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:

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.