of the Magistrates,
and accordingly, the next Sunday night, when some of the time-outs were
let out of the prison, Blincoe, availing himself of the darkness of the
night, watched the opening of the yard door, and crouching almost on his
hands and knees, crept out unseen. Shortly after the order was given to
set down to supper. Every ’prentice, male and female, knew their own
places. In about two minutes, two hundred half-famished creatures were
seated. Their names were called over, to see that none were missing,
when, little parson could not be found. Governor Thomas Fox, on learning
of this event, ordered the door warder to be called, who declared most
vehemently, he had not let Blincoe out, and further, he had not passed
the door; upon this, a general search was made in all the rooms and
offices, high and low; but no where was little parson to be found.
Meanwhile, as soon as Blincoe found himself outside the hated walls, he
set off again up Slack, a very steep hill close to the mill, and made
the best of his way to Litton, and going to the house of one Joseph
Robinson, a joiner, who worked in Litton Mill, who had known Blincoe
at Lowdham Mill, was well acquainted with the horrid cruelties he had
suffered, and heartily compassionating Blincoe’s miserable state, gave
him a good supper, and let him sleep with his sons. In the morning,
Robinson, who was really a humane man, and a friend to the poor children,
gave Blincoe some bread and meat, and giving him a strict injunction not
to own _where_ he had slept. Blincoe set off, about six o’clock in the
morning, to Mr. Middleton’s house. The morning was showery, and Blincoe
had neither hat, coat, or waistcoat, and he had about eight miles to go,
in search of justice. He arrived at Mr. Middleton’s long before his hour
of appearance. At last, Mr. Middleton got up, and Blincoe approaching,
crawling like a spaniel dog, said, “Sir, I have come again, Mr. Needham
has been beating me worse than ever, as soon as he read your letter
over.” Seeing the miserable state Blincoe was in, drenched with the
rain and half naked, Mr. Middleton said, “go into the kitchen and rest
yourself—you should not have come here first; you should have gone to Mr.
Cheek, of Whetstone Hall, and he would have given you a summons;” upon
this, poor Blincoe said mournfully, “Eh, Sir, he will do nought for me—he
is so thick with my master—they are often drinking together.” “Pshaw,
pshaw,” said the Justice, “he’s like to listen to you—he must;” but then,
as if recollecting himself, he said, “Stop, I’ll write you a letter to
Mr. Cheek.” In the Justice’s kitchen, poor Blincoe got some bread and
cheese, which was indeed a luxurious food, though unaccompanied with any
beer. Blincoe thus refreshed, again set off to Mr. Cheek, a distance of
about eleven or twelve miles, bareheaded and dressed only in trowsers and
shoes. The rain continuing pouring in torrents. When Blincoe reached
Whetstone Hall, one of the first persons he saw was a woman of the name
of Sally Oldfield, her husband, Thomas Oldfield, then dead, had been
governor of the ’prentices of Litton Mill. She was then housekeeper
to Messrs. Shoro and Cheek, at Whetstone Hall. Those gentlemen were
amongst the most intimate friends and visitors of Mr. Needham, and Sally
Oldfield, who recollected Blincoe, alias parson, said, “Eh, Parson! what
do you want here?” “I have a letter from Mr. Middleton to Mr. Cheek.”
“Eh!” said little old Sally again, “Are you going against your master?”
Blincoe told her he was, and how cruelly he had been treated. Sally could
not comprehend any right Blincoe had to complain, and said, “Eh! thou
should’st not go against thy master.” Saying this, she took him to the
kitchen, gave him some bread and cheese, and plenty too, and some good
beer, and then said, “Parson, thou must never go against thy master;
what do you have for dinner on Monday?—do you have treacle now?” “No, we
have dry bread and broth.” “Ah,” continued she, “_Treacle is too dear._”
Blincoe could scarce refrain from smiling, recollecting the feast of the
treacle can; but he said nothing, and not a soul came near him. There
Blincoe sat until night, when he began to think the magistrates were
hoaxing him, and he thought there was no utility in waiting for justice,
or a possibility of obtaining redress! he would never more complain!
seven hours sat Blincoe in Lawyer Cheek’s kitchen, and not the least
notice being taken of him or his letter, he made his solitary way back to
the mill, and arrived there just as the mill had loosed, and going direct
to Woodward, told him where he had been, and concealing the conviction
he felt, that it not possible to obtain redress; he assured the tyrant,
with tears and lamentations, that if he would intercede to prevent his
being flogged again, he would never run away more. “On these conditions,”
said Woodward, “I will, if I can,” and from that day Blincoe cannot
recollect, that he was either flogged or beaten; but, _still_ Blincoe had
no knowledge, that there was any Act of Parliament for the protection
of poor orphans like himself.—He knew of the magistrates coming to the
mill; but he had no distinct idea that they came to _redress grievances_!
So great was the terror of the poor ignorant apprentices, no one dared
complain, and he cannot recollect that they ever gave themselves
any other trouble, than merely going over the mill! Every thing was
previously prepared and made ready. The worst of the cripples were put
out of the way. The magistrates saw them not. The magistrates could never
_find out_ any thing wrong, nor hear of a single individual who had any
complaint to make!—When Blincoe was about twelve or thirteen years of
age, he well remembers an apprentice, almost grown up, who lost his life
in an attempt to escape. He had tied several blankets or sheets together,
to reach the ground from the chamber window, where he slept, which was
three or four stories high. The line broke, he fell to the ground, and
he was so much hurt at the fall, he died soon after. Blincoe thinks some
surgeon or doctor came to him; but he has not the least recollection of
any Coroner’s inquest being held! In addition to the punishments already
stated, Robert Woodward and other overlookers have kicked him down a
whole flight of stairs; at other times, he has been seized by the hair
of his head and dragged up and down the room, tearing off his hair by
handsful, till he was almost bald! All the punishments he suffered, were
inflicted upon others, and, in some cases, even to a worse degree than
on himself. He even considers he came off tolerably well, compared with
others, many of whom, he believes, in his conscience, lost their lives,
and died at the apprentice-house, from the effects of hard usage, bad and
scanty food, and excessive labour.


Blincoe remained in Litton Mill a year after he had received his
indentures, not from inclination; but to get a little money to start
with. His wages were only four shillings and sixpence weekly, and this
was to have been paid monthly; but, month after month elapsed, and,
instead of an honest settlement, there was nothing but shuffling!
The first money he received was eighteen and sixpence, and being in
possession of that sum, he thought himself incalculably rich! He scarcely
knew what to do with it! It took away his appetite.—After he was a little
composed, he devoted a few shillings to the purchase of some dainties,
such as wheaten cakes and herrings! He then worked and lived like others,
till his master owed him nearly half a years labour. The pay day came
and then he drew nearly thirty shillings, the rest was kept back, so
that Blincoe seeing no prospect before him but perpetual slavery for a
merciless master, made up his mind to be off; and on Tidswell May fair,
which happens on the fifteenth of May, he put his plan in execution!
He knew not where to go; but started the next morning at hazard!
When he came to Chapel-a-Frith, he determined to visit a celebrated
fortune-teller, called Old Beckka’! She lived in a small back-house, a
haggard, black, horrid-looking creature, very old, having a long beard,
and dressed like a person who lived in ages past! Her name was very
influential all over Derbyshire. So very famous was _old Beckka’_, that
people came far and near, and she was reputed to be possessed of land
and houses.—She never took a smaller fee than a shilling, even from
the very poorest of her votaries. Her name was well-known at Litton
Mill. If any thing was stolen, Woodward, the manager, or Gully, or some
one of the overlookers, used to go to Chapel-a-Frith, to consult _old
Beckka’_. To this sybil, Blincoe repaired, holding a shilling, between
his thumb and finger! Perfectly understanding the object of his visit,
she first took the shilling, and then said, “Sit down.” He felt really
frightened, and, if she had bade him stand upon his head, he declared
he should have obeyed! He had been told, that she had really enchanted
or bewitched persons, who had endeavoured to cheat or deceive her, or
by whom she had been offended, causing them to lose their way, and sent
ill fortune in many shapes. Our novice was also told, that ladies and
gentlemen of high estate had come in their coaches, all the way from
London, to learn their destiny, all which circumstances produced, on
his uncultivated mind, the sensations described! No sooner was Robert
Blincoe seated, than the witch of Chapel-a-Frith, put a common tea-cup
in his hand, containing a little tea grounds, “Shake it well,” said
Beckka’, Blincoe obeyed. Then the oracle drained away the water, and
twirling the cup round and round, she affected, with the utmost gravity,
to read his future fortune, in the figures described in the sediment at
the bottom. Assuming a wild stare, and standing erect over him, her eyes
apparently ready to leap from their sockets, she exclaimed, in a hollow
sepulchral tone of voice, “You came from the outside of London, did you
not?” “Yea,” said the astonished Blincoe, “I did.” “You came down in a
waggon, and have been at a place surrounded with high rocks and great
waters, and you have been used worse than a stumbling stone.” Blincoe’s
mouth, and eyes, and ears, all seemed to open together, at this oracular
speech, as he said, “Yea, yea, it is true.” Then she said,—“Your troubles
are at an end.—You shall rise above those, who have cast you down so
low.—You shall see their downfall, and your head shall be higher than
theirs.—Poor lad! terrible have been thy sufferings.—Thou shall get up
in the world! you’ll go to another place, where there’ll be a big water,
and so go thy way in peace, and may God prosper thy steps!” Filled with
amazement, mingled with rising hopes of better fortune, Blincoe arose
and departed, making a very low reverence to “_old Beckka’_,” as he went
out, and impressed with the fullest conviction, that she was truely a
sorceress; the simpleton, forgetting, that his _costume_, his wild and
pallid looks, and the _scent_ of his garments, tainted as they were with
the perfume of a cotton factory, were more than sufficient to point out
to the fortune-teller, the past and present, from which she speedily
fabricated the future fortune, for her simple visitor! Blincoe thought he
got but a very short story for his shilling! On the other hand, he was
very well contented with its _quality_, since it promised him, and in
such positive terms, that he should rise above his cruel oppressor and
become a great man. Filled with these thoughts, he stepped briskly along,
not much encumbered with luggage; for he carried all his wardrobe on his
back. When he arrived at a spot called “Orange end,” where four ways met,
he was perplexed which to take, the oracle of Chapel-a-Frith not having
apprised him of this dilemma, nor which road to take! Being quite in an
oracular mood, very happy, that he had got so far away from Litton, and
fully convinced, that, go where he would, and befall him what would, he
could not blunder upon a worse place, nor be oppressed by a more evil
fortune, he tossed up a halfpenny in the air, making it spin round its
own axis, and waiting its course as it rolled, resolved to follow in
that direction. Its course happening to be pointed towards New Mills,
Derbyshire, thither he bent his course, but failed in his application for
work. Blincoe, therefore, walked on, till he came to Mr. Oldknow’s Cotton
Factory, at Mellow, and there he crept towards the counting-house, in an
humble mood, and said, in a very meek tone of voice, “If you please, Sir,
can you give me work?” The manager, Mr. Clayton, a gentleman by no means
deficient in self-respect, asked sharply: “Where do you come from?” “From
Litton Mill, Sir.” “Where are your indentures?” “There they are, Sir,”
said Blincoe, holding up the papers. There were two or three gentlemen,
in the counting-house, and they looked earnestly over the indentures
and then at Blincoe, one of them saying, “Did you come from Pancras
workhouse?” “Yes, Sir.” “Why, we are all come from thence! we brought
many children the other day to this Mill.” “Indeed, Sir,” said Blincoe,
pitying, in his heart, the poor creatures, and thinking it would have
been merciful to have killed them outright at once, rather than put them
to such a place as Litton Mill had proved to him. Looking at the names
of the subscribing officers and overseers, one of the Pancras parish
officers said to Mr. Clayton: “Some of these officers are dead.” Blincoe
again exclaimed “Indeed, Sir,”—recollecting the atrocious lies and cruel
deceptions, those men had practised upon him, in his infant years, by
telling him to believe that, in sending him to a cotton-factory, he was
to be made at once a gentleman; to live upon roast beef and plum-pudding;
to ride his master’s horses; to have a watch in his pocket and plenty of
money, and nothing whatever to do! Poor Blincoe could not help thinking
to himself:—“Where are the souls of these men gone, who, knowing the
utter falsehood of their seductive tales, betrayed me to destiny far
more cruel than transportation?” The overseers, looking at the distorted
limbs of this victim of parochial economy, said “Why, how came you so
lame? you were not so when you left London, were you?” “No, Sir, I was
turned over, with the rest of the unclaimed ’prentices, from Lowdham
Mill, to Ellice Needham, of Litton Mill.” “How did they keep you?—what
did you live upon?” “Water porridge—sometimes once, sometimes twice a
day—sometimes potatoes and salt for supper: not half enough, and very bad
food.” “How many hours did you work?” “From five, or occasionally six
o’clock in the morning, till nine, half-past ten, and sometimes eleven,
and, on Saturday nights, till twelve o’clock.” The person wrote these
answers down; but made no comment, nor ever noticed the material facts;
that Blincoe had not been taught the trade he should have learnt, and
that the parish officers of Pancras had utterly neglected him and his
miserable comrades, when the Lowdham Mill factory stopped! The manager
then bade a person shew Blincoe where he might get lodgings, and bade
him come to work in the morning. Blincoe was too much afraid of giving
offence, by asking questions in the counting-house, to venture to enquire
as to his parentage; but, as soon as he had got lodgings, he strove to
make out where the officers were to lodge that night, at Mellor, to
enquire further; but hearing they were just then gone, he was deprived
of the opportunity! This occurrence, filling his mind with melancholy
reflections, he shed many tears in solitude that night! The next morning,
he went to his work, and found it was as hard as at Litton Mill; but
of more moderate duration—the hours being from six in the morning,
till seven in the evening. The ’prentices, whom he saw at work, seemed
cheerful and contented—looked healthy and well, compared with those at
Litton! They were well fed, with good milk-porridge and wheaten bread for
breakfast, and all their meals were good and sufficient! They were kept
clean, decently dressed, and every Sunday went twice to Marple Church,
with Mr. Clayton, their under-master, at their head! On the whole, it
struck Blincoe, that the children were in a Paradise, compared with the
unfortunate wretches whom he had left at Litton Mill, and he indulged
in the humane hope, that the lot of children just then brought down
from London, might escape the dreadful sufferings he had had to endure!
Unfortunately, the trade, which Blincoe had been fourteen or fifteen
years articled to learn, was by no means so good as husbandry labour. The
wages, Mr. Oldknow offered him, were _eleven shillings per week_, at the
time that a good husbandry labourer could earn from sixteen shillings to
a pound! After having been some months in Mr. Oldknow’s factory, Blincoe
learnt, that, whilst he did as much work, and as well as any man in the
factory, which employed several hundred apprentices, Mr. Clayton had
fixed his wages at three or four shillings per week less than any other
person’s. Blincoe could not impute this to any other cause, than an
idea, that he was in so crippled a state, he dared not demand the same
as another! Such is the mean and sordid spirit, that sways almost the
whole of those establishments. When a poor creature has been crippled
at one mill, and applies for work at another, instead of commiserating
his condition and giving him the easiest and best work and best pay, it
is a common custom, to treat them with the utmost contempt, and though
they may be able to do their work as well for their masters, though not
with the same ease to themselves, as one who has escaped being crippled,
the masters generally make it a rule to screw them down to the very
lowest point of depression, and, in many cases, give them only half their
wages. On this principle was Blincoe dealt with at Mellor Factory; but,
as the wretched diet on which he had been fed at Litton, enabled him to
live upon three shillings per week, he saved money each week. Having
an independent spirit and not being willing to work for less than his
brethren, he took an opportunity one evening, to go to the counting-house
and doffing his hat to Mr. Clayton, said, “Sir, if you please, will you
be so good to rise my wages?” Turning sharp round, he said, “Raise your
wages! why, I took you in upon _charity only_!” “I am sure it was very
good of you, Sir,” said Blincoe, who well knew that such hands as himself
were scarce, therefore, that his charity began at home.—Hearing Blincoe
speak in such humble, yet somewhat ironical terms; for he possessed a
rich vein of sarcastic humour, Mr. Clayton said, “Well, go to your work,
I’ll see.” They paid every fortnight at the factory.—The next pay night,
Blincoe found himself paid at the rate of thirteen shillings, which was
still two shillings under the price of other workmen! This continued
a few weeks, when, an old servant, whom they had employed many years,
applied for work, and on the Friday night fortnight, Blincoe’s wages
were sent up to him, with an order _to depart_. This is what is called
_getting the bag_. Blincoe being alike surprised and hurt, and knowing
he had done his work well and had never lost a minute, set an enquiry
on foot, and he was told, from very good authority, it was because he
had applied for an advance of wages, and because Mr. Clayton thought
it was taking an advantage of him. Curious logic! Mr. Clayton seems
totally to forget the advantage he had, in the first instance, taken of
poor Blincoe, and feeling very sore, when the young fellow applied for
redress, he seized this opportunity, and, in this petty way, to wreak his
anger; and as the factory of Mr. Oldknow stood so very high, if compared
with that of Ellice Needham, of Litton, these blemishes fully prove, how
foul and corrupted is the spirit of traffic, since, in its best shape,
it could not resist the temptation of taking a mean advantage of the
necessities and the misery of a fellow creature.

Although the treatment of parish pauper apprentices was very liberal,
compared to what they had endured at Litton Mill, the journeymen were
governed by a very tight hand. If they arrived only two or three
minutes after the clock had struck, they were locked out; and those,
who were within, were all locked in, till dinner time, and not only
were the outward doors, below, locked; but every room above, and there
was a door-keeper kept, whose duty it was, a few minutes before the
respective hours of departure, to unlock the doors, by whom they were
again locked, as soon as the work-people arrived! In every door, there
was a small aperture, big enough to let a quart can through, so that the
food brought by parents and relations could be handed to them within—no
one being permitted to go in or out, and, of course, the necessaries,
two or three to each room, were within side the room, where the people
worked! Such was the rigid order and severe discipline of one of the most
_lenient_ master cotton-spinners! Mr. Oldknow caused a road to be made
from the turnpike to his mill, which saved some length of way, and every
stranger, or person not absolutely working in the mill, who used it, had
to pay a halfpenny—and, as the road led to New Mills and Mellor, those
work-people, in common with all others, had to pay a halfpenny. There was
a toll-house erected, and also a toll-bar, and the speculation, if not
very neighbourly, is said to have been very profitable.

When Blincoe left this establishment, which seemed to vie with some of
the largest factories in Manchester, both in its exterior grandeur, and
in magnitude, he had contrived to save the greater part of his wages,
and having a few pounds in his pocket, he felt less dismay at this
harsh and unexpected treatment, than if he had acted with less prudence
and been destitute. He had served faithfully and diligently upwards of
half-a-year, and a character from so respectable an employer might be
serviceable, he, therefore, made his appearance once more before Mr.
Clayton, and doffing his hat, and assuming the most lowly and respectful
attitude, said, in his usual slow and plaintive tone:—“Will you please,
Sir, give me a character?”—“O no! O no!” replied the manager, “we never
give characters here,” with an unfriendly aspect! Blincoe thought it was
better to be off and seek his fortune elsewhere, than stop and argue.
This circumstance strongly marks the oppressive character of these
establishments. It is clear, that Mr. Clayton did not chuse to hire
Blincoe without a character, or something equivalent, by requiring to see
his indentures; and, after the young man had served them diligently and
honestly, for six months, he surely should have written to certify, that
he had done so, and the denial _might_ have prevented his getting another
employer. However the law might stand at present, upon this point, in any
future legislative measure, a clause should be introduced, to _compel_
every master to give a written character, except where some positive act
of gross misconduct interposed to neutralise the claim!

From Mellor Mill, Blincoe walked to Bollington, in Cheshire, a village
not far from Macclesfield, and about 18 miles distance, having a bundle,
which, slung upon a stick, he carried upon his shoulder. He passed
several road-side houses of entertainment, allaying his thirst from
the living fountains, and satisfying his hunger with a penny cake.
In this way, he travelled, till he arrived at Bollington, where he
obtained work in a factory, situated on the Macclesfield road, belonging
to a Mr. Lomax. He was placed in the card-room, which is reckoned the
most laborious and unwholesome in the factory, on account of the great
quantity of dirt and dust; but Mr. Lomax promised him a stretching frame,
at the end of a fortnight. The fortnight having expired, Blincoe saw no
signs of being relieved from stripping off the cotton from the cards.
He made up his mind to be off, and march on towards Staley Bridge, in
the hope of bettering his condition! As he was going along some fields,
for a short cut, he was met by a couple of suspicious looking fellows,
who, stepping boldly up to Blincoe, said in a stern voice, “What have
you got in that bundle?” “I dunna know, Mester, but if you’ll ask the
gentleman on horseback, that is coming on the horse road, at the other
side of the hedge, he’ll tell you.” Hearing this, and marking the calm
indifference of Blincoe, the interrogators took to their heels, and never
once looked behind them, as he could perceive; and thus the poor little
wanderer outwitted the marauders, and saved his shirt and stockings, and,
by the possibility, the hard-earned treasure he had in his fob. Having
thus adroitly got rid of the thieves, Blincoe made the best of his way
to the main road, and the best use of his legs, till he got in view of
some houses, where he thought himself out of danger. Arrived at Staley
Bridge, situate upon a river, which separates Cheshire and Lancashire,
and where there are many spinning factories, he applied to a man named
William Gamble, who had lived in Yorkshire. This man, twelve or thirteen
years before, was one of the overlookers at Lowdham Mill, and very much
addicting himself to kicking the apprentices and dragging them about
by the hair of the head, up and down the rooms, and then dashing them
upon the floor, on account of which propensity, he was reprimanded and
removed, when the overseers of Pancras parish arrived. Indeed this man
and one Smith, were the terror of the poor children; but Blincoe wanting
work and knowing he was an overlooker in Mr. Harrison’s factory, which,
by way of pre-eminence, was called _the Bastile_, poor Blincoe had
been so many years accustomed to Bastiles, he was not easily daunted.
To Gamble he repaired, and who having bestowed so many marks of his
_paternal_ regard upon Blincoe, he recognized him at once and very kindly
got him work at ten shillings per week, which he drew for the _use_ of
Blincoe, during a few weeks, to whom he acted as _caterer_, and provided
him with a bed, so that Blincoe had nothing whatever to do, but his
work, which was tolerably moderate, that is, compared with Litton Mill.
Notwithstanding its unseemly appellative, the work-people were not locked
up in the rooms, as at Mellor.

The master had another method of restraining his work people from
going out, and which saved the pay of a door-keeper, namely, by the
counting-house being so placed, the people could not go in or out without
being seen! There Blincoe worked some months; but not being perfectly
satisfied with the conditions in which the stewardship of William Gamble
left him, he took the liberty to remove from his hospitable roof, and
the result was, he could live upon and lay up one half of his wages. The
wages paid at this mill were very low, and the work very laborious,
being the stripping of the top cards! The fixed quantum was six pounds
per day, which is a severe task. After this, the master went up to
Blincoe and others, as they were at work, and informed them, he would
have more weight of cotton stripped off the top cards, or turn them away,
and Blincoe not feeling inclined to perform more work for that pay, asked
for his wages and left the Bastile!

Hence, Blincoe went to Mr. Leech, the owner of another factory, at Staley
Bridge, by whom he was engaged at nine shillings a week; but he found
the cotton so foul and dirty, and the work so hard, he staid not long;
as the owner paid only once in three weeks, it required some privation,
before any wages could be got! After three days toil, Blincoe went to his
master and asked him to lend as much silver as his work came to, and,
having obtained it, he took French leave, to the great offence of his
employer. Blincoe still remained at Staley Bridge, though unemployed. He
next obtained work at the mill of a Mr. Bailey, whose father had then
recently had one of his arms torn off by the blower, and he died in a few
hours from the dreadful effects of that accident. Here Blincoe stopped,
stripping of cards, for eleven shillings per week, during several months,
when, having saved a few pounds, he determined to try his fortune at
Manchester, which celebrated town was only seven or eight miles distant.
Of London, Blincoe retained only a faint recollection, and he thought
Manchester the largest and the grandest place in all the world. He took
lodgings in St. George’s-road, being attracted by the residence of James
Cooper, a parish apprentice from the same workhouse with himself, who had
been so cruelly flogged at Litton Mill. By this young man, Blincoe was
received in a friendly manner, and he lodged in his house near Shudehill.
Blincoe arrived at Manchester at a bad time, just at the return of peace,
and he had a difficulty of getting work. His first place was in the
factory of Mr. Adam Murray. There the engines worked only four days and
a half per week; for which he received no more than seven shillings and
a penny. Blincoe suffered much from the heat of the factories at Staley;
but in this of Mr. Murray’s, he found it almost suffocating, and if there
had been as great a heat in the factory at Litton, added to the effects
of long hours, and bad and scanty food, it is probably it had cut him off
in the first year of his servitude! Blincoe, thinking it was wise to risk
the chance of bettering his fortune, left Adam Murray’s gigantic factory,
at the end of the week, and next went to work in Robinson’s factory,[1]
as it is called, which belongs to Mr. Marriet. There he was engaged
to strip cards, at half a guinea per week. He worked at this several
months, living in a frugal manner, and never going into public-houses,
or associating with idle company; but, when he was engaged, by the rule
of the overlookers, he was forced to pay a couple of shillings, by way of
footing, and then he went to a public-house in Bridge-street, where this
silly and mischievous custom, let Blincoe into the first and last act
of drunkenness, in which he was ever concerned, and he felt ill several
days afterwards. At the same time, many of his comrades, who worked in
the same room, and who contributed each so much money, got drunk also.
This was spent contrary to Blincoe’s wishes, who grieved that he was
obliged to drink the ale. If he had refused, he would have been despised,
and might have lost his employ; and if a poor fellow had been ever so
low and wanted this money for the most essential purpose, it must not be
refused. This is a pernicious custom, and should be abolished. Blincoe
continued several months in this factory, living as it were alone in a
crowd, and mixing very little with his fellow work people. From thence
Blincoe went to a factory, at Bank Top, called Young’s old factory, now
occupied by Mr. Ramsbottom, and there, after a time, he was engaged as
stoker, or engine man, doing the drudgery for the engineer. Here, he
continued three years, sleeping a great part of the time on a flat stone
in the fire hole. If it rained in the night he was always drenched! but
he had formerly suffered so much by hardships, and the pay was so small,
he determined to do his best to save as much money as might suffice to
enable him to try to live as a dealer in waste cotton; from which humble
state many of the most proud and prosperous of the master cotton-spinners
of Manchester have emerged. His employer, liking him, raised his wages
to thirteen shillings a week, and, whilst Blincoe was about as black
as a chimney sweeper in full powder, the hope of future independence
induced him to bear his sable hue, and his master behaved to him with
more humanity, than he had been accustomed to experience. He was however
disturbed by some petty artifices of the manager, in the year 1817, and
an attempt being made to lower his wages, for which, upon an average,
he worked sixteen hours in the day, Blincoe resolved to quit such hard,
unremitting and unprofitable servitude, and from that period he commenced
dealer and chapman. At the end of the first year, he found his little
capital reduced full one-half; but on the other hand, he gained, in
experience, more than an equivalent, to what he had lost in money, and,
being pretty well initiated into the _mysteries of trade_, and having
acquired a competent knowledge of raw or waste cottons, he commenced his
second year, in much better style, and, at the end of that year, he had
not only regained his lost capital, but added £5 to it.

Blincoe hired a warehouse and lived in lodgings. In the year 1819, on
Sunday, the 27th. of June, he happened to be, with several other persons,
at the christening of a neighbour’s child, where several females were
present. An acquaintance of Mester Blincoe’s (no longer poor Blincoe,)
a jolly butcher, began to jest and jeer him, as to his living single.
There was a particular female friend present, whose years, though not
approaching old age, outnumbered Blincoe’s, and the guests ran their
jokes upon her, and some of the company said, Blincoe, get married
to-morrow, and then we’ll have a good wedding, as well as a christening,
to-day. Upon which Blincoe, leering a little sideways at the lady, said,
“Well, if Martha will have me, I’ll take her and marry her to-morrow.”
She, demurely, said “Yes.” Then, said Blincoe, though taken unawares,
now, if you’ll stick to your word, “I will.” She then said, “I’ll not
run from mine, if you don’t.” Hearing this, there was a great shout, and
when it had subsided, the butcher offered to bet a leg of mutton, that
Blincoe would not get married on Monday, the _28th. of June_, and others
betted on the same side, when Blincoe determined to win the bets, and
a wife in the bargain. Blincoe said to his comrades, “Well, that I may
not be disappointed. I’ll even go to see for a license to-night.” Two of
the party went to see all was fair. When Blincoe had got half-way, being
fearful of a _hoax_ by Martha, he hit on the device of holding back,
telling her he could not get the license without her presence, and when
she agreed to go, then still more securely to prevent his being laughed
at, he said, “I have not money enough in my pocket, will you, Martha,
lend me a couple of pounds?” In an instant she produced that sum, giving
it to Blincoe, and they proceeded. Blincoe was so bashful he neither took
her hand nor saluted her lips; but, accompanied by two of the persons
who had laid wagers, went to the house direct, of the very celebrated,
though not _very reverend Joshua Brookes_, lately deceased. The next
morning they went in a coach from his lodgings in Bank-Top, and were
married in the Old Church! Blincoe won his bets and his wife! They have
lived together with as great a share of conjugal tranquillity, as falls
to the lot of many, who are deemed happy couples, and he has ever since
kept upon the advance in worldly prosperity. He has lived to see his
tyrannical master brought to adverse fortune, to a state of comparative
indigence, and, on his family, the visitation of calamities, so awful,
that it looked as if the avenging power of retributive justice had laid
its iron hand on him and them. In how short a time Blincoe’s career will
verify the prediction of the old sybil of Chapel-a-Frith remains to
be seen; but it is in the compass of probability, that he may, in the
meridian of his life, be carried as high, by the wheel of fortune, as the
days of his infancy and youth, he was cast low!!

In the year 1824, Blincoe had accumulated in business that sum of money
he thought would be sufficient to keep his family, with the exception
of his cotton-waste business; shortly after he gave up a shop which he
had occupied for a few years at No. 108, Bank-Top, Manchester, and took
a house in Edge-place, Salford, whilst living there, thought proper to
place some of the money he had saved by industry to the purchasing of
some machinery for spinning of cotton—and took part of a mill of one Mr.
Ormrod, near St. Paul’s-Church, Tib-street, in this he was engaged six
weeks, with the assistance of some mechanics, getting the machinery ready
for work—the first day it was at work, an adjoining room of the building
caught fire, and burnt Blincoe’s machinery to the ground, not being
insured, nearly ruined him.—Blincoe declares that he will have nothing to
do with the spinning business again—what with the troubles endured when
apprentice to it, and the heavy loss sustained by fire, is completely
sick of the business altogether.

_End of the Memoir of Robert Blincoe._

[1] Whilst Blincoe worked at Robinson’s old factory, Water-street,
Manchester, having, by denying himself even a sufficiency of the cheapest
diet, clothed himself more respectably than he had ever been—and having
two-pound notes in his pocket, he determined to spend a few shillings,
and see the diversions of a horse-race, at Kersal-Moor—but not being
aware that such beings as pick-pockets were in the world, he put his
pocket-book in his outside pocket, whence it was stolen by some of
the light-fingered gentry, and poor Blincoe had to lament his want of


                                        Ashton-under-Line, Feb. 24, 1828.

DEAR SIR—I have read the narrated sufferings of Robert Blincoe with
mingled sorrow and delectation: with sorrow, because I know, from bitter
experience, that they have really existed; with delectation, because they
have appeared before the public through the medium of the press, and may,
peradventure, be the means of mitigating the misery of the unfortunate
apprentices, who are serving an unexpired term of apprenticeship in
various parts of Lancashire and Derbyshire. In 1806 or 7, I was bound
an apprentice, with twelve others, from the workhouse of St. James,
Clerkenwell London, to a Mr. J. Oxley, at Arnold-mill, near Nottingham.
From thence, after two years and three months’ servitude, I was sold to a
Mr. Middleton, of Sheffield. The factory being burnt down at this place,
I with many others, were sold to Mr. Ellice Needham, of Highgate-wall,
the owner and proprietor of Litton Mill! Here I became acquainted with
Robert Blincoe, better known at Litton-mill by the name of Parson. The
sufferings of the apprentices were exquisite during Blincoe’s servitude,
both in point of hunger and acts of severity; but, subsequent to
Blincoe’s departure from that place, the privations we had to endure,
in point of hunger, exceeded all our former sufferings (if that were
possible), having to subsist principally upon woodland sustenance, or,
in other words, on such food as we could extract from the woods. What I
now write is to corroborate the statement of Blincoe, having heard him
relate during my apprenticeship, all, or nearly all, the particulars
that are now narrated in his memoir. I may also add, that I worked under
Blincoe, at the same machine, in the capacity that he had done under
Woodward, without receiving any harsh treatment from him—nay, so far was
Blincoe from ill-treating the apprentices employed under him, that he
would frequently give part of his allowance of food to those under his
care, out of mere commiseration, and conceal all insignificant omissions
without a word of reproach—I cannot close this letter without relating
an anecdote that occurred about two years ago. Happening to call at a
friend’s house one day, he asked if I knew Robert Blincoe. I replied in
the affirmative. Because, added he, I saw a prospectus of his biography
some time past; and related the same to W. Woodward, who was on a visit
here, and who immediately said, “HE’LL GIVE IT MA,” and became very
dejected during the remainder of his visit.

                          Your humble servant,

                                                       JOHN JOSEPH BETTS.

       *       *       *       *       *

Samuel Davy, a young man, now employed in the Westminster Gas Works,
has called on the Publisher of BLINCOE’S MEMOIR, and has said, that
his own experience is a confirmation of the general statement in the
Memoir. Samuel Davy, when a child of 7 years of age, with 13 others,
about the year 1805, was sent from the poorhouse of the parish of St.
George’s, in the Borough of Southwark, to Mr. Watson’s mill, at Penny
Dam, near Preston, in Lancashire; and successively turned over to Mr.
Burch’s mill, at Backborough, near Castmill, and to Messrs. David and
Thomas Ainsworth’s mill, near Preston. The cruelty towards the children
increased at each of those places, and though not quite so bad as that
described by Blincoe, approached very near to it. One Richard Goodall,
he describes, as entirely beaten to death! Irons were used, as with
felons, in gaols, and these were often fastened on young women, in the
most indecent manner from the ancles to the waist! It was common to
punish the children, by keeping them nearly in a state of nudity, in the
depth of winter, for several days together. Davy says, that he often
thought of stealing, from the desire of getting released from such a
wretched condition, by imprisonment or transportation; and, at last, at
nineteen years of age, though followed by men on horseback and on foot,
he successfully ran away and got to London. For ten years, this child and
his brother were kept without knowing any thing of their parents, and
without the parents knowing where the children were. All applications
to the Parish Officers for information were vain. The supposed loss
of her children, so preyed upon the mind of Davy’s mother, that, with
other troubles, it brought on insanity, and she died in a state of
madness! No savageness in human nature, that has existed on earth, has
been paralleled by that which has been associated with the English
Cotton-spinning mills.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Memoir of Robert Blincoe, an Orphan Boy" ***

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