Primary Sources

Observations on the Loss of Woollen Spinning, 1794


In the modern world, advancements in technology are an everyday occurrence and to a certain degree accepted with little apprehension. During the Industrial Revolution, however, the mechanizing of jobs was a strange and frightening event. After years of doing the same task, cottage industries were out of work virtually overnight. The need to find a new trade was rarely required for craftsmen, and fear of how they could earn an honorable living was a new factor in a laborer's daily life.


I then walked to the Machines, and with some difficulty gained admittance [entered]: there I saw both the Combing Machine and Spinning Jenny. The Combing Machine was put in motion by a Wheel turned by four men, but which I am sure could be turned either by water or steam. The frames were supplied by a child with Wool, and as the wheel turned, flakes of ready combed Wool dropped off a cylinder into a trough [long, narrow dish], these were taken up by a girl of about fourteen years old, who placed them on the Spinning Jenny, which has a number of horizontal beams of wood, on each of which may be fifty bobbins [spools]. One such girl sets these bobbins all in motion by turning a wheel at the end of the beam, a wire then catches up a flake of Wool, spins it, and gathers it upon each bobbin. The girl again turns the wheel, and another fifty flakes are taken up and Spun. This is done every minute without intermission [rest]. …

These Machines then once set up, and the expense of them does not appear very great, 20 Girls do the work of 2,000 Women and Children, and when these Girls are of age to go into a Farmer's Service, how can they endure the fatigue and exposure to weather, necessary to their situation. Numbers confined [kept] together in one room cannot make them so hardy and strong, as running at the wheel in a cold cottage, and frequently at the outside of their door in the open air. If they marry, they can neither teach their children to work, or spin, or bring in any earnings [money] to maintain them. Who then shall patch the clothes, mend the shoes, and economize their little store?

Shut up from morning till night, except when they are sent home for their meals, these girls are ignorant of [do not know about], and unhandy at every domestic employment [household chore], whereas if at her wheel in her mother's cottage, the girl assists in every occupation of the family. She lights the faggot [fire], nurses the young children, gleans in the harvest, takes charge of the house in her mother's necessary absence to the shop, or when she can get work at neighbouring houses, becoming an assistant to her parents in sickness and old age, and in her turn a good wife to a day labourer, a fit mother for his family she lives with those to whom she ought to be attached, and therefore will feel an affection towards them: but a girl taken from six years old to sixteen, and employed at the machines, can know none of these habits. …