Gloving in yeovil

Child Labour in Gloving

in Yeovil's leather and gloving industries


The following is a fascinating extract from a report by the Children's Employment Commission and refers specifically to the employment conditions of Yeovil children within the leather and gloving industries in the town and surrounding villages. The evidence was collected by Dr Stewart in 1841 and the report was published in 1842.


Emma Bragg, aged 22
Is a native of Yeovil; she began at seven years old to learn from her mother to sew gloves, and learned this in six months (which is the ordinary term of apprenticeship to this handicraft); during this time she generally began to work at 9 in the morning, and left off at 1 for an hour, and then went on till 5 in the evening; afterwards, when “out of her time,” used to begin about 7 in the morning, taking half an hour for breakfast, one hour for dinner, half an hour for tea, and then working on till 9 at night; this is the usual time during every day of the week, except Saturday, when they leave work at 2 o'clock, and have the rest of the day to themselves. During the year the established holidays are at Christmas, when they have a week; at Easter a day, at Whitsuntide two days and two days at the two fairs, which are held in June and November. She worked for her own mother, and on that account was rather differently circumstanced from other apprentices; says that the usual rule is to give the labour of the first six months for the “teaching” of the “mistress,” and then to work during six months at 6d a-week, then for another six months at 1s a-week, and afterwards to be paid by the “pair of gloves,” at the rate of 1d each. It is common for a “quick working woman” to finish four pair a-day, but to do two pair is considered a good deal for a child or young girl. The little learners are paid by their mistresses, and generally continue for some years to work for them; but the women are paid by the employer, or, as he is called the “glove master.” If they don't work, their mistress “will up with her hand and just touch them;” but she never knew of any inhumanity or improper severity. The children generally go home to their parents for their meals. She considers that this “trade” is a great advantage to those who understand it, as a servant or such-like have not got anything to put their hand to when they be out of work;” she thinks, on the other hand, that gloving is very badly paid.
Yeovil, February 16, 1841.

Anne Cotterell, aged 21
Is “one of the town,” that is, a native of Yeovil, and began gloving at seven years old, and was apprenticed to her aunt for six months, and “worked for her learning,” then worked for 6d a-week during six months, then got a 1s a-week; after that she worked for several years, getting paid according to the number of pairs she could finish. She was then in service “off and on about a five years,” and can therefore compare the two conditions; she prefers for her own part, sitting still at gloving to more active work; but there are others that “agree better with service and stirring about.” About three years ago she learned “tambouring,” that is, embroidering the backs of the gloves; this she learned in a month, which is the common time it takes to understand this part of the glove-making. The varieties are “sewing the sides,” “tambouring the backs,” “scaming the backs,” “welting the bottoms,” and “putting in the springs,” which are all generally done by different hands. When learning to tambour she gave 4s and three months' work to be taught; it is common to give 5s and three months' work. “Tambouring” is rather more profitable than simple sewing; they get 10d a dozen for doing it, but have to pay “about 4d out of this for the silk to do it with:” This silk they are always obliged to take from the glove-master, and this is a great disadvantage, as they are charged at the rate of 5d for what they “could buy up in town for 4d”.
Yeovil, February 16, 1841.

Martha Oastler, aged 10
“Began to 'glovey' about three years ago;" she learned in six months, then worked for 6d a-week, then for 1s and “now working for what I can earn.” She usually begins at about 7 o'clock, and goes on till 9, with time out for breakfast, dinner, and tea, altogether about two hours. She gets a “pat” sometimes for not working; lives near, and has plenty of time for sleep; gives her “earning” to her mother. She cannot quite finish two pair of gloves a-day; she can read easy words; goes to church Sunday-school, but to no other.
Yeovil, February 16, 1841.

Ann Bragg, aged 60
Began to work at 11 years old. “At that time there were not so many employed in gloving as now. She was only a “sewer” but used to keep the usual hours. She married at 18, and had 13 children, but never suffered in her health from the occupation.
Yeovil, February 16, 1841

Sarah Harris, aged 22
A young married woman; began at 10 years old “to working at the engine” or “machine,” in which the sewing in the seams on the backs of the gloves is done; she has always worked at this; “it is a trifle better paid than simple sewing; she is paid 6d a dozen for “seaming the backs,” and is obliged to give 5d for “two drachms of silk” to her master, “ which she could get for 4d in any shop.” She has worked steadily at gloving, and considers she is a fair instance of the effects of the occupation. Says she has never suffered from sitting at her work. She can read very well, but cannot write. Was taught at the church Sunday-school. She “considers it an advantage to be able to earn about 5s a-week... which a clever workwoman can do” but there are many who remain at 3s and 4s. Says that the married women continue to work at glovng and that there are many whole families of women and girls who work at it “all about the neighbourhood.”
Yeovil, February 16, 1841

Emma Oastler, aged 38
Is the mother of Martha Oastler, and has another daughter, who are glovers. She does not think that gloving is injurious to children. States that it is not common to punish the children severely, or ill treat them; she has not worked at gloving herself.
Yeovil, February 16, 1841

Emily Bragg
Is nine years old. Began at seven years old to work for six months for nothing” was then six months at 6d a-week, and has kept at this price.
Yeovil, February 16, 1841

Eliza Young, aged 18
Has worked “since betwixt seven and eight year old.” She “worked the usual time and at the usual rate.” Has always “sewn,” and not “tamboured;" but she can “welt" that is, “finish the bottom of the gloves.” Some women sew with the help of a “machine,” which holds the glove “like a vice;” but “there is more trouble with it.” She never used the “patent,” as it is called, herself. Says that some gloves are “stitched,” instead of being sewn; and that this is more expensive, as they are paid 5s a dozen for this work. “They are men's gloves,” and they “are stitched generally in the country round Yeovil.”
Yeovil, February 16, 1841.

Sarah Abbas, aged 11
Has “worked pretty near two years;” and “learned in six months of Mary Grimes.” She still works for her at 6d a-week; but expects to rise, at Easter, “to 9d a-week.” She works by the week, and is not “put to a task.” Can read in the Testament, and goes to the Sunday-school.
Yeovil, February 16, 1841.

Elizabeth Andrew
Is 10 years of age. She “lives with her sister-in-law,” having lost her mother. Says she learned first about-of-eight years of age,” and “went for six months for nothing.” She “comes now" about-of-nine o'clock in the morning; goes home to dinner and tea and works till 10pm, when she is generally very tired and goes to bed. She gives her money to her brother, and if she does not earn her money her “brother's wife used to beat her.” She gets 1s a-week. Goes to a Sunday-school, but is only now learning to read,
Yeovil, February 16, 1841

Sarah Bullock, aged 24
Began, about seven years ago, to sew gloves. She used to work as a servant, and “in various ways;” and does not find gloving injures her. She learned to make gloves without going through any regular apprenticeship, and has always worked for herself.
Yeovil, February 16, 1841.

Jane Beale, aged 13
“Comes from Ilchester.” She “began to 'glovey', about four year ago, with Lucy Lloyd.” Used to get “a penny a pair," but at first got nothing; then 6d a-week as is “usual with glovers.” There were a great many little girls gloving at Ilchester, but they were never collected “a great many together.” “There were four to work with Lucy Lloyd.” They used to go at 6 or 7 in the morning in summer, and “sometimes work till 11 or even 12 at night;" but only “when there was a great deal to do." The usual hours were till 9 or 10pm. Says that when she did not do her work well her money was stopped, or sometimes she was obliged to “pick it out and do it over again.” She can read, and can write upon a slate, but “not with a pen.”
Yeovil, February 17, 1841

Elizabeth Mills, aged 10
“Is one of Yeovil:” has worked at “seaming ” in the engine; but at first learned “sewing” in the usual way. “Used to begin before breakfast” and “work till dark in summer,” and by candlelight in winter. She can read and write.
Yeovil, February 17, 1841

Lucy Watts, aged 15
Learned of her mother, at 6 or 7, to sew gloves. When she “could do the work,” used to sew from 6 or 7 in the morning till 8 or 9 in the evening, “with meals out.” She gives the usual account of the work and of the terms of payment. She can read but cannot write. Has been two years in service, and prefers it, “as she has her health better.”
Yeovil, February 17, 1841

Sarah Higgins, aged 13
Lived at Stofford, two miles from Yeovil, and “began to 'glovey' at five year old,” and “learned for a year, for nothing,” of a mistress. She then had 4d a-week, and then 6d. Then she had “a penny a pair.” She “could do two pair a-day,” and “do about the house besides.” “It never hurt her health.”
Yeovil, February 17, 1841

Elizabeth Watts, aged 11 years
Has “gloved" for two years, and gives the same account of the occupation as her sister Lucy Watts. She can read “the Testament.”
Yeovil, February 17, 1841.

Caroline Grant, aged 12
Learned, “of her mother,” when quite young. She can “sew up the sides,” but “cannot work with the engine.” She can read the Testament.
Yeovil, February 17, 1841


Thomas Andrews, aged 13
“Has worked with his father, who is a 'leather-parer' since about nine years old.” He was employed from 4 in the morning till 6 in the evening, with time for breakfast, dinner, and tea. He has “known other boys of nine get 2s 6d a-week for the same work.” He cannot read or write, “but is now learning.”
Yeovil, February 17, 1841.


Joseph Phelps
A native of Yeovil; “ has been fully acquainted with the glove-making business from a child of 14.” Was an apprentice to the late Mr Penny, and worked as a “cutter,” and at “laying out,” that is, finishing the gloves after they are sewn. He had, afterwards, the “management of a glove-business” in Shrewsbury, and after that “carried on business for himself at Worcester.” Says that, in the preparation of the skins (which, at Yeovil, are never native skins) the first process is the “leather-dressing,” a “kind of tanning.” This is always done by men who are acquainted with it, who are employed by “the master,” and are not allowed to take apprentices in the factory. The next process is “leather-paring,” which is done, some in the factory, and some out; “and at their own houses by men who are assisted by their children, but “do not take regular apprentices.” “These also wash and egg, the leather." The next department is, “the dyeing or staining of the leather,” and this is also done by skillful labourers, who are employed by the glove manufacturers, and seldom take apprentices ‘‘but teach their own children and connexions”. “Next the gloves are stretched and cut” (or rather the skins of which the gloves are to be made), and in this part of the business there are many apprentices employed; “some manufacturers employ as many as 20”.

The gloves are then given out by the dozen to the sewers, who are generally out of the factories, and “live about at their own houses.” This is almost exclusively done by the women and girls, “there may be a few boys.” Then, after the gloves are returned sewn, “there is the laying out and finishing of them” this is often done by the “cutters,” and is taught to the same apprentices, although there are others who only act as “layers out.” He states that, in Worcester, the workmen have rather more power as to taking apprentices, but that, in most particulars, “the customs of the trade are the same as at Yeovil.” He thinks that “at least five or six thousand women and children are employed at this work of sewing, in the immediate neighbourhood of Yeovil.” The gloves are “sent in from all round the town,” from the “sewers," who are nearly all out of the factories. States that it is customary to put the little girls, as early as six or seven, to learn sewing, but “the apprentices to the glove cutting and lo out” do not generally begin to learn this “much before fourteen.”

The hours of work are usually from 6 to dark, or to 6 or 7, with two hours out for meals; they frequently go on till 9 at night, and “formerly used to continue till 10.” The place of work for the women and girls is “always their own cottage or apartment.” “They are liable to no accidents.” Their holidays are at Christmas and “fair-time,” with a few half-holidays. As to wages, the apprentices in the factories are paid about 1s 6d a-week at first, and rise 6d a-year; when they understand their work they are allowed, after doing their task for the master, to “work on their own account if they choose.” The “sewers” all work, and are paid “by the dozen.”

He says that there is no particular infliction of punishment beyond the ordinary correction of children and perverse persons. Does not consider that the physical condition of the apprentices is bad, but thinks that the little sewers are “rather hurt by the continual sitting; he says, however, that there is no common deformity, or peculiar state of suffering induced by following this occupation. Says that the children generally attend some church or meeting, and a Sunday-school; but that “the continual application to the sewing of gloves certainly interferes with daily education." He considers that “glowing,” as compared with agriculture, is a much superior occupation “as to profit.” It is usual to get from 15s to 20s, and “unusual for a man not to earn 8s. or 9s a-week.” The pay of the women is much under this, being commonly 4s or 5s up to 6s or 7s a-week. The young children get 6d “but it all helps in a family.” “The usual rate of agricultural labour is 7s a-week."
Yeovil, March 22, 1841.

Mr. John Tomkins, who was “engaged as an operative, and afterwards as a manufacturer of gloves, for 25 years
States that the glove-making of Yeovil is carried on altogether by the male operatives who, “men as well as boys, work in the factories, or in shops;” and the “sewing” exclusively by the women and girls, who are nearly all at their own houses or cottages in the town and neighbourhood; some of the children being, however, with teachers, and not with their own parents. He says that the whole number of gloves, made in the town and immediate neighbourhood is about 5,000 dozen per week; and that, although some persons devote themselves entirely to this occupation, and make a great many pairs in the course of a week, yet, in the majority of cases, the gloves are sewn at leisure hours, and at odd times, by the wives and children of the labouring men and small trades; so that the average may be reckoned to be half a dozen pairs per week for the whole number of sewers of all ages. This would give 10,000 women and children who are so occupied, besides “others living at greater distances, and scattered over a considerable span.” This, however, includes men and boys, and all connected in any way with glove making, and takes in much greater distances.

“They have been stated in Mr Hull's work upon the glove-trade, at 20,000... but it is difficult to estimate precisely the number of female operatives.” “It is certain they are not so well off as formerly;” which he thinks owing to the introduction of French gloves, and the fashion of wearing thread and silk gloves; but he says that even where the gain of individuals is very small in a family, yet, by their all working together, and assisting with their contributions, they “make out a living.” And what seems to show that they do so is the fact, that domestic servants are “difficult to be got” about Yeovil; and have been still more so, in the flourishing times of the trade; the young women preferring their own occupation of gloving as more independent and sure than “service" although the latter situations “may be considered by other persons more desirable.”

The preparation of the skin, previous to its being sewn, is the result of several processes, and is performed by men, who work in various departments of this occupation. The skins are all imported, from the Mediterranean chiefly; and Italy, Dalmatia, Albania and Asia Minor, as well as other points of these regions, all send kid and lamb-skins of a smaller size and more delicate texture than the British lamb-skins.

The first process is leather-dressing, a kind of tanning with alum and salt, and also lime. This is the occupation of adults generally, or of youths of 16 or 18 at the youngest. They generally work in comfortable shops, and are not exposed to the weather. They commonly enjoy remarkably good health, and “are proverbially free from consumption, and other pulmonary affections.” “In order to get the wool off the skin,” it is submitted to a putrefaction process, and is “half decomposed,” the effluvium being very disagreeable ; but “whether it be owing to the ammonia evolved, or the lime which is used in this part of the work, or to “what other cause he cannot decide,” but he asserts, that the “health of these operatives is notorious.” They are exposed to no accidents; and earn generally 15s or 18s a-week. There are about 100 employed as “dressers” in Yeovil.

Then comes, “leather-paring,” or preparing the leather, as it comes from the “dresser” or tanner, for the glove. This is a different department, and “may employ about 100 or 150 persons.” There is a “sort of combination among themselves, not to employ too many boys;" as at one time the number of operatives in this department was in excess, and the wages were falling. The “leather-parers" generally work in the factories, or in comfortable shops; and some at their own cottages out of town; “but of these there are not many.” This employment is generally healthy, but perhaps not so much so as “leather-dressing, as “the chalk which they use is apt to be inhaled,” and is thought hurtful. But “this use of chalk is not so frequent as it used to be.” The leather-parers' work is all “piece-work,” and the hours of labour quite at the discretion of the men." “They may oblige the children to work too long, and as they often remain idle for a day or two in the week,” they are induced to make up for the loss of time by working “extra hours” on the other days; in which case “the boys are over-worked, after being idle on the other days. Their full employment yields them 15s to 20s a-week."

The next division of this kind of labour is the dyeing the skins, which, at Yeovil, means “brushing the colouring matter on to the surface of the skins... so as to keep the inside white.” “Staining, meaning the “dipping of the skins into a coloured fluid.” In this dyeing department there are from 30 to 40, chiefly adults, employed; and “all male operatives.” They are “exposed to some variations of temperature;” but they work in comfortable shops, and do not apparently suffer, but are generally very healthy. They earn from 15s to 20s a-week. This art and the leather-dressing is commonly taught to persons who are grown up, and very few go as children to learn it.

After this comes the “glove cutting and finishing,” which is often done by the same hands and “yet the two occupations are joined". There “may be 500 men and apprentices so employed.” The boys work with the “operatives,” “but are the apprentices and servants of the masters of the glove factories.” They are about “half this number of 500 workmen.” They usually begin as “errand-boys,” at about eight or nine years, “getting 1s a-week,” and then are gradually “taken into the board” to learn the art of glove cutting and finishing. This is generally accomplished at the age of 16 or 17, “when they can take work under their own care.” They then have usually a task set them, which is to do the value of 10s in work, for which their master pays them 5s and for all they can do beyond this, they are paid for as a journeyman “this being extra work, of which they are allowed the advantage.” The occupation of these boys is exhausting and fatiguing without being laborious; as “they are not allowed to sit at their work,” and “are kept, or remain of their own will, in close rooms, from daylight in winter, till 10 at night, and in summer from six till eight,” and “this commonly.” They are “certainly not so healthy as the workmen in other departments of glove-making.” Latterly some of the factories have been closed at 9pm. But “these apprentices have certainly not sufficient time for education and recreation.” They have three meals out of their place of work, and are allowed “two or three hours” to take them ; but, upon the whole, they are too much confined, and “are very liable to consumption,” which “is not the case with the other workmen.” Their wages run from 18s to 21s a-week for the experienced hands; the boys begin with 1s a-week, and get up to 3s 6d a-week, “before 5 they are able to work according to plan before stated.” These are all the occupations of the males, “except the foremen and principal men.”

The “sewing" is all done by women and girls, who live in a circuit of 10 or 15 miles round Yeovil; and, in some directions, much further. The girls are employed very young, “many beginning at six or seven years old, and continuing to work all their life;” or, “as long as their eye-sight will permit, sometimes till 70 and 80 years old. There is no objection to the occupation, but the sedentary nature of it, which gives swelled legs, and a disposition to pulmonary complaints.” He states that the village of Montacute is known as the chief place where the gloves are “stitched,” instead of being sewn. “This is rather better paid,” yielding to the workwomen 5s or 6s a dozen. This kind of work is called in the trade “pique,” it is a comparatively recent introduction, being “only used for men's kid gloves.”

The girls who work at gloving are usually obliged to work, from 6 o'clock, or from daylight in winter till 10pm, “with meals out.” The young children working either with their parents or with teachers, and are generally kept very closely to their work, and are liable to the chance of harsh treatment by their parent or instructress. The position of the “gloveresses” is “rather that of domestic life than of factory labour.” They have of late been a good deal distressed, from the depression of trade, the reduction in their earnings being about 20 or 25 per cent., and “being felt chiefly by the sewers, and not by the male operatives.”

He states that education is “at a low ebb" among the glovers, and “particularly in the town of Yeovil itself:" that the parents of the children are generally uneducated themselves, and very careless of the moral condition of their families. Says, however, that there are several individual exceptions to this state of things; states that there is “only one charity school,” and “one infant school,” in Yeovil, with 7,000 or 8,000 inhabitants. There is one church and six dissenting meetings and chapels, all pretty well attended; the church, the Baptists, Independents, and Unitarians have Sunday-schools.
Yeovil, March 23, 1841




This photograph features in my book "A-Z of Yeovil"

James Winters invention, the gloving donkey (referred to above as 'the machine'), seen in use in this photograph enabled the accurate stitching of gloves and ensured a higher quality of finished product, even by young girls.