In the 19th and 20th centuries, production of cloth and manufacture of clothing were mass industries in Britain and notorious for exploitative working conditions. The popular image of the seamstress - working at home, dawn to dusk, for starvation wages - was a recurring figure in anti-'sweating' campaign material - from Thomas Hood's 1843 poem 'Song of the Shirt'Link opens in a new window onwards.
The occupation of 'tailor' now has connotations of Savile Row swank and expensive made-to-measure garments. In the context of the Tailoring Trade Board, 'tailor' simply meant a worker engaged in the manufacture of men's clothing - from the skilled cutter of cloth to the home worker employed only to sew in pockets or insert buttonholes. The cost of manufacture could be reduced by transporting pre-cut pieces of cloth to rural areas (where wages were generally lower) and paying workers to make up or finish garments either in small workshops or in their own homes. The Trade Board archives highlight some of the geographical centres of early 20th century tailoring - particularly through the extensive series of objections to the introduction of the minimum wage from 1911-2, which include statements from both workers and employers in home-working hotspots such as Colchester.
The trade board papers in the Trades Union Congress archive include a large quantity of material relating to the tailoring industry. 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. It is also possible to browse all of the digitised material relating to the Tailoring Trade BoardsLink opens in a new window.
Illustration: Trouser finishing by a home worker, photograph included in 'Sweated Industries', handbook of the Daily News exhibition, 1906.Link opens in a new window
Tailoring and the Trade Board:
Draft proposal for the scope of the new Trade Board. It includes information about how the tailoring industry then operated in Britain.
Notes on the establishment of the Trade Board and discussions between employers' and workers' representatives on wage rates and the cost of living (particularly during the early years of the First World War).
This memorandum was drawn up by the Trade Board to identify processes which could be done by disabled ex-servicemen. It includes descriptions of some of the types of work done by workers producing coats, waistcoats and trousers. It also states that sub-contracting workshops are "carried on principally by Jewish Master Tailors."
Ministry of Labour memorandum issued in an attempt to explain the distinction between tailored and non-tailored clothing.
Evidence of Andrew Conley, General Secretary of the Tailors' & Garment Workers' Trade Union, to the Cave Committee. It includes a description of conditions in the tailoring trade before the Tailoring Trade Board began to operate in 1910, information about the work of the Board and proposals for improvements.
Statement submitted by Gurney Rowlerson and Miss F.E. Edwards, members of the Executive Council of the Amalgamated Society of Tailors, Tailoresses, and Kindred Workers. It provides an overview of the state of pay and conditions in the tailoring trade, and includes comments about 'aliens' [foreigners], women workers, learners and apprentices, pre-war conditions and wartime work.
Evidence of William Rines, journeyman tailor and member of the Executive Board of the Tailors and Garment Workers Union. He describes conditions in the tailoring trade and supports the work done by the Trade Board to tackle "a century old problem".
Short memorandum about the effects of the Trade Board submitted by J. Smith of the Wigan Branch of the Tailors and Garment Workers Union. It includes responses to some of the objections put forward by employers.
Short article from the Daily Herald, reporting on criticism by J.L. Fine, secretary of the United Ladies' Tailors’ Trade Union, about the failure of Trade Boards to eliminate "sweating dens" and "kitchen-workshops".
Working conditions and pay:
General wages and working conditions:
Trade Board notices of proposed minimum wages:
Minutes of the third meeting of the Tailoring Trade Board, including information about negotiations between employers' and workers' representatives over the minimum rate for women (eventually agreed at 3½ pence an hour).
Outline of wages and working conditions agreed by the Northern Clothing Manufacturers Association. It includes the proviso that men and women should be paid equal piece rates.
Short memorandum setting out six reasons why women's wages should be raised.
Terms of negotiation submitted by workers' representatives to the Tailoring Trade Board.
Agreements between trade unions and employers' organisations:
Claim for improved conditions of labour and wages, 1919Link opens in a new window, sent by the United Garment Workers' Trade Union to Cutler & Company
Agreement and supplementary agreement for minimum rates of wages, 1920-21Link opens in a new window, between the Wholesale Clothing Manufacturers' Federation of Great Britain, the United Garment Workers' Trade Union, the Amalgamated Society of Tailors, Tailoresses, and Kindred Workers, and the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers
Agreement for minimum rates of wages, 1920Link opens in a new window, between the Shirt, Collar and Tie Manufacturers' Federation and the United Garment Workers' Trade Union
Circular from the Tailors’ & Garment Workers’ Trade Union, including definitions of the 'classes' of workers.
Summarised extracts from a report on an investigation into the rates of wages, the hours of employment and the degree of industrial organisation in the drapery and allied trades, 1926Link opens in a new window
The extracts include statistical data about the number of men and women working in the industry, and information about wages paid to different age groups and hours per week worked.
Individual or local wages and working conditions:
Notes of the income and production costs (soap, fuel, etc.) of Mrs Hawthorne and her daughter.
The notes include the names and addresses of 29 women workers, with brief information about their pay and speed of work. The information was collected as evidence of underpayment.
Letter and circular regarding a mass meeting in Mile End, London, arranged by the Jewish Tailors and Tailoresses' branch of the United Garment Workers Trade Union to appeal for an increase in wages as "during the past five years, our members have received no increase whatever".
Forms completed by 12 workers, setting out the number of hours worked and wages earned over three weeks in 1917.
Correspondence from Johnson & Sons Ltd., suggesting that the introduction of a shorter working week had been beneficial to both the company and its workers.
Basingstoke: rates of pay at John Mares Ltd., 1920-1925:
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. When the minimum rates of pay for the tailoring trade were unveiled in 1911, hundreds of objections were sent in, most of which opposed the 'high' level of the women's wage - 3½ pence an hour, in contrast to the men's rate of 6 pence an hour.
More than 280 individual objections were submitted in late 1911 and early 1912.
Note on the objections of the representatives of workers to the minimum rates fixed by the Trade Boards for tailoring, shirtmaking, sugar confectionery and food preserving, [1917?]Link opens in a new window
The memorandum looks at the increased cost of living during the First World War and the adequacy (or otherwise) of the minimum rates of pay.
The letter of protest was sent to the Minister of Labour by the Hebden Bridge representative of the United Garment Workers' Trade Union, and includes reference to the recent local strike over women's pay.
Objections to proposed increase in the minimum rates of wages, 1921:
Questions of scope:
One of the routine activities of the Trade Board was to decide on 'questions of scope' - whether a particular occupation or manufacturing process fell within the scope of the Board, and therefore whether the worker was entitled to the minimum rate of pay. Documents relating to questions of scope can include information about the working processes involved in tailoring.
Description of the working conditions of three men sub-contracted by J.H. Dean to make coats - Samuel Shieff, Manuel Bergson junior and Manuel Bergson senior.
Copies of two letters from Grossman. He asks for advice to help him obtain the minimum wage and provides information about his work.
Descriptions of work done by employees in the Order and Despatch Department.
Information about the work of a delivery and general worker employed by S. Simpson, East London; a traveller and cutter who measured railway and tramway employees for their uniforms; warehouse workers employed by Laslett & Woodroffe, London; six named workers employed by Frazer Bros., Leeds; employees of Bairstow & Sons Ltd.; and a cutter's trimmer employed by H. Leaning & Co. Ltd., Colchester.
Update on the case of Bradley, a clerical worker employed by Frazer Bros., Leeds.
Information about the duties of a trainee office worker.
Description of work done by Driscoll, including timekeeping, and booking, collecting and matching garments.
The opinions include summary information about cases relating to "four girl clerks", an under-presser on coats, and a button sorter employed by M. & R. Silman and M. & R. Reuben of Leeds.
Juvenile workers and learners:
Statistical reports on the issue of learnership certificates:
Brief information about six apprenticeships in Bristol, Penzance, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Manchester.
Report on the refusal of Lily Kaye's father to sign a form authorising Sheepscar Clothing Company to pay his daughter learners' (lower) wages, including reference to the company's sacking of his older daughter when she reached the age of 18 and was due a higher rate of pay.
Wartime and post-war employment of women:
The unnamed Society (likely to be a trade union) objects to women entering the skilled occupations of pencilling (marking out) and cutting of fabric. The objection includes a reference to damage caused by the employment of unskilled men in the cutting rooms during a recent strike in Belfast.
Following attempts by employers to introduce women into cutting rooms, a Tailoring Trade Board North-Western Counties Trade Committee meeting discussed the types of jobs usually defined as part of the fitting up process. The report of the meeting includes several references to the gender division of labour in the tailoring trade.
Summary of discussion between the members of the Trade Board and four women from the Ministry of Labour, on the likelihood of post-war opportunities for 'tailoresses' as the trade moved from military to civilian production.
Ministry of Labour circular which contains information about where women can train (technical schools or factories), subjects of training ("generally speaking women will only be trained in normal women's trade and in processes in those trades which were know as women's processes before the war") and other conditions of the scheme.
Memorandum relating to the case of women workers who had been employed by a company during the war to solely make pockets for khaki tunics and were now being switched to civilian work. The Trade Board was asked to rule whether the firm was justified paying the women learners' (lower) rates as they were performing a new and unfamiliar task, despite having been working in the tailoring trade for four and a half years.
Tailoring and disability:
Ministry of Labour report on the prospects for disabled ex-servicemen in the tailoring industry.
Tailoring Trade Board memorandum which provides an overview of prospects in the wholesale clothing trade and suitability of the work for disabled men.
Draft memorandum produced by the Scottish Federation of Merchant Tailors.
Printed syllabus produced by the Ministry of Labour.
Adapted version of the government scheme, suggested by the Manchester Local Technical Advisory Committee.
Adapted version of the government scheme, suggested by the London Local Technical Advisory Committee.
Responses to the government scheme submitted by the Local Technical Advisory Committees in Bristol and London.
Revised version of Ministry of Labour report on the prospects for disabled ex-servicemen in the tailoring industry.
Ministry of Labour memorandum on the post-war employment of an estimated 720,000 disabled ex-servicemen.
The memorandum includes lists of the proposed trades (including tailoring) and "larger limbless and orthopaedic centres".
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 Tailoring Trade Board papers include a series of applications for permits of exemption, including cases relating to workers described as having tuberculosis, bronchitis, rheumatism, war wounds, 'spinal curvature', 'affectation of nerves' / 'nervous debility', heart disease, St Vitus Dance, 'defective intelligence' / 'mentally deficient', epilepsy, 'persistent headache', 'infantile paralysis', or being deaf, 'mute', partially blind, 'deformed', amputees, of restricted growth or of 'advanced age'.
The Yorkshire worker was involved in the production of garments for the army. His right leg had been amputated when he was a child, and the worker emphasises that "this is not in the least any detriment to me as I have now been without it 20 years and knock about and take my share of heavy work with any man with both legs".
Inspection and enforcement:
The Trade Board's outline of the case reports on a firm run by the "English born wife of an interned German who, up to the outbreak of War, had conducted the business with his wife’s assistance". Four out of six female workers were being underpaid. The owner was unable to pay the arrears and the employees were sacked.
Summary of prosecutions of employers for underpayment between May 1916 and March 1917.
Report of prosecution of an Edinburgh employer for non-payment of the minimum rate. It includes the Sheriff's judgement that the 'log' or piece rate was too low to meet the Trade Board rate.
Difficulties of Trade Board representatives:
Correspondence relating to the need to appoint a new workers' representative for the Tailoring Trade Board, following the arrest and internment of (German-born) Mr Hyman during the First World War.
Military service of a workers' representative: Private Henry Josephs of Stepney
Letter from J. Smith, a member of the United Garment Workers and a workers' representative on the Tailoring Trade Board. He reports on problems with his employer after Smith asked to attend a Trade Board meeting. J. Smith's views on Trade Boards are also recorded in his (unsubmitted) statement of evidence to the Cave Committee in 1922Link opens in a new window.