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Flax and hemp workers

Flax and hemp are plants which can, once converted into a weavable fibre, be made into fabric (linen is woven from flax). Two separate Trade Boards for the industry were created in 1920: a Flax and Hemp Trade Board for Great Britain (established on 27 January 1920) and a Flax and Hemp Trade Board for Ireland (established on 20 May 1920 and transferred to the control of the Irish government in 1922). A separate Trade Board for Northern Ireland was created in 1922. The documents that the Modern Records Centre hold relate to the British board, and most items deal with the industry in Scotland.

The series of trade board papers in the Trades Union Congress archive includes four files of documentsLink opens in a new window relating to the Flax and Hemp Trade Board. As part of the Modern Records Centre's 'Sweated trades' digitisation project, we have made a selection of these documentsLink opens in a new window available online, including the items highlighted below.

Illustration: Textile workers. Image included in H.R. Carter, 'The manufacture of linen, hemp, and jute fabrics'Link opens in a new window (John Bale, Sons & Danielsson Ltd., 1909).

 

Working conditions and pay:

General wages and working conditions:

Minimum rates of wages fixed for male and female workers, 1920Link opens in a new window

Summary of the Trade Board rates.

Proposed minimum rates submitted by representatives of employers, 1921Link opens in a new window

The employers were campaigning for a reduction in the rates of wages.

Proposed minimum rates to be submitted by representatives of workers, 1921Link opens in a new window

The document was issued as a response to the employers' proposal for wage reductions.

Order confirming minimum rates of wages for male and female workers, 1921Link opens in a new window

Summary of the Trade Board rates.

General minimum time rate and overtime rates for certain classes of male workers and apprentices, 1922Link opens in a new window

Summary of the Trade Board rates.

Proposal to vary minimum rates of wages for certain classes of male and female workers, 1924Link opens in a new window

Summary of the Trade Board rates.

Objections to rates of pay:

Objections to proposed revision of wage rates, 1921Link opens in a new window

Copy correspondence from Dunfermline Power Loom Manufacturers’ Association; Scottish Textile Workers’ Union; Arbroath Power Loom Tenters' Society; Mr J. Robertson and other yarn dressers employed by Edinburgh Roperie & Sailcloth Company, Ltd., Leith; John Flynn and other tenters employed by Edinburgh Roperie & Sailcloth Co., Leith; Dunfermline & District Power Loom Tenters; and James Mathewson & Son, Ltd., Dunfermline.

Summary of objections to proposed revision of wage rates, 1921Link opens in a new window

12 summarised objections from named workers in Ingleton, Yorkshire, and Bentham, Lancashire, and trade union branches in Leith and Dunfermline, West Fife and Kinross District.

Objections from employees of Richards Ltd., Aberdeen, 1921Link opens in a new window

Copy correspondence from "We, the workers, employed by Messrs Richards, Limited, Aberdeen". They ask the Minister of Labour "to free our Industry from the operation of the Trade Board Acts" as "we are afraid that these works may have to be closed down on an early date and we view the prospect of Unemployment with alarm", and enclose a petition sent to the Prime Minister David Lloyd George. An earlier petition and a copy of a letterLink opens in a new window from the Lord Provost of Aberdeen have also been digitised.

Petition from flax canvas hosepipe manufacturers of Great Britain to reduce piece rate, 1922Link opens in a new window

Protest from nine employers on the grounds of the "long continued depression which has been experienced in the general flax trade of the country".

Objections to proposed revision of wage rates, 1922Link opens in a new window

Copy correspondence from W & J Pattison Ltd., Brompton, near Northallerton (arguing for a cheaper wage for country workers); and Perth Tenters Union (protesting at low rate of wages).

Objection to proposed cut in minimum rate of wages, 1922Link opens in a new window

Copy letter from John C. Hendry, Brechin Hill and Factory Operatives Union.

Objection to proposed rates for female learners employed in weaving, 1922Link opens in a new window

Copy letter from Walton & Co., Ltd., Knaresborough. It includes brief information about the company's usual arrangements with their weavers for teaching learners.

Objections to proposed cut in minimum rate of wages, 1924Link opens in a new window

Copy letters from John C. Hendry, Brechin, and F. G. Hooper, Branch Secretary of the Workers' Union, Crewkerne.

Summary of objections to proposed revision of wage rates, 1925Link opens in a new window

Summarised objections from 32 employers.

The position of the Scottish linen damask trade, 1927Link opens in a new window

Copy of a letter of protest sent by John Shields & Co. Ltd., Perth, to the Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. It complains about unfair competition from Ireland and suggests that the higher wage rates in Scotland have resulted in the loss of contracts from the Admiralty.

Individual or local wages and working conditions:

Rates of pay at W. & J. Pattison of Brompton, Yorkshire, 1922Link opens in a new window

Brief outline of agreement made between the company and the National Union of General Workers. Copy correspondenceLink opens in a new window between the Office of Trade Boards and the National Union of General Workers is also available.

Query regarding wage rates to be paid by Richard Hayward & Co. Ltd. during Crewkerne Fair, 1922Link opens in a new window

Copy letter from A. Cooke, Secretary of the firm. He provides information about the company's usual practice during the days of the fair.

Scope of the Trade Board:

Summary of opinions on questions of scope, 1922Link opens in a new window

List of occupations and types of work in the flax and hemp trade, with information about whether or nor they came within the scope of the Trade Board.

Brief description of the surgical dressings trade, 1922Link opens in a new window

Copy of a letter sent by the Ministry of Labour. It ruled on a question about whether certain workers involved in the production of surgical dressings came within the scope of the Trade Board, and provides an outline of the main branches of the trade, materials used, and processes and operations involved.

Question of scope regarding processing of refuse of flax, 1926Link opens in a new window

Question as to whether the work of a firm who process "refuse of flax, mostly unscutched, damaged flax and anything they can get for a bargain" comes within the scope of the Trade Board.

 

Unemployment and state of trade:

Statement to be submitted to the Cave Committee, [1921?]Link opens in a new window

Evidence submitted by John C. Hendry, Secretary of the Scottish Council of Textile Trade Unions, Chairman of the Workers’ side of the Flax and Hemp Trade Board (Great Britain) and a member of the Jute Trade Board. He includes information about arguments around the establishment of trade boards in the jute and flax industries, pre-Board wage rates, and charges that the minimum wage was causing unemployment.

Flax and hemp trade, Arbroath: statistics relating to the discharge and replacement of juveniles, Jan-May 1924Link opens in a new window

Statistical information about the number of boys sacked on reaching the age of 16 and replaced with cheaper, younger workers. The increase in Trade Board wages for workers when they reached the age of 16 is given as the reason.

Report of deputation to the Board of Trade with regard to flax supplies, 1925Link opens in a new window

The deputation of members of the Flax and Hemp Trade Board raised the issue of "the present very serious state of the Flax and Hemp trade, which was due largely to the long-continued inadequacy of supplies of flax at reasonable prices", referred to the trade's dependence on stocks from Soviet Russia, and asked for representation on the Committee of the Board of Trade on Flax Seed and Flax Growing in the United Kingdom.

Operation of the minimum rates of wages in the damask section of the trade, 1925Link opens in a new window

Copy correspondence relating to the state of trade in Dunfermline, including a letter from J. H. Beveridge of Erskine Beveridge & Co. Ltd.

Linen manufacture: estimated number of insured workpeople and numbers and percentages recorded as unemployed at 19 December 1927Link opens in a new window

Statistical data on the number of men, women, boys and girls in the trade who were registered as unemployed in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and England and Wales.

 

Training schemes and apprenticeships:

Minimum rates applicable to male workers employed in learning canvas weaving, 1923Link opens in a new window

Copy correspondence with R. Hayward & Co. Ltd., Crewkerne, regarding the rates that they should pay learners of the trade. Proposals for a scheme for male learnersLink opens in a new window agreed at the offices of R. Hayward & Co. Ltd. are also available.

Suggestions for the establishment of a proper learnership scheme for the flax and hemp trade, 1925Link opens in a new window

Outline of training scheme proposed by John C. Hendry. A summary of responses to the schemeLink opens in a new window by other members of the Trade Board is also available.

Summaries of applications for the registration of indentured apprentices:

David Saunders, apprenticed at W. Lumsden and Son, Kirkcaldy, 1925Link opens in a new window

John McEwan, Marshall Wishart Stark and David Dryburgh, apprenticed at the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society, Falkland, Fife, 1926Link opens in a new window

Report on the first two meetings of the Learnership Sub-Committee, 1926Link opens in a new window

The report includes information about a proposed scheme for female learners.

 

Exempted workers:

Trade Boards could issue permits of exemption which allowed employers to pay less than the minimum wage. Permits were given to workers who were regarded as having a physical or psychological disability which affected their work. Applications (usually submitted without employees' names) include information about the age, gender and medical conditions of the individual workers.

Statements of the granting and revision of permits of exemption, 1921-1927Link opens in a new window

Summarised information about permits granted.

Summaries of applications for permits of exemption, 1922-1926Link opens in a new window

Summarised information about permits granted. These can be slightly more detailed than the statements mentioned above.

Statistical information about number of permits of exemption granted, 1925Link opens in a new window

Numbers of workers with permits, arranged by name of company.

Statistical information about number of permits of exemption in operation, 1926Link opens in a new window

Numbers of workers with permits, arranged by name of company. Includes separate columns for numbers in operation in December 1925 and permits issued since that date.

Record of proceedings of a meeting of the Administrative Committee on 16 June 1926Link opens in a new window

The minutes include more detailed information about the cases of several workers.

 

Inspection and enforcement:

Summary reports on administration / inspection and enforcement:

Report on administration for the year ending 3 August 1921Link opens in a new window

Report on inspection and enforcement during January-December 1924Link opens in a new window

Report on inspection and enforcement during January-December 1926Link opens in a new window

Record of proceedings of a meeting of the Administrative Committee on 16 June 1926 Link opens in a new window

The minutes include information about an investigation into Baxter Bros. of Dundee and proceedings against William Cunningham of Loch Leven Linen Company, Kinross.

 

International trade:

A large proportion of the flax used for weaving in Britain and Ireland had been imported from mainland Europe - particularly Russia and the Baltic states. Most of the documents below date from around the time of the break in Anglo-Soviet relationsLink opens in a new window in 1927, after British police raided the headquarters of the Soviet trade delegation and ARCOS (the All Russian Co-operative Society) in London.

Statements regarding flax supplies in certain countries, 1926Link opens in a new window

Statistical data from the Board of Trade Industries and Manufactures Department on the cultivation of flax in Belgium, France, Holland, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Kenya since 1909. Some information about Canada and memoranda on recent crops in various European countries are also included.

Extract from report on Russian flax crops, 1927Link opens in a new window

Extracts from reports received by the Board of Trade Industries and Manufactures Department. They contain information about Soviet government policy on the flax trade and the likely size of the harvest and quantity of exports.

Memoranda regarding flax crops in certain countries, 1927Link opens in a new window

Information from the Board of Trade Industries and Manufactures Department on the cultivation of flax in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Germany, Estonia, Latvia, Belgium and Northern Ireland.

Memorandum regarding flax crops and spinning and weaving in certain countries, 1927Link opens in a new window

Information from the Board of Trade Industries and Manufactures Department on the cultivation of flax in Holland, Belgium, France, Czechoslovakia, Austria and Lithuania.

Statements regarding flax crops in certain countries, 1927Link opens in a new window

Information from the Board of Trade Industries and Manufactures Department on the cultivation of flax in Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Estonia, Lithuania and Poland.

Statements regarding flax crops in France and Germany and linen industry in Latvia and Italy, 1927Link opens in a new window

Information from the Board of Trade Industries and Manufactures Department.

Extracts from reports on flax crops in Poland and Soviet Russia, 1928Link opens in a new window

Extracts from reports received by the Board of Trade Industries and Manufactures Department from "His Majesty's Representatives in Poland and Latvia". They contain information about the cultivation of flax in the Soviet Union, the Baltic States and Poland.