Poor Law Apprentices in Euxton Cotton Mill - by John Harrison

I have recently been reading an interesting article on this subject (Katerina Honeyman: The Poor Law, The Parish Apprentice and the Textile Industries in the North of England, 1780-1830 in Northern History, XLIV: 2, September 2007).

Children were assumed to be amenable to the discipline, monotony and unrelenting pace of work in the textile industries, and they were cheap. Often this labour was found locally. Where this was insufficient to meet the demand for labour, the search went further afield and this often meant advertising in the newspapers of the most populous towns. However this did not always bring satisfactory results as there were often problems of control and discipline, and the constant turnover was a problem for employers.
It was this that led employers to engage Parish Apprentices. They also came without interfering parents and there seemed to be an endless supply. At the same time it eased the finances of parishes by reducing the number of paupers they were housing/feeding. This was a relatively stable workforce, because although absconding was not uncommon, it difficult to move between employers.
The paupers were mainly drawn from parishes in the big cities, particularly London, but also Bristol, Birmingham and Liverpool. They were usually a supplement to, rather than in preference to local children.

It might have been thought that the pauper apprentices were mainly used in isolated water mills, but evidence shows that this was not necessarily the case. It is particularly interesting to see that we have an example of pauper apprentices in a local mill. This was the Euxton Mill producing cotton twist that was run by Harrison and Leyland (no relation!). They are thought to have had 40 pauper apprentices, but it is not known from where they came.

The experience of paupers in their factories varied widely with some atrocious living and working conditions. The paupers in Harrison and Leylands Mill seem to have had a mixed experience, working 13-14 hours per day; education, diet, clothing, accommodation, health, medical treatment and welfare assessed as adequate. Presumably Harrison and Leyland needed to employ Parish Apprentices because there was competition for local labour with other employers in the Chorley and Leyland area.

John Harrison of Euxton, Cotton Spinner, was named as the son of John Harrison, gentleman of Chorley, formerly a cotton twist manufacturer, who died in 1819, and had been a friend of Thomas Chadwick of Chorley Moor (and member of the Burgh/Birkacre family). The Harrisons and Leylands, like the Chadwicks were Catholic families.

John Harrison
May 2009