Cottoning on (iii)

Over the last couple of days I’ve been sharing some of the lost jobs and occupations of people in the past – people who spent their lives working in the cotton mills (factories) of Oldham and other parts of Lancashire. The reason there were so many mills in the area was geographical – being on the west side of the country the air was more moist and it was better to spin raw cotton fibres into thread.

Here are the last words I shared yesterday:

  1. setter on – another name for a doffer – remember the doffer?
  2. sizer – sizing is to treat thread or fabric to make it stronger – in this case with a starchy glue
  3. slasher – the machine and person who does the sizing
  4. stripper and grinder – whatever your thoughts, he was a maintenance engineer
  5. tackler – someone who sets up the machinery to begin
  6. tenter – it just means someone who looks after any machinary
  7. throstle spinner – it actually does have something to do with thrushes; a throstle was a machine named after a throstle because of the noise it made (thrushes do have the sweetest song, so maybe this was a nice job!). A throstle in the cotton mill was a type of spinning machine
  8. twister – someone joins the ends of the new thread together with what was already on the loom to make longer threads – interestingly, it was often done by disabled people because it was done sitting down
  9. warper – do you remember what a beamer was? Well a warper is the same as a beamer
  10. OK… just to rmind you, a doffer loads and unloads bobbins, a beamer is the gigantic bobbin

and the link again:

The mill in my featured image is not a cotton mill but a saw mill

Cottoning on (ii)

Yesterday I mentioned the unusual names of jobs in the nineteenth century cotton spinning industry, and set a little quiz about what the jobs actually were… here are the answers…

  1. beamer/beam twister/beam warper – hundred of cones of cotton thread need to be loaded onto the beam, ready for weaving -the beam is a giant bobbin.
  2. crofter – I was nearly right with the idea of a croft, but it’s not for cows, it’s to spread the cloth after bleaching or dying
  3. doffer – someone who loads and unloads bobbins (puts empty bobbins into the machine to receive the thread)
  4. fly -maker – an engineer who makes the fly which is part of the spinning machine mechanism
  5. masher-up – someone who works in the bleach room
  6. mule-spinner – someone who operates a spinning ‘mule’, the equipment on which the cotton is spun into thread
  7. scutcher – someone who separates  the cotton fibres from the seeds of the raw cotton

Did you get them all right? Here are some more, with my facetious suggestions:

  1. setter on                      – obviously someone who sets something on (maybe to do with the tea making, see masher above!)
  2. sizer                               – the person who checks what size something is
  3. slasher                           – security
  4. stripper and grinder    – I’m not even going to hazard a guess
  5. tackler                           – someone who’s given all the difficult jibs to do
  6. tenter                            – in a cotton mill they might have a side-line in making tents
  7. throstle spinner            – a throstle is a thrush… so someone who looks after the throstles?
  8. twister                           – a Lancashire tornado
  9. warper                            – someone with one leg shorter than the other

… and here is a link:

Cottoning on (i)

One of the intriguing things about genealogical research and looking at old documents and censuses, is the number of jobs and trades which not only no longer exist, but are completely unknown in the modern world. I was looking up someone who lived in Oldham, and I was immediately interested because I lived there for many years. Oldham was one of the great cotton mill towns in the nineteenth century, they’ve all closed down now and most have been pulled down too.

The person I looked up, didn’t work in the mills, he was on the stage, he was an actor – but the description intrigued me, a self-actor minder… Of course when I tried to find out more it turned out that in fact he did work in the mill, he  ‘minded’ or supervised a ‘self-actor’, a self-acting or automatic part of the machinery.

I looked up other names – and some of them sounded quite comical (although the life and times of a mill-worker were hard and tough). So what do you think these jobs were?

  1. beamer            – someone who smiles a lot? Someone who is involved in building the mill, dealing with timber – i.e. beams?
  2. beam twister  – someone who twists beams – for a spiral staircase?
  3. beam warper  – ditto above!
  4. crofter              – crofts are small parcels of land farmed by a crofter, so why might they need a croft at the mill? For a few cows to provide the workers with milk for their tea?
  5. doffer                – someone who checks the workers doff their caps when the management comes round?
  6. fly maker           – someone who makes fishing flies for the workers to catch fish in the many streams and rivulets in the area
  7. masher-up         – in the north of England the term for making the tea is ‘mashing’ – is this the tea lady or man?
  8. mule spinner      – obviously this can’t be someone who spins mules – but maybe he or she takes the mules used to transport things out for a walk.
  9. scutcher              – it must be someone who scutches!

To find the answers, check here:

… and I will also give you the answers tomorrow!

My featured image is from Oldham