Sunday, 18 September 2005

A Poor Needle-woman

Henry Mayhew (1812-1887)

Life for the poor has always been difficult. In Victorian London, Henry Mayhew, a journalist and 'social investigator' delved deeply into the plight of the poor. He interviewed them and kept detailed trancripts of their accounts, thus giving us a first-hand insight into their world in hiw work London Labour and the London Poor. Below is a needle-woman's account:

"I cannot earn more than 4s. 6d. to 5s. per week - let me sit from eight in the morning till ten every night...and my clear earnings [after paying for coal and other supplies] are a little but more than 2s...I consider trowsers the best work...Shirt work is the worst, the very worst, that can be got...A mother has got two or three daughters, and she don't wish them to go to service, and she puts them to this poor needlework; and that, in my opinion, is the cause of the destitution and the prostitution about the streets in these parts...Most of the workers are young girls who have nothing else to depend upon, and there is scarcely one of them virtous...As [my daughter and I] sit to work together, one candle does for the two of us, so that she earns about 3s. per week clear, which is not sufficient to keep her even in food...My husband is a seafering man, or I don't know what I should do. He is a particularly steady man, a teetotaller, and so indeed are the whole family, or else we could not live. Recently my daughter has resigned the work and gone to service, as the prices are not sufficient for food and clothing."

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