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:
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.
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.
Alphabetical list of jobs in the paper box trade, prepared by representatives of the employers.
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.
Includes a definition of the paper box trade and information about the different types of work involved.
General wages and working conditions:
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:
The report includes comment on the creation of the Paper Box Trade Board and conditions in the industry.
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.
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.
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).
Includes guidance to employers on setting a piece rate.
Office of Trade Boards memorandum on the rates set by the trade boards since their formation (including the Paper Box Trade Board).
Report which includes information about the different types of boxes manufactured and the recommended piece rates for home workers in London and Birmingham.
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.
Includes information about rates set in 1919 for the paper box trade.
Objections to rates of pay:
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:
Printers' proof copy of a leaflet or small poster issued by the Master Paper Box Makers' Association, Birmingham and District.
Includes information about the different types of boxes produced.
Includes information about the different types of boxes produced.
Notes on the state of trade in the Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds and Liverpool areas, based on reports sent by the Trade Board District Committees.
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.
Letter from Edith Tyzzer, National Union of Printing and Paper Workers, Birmingham Branch, on the need for an increase in the minimum rates.
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.
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.
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:
Statistical information on the number of learners and other workers in District Trade Committee areas:
Reports on the inspection of firms to investigate the proportion of learners to other workers and the facilities afforded to learners:
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.
Information about the opportunities available for learners at 8 firms (not identified by name). Includes some information about working practices.
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.
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.
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."
Information about the number of learners and opportunities for progression at the firm. Only one (Ellen Mullins) is identified by name.
Information about the opportunities available for learners at Whitefields Ltd. (London), William Milne (Falkirk) Ltd., The Pazo Co. (Oldbury) and Christie Malcolm Ltd. (Newcastle).
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.
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.
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.
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:
Employment of ex-servicemen at Longton Disabled Soldiers and Sailors' Cardboard Box Factory, Staffordshire:
Concerns over misuse of the permits system:
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".
The individual is described as having "curvature of the spine", but still being very active.
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:
Summary reports containing information about inspections of firms and irregularities identified over the course of the assessment period:
Reports of legal proceedings for underpayment:
Trade Board and trade union representatives:
Poster advertising a meeting at Shoreditch Town Hall to appoint workers' representatives for the Trade Board.
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 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 / 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 / letter from Mrs K. Cooper, suggesting Miss G. Robinson of Kettering as a District Committee representative.
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.