"High" and "Clere" Thoughts From the other Side of a "Downton Abbey" Society

My name is Edith and I work in a local British woolen mill even though I am only 10 years-old. I tried to follow my Mother in service work but I was very young and sent to the woolen mills right after she died. Most mill owners see nothing wrong with children working and it is a very common practice to employ the very young. Children are cheap labour and they like to use orphans as they can be replaced quickly if an accident occurs. I start at 5 am and am not allowed to talk, sit or look out at the sunshine. At 9 pm I go back to the big house and reside in damp filthy conditions as my mother's friends feel sorry for me and feed me scraps of food. They say in a few years I might be able to be a scullery maid and leave the job I have now which is like being in hell to put it mildly. I pray to God a new job comes quickly.


The noise from the belts coming from the line shaft that drives the machinery is extremely deafening. Every single day I breathe air that is full of fabric fluff that fills my lungs. I long to wash dishes or carry wood instead of working as a piecer- leaning over machines and tying broken threads together. I am so lucky I am not like my friend John who has to crawl under the machines while they are still running to do his job. His friend lost some of his fingers last week and a good friend of mine was crushed in one of the machines last year.

If I worked in the big family house I would have a day off if I was sick but in my current position I work 72 hours a week in good health or bad. I envy the rich women of the house sometimes watching them in their regal clothing while my dress is made of material scraps. They all look down on us as the workers get poorer and the rich seem to get richer. I wonder how they would like a very short midday break and then rush to find food for breakfast and tea which are 15 minute breaks.

We are paid just over a shilling a week and the rumour is that they might cut costs if there is more government interference. The bosses have threatened many times of sending me to a hostel for children and giving me just pocket money. If this happens I shall run and hide on the property of the big house until I am old enough to work. I am able however to attend church on Sunday and I visit the grave of two of my younger friends that died working at the mill. The owners of the mill believe hard work is good for children and that living in poverty is natural.  I do beg to differ.

One of my friends is a bobbin winder and she has parents that work as handloom weavers. They are talking about immigrating to Canada to work at the woolen mills in Lanark County Ontario. I have no chance of leaving England and will work long and hard until the day I can be placed at the big house.

This was child labour in the 1830's and it still goes on..

"Why do we have to pay the price of poverty. We didn't create poverty, adults did."
Sultana- a twelve-year garment factory worker from Bangladesh, Thailand.

"We want to study and learn, not beg on the streets. During the worldwide march I learnt that I, too, am a real person. Now I want to become an engineer."
Basu, 11, a Nepalese street child, Thailand

Text and Photos of some of the machines from the Rosamond Woolen Mill (Almonte, Ontario) now housed in the Textile Museum next door: Linda Seccaspina 2012

While the  British series Downton Abbey was conceived at a later date in the Victorian era there still was a 'class' situation even then.

The words 'High' and 'Clere' were used in reference to the village Highclere near Downton Abbey.


                                     The Rosamond Woolen Mill 1857-1952

 A few months before the railroad reached Almonte, Ontario James Rosamond, a director of the company, and a local entrepreneur, resolved to venture additional capital to erect a woolen mill on a site beside No. 2 Falls.  It was a stone structure, five stories in height, and was the start of the Rosamond Woolen Company. Only a few years later it gave way to the great undertaking called No.1, the head office and manufacturing center for the next ninety years of the Rosamond Woolen Company at the end of Coleman’s Island. 

During those years Almonte was known to travelers on the trains as The Woolen Town, because the Rosamond Woolen Company, the Old Red Knitting Company, the Penman Woolen Mill, Campbell’s Woolen Mill, the Yorkshire Wool Stock Mill and Wm. Thoburn’s Woolen Mills all made the flat metallic clacking of the looms as familiar a sound of Almonte as the whistle of the CPR steam locomotive. (from roots.org)

1844  UK Factory Act:

  • Minimum age for working in factories reduced to 8 years old.
  • 8 to 13 years old to work a maximum of six and a half hours on weekdays and only six hours on Saturday
  • 13 to 18 year olds to work a maximum of 12 hours a day and the same applied to women.
  • Safety guards had to be fitted to all machines.
  • Three hours education a day for children.

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Comment by Linda Seccaspina on January 28, 2012 at 7:33pm

Harry, I am waiting for Justin Trudeau..:)

Comment by harry wilkinson on January 28, 2012 at 1:33pm

yes Linda there is far too much hanky panky going onb and it is going to take a strong opposition movement in the legisalture and parliament to force bringing in regulations to exert some sort of control. This is unlikely to happen in my time because of my agee but also because business controls the political process and regulation is an anathema to them. This country benefits from minorities in power because most often they must  achieve consensus on issues.

Comment by Linda Seccaspina on January 28, 2012 at 10:57am

Sandra: I knew a little of this but after I did it I was shocked.

Harry: When my Dad became of age he started out as an apprentice for my Grandfathers electrical business and made 10 cents an hour and worked his way up.

Now some people get a huge salary and some do not. Still way too much hanky panky going on and child labour still goes on in some countries.

Comment by Sandra Ruffo on January 28, 2012 at 9:22am

I can't imagine being put in that horrible horrible situation. I and my children are so fortunate, that we didn't have that burden. I can't understand how people were abused in victorian times.

Comment by harry wilkinson on January 28, 2012 at 8:14am

Excellent article and a very good reason of why unions became a factor. It is also a very good description of the attitude of many corporations today. Labour is treated as a commodity part off production costs as opposed to being welcomed as a partner in the operation of a company. Caterpillar comes to mind here. There are some enlightened companies around but they are few and far between.

I have a copy of my father's indenture contract that he signed as a 13 year old to become an "engineer" with company in England. Just short of slavery but not by much. 

Somehow there is going to have to be a change in attitude of people on the whole to embrace the idea that economic endeavour has to take place for the benefit of all not just the few, and I do not mean by this "trickle down benefits" which do not and never will reach those at the bottom. There are too many people grabbing too large a share befor anything gets farther down.

Comment by Linda Seccaspina on January 23, 2012 at 6:29pm

and it still continues in Missouri

Comment by Matt Paust on January 23, 2012 at 5:32pm

Heartbreaking, enraging. 

Comment by Linda Seccaspina on January 23, 2012 at 4:10pm

Steve I know.. makes me sick

Comment by Linda Seccaspina on January 23, 2012 at 4:09pm

me too Creekend

Susie.. kids today had it easy.. us too

Comment by Susie Lindau on January 23, 2012 at 4:04pm

I can't even imagine. I hated babysitting at that age! 

Most everything we have is from China because of cheap labor.....


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