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Monday, 29 September 2014

Calico Print Workers

My latest feature for Who Do You Think You Are? magazine (October issue) is about Lancashire calico-printing workers, and how to research your ancestors in that branch of the textile industry
Originally, calico was printed by hand. The cloth was stretched across a printing table, wound round a roller at each end so that the cloth could be wound on ready for the next length to be printed. The printer had a child helper, a ‘tierer’, who dipped a small brush in a pot of colour, then brushed the liquid colour evenly onto a sieve or drum floating on a bed of water. The printer then placed an engraved wooden block or copper plate (with a handle on the back), onto the sieve so that it picked up the dye. The block was then pressed firmly onto the fabric to create a pattern. Block-printing was a slow process; it could take all day to produce just six pieces of cloth printed with a plain pattern

The first recorded calico printer in Manchester is William Jordan, ‘callique-printer’ at Little Green in 1763; the trade in Lancashire gained a strong foothold the following year at Clayton’s factory in Bamber Bridge, near Preston.
The days of block printing were numbered when roller or cylinder-printing was patented by Thomas Bell in 1783. A rotating cylinder was dipped into a trough of colour dye; next, a long steel rule or ‘doctor’ removed excess colour from the cylinder. The cloth to be printed was pressed against the dye on the engraved cylinder by means of a roller, so that the pattern was continuously printed on it as it moved along. Children were employed in the print-work factories, too.
Now hundreds of pieces of cloth could be printed in a day.  
Hoyle’s Mayfield works at Manchester employed over 200 workers in the 1830s, including over 40 children; the children earned 2s 6d per week when learning the trade, then 3s 6d when ‘fully instructed.’
You can find out more about the lives of child printworkers in my book The Children History Forgot, and the Lancashire textile industry here.

Illustrations from author's collection:

Block printer and tierer or ‘tear girl’ (above, left). Children as young as six worked for twelve hours or more helping block printers. Charles Knight’s Pictorial Gallery of Arts Vol. I, (c.1862). 
A calico printworks at Manchester in the 1890s (above, right), and a view of Hoyle's printworks from London Rd Station (left). Both illustrations by H E Tidmarsh, Manchester Old and New Vol. II, (Cassell & Co., c. 1894).

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Austen and Bath

I've just posted the first in a series of blog posts about Jane Austen and the city of Bath on my Austen blog.

High St, Bath. Illustration by Hugh Railton. Coaching Days and Coaching Ways, (Macmillan & Co, 1910).  Author’s collection.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Fight To Save Britain's Chimney Sweeps

My latest feature for Who Do You Think You Are? magazine looks at the battle to save Britain's tiny chimney sweeps. Our ancestors’ chimneys needed sweeping regularly. When soot from a fire accumulated inside a chimney, smoke blew back unpleasantly into people’s rooms instead of going up the chimney. If too much soot built up inside the flue, the chimney could catch fire.Some chimneys were only nine inches (22.5 cm) square, so children as young as 5 years old were used to climb them and clean them. 
Although reformer Jonas Hanway campaigned about the miserable lives of child sweeps in the 1780s, it took almost a century for parliament to enact legislation tough enough to stop the use of 'climbing boys'. My feature also has tips for researching your chimney sweep ancestors.
Image from the author's collection: A child sweep carrying the brushes for his trade, illustration by Emile Bayard for Holiday Keepsake, Gall & Inglis, c.1880.