Mary Berry was an English Aristocrat born in 1763 and died in 1852, who wrote about her well travelled life for over 70 years.
During Miss Mary Berry’s residence in 1805 with her friends at Bothwell she took the opportunity of visiting the Blantyre cotton-mill established in the neighbourhood. The following detailed account has been provided to Blantyre Project from Mr Jack Daniels, and shows the regulations and arrangements in force around Blantyre Works in 1805.
If this account by Mary is to be believed as factual, what follows is a real, exclusive revelation that Blantyre Works mills initially was a huge operation involving child labour on a scale never previously written or published about!
Mary wrote in her journals;
“Tuesday 8th November, 1805 —Walked to the cotton mill upon the Clyde, just above the grounds of Bothwell, on the opposite side of the river. Nine hundred persons employed about it, of which about 100 are artificers of various sorts, smiths, carpenters, etc., etc., to keep the buildings and machinery in repair.
The remaining 800 are all employed in the various operations of making the cotton ready for the weaver from the rough state in which it comes home in bales. Of these 800, nearly 500 are children from six to twelve or fourteen years old, and of the remaining 300 there are many more women than men.
The children are for the most part apprentices, bound to the manufacturer for six or seven years according to their age, for their food and clothing. After this time is out, they either continue on to receive wages or go to some other business. I am sorry I did not ask what proportion of them continue on at a business of which they must have had such a melancholy experience, for all these children, as well as all their fellow labourers, are employed fourteen hours a day, from six o’clock in the morning to eight at night, of which time they are allowed an hour for breakfast, from nine till ten, and an hour for dinner, from two till three ; after which, they continue uninterruptedly at work till eight at night.
I need not commemorate their in general forlorn and squalid looks ; they are, God knows, painfully enough impressed on my mind. What a beginning, gracious heaven! for the dawn of human animal life and human intellect !
A number of these children are sent from the parishes in London. They have just now have thirty-six or forty from the parish of ‘St. Martin’s in the Fields’. God help them, poor souls ! Never to be blessed with the fond endearment of any creature caring for anything but their mere existence and their labour, and condemned to pass the playful years of childhood in a wearisome sameness of employment, to which childhood is so particularly averse.
This subject has been so often enlarged upon, I did not mean to have allowed my pen a line upon it ; but it is impossible to have had it brought immediately under one’s eyes this very day, and not express one’s feelings somehow.”
This incredible journal entry, was not put into a published book, but was simply recorded in one lady’s diary of the time. I see no reason for her to embellish her observations, but to state that over 60% of the millworkers were children is fascinating and horrifying too.
Little has been written about the early period of the mills, and perhaps children were exploited to this extent. I have more of these amazing journal entires to bring you in the coming days, which will reveal more.
Pictured just over a hundred years AFTER Miss Berry’s visit, is a brand new photo, (previously unseen online) of Blantyre Powerloom Factory at the derelict Blantyre Mills in 1903, showing where all those little children and adults alike, worked in those long hours and terrible conditions. Condemned, the building was demolished shortly after.
From “Blantyre Explained” by Paul Veverka (c) 2016