Saturday, 13 December 2014

A "Work for Women" Workshop in Bethnal Green

From The Times, 12 December 1914.


In the poor districts of London the Central Committee on Women's Employment in connexion with the Queen's Fund have started model workrooms, which are relieving local distress where it is most bitter.  These workrooms do not in any way interfere with existing employment, as the work done is in all cases given away to necessitous women and children.

[At the] Bethnal-green workrooms ... in Viaduct-street, where the work of making cradles for the maternity outfits for poor mothers is in progress, a representative of The Times was given some idea of the dire poverty with which the fund is coping, and also of the great courage of the poor women who come to the labour exchanges and the distress committees, not with the plea that they are hungry and want relief, but with an urgent demand for work.

Seeing them in their little groups at tables in the long room that holds about 75, working away in the main silently, one realizes what the sudden stoppage of work means to many of them....  The trades of these women had been trouser-making, boot sewing, paper folding, feather curling, or French polishing.

From one table in that room one may select a few typical cases.  There was Mrs. P--, a clean-looking old woman of 64, painfully thin.  She was the doyenne of the room and the best worker in it, though the work was new to her.  A trouser-maker by trade, she had lost her work on the Saturday before Bank Holiday—that was the black date in the calendar of most in that room—and for eight weeks, until the Queen's workrooms opened, she had been out of work.  At the best of times she had not been well off.  She used to make 5s. 6d. or 6s. a week finishing trousers at 2¾d. a pair, a farthing of which was stopped for sewing on the buttons by machinery.  Her husband was a cabinetmaker, but he was too old for work, so he was told, and her earnings kept the meagre home together.  When they ceased she had been pawning and selling until the home was almost gone.

Next to her was Mrs. D--, a young-old woman looking wretchedly ill, speaking with difficulty because of an abscess in her mouth, but clean and tidy and strangely patient.  She had been a house-worker, and her husband was in the infirmary with a wasting disease.  But she was intensely proud of him, and was most desirous to have it known how anxious he was to go to the front.  He had been a sergeant in the Surrey Regiment, and after serving his time had become a tea-packer.  “His poor legs are getting fatter,” she said, “and he says he'll soon be able to be up and fight for the old flag again. He's that restless to be up.”

On the other side of her, a strange contrast, was a very pretty girl of 17, the eldest of a family of eight, whose father, a comparatively young man of 39, was a permanent invalid in the infirmary.  She had been a French polisher, but explained that, though cabinet-making was not quite stopped, French polishing was, because the furniture was only polished when it was going to be sold, but not if it had to be stored.  She had been out of work since August Bank Holiday.  A young sister had got some work making “patriotic buttons,” but that was now at an end.  There was a young married woman near her, who got married on the Bank Holiday, the great wedding day of the East-end, and she and her husband had both found themselves out of work ever since.  The room was full of such stories.

At 138, Piccadilly, there is a workroom ...[where] the workers are those who have lost their work owing to the closing of West-end workrooms, and most of them belong to the special class of skilled tailoresses and dressmakers who are suffering from the vaunted economy in buying new clothes of their richer sisters.  In all the workrooms arrangements for cheap meals have been made.

.... Many thousands of homes throughout the country are depending on women's energy, and would long since have been broken up but for the work of the fund; hundreds of workshops have been kept open which would otherwise have been closed; and thousands of women have been given employment which has not displaced other women.  In addition, where work cannot be carried on along strictly commercial lines the products of the women's labour— clothes and so on—are distributed to women even poorer than themselves.

.... The amount reached by the [Queen's "Work for Women"] Fund last night was £96,588.

[The Bank Holiday referred to was August 3rd 1914, the day before the start of the War.  Throughout the country, many workers found themselves without a job to go back to after the holiday.]

No comments:

Post a Comment