Gloving in yeovil

Emma Bragg

A child worker in Yeovil's gloving industry


Emma Bragg was born in Yeovil in 1819 and was baptised at St John's church on 5 June 1819. She was the youngest of the eleven children of carpenter Thomas Bragg (1767-1832) and Ann née Cox (1772-1862). Thomas and Ann's children, all born in Yeovil, were; John (1794-1800), Charles (1796-1858), Henry Cox (1798-1855), Thomas (1800-1802), William (1802-1808), James (1805-1828), Thomas (1808-1854), Maria (b1810), Eliza (1813-1884), William (1815-1824) and Emma. The family lived in Back Street (today's South Street).

Emma was put to work at the age of seven, learning to sew gloves and being taught by her mother. 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.

Within a couple of months of the above interview, in the spring of 1841, Emma married farm labourer James P Johnson (1814-1882), originally from Odcombe, at Yeovil. They were not to have children. They moved in with Emma's widowed mother Ann at 26 South Street. The 1851 census listed Ann as a landed proprietress and with her were James and Emma, Ann's granddaughter Emily Bragg, a servant and a visitor. James gave his occupation as a farm labourer and Emma gave hers as a glove sewer.

The 1861 census found the family still in Back Street. James was now listed as the head of the household and had changed his occupation - he was now a brewer. Emma, by now aged 41, gave her occupation as a leather glover. Living with them was her 89-year old mother Ann and four boarders. Ann died in 1862.

James and Emma were still listed in South Street in the 1871 census. James gave his occupation as a brewer and Emma gave hers as a glover. A family of four were boarding with them. The 1881 census found James and Emma, now aged 67 and 61 respectively, at 53 South Street. This may have been the same house referred to above as 26 South Street, but renumbered. James was still working as a brewer, but Emma gave no occupation.

Emma died during the 1880s. James died in 1882.




The record of Emma's baptism on 5 June 1819 in St John's parish register.