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Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Nails and Screws

Children were widely used as cheap labour in the making of nails and screws. Nails could be made by hand using wrought iron (as in the Wigan area, and Black Country), and all the family joined in the manufacturing process. ‘Cut’ nails were not as strong as wrought-nails, and were made by machine, worked by a child or man.

Screw heads were also made by machines worked by children. Birmingham was the major centre for screw manufacture in the 1860s. At Hawkins’ screw factory on Princip St, thirteen year old Mary Regan worked from 8am until 7pm, with an hour for dinner. Mary first went to work when she was about six years old, in a button factory.

These child workers had little time to go to school. Charles Sidwell (age 11), when shown a picture of a bird’s nest with eggs, said he didn’t ‘know what that picture is’. He was also shown a picture of a cow being milked: ‘ that’s a lion’, he said. (Children’s Employment Commission, 3rd report, 1864, XXII, 3414-I).

Making cut nails, and making screw heads. Charles Knight’s Pictorial Gallery of Arts, Vol. I, c.1862.

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