Saturday, 2 April 2016

Idealism & Labour, A Visit to Haslemere 1902

The London Daily News 11 April 1902 had an article titled "Idealism and Labour, Hand-Weavers at Work – A Visit to Haslemere"

“The Haslemere district is remarkable for many things.  Tennyson lived there.  So did Professor Tyndall and Mr. Grant Allen.  Many well-known people reside there now.  It was the scene of a murder which Dickens mentioned in “Nicholas Nickleby”, and which provided the plot of Mr. Baring-Gould’s “Broomsquire”.

Inside the Weaving House, Kings Road, Haslemere
from The Craftsmen, January 1902

"Haslemere has another title to fame.  It is the scene of an interesting industrial experiment.  Yesterday (writes a representative of “The Daily News”) I travelled nearly ninety miles to see seven persons working fro wages varying from 3s. 6d. to 13s. per week.  It is easier to commend the work than to defend the wages.  These seven women are hand-weavers of beautiful linen and cotton fabrics.  They have been established in their picturesque and comfortable little workhouse as a “protest and a prophecy” – to quote the words of the wife of  the founder.  The spirit of Ruskin, Carlyle, and Tolstoy is behind the wages.  To tell the truth, the memory of that maximum of 13s. per week continues to recur, as an obstacle to my train of thought, at every fresh effort to explain and commend the experiment. 

"Before me lies an account by Mrs Joseph King (the lady previously referred to) of the Haslemere Hand-Weaving Industry.  This article is divided into parts, severally entitled “Its faith” and “Its facts and figures,” the former awakening sympathy by its denunciation of the tyranny of machinery over human souls and bodies; and we read: “The idealist claims that the power-machine should never be allowed to attempt such work as fills the heart of the hand-worker with sense of creation, and depends for its beauty upon the intimate touch of his hand; but only such work as iot can more fitly and healthily do than the hand-worker.  If it could be proved, he asks, that the machine could paint our pictures, write our poems, grow our floors, do our love-making, or rear our children, must we therefore allow it do so, and slavishly submit to our souls’ and bodies’ irreparable loss of these divine difficulties and lovely labours?  Can we delegate the purpose of God in man’s free spirit to steam or electricity?”  Then, in Part 2, we read: “The wages of our weavers range from 3s. 6d. to 13s. per week.  If a girl is quick, she can begin to learn within a week or so, and by the end of a year can make 10s. per week.  As the working week for weavers is only forty hours, this is good pay as women’s work – barring domestic service, which is far the most remunerative – goes at present.”

"This modest little Haslemere enterprise is, I am sure, inspired by the most worthy motives – yet must I plead guilty to losing my mental balance in the attempt to reconcile those two paragraphs.  “Can anybody regard 13s. a week as a living wage?” was an inquiry I addressed to the manageress.  “Well,” she replied thoughtfully.  “one of our girls has to keep herself, but certainly she increases her income by doing extra work.”  “Does the establishment pay its way?” “Yes, and there was a profit of £106 last year.  That was on the comparison of expenses and sales, but more than that amount had to be out into the business by way of additional capital.”

"The seven workers were manifestly healthy and happy.  Hand-weaving is an enjoyably occupation.  It is exhilarating to work the treadle, throw the shuttle, and see the soft surface swiftly grow.  The tiny factory has its own designers – an admirable one – and the colours are chosen with rare taste.  Before me stood a spinning wheel  with its airy tangle of flax ; but for the most part the Haslemere weavers use thread that comes from Ireland, Scotland, and a firm at Cockermouth recommended by the late William Morris.  A man, and no authority on coverlets and pinafores, yet even I could see how far superior, in texture and beauty, were the Haslemere goods to those made by machinery.  Also was it easy to perceive that if in one sense they are dearer, in another sense they are cheaper.  They cost more money, but, besides being more beautiful, they last much longer.  In linen goods, I was greatly pleased by portieres, towels, sideboard cloths, table centres, dressing table covers, sofa backs, tea-table cloths, curtains, and summer carriage rugs.  Among admirable things in cotton, were coverlets, aprons, curtains and pinafores.  Dress materials and stouter fabrics for upholstery were also to be seen in delightful tints.

"Ladies wishing to buy goods made by the hand-weavers of Haslemere can do so at the London depot and agency, Peasant Arts Society, 8 Queens’ Road, Bayswater, W." 

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