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Wigan's Cotton Industry

The early textile industry was a domestic industry.The spinning wheel, the jenny, and the horizontal frame loom where all small enough to be kept in a cottage. However, the design of these cottages had to be altered to include a half basement to include the loom.
Pictured here are weavers cottages that stood on the site of what is now Swinley Labour Club.

As textile machinery that needed other sources of power than human effort were invented, it was inevitable that they would have to be housed in factories. Pictured here are the Dicconson Mills at Aspull.
Factory conditions were harsh......A Cotton manufacturer in 1836 stated:- "Here then is the curseof our factory system; as improvements in machinery have gone on, the avarice of masters has prompted many to exact more labour form their hands than they were fitted by nature to perform, and those who have wished for the hours of labour to be less for all ages than the legislature would even yet sanction, have had no alternative but to conform more or less to the prevailing practice, or abandon the trade altogether. This has been the case with regard to myself and my partners. We have never worked more than seventy one hours a week before Sir John Hobhouses Act was passed. We then came down to sixty nine: and since Lord Althorp's act was passed in 1833 we have reduced the time of adults to sixty seven and a half hours a week and that of children under thirteen years of age to forty eight hours in the week, though to do this latter has, I must admit, subjected us to much inconvenience.

"But the elder hands have been subjected to more, inasmuch as the relief given to the child is, in some measure imposed upon the adult. But the overworking does not apply to children only; the adults are also overworked. The increased speed of the machinery over the last thirty years has, in very many instances, doubled the labour of both."

In 1830 there were 21 mills in the Wigan area employing 4,831 people. It was quite common for children as young as seven or eight to be employed in the mills.

Work in the cotton mills was particularly injurious to the health of the children working there, as they were cooped up in a heated atmosphere, generally in restricted places, and very often suffered physical deformities as a result of this work

In 1833 P. Gaskell wrote rather disparagingly, "Any man who has stood a twelve o'clock at the single narrow doorway, which serves as the place of exit for the hands employed in the great cotton mills, must acknowledge, that an uglier set of men, women or children, taking them in the mass, it would be impossible to congregate in a smaller space.Their complexion is sallow and pallid with a peculiar flatness of feature, caused by the want of a proper quantity of adipose substance to cushion out the cheeks. Their stature is low...the average height of four hundred men, measured at different times and places, being five feet six inches. Their limbs are slender, playing badly and ungracefully, with a general bowing of the legs.

Great numbers of girls and women walk awkwardly, with raised chests and spinal flexures. Nearly all have flat feet, accompanied by a down tread, far removed from the elasticity of action in a normally formed foot and ankle.Hair is thin and straight and many of the men have little beard and that in patches of a few hairs They have a spiritless and dejected air and a sprawling and wide action of the legs."

Employment in the Lancashire cotton industry reached a peak in 1912, and then began to decline. Althought there was a significant increase in output per employee after the Second World War. this was not enough to prevent the virtual disappearance of the industry from Lancashire.

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