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Paper box makers

Two paper box makers at work

Like many of the 'sweated trades', workers in the paper box industry were predominantly women. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, paper or cardboard box making evolved from a home industry - where outworkers were paid low wages to assemble boxes at home - to a factory-dominated industry with increasingly mechanised processes.

The series of trade board papers in the Trades Union Congress archive includes twenty files of documents relating to the Paper Box Trade Boards in Britain and Ireland. As part of the Modern Records Centre's 'Sweated trades' digitisation project, we have made a selection of these documents available online, including the items highlighted below. Some additional items can be found through our digital collection.

Illustration: Factory workers stitching boxes, early 20th century - photograph from private collection reproduced with permission.

Working conditions and pay:

Scope of the Trade Board:

Report from committee on scope of minimum rates, 1914

The committee's report sets out the types of work that should be covered by the Trade Board minimum wage, and includes references to the products and processes covered.

Proposal to exclude match box making from the scope of the minimum wage, 1920

The proposal was the result of lobbying by the Joint Industrial Council of the Match Manufacturing Industry, and includes information about wages and conditions in the industry.

Definitions of occupational terms in the paper box trade, 1921

Alphabetical list of jobs in the paper box trade, prepared by representatives of the employers.

Revision of scope of Paper Box Trade Board, 1922

Ministry of Labour memorandum on proposals to expand the scope of the Trade Board to cover additional manufacturing processes and areas of work, including composite boxes and canisters; suit, attaché, jewel and handkerchief cases; paste making, corrugated paper, etc.

Revision of scope: draft definition of the Paper Box Trade Board, 1922

Includes a definition of the paper box trade and information about the different types of work involved.

General wages and working conditions:

'The box makers', 1906

Article by Thomas Holmes on conditions of outworkers, included in 'Sweated Industries', the handbook of the 1906 Daily News exhibition. The book includes three photographs of women and children constructing cardboard boxes at home.

Trade Board notices of proposed or fixed minimum wages:

Minimum time-rates for female workers, 1912

Minimum time-rates for male workers, 1913

Minimum time-rates for male workers (poster), 1913

Proposal to vary minimum rates, 1917

Proposal to vary minimum rates, 1918

Minimum rates of wages (as varied) for female workers, 1918

Minimum rates of wages (as varied) for male workers, 1918

Proposal to vary minimum rates for female workers and certain classes of male workers, 1921

Sixth annual report of the Executive Committee of the National Anti-Sweating League, 1912

The report includes comment on the creation of the Paper Box Trade Board and conditions in the industry.

Abstract of returns received as to employment, 1914

Circular issued by the British Paper Box Manufacturers' Federation, after a survey of their members. It contains statistical information about the number of workers employed by paper box manufacturers in October 1913, July 1914 and October 1914, and whether the firms were working full-time or less.

Summaries of returns made in regard to state of employment in the paper box trade, November 1914

Statistical information about the number of workers employed by paper box manufacturers in July and October 1914, with some regional data and remarks about reasons for the decline in employment.

'The minimum wage', 1915

Article from 'The Box Makers' Journal', arguing in favour of the minimum wage for female box makers (from the point of view of the employer).

Memorandum on application of minimum time-rates to piece-workers, 1915

Includes guidance to employers on setting a piece rate.

Short notes on the various trade boards, 1917

Office of Trade Boards memorandum on the rates set by the trade boards since their formation (including the Paper Box Trade Board).

General minimum piece rates for outworkers, 1919

Report which includes information about the different types of boxes manufactured and the recommended piece rates for home workers in London and Birmingham.

Summary of discussion on the opportunities for the employment of women in the paper box trade, 1919

Minutes of Trade Board meeting. The discussion dealt with the general prospects of the paper box trade after the war, as well as possible opportunities for women workers.

Notes on the principal rates (excluding those for learners) fixed by the various trade boards established in Great Britain, 1920

Includes information about rates set in 1919 for the paper box trade.

Objections to rates of pay:

Objections to the Trade Board rates of wages, 1915-1921

Individual employers, workers and trade union branches could make formal objections to the rates of wages set by the Trade Boards. In most cases employers complained that rates were too high (though D. Sholto Douglas of the London Fancy Box Co. was a notable exception) and workers objected that the rates were too low.

Individual or local wages and working conditions:

Price list of piece work rates in Birmingham, 1910

Printers' proof copy of a leaflet or small poster issued by the Master Paper Box Makers' Association, Birmingham and District.

List of boxes made by outworkers in London, with recommended piece rates, 1914

Includes information about the different types of boxes produced.

List of boxes made by outworkers in Birmingham, with recommended piece rates, 1914

Includes information about the different types of boxes produced.

Effects of war on paper box making, undated [1914-1918]

Notes on the state of trade in the Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds and Liverpool areas, based on reports sent by the Trade Board District Committees.

Cases in which the Trade Board fixed special minimum piece rates, 1917

Information about the special wage rates paid for making match, vesta and slide boxes by J. Deaton & Sons and R. & J. Agambar (London), and E. McDonald.

Wages in Birmingham, 1918

Letter from Edith Tyzzer, National Union of Printing and Paper Workers, Birmingham Branch, on the need for an increase in the minimum rates.

The case of Mrs Sullivan, Clapton Park, paper box maker, 1918

Letter from Edith Maude, Soldiers' Sailors' and Airmen's Families Association, regarding the employment of Mrs Sullivan (a widow with 7 children) by Labworth of Hackney Road, with reply from H.H. Montgomerie, Office of Trade Boards.

Rates of wages of six home workers, London, c.1920

Brief information about the work and wages of Mrs Blaney (employed by Sollash), Mrs Box (Zelzer), Mrs Smith (Rivington), Mrs Williamson (Johns, Son & Watts), Mrs Wakeling and Mrs Sampson (Deaton's), and another unnamed worker.

Male rates paid by Hugh Stephenson & Co., Summerstown, 1920

Letter from L.K. White, District Organiser of the Workers' Union, requesting an increase in pay to match the cost of living.

Learners, juvenile workers and training:

Statistical reports on the number of learners' certificates issued to female workers:

Certification of learners between March 1912 - March 1915

Certification of learners between March 1912 - March 1918

Statistical information on the number of learners and other workers in District Trade Committee areas:

Return showing numbers and percentages of learners in various District Trade Committee Areas entering the trade at various ages during 1913

Return showing number of workers other than learners, number of learners and percentage of learners to workers in each District Trade Committee Area, 1914

Reports on the inspection of firms to investigate the proportion of learners to other workers and the facilities afforded to learners:

Report on a "firm engaged mainly in wire stitched work" (including the case of worker 'A'), 1915

Report on the situation of five juvenile workers at an unnamed box-making firm, 1915

Memorandum on the provision of reasonable facilities for learning, 1916

The Trade Board required "that a learner shall be provided with reasonable facilities for practically and efficiently learning the branch or branches of trade in which the learner is employed". This memorandum examined whether this was happening in practice.

Summaries of cases regarding provision of facilities for learning, 1916

Information about the opportunities available for learners at 8 firms (not identified by name). Includes some information about working practices.

Question which has been raised with regard to the provision of facilities for learners, 1916

Report on a packing firm in "a small town in an agricultural district", with details of the type of work done and problems with the progression of learners to fully trained workers on piece rates.

Father's enquiry about the wages of a 17 year old worker, 1922

Copy of a letter sent by T.M. Sayer, father of a 17 year girl employed by the English Sewing Cotton Company, Hazel Grove, Stockport, for four years. He asks about the rate of wages that she has received after starting a "fresh job" at the firm.

Registered learners employed by Cropper & Company, Ltd., Thatcham, Berkshire, 1924

Inspector's report into the number of learners employed by the company, undertaken as the "proportion of learners to adult workers was considerably in excess of the proportion suggested by the Trade Board."

Summary of applications for registration of female learners made by the Acme Corrugated Paper & Box Co. Ltd., South Bermondsey, 1924

Information about the number of learners and opportunities for progression at the firm. Only one (Ellen Mullins) is identified by name.

Summaries of cases affecting the facilities for learning, 1925

Information about the opportunities available for learners at Whitefields Ltd. (London), William Milne (Falkirk) Ltd., The Pazo Co. (Oldbury) and Christie Malcolm Ltd. (Newcastle).

Supplementary summaries of cases with regard to facilities for learning, 1925

Information about the opportunities available for learners at Containers Ltd., and Cropper & Co., Ltd., Thatcham; and The Pearlite Box Co., Ltd., Pendleton. Information about the different types of work undertaken by learners is included.

Applications for certificates of learnership: summaries of reports and correspondence, 1926

Firms identified include: William Milne (Falkirk) Ltd. (several female workers named), Pearlite Box Co. Ltd., Thames Board Mills Ltd., William Thyne Ltd., W. Ritchie & Sons Ltd., Andrew Ritchie & Sons Ltd., Longton Disabled Soldiers and Sailors' Cardboard Box Factory, M. Sommerville & Co., Thomas Bushill & Sons Ltd. (about Coventry worker Eveline Leavesley), the Mansfield Folding Box Company, B.B. Ashton & Son, and the Export Box Company. Information about the different types of work undertaken by learners is included.

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 the employees' names) include short medical profiles of the individuals.

Applications for permits of exemption, 1914-1926

The Paper Box Trade Board papers include a series of applications for permits of exemption, including cases relating to workers described as being affected by neurasthenia, "backwardness", old age; loss of a limb, hand or fingers; epilepsy, being "deaf and dumb", "physical and mental weakness", paralysis (infantile and otherwise), "weakness of the spine", chronic rheumatism, heart disease, "nervous debility", tuberculosis, "mental deficiency", "hunchback", "defective eyesight", rupture, asthma, spinal caries, weak eyesight and ulcers.

Employment of disabled ex-servicemen in Lord Roberts' Memorial Workshops:

Applications for permits of exemption, 1917

Additional information relating to applications for permits of exemption, 1918

Recommendation that the applications for permits should be declined, 1918

Letter from Major Tudor Craig which describes the case of the worker W. Baker, 1918

Employment of ex-servicemen at Longton Disabled Soldiers and Sailors' Cardboard Box Factory, Staffordshire:

Minutes of a meeting of the Permits Committee, including background information about the Longton factory, 1925

Supplementary summary of applications for permits of exemption, 1925

Supplementary summary of applications for renewal of permits of exemption, 1926

Concerns over misuse of the permits system:

Correspondence relating to the case of an ex-serviceman employed by Forknalls & Sons, Leicester, 1920

Letters from a local trade union representative, complaining about the tactics used by the employer to get a permit of exemption. The worker is described as having "nothing phisically [ physically ] wrong with him he may lack a little intelligence".

Correspondence relating to the case of a male worker employed by G.H. Hickling, Nottingham, 1921

The individual is described as having "curvature of the spine", but still being very active.

Percentage of disabled ex-servicemen to be employed, 1921

The Trade Board circular recommends that 5% of male workers in the paper box trade should be disabled ex-servicemen.

Inspection and enforcement:

Summary reports on cases involving irregularities which have been investigated by the Trade Board:

Refusal of employer to give back pay to a worker, as she had not given a week's notice when leaving the firm, 1915

Alleged underpayment of male worker after employer failed to pay him Trade Board rates, 1915

Underpayment of piece rates by employer (includes tables of wage rates paid to individual female workers identified by their initials), 1915

Summary reports containing information about inspections of firms and irregularities identified over the course of the assessment period:

Report on administration, 1915

Report on inspection and enforcement in 1923

Reports of legal proceedings for underpayment:

W. J. Staff, Guildford Street, S.E., 1925

William Cass & Co., Hull, and Burleigh Ltd., Bristol, 1925

Trade Board and trade union representatives:

'To the workers in the paper box trade', 1910

Poster advertising a meeting at Shoreditch Town Hall to appoint workers' representatives for the Trade Board.

Letter about appointment of workers' representative, 1917

Letter sent by Walter S. Pattison, Newcastle on Tyne, to J.J. Mallon. He comments on the absence of male workers and the loss of female workers to the factories.

Letter about appointment of workers' representative, 1917

Letter sent by R. Ashton, Longsight, Manchester. Ashton states that he/she has been unable to answer the letter before due to "sickness, and looking after the boys who are fighting", and that he/she is unable to suggest possible names as "everything in this line is a trouble as a rule".

Questionnaire about appointment of workers' representatives, 1917

Questionnaire / letter from Agnes Eyles, Bath, about her willingness to continue to serve on the District Committee, despite having "left the trade when I was married, and ... not gone out to work since".

Questionnaire about appointment of workers' representatives, 1917

Questionnaire / letter from Mrs K. Cooper, suggesting Miss G. Robinson of Kettering as a District Committee representative.

Letters regarding arrangements for workers' side meeting, 1920

Correspondence between Edith Tyzzer, National Union of Printing and Paper Workers, Birmingham Branch, and J.J. Mallon. Tyzzer comments on the increasing interest of women in the work of the Trade Boards (either because they are "less lethargic or... have greater responsibilities") and states that the women in Wolverhampton "are getting restless" about wages.