Wednesday 23 November 2016

23rd November 1816: Correspondents argue about shearing frames in the Leeds Mercury

In addition to the above paper, on the general subject, the following observations on the use of Machinery in the Dressing of Woollen Cloth, have been handed to us for insertion:

"The finishing of woollens by machinery," says one of our correspondents, "does not diminish manual labour. In proof of which assertion, I beg leave to state, that I am acquainted with a manufacturer in the neighbourhood of Leeds, who finishes about twenty-two pieces of cloth weekly, and if this cloth was finished by hand labour, the journeymen's wages would amount to about 26l. Fourteen or fifteen workmen would be required in that way to perform this work, whereas, by machinery, twenty workmen are required, twelve of whom have from 20 to 40 shillings per week, four of them 15 to 20 shillings weekly, and the other four a less sum. Instead of a decrease, there is therefore, as I have asserted, an increase of manual labour. A journeyman cropper would finish at 5 cuts, that work on which machinery bestows 8, 9, or 10, and two men would raise in half a day as much cloth as can be raised by machinery in nearly double that time. These are not mere vague notions, but facts founded on experience. The principal use of machinery in this department of the woollen trade, consists in the superior style of finishing. Cloth dressed in this way is more valuable than that finished by hand, that is, if it be properly prepared, for if not, machine dressing injures the fabric."

Another correspondent, writing on the same subject, says, "The usual payment made by cloth dressers to their workmen, for cloth dressed by hand labour, is 5 percent. upon the cost price of cloth; while the average wages paid for the last four years, by a house in this neighbourhood, pretty extensively engaged in the dressing of cloth by machinery, has been found on an accurate examination, to amount only to three and a half per cent.; so that the sum paid for labour is thirty shillings less in every five pounds. Or the matter may be put in another light: The men who work the machinery, being under no restrictions, and requiring less skill, are content to work for 18s a week each; but the regular cloth dresser working by hand, will own 30s. From which it would appear, that as many hands are required, but the labour employed in the new, is less expensive than that used in the old mode of dressing."

This was published in the Leeds Mercury on 23rd November 1816.

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