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

Beamers and twisters

Every job, craft and industry has its own language – sometimes the terms are easy to understand, sometimes they sound like something completely different from what they are, and sometimes there is absolutely no clue as to what they could possibly be.

I was writing about a family history recently and the family I was investigating had lived in Oldham, where I used to live, and had been in the cotton industry – working in one of the many mills. When I looked their occupations I had no idea what they might be, but eventually came across an interesting page which explained all.

Bobbin carrier and bobbin maker, yes easy! So do beamers, beam twisters and beam warpers make twist and warp beams? Well, obviously not, in fact a beam is a huge bobbin, the beamer takes cones of thread by the hundred and organises them to make the warp ready for weaving, so that should explain that… well sort of.

Mule spinner, scutcher, self-actor minder, slasher, stripper and grinder, throstle spinner, and twist winder… just some of the terms to conjure with!

As you might imagine there were different areas of the mill (factory) where different operations took place, including the winding room, weaving shed, card room, workshop and warehouse. Included in the list of occupations were the half-timers…

A child who spent half the day at school and the other half earning money in a mill. Typically they would start work at 6 am, work in the mill until 1 pm, then go to school until 4 pm. It was quite common for them to fall asleep during lessons.

What’s shocking about that is that in those mills there were a sort of regulation for children working there – in the sweatshops and mills of far away countries where even tiny children labour, there is no regulation at all. We might not be directly responsible for employing them, but every time we buy a cheap item of clothing from one of those places, that is exactly what we are doing.

Fuggan and apple dickie

I was wandering through my recipe books as I often do, and came across something called fuggan… I’d never heard of it before, but it’s Cornish, and is a simple but no doubt delicious  pastry with currants or other dried fruit. When I looked it up to find out more about it I came across an Arthur Fuggan, living in Oldham which I know well as I lived there for many years.

Arthur was born in 1864, and in the 1891 census he was living with his sister Matilda, her husband, his mother, and a niece. Oldham was one of the most famous and important cotton-spinning towns in the nineteenth century and so it was so surprise to see that Matilda was a cotton speed tenter.  Her husband was a pianist and when I saw that Arthur was a self actor minder I thought that he must be something to do with being on the stage… However, the word ‘minder’ made me wonder as I know that was a job in the cotton industry. I was right; a self actor minder is someone who ‘minded’ a ‘self actor’, or “operates a self-acting spinning mule, patented by Richard Roberts, which could be operated by semi-skilled personnel.” A tenter is merely someone who tents or tends a spinning machine in a factory. Arthur doesn’t appear again in the census, not by that name anyway, but there seem to be families of Fuggans living in other countries, particularly the USA

Back to the fuggan…  when I looked further into the edible fuggans, it seems there is also a meat fuggan, which is just meat and pastry; as far as I can gather the pastry is made into a longish fat lump, split down the middle, the seasoned, finely chopped meat is put in and the pastry moulded round it . Somewhere else I found that it was usually pork and sometimes had potatoes as well. It is baked in the oven and I guess might taste quite nice and  a way I  would think of making a small amount of meat go between a family. Apparently, the top of it was patterned with cross-hatched marks, representing the fishing nets of the men who were out at sea, no doubt looking forward to their tasty fuggan when they got home!

And so apple dickie… Similar, it seems to a fuggan, a Cornish pastry with chopped apple mixed into it and baked!