Elizabeth Fortescue provides her numbers for the Factory Inspector’s Report, 1834
by Di Slaney
Yes sir, I went into a factory when I was six years old,
Mr Robinson’s of Papplewick, a mill for spinning cotton.
I was small for my age sir, and my father had been told
that I could fit between the frames without being hurt
to collect up the loose fluff. The hours were six to seven
with an hour for dinner, and I was there eleven
years. I picked the fluff, then became a little piecer
to mend the threads. I worked for Mary Ellis when her niece
grew up too big, then I met my John while he was scutching.
Though we had nothing much between us we married
at nineteen. John came up from London and the workhouse,
he started little here like me with all the new machines.
Altogether I was twenty years at Robinson’s in their mills
for spinning cotton, sir. I began with carding and roving
then came to spinning and doubling. I liked the carding
best even though fluff covered me day through night.
Spinning barefoot in the oil was worse than piecing,
I feared that I would slip and fall upon the spindles or
do some harm to the machines. After all that trouble
with the frameworkers, I was then at Farnifields of Edingley
for thirteen months and next we came here, sir. I am a reeler
at this Nottingham mill now. I wind the thread onto the bobbins,
mind the warp goes to the beamer and the weft goes to the weaving
shed. I begin work at six and finish at nine. I am forty-nine.
My health was very good until long after I was married
but within these last ten years it has failed me. I am subject
to sick headaches and generally weaker, although I still
keep up these hours and laugh with the young quillers
in the winding room. I’ve borne seven children in my time, sir,
just five living, but think I don’t look much amiss for forty-nine,
many people have said that. Will your book list me by name, sir?
I learned my letters as a little piecer. Let me get this fluff off your top hat.